Hail, Hero! (1969, directed by David Miller)


After going away to college, Carl Dixon (25 year-old Michael Douglas, in his film debut) has returned to his rural hometown.  Though Carl comes from a family with a long military tradition, he’s against the war in Vietnam and is considered to be a hippie by his family.  As soon as his stern father (Arthur Kennedy) sees Carl, he sits him down in the kitchen and, after declaring that no one is going to mistake his son for a girl, cuts his hair.  Meanwhile, Carl’s mother (Teresa Wright) stays out of the conflict between her husband and her son while Carl’s older brother (Peter Strauss) continues to resent Carl for the accident that injured his spinal cord and kept him from going off to war.

Carl has an announcement to make.  Despite being against the war in Vietnam, he’s joined the army.  He will soon be going overseas, where he’ll get a chance to be a hero and where he says he hopes to love the enemy.  No one in his family can understand his decision, though they certainly spend a lot of time talking about it.  Carl can’t explain it either, though he certainly keeps trying.  Eventually, Carl ends up going for a swim with a local girl (Deborah Winters), smoking weed with a woman who lives in a cave with a mummified baby, and painting the family barn with a mural that’s supposed to explain it all.

Hail, Hero! is an extremely talky film that wants to say something about the war in Vietnam but it doesn’t seem to know what.  The film’s too sincere in its confusion to be a disaster but it’s also too muddled to really be effective.  Carl is opposed to the war but he drops out of college and enlists because it’s what his father would have wanted him to do but his father doesn’t seem to be impressed with the decision and Carl doesn’t seem to like his father to begin with so why volunteer for something that you find to be immoral?  The film would have been effective if Carl had been drafted into the war and had to choose between reporting for duty or fleeing to Canada.  But having him drop out of college and volunteer to serve makes it more difficult to sympathize with him when he talks about how opposed he is to the war.

If the film gets any attention today, it is probably because of Michael Douglas in the lead role.  This was Douglas’s film debut.  He was 25 when he made the film and he was already a dead ringer for his father.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t give a very good performance.  He’s miscast in the lead role.  Carl Dixon is supposed to be insecure and conflicted.  Insecure is not something that comes to mind when you think about Michael Douglas.  Instead, Carl just comes across as being petulant and self-righteous.  Hail, Hero! tries to say something about the war in Vietnam but Carl Dixon’s the wrong messenger.

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1940s


Gary Cooper. Joan Fontaine, Mary Astor, and Donald Crisp at the 1942 Oscars.

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1940s.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Amazing, Alfred Hitchcock never won the Best Directing Oscar.  In fact, it was rare that his films were even nominated.  (Though Rebecca did win Best Picture, it could be argued that film’s style was as much to due to David O. Selznick as it was to Hitchcock.)  One of the best of Hitchcock’s unnominated films was Shadow of a Doubt.  With its dark sense of humor and wonderful performances from Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, Shadow of a Doubt was Hitchcock at his best.  It was also, perhaps, a bit too darkly subversive for the Academy.

Detour (1945, dir by Edgar G. Ulmer)

The ultimate film noir nightmare, Detour was actually well-received when it was originally released, though it would take a while for the film to be recognized as a true classic.  Still, there was no way that the Academy was going to nominate a low-budget B-movie about a guy who hitchhikes across America and manages to accidentally kill two people.  Detour was far too nightmarish and surreal for the Academy but it’s remained one of the most influential films ever made.

Gilda (1946, dir by Charles Vidor)

Another classic film noir, Gilda is the film that, for many, will always define Rita Hayworth.  Through the film was a financial and critical success, it was ignored by the Academy.  The success of this film and the popularity of Hayworth’s performance led to the fourth atomic bomb to ever be detonated being named Gilda.  Rita Hayworth was reportedly not happy to hear it.

Black Narcissus (1947, dir by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

One of the most visually stunning films ever made, Black Narcissus won Oscars for Best Cinematography and for Art Design but it received no other nominations, not even for the outstanding performances of Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron, as two nuns who have very different reactions to the Himalayas.

Out of the Past (1947, dir by Jacques Tourneur)

A world-weary private investigator (Robert Michum) is hired by a slick and psychotic gangster (Kirk Douglas) and ordered to track down the gangster’s girlfriend (Jane Greer).  So beings this rather melancholy and introspective film noir, one that is distinguished by wonderfully shadowy photography and which features one of Mitchum’s best performances.  Sadly, the Academy recognized neither the film nor Mitchum’s performance.

Portrait of Jennie (1948, dir by William Dieterle)

This haunting and dream-like fantasy stars Joseph Cotten as a painter who meets, paints, and falls in love with a mysterious woman (Jennifer Jones) who may not be what she seems.  The film was apparently not a huge success when it was first released but, seen today, it’s hard not to get swept up in the film’s romantic sadness.  Though it received a nomination for Best Cinematography, it was otherwise ignored by the Academy.

Up next, in about an hour or so, the 1950s!

Enjoy The Miracle on 34th Street!


Now, before anyone asks, this is not the Oscar-nominated original with Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood.  Nor is it the 90s remake with Richard Attenborough and that girl who gives a hundred interviews a year about how she doesn’t care about being famous.

Instead, this is a 46-minute made-for-TV production from 1955!  It stars the one and only Thomas Mitchell (you’ll remember him as Uncle Billy from It’s A Wonderful Life) as the man who might be Santa Claus!

Even though this version may not be quite the holiday masterpiece that the original is, I still like it.  You really can’t go wrong with Thomas Mitchell as Santa.

Enjoy!

And remember….

THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Pride of the Yankees (dir by Sam Wood)


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“People all say that I’ve had a bad break. But today … today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

— Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) at the end of The Pride of the Yankees (1943)

After airing Foreign Correspondent earlier tonight, TCM followed up by showing the 1943 best picture nominee, The Pride of the Yankees.  Knowing that Pride of the Yankees was going to be a baseball film and that I know next to nothing about baseball, I recruited my sister, the Dazzling Erin, to watch the movie with me.  Erin loves baseball and I knew that she would be able to explain anything that went over my head.

Well, I absolutely loved watching this movie with my sister but it turns out that The Pride of the Yankees isn’t really much of a baseball movie.  True, it’s about a real life baseball player.  Several actual players appeared as themselves.  About 85% of the film’s dialogue deals with baseball and probably about 70% of the film features characters playing some form of the game.  But the film never goes into any great detail about baseball or how it’s played.  There’s no talk of strategy or rules or deeper meaning or anything else.  Going into the film, I knew that baseball was a game that involved throwing, swinging bats, and running.  And it turns out that was all that I needed to know.

The Pride of the Yankees is less about baseball and more about celebrity.  It’s a biopic of Lou Gehrig, who today is best known for his battle with ALS, a disease that is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 and The Pride of the Yankees was released just a year later.  Watching the film, it’s obvious that Gehrig was a beloved figure, the type of celebrity who, if he were alive today, would probably be the center of stories like, “Lou Gehrig Did Something This Weekend And It Was Perfect.”  Watching the film, it easy to imagine how traumatic it must have been for the nation when a beloved athlete like Lou Gehrig died at the age of 37.

As a result, The Pride of the Yankees is less a biopic and more a case for canonization.  From the minute that the film’s Lou Gehrig appears on-screen, he is presented as being the type of saintly athlete who, by promising to hit two home runs in one game, inspires a crippled child to walk.  Lou is modest, kind, unpretentious, and never gets angry.  Over the course of the film, he takes care of his mother, displays a worthy work ethic, and marries Eleanor.  He and Eleanor have a perfect marriage without a single argument or a hint of trouble, except for the fact that Lou sometimes gets so busy playing baseball with the local children that he’s late coming home.  There’s not a hint of sadness in their life, until Lou suddenly gets sick.

And really, it should not work.  If ever there’s ever been a film that should be painfully out-of-place in our more cynical times, it would be The Pride of the Yankees.  However, the film still works because Lou is played by Gary Cooper and Eleanor is played by Teresa Wright.  These two excellent performers bring their considerable talents to making overly sentimental scenes feel credible.  Gary Cooper was 40 years old when he made The Pride of the Yankees and there’s a few scenes — especially the ones where Lou is supposed to be a student at Columbia University — where Cooper is clearly too old for the role.  But, for the most part, Gary Cooper did a great job as Lou Gehrig.  Cooper is especially memorable when Lou first starts to show signs of being ill.  Watching Lou struggle to swing a bat, I was reminded of a horse struggling to stand on an injured leg.  It was almost painfully poignant.

The Pride of the Yankees was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including best picture.  However, it lost to another sentimental film that featured Teresa Wright, Mrs. Miniver.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Winner: Mrs. Miniver (dir by William Wyler)


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Mrs. Miniver, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1942, is often treated somewhat dismissively by film historians.  The film tells the story of the Minivers, an upper middle class British family whose peaceful lives are changed forever by the start of World War II.  When the film initially went into production, the U.S. was still a neutral country.  As shooting commenced, the U.S. edged closer and closer to entering the war and, as a result, the script was continually rewritten to make Mrs. Miniver even more pro-British and anti-German than before.  The finished film was released four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, by which point Mrs. Miniver had gone from being domestic drama to being both a celebration of British resilience and the Allied war effort.  “If the Minivers can do it,” the film told audiences, “why can’t you?”  As a result, Mrs. Miniver is often described as being merely effective propaganda.

Well, Mrs. Miniver may indeed be propaganda but it’s amazingly effective propaganda.  I recently DVRed it off of TCM and I have to admit that, as a result of those previously mentioned film historians, I wasn’t expecting much.  But I was in tears by the end of the film.  Yes, World War II has long since ended.  And yes, I could watch the movie and see all of the tricks and the heavy-handed manipulations that were employed to get the desired emotional response from the audience but it didn’t matter.  The film is so effective and so well-acted that you’re willing to be manipulated.

(Of course, it helps that there’s not much nuance to World War II.  As far as wars go, WWII was as close to a fight between good and evil as you can get.  If you can’t celebrate propaganda that was designed to defeat the Nazis, then what can you celebrate?)

As for the film itself, Greer Garson plays Kay Miniver, matriarch of the Miniver Family.  Her husband, Clem (Walter Pidgeon) is a successful architect.  When we first meet Kay and Clem, the only thing that they have to worry about is the annual village rose show.  (Henry Travers — who everyone should love because he played Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life — plays the eccentric stationmaster who is determined to win with his rose.)  However, that all changes when they go to church and the vicar (Henry Wilcoxin) announces that Great Britain has declared war on Germany.

Life changes.  Soon, Kay must hold her family together while bombs are falling from the sky.  When Clem is away, helping out with the Dunkirk evacuation, Kay comes across a wounded German flyer (Helmut Dantine) in her garden.  The flyer demands that Kay give him food and when she does, he snarls that the Third Reich will be victorious.  He then passes out from his injuries, allowing Kay to take his gun and call the police.  (Reportedly, this scene was rewritten and reshot several times, with the German becoming progressively more hateful with each new version.)

Kay’s son, Vincent (Richard Ney), joins the Royal Air Force.  He also falls in love with Carol Beldon (Theresa Wright), the daughter of the aristocratic Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty).  Over the concerns of Lady Beldon, Carol marries Vincent and she becomes the second Mrs. Miniver.  They do so, despite knowing that Vincent will probably be killed before the war ends.

Of course, there is tragedy.  People who we have come to love are lost, victims of the German onslaught.  Throughout it all, the Minivers (and, by extension, the rest of Great Britain) refuse to give into despair or to lose hope.  The film ends with them singing a hymn in a church that no longer has a roof and listening as the vicar tells them why they will continue to fight.

And yes, it’s all very manipulative but it’s also very effective.  I did cry and the film earned those tears.  In many ways, Mrs. Miniver is perhaps most valuable as a time capsule.  It’s a film about World War II that was actually made during the war and, as such, it provides a window into the attitudes and culture of the time.  But, if the film is valuable as history, it’s also just as valuable as a well-made melodrama.

I’m not sure if I would say that Mrs. Miniver deserved to defeat Kings Row for best picture of 1942.  But it’s still an undeniably good film.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: The Little Foxes (dir by William Wyler)


Little_foxesThat Bette Davis was an amazingly talented actress is something that we all already know.

However, she has become such an iconic figure that I think that it’s easy to forget just how versatile she could be.  She was ferocious in Of Human Bondage.  She was poignant in Dark Victory.  She was majestic in All About Eve.  Even when she eventually ended up appearing in stuff like Burnt Offerings, she still managed to command the screen.  Of course, nobody played evil with quite the style and power as Bette Davis at her prime.  And if you ever have any doubt about that fact, I would suggest watching the 1941 Best Picture nominee, The Little Foxes.

Based on a play by Lillian Hellman, The Little Foxes is a dark Southern melodrama that takes place in 1900.  The once mighty Hubbard Family has fallen on hard times.  Brothers Benjamin (Charles Dingle) and Oscar (Carl Benton Reid) have inherited their father’s money and Oscar has made himself even more wealthy by marrying the poignant alcoholic Birdie (Patricia Collinge).  However, when Oscar and Benjamin decide that they want to build a cotton mill, they discover that, even with their own fortunes, they are still $75,000 short.

They turn to their sister, Regina (Bette Davis).  As quickly becomes obvious, Regina is a hundred times more intelligent and clever than either one of her brothers.  However, because she’s a woman, Regina was not considered to be a legal heir to their father’s fortune.  As a result, after his death, she was left penniless.  In order to survive, Regina had to marry the wealthy but sickly Horace (Herbert Marshall).  When Regina asks Horace for the $75,000, Horace refuses.  He wants nothing to do with either one of her brothers.

With the reluctant help of Oscar’s son, Leo (Dan Duryea), the brothers steal the money straight from Horace’s bank account.  Regina, however, finds out about the theft and schemes to blackmail her two brothers….

For the majority of the film, you are totally on Regina’s side.  Despite the fact that Regina is ruthless and obviously taking advantage of Horace’s weakened state, you find yourself making excuses for her.  Her brothers are both so sleazy and greedy and Regina is so much smarter than her idiotic siblings that the film occasionally feels like a dark comedy.  It’s fun watching her get the better of them and you find yourself assuming (and hoping) that Regina will somehow be redeemed by the end of the movie.

And then it happens.

Aware of both Regina’s scheme and the fact that she never loved him, Horace announces that he’s going to change his will and he’s going to leave his entire fortune to their daughter, Alexandra (Teresa Wright, in her Oscar-nominated film debut).  He also tells Reginia that he’s going to say that he lent Leo the money, which would make it impossible for her blackmail scheme to work.

It’s while they’re arguing that Horace suddenly suffers a heart attack.  And as Horace struggles to climb up a staircase so that he can get his medicine, Regina calmly sits in a chair and shows not a hint of emotion as he dies.  It’s such an unexpected and effective moment, largely because Bette Davis’s performance was so good that it kept both the viewer and Horace from realizing just how monstrous Regina truly was.

It’s hard to think of any contemporary actress who could so totally and believably embody a character of Regina Gibbons.  It takes courage to commit so fully to playing such an evil and hateful character.  Bette Davis had that courage and her performance alone makes The Little Foxes worth watching.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Winner: The Best Years Of Our Lives (dir by William Wyler)


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I’ve seen The Best Years Of Our Lives on TCM a few times.  There’s a part of me that always wishes that this film was dull, in the way that many best picture winners can be when watched through modern eyes, or in any other way overrated.  The Best Years Of Our Lives won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1946 and in doing so, it defeated one of my favorite films of all time, It’s A Wonderful Life.  A part of me would love to be able to say that this was one of the greatest injustices of cinematic history but, honestly, I can’t.    The Best Years Of Our Lives is an excellent film, one that remains more than worthy of every award that it won.

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The film deals with veterans returning home from World War II and struggling to adjust to life in peacetime.  That’s a topic that’s as relevant today as it was back in 1946.  If there’s anything that remains consistent about human history it’s that there is always a war being fought somewhere and the man and women who fight those wars are often forgotten and abandoned after the final shot has been fired.  The returning veterans in The Best Years Of Our Lives deal with the same issues that our soldiers have to deal with today as they return from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Best Years Of Our Lives follows three veterans as they return home to Boone City, Ohio.  As they try to adjust to civilian life, their loved ones struggle to adjust to them.

 Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews

Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews

Fred Derry (played by Dana Andrews) is a self-described former soda jerk.  (To be honest, I’m really not sure what a soda jerk was but it doesn’t sound like a very fun job.)  During the war, he was a captain in the air force.  He returns home with several decorations and few marketable skills.  During the war, he was good at bombing cities but there’s not much that can be done with that skill during peacetime.  Nearly penniless, Fred takes a job selling perfume at a department store.  He spends his days trying to control her temper and not give into his frustration.  At night, he’s haunted by nightmares of combat.

Teresa Wright and Virginia Mayo

Teresa Wright and Virginia Mayo

Meanwhile, his wife, Marie (Virginia Mayo), finds herself resenting the fact that Fred has come home.  She married him while he was in flight training and, as quickly becomes obvious, she’s less enamored of Fred now that he’s just another civilian with a low-paying job.  (She continually begs him to wear the uniform that he can’t wait to take off.)  The Best Years Of Our Lives is a film full of great performances but Virginia Mayo really stands out.  I have to admit that, whenever I watch this film, I find myself envious of her ability to both snarl and smile at the same time.

Teresa Wright, Myrna Loy, Fredric March, and Michael Hall

Teresa Wright, Myrna Loy, Fredric March, and Michael Hall

Al Stephenson (Fredric March) was a bank loan officer who served as an infantry sergeant.  (It’s interesting to note that the educated and successful Al was outranked by Fred during the war.)  Al returns home to his loving wife, Milly (Myrna Loy), his daughter Peggy (the beautiful Teresa Wright), and his son, Rob (Michael Hall).  At first, Al struggles to reconnect with his family and he deals with the tension by drinking too much.  Rehired by the bank, he approves a risky loan to a fellow veteran.  After the bank president (Ray Collins, a.k.a. Boss Jim Gettys from Citizen Kane) admonishes Al, Al gives a speech about what America owes to its returning veterans.

Meanwhile, Peggy has fallen in love with Fred.  When Milly and Al remind her that Fred is (unhappily) married, Peggy announces, “I am going to break that marriage up!”  It’s a wonderful line, brilliantly delivered by the great Teresa Wright.

Harold Russell

Harold Russell

Marriage is also on the mind of Homer Parrish (Harold Russell).  A former high school quarterback, Homer was planning on marrying Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell) as soon as he finished serving in the Navy.  During the war, he lost both his hands and now he’s returned home with metal hooks.  Homer locks himself away from the world.  When he finally does talk to Wilma, it’s to show her how difficult life with him will be.  Wilma doesn’t care but Homer does.

Harold Russell won an Academy Award for his performance here.  Russell was not a professional actor.  Instead he was a veteran and a real-life amputee.  Watching his performance today, it’s obvious that Russell was not an experienced actor but the natural charm that enchanted the Academy still shines through.

Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, and Fredric March

Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, and Fredric March

It’s been nearly 70 years since The Best Years Of Our Lives was first released but it remains a powerfully honest and surprisingly dark film.  All three of the veterans deal with very real issues and, somewhat surprisingly, the film refuses to provide any of them with the type of conventional happy ending that we tend to take for granted when it comes to movies made before 1967.  As the film concludes, Fred is still struggling financially.  Homer is still adjusting to life as an amputee.  Al is still drinking.   All three have a long road ahead of them but they’re all making progress.  None of them will ever be the same as they were before the war but, at the same time, they’re all working on making new lives for themselves.  They haven’t given up.  They haven’t surrendered to despair and, the film suggests, that is triumph enough.

The Best Years Of Our Lives is a great film and a great best picture winner.  It’s just a shame that it had to be released the same year as It’s A Wonderful Life.