The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 1

Anyone who has been reading my posts on this site for more than a year knows that I am a Christmas Carol fanatic.  So as a fair warning I’ll just say that this post is only for true Christmas Carol devotees.  Every word of it is subjective and dedicated to minutiae.  I have four versions of the film that I like and each has an aspect in which it excels the other three.  Every year I re-evaluate the films and debate with myself on trivial points that would have exactly zero importance to the overwhelming majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth.  Here goes.

Material that wasn’t in the book

A Christmas Carol was a novella.  It is brief and in places lacks details about the characters and events.

For instance, the book never says why Scrooge’s father treated him so poorly.  In the 1951 version it is stated that his father held it against him that his mother died in his childbirth.  And in the same version a similar grudge exists as the reason why Scrooge dislikes his nephew Fred.  It is shown that his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred.  In the 1984 version the same reason for his father’s dislike for Scrooge is presented.  But the death of Fan during Fred’s birth is not added.  What is interesting about these additions is that based on the original story they would be impossible.  In the book Fan is quite a bit younger than her brother Ebenezer.  Therefore, their mother couldn’t have died at the birth of her older child.  I suppose Fan could have been Ebenezer’s half-sister but I don’t imagine that a twice married man would still be holding his first wife’s death as a grudge against his son.  So, this addition is spurious.  But it is extremely dramatic and provides a timely reason for both father’s and son’s misanthropic behavior that could be somewhat excused and so leave room for deserved forgiveness.  And it has a highly effective scene where the older Scrooge hears his dying sister ask for his promise to take care of her infant son Fred.  We see that the younger Scrooge never heard the dying plea and the older Scrooge gets to belatedly beg his beloved deceased sister’s forgiveness for his heartless treatment of her only child.

And notice that the 1984 version borrows both the discrepancy of Fan’s age and the spurious grudge of Scrooge’s father but neglects the equally spurious grudge of Scrooge for his nephew.  I guess they thought those additions gave resonance to the story.

In both the 1951 and 1984 versions Scrooge’s fiancée is introduced during the Fezziwig party scene and give a name (Alice in the earlier version, Belle in the later).  Neither this early link to Scrooge’s life or the name show up in the book.  In addition, in the 1951 version it skips the scene introducing this woman’s later life with husband and large family but instead substitutes a scene during the Ghost of Christmas Present section where Belle is volunteering at a shelter for the poor.  Now whereas tying Scrooge’s love to the Fezziwig era of his life is fine and in fact better than the way the book presents it, I do not particularly favor the poor shelter addition.  It seems unwarranted.  I think the scene where she is surrounded by her family is dramatic enough in that it illustrates what happiness Scrooge has lost.

In the book the Ghost of Christmas Present visits the house of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  The dinner guests are presented enjoying games such as blindman buff and forfeits which I take to be word games such as twenty questions.  One of the rounds determined that it was a disagreeable animal that growled and lived in London.  And, of course, it turns out to be Uncle Scrooge.  In the 1984 version the story is adapted so the dinner guests are playing a game called similes where they need to guess the end of a simile.  When Fred asks his wife to complete “as tight as,” she replies “your Uncle Scrooge’s purse strings.”  Scrooge hears this while in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  After his repentance and on the actual Christmas Day he meets his niece and discussing the game of similes he advises her that the simile, in case it came up, was “as tight as a drum.”  Nicely played.

From the book we know that Jacob Marley died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve.  And we are informed that Scrooge inherited his house.  What the 1951 version does is tie these facts together in a scene.  We have Jacob Marley’s charwoman come to the office and interact with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge.  Then we have Scrooge being warned by a dying Marley that their misanthropy would endanger their immortal souls.  And this then links both the charwoman’s stealing of his bed curtains and bed clothing and her later spurious appearance after the last of the spirits depart and Scrooge wakes up on actual Christmas morning.  In this scene the charwoman (identified incorrectly as Mrs. Dilber) is bringing in Scrooge’s breakfast and witnesses his reformation into a caring human being.  His manic happiness frightens her and when he gives her a gold sovereign coin as a present, she assumes it’s a bribe to keep her quiet about his strange behavior.  When he tells her it’s a Christmas present and he is quintupling her salary she is overcome with happiness and rushes off with her own characteristic version of a Merry Christmas greeting.  I find this addition to the story especially apt.  In the story the charwoman selling Scrooge’s bed curtains comes off very negatively.  But humanizing her by including her positively in the scene about Marley’s death and allowing a rapprochement with a penitent Scrooge on Christmas morning improves the story and ties these aspects of the story together in a way that gives the story more depth.  It reinforces that Scrooge’s repentance touches every aspect of the world we have been shown in a positive way.

Overall I’d say that the film additions to the plot have been acceptable and true to the spirit of the story.

 

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

The Naked City (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

In this movie the star is New York City at the height of its prominence as the largest city of the most powerful country on the planet.  The tagline of the movie is “There are eight million stories in the Naked City.  This is one of them.”  And almost every shot of the film highlights the sights and sounds of New York.  Everything from the crowded subway cars and crowded streets to dizzying vistas on the tops of buildings and the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge.

The story begins with the late-night murder of Jean Dexter, a pretty blonde model.  It is followed by one of the two murderers killing his partner for being too soft-hearted.

The murder of Jean Dexter falls into the lap of police Lt. Dan Muldoon played with his best Irish brogue by Barry Fitzgerald.  Assisted by detective Jimmy Halloran played by Don Taylor they run down leads until they find Frank Niles, played by Howard Duff.  Every word coming out of Niles’ mouth, including “and and but” is a lie.  And when they find out that he is engaged to Jean’s close friend Ruth Morrison but that Ruth doesn’t even know that Niles was a close friend of Dexter they know they’ve found their connection.  At every step Niles shows himself to be tied to the murder and to a jewel robbery ring.  But at the same time all evidence clears him of Jean’s murder.

Finally, the clues add up to the fact that Jean Dexter and Frank Niles were the brains behind the jewelry theft ring.  They hired two burglars and used information from the husband of a society matron to rob the houses of the wealthy when it was known that they would be at a party.  But finally, the burglars decided to cut Jean out of the picture by murdering and robbing her.  Under threat that he would be indicted as an accessory to murder Niles confesses and provides the names of the two burglars.

The climax of the movie is a manhunt and a shootout between the police and the murderer while he is cornered at the top of one of the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge, hundreds of feet in the air.

In a lot of ways, the movie is a standard police procedural.  But there are enough secondary players to round out the story in a satisfying way.  We meet detective Halloran’s wife and young son and hope with him that he won’t have to obey his wife and spank his son for crossing Northern Boulevard by himself.  We meet Jean Dexter’s parents and watch as the mother goes from declaring her hatred for her prodigal daughter to crying over her “baby” and hugging Jean’s cold dead body in the morgue.  We even meet the murderer’s Lower East Side neighbors who know him as the friendly harmonica playing guy that all the kids like.

This is not a great movie.  It’s a good one.  I recommend it as what it is, an interesting police story.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This must be Charles Laughton’s most unusual role.  As the eponymous Marmaduke Ruggles, he is a gentleman’s gentleman in the employ of the Earl of Burnstead, (played by Roland Young) until his lordship loses Ruggles in a poker game with American cowboy millionaire Egbert Floud played by Charlie Ruggles (there’s that name again).  Egbert’s wife Effie (played by Mary Boland) is attempting to give Egbert and by extension, Red Gap, “tone.”  And her ace in the hole is Ruggles by whose knowledge of etiquette and propriety she hopes to reform Egbert and instill snobbish manners in the Old West town.  And with Effie’s annoying brother-in-law Charles Belknap-Jackson (played by Lucien Littlefield) as the villain and ZaSu Pitts as Ruggles’ love interest the movie is an absurd farce.

The plot of the movie, such as it is, revolves around Ruggles becoming an American.  The movie gets endless mileage out of the contrast between Ruggles’ proper English manners and the rough and ready ways of the residents of Red Gap.  But the movie is really a panegyric to normal good-hearted people regardless of their stripe or fortune.

I realize this sounds like a whole lot of nothing.  But the movie has great good humor and human warmth.  And any movie that has Lucien Littlefield getting kicked in the pants can’t be all bad.

I’m guessing that opinions on this movie will vary greatly.  All I can say is that it’s one of my favorite comedies.  Others will have to take their chances.

The Bells of St. Mary’s – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This week is Thanksgiving and that means we’ve reached the Holiday season.  And going hand in hand with that is my annual holiday movie watching and reviewing ritual.  In years past I’ve especially concentrated on versions of “A Christmas Carol.”  And rightly so.  It is almost a transfiguration of the generosity of the Christmas holiday into a mythic experience.  There is an actual catharsis associated with experiencing Scrooge’s repentance and rebirth.  So, without a doubt I will have something new to say about Dicken’s classic again this year.

But let’s return to the task at hand.

Tonight, I watched again “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”  I’ve seen it many times before.  First off, it’s not actually a Christmas movie.  The movie begins in the Fall and ends in the late Spring.  There is indeed a scene or two associated with Christmas as it relates to the eponymous Catholic grammar school that is the focus of the film.  But it is incidental, not central to the plot.  Strictly speaking, there is no holiday theme to the movie at all.  What there is, is a representation of an American Roman Catholic parish grammar school from the middle of the twentieth century.  And when I say it is a representation and not an actual reflection, I can speak with all the assurance of thirteen years of Catholic school experience to back it up.  Without a doubt, the priests and nuns that I encountered in school and church bore not the faintest resemblance to the kind, patient, loving and wise religious figures that exist in the film.  Quite the contrary, I know without a doubt that some of the priests, brothers and nuns that I knew were truly evil and committed atrocities for which they can never be forgiven.  So, I have no illusions as to the reality of Catholic education and those administering it.

Also, this is a movie from 1945.  America was close to defeating the Axis powers in World War II when the movie was being made.  The populace was united and determined and looking forward to winning the war and returning to normal life including marriage and children.  Everything about the movie reflects a societal view that was carefully orchestrated by Hollywood and the Federal government to maintain morale for the civilians at home and the troops abroad.  Wholesome entertainment and Christian values were the coin of the realm.  And they were especially important around Christmas time.  So, what we see is the Hollywood idealization of Catholic grammar school life.

Put all that together and you have to conclude that this movie is a lie.  A deliberate fabrication.  Shouldn’t it be derided for deluding the public?  Maybe.  After all, if the Catholic Church has been enabling predatory pedophiles for decades maybe movies like the present one are part of the front that allowed this practice to exist.  That may be true.

But if you watch this movie you see a story about people working together to raise children not only by educating their minds but also by nurturing their spirits.  The pastor and the nuns spend the time to find out what problems the children are experiencing and giving them practical advice and help to overcome their problems and face the real world they will soon be joining.

The portrayals by Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman are extremely enjoyable.  Both of them radiate warmth, intelligence, humor and vitality.  Bergman especially shows us a sensitive woman enduring an extremely confusing and demoralizing reversal in her life.  Some of the other characters and circumstances have some predictable tropes and stereotypes painted on but these do not greatly distract us from the central plot lines and some are quaint in and of themselves.

Overall, I found this movie to be a beautiful story.  Whether it’s classified as a story, a fantasy or propaganda it is emotionally powerful and very enjoyable.  For the Christmas season it provides an idealized version of what the Christian religious community is supposed to be.  If only it truly were like the movie.

Sergeant York (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Sergeant York” stars Gary Cooper as the eponymous WWI hero.  The story relates his pre-war life and shows how he overcame a wild youth to “find religion.”  He lives in a log cabin with his mother and younger brother and sister.  Being hillbillies, the soil of his family land is very poor.  When he finds a girl, he wants to marry he sets his mind to buying some “bottom land.”  But a rival in love frustrates this ambition and it was when he was set to settle this feud with his rifle that divine intervention steps in.  Lightning knocks him off his horse and damages his rifle and Alvin ends up at the church where Pastor Rosier Pile played by Walter Brennan, welcomes Alvin back to the Lord’s flock.

But when America enters World War I Alvin York has to somehow square his biblical aversion to killing with his duties as an American citizen.  This conflict and how the reality of the modern battlefield affects him is the climax of the film.  As was stated in his Congressional Medal of Honor citation Alvin single-handedly killed 28 German soldiers with his rifle and pistol and in doing so forced the surrender of 132 Germans and 35 machine guns.  In the movie York explains to the investigators of his actions that he killed the Germans to stop the guns.  As he explains it his actions were meant to save lives.

After the war Alvin returns home and to his great surprise a grateful nation hails him as a hero with a ticker tape parade down Wall Street in New York City.  But even more importantly his home state of Tennessee presents him with a beautiful house on fertile land in his hometown.

Sergeant York was made on the eve of America’s entry into WW II.  In fact, Pearl Harbor was attacked while the movie was still in the theaters.  It is claimed that thousands of young men went directly from the movie theater to the enlistment station.  It could be defensibly claimed that it is a propaganda film for the war effort.  Nevertheless, York’s war time actions were not exaggerated in any way.  Obviously, the supernatural basis of his religious conversion is pure Hollywood but doubtless the portrayal of Alvin York as a simple backwoods man was quite accurate.  The reality of poverty in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee was real and the importance of family and religion was true.

Gary Cooper’s portrayal of York is somewhat broad and even comical at times but I find that is one of the charms of the film.  The other actors in the Tennessee scenes equally play up the hillbilly stereotypical behaviors.  But recognizing those characteristics I still recommend this movie as a fascinating personal story that shows the collision of an older world with the 20th century.  Sergeant York was an American original.

Gaslight (1944) An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Gaslight” is a thriller based on a stage play of the same name.  And in fact, our term “gaslighting” is based on the psychological abuse that is featured in this story.

Ingrid Bergman is Paula Alquist.  As a girl she lived with her famous aunt Alice Alquist, a diva of the Opera stage.  But when her aunt is murdered Paula is sent away from her aunt’s home in London to study music in Italy.  As a grown woman she falls in love with a pianist who plays for the maestro that Paula studies under.  Charles Boyer plays her lover Gregory Anton.  He convinces Paula to marry him and then to move back to London and take up residence in her aunt’s former home.

But once they settle into the house Gregory begins a concerted campaign to undermine Paula’s sanity.  He engineers situations where she seems to lose things or moves things without knowing that she’s done it.  And Gregory conspires with the maid Nancy (played by Angela Lansbury) to undermine Paula’s standing in the home by treating her like a feeble-minded invalid.  And she is isolated from the outside world under the pretext that she has become erratic and would embarrass herself if others witnessed her mental decline.

But one person exists who is aware of Paula’s return to London and is interested in her situation.  This is a Scotland Yard detective, Brian Cameron played by Joseph Cotten.  As a boy he had met Alice Alquist and now he is determined to solve the old murder case.  He suspects that Gregory is up to no good.  Cameron employs the local constable whose beat includes the Alquist home.  He encourages the constable to date Nancy the maid and find out what is going on inside the house.  And Cameron directs him to follow Gregory Anton and find out where he goes every night.

And through Cameron we learn from his superior at Scotland Yard that there were missing jewels that belonged to a foreign king who was a lover of Alice Alquist.  He had given them to her but they disappeared after her murder.  Now Cameron has the motive he has always lacked for the murder and soon he’ll have more.

One of the recurring nightmares that Paula experiences is that every night after her husband leaves the house to go to “work” the gas in her room would go down as if someone had turned on another light in the house.  And at the same time, she would here noises from above her room.  But the attic was boarded up so no one could enter it and no one else ever notices the gas change but her.

Eventually Cameron figures out that Gregory enters the vacant house around the block in order to climb on the roof and enter the attic of his own home from the roof.  There he searches for the jewels of Alice Alquist.  Once Cameron figures this out he barges into the Alquist home while Gregory is in the attic and he confronts Paula with the information.  While Cameron is searching Gregory’s locked desk for his gun Paula notices a letter that Gregory had claimed that she had imagined.  This note was written by an admirer of Alice Alquist named Sergis Bauer and had been found in Alice’s papers when she died.  After examining it and comparing it to an example of Gregory’s handwriting Cameron informs Paula that Gregory and Sergis Bauer are the same man.  Now it is clear that Gregory is her aunt’s murderer.

Meanwhile Gregory has finally found the jewels in the attic and Cameron notices the gas light rising meaning Gregory is coming home.  Cameron rushes out of the house to catch Gregory on his way home.  But Gregory no longer needs to keep up a pretense of working outside his home so he comes through the boarded-up attic door inside the house.   When Gregory discovers his desk has been rifled, he accuses Paula.  She declares that a man did it.  When Gregory demands to know what man was in the house the cook lies claiming that no one has been in the house in order to stall for time.  But hearing this Paula begins to doubt her sanity again.   She is just about to collapse into despair when Cameron shows up and confronts Gregory.  A struggle ensues and after a stray shot Cameron disarms Gregory.  Gregory bolts up into the attic and Cameron follows.  Meanwhile the cook has summoned the constable from the street and he bounds up the stairs and the two policemen subdue and tie Gregory to a chair in the attic.

For the finale Cameron agrees to let Paula talk alone to the securely bound Gregory.  Gregory begs Paula to take a knife out of a cabinet drawer and cut him free to allow him to escape.  But now Paula taunts him with his own words.  She says she’s insane so she can’t trust her own senses that something is actually a knife.  Then she throws the knife away and says, “But I seem to have lost it.”  Then by chance she finds a piece of jewelry that Gregory claimed she had lost and she becomes agitated and she declares her hatred for him and her joy at seeing him being brought to justice.  And she opens the door and demands that Cameron take Gregory away to his fate.

Right up front in the discussion I have to state that listening to Charles Boyer’s voice in this movie annoys the hell out of me.  The combination of his accent and his constant hectoring of Paula makes me want to punch him in the nose.  But at the same time Paula’s inability to stand up to Gregory’s bullying is also very annoying.  I want to shake her and slap her in the face and tell her to snap out of it.  Interestingly, Camera Girl has claimed in the past that I employ gaslighting against her.  But I claim it’s just a combination of bad memory and growing insanity on her part.  Silly woman.

Beyond those visceral feeling I enjoy this movie, especially the ending where Joseph Cotten sets things right.  Ingrid Bergman is a very good actress and even in this exaggerated atmosphere of emotional turbulence she provides a very convincing performance.

Highly recommended.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Cary Grant is Jim Blandings and Myrna Loy is his wife, Muriel.  Along with their two adolescent daughters they live in a cramped Manhattan apartment.  Muriel has been secretly planning to remodel the apartment with an architect for an estimated cost of $7,000.  When their friend Bill Cole (played by Melvyn Douglas) accidentally spills the beans in front of Jim he becomes outraged at spending so much money to continue living in such an unsuitable place.  He yearns to escape Manhattan and own a house out in the wide-open spaces of Connecticut.

The rest of the movie is a cautionary tale for any city dweller who contemplates becoming a rural homeowner.  Everything that can go wrong does and the combination of larcenous realtors and contractors and Jim and Muriel’s ignorance about building a house drive them to the edge of bankruptcy, unemployment and divorce.

Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas were three of the best actors Hollywood ever produced for the kind of light comedy this picture represents.  And the script writers provided them with plenty of scenes where they could fill out the characters they were playing.  Grant is the perfect harried husband.  He is constantly outguessed by his wife and hectored by his progressive-school-educated daughters.  His boss has given him an impossible assignment at work and every penny he ever saved has gone out the window building this house.  Myrna Loy is her usual sparkling self.  She is the dutiful wife but there is always a jaundiced eye and very often a sarcastic comment when Jim steers them off a cliff.  And Melvyn Douglas is the pessimistic lawyer friend warning them at every turn to abandon this fool’s errand and head back to the city.  He also becomes the object of Jim’s jealous suspicions when he always seems to be giving Muriel a kiss on the cheek whenever he leaves.  And when his daughters read in their mother’s diary that Muriel had been in love with Bill back in college Jim feels that his suspicions are justified.

This all sounds like a ridiculous movie.  And it is.  But it also represents a comical take on the experience of millions of Americans who fled the cities for the suburbs after World War II.  And the three stars of the film make the whole experience pleasant, funny and warm-hearted.  I can highly recommend this movie as an entertaining hour and a half.  I especially recommend it for a husband and wife who have bought their first home.  They’ll spend half the time nodding their heads in commiseration at the trials and tribulations of the Blandings and the other half laughing.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” tells the story of the Nolan family.  Johnny and Katie and their two school age children Francie and Neeley are a poor family living in Williamsburg Brooklyn and the story takes place close to the turn of the previous century (circa 1900).  Johnny is a singing waiter who lives for the day when his ship comes in but mostly, he drinks.  Katie makes the money that keeps the family alive by working as a cleaning woman in the tenement building they live in.  In several of the scenes we find her on her knees scrubbing the floors and staircases of the building.  Francie is a very smart and sensitive girl who wants to read every book in the library and grow up to be a writer.  She has a close relationship with her father who favors her love of learning and idealism.  This puts her in constant conflict with her level-headed mother who is determined to make her children successful by avoiding the “dreamy ideas” of her husband and teach them to work hard in life.  Neeley is a down to earth child of his environment and doesn’t suffer any angst over his downscale existence.  He has his mother’s temperament and rolls with the punches.

The movie tracks the downward trajectory of Johnny as he despairs of supporting his family.  But the one good thing he does for Francie is fake a move to another neighborhood that allows Francie to attend a much better public school than the one in her own neighborhood.  This opens her up to influences that teach her that in addition to enthusiasm a person has to “see the world as it really is.”

When Katie becomes pregnant, she tells Johnny that Francie will have to leave school to work to make up for Katie’s absence while she nurses the infant.  Johnny decides to do whatever it takes to save Francie from dropping out of school.  On Christmas Eve night he hears his daughter talk about the teacher who said that she must “see the world as it really is.”  And that resonates with his situation.  He must see himself as he really is.  He kisses her good night and walks out into the snow in his threadbare jacket and pants and goes looking for work as a sandhog for the burgeoning subway systems that were tunneling all over New York at that time.

Shortly after New Year Day the local police officer Mr. McShane comes to tell Katie that her husband is in a hospital in Manhattan having collapsed with pneumonia.  Shortly after she reaches him, he dies.  The funeral opens up Katie’s eyes as hundreds of Johnny’s friends pay their respects.  Her astonishment convinces Francie that her mother never understood her father and is a callous person.

Johnny’s friend, the local saloon owner Mr. Garrity, offers to let the two children work after school at his business setting up food for the free lunch.  Katie lets slip that she had decided that Francie would have had to quit school.  Hearing this Francie becomes truly embittered against her mother and fixes on the fact that letting her finish school had come once again through her father’s influence.  She accuses Katie of never having loved Johnny in life.

But the birth of the child at home forces Katie and Francie to bond and allows mother and daughter to see each other’s side of things.  With the help from the after-school jobs Francie and Neeley graduate grammar school and Katie predicts that the children will finish out high school too and go on to better than lives than their parents had.

And the movie has several other memorable characters.  Sissie who is Katie’s flirtatious sister and the scandal of the neighborhood is on her third husband.   Katie loves her but feels she is a bad influence on her children.  In each of Sissy’s earlier marriages her pregnancies ended in stillborn babies.  But a comment from Francie about the advantages of hospitals as a maternity setting, convinces Sissy to have her child in a hospital.  And the hospital uses oxygen to rouse the unresponsive new born.  And this probably saves Sissie’s present marriage.

Katie’s mother is a wise old woman who warns Katie against hardening her heart against the good things in life just because they don’t lead to monetary success.  And Officer McShane is a friend to Johnny, Katie and the children.  In several scenes he provides help to the family.  After Johnny’s death, he lets his intentions be known that he would like to court Katie.  Katie agrees and at that point even Francie is open to the idea.  So, the movie ends with Katie’s family finally able to cope with life in the modern world.

The cast does a phenomenal job.  Dorothy McGuire is Katie, Joan Blondell is Sissy, James Dunn is Johnny and Lloyd Nolan is Officer McShane.  And even some of the bit parts are memorable and splendidly acted.  The sets are evocative of Old Brooklyn and even mention of some of the place names still brings a smile to my face when I hear them in the movie.    Elia Kazan directed.

This is Camera Girl’s favorite movie of all time.  It speaks to her of families and it exhibits many of the qualities of life in Brooklyn that we still experienced two generations after the Nolan’s time.  I also think she identifies herself and me in the Nolans.  She as the hard-headed and hard-working woman and me as the ne’er do well but idealistic (and handsome and charming) husband.  But the one difference between myself and this Nolan guy is I was born lucky and he was born to fail.  But we watch this movie once or twice every year and we always end up feeling good.  Highly recommended for hard-working wives and lazy husbands.

Stagecoach (1939) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Stagecoach was considered a classic western at the time it was made.  It also proved to be the breakout performance for John Wayne’s career.

The plot involves a stagecoach making a run straight through an Indian uprising under Geronimo.  The passenger list is a cross section of various types found in westerns.  Driving the coach are a lawman named Curley Wilcox and for comic relief Buck, played by Andy Devine.  There’s a prostitute with a heart of gold named Dallas who’s been thrown out of town by the ladies of the Decency League.  There’s a southern gambler named Hatfield played by John Carradine.  There’s the drunken Doc Boone played by Thomas Mitchell.  There’s the obnoxious town banker Mr. Gatewood who has secretly absconded with the bank’s money.  There’s Mr. Peacock who is a mild-mannered whiskey salesman.  There’s Mrs. Lucy Mallory the pregnant wife of a cavalry officer.  And last but not least, the Ringo Kid played by John Wayne.  Ringo has busted out of jail and is headed to Lordsburg like the rest of them but in his case, it is to find and kill the three Plummer brothers who killed his father and brother and framed him for one of their crimes.

The passengers represent the various class and moral differences that make for friction and hard feelings between them.  The main story is the journey through Apache territory and the gun battle with Geronimo’s men but along the way the drunken doctor sobers up long enough to deliver Mrs. Mallory’s baby.  Dallas and Ringo strike up a romance.  Doc Boone finishes off all of Mr. Peacock’s whiskey samples.  Gatewood and Mrs. Mallory discover that he served under her father the general in the Civil War.

But the final chapter is the showdown between Ringo and the Plummers.  And after Ringo finishes off all three of them (with just three bullets!) he gives himself up to Curley to finish out his sentence in jail.  But Curley decides to take the law into his own hands and frees the Kid and sends him off with Dallas to start their new life together across the state line at Ringo’s family ranch.  The storybook happy ending.

For our generation the story probably seems a little too stereotyped, the acting too broad and the ending too pat.  The idea that a lawman would release his prisoner on his own recognizance to allow him to engage in a gunfight after which he would just walk back into custody to be brought back to prison seems like some kind of fantasy.  The expectant mother travelling on a stagecoach through an Indian attack seems even crazier.  But the movie does provide an enjoyable story.  I wouldn’t consider it any kind of best in class western.  I think it’s a good story with several good actors, especially Thomas Mitchell and John Carradine.  And it’s fun to see a young John Wayne navigating around actors who were much bigger stars than he was at the time.

I recommend this movie to fans of westerns, John Wayne and movies of this era.

M (1931 film) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This old movie is in German.  Peter Lorre stars as M, a psychotic murderer of young girls in Berlin.  The movie chronicles how the murderer’s crimes terrorize the city and galvanize the police to roust the criminal element of the city in an effort to find the murderer.  And this interference with their normal operations convinces the criminals to organize and find the murderer themselves.  So, the movie is made up of the murderer’s actions including his killings, the police investigation and the effort of the underworld to find the murderer themselves.

Up front we have to address the foreign language aspect of the film.  If you cannot tolerate a subtitled foreign film then let this one be.  If you can, then follow my review and see if this sounds interesting.  Peter Lorre’s character is satisfactorily creepy and despicable.  Luckily a movie from this era would not include any graphic violence against a small girl so all the murders occur off camera.  The police procedural scenes and the investigator’s analysis of the evidence and the psychological profiling of the killer are well done and satisfy that part of the movie’s work.  But it is the underworld’s capture and subsequent treatment of M that are the centerpiece and most interesting aspect of the movie.  Because after locating M.  The underworld gang have to break into a bank building to extricate him from where he is hiding out.  So, all of their criminal expertise is employed in an enterprise that is actually admirable.

And finally, after capturing M they put him on trial for his life.  They provide him with a defense attorney and have a prosecutor, judge and the membership of the underworld serve as the jury.  The only effective defense that might sway the jury is M’s own testimony that a terrible compulsion forced him to kill against his own will.  But led by the women who formed part of the criminal jury the verdict comes in guilty and they are right at the point of carrying out the death penalty when the police break in and rescue M for his legal arrest and trial.  The last scene is the judge giving a verdict which appears to be the death penalty and a sort of Greek Chorus of the mothers of the murdered children lamenting that M’s death will not bring back their children’s lives.

I like this movie.  Certainly, it is so far removed in time and culture from our present world that it makes it slightly difficult to become submerged in the cinematic experience but I don’t find it too great a barrier to enjoying the story.  And it is a very clever idea.  Criminals policing their own and a parallel manhunt going on by the police and by their usual quarry.  And a trial before the underworld is a wonderful invention.  Finally, Peter Lorre is perfect for the part.  Here he is a younger and surprisingly chubbier Lorre than we are used to seeing in such things as “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and the “Maltese Falcon.”  But his manner with the young girls makes your skin crawl.  So, acknowledging the caveat about foreign language films I highly recommend this film.