Rhapsody in Rivets (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I have stretched the definition of movie to include this Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies cartoon.  It consists of a construction crew of humans and animals building the “Umpire State Building.”  The foreman is “conducting”  Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” using the workmen as his orchestra.  Bricklayers, laborers banging in stakes, riveters, carpenters, and cement mixers are all employed to produce the music of the symphony.  It’s extremely entertaining.  Finally it’s almost 5pm so the conductor starts playing at break neck speed and the building shoots up into the sky at ludicrous speed.. And when a cloud gets in the way they build the building laterally to avoid it.  Finally the capstone gets a flag that says Umpire State the crowd applauds and the conductor takes his bow.  Then a little Bassett hound workman slams a door closed and the whole things comes crashing down.

I could only find the entire cartoon on a  russian site for free.  If you remember it and liked it or have never seen it check it out.  Highly recommended.

 

You’re Telling Me! (1934) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Full disclosure, W.C. Fields’ characters as the hen-pecked but thoroughly disreputable husband represents in my opinion one of the pillars of the self-respecting American husband.  Although constantly set upon by his wife and family he refuses to knuckle and become bovinely domesticated.  Sometimes he’ll pretend to bow to convention for the sake of a short period of marital tranquility but we know that at any moment he might use the excuse of his mother-in-law’s spurious death as an excuse to skip work and go to the wrestling matches or throw away an inheritance by buying worthless land while following the dream of becoming an orange rancher.  It is this absurd and quixotic aspect of Fields’s characters that convinces me to excuse some of the infuriatingly boring routines that he loads into his movies.  And several of these routines are on maddening display in “You’re Telling Me!”  I’ll skip over the recurring gag of a drunken Fields getting his head and arms tangled in the ornamental ropes on his living room doorway drapery.  That is a mere couple of minutes of idiocy.  But at the climax of the film there is an eight-minute stretch of Fields attempting to drive a golf ball.  A lesser man would have turned it off after a few minutes.  But I soldiered on.  I had to see how Fields’ invention of bulletproof car tires would bring about the story’s happy ending.

I write this introduction to show the reader that I am aware that “You’re Telling Me!” is not a faultless masterpiece.  On the contrary, it’s a W.C. Fields movie which means it is a combination of awful physical comedy, brilliant verbal quips and tragicomical storytelling.  I am also aware that a taste for W.C. Fields is not a universal trait.  Far from it.  But being a true believer, I feel it’s my duty to advocate for the great man.

The premise of the story is that Fields’ character Sam Bisbee is trying to prove to his long-suffering wife Bessie that in addition to being a drunk he is also a great inventor.  He is on the brink of demonstrating his 1000% puncture-proof automobile tire to the National Tire Company.  At the same time Sam’s daughter, Pauline is in love with Bob, the son of the wealthy Murchison family that live on the other side of the tracks.  Bob’s mother is played by Kathleen Howard who played Fields’ wife in two of his other great movies, “It’s a Gift” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.”  She comes to visit the Bisbee house to forbid the romance but is delighted to find that Bessie is from an old money family from the Old South.  But immediately afterward Sam shows up and showcases enough boorishness to outrage Mrs. Murchison and in reaction to this rejection Pauline demands that Bob and his mother leave and never come back.  Now that Sam has angered and disappointed both his wife and daughter, he is determined to make good on his promise as an inventor to make the family fortune and thereby restore relations between his daughter and the Murchisons.

We are given a convincing demonstration of his invention in his work shop.  He fires a pistol at the tire and catches the rebounding bullet in a baseball glove.  Now he puts four of these tires on his car and drives into the city to demonstrate it to the Board of the National Tire Company.  Sam parks his car in front of the office building, in a no parking zone, and heads up to the Board room.  The building attendants push his car down the block and apparently called the police to come and take it away.  The police arrive and park in front of the building and exit the scene to meet up with the attendants down the block.

Meanwhile Sam brings the Board down to the front of the office building and apparently not recognizing that the police car isn’t his own he proceeds to shoot out the tires of the police car.  The Board laugh mockingly at his failed demonstration and the police show up and give chase at the sight of their car being used for target practice.  Sam successfully flees as the scene ends.

Next, we see Sam on the train headed back to his home.  He has written a suicide not to Pauline explaining that he can’t endure the humiliation that his failure will spark.  Now we are subjected to another long annoying sequence of Sam attempting to kill himself by drinking a bottle of iodine.  He finally gives it up after seeing a passing graveyard next to the train.

Now we mee the Princess Lescaboura who is travelling on the train in a private room.  Sam wanders into her room accidentally when a servant leaves the door open and he assumes it’s the bathroom.  The princess had just applied iodine to a cut on her hand and seeing the bottle Sam assumes she is about to commit suicide so he recounts his own misfortunes and suicide attempt to dissuade her from the supposed suicide.

She is touched by his mistaken concern for her safety and is also sympathetic to the pathetic personal problems he is in.  He says goodbye to her not knowing that she is royalty, thinking she is a young woman named Marie and invites her to visit his family if she ever stops in his town.

Incidentally while he was talking to the princess a couple of old biddies from his town see him talking to a young woman and spread gossip at home that he is having an affair.  And the story mutates until by the time he reaches home everyone is convinced that he has been involved in a drunken debauch with a stripper.  When Sam reaches town, every woman he meets upbraids him as a masher and every man in town slaps him on the back and wants to hear his story.

When he realizes that his wife will want to kill him when he gets home, he tries to come up with a gift that will assuage her anger.  One of his friends suggests a pet parakeet.  Sam replies that it’ll have to be bigger than that.  In the next scene we see him walking down the main street holding a rope around the neck of an ostrich that doesn’t seem happy about the arrangement.

In the meantime, the princess has arranged for a visit to Sam’s town.  The mayor and all the leading citizens meet her at the train station and she tells them that she wants to go to the home of her friend Sam Bisbee, the man who saved her life “during the war.”  Mrs. Murchison bends over backward to please the princess and the crowd heads for Sam’s house.  Along the way they find Sam and the ostrich and after the princess assures a drunk Sam that he is a hero they head for his home.  Eventually the princess arranges for a party to be given at Sam’s home in her honor and catered by the Murchisons.  The princess provides enough nonsense about how important Sam is back in her country that Mrs. Murchison announces the engagement of her son to Pauline.  And she arranges that Sam will perform the honor of dedicating the new golf course in town by hitting the first drive.  This gives us that agonizing eight-minute dose of torture before the National Tire Company president shows up and offers to buy Sam’s invention for $20,000.  Cutting him off before he can accept, the princess gets into abiding war and the president is forced to offer a million dollars plus a royalty to Sam on each tire sold.  Now the movie ends with Bisbees and Murchisons driving off to a party with the princess and Sam preparing for a two-week drinking bout with his friends.

As you can see, the movie consists of ridiculous events and absurd situations.  But some of the dialog is inspired.  My favorite situation is when Princess Lescaboura meets Sam’s wife.  Bessie is confused and honored by the princess’s friendliness but when the princess exclaims, “You must be the happiest woman in the world.”  All Bessie can confusedly say is, “Is my husband dead?”  And that encapsulates the magic of this movie.  Sam is the quintessence of the American husband.  His refusal to conform to his wife’s opinions on acceptable behavior and the suffering they both experience because of the conflict provides a funhouse mirror version of the real-life war between the sexes.

One small personnel note.  Bob Murchison is played by Buster Crabbe.  Here he is a young and very green actor that would one day thrill us as children when he played Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers.

So, do I recommend this movie?  It’s hard to say.  If you cannot get through the bad physical comedy bits that are ridiculously long then no, you will not enjoy this movie.  But if you can, then you will be rewarded by some truly inspired comedic moments.  Maybe the solution is to fast forward through those bits.  But that is the coward’s way out.  It’s up to you.

The Great McGinty (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Having just lived through a stolen presidential election I thought this was the perfect time to review Preston Sturges’ comical look at crooked politics.

The movie opens up in a bar in a Latin American country.  A young American is getting drunk and becoming more and more depressed.  He had to escape from the United States and leave his family behind because he was a bank teller who got caught stealing money.  The bartender played by Brian Donlevy follows him into the bathroom just in time to stop him from shooting himself.  The bartender tells him not to despair.  He tells the young man that his case is minor compared to his own.  Then he tells his story and the scene changes to the bartender’s story.  We find out his name Dan McGinty.

When we first see him, he is a hobo in tattered clothes wandering the streets of some big eastern city, probably New York.  It’s election day and a political hack (played by William Demerast) collars him and tells him that if he votes for the crooked mayor under an assumed name, he’ll get paid two bucks.  When McGinty asks the fixer, what happens if he can vote twice the guy tells him he’ll get four bucks.  So McGinty goes to every polling station and votes thirty-seven times.  But the fixer doesn’t have enough money to pay McGinty off so he brings him down to headquarters to ask the “Boss” for the cash.  The Boss, played hilariously with an absurd Russian accent by Akim Tamiroff, is so impressed by McGinty’s nerve that he takes him under his wing to make him a successful crook.  First, he makes McGinty a collector for the protection racket that the Boss runs.  When his verbal and pugilistic skills allow him to clean up even the most delinquent customers the Boss realizes that McGinty will rise very high in the Boss’s political machine.  He graduates to squeezing all the city contractors for the kickbacks that the Boss gets for letting them skip the bidding process.  The relationship between McGinty and the Boss is one of fratricidal familiarity.  They are both berserk fighters who enjoy nothing better than brawling with each other at the drop of a hat.  There are several brawls in the course of the movie.

Eventually the Boss decides that the old mayor is too weak and he decides that McGinty will be the new mayor.  But before he can run, he has to get married.  Apparently the newly enfranchised woman vote didn’t cotton to bachelor mayors.  He and his secretary Catherine form a marriage of convenience.  She is a divorcee with two kids and they both agree that a marriage in name only would suit them both.  But as you can guess eventually, they both fall in love and ruin the whole thing.  Catherine is at heart an idealist and she hopes that some day Dan can go straight and get out from under the Boss’s thumb.

Finally, the Boss decides to run McGinty for governor and he wins.  Now McGinty decides he wants Catherine and the kids to respect him so he has it out with the Boss.  And right in the governor’s office he and the Boss get into a colossal fist fight and then the Boss pulls a gun and tries to shoot McGinty for which he is hauled off to jail for attempted murder.

But the Boss gets his revenge and has McGinty arrested for being involved in a crooked contract back when he was mayor.  Now the Boss and McGinty are in adjoining cells and they strike a deal and the Boss arranges for both of them to break out of jail and escape the country.  McGinty just has enough time to call Catherine and tell her where there is a safety deposit box with enough money to take care of her and the kids for life.

In the next scene they’re back in the Latin American bar where McGinty is the bartender and the Boss is the owner.  Just as he finishes the story and calms the young man down, he decides to make the cash register ring.  This is supposed to tip off the Boss that McGinty is stealing from him and they get into one of their habitual fistfights.  Obviously, the fight is the highlight of the day for both of these exiles.

Preston Sturges wrote and directed this comedy and like many of his films it has an originality sadly lacking in most movies.  The characters of McGinty and the Boss are extremely vivid and despite their obvious criminality quite likeable.  The rest of the cast are more than adequate and the dialog is quite good.  Highly recommended.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 14 – Saboteur (1942) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Saboteur is one of Hitchcock’s earlier Hollywood era productions.  It’s the story of Barry Kane, played by Robert Cummings, a wartime factory worker who is mistakenly accused of being a Nazi saboteur.  The story starts out at an airplane manufacturing plant where Barry and his friend Ken Mason are employed.  At lunch they bump into another employee named Frank Fry who acts very suspiciously.  Barry sees an envelope that Fry is sending to a man in another town and finds a large amount of money that Fry drops on the ground.  When he gives the money back to Fry, he becomes very angry.  Suddenly a large fire breaks out and Barry, Ken and Fry head toward it.  Fry gives Ken a fire extinguisher but when Ken directs it at the fire, he becomes engulfed by the inferno and dies.

During the investigation it turns out that there is no employee named Fry and Barry’s story about the whole event is doubted when it turns out the extinguisher was filled with gasoline.  He is blamed for the fire and is being hunted as a Nazi saboteur.  He runs away and hitches a ride with a truck driver heading for the town that Fry’s letter was addressed to.

When he reaches the address, the man living there, Charles Tobin, denies knowing anyone named Fry but Barry accidentally finds a telegram from Fry to Tobin.  Realizing that Tobin is one of the saboteurs and has called the police to arrest him, Barry flees but is quickly captured by the police.  Later he escapes from them by leaping off a bridge into a river.  Eventually he reaches the cabin of a blind man who suspects that he is a fugitive from the law because he can hear Barry’s handcuffs clinking against each other.  The blind man prefers to believe Barry is innocent and agrees to help him get out of his handcuffs.  But the man’s niece, Patricia “Pat” Martin, arrives and wants to turn him into the police because of the news reports branding him as a dangerous saboteur.

Now follows a confusing and slightly ridiculous chain of events that involves circus freaks and an eventual change of heart by Pat toward Barry.  Eventually Barry convinces part of the sabotage gang that he is working for Tobin and is driven to New York City where the next big action is planned.  Pat is captured and also ends up in New York.  The new target is a battleship that has been completed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The saboteurs manage to sink it and capture both Barry and Pat.  But by a clever ruse she is able to signal the police and all the saboteurs except Fry are captured by the police.  Fry escapes to the Statue of Liberty and there is a climactic fight on the torch of the statue where Fry falls onto the torch arm and is hanging by his fingernails.  Barry manages to grab hold of Fry’s jacket sleeve and is waiting for the police to bring a rope to allow for a rescue.  But before they can arrive the sleeve rips free and Fry falls to his death.  Barry kisses Pat and the movie ends.

Well, you can’t say Hitchcock doesn’t throw everything including the kitchen sink into the plot.  Bearded women, Siamese twins, midgets, trusting blind men, a pretty girl who models for billboards, sunken battleships, the Statue of Liberty, the Hoover Dam, leaps off bridges, Rockefeller Center, Nazi spies, shoot outs in movie theaters, you name it.  And this movie is noticeably a Hollywood product.  There is all of the wartime patriotism there and the tropes that the studios had built up at this point.  The production values are high but the dialog and acting are a bit mediocre.

It’s a pretty good effort but hardly one of Hitchcock’s finest productions.  I’d called it recommended but not highly recommended.  Let’s say it is moderately entertaining but it wouldn’t be something I’d re-watch often.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Everyone knows the outline of the Robin Hood story.  Robin is a Saxon nobleman who fights to avenge the oppression that the Saxons suffer at the hands of their Norman overlords.  He steals from the rich and gives to the poor.  He is a superb archer.  The story goes that while King Richard is absent on the Crusade his brother John uses the circumstance to overtax and terrorize the Saxon population.  The local tyrant for this story is the Sheriff of Nottingham who hunts relentlessly for Robin.  The happy ending is Richard’s return to England.

In this Warner Brothers’ version Sir Guy of Gisbourne, played by Basil Rathbone inherits the activities usually given to the Sheriff of Nottingham and is Robin Hood’s primary enemy.  Robin is iconically portrayed by Errol Flynn in his most famous and most successful part.  And his love interest, the Maid Marian Fitzwalter is played by Olivia de Havilland.  Rounding out the major parts are Claude Rains as Prince John, Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck and Alan Hale as Little John.  But many of the smaller parts are also ably performed by a crew of excellent character actors.

Robin Hood’s heroics and acrobatics are generously sprinkled throughout the film and swashbuckling is a word that might as well have been invented for this movie.  Robin and his merry men swing on vines through Sherwood Forest, scale castle walls, and sword fight their way up and down stone staircases with the greatest of ease.  Robin can shoot backward from a galloping horse and hit his foes with arrows as they gallop along in the dark.  And of course, the feat of splitting an arrow with an arrow in the bulls’ eye is called a “Robin Hood.”  And so, it becomes the climax of yet another chapter in the film.  Robin fearlessly confronts his enemies right in their strongholds and only once is captured.  But on the brink of being hanged he is rescued by his men and returns to Sherwood in triumph.  And finally, when King Richard returns to England in disguise, Robin saves both him and Marian from the murderous plots of Prince John.

And in the spirit of the happy ending Robin kills Sir Guy in a sword fight, restores Richard to the throne and is betrothed to Marian with the king’s blessings.  Because this is 1938 a certain part of the reason for this movie is the pro-British sentiment that was being sponsored by the US government to counter the rise of Nazi Germany.  But it really isn’t necessary to justify the regard that this movie received at its release.  It actually is a remarkably stirring film.  Errol Flynn embodies the swashbuckling hero and Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains positively exude villainy and malice.  As I mentioned earlier, all of the bit players are excellent and the script is crisp and the stunts wonderfully choreographed.  It is an altogether lively and spirited romp.

If you’ve never seen this movie, I suggest that you remedy that deficiency as soon as you get the chance.  Very highly recommended for old and young alike.

The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 2

A couple of years ago, in the first installment of this essay, I wrote about the plot devices that were added in the 1951 and 1984 movie versions that weren’t written in Dickens’ novella.  And those two versions are my favorites.  The actors playing Scrooge in each case do a memorable job with the part.  And the productions are very good.

There are several other versions that I have watched several times.  There is a musical version with Albert Finney as Scrooge which has its points.  And the 1938 movie with Reginald Owens as Scrooge is acceptable.  But I’ve never cared for his acting style in the part.

But recently a friend told me he regards the 1938 version as his favorite.  Well, tastes differ so I just chalked it up to that.  But when this came up again during a conversation I asked if he thought Owens was the better Scrooge.  He said no.  What he liked about the 1938 version was the greater screen time given to the Cratchit family.  He thought that Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit and the rest of the family made the movie.

Since I had never analyzed the movie in that sense, I decided to give it another viewing.  In the 1938 version Gene Lockhart’s wife Kathleen plays Mrs. Cratchit and his daughter June Lockhart played Belinda Cratchit, one of the daughters.  Watching the various scenes they are in, it’s apparent that the Cratchit component of the story has been amplified.  The Christmas dinner scene is quite long and includes much more detail than any of the other versions.  And several other additional scenes involve Bob, Tim or Peter Cratchit interacting with either Scrooge or his nephew Fred.

And I noticed that Scrooge’s part had also been modified in this version.  Instead of the Ghost of Christmas Past bringing Scrooge to see his corruption by money he stops the ghost after the earlier Fezziwig scene.  Considered in the sense of time on the screen, the Cratchits are actually a larger part of the movie than Scrooge.  I think that is why someone might prefer this version.  It minimizes the amount of time spent with Scrooge.  So, if you aren’t primarily interested in Scrooge’s transformation then this would be the version that you would be drawn to.

Looked at in that light I understand the opinion.  But even though I will admit that the Cratchit family scenes in this version are attractive and enjoyable I have to go back to the story of Scrooge.  That is the center of the story and the reason for the action.

But it does bring up another trivia question.  Which is the best Cratchit family?  The most pitiable Tiny Tim is the one in the 1984 version.  He looks like he may keel over at any moment.  But for the rest of the Cratchit family including Bob I’d pick the ones in the 1951 version.  They seem the most authentic.

One thing that I notice is that no matter how many times I watch the various versions of A Christmas Carol I’m still affected by the emotions.  The Cratchits’ sorrow over Tim and Scrooge’s contrition and almost manic joy at being given a second chance always warm my heart.  Obviously, I’m over-sentimental and probably associate the feelings I felt when seeing these movies in my youth.  But whatever the reason they still work after all these years.  This is a tribute to Dickens’ genius but also to the culture that honored the humanity embedded in the Christmas spirit.  Peace on Earth, good will to men.  Or as Tiny Tim says, “God bless us all, everyone.

Mrs. Miniver (1942) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Mrs. Miniver is an American film about the beginning of World War II in Britain.  Greer Garson is Mrs. Kay Miniver, wife of well to do, British architect Clem Miniver played by Walter Pidgeon.  They live in a rural area outside of London on the Thames River where they enjoy a happy home life with their three children and the requisite maid and cook and beautiful home.

Their son Vin is just returning from Oxford while the two younger children are a boy and girl who look to be about six and ten years old respectively.  Early in the story we meet Carol Beldon, granddaughter of Lady Beldon, the local aristocrat who presides over the social world of the proper residents of their town.  Of course, Vin and Carol fall in love.  This sets the stage for the dramatic tension that defines the story.

This is 1939 and war has just been declared.  The realities of this slowly encircle the beautiful carefree life of the Minivers and then pummel it like the nightly bombings pummel their town.  Vin and Carol marry before he enlists in the Royal Air Force.  In a frank discussion Kay and Carol talk about acknowledging that it is very likely Vin will be killed in the war.  Carol is especially adamant that this reality makes her determined to charge with meaning and emotion their brief life together before his departure for active combat.

One of the most affecting scenes in the movie has Kay and Clem huddled in their backyard bomb shelter with their two young children during a bombing raid.  The children are trying to sleep in a small bunk bed while the parents sit up and try to distract themselves with chit chat about a book they enjoyed as children, Alice in Wonderland.  But the bombing runs keep getting closer and closer and finally the concussions are almost on top of them and the children become hysterical and their parents cradle them in their arms and try to sooth them while hell is unleashed around them.  Finally, the shelter door blows open and we realize that the bombs have been landing all around their house.  Finally, the attack ebbs into the distance and they sit dazed but alive.

Vin is given leave and he comes to visit his family.  He and Carol are given a room to stay in in the damaged home of his parents and they go to a local flower show where Carol’s grandmother’s prize roses are competing against a rose named the Mrs. Miniver by a local friend, the train station master.  At the suggestion of her granddaughter’s husband Lady Beldon is grudgingly convinced to allow her rival to win the grand prize.  And this happy moment is quickly followed by news of a massive air raid coming and Vin’s recall to his flight wing.

Carol and Kay drive him to his base and on the return trip home the two women are caught in the wreckage of an aerial dogfight and some machine gun bullets penetrate the car.  Carol is badly wounded and Kay rushes her home and calls for medical help by phone.  But shortly afterward Carol dies and Kay cradles her lifeless body and cries inconsolably.

In the last scene of the movie the townspeople are gathered in the heavily damaged village church and the minister preaches a sermon recognizing the deaths and injuries of so many of the parish including Carol and the station master who won the rose contest.  But he paints the war as a sacred duty to preserve their freedom and provide hope for a return to the happy lives they had before.

In many ways Mrs. Miniver was a war propaganda movie to prepare the American public for the realities of the war that the United States had just joined and to reinforce the bonds of friendship between the United States and England.  The Nazis, in the person of a German paratrooper are painted in a very negative light.  And the bombing campaign was meant to show Americans that fighting the enemy in Europe instead of at home was a great blessing for us.

Greer Garson’s portrayal is very effective.  In fact, the whole family is extremely likable and they naturally draw the audience’s sympathy at each stage of the film.  We are shown them both in their carefree earlier lives and in the midst of great tragedy and they always attract our good feeling for them.

My favorite scene takes place after Clem has been summoned by the local civil defense authorities to take his small motor boat down the Thames River.  He learns that they are looking for volunteers to pilot their boats to Dunkirk to rescue the surrounded British Expeditionary Force in France.  While he is away Mrs. Miniver is captured by an injured German paratrooper and held at gunpoint in her own home while the German demands food and drink and a coat to help him avoid detection once he leaves.  Luckily, he passes out from his injuries and she is able to take his gun and hide it and call the police.  Shortly after, Clem returns from his mission, exhausted, filthy and exultant.  Kay welcomes him and lets him bath and go to bed to fall into an exhausted sleep.  When he wakes the next afternoon, he asks how things went while he was gone and she tells him all was well.  While talking to the cook about the breakfast that Clem wants, she reminds Kay that there isn’t any ham left because she gave it to the German paratrooper.  When Clem overhears this, he is outraged accusing her of lying when she said that things were quiet while he was away.  He says, “What if he had a gun?”  And she flippantly replies, “Oh I just took it away from him.”  Now seeing that she is playing with him, as she bends over to straighten out the bed sheets, he administers a loud slap to her butt.  Now those were the days.  I have often wanted to do that to Camera Girl when she sasses me but she isn’t as amiable as Mrs. Miniver.  Her revenge might be too painful to chance it.  And for that reason, I am especially fond of this scene.

As I said at the beginning this movie is in a sense war propaganda but it was also a way for the Americans to reflect on the shared sacrifices that would have to be made in a war that had been thrust upon them after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I found the script and the acting to be honest and compelling.  I recommend this movie when you are in the mood for a World War II picture.

The Third Man (1949) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

If someone asked you to name a movie starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, I suppose your answer would be Citizen Kane.  Well, here’s a different answer, “The Third Man.”  And here’s another difference, Welles isn’t the filmmaker here, he’s just a supporting player.  Of course, being Orson Welles in 1948 means that “just” has a little more to it than just “just.”

Joseph Cotton is Holly Martins an American writer of dime novel westerns.  He arrives in Vienna which at the time is an occupied city divided into sectors controlled by the post-WWII victorious allies (the United States, Britain, France and Russia).  This is narrated for us along with the realities of such a conquered place.  The locals survive by supplementing their impoverished legal trades with black market transactions on everything from cigarettes to tires to adulterated pharmaceuticals.  Holly has come to Vienna to work for his childhood friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles).  It is never explained what exactly he was supposed to be employed as but that quickly becomes an academic question.

When Holly reaches the building where Harry lives, he’s told by the building porter that Harry was run over by a truck and killed a day or two before.  Holly goes to the burial and there we see the film’s other main characters although not all of them are introduced.  After the funeral Martins is approached by two British military policemen, Major Calloway, played by Trevor Howard and Sergeant Paine played with great cockney panache by Bernard Lee.  It turns out Sergeant Paine is a literary fan of Matins’ novels and indirectly facilitates the plot by introducing Martins to a literary society in Vienna that will bankroll Martins’ travelling expenses in return for a lecture on modern literature, a subject with which Martins is sorely unfamiliar.

But what Calloway and Paine are really interested in is warning Martins to leave Vienna to avoid the fallout from the police investigation into the criminal activities of his friend Harry Lime.  Martins is insulted by the statement that his friend was a criminal and decides to stay in Vienna to find out what really was the case with his friend and somehow clear his name with the police.

Through a meeting with one of Harry’s friends Holly finds out about Harry’s girlfriend Anna and he goes to see her to try and get the true story from her.  As Holly and Anna talk about Harry, we find out that she is like Holly an idealistic individual that Harry charmed and dragged into his dangerous but exciting life.  We begin to suspect that the police are right about Harry.  And together Holly and Anna discover some strange details about Harry’s death.  The building porter reveals to them that when Harry was run down by the truck, in addition to the two friends of Harry’s that stayed to give testimony to the police about the accident there was a “third man” who did not stay but rushed away.  And the porter’s story differed from the account that Holly was given by Harry’s friends, in ways that could only be obvious lies.

As the couple begin to ruffle feathers there begins some fallout.  Anna is visited by the police, including Calloway and Paine.  It turns out that she has a passport that Harry manufactured.  And because of this she will have to be deported to the Russian zone for eventual deportation to Czechoslovakia.  Further fallout occurs with the subsequent murder of the porter.  And finally, one of Harry’s “friends” threatens Holly if he continues looking into Harry’s death.  When Holly defies him, some thugs pursue Holly through the nightscape of bombed out Vienna.  He escapes and ends up at Anna’s apartment where we find that he is falling in love with her.  But just when the movie is drifting away from Harry, Anna’s cat down on the street below her apartment signals that a stranger is lurking and when a window in one of the adjoining apartments flashes on, it reveals that the lurker is Harry Lime.  Holly runs out to catch him but Lime escapes into an entrance to the sewers of Vienna.

And now Holly contacts Harry’s friends that he knows Harry is alive and wants to meet him in a public (safe) place; a giant Ferris Wheel nearby in the city.  And sure enough, Harry shows up and they get into one of the cars of the wheel and talk.  And now Holly learns the truth about Harry.  He is the criminal mastermind who runs a stolen penicillin racket.  Holly tells him that the police have discovered that a medical orderly that was in on the penicillin racket was murdered to provide Harry’s “body” for his faked death.  When Holly confronts him with the deaths that have occurred from the diluted drugs he sells Harry reveals just how callous and Machiavellian he truly is.  Harry reiterates his desire to have Holly join him in his criminal enterprise but he also clearly warns him that bringing in the police would be a very dangerous thing for Holly to do.

Holly decides that because of Harry’s poor treatment of Anna he will make a deal with Calloway to allow them to catch Harry in exchange for Calloway fixing Anna’s deportation problem.  When Anna finds out that her freedom is being purchased at the cost of Harry’s betrayal to the police, she rejects it and also rejects Holly’s affection.  She says she will remain loyal to Harry.  Holly then decides to leave Vienna and leave Harry, Anna and the police to their own devices.  But on the way to the airport Calloway brings Martins to the hospital where the child victims of Harry’s drugs are housed.  Their broken bodies fill Martin with remorse and he agrees to be the bait in a trap to catch Harry.  Harry shows up and at the last second Anna shows up and warns Harry away.  A pursuit follows with police guarding all the exits from the sewer system.  Holly, Calloway and Paine are in on the hunt.  Finally with Harry cornered, Holly too openly approaches Harry.  While Paine attempts to pull Holly back out of the line of fire, he is himself fatally shot by Lime.  Calloway manages to shoot Lime as he retreats to a last exit below the street.  Unable to exit the sewer grating he waits as Holly approaches him with Paine’s gun in hand.  Harry looks at Martins and nods his head in acceptance and a shot rings out followed by Martins walking back to the police line.  At the second burial of Harry Lime we see Calloway and Martins.  Anna is there separately.  Calloway has his jeep and is once again supposed to drive Martins to the airport.  But as they pass Anna, Martins tells Calloway to let him out.  The final shot is a long take of Anna approaching a waiting Martins and then continuing on without looking at him at all.

This is in many ways an utterly strange movie, especially from an American point of view.  There is something disturbing to the American sensibility about the degraded and broken aspect of Vienna.  This is communicated in the images of the broken cityscape but also in the furtiveness and guarded nature of the inhabitants’ speech and behavior.  Dishonesty and criminality and just the wretchedness of life in the shattered place pervades the movie.  Also, the film has a soundtrack that is a repetition of a song played on a zither.  This is a stringed Eastern European instrument that I can’t claim to enjoy all that much.

By contrast, the Anglophone characters, Martins, Calloway, Paine and eventually Lime are wholly different.  They exude energy and confidence.  They seem to be bits of normalcy suspended in this fog of hopelessness.  Even Harry Lime, the criminal mastermind has that American quality to speak openly and unashamedly even about his evil.  He swims in this putrid ocean but he hasn’t assumed the coloration of his surroundings.

As I said the story is very strange and I think off-putting.  But the scene at the Ferris Wheel is very interesting.  We get to hear the devil defend his trade.  And that I think is the interesting thing about the movie.  Calloway and Paine are fun in their proper Englishness.  The Holly/Anna relationship really didn’t do much for me.  So, the show is Holly and Harry.  And coming right down to it it’s Harry.

And the essence of Harry is his parting shot to Holly at the Wheel.  “Don’t be so gloomy.  After all it’s not that awful.   But what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce?  The cuckoo clock.  So long Holly.”

So Harry is the charming, interesting devil you know and like.  The point of the story, if there is a point, is that charming and familiar as he is, he’s still the devil and you can’t let him kill kids even for old times’ sake.

So am I recommending the movie?  Maybe I’m a bit of a xenophobe.  I’m put off by the atmosphere of the movie.  And I know that is mostly my parochial tastes.  Because after all this is a film noir and they’re always supposed to exude seediness and unwholesomeness.  I seem to excuse it in many of the film noirs from America.  So, let’s say I call this a good film, which it is, but throw in some cautions for those who are xenophobic like me and despise zither music.

High Sierra (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

High Sierra was Humphrey Bogart’s first starring role.  He plays Roy Earle, a veteran gangster sent to prison in Chicago for life.  But after ten years one of his old bosses, Big Mac, manages to get him a pardon and arranges for a car and some money to allow Roy to come to California to head up a jewelry heist in a wealthy desert resort where the ultra-wealthy winter.  Mac has recruited a couple of young small-time thieves Babe and Red to assist Earle.  The other part of the ring is the hotel night manager Louis Mendoza who will provide the inside information.

But Roy gets a surprise when he arrives at the meeting place, a mountain cabin park.  Babe has picked up a girl named Marie from a dance hall and brought her along. Roy angrily tells his crew and the girl that she has to go.  Marie, played by Ida Lupino, goes to talk to Roy and convinces him that she is the most trustworthy member of the crew.  She admits that she knows the plan of the heist because Mendoza talks too much.  After a few more incidents between Marie and Babe and Red, Roy decides to have her stay in his cabin and lays down the law with the two young men.

After this a romantic relationship begins between Roy and Marie, although he warns her that love is not a possibility for her with him.  Roy’s heart has been caught by a young farm girl that he has met while travelling to California.  Velma is travelling with her grandfather and grandmother from Ohio to live with her recently remarried mother in Los Angeles.  Roy has had the chance to help the family out as they struggle to pay for the trip cross country.  Their country roots remind him of his own family from rural Indiana and Velma’s unspoiled beauty and unaffected manner charms him.  The girl has a clubbed foot and Roy enlists a mob doctor he knows to arrange for a surgeon to operate on the girl’s foot to repair the problem.  But after the surgery Velma declines his offer to marry him.  She has a boyfriend back in Ohio that she is still interested in.  Roy takes the refusal hard but promises to come back when she has healed from her surgery to see her walk and say goodbye to the family.

Finally, conditions at the hotel are right for the heist.  Marie and Roy take one car and Babe and Red in another.  While Babe and Red are breaking open the safety deposit boxes Roy guards the lobby and Marie is in one of the cars watching for trouble.  She warns them of the approach of a late-night couple arriving at the hotel and Roy holds them on one of the lobby couches along with the bell boy.  But finally, an armed security guard enters.  Roy gets the drop on him but when the scream of the woman on the couch distracts Roy the guard pulls his gun and they exchange shots.  The guard is fatally wounded and Roy is struck on the side.

Rattled by the shooting Mendoza refuses to remain behind to claim his innocence as the plan required and instead goes in the car with Babe and Red.  The two cars take off but the car with the three men takes the wrong road and crashes along a hairpin turn.  Babe and Red are killed and Mendoza injured.  Mendoza is picked up by the police and Roy and Marie return to the cabin without incident.  Roy goes to visit his friend the mob doctor who tends to his wounds.  Then he goes to Mac but finds he’s died of a heart attack.  Following instructions Mac had given him earlier he passes the gems onto a mob contact who gives Roy a little money in advance and the promise that the deal with the big boss would be transacted soon and Roy would get his cut.  While waiting for this Roy goes to see Velma and meets her fiancé whom he immediately takes a strong dislike to.  Velma berates Roy for his jealousy and he leaves.  Now Roy sees Marie’s loyalty and love for him in a new light and promises that as soon as they get their money, they’ll start a new life together.

But all his plans fall apart as the newspapers are full of the story of the heist.  Mendoza has confessed and named Roy as the mastermind of the plot and the murderer of the guard.  Roy puts Marie on a bus to escape the dragnet and promises to catch up with her later when he gets clear.  But Roy is soon identified and the police pursuit corners him in a blocked pass in the Sierra Nevada.  Roy climbs up into the hills and holds the police off with a machine gun.  Marie hears report of the stand-off and heads back to be near him.  A reporter recognizes her from her description and the police try to persuade her to call to Roy to give himself up.  But she refuses.

The police manage to get a sharp shooter with a high-powered rifle on the cliff that overlooks Roy’s position.  And when Roy’s dog Pard escapes from Marie and runs toward Roy’s voice as he banters with the police the dog’s barking reveals to Roy that Marie must be nearby.  He runs out onto the exposed rocks calling her name and is killed by the sniper.

This movie is a sort of combination gangster movie and melodrama.  Even though Ida Lupino got the top billing because of her established reputation at the time really the movie belongs to Bogart.  He plays the part as naturally as any of his later roles.  The plot moves along pretty well and even the Velma plot line isn’t too distracting.  At times I think Lupino is given a little too much melodrama to successfully portray but I think the movie holds up pretty well.  And there are a few character actors in supporting roles; Henry Hull as Doc Banton, Henry Travers as Velma’s grandfather and Donald MacBride as Big Mac that add human interest to the story.  One sort of interesting bit of trivia, the dog Pard was played by Zero, Bogart’s own pet dog.

I think Bogart has half a dozen movies in his resume that are better than High Sierra.  That being said this is a good movie.  I can recommend it.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The true story of the Bounty is an amazing tale. There are sea voyages on wooden sailing ships that took multiple years and girdled the Earth on routes that threaded the Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope to get to such amazing places as Tahiti must have been in the eighteenth century.  Then the human drama of a crew finally rebelling against a merciless tyrant and then escaping the whole British navy to start a new life on a remote island from which they could never return.  Bligh’s unbelievable 3,500-mile sea voyage after being set adrift in a life boat.  And finally, the trial of the men who were captured on Tahiti after the mutiny.

Hollywood found the perfect Captain Bligh in Charles Laughton.  His strutting, bellowing Bligh is an inhuman monster of legendary proportions.  When a seaman whose knees are raw sores asks for water to wash the sand of the deck out of his wounds Bligh orders him to be keel-hauled.  That means he was dragged the whole length of the ship bottom against a barnacle encrusted hull.  Naturally he doesn’t survive.

And Clark Gable is an excellent Christian Fletcher.  His defiance of Bligh before the mutiny is measured and prudent but when the outrages become insurmountable, he finally snaps and leads a mutiny that takes the ship and sends Bligh and his loyal followers out onto the open sea.  The movie presents us with Fletcher sailing the ship to Tahiti and allowing his men to take Tahitian wives.  When the British come looking for them Fletcher leads all of them to Pitcairn Island on the Bounty where they start a new life.

Franchot Tone portrays Midshipman Byam a friend of Fletcher’s who refuses to join the mutiny but is forced to remain with the mutineers.  When the Bounty flees Tahiti Byam remains to return with the British but he is accused of mutiny by Bligh and ends up on trial for his life.  According to the movie the trial is the cause célèbre that eventually caused the British Navy to reform their treatment of enlisted men.

Along with these leads there are a dozen other supporting characters that are each engaging and entertaining.  The seamen, the officers, the Tahitians, the Admiralty Court Martial.  Each is given screen time to tell a story.  One of the standouts for me is Dr. Bacchus, the one-legged, constantly inebriated ship’s surgeon who provides medical help and moral support to the victims of Bligh.  His other amusing characteristic is the constantly changing story of how he lost his leg.  One time it was in a sea battle against John Paul Jones.  Next, it’s a French frigate and after that a Spanish galleon.

As I said at the start, the true story of the Mutiny on the Bounty is an amazing tale.  The 1935 movie is based on a fictionalized account.  There are many inaccuracies that have been added to the story.  For instance, Bligh was not the captain of the ship that brought back the mutineers from Tahiti and chased the Bounty.  There is no record that a sailor was keel-hauled and died by Bligh’s order.  And Bligh did not attend the court martial.  But it is a remarkable movie nevertheless and it is still very entertaining eighty-five years after it was made.  I highly recommend it for all fans of adventure stories.