In the early forties, Gary Cooper seemed to have a corner on the market for squeaky-clean, All-American biographies. After playing Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Alvin York, he would go on to play Yankee legend Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees. While the latter movie was a shallow, deeply clichéd bit of treacle, Howard Hawks‘ Sergeant York manages to get under the skin of the pious country boy who managed to single-handedly take out a German machine gun nest and take 138 prisoners with only seven men.
The invasion of Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, launched the Solomon Islands Campaign, what you could consider the middle stage or second act of the Second World War in the Pacific. The fight in the Solomons was, in many ways, the real war in the Pacific Theater of Operations. This was the period in which the two sides were closely matched and the outcome of the war was actually at stake. After this campaign, the remainder of the war largely consisted of a Japanese holding action against the United States’ inexorable march west toward the Home Islands.
This adaptation of war correspondent Richard Tregaskis’ non-fiction book about the early stages of the battle is reverential, faithful to the facts but clichéd and lacking in realistic drama. The Marines in this movie seem more like a Cub Scout troop in an episode of Father Knows Best than a real military unit. Even the level of interpersonal conflict found in Sands of Iwo Jima would have vastly improved this film.
As a teenager in the 1940s, my mother was a self-professed movie buff, spending a lot of her free time with her friends at the matinees and double features in Schenectady, New York, where she grew up. She probably lost count of the number of movies that she see saw back in the day, but one she remembered forty and fifty years later was Laura. When Fox finally came to their senses and released it on VHS some time ago, I was finally able to appreciate why.
This fact-based account of a crusading journalist trying to exonerate a man falsely imprisoned for murder has been released under Fox’s “Film Noir” line of DVDs, even though it might not belong under that umbrella. Superficially, I guess you could say that bears some resemblance to the noir classics, namely its time period and the plot centering on urban violence and corruption, but it lacks some key elements of the genre. Its hero, city reporter P.J. McNeal (Jimmy Stewart) and the subject of his quest, Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) are a little too pure and noble to fit under the strict definition of noir, but as a film genre, noir has proven to be most flexible. It matters little, since regardless of its classification, Call Northside 777 is a taut and involving movie.
On July 4, 1939, it seemed like all of New York City plus most of baseball paused between games of a doubleheader to say good-bye to the career of Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” who had played 2,130 consecutive games before the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, now known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ended his playing days. His farewell speech, beginning with the sentence “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” remains one of the most moving moments in sports history.
Just over a year after his death in June, 1941, Hollywood had a movie version of Gehrig’s life in the theaters. While it was well received at the time and garnered a whole rack of Academy Award nominations, time has not been kind to this shallow look at the baseball legend’s private life.
Despite being produced explicitly as a propaganda film during World War II, this adaptation of Ted W. Lawson’s account of his own experiences as a pilot during the famous Doolittle raid on Tokyo is a remarkably authentic account of the daring air attack on April 18, 1942. Still, some elements of this are sufficiently dated that this is one classic film that could stand a modern remake.
For those of you who are interested, this is the movie that cemented John Wayne’s image as Hollywood’s personification of the All-American war hero (despite his never serving a day in the military). The former Marion Michael Morrison had made a handful of war movies between 1941 and ’45, but it is Sgt. John Stryker that still forms the public’s perception of Wayne’s tough guy persona.
Plato believed that everything in the world has an “ideal universal form” that represents the perfect example of the imperfect things in the real world. For many, The Maltese Falcon is the Platonic ideal of the hard-boiled detective story. True, it’s not the earliest example of the genre, the original novel already having been adapted twice for the screen in the previous decade, but it still contains classic examples of what we consider the basic elements of that genre of film. Most of would now be tired clichés of detective films were either established or popularized by this classic version of Dashiell Hammet’s novel.
It took them sixteen years, but they finally made a real sequel to the original King Kong. Okay, Mighty Joe Young is not technically a sequel to the 1933 classic, but they definitely share the same DNA. Like Kong, Joe Young was produced by Merian C. Cooper and directed by Ernest B. Shoedsack from a screenplay by Ruth Rose. Stop motion animation pioneer Willis H. O’Brien is still around, supervising his young protégé, Ray Harryhausen. From the cast, Robert Armstrong is back as nightclub owner Max O’Hara, who has a lot more ideas than sense. While he’s not playing Carl Denham, it’s easy to imagine O’Hara as Denham still living under an assumed name to evade the lawsuits stemming from the problems he had with the last big ape he ran into.
Alfred Hitchcock had a rare distinction in 1940, when two of his films, Foreign Correspondent and Rebecca, were both nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. The better of the two, Rebecca, won of course, but this humorous, entertaining wartime potboiler definitely has its charms.
Lifeboat presented director Alfred Hitchcock with two very specific technical challenges. One was how to create a 90-minute film when your action was confined to a handful of actors aboard one small boat. The other was how to stage his traditional walk-on appearance when it would be very incongruous to have a portly Englishman in a black suit simply stroll by. The second problem was solved very simply but ingeniously. Hitchcock was featured in an advertisement for a weight-loss pill in a newspaper read by one of the characters. The first problem was a matter of planning the film with storyboards, shot by shot, which the director did better than anyone.