THE MOVIES OF 1949
Going to shows every day can be risky. In Vancouver critic Gilmour got a hotfoot. He cooled off enough to toss the year’s bouquets and brickbats
THE MOST fantastic exchange of dialogue I have heard in any movie during 1949 occurred in “Spectre of the Rose,” an American film dealing with madness and murder at the ballet.
The homicidal ballet star (Ivan Kirov) and his fawn-eyed sweetheart (Viola Essen) are shown sitting in a crowded store, paying no attention to the jostling public, gazing at each other with hypnotic intensity.
“I feel,” the lady remarks, “as if I were flying upside down in a wind.”
“Hug me with your eyes,” says her lover brusquely. (Big closeup of the lady’s eyes.)
“I am,” she whispers. (Big closeup of his eyes. Long, impassioned pause.)
“ Harder!" says Kirov, his nose glistening . . . Another memorable colloquy takes place in a depressing exhibit entitled “My Own True Love.” Melvyn Douglas, breaking a moody silence, says to Phyllis Calvert: “Thank you!”
Widening her eyes, she says, “Why, whatever for?”
“Oh,” Mr. D. replies thoughtfully, “just for being you.”
The foregoing, culled from the several hundred good, fair, poor and terrible motion pictures I have attended since last Christmas, are only two of the gems encrusting my many notebooks. Like any other film fan I enjoy collecting such treasures and trying them out on my friends. But I stoutly deny that there is anything vindictive or hypercritical in the pursuit of this mild hobby.
As movie critic for the Vancouver Sun and the Canadian Broadcast ing Corporation I take pleasure in saluting 1949 as a better-than-average year in the Canadian cinema temples.
Some of the films I am about to mention were made in 1948 or even earlier. They did not, however, arrive in Vancouver, where I live, until 1949, so as far as I am concerned they are 1949’s movies.
In my personal list of the best 10 of the year (see box on next page) five, including No. 1, are British films. Four are from Hollywood, and one
(“Louisiana Story”) is a semidocumentary or fiction-and-fact picture produced on the spot by a former Canadian prospector who has become one of the great names in filmdom.
“The Fallen Idol,” No. 1, is a fascinating study of a child’s dilemma in a terrifying and unfathomable adult world.
The screenplay was written by the distinguished novelist, Graham Greene, and is based on his short story, “The Basement Room.” The producerdirector was Carol Reed (“Odd Man Out”).
In the story an eight-year-old boy (Bobby Henrey) stumbles into the sidelines of a tragic grown-up love affair. One of the elders involved is his father’s gentle butler (Ralph Richardson). Another is the butler’s wife (Sonia Dresdel), a lady with the glacial grace and venom of a hooded cobra. A pretty typist (Michele Morgan) completes the triangle.
“The Fallen Idol” is not a highbrow or “art” movie, although everything about it is artistic. Author Greene’s humanity and insight are woven deep into its fabric, and director Reed has taken hold of all its separate and admirable ingredients
and fused them together with extraordinary power.
“The Stratton Story,” No. 2, is the most satisfying Hollywood effort I have seen in 1949. It is a baseball story, but you don’t have to know a three-bagger from a bat boy to enjoy it and understand it from start to finish. It is a warm, human, funny and stirring movie.
Portraying the real-life Monty Stratton, actor James Stewart turns his back on the stylized gawkishness which used to be his trademark and the result is a good, honest study of a baseball pitcher who lost his leg but not his courage. Expert support is provided by Agnes Moorehead as his mother, June Allyson as his wife, and the late Frank Morgan as an amiable old has-been who pilots Monty into the big leagues.
“Louisiana Story” represents the latest achievement of Robert Flaherty, the old master of the documentary. He agam reveals tv's gifts of poetry and perception, along with his canny skill in the use of camera and sound track, in this absorbing fable about a swamp boy, his pet raccoon, an alligator, and a huge oil derrick.
“Quartet,” another British job, is based on four unconnected short stories by W. Somerset Maugham, using four casts and four directors. The result is a bit glib in spots but most of it is delightful entertainment and the best of it is nothing short of wonderful.
Also from Britain is “The Winslow Boy,” based on a true story about a father who fights a vast bureaucracy to clear his small son’s name. Robert Donat, as a barrister, tops a superb cast. The story is one of the most heart-warming ever brought to the screen.
“A Letter to Three Wives,” released early in the year, still towers over all other Hollywood comedies. Three small-town marriages are examined with unusual cinematic candor in this shrewd and rowdy yarn. Paul Douglas and Linda Darnell are especially hilarious as a roughneck merchant and the smooth cookie who hooks him.
“Passport to Pimlico” and “The History of Mr. Polly” are superior British comedies.
“Red River,” made in 1948 but not seen by most Canadians until this year, is a big, brawny western ennobled by director Howard Hawks’ fine feeling for space, sunlight, cattle, horses and men.
“Champion,” No. 10 on my list, is an exciting story of the prize ring. The bluntness of Ring Lardner’s original has been deliberately softened, but it’s still a lively job all around. Kirk Douglas gives a startling performance as a heel who becomes champion of the world.
One for the Cultural Snobs
WELL, that’s the top drawer. Sad to relate, 1949 was also a better-than-average year for stinkers. Picking the 10 worst movies of 1949 (see box on this page) is something like wading around in a roomful of rotten eggs and trying, with pursed lips and distended nostrils, to select the most malodorous.
All of the 10 turkeys I finally fixed on are from Hollywood except “Furia” (Italian), “The Mozart Story” (Austrian) and “My Brother Jonathan” (British).
In the “Jonathan” opus, noble young doctor fights stupidity and malevolence in factory town, gallantly marries dead brother’s pregnant sweetheart, and saves villain’s life with wizard surgery after villain reforms. The dialogue is often preposterously stilted.
At one point a small English boy bloodies himself in a school mixup and his little sweetheart sees him. “You’re hurt!” she gasps. “Only a few cuts and abrasions,” the manly lad replies in his piping voice. “I shall sterilize them when I get home.” The inclusion of an Italian picture on my “worst” list may shock and anger cultural snobs who automatically consider anything from Europe better than anything produced on this side of the Atlantic. Nonetheless, I maintain “Furia” is a
legitimate candidate. As the smoldering temptress who is its heroine Isa Pola looks somewhat the way Greer Garson might have looked if her expectant mother had been terribly frightened by Boris Karloff.
Most torrid movie lovemaking of the year: Viviane Romance as “Carmen,” and Jean Marais as “Don Jose” in “Carmen,” a French nonmusical based on the Prosper Mérimée novelette which Bizet, used in his famous opera. The same heavybreathing narrative was employed by Hollywood this year in a lush Technicolor job entitled “Loves of Carmen.” Compared to their Gallic rivals, Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in the U. S. version seem like a couple of nice kids doing a bit of smooching on a hay ride.
To the Canadian-born actress Alexis Smith belongs the distinction of uttering the year’s throatiest rendition of that imperishable line, “Dahling, you and I live in different worlds!” “Whiplash” was the film containing it.
For Canadians, the healthiest new development in the movie industry was a deal under which many outstanding British films now are being distributed by Famous Players Canadian Corp. Ltd. in its hundreds of theatres across Canada. Formerly, most British pictures had reached Canadians in the theatres of the Odeon chain, which is connected with the J. Arthur Rank Organization. Odeon continues to exhibit Rank’s films, which include some of the best m the world, but Famous Players w’ll handle pictures produced by Korda, Wilcox, Reed and other cinema titans. The spirited rivalry thus engendered seems certain to benefit the consumers.
The year brought several interesting reissues of old films. The Hollywood revivals I enjoyed most were “Stormy Weather,” a vigorous all-Negro musical featuring Lena Horne, “Fats” Waller and Bill Robinson; “A Night at the Opera,” one of the funniest of the Marx Brothers’ roughhouses; “They Drive by Continuad on ¡mué 46
Critic Gilmour Picks The BEST . . . and ... The WORST
1. “The Fallen Idol.”
2. “The Stratton Story.”
3. “Louisiana Story.”
5. “The Winslow Boy.”
6. “A Letter to Three Wives.”
7. “Passport to Pimlico.”
8. “The History of Mr. Polly.”
9. “Red River.”
1. “The Fountainhead.”
2. “Angel on the Amazon.”
4. “The Mozart Story.”
5. “My Brother Jonathan.”
6. “The Sun Comes Up.”
7. “Song of India.”
8. “Flaxy Martin.”
9. “Bride of Vengeance.”
10. “Siren of Atlantis.”
The Movies of 1949
Continued from page 23
Night,” a hard-boiled yarn about longhaul truckers and their womenfolks, and “The Ox-Bow Incident,” a moving and uncompromising study of lynchmob psychology.
The best of the year’s British reissues was “Pygmalion,” the 1938 Bernard Shaw comedy starring the late Leslie Howard as a professor of phonetics and Wendy Hiller as the Cockney flowergirl whom he turns into a proper lydy.
It was a pretty fair year for good music on the screen. The so-called “longhair” repertoire, rather surprisingly, fared better than the “pops.” Canadians in larger centres enjoyed a worthy series of Italian operatic films, some of them several years old but as undated as their best arias. Included were “La Travista,” The Barber of Seville, “Pagliacci,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” and “L’Elisir d’Amore,” the latter carrying the English title “This Wine of Love.” Outstanding were tenor Beniamino Gigli, baritone Tito Gobbi, and a superb basso, Italo Tajo. They also introduced a soprano, Nelly Corradi, who is so beautiful and so charming that only a cad would complain seriously about her occasional serapy top notes.
Sadists Love The Classics
Filmgoers who prefer their music “straight” got a break in “Concert Magic,” which had no plot at all. It soberly presented a good 90-minute program of classical music featuring Yehudi Menuhin, violinist; Jakob Gimpel, pianist; Eula Beal, a tall young contralto who looks like Jane Russell; and a symphony orchestra under Antal Dorati.
Eula Beal’s eloquent singing of a Bach aria from “The Passion According to St. Matthew,” ably abetted by Menuhin and the orchestra, was the finest musical experience offered by the screen during 1949. However, “Concert Magic” deserves censure for timor-
ously sidestepping the challenging field of modern music; all its composers have been dead at least 50 years.
Footnote re music in the movies: Hollywood still can’t help feeling that a sadist or a murderer is more understandable if he adores the classics. In “Johnny Allegro,” for instance, the villain is George Macready, who shuts his eyes and listens to symphonic records when he isn’t butchering his business colleagues with a bow and arrow. It’s getting so that a fellow with a teste for Beethoven is in danger of being shadowed by the FBI.
In Canada the energetic National Film Board turned out a lot of good solid work in 1949. A few of the NFB documentaries tended to tell their stories too much in terms of charts, statistics and inanimate things instead of concentrating whenever possible on human beings, but the best of them continue to be as fine as are made anywhere.
Hollywood saluted a saga of Canadian history in “Canadian Pacific.” It turned out to be a fair-to-maudlin, run-of-the-range western but didn’t come close to fulfilling its own grandiose pretensions as a definitive record of Canadian pioneer achievement.
Two new Hollywood directors, Mark Robson (born Rabinovitch in Montreal) and Ted Tetzlaff, showed much promise in excellent little pictures produced on low budgets with noncelebrity casts. Robson gave us “Roughshod,” a better-than-average western, “Champion,” the boxing picture mentioned previously, and “Home of the Brave,” the firsfc of a meritorious cycle of films attacking prejudice against Negroes.
Tetzlaff, formerly a top cameraman, directed “The Window,” a suspenseful story about a small boy who sees a murder being committed but can’t convince anybody except the killers that his story is on the level. Bobby Driscoll was an ideal choice for the role of the little hero.
As always, performers in supporting roles often gave more pleasure than the big stars. In two viewings of “The
Fighting O’Flynn,” an Irish romp starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., I was enchanted by a brunette colleen named Fancy Free, played by Patricia Medina. Dancer-comedian Ray Bolger in “Look for the Silver Lining”; Hermione Baddeley as kite-mad Herbert’s piefaced mama in “Quartet”; Jose Ferrer as the subtle Dauphin in “Joan of Arc,” and Thelma Ritter as a hard-boiled family servant in “A Letter to Three Wives”—these, to mention only a handful, were among the contributory performances which I, for one, remember with affection.
Disney Back with a Toad
Dipping again into my cornucopia of quotes I submit a weird entry from “Moonrise,” the story of a dismal young man (Dane Clark) who is “under a curse” because his father died on the gallows. He bashes his rival’s head in with a boulder, snarls and snaps at his tender true love, and almost chokes the life out of a harmless deaf-mute. After all this the lady in the case (Gail Russell) tremulously assures the sheriff: “Inside, he’s just
gentle and lonely and lost.”
Jane Wyman, who was so eloquently silent in “Johnny Belinda,” returned to the sound track in “Kiss in the Dark.” The results were not exactly felicitous. For example, in defining the word “propinquity,” bare-legged Wyman remarks to concert pianist David Niven:
“Propinquity. It means—you know —nearness? Like—uh—two people seeing a lot of each other. He looks at her and says, ‘Some dish!’ She looks at him and says, ‘Some drip!’ Then they go on from there.”
Walt Disney, who at his best is one of the authentic creative talents in the field of entertainment for the millions, had a somewhat uneven year. But with “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” (no humans at all) released late in the year, Disney gave us the best thing he has done since 1942’s “Bambi.”
The funniest piece of purely “visual” Continued on page 48
Continued from page 46 comedy, in the style of the old silent movies, was the one involving Red Skelton’s efforts to mount a polo pony in “Neptune’s Daughter.” A fat woman sitting near me laughed so hard she had to be assisted out by usherettes, presumably to recover from the painful stitch in her side.
In “Let’s Live a Little,” which was not a particularly good comedy, there was one amusing bit presenting shewolf Anna Sten and reluctant Robert Cummings on the dance floor.
“Hold me tighter, dar-leengh!” says the lady. Mr. C. replies grimly, “If I hold you any tighter I’ll be dancing in back of you.”
Purists who deplore the bad grammar frequently used on the screen must have shuddered after hearing one incredible line uttered in “The Sun Comes Up” by Claude Jarman, Jr., appearing as a teen-age rube whose conversation makes Mortimer Snerd sound like a Foreign Office diplomat. Says young Jarman to Lassie, the intellectual collie: “Don’t you never
go near no snake, nohow, on no account!” The dog, I still swear, actually looks embarrassed.
Along with several pretty fair westerns on conventional lines Hollywood produced a couple of burlesques in the same field. The funniest by a wide
margin was “The Paleface,” featuring Bob Hope as a nervous dentist among the bad men and Jane Russell as a gal with a gat in her garter. “The Kissing Bandit,” starring Frank Sinatra, had a few sly touches but seemed pale and puny beside the Hope effort.
In the department of nostalgia a lot of people suddenly felt a lot older when they saw Leatrice Joy as a wrinkled granny in “Red Stallion in the Rockies.” It was the first film role in 17 years for the former romantic star of the silent screen. Madeleine Carroll, still beautiful and charming, returned after six years in “Don’t Trust Your Husband,” but it turned out to be a strained and hollow comedy unworthy of her talents.
The year’s most joyous reunion, seemingly to themselves and assuredly to the public, was that of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, dancing and singing together again after a 10-year separation. They appeared in “The Barkleys of Broadway” and managed to triumph over its irritatingly silly story.
Purely personal addendum: In a
Vancouver movie house one day last March somebody gave me a successful hotfoot. Iam reasonably certain that the culprit was a nearby urchin with an elaborately innocent demeanor, rather than the theatre manager. ★