Category Archives: 1946

Never Say Goodbye (1946, James V. Kern)

The first thirty-nine percent of Never Say Goodbye is phenomenally paced. It could be a short movie, if there were a little tragedy through in. A little melodrama. Seven year-old Patti Brady is moving back in with mom Eleanor Parker after living six months with dad Errol Flynn. They’re divorced. Flynn’s a successful cheesecake pinup artist and a cad, Parker was his star model and a Fifth Avenue blue blood. But they still love each other, Brady just knows they do.

And, even just as light forties screwball, it’s pretty good. S.Z. Sakall is the loveably inept owner of their favorite restaurant, Flynn is charming, Parker is lovely. Brady’s kind of cute. Her performance is fine. She’s not too obnoxious. She’s good with the other actors, but less so when she’s got to do a scene on her own. Hattie McDaniel’s her nurse. McDaniel’s good. Everyone’s kind of good.

Only then the script jumps ahead two months. I.A.L. Diamond and director Kern, in the second two thirds of the film, basically just string together screwball sequences. Not bad ones, but not great ones. It doesn’t help Lucile Watson–as Parker’s disapproving mother–is no fun. She’s not bad, just no fun. Donald Woods is no good as Parker’s new suitor, even if he does get one of the good screwball sequences.

The last third is similar. Forrest Tucker shows up. McDaniel and Watson (and Woods) are all gone. There’s new screwball, but nothing particularly good; it’s the weakest section–Parker’s characterization completely changes and Brady becomes incidental.

A lot of it is Kern’s mediocre direction–he manages to mess up a sequence where Flynn is pretending to be a Bogart tough guy (voiced by Bogart himself)–and a lot of it is the script. Flynn’s character is generic. Parker’s is even more generic. They’re both charming but don’t really have any chemistry. They’re far better with Brady than one another, which really cuts into the film itself’s charm.

It’s a really boring movie too. It’s less than a hundred minutes, but once that first third is up? Never Say Goodbye never gets moving again.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James V. Kern; screenplay by I.A.L. Diamond and Kern, adaptation by Lewis R. Foster, based on a story by Ben Barzman and Norma Barzman; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Folmar Blangsted; music by Friedrich Hollaender; produced by William Jacobs; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Errol Flynn (Phil), Eleanor Parker (Ellen), Patti Brady (Flip), S.Z. Sakall (Luigi), Hattie McDaniel (Cozy), Forrest Tucker (Cpl. Lonkowski), Donald Woods (Rex), Peggy Knudsen (Nancy Graham), Tom D’Andrea (Jack Gordon), and Lucile Watson (Mrs. Hamilton).


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It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)

It’s a Wonderful Life is going to be a tough one. When I was a kid, during the public domain days, Wonderful Life was omnipresent. It became a joke because of that omnipresence. But also because it’s undeniably sappy. And it has angels in it. It’s so saccharine, I didn’t even notice my eyes tear up for the finish. It’s so devastating, I also didn’t notice when they teared up at Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed on the phone. Because It’s a Wonderful Life has all these things going on and some of them don’t actually interact with the other, which might be director Capra’s greatest achievement with the film. It’s well-intentioned, feel-good, historically relevant character study as epic. It’s a Wonderful Life is an epic. It’s a short one–the film speeds by in its 130 minutes–but it’s an epic.

The film has four credited screenwriters–including Capra–and a legion of uncredited helpers. The film has the rather expedient structure of heavenly intervention. Let’s face it–God magic is the best magic–and Wonderful Life is aware of the promise it’s making with God magic. A Greek chorus would probably be less awkward, especially since there’s angel bickering. Mind you, angel bickering shows up before Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy Stewart doesn’t appear until twelves minutes into the picture. And it’s all about him. Jimmy Stewart doesn’t start his character–Robert J. Anderson starts the character and it’s great. The opening scenes of It’s a Wonderful Life are phenomenal. Capra goes all out with it.

Because most of It’s a Wonderful Life concentrates on Stewart and Reed, which is great because they’re amazing together and if it weren’t for the the last third of the film, Reed would easily give the best performance. The way she watches Stewart is exceptional. It’s a Wonderful Life has some strange cuts–apparently Capra even processed zoomed for emphasis–but the sound design always carries it. The film’s setting is about its sound, about its residents’ voices. Capra brings characters back in at just the right moment, in just the right scene, so the nightmare sequence at the end even scarier. Anyway, the sound and Reed. Capra will go for these different takes, jarring the viewer and forcing a reconsideration of the character. With Reed, it’s a little different. Capra’s direction of Reed during the courtship is about making her the film’s center.

Once Stewart and Reed get married, there’s a handoff to Stewart. Reed literally disappears. Capra figures out a way to show she’s still essential, but she doesn’t have to be omnipresent. There’s a lot of frantic qualities to It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s like the screwball comedy came home from the war.

So around halfway in, the film enters a different relationship with its protagonist. After Stewart being crushed again and again in the first half, the film has to show him get some reward. It’s a Wonderful Life is a mix of pragmatism, hopefulness, and cynicism. Stewart has to live up to the promise of the character before he showed up on screen.

Stewart has to make the viewer dislike him. The scene where he terrorizes the family is so freaky. The architecture designs, given room with the family’s things, are tragic. It answers a question It’s a Wonderful Life told the audience to ignore–sure, Reed’s actually perfect, but would Stewart have made it if he’d gotten away from home? Yeah. But he’s not even angry right, because when he’s angry, he’s supposed to be telling Reed he doesn’t need her and everyone knows he’s lying and is supposed to know he’s lying. He’s betraying the viewer’s expectation–and Capra knows how to do it too. The film’s a wonderful mix of sensibilities. Capra changes the pace, the tone. He introduces memorable characters in the second half. He doesn’t care. It’s awesome.

The nightmare part–does it even have an agreed upon term (it better not be some alternate timeline thing)–is this great twist. We’d been promised God magic and what did we get. Henry Travers, who looks as adorable as he sounds. Travers gets very little screen time and a phenomenal introduction. Capra still has these amazing scene constructions for the finale. And I think It’s a Wonderful Life, in terms of acts, fits Dan O’Bannon’s second act to third act transition mark better than anything else. The bridge. It’s Capra trying some things he’d tried before without success and scoring, time and again.

Very off track, which is the thing about It’s a Wonderful Life–there’s too much. There’s so much to process, so much to appreciate, so much to consider. It’s impossible for me to watch it without thinking about it in terms of anticipation and recollection. I don’t even think I watched it in order when I first saw it. Or it had been cut down to fit a two-hour block and was missing a bunch. I’ve been thinking about how the film works since I was a kid. It’s brilliant. Capra does it. He goes for it, he does it.

Great supporting performances from Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, especially Gloria Grahame. Frank Faylen and Ward Bond are awesome. H.B. Warner, Samuel S. Hinds. Everyone else but especially those people.

Technically outstanding, especially William Hornbeck’s editing and Clem Portman and Richard Van Hessen’s sound. They make Capra’s forceful moves work.

Dimitri Tiomkin ’s score actually doesn’t help with those forceful moves, but enables them further. Only then that great scene construction brings it through. It’s a Wonderful Life is like shifting plates in perfect rhythm.

And now I’m never going to write about it again because it’s all I’d want to do.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Frank Capra; screenplay by Jo Swerling, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Capra, based on a story by Philip Van Doren Stern; directors of photography, Joseph F. Biroc and Joseph Walker; edited by William Hornbeck; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (George Bailey), Donna Reed (Mary Hatch), Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter), Thomas Mitchell (Uncle Billy), Henry Travers (Clarence), Beulah Bondi (Mrs. Bailey), Frank Faylen (Ernie), Ward Bond (Bert), Gloria Grahame (Violet), H.B. Warner (Mr. Gower), Todd Karns (Harry Bailey), Samuel S. Hinds (Pa Bailey), and Robert J. Anderson (Little George).


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The Strange Woman (1946, Edgar G. Ulmer)

The Strange Woman opens with Dennis Hoey as a drunken widower and Jo Ann Marlowe as his evil little daughter. Herb Meadow's script is real bad in this opening, but it's nineteenth century kids playing and one of them is a psychopath, how good is the script going to be? But then it jumps forward to Hedy Lamarr playing the daughter, presumably as a young woman just of marrying age, and Hoey's contemporaries lusting after his kid.

The principal luster is Gene Lockhart, who schemes–aided by Lamarr's manipulations of her situation–to get her into his house and bed. In other words, there's no one particularly likable in Woman. When Lockhart's son, played by Louis Hayward, gets home from university, Lamarr's trying to seduce him too. He forgot how she once tried to kill him, obviously.

The film actually moves really well for the first forty or fifty minutes because it's a turgid, sensational melodrama without any likable characters. There's no investment. Lamarr's terrible, Hayward's terrible, the script's terrible. It's not like director Ulmer does much interesting–the film mostly takes place in boring houses or in front of them–but it does move.

Then George Sanders finally shows up as the latest man Lamarr must have–only he's not a dirty old man like Lockhart or a lust-crazed fop like Hayward, he's the story's first honest major character. Fifty minutes in is too late to introduce the protagonist.

The ending is really dumb, but it doesn't matter. So's the rest of the picture.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer; screenplay by Herb Meadow, based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams; director of photography, Lucien N. Andriot; edited by John M. Foley and Richard G. Wray; music by Carmen Dragon; production designer, Nicolai Remisoff; produced by Jack Chertok and Eugen Schüfftan; released by United Artists.

Starring Hedy Lamarr (Jenny Hager), George Sanders (John Evered), Louis Hayward (Ephraim Poster), Gene Lockhart (Isaiah Poster), Hillary Brooke (Meg Saladine), Rhys Williams (Deacon Adams), June Storey (Lena Tempest), Moroni Olsen (Rev. Thatcher), Olive Blakeney (Mrs. Hollis), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Partridge), Alan Napier (Judge Henry Saladine) and Dennis Hoey (Tim Hager).


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Bedlam (1946, Mark Robson)

Bedlam is about a third of a good picture. It’s like writers Val Lewton and (director too) Robson didn’t quite know how to make it work, what with having to have Boris Karloff in it. Karloff’s the villain, the head of a mental institute in the eighteenth century. Karloff’s so evil–and surrounded by so many bad people (the aristocracy has inmates perform for them)–the film’s always unpleasant.

But Karloff’s not the lead; the lead’s pretty Anna Lee and she learns being rich and comfortable is nothing compared to caring for one’s fellow man. She’s even got a Quaker love interest (Richard Fraser) who helps her find the right path.

Maybe half the film is Lee figuring out she should do something to help the people in the institution. Then the second half is after Karloff institutionalizes her.

During that second half, the film shines. Lee discovers she is capable of actively helping her fellow man instead of just advocating for his or her help. She’s got a great narrative arc, but Lewton and Robson have no idea how to write it. They give her awful patron–Billy House in a weak performance–way too much screen time.

As for Robson’s direction, he’s disappointing. Most of the film either takes place in House’s house (sorry) or the institution. The budget doesn’t exactly show, not until one realizes how unimaginative it gets.

Maybe if Lee were better. She’s okay, nothing more. And Karloff’s a caricature.

Bedlam is an unpleasant disappointment.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by Val Lewton and Robson, suggested by a painting by William Hogarth; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Lyle Boyer; music by Roy Webb; produced by Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Anna Lee (Nell Bowen), Richard Fraser (Hannay), Boris Karloff (Master George Sims), Billy House (Lord Mortimer), Ian Wolfe (Sidney Long), Jason Robards Sr. (Oliver Todd), Leyland Hodgson (Wilkes), Joan Newton (Dorothea the Dove), Robert Clarke (Dan the Dog), Elizabeth Russell (Mistress Sims), Vic Holbrook (Tom the Tiger) and Skelton Knaggs (Varney).


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