Gilda (1946) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is considered a film noir.  I’d call it a happy ending in search of a plot.

The movie begins with Glenn Ford as Johnny Farrell, a down on his luck American in Argentina that is rescued from an armed robbery by a mysterious man with a sword cane.  This man, Ballin Mundson, ends up hiring him to run his illegal casino and soon enough he is Mundson’s right hand man and has all the secrets of Mundson’s fabulous wealth and power.  Apparently Mundson was in cahoots with Nazis who gave him fabulous secrets for cornering the market on fabulous tungsten.  Really, tungsten.  We’re told that a monopoly on tungsten will give Mundson control of the world!  So, since this is 1946 there are disgruntled ex-Nazis running around.  Apparently, they gave him the secrets of tungsten.  Plus, Mundson marries Gilda (played by the very beautiful Rita Hayworth) who was heavily involved with Farrell back in the United States.  But although Mundson suspects that they have history neither will admit to it.

For whatever reason that you care to come up with yourself we’re supposed to believe that Johnny and Gilda hate and love each other and all the tricks Gilda plays to make Johnny either jealous, or worried about Mundson becoming jealous, or both, make sense.  But they don’t.  It’s silly and annoying.

But all good things must come to an end.  Both the Argentine police and the Nazis are closing in on Mundson.  Probably a spike in the price of tungsten.  In rapid succession, Mundson kills one of the Nazis, orders a plane to be ready for him at an airfield, sees Gilda and Johnny kissing in her bedroom then flees to the airfield with Johnny and the police in hot pursuit.  They arrive in time to watch Mundson’s plane take off and then explode over the Atlantic Ocean.  But Mundson parachutes out and is picked up by a waiting boat.

If that’s not goofy enough, Johnny then marries Gilda, the heiress to the tungsten cartel and takes the reins of tungsten power.  He then tells Gilda that she will be treated as a prisoner with no conjugal privileges until she admits to all the love affairs she’s had since Johnny left her in their old life.  Huhh?  She runs away to Uruguay (!) but the Tungsten King has his henchmen bring her back.  Gilda and Johnny are very unhappy.

Meanwhile the police want to bust up the tungsten cartel and they close the casino to force Johnny to give them the information.  When he does, the police inspector tells Johnny that Gilda and Johnny are both in love with each other and they should go back to America and be happy.  So, Johnny walks into the casino to ask Gilda to forgive him and return to America with him.

Just then Mundson returns and intends to shoot Johnny and Gilda.  But the bathroom attendant stabs Mundson in the back with his own sword cane.  And the police inspector tells Johnny and the bathroom guy that since Mundson committed suicide months ago he can’t be murdered.  Huhh?

I forgot to tell you about the bathroom attendant.  He’s comic relief that advises both Johnny and Gilda on life.  Plus, he’s a bathroom attendant.

So, Gilda and Johnny live happily ever after unless they screw up again.

Okay, that’s unbelievable isn’t it?  But the guy who plays Mundson is fun to listen to with his German accent and his love of canes and capes and stuff.  Rita Hayworth is fun to look at and she dances sometimes and lip synchs to someone singing “Put the Blame on Mame.”  And even though all this stuff sounds absurd the movie moves right along and, well, before you know it there’s that plane crash and then that happy ending.

This is a silly movie but I think it’s worth watching because Rita Hayworth is very pretty and looks swell dancing.  And there are Nazis and there is that bathroom attendant who is sort of a home-grown philosopher and pretty handy with a sword cane.

So, I recommend this film but if what I wrote doesn’t convince you then give it a pass.

Night Must Fall (1937) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is a very strange movie.  Robert Montgomery plays Danny, a young man working at a hotel when a murder takes place.  The police suspect him but a rich cantankerous old woman, Mrs. Bramson, hires him to be her personal assistant and live in her home on an isolated forested estate.  Supposedly Danny is going to marry Bramson’s maid Dora.  But he seems more interested in Bramson’s niece Olivia played by Rosalind Russell.  To round out the household is the acid-tongued cook Emily.

So that’s the setup.  Mrs. Bramson is a bitter unpleasant woman who even despises her own niece but Danny pretends affection for the old lady and a sensitivity to her problems and becomes her closest companion.  Olivia can see that he is acting but for whatever reason she doesn’t expose him for a phony when she has the chance.

But much more seriously, she begins to suspect that Danny is the murderer and that he has the murdered woman’s head in a locked hatbox that he keeps in his room.  When the police inspector questions Danny about the murder and searches his room, he finds the hatbox and demands that Danny open it but Olivia intervenes and claims the box is hers and the Inspector relents.  Now this seems inexplicable.  She claims that she dislikes and distrusts Danny but for some reason she saves him.  Later on, Danny tells her that she is actually attracted to him because of the excitement he has brought into her life.

And indeed, Olivia is desperate for something to relieve the boredom of her hum-drum existence living with her aunt in this isolated rural environment.  She longs for excitement and for that reason has rejected the marriage proposal of Justin Laurie who is her aunt’s lawyer and an affectionate, dependable if unexciting suitor.

But everything comes to a head and Olivia cracks under the strain of living in the house with the manic Danny and she flees to Justin’s home leaving her aunt alone with Danny.  Danny murders her and empties her safe of a large amount of cash.  He prepares to burn down the house when Olivia returns and confronts him over the murder.  He happily admits it and informs her that she too will be murdered and burned in the fire.  But just then Justin arrives with the police and Danny has a final scene to declare his madness to himself in a hallway mirror before being carted away for justice.

This is a very strange movie.  My read is this is a woman’s movie.  Other than the murderer the main characters are all women.  The lonely house in the woods reinforces this strange dynamic of women isolated with a sociopathic man who preys on women.  But only Olivia has figured it all out.  Mrs. Bramson is completely taken in.  Dora and Emily can’t make up their minds if he is real or not.  But even Olivia is mesmerized by his tour de force.  She knows he’s a liar and she suspects that he’s a murderer but she retains a sympathy for him that’s hard to believe.

I asked Camera Girl about this because she’s a woman.  I said, “You’re a woman, is this possible?”  She said it could be somewhat believable that a woman who was so desperately bored might welcome the distraction of experiencing the weirdness of such a colorful character.  So, we agreed that although the idea of Olivia helping Danny escape detection is sort of hard to believe, the movie was fairly interesting.

Montgomery’s portrayal of Danny and Russell’s Olivia are fairly compelling characters.  And the rest of the cast is very good too.  As much as this movie is odd and the motif of Olivia allowing Danny to escape detection is far-fetched, nevertheless, I will still recommend this movie for people who like psychological dramas.

09APR2021 – OCF Update – Life Imitates Art

On such a beautiful day I naturally decided to spend it extracting thorn brambles and Russian olive trees with a shovel and a 6 foot pry bar.  After a couple of hours of sweat and back ache I remembered a line from the movie “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

Curtin:  What are you going to do with your hard-earned money old timer when you get back and cash in?

Howard:  I’m getting along in years.  Oh, I can still hold up my end when it comes to a hard day’s work but I ain’t the man I was once, and next year, next month, next week I won’t be the man I am today.  Reckon I’ll find me some quiet place to settle down.  Buy a business maybe … a grocery or a hardware store, and spend the better part of my time reading comic strips and adventure stories.  One thing’s for sure … I ain’t going to go prospecting again and waste my time and money trying to find another gold mine.

I certainly know what Howard was talking about in that scene.

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.