St. Patrick’s Day Treat: POT O’GOLD (Complete 1941 Movie)

cracked rear viewer

POT O’GOLD Is a fun little comedy-musical starring Jimmy Stewart, who goes to work for his music hating uncle after his music store closes, and gets involved in a feud with a clan of Irish musicians. Jimmy falls in love with the pretty daughter Molly – and since she’s played by Paulette Goddard, who can blame him! Directed by comedy vet George Marshall and featuring Charles Winninger and Horace Heidt’s Orchestra, enjoy POT O’GOLD!:

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Cracked Rear Viewer!

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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)


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.

The Fabulous Forties #2: Second Chorus (dir by H.C. Potter)

I’m currently in the process of watching and reviewing all 50 of the films in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties DVD box set.  Yesterday, I got things started by reviewing Port of New York.  Today, I’m looking at the set’s 2nd film, 1940’s Second Chorus.


As much as I love all of my Mill Creek box sets, watching Second Chorus reminded me of one of the drawbacks of watching a Mill Creek release.  Since Mill Creek specializes in films that have fallen into the public domain, a lot of their DVDs are more than a little rough.  The Mill Creek version was obviously transferred from a seriously deteriorated print.  As a result, the picture is often dark or blurry while the sound is occasionally iffy at best.  That’s a shame because Second Chorus is an entertaining little film.

In Second Chorus, Fred Astaire and Burgess Meredith both play college students.  (Burgess is the wacky one while Fred is … well, he’s Fred Astaire.  He’s confident, he’s suave, and he’s always ready to perform.)  Fred appears to be in his late 30s while Burgess looks closer to 50 but, fortunately, their age is meant to be a part of the joke.  Fred and Burgess have intentionally failed their final exams for seven years so that they can stay in school and continue to lead the college jazz band.  They are perennial college students and who hasn’t known a few of them?  (Apparently, in 1940, there was no such thing as academic suspension.)

When a debt collector comes looking for them (apparently, Burgess bought a set of encyclopedias that he never paid for), Fred manages to charm the collector’s secretary (Paulette Goddard) away from him.  Paulette agrees to serve as Fred and Burgess’s manager and even manages to get them a job with real-life band director Artie Shaw.  (Shaw plays himself and seems to be perpetually annoyed whenever he’s on screen.)  Will Fred finally accept some responsibility, act maturely, hold down a job, and maybe win the heart of Paulette Goddard?

Now, I should point out that, while I enjoyed Second Chorus, Fred Astaire apparently considered Second Chorus to be the worst film that he ever made.  While Second Chorus is definitely no Top Hat, I think that Fred Astaire was being a little too harsh in his assessment. The music is good, the dancing is fun to watch, and the plot … well, who really cares about the plot? It’s undoubtedly a silly film that has very little going on underneath the surface but Astaire and Meredith make for a surprisingly effective comedy team.

And while nondancer Paulette Goddard may not have had as effective a chemistry with Fred as Ginger Rogers (but then again, who did?), I still loved watching them perform the I Ain’t Hep To That Step But I’ll Dig It number.  This entire number was reportedly filmed in one take.  Goddard had little dance experience but it didn’t matter because her partner was Fred Astaire and Fred was so good that he could make anyone look like a natural.

Second Chorus is an entertaining little movie.  Just avoid the Mill Creek transfer.

Lisa Considers The Great Dictator (dir. by Charles Chaplin)

I recently discovered that Uverse has select films from the Criterion Collection available OnDemand.  Last night, I took advantage of this service and watched 1940’s The Great Dictator.  Along with being Charlie Chaplin’s first all-sound film, the Great Dictator was also a best picture nominee.  (It lost to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.)

The Great Dictator is a broad comedy that, ultimately, has a very serious message.  Made at a time when the second world war was looking more and more inevitable, The Great Dictator features Charlie Chaplin in two roles.  As the film opens at end of World War I, Chaplin plays a meek but well-meaning Jewish barber who has found himself serving in the army of Tomania.  Though the barber manages to survive the war, he also loses his memory and ends up spending the next 20 years in a mental hospital.  When his memory finally does return, the barber returns to his barber shop and quickly discovers that things have changed.  His shop has been boarded up and the word “JEW” has been painted over the windows.  Thugs wearing military uniforms now patrol the streets and continually threaten to send people to concentration camps.  Tomania is now ruled by a dictator named Adenoid Hynkel.

Hynkel, who happens to look just like the barber (and who is, of course, also played by Chaplin) is quickly established as being a crazy and rather simple-minded buffoon.  As played by Chaplin, Hynkel gives long speeches in a harsh gibberish language that is designed to sound German without actually being German (fortunately, Hynkel has a translator on hand to tell us, after he has just spent two minutes harshly ranting, “Hynkel just explained his position on the Jews.”) and he continually runs throughout his palace in an attempt to prove that he’s capable of doing a hundred more things than the average person.  In his private time, he does a child-like dance with a big inflatable globe, speculates on how glorious it will be to be the “brunette dictator of the Aryan people,” and tries to maintain a shaky alliance with his fellow dictator Benzino Napaloni (Jack Oakie).  Playing a character that was the polar opposite of his usual persona, Chaplin’s performance manages to be both comedic and disturbing.  You laugh at Hynkel’s buffoonish behavior but you never forget that he’s a very dangerous man.  (Admittedly, I say that with a hindsight that was not possessed by either Chaplin or the audiences of 1940.)

The film proceeds to follow these two characters in two separate storylines that finally come together at the end of the movie with (SPOILER) Chaplin giving a nearly 5-minute plea for world peace.  While Hynkel schemes to conquer the world one country at a time, the barber attempts to adjust to his new life while sweetly romancing the outspoken Hanna (Paulette Goddard),  While the film is probably best known for Chaplin’s performance as Hynkel, I found the barber and Hannah’s relationship to be sweetly poignant.  Their relationship gives this film a heart to go along with its biting satire.

For me (and admittedly, I’m a secret history nerd), it’s interesting to watch The Great Dictator today and try to imagine how audiences first reacted to it in 1940.  According to Wikipedia, the Great Dictator was Chaplin’s most financially succesful film and Chaplin was even invited to the White House to recite the film’s climatic speech for President Roosevelt. And, of course, The Great Dictator also scored Oscar nominations for best picture, actor (Chaplin), supporting actor (Jack Oakie), screenplay, and original score.  Chaplin also said, in his later years, that if he had known what was truly being done by Hitler and the Nazis, he would never have made a comedy like The Great Dictator.

I think that would have been a mistake on his part because if The Great Dictator proves anything, it proves that satire and humor is often the most powerful weapon against the forces of evil.  Though Chaplin makes no secret of the fact that Hynkel is meant to be Hitler and Oakie is meant to be playing Mussolini, they could also serve as stand-ins for just about any dictator who has seized power through exploiting prejudice and hatred.  The sight of Hynkel dancing with that globe is actually a far more effective anti-totalitarian statement than the heartfelt and undeniably sincere speech that ends the film.