Category Archives: 1945

Star in the Night (1945, Don Siegel)

Star in the Night opens with cowboys, but it’s not a cowboy story. It’s a nativity told at a roadside motel. The dialogue for the cowboys is so bad, one has to wonder if they’re just cowboy impersonators and that detail got cut.

The film proper begins when J. Carrol Naish meets up with angel-in-disguise Donald Woods. Naish is indifferent to Christmas because he thinks people are lousy. Woods disagrees, using Rosina Galli (as Naish’s wife) as an example. But once the pregnant girl goes into labor, everyone pitches in, proving Naish wrong.

Except, of course, it doesn’t. Because they’re only nice after finding out about the expectant mother. They’re perfectly terrible until they find out.

Besides the message failing, it’s generally all right. Naish and Woods are great. Virginia Sale is pretty bad, so are the cowboys.

Siegel does well except in close-ups, where he fumbles.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Don Siegel; screenplay by Saul Elkins, based on a story by Robert Finch; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by Rex Steele; music by William Lava; produced by Gordon Hollingshead; released by Warner Bros.

Starring J. Carrol Naish (Nick Catapoli), Donald Woods (Hitchhiker), Rosina Galli (Rosa Catapoli), Anthony Caruso (José Santos), Lynn Baggett (Maria Santos), Irving Bacon (Mr. Dilson), Dick Elliott (Traveler), Claire Du Brey (Traveler’s Wife), Virginia Sale (Miss Roberts) and Richard Erdman, Johnny Miles and Cactus Mack as the three cowboys.


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Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean)

For the majority of Brief Encounter, I had very little opinion of Lean’s direction. It’s incredibly dispassionate and functional, but very solid. I think I assumed it’d be innovative (along the lines of the Archers) but it’s not. Very realistic, very British.

Until the second to last scene, when Lean has to essay the most dramatic moment in the film and fails miserably. He gets away with it for a couple reasons, which I’ll discuss in a moment, but it’s a terrible moment and Lean forecasts it as well, making it even worse.

But he gets away with it because Brief Encounter relies very little on his direction. The film rises and falls with Celia Johnson. Though the film is about her and Trevor Howard’s infidelity (he’s a married doctor, she’s a housewife–though she does have a maid and cook, so housewife doesn’t have the same connotation as the American sense), the film’s not about Howard at all. Quite unfortunately, Johnson narrates the film in her internal monologue confession to her boring but loving husband (Cyril Raymond).

If Johnson’s performance can overcome that narration–the film eventually breaks from it to show a single, humanizing scene with Howard–she can make Lean’s unfortunate spinning camera go away.

Brief Encounter is a rather good film, but fails to be anything extraordinary (except in terms of Johnson’s acting).

Oh, I forgot–the other way Lean makes up for the terrible direction moment. Immediately following it, there’s an exquisite fade, simply masterful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Lean; screenplay by Anthony Havelock-Allan, Lean and Ronald Neame, based on a play by Noel Coward; director of photography, Robert Krasker; edited by Jack Harris; produced by Lean, Havelock-Allan and Neame; released by Eagle-Lion Distributors Limited.

Starring Celia Johnson (Laura Jesson), Trevor Howard (Dr. Alec Harvey), Stanley Holloway (Albert Godby), Joyce Carey (Myrtle Bagot), Cyril Raymond (Fred Jesson), Everley Gregg (Dolly Messiter), Marjorie Mars (Mary Norton) and Margaret Barton (Beryl Walters, Tea Room Assistant).


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They Were Expendable (1945, John Ford)

They Were Expendable has a gradual pace. Not knowing the film’s subject matter–just genre–going in, it all unfolded quite deliberately in front of me. The opening is a PT boat exercise. The film’s special effects are spectacular; it’s impossible to tell what’s an effect and what’s an actual boat in the water. These scenes–there are only a handful of them in the film–are breathtaking. There’s an attack on John Wayne’s boat from multiple bombers, which is the final action sequence, but earlier there’s the PT boats shooting at bombers, with only one visible composite shot. It’s stunning work–and one could easily let it overshadow the rest of the film.

Robert Montgomery and Wayne share the spotlight. It oscillates from man to man, but they’re great together and those scenes, with their concise dialogue, do a lot of work for the film. Montgomery’s performance is amazing–the best in the film and the best I’ve seen from him. He’s already weary trying to convince his superiors the PT boat is a valuable asset and following the start of the war and the subsequent losses, his stress becomes visible. Montgomery looks with tired but determined eyes–he has an amazing scene with a fatally injured sailor, probably the film’s most powerful scene….

Well, maybe not. That scene has a lot of dialogue (Frank Wead writes some great dialogue–something I was worried about when the titles rolled), so maybe the scene where there isn’t a lot of dialogue is more powerful. Wayne’s story arc has him romancing nurse Donna Reed–their scenes together and the whole handling of the romance is singular–and invites her to dinner with his fellow officers. It’s an almost silent scene with the men inexpressibly grateful for the female company. It reminded me of The Grand Illusion.

Wayne’s arc isn’t just the romance, he’s also dissatisfied with being in the PT boat squadron (not for any good reason, just because he wants the glory assignments). Wayne develops through the picture, softening first due to a friendship with Louis Jean Heydt and then with the Reed romance. The film doesn’t spend any time discussing Montgomery and Wayne’s lives before the Navy, which is an interesting move. It makes everything about how they act and react to the situations around them.

The script’s got a lot of humor in it, mostly from Ward Bond (whose expression following the kid asking Macarthur to sign his hat is fabulous), but also from Montgomery and Wayne. The film establishes their characters as friends who are amusing watch right off, so whenever they get together, there’s going to be something good.

Ford’s composition is flawless here. There are his early indoor shots, but when he gets outside, he really flourishes. He shoots low to high a lot here, creating a substantive mood. It ties the battle scenes together with the romance scenes and so on.

In some ways, though, They Were Expendable isn’t exciting. Going into it, I thought Ford was going to do a great job with a war picture and he does. He might do a little better than I expected….

It’s a fine film, full of quiet beauty. Ford doesn’t engage with this beauty, but like the swaying palm trees, he’s certainly aware of it. The film takes a step back from its content, allowing the viewer to fill the space in between.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Ford; screenplay by Frank Wead, based on the book by William L. White; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by Douglass Biggs and Frank E. Hull; music by Herbert Stothart; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Montgomery (Lt. John Brickley), John Wayne (Lt. JG ‘Rusty’ Ryan), Donna Reed (Lt. Sandy Davyss), Jack Holt (General Martin), Ward Bond (‘Boats’ Mulcahey C.B.M.), Marshall Thompson (Ens. ‘Snake’ Gardner), Paul Langton (Ens. ‘Andy’ Andrews), Leon Ames (Major James Morton), Arthur Walsh (Seaman Jones), Donald Curtis (Lt. JG ‘Shorty’ Long) and Cameron Mitchell (Ens. George Cross).


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Dead of Night (1945, Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer)

Dead of Night is an Ealing anthology from 1945. I don’t know where it fits in the history of anthology films–films composed of a number of shorts, with or without a “bridging” sequence to tie them–because I’m not particularly familiar with the genre. I saw Dead of Night because movielens recommended it, recommended it a little too highly.

The four short films that comprise Dead of Night are fine, some quite good. There’s a disturbing ventriloquist one, starring an excellent Michael Redgrave, and a gentle premonition one about a race car driver. The first two stories don’t take up as much time as the second two, since the first half of the film is also establishing the “bridging” story. It’s not enough to have four short films playing one after the other, Dead of Night tries to wrap a fifth story around the others….

The film fails because of that fifth story. It’s predictable and, by today’s standards, relatively cheap. Though maybe not. I mean, Memento was cheap and no one thought so, so maybe Dead of Night has just as much fictive merit as it did back in 1945. But it doesn’t deserve the merit, because it’s cheap. My dread of the anthology film–especially one with bridging scenes–is that the characters are going to be secondary. Dead of Night realized that fear. The characters are all thin, though amiably played by all the actors, and there’s no depth to the film. It’s a collection of some–mildly–uncanny stories and it’s mildly amusing. If it had been just a little bit better, I wouldn’t feel like I stayed up late to scare myself for nothing. It didn’t even scare me.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer; screenplay by John Baines, Angus MacPhail and T.E.B. Clarke, based on stories by H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, Baines and MacPhail; directors of photography, Jack Parker, Stanley Pavey and Douglas Slocombe; edited by Charles Hasse; produced by Michael Balcon; released by Ealing Studios.

Starring Mervyn Johns (Walter Craig), Roland Culver (Eliot Foley), Frederick Valk (Dr. van Straaten), Anthony Baird (Hugh Grainger), Google Withers (Joan Cortland), Michael Redgrave (Maxwell Frere), Sally Ann Howes (Sally O’Hara), Judy Kelly (Joyce Grainger), Ralph Michael (Peter Cortland), Hartley Power (Sylvester Kee), Barbara Leake (Mrs. O’Hara), Mary Merrall (Mrs. Foley), Elisabeth Welch (Beulah), Miles Malleson (Hearse Driver) and Johnny Maguire (Dummy).