Sail Away: John Wayne in John Ford’s THE LONG VOYAGE HOME (United Artists 1940)


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This is my third year participating in the TCM Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film , and second entry spotlighting Big John Wayne . The Duke and director John Ford made eleven films together, from 1939’s STAGECOACH to 1963’s DONOVAN’S REEF.  Wayne’s role in the first as The Ringo Kid established him as a star presence to be reckoned with, and the iconic actor always gave credit to his mentor Ford for his screen success. I recently viewed their second collaboration, 1940’s THE LONG VOYAGE HOME, a complete departure for Wayne as a Swedish sailor on a tramp steamer, based on four short plays by Eugene O’Neill, and was amazed at both the actor’s performance and the technical brilliance of Ford and his cinematographer Gregg Toland  , the man behind the camera for Welles’ CITIZEN KANE.

THE LONG VOYAGE HOME is a seafaring saga…

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One in Eight Million: NAKED CITY (Universal-International 1948)


cracked rear viewer

Producer Mark Hellinger, who brought you the film noir classics THE KILLERS and BRUTE FORCE , traveled to the mean streets of New York City to shoot  NAKED CITY, along with director Jules Dassin and a solid cast led by Barry Fitzgerald. The movie, though fiction, is shot in docu-drama style, with Hellinger himself providing narration throughout. It was an attempt to do something boldly different with the genre, and it succeeds thanks to the talents in front and behind the cameras.

Beautiful young model Jean Dexter is found in her bathtub brutally murdered by her housekeeper. The homicide squad, with veteran Lt. Dan Muldoon and rookie detective Jimmy Halloran, gets to work investigating the case. They discover Jean had been seeing a mysterious man from Baltimore named Henderson. The team then begins the slow, methodical process of catching a killer, pulling on the loose strings of Dexter’s life. Their number one…

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The Fabulous Forties #14: The Stork Club (dir by Hal Walker)


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For the past two weeks, I have been reviewing all fifty of the films to be found in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties DVD box set!  It’s been four days since I reviewed the 13th film in the set, Scared Stiffwhich is probably the longest bloggng break that I’ve ever taken in my life.  However, I am proud to say that I am back and ready to review the 37 remaining films!

Yay! Lisa’s back!

Now, I know what you’re asking.  Why, if I am about to review a film from the 1940s, am I sneaking a random Degrassi GIF into this review?  Well, unfortunately, the movie that I’m about to review isn’t that interesting and there’s not a whole lot to be said about it.  I’ve found some enjoyable and interesting films in the box set — The Black Book, Trapped, the original Jungle Book — but I’ve also found a few that are pretty forgettable.  So, why not liven things up with a shout-out to my favorite show?

Anyway, the 14th film from The Fabulous Forties Box Set was 1945’s The Stork Club.

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When I saw that this film was called The Stork Club, my first thought was that it would be a comedy about pregnancy.  But it turns out that I was totally wrong.  Apparently, The Stork Club was a very popular New York nightclub in the 1940s and this film was meant to take advantage of that popularity.  (That said, according to the imdb, The Stork Club was not filmed at the actual Stork Club but instead on a Hollywood soundstage.)

As for the film’s story — well, this isn’t going to make much sense but here’s what happens.  A millionaire named J.B. (charming, Irish-accented Barry Fitzgerald) falls into a pond and nearly drowns.  Fortunately, his life is saved by Judy (Betty Hutton).

J.B. wants to reward Judy but, for some reason, he doesn’t want her to know that he’s rich.  So, with the help of his lawyer (Robert Benchley), he anonymously arranges for Judy to get both a new apartment and an unlimited credit line at all of New York’s best stores!

But J.B. also wants to keep an eye on Judy and make sure that she’s happy.  But he still doesn’t want her to know that he’s a millionaire or that he’s her benefactor.  After he finds out that she’s a hatcheck girl at the Stork Club, he arranges to get hired on as a busboy.  However, he gets fired after just one night and, believing him to be poor and homeless, Judy invites him to stay at her new apartment.

J.B. agrees and, in the film’s best, non-musical moment, he watches as Judy recklessly spends his money on new clothes.  It turns out that Judy thinks that the apartment and the credit line are all gifts from the owner of the Stork Club and she’s offended because she thinks the owner is trying to steal her away from her boyfriend, Danny Wilson (Don DeFore).

Danny is a bandleader but he’s been serving in the U.S. Army.  When Danny finally returns home, Judy is excited about arranging for him to get an audition to play at the Stork Club.  However, Danny is more concerned about the fact that Judy has a mysterious benefactor and that she’s now living in a luxury apartment with a mysterious old man.

Could Judy be a kept woman!?  Both Judy and J.B. insist that she is not but Danny refuses to believe them because Danny is kind of a jerk.  Of course, Danny isn’t meant to be a jerk but, by today’s standards, he’s definitely a jerk.  Judy could do so much better!

Anyway, the plot’s not really that important.  It’s mostly just an excuse for Betty Hutton to sing a few songs and that’s when the movie is at its best.  Check out some of Betty’s performances below:

Anyway, The Stork Club was pleasant but not particularly memorable.  When it works, it’s largely due to the endless charm of Betty Hutton and Barry Fitzgerald.  It may not seem like much today but I’m sure that, for audiences dealing with the contemporary horrors of World War II, The Stork Club presented a nice diversion.

Cleaning Out The DVR #18: How Green Was My Valley (dir by John Ford)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

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Before I really get into this review, I should admit that I watched How Green Was My Valley with a bias.

Before the movie started, I was expecting to be disappointed with it.  I think that a lot of film lovers would have felt the same way.  How Green Was My Valley won the 1941 Oscar for best picture.  In doing so, it defeated three beloved films that have only grown in popularity and renown since they were first released: Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, and The Little Foxes.  (As well, just consider some of the 1941 films that weren’t even nominated for best picture: Ball of Fire, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, High Sierra, The Lady Eve, Never Give A Sucker An Even Break, The Sea Wolf, The Wolf Man, and Sullivan’s Travels.)  Because it defeated so many great films and since we’re all used to the narrative that the Academy always screws up, there’s a tendency to assume How Green Was My Valley was really bad.

Well, after years of assumptions, I finally actually watched How Green Was My Valley?  Was it bad?  No, not really.  Was it great?  No, not all.  If anything, it felt rather typical of the type of films that often win best picture.  It was well-made, it was manipulative enough to be a crowd-pleaser while serious enough to appeal to highbrow critics, and, perhaps most importantly, it never really challenged the viewer.  Unlike Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon, How Green Was My Valley is a film that doesn’t require that you give it too much thought and, as such, it really shouldn’t be surprising that it was named the best picture of the year.

How Green Was My Valley was directed by John Ford and, as you might expect from Ford, it deals with a changing way of life and features good performances and a few impressive shots of the countryside.  Taking place in the late 1800s, How Green Was My Valley tells the episodic story of the Morgans, a large family of Welsh miners.  The film is narrated by Huw (Roddy McDowall), a youngest member of the family.  Though Huw’s eyes, we watch as his once idyllic and green village is transformed by the growing mining industry and blackened with soot, poverty, and death.

The film starts out as a fairly even mix of sentiment and drama.  Huw has a crush on his brother’s fiancee.  His sister, Angharad (Maureen O’Hara), has a flirtation with the new preacher, Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon).  Much emphasis is put on communal gatherings.  There is a wildly joyful wedding celebration.  We often see the villagers in church and hear them singing both hymns and folk songs.  In their isolate village, they are are united against a changing world.

Or, at least, they think they are.  As the mining industry grows, that united front and sense of community starts to vanish.  A strike sets family members against each other, as each miner is forced to decide whether to side with management or with his fellow workers.  Each year, the wages become lower.  When management realizes that its cheaper to just continually hire new miners, several of the veteran workers are fired and end up leaving the village to seek a living elsewhere.  As new people come to the village, even Mr. Gruffydd finds himself the subject of gossip.

As for Huw, he grows up.  He goes to school, deals with a sadistic teacher, and learns how to defend himself against bullies.  And eventually, like everyone in his family, he is sent down into the mines and soon, his once innocent face is covered in soot.

And, of course, there’s a big tragedy but you probably already guessed that.  How Green Was My Valley is not a film that takes the viewer by surprise.

For the most part, it’s all pretty well done.  The big cast all inhabit their roles perfectly and Roddy McDowall is extremely likable as Huw.  Maureen O’Hara shows why she eventually became a star and even Walter Pidgeon gives a surprisingly fiery performance.  How Green Way My Valley is a good film but it’s too conventional and predictable to be a great film, which is why its victory over Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon will always be remembered as a huge Oscar injustice.

But, taken on its own terms and divorced from the Oscar controversy, How Green Was My Valley may be a conventional but it’s not a bad film.  It’s just no Citizen Kane.

Cleaning Out The DVR #11: Going My Way (dir by Leo McCarey)


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Last night, continuing my effort to watch 38 movies in 10 days (and, for the record, I have 7 days left as of today), I watched the 1944 musical-comedy-drama Going My Way.

Going My Way tells the episodic story of Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby), a priest from St. Louis who is assigned to take charge of a struggling parish in New York City.  O’Malley is meant to replace Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), a stubbornly old-fashioned priest who is struggling to keep up with a changing world.  Though O’Malley is to take charge of the parish’s affairs, Fitzgibbon is to remain the pastor.  However, the compassionate O’Malley doesn’t tell Fitzgibbon about the arrangement and allows Fitzgibbon to believe that O’Malley is only meant to be his assistant.

It’s obvious from the start that Fitzgibbon and O’Malley have differing approaches.  Fitzgibbon is a traditionalist.  O’Malley, on the other hand, is a priest who sings.  He’s a priest who understands that the best way to prevent the local teens from forming a street gang is to convince them to start a choir instead.  When it appears that 18 year-old Carol (Jean Heather) is “living in sin,” it is the nonjudgmental O’Malley who convinces her to marry her boyfriend.

And, slowly but surely, Fitzgibbon and O’Malley start to appreciate each other.  O’Malley is even able to convince Fitzgibbon to play a round of golf with him, while Fitzgibbon tells O’Malley about his love for his mother in Ireland.

What’s interesting is that we learn very little about O’Malley’s past.  In many ways, he’s like a 1940s super hero or maybe a less violent and far more ethical version of one of Clint Eastwood’s western heroes.   He shows up suddenly, he fixes things, and then he moves on.  Instead of a cape or a poncho, he wears a collar.

(And, of course, he doesn’t kill anyone.  Actually, that’s probably a lousy analogy but I decided I’d give it a try anyway…)

At one point, O’Malley does run into an opera singer named  Genevieve Linden (Rise Stevens).  He and Genevieve (whose real name is Jenny) talk briefly about their past and it becomes obvious that they once had a romantic relationship.  We don’t learn the exact details but it does bring some unexpected melancholy to an otherwise cheerful film.  It reminds us of what O’Malley gave up to become a priest.

Fortunately, Genevieve is more than happy to help out with O’Malley’s choir, even arranging for them to meet with a record executive (William Frawley).  The executive doesn’t have much interest in religious music but then he hears Bing O’Malley sing Swinging On A Star.

It’s a bit strange to watch Going My Way today because it is a film that has not a hint of cynicism.  There’s no way that a contemporary, mainstream film would ever portray a priest as positively as Father O’Malley is portrayed in this film.  Indeed, it says something about the world that we live in that I instinctively cringed a little whenever O’Malley was working with the choir, largely because films like Doubt and Spotlight have encouraged me to view any film scene featuring a priest and an pre-teen boy with suspicion.  O’Malley is the ideal priest, the type of priest that those of us who were raised Catholic wish that we could have known when we were young and impressionable.  Bing Crosby does a pretty good job of playing him, too.  Watching Going My Way felt like stepping into a time machine and going to a simpler and more innocent time.

In the end, Going My Way is a slight but watchable film.  It doesn’t add up too much but, at the same time, it’s always likable.  Though the film may be about a priest, the emphasis is less on religion and more on kindness, charity, and community.  Going My Way was a huge success at the box office and even won the Oscar for best picture.

Personally, I would have given the Oscar to Double Indemnity but Going My Way is still a likable movie.

Speaking of likable, the Academy was so impressed with Barry Fitzgerald’s performance that they actually nominated it twice!  He got so many votes in both categories that Fitzgerald ended up nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  Subsequently, the Academy changed the rules and decreed that a performance could only be nominated in one category.  As for Fitzgerald, he won the Oscar for best supporting actor.  He later broke the Oscar while practicing his golf swing.

Barry and Oscar

Barry and Oscar

(Don’t worry.  The Academy sent him a replacement.)

Ghosts of Christmas Past #10: Alfred Hitchcock Presents 1.12 — Santa Claus And The Tenth Avenue Kid


Today’s ghost of Christmas past comes to use from the year 1955.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents was an anthology show, in which director Alfred Hitchcock would sardonically present a weekly tale of suspense and surprise.  The series’ 12th episode was a Christmas-themed episode in which character actor Barry Fitzgerald played a recently paroled convict who gets a job as a department store Santa Claus.  Though Fitzgerald starts out as a rather grumpy and cynical St. Nick, he starts to get into the holiday spirit after he meets an equally cynical young shoplifter.  It’s a surprisingly sweet little story that’s well-worth watching for Fitzgerald’s excellent lead performance.