Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Hold Back the Dawn (dir by Mitchell Leisen)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1941 best picture nominee, Hold Back the Dawn!)

Hold Back The Dawn is a historically important film for many reasons.

First off, this was the last film to be written by Billy Wilder before he launched his own legendary directorial career and, with its mix of sharp comedy and tearful melodrama, Hold Back The Dawn definitely feels like a Wilder film.  Wilder, himself, claimed that he was never happy with the way his script was adapted.  For instance, Wilder wrote a scene in which Charles Boyer, playing a Romanian who is stranded in a Mexican border town, was meant to deliver a monologue to a cockroach.  Boyer felt that the scene was ridiculous and the film’s director, Mitchell Leisen, never filmed it.  Wilder was so incensed that he declared that he would never again allow any of his scripts to be filmed by anyone other than himself.

Hold Back The Dawn also played a part in one of the most legendary feuds in Hollywood history, though there are some who claim that it was more the product of an overzealous pr agent’s imagination than anything else.  For her role as the shy school teacher with whom Boyer falls in love, Olivia de Havilland was nominated for Best Actress and was considered to be one of the front-runners for the reward.  (If nothing else, it was felt that giving her the Oscar would make up for not giving it to her when she was nominated for Gone With The Wind.)  However, that same year, Joan Fontaine was nominated for her role in Hitchock’s Suspicion and many felt that, after losing the previous year for her performance in Rebecca, Fontaine was owed an Oscar as well.  An Oscar night, Joan Fontaine beat Olivia de Havilland.  What complicated matters it that, beyond issues of professional jealousy, de Havilland and Fontaine were sisters.  For years, there were stories that de Havilland had never gotten over losing her Oscar to Fontaine and that, as a result, the two sisters had little to do with each other.  (The truth, as is always the case with siblings, appears to have been a lot more complicated.  de Havilland herself said it was less about the Oscars and more about just not having much in common with her sister.)

Beyond all that, however, Hold Back The Dawn is a charming dramedy that holds up remarkably well.  Boyer is Georges Iscoveu, a Romanian gigolo who has spent eight years living in a Mexican hotel, waiting to be allowed to enter the U.S.  Olivia de Havilland is Emmy Brown, an unmarried teacher who has nearly given up on ever finding love.  At first, Georges just wants to trick Emmy into marrying him so that he can legally enter the United States.  However, he soon finds himself truly falling in love with her.  Unfortunately, his partner-in-crime — Anita (Paulette Goddard) — is also in love with Georges and is not at all prepared to lose him to Emmy.  I know it all sounds very melodramatic but Wilder frames his story with a meeting between Georges and a Hollywood producer, a move the assures us that Hold Back The Dawn is content to be pure entertainment and we really should just sit back, not get too caught up on the specifics of the plot, and enjoy ourselves.  Charles Boyer is all befuddled charm as Georges while de Havilland is both poignantly likable as Emmy.  For me, as good as they are, the best performance came from Paulette Goddard, who is sharp-tongued and wonderfully cynical as Anita.  All three performers are helped by a wonderful script.  Even if Boyer never does talk to a cockroach, Wilder’s dialogue is still sharp and witty.  This is a film that is as much fun to listen to as it is to look at.

Hold Back The Dawn was nominated for best picture but lost to How Green Was My Valley.

This tribute Olivia de Havilland in Hold Back The Dawn was put together by Monique Classique for Olivia’s 100th birthday.

The Fabulous Forties #48: Pot O’ Gold (dir by George Marshall)


Pot_o_Gold-_1941-_Poster

The 48th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1941’s Pot O’ Gold.  At first, I was really excited about watching Pot O’ Gold because it starred James Stewart, one of my favorite of the Golden Age stars.  “Wow,” I thought, “James Stewart never made a bad movie!  This is going to be great!”  However, before watching the film, I looked Pot O’ Gold up on Wikipedia and I discovered that apparently, James Stewart considered Pot O’ Gold to be the worst film that he ever made.

After having watched the film, I think that Jimmy may very well have been correct in his assessment.

Pot O’ Gold is a musical comedy.  Stewart plays Jimmy Haskell, the owner of a music store.  Jimmy loves music but he’s a terrible businessman.  Despite the fact that his store always seems to be full of quirky characters playing musical instruments, it still goes out of business.  Jimmy is forced to go to work for his uncle, C.J. Haskell (Charles Winninger).  C.J. not only owns a health food company but he also produces a radio show.

And, on top of all that, C.J. hates music!

Unfortunately, considering how much C.J. hates music, he lives right next door to the McCorkles, a family of Irish musicians.  The McCorkles are constantly practicing in front of C.J.’s store and, as a result, C.J. is constantly forced to call the cops to make them go away.

When Jimmy first arrives at the store, he befriends the McCorkles.  He even falls in love with Molly McCorkle (Paulette Goddard).  Unfortunately, none of the McCorkles know that he is C.J.’s nephew and C.J. doesn’t know that his nephew secretly continues to love music.  Meanwhile, C.J. is trying to catch the mysterious person who threw a tomato at him.  What he doesn’t realize is that the tomato was thrown by … JIMMY!

And it just keeps going on and on from there.  C.J. conspires to get rid of the McCorkles.  Jimmy tries to bring peace between the two sided without the Molly discovering that he’s related to C.J. and without C.J. realizing that Jimmy threw that tomato.  Jimmy eventually goes on C.J.’s radio show and soon, he’s using the show as a way to give away money to the needy.  Meanwhile, he struggles to forge peace between the McCorkles and C.J. without Molly discovering his true identity and without C.J. finding out he threw that tomato.  Will C.J. ever learn to love music and will it ever occur to anyone that this whole mess could easily be resolved by everyone making an effort not to randomly break out into song every time C.J. happens to be walking down the street?

Pot O’ Gold is an amazingly silly movie and I don’t mean silly in a good way.  This is one of those films where every issue could be resolved if people just showed a little intelligence.  It’s also a movie where everyone breaks into song every few minutes.  The key to a successful musical is that the songs have to feel like the grow organically out of the action.  The songs in Pot O’ Gold feel like they’re just there to be there.

Personally, I think James Stewart is one of those actors who can make any movie worth seeing.  He is his normal, likable self in this film but Pot O’ Gold never seems worthy of his famous persona.

Incidentally, Pot O’ Gold’s credited producer was James Roosevelt, FDR’s wastrel son.  I don’t know how much he had to do with the actual production but I’ve always wanted an excuse to use the word “wastrel” in a review.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Blossoms In The Dust (dir by Mervyn LeRoy)


Blossoms_dust_movieposterDid you know that up until the year 1936, if a child was born to unwed parents, it was common practice to actually put the word “illegitimate” on that child’s birth certificate?  As you all know, I am perhaps the biggest history nerd in the world and, while I knew that there was once a huge stigma associated with being born outside of marriage, I did not know just how institutionalized that stigma was.

I’m also proud to say that my home state of Texas — the state that all the yankees love to bitch about — was the first state to ban the use of the word “illegitimate” on birth certificates.  This was largely due to the efforts of Edna Gladney, an early advocate for the rights of children.  Along with starting a home for orphans and abandoned children in Ft. Worth, Edna also started one of the country’s first day care centers for the children of working mothers.

That’s right — there was a time when day care was itself a revolutionary concept.

I have TCM to thank for my knowledge of Edna Gladney, largely because TCM broadcast a 1941 biopic called Blossoms in The Dust.  According to Wikipedia, the film was a highly fictionalized look at Edna’s life but, to be honest, I would have guessed that just from watching the movie.  While Blossoms In The Dust gets the important things right (and it deserves a lot of credit for sympathetically dealing with the cultural stigma of being born to unwed parents at a time when it was an even more controversial subject that it is today), it’s also full of scenes that are pure Hollywood.

In real life, Edna knew firsthand about the challenges faced by children of unwed parents because she was one herself.  Apparently, at the time, that was going too far for even a relatively progressive film like Blossoms In The Dust so, in Blossoms, Edna (played by Greer Garson) is given an adopted sister named Charlotte (Marsha Hunt).  When the parents of Charlotte’s fiancée discover that she was born outside of marriage, they refuse to allow Charlotte to marry their son.  In response, Charlotte commits suicide.

In real life, Edna was born in Wisconsin but, following the death of her stepfather, moved to Ft. Worth to stay with relatives.  Edna was 18 at the time and eventually met and married a local businessman named Sam Gladney.  In Blossoms in The Dust, Edna is already an adult when she first meets Sam (played by Walter Pidgeon, who played Greer Garson’s husband in a number of films) and they meet in Wisconsin.  It’s only after Charlotte dies that Edna marries Sam and it’s only after they’re married that Edna moves to Texas.  Whereas the real life Edna had relatives in Texas, the film’s Edna is literally a stranger in a strange land.

That said, the film is actually rather kind to my home state.  The film spend a lot of time contrasting the judgmental snobs up north with the more straight-forward people who Edna meets after she moves to Ft. Worth and it’s occasionally fun to watch.  (Of course, I would probably feel differently if I was from Wisconsin.)

Blossoms In The Dust was nominated for best picture but it lost to How Green Was My Valley.  Greer Garson was nominated for best actress but she lost to Joan Fontaine in Suspicion.  However, just one year later, Garson would win an Oscar for her performance in the 1942 best picture winner, Mrs. Miniver.  Incidentally, her husband in that film was played by none other than Walter Pidgeon.

Ultimately, Blossoms in the Dust is typical of the type of movies that you tend to come across while watching films that were nominated for best picture.  Some best picture nominees were great.  Some were terrible.  But the majority of them were like Blossoms in the Dust, well-made, respectable, and just a little bit bland.  Blossoms in the Dust is not bad but it’s also not particularly memorable.  If, like me,  you’re a student of history and social mores, Blossoms in the Dust has some historical interest but, when taken as a piece of cinema, it’s easy to understand why it’s one of the more forgotten best picture nominees.