Here's what inevitably happens. I share a movie with a friend or a loved one. Something I think they'll really like but probably have not seen. They love it, and I tell them "That was one of my Dad's favorite movies."

So here are some of those movies, my memories and thoughts, and what made them my Dad's favorites.

Monday, March 5, 2012

1939 A Montage - Part 5: Frankly My Dear There's No Place Like Home

1939.  Laurel and Hardy perform “Shine on Harvest Moon” in “Flying Deuces.”  My Dad may have preferred “At the Ball, That’s All” from “Way Out West” two years earlier, but the boys performance here retains a great deal of their earlier charm.  Two James play unlikely cowpokes.  James Stewart is an amiable, gun-less lawman in “Destry Rides Again,” and James Cagney, in a ten-gallon hat, plays what co-star Humphrey Bogart described as a giant mushroom in “The Oklahoma Kid.”  The serial “Buck Rogers” sets the templates for phasers and transporters.  Sherlock Holmes in the form of Basil Rathbone makes two appearances, in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”  He’s also a second generation Frankenstein opposite Boris Karloff’s third turn as the monster in “Son of Frankenstein.”  Henry Hull offers sage advice on lawyers and their place in the wild west in “Jesse James,” as does a ravishing Norma Shearer to a provocative Joan Crawford in “The Women.”  Bette Davis plays an empress and a queen and an unmarried mother and a dying debutante.  Director George Stevens shepherds a troubled production to fruition with “Gunga Din.”  Charles Laughton wrings more pathos from the tragic Victor Hugo character than had Lon Chaney in the remake of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”  Thomas Mitchell is there to support in the role of Clopin, only one of five astonishing performances from 1939.  If any one actor can embody this amazing year, it’s Thomas Mitchell.  He’s Kid Dabb in “Only Angles Have Wings,” Diz Moore in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Gerald O’Hara, father to Scarlett, in “Gone With The Wind,” and takes home the best supporting actor Oscar for his performance as Doc Boone in “Stagecoach.”

“Stagecoach” is one of two films that, after “Gone With The Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz,” are the most remembered and revered of 1939.  The other is “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  Both films are the products of directors later raised to the pantheon of auteur by critic Andrew Sarris and the writers at Cashier Du Cinema in France. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” is an ultimately uplifting but at times dark study of corruption in the United States Senate and its effect on a starry-eyed, optimistic, patriotic man-child appointed to the august body through the manipulations of a political cabal.  It was directed by Frank Capra, who had already received three previous Academy Awards for directing. “Stagecoach” is a reimagining of the Western as an amalgam of archetype, stereotype, action adventure, and character study, and is often credited with rescuing the Western from the ghetto of low budget, adolescent-oriented productions.  Director John Ford had already won one best director statuette and would eventually receive three more.

Prior to 1939, the Western was largely consigned to low budget poverty-row studios, produced quickly and cheaply, churned out like link sausages, and screened for young audiences on Saturday mornings.  (Yes, the tradition of reserving Saturday mornings for children’s fare predates the popularization of television.)  In 1939, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, and United Artists all release big budget Westerns, throwing lavish production value and star power their way.  Alongside Cagney and Bogart and Stewart, Marlene Dietrich (“Destry Rides Again”), Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea (“Union Pacific”), Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda (“Jesse James”) all headline Westerns this year.  Warner Brothers gives “Dodge City” all the resources at their disposal – their most bankable stars (Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHaveland), expensive and time-consuming Technicolor photography, massive scale and broad vistas.  It would end up as the fourth highest grossing movie of the year, after “Gone With The Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and the Ernst Lubitsch comedy “Ninotchka.”

And an under recognized David O. Selznick receives the Irving Thalberg award from the Academy.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

© 2009 Edward Bowen