Monday, October 25, 2010

Arrowsmith (1931)

Based on the Sinclair Lewis novel of the same name, the film follows Dr. Martin Arrowsmith's dreams of influencing mankind through his scientific research. Offered a lab job right out of school, he turns it down to move to his wife's rural hometown and become a general practitioner. It is here that he makes a breakthrough that receives national attention.

This is a largely unspectacular show. But it was directed by four-time Oscar winning director John Ford and stars Ronald Colman who was a big star at the time.

101 to go...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

1939 - A Year in Film

Having just watched Love Affair, I have now seen all ten best picture nominees from 1939. The year belonged to Gone with the Wind which brought home ten Oscars (including two honorary) and was nominated for five more. When adjusting for inflation, it is still the highest grossing film of all-time.

This was a year stacked with movie vegetables. Everyone has, of course, seen The Wizard of Oz. This was also the year Mr. Smith (the incomparable Jimmy Stewart) went to Washington and students said goodbye to Mr. Chips.

Gone with the Wind wasn't the only literary classic to be adapted in 1939. Of Mice and Men with Burgess Meredith and Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier were also released.

Others you might not have heard of still showcased stars you undoubtedly have. Dark Victory starred Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. John Wayne starred in Stagecoach. Ninotchka featured Greta Garbo.

And how's this for a best actor competition: Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Laurence Olivier, and Robert Donat. Donat, who you likely haven't heard of, was the winner for playing Mr. Chips.

Here's the complete list of 1939 winners and nominees:
Keep in mind it says 1940 as that's when the ceremony took place, just like they do today.

I also just realized I had miscounted both the total number of all-time nominees and the number I had seen. The count in the upper right is now correct.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Of Mice and Men (1939)

If you've already read the book, there are no surprises here. Steinbeck's classic is more popular than any movie version of his work. What is significant about this version is that it was released just two years after the book.

Bumbling Lennie is played by Lon Chaney Jr., son of the Man of a Thousand Faces. Lennie's protector, George, is played by Rocky's future trainer, Burgess Meredith. My guess is the iconic abominable snowman from Looney Toons is based more on Chaney's performance here than Steinbeck's words.

Not much else to say. It's a faithful adaptation but not as emotionally impactful as the book.

100 to go...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Captains Courageous (1937)

Based on the Rudyard Kipling novel, Captains Courageous tells the story of the viciously spoiled-rotten Harvey who finally gets the life lessons his teachers and father couldn't give him when he falls from an ocean liner and is picked up by a team of fishermen.

The kid is so horrible at the beginning he even calls the fishermen kidnappers for refusing to change course immediately and take him home. They are relatively patient with Harvey, who many of the crew label a "Jonah." Making him earn his keep, the ship's captain (Lionel Barrymore - It's a Wonderful Life's Mr. Potter) places him under the tutelage of Manuel (Spencer Tracy), the Portuguese fisherman who originally pulled Harvey from the water.

Manuel is a simple man, but one of great integrity whom Harvey grows to admire. Tracy's accent is horribly inconsistent, but he is still delightful and full of spirit in this Oscar winning role.

Harvey's transformation from wicked to hardworking over his three month journey is almost too drastic to be believable. However, he's still extremely stubborn, he has just found something he loves more than himself - a life at sea.

A very good, if mostly predictable, show with a surprisingly poignant end.

101 to go...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Anchors Aweigh (1945)

Even if you haven't heard of Anchors Aweigh, there's a good chance you've seen the classic scene with Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry the Mouse. To give you an idea of how groundbreaking that sequence was, it was filmed 19 years before Dick Van Dyke danced with penguins in Mary Poppins. Anchors Aweigh is far from fantasy, however. The Jerry mouse number occurs as Kelly is telling school children about his adventures in the navy.

The story centers on sailors Joe (Kelly) and Clarence (Frank Sinatra) on a few days shore leave. Joe is a ladies' man so the insecure Clarence tags along hoping Joe can help him get a girl. They soon meet the lovely aunt of a young boy who was trying to run away to join the navy and Clarence falls for her right away. Joe tries to get away to find his girl Lola in town, but keeps getting pulled back out of pity for the kid and Clarence. Joe makes a promise he can't keep to get Aunt Susie an audition in Hollywood and that sets the rest of the plot in motion.

Kelly's only Oscar nomination came from this film, though just seven years later he won on honorary Oscar for his contributions to film choreography. Just as in Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris, Kelly is the dancing jock, making grace seem manly. It's also delightfully odd seeing Sinatra as the timid Clarence as his real life reputation was as a gruff and intimidating man. Playing a service man again in 1953's From Here to Eternity, he won his Oscar as the hard-nose scrapper Private Angelo Maggio.

Anchors Aweigh is an amusing show that's definitely worth watching again.

102 to go...