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Full Version: TM2YC's 1001 Movies (Chronological up to page 48/post 480)
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78 years ago...

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The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Director: Victor Fleming (King Vidor, George Cukor & Norman Taurog)
Country: United States
Length: 101 minutes
Type: Musical, Fantasy

The Technicolor visuals in 'The Wizard of Oz' still look spectacular but they must have been f**kin' mind-blowing in 1939. Many songs and sequences are burned on the pop-culture consciousness, so even though this was only the second/third time I've watched it, this felt like the thousandth time I've seen some parts. Like Shakespeare, some of the dialogue has become shorthand we use in everyday language ("The man behind the curtain", "We're not in Kansas anymore", "There’s no place like home" etc). The visual transition from sepia to full colour as Dorothy enters Oz is an impressively simple in-camera trick but still feels jaw-droppingly magical. This time I was appreciating how good the sound design was during that scene (clip below). The storm and music get louder and louder, then suddenly deafening silence and the sound/music comes back as we enter Oz. A sound technique that has now become a standard filmmaking tool.

When the characters stay too long in one location (The Munchkin village and The Emerald City) the limitations of the sets become very obvious. Both sequences featuring ill-advised horse-cart rides across sets that are barely large enough to fit the horse. Thankfully for the most part this is a yellow-brick-road-trip, so changing sets, different characters, varied set-based locations and gorgeous matte-paintings help keep the world feeling big and alive. The opening and closing acts are perhaps a whisker too slow but the middle is non-stop fun. Lastly, this is the first full-on Musical in the book, all the songs exist outside of the internal logic of the story (no band rehearsals, no Broadway auditions), they are all there purely for characters to express emotion and to further the plot.

(By the way. You should watch it synced with 'Dark Side of The Moon' at least once Cool )

Another Western next.
78 years ago...

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Destry Rides Again (1939)
Director: George Marshall
Country: United States
Length: 95 minutes
Type: Western

'Destry Rides Again' features almost pre-code levels of sex, violence, gambling and drunkenness (still tame compared to 30s movies from outside the US) but I suppose if it's just the bad guys doing it all and your hero is a virtuous pacifist, then it can be allowed. Jimmy Stewart is perfectly cast as a seemingly oddball new Sheriff (Destry) who is determined to clean up a hell-hole western town by being reasonable, honest, amiable and not carrying a gun. A narrative flaw emerges when the film can't resist showing us that Destry is a crack shot, in order to definitively demonstrate that he goes unarmed as a choice and not because of cowardice. This means that when two people he cares for get shot in the back you can't help but think he could have prevented their deaths very easily. However, that thought didn't trouble me too much because I was having so much fun watching him sparring with Marlene Dietrich's crooked saloon singer character.

Another film with Thomas Mitchell in next. Is he in every good late 30s film?
78 years ago...

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Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Director: Howard Hawks
Country: United States
Length: 121 minutes
Type: Drama

A story about a South-American firm of air-mail pilots with a death-wish. The sort of guys you expect to see rescuing Indiana Jones from an irate tribe. 'Only Angels Have Wings' is a fine film but I felt Cary Grant was slightly miscast as a desperado pilot. It's the kind of role you'd expect Humphrey Bogart to play, not the charming Manhattan socialite Grant is more suited for. Luckily the supporting cast are excellent, including Thomas Mitchell, who once again steals the show as an aging pilot with failing eyesight. Your heart just breaks for him. One of the pilots is played by John Carroll (who I know from the Marx Brothers) and he would have been much better in the lead. Just enough charm and good looks but with a streak of roguishness. He's not the only Marx link, the firm is owned by Sig Ruman. I've never seen him as anything other than pompous Marx Bros. villains but he's equally great as a kindly old man.

4-hours in the Deep South next.
78 years ago...

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Gone With the Wind (1939)
Director: Victor Fleming (George Cukor & Sam Wood)
Country: United States
Length: 238 minutes (4-hours)
Type: Drama, Romance

This was my second viewing of 'Gone With the Wind' and I liked it more this time. Although three famous Directors worked on it, the giant vision was that of Producer David O. Selznick. The tyrannical Selznick was reported to have gobbled Speed "like popcorn" to cope with mounting the most expensive, longest and highest-grossing (when adjusted for inflation) Hollywood  film ever made. I find some of the production stories more entertaining than the film. Like co-star Clark Gable threatening to walk from the picture unless the backstage facilities were desegregated. He was successful in that case but his threat to boycott the Atlanta Premiere when he learned the black cast members were not invited, was sadly ignored. Hattie McDaniel did win the first Oscar for a person of colour as the plantation matron "Mammy".

The racial dimensions of the film itself are still controversial. It's far from the hateful propaganda of something like 'Birth of a Nation' but it is still highly questionable. It paints slavery in the Deep-South plantations as a wonderful idyllic period of happiness for all. The only time we see anybody in chains or being maltreated is later in the picture, when it's a row of white convicts. It's the only time in the whole 4-hours when anybody even questions the morality of slavery but the film concludes it was fine because they were treated well. The very few "Yankee" characters are all shown as uncaring thieves, murderers and (probable) rapists. I can never understand why early Hollywood seemed hell-bent on fermenting another Civil War, mere decades after the last one.

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This is an oldskool 4-hour Epic, so it's got an Overture, Entr'acte, Exit-Music and an Intermission, which neatly breaks the story in half. Just before the fall of the Confederacy and just after. Main character Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) is introduced to us as a selfish, spiteful and petulant Southern debutante who wants anything as long as she can't have it. The lead being so unlikable is one of the factors that makes 'Gone With the Wind' hard to fully enjoy. After the Intermission Scarlett has lost everything and the grit and determination she shows clawing it all back at least gives us a spark of admiration for her, even if we still think she is a horrid person. One could almost see this as a feminist tale, out of the ashes of the fall, it's the women who rebuild the families. The men (with the exception of Rhett) have all become senile, depressed, war-wounded, or generally ineffectual. That said, there is a troubling part where it's implied Rhett intends to rape Scarlett and we cross-fade to her in bed the next morning beaming with satisfied joy.

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The Technicolor images are incredibly beautiful, including some long pull-back crane shots and painterly mattes. The colours are so rich, it's like they were painting with light. Max Steiner's lush romantic 'Tara's Theme' is rightly one of the most famous and beloved pieces of music in all of Cinema. Clark Gable is like a force of nature as the tempestuous Rhett Butler. The movie is problematic but everybody should see it at least once, if only to learn where quoteable lines like "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" and "...afterall, tomorrow is another day" come from. 'Gone With the Wind' really is a cinematic spectacle.

Another Jean Gabin film next. Fantastique!
78 years ago...

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Daybreak (1939)
Director: Marcel Carné
Country: France
Length: 93 minutes
Type: Drama, Romance

One of my favourite movie sub-genres is "Stories told through flashback" and apparently 'Daybreak' ('Le Jour Se Lève') is one of the first to employ multiple slow dissolves into the past. A brief titlecard even precedes the film explaining this new technique for contemporary viewers, so they weren't confused. The film begins with Foundry worker François locked in his room besieged by Police. He has just shot a man dead in a fit of anger and we flashback to his memories of how the shooting came to happen. It's a tale of star-crossed lovers and Jean Gabin is magnificent as a roughneck Romeo with a gentle soul.

I read that RKO acquired the rights to the film in 1947 so they could remake itand so set about burning all copies. Thankfully this was not successful and copies of 'Daybreak' survived. I also read that the 'Daybreak's main-character and his fate were intended as a metaphor for pre-war French Politics but that's a bit above my pay grade if it was. I just liked the movie Wink .

An influence on Indiana Jones next.
79 years ago...

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Gunga Din (1939)
Director: George Stevens
Country: United States
Length: 117 minutes
Type: Adventure, Comedy

I heard this was an influence on 'Temple of Doom' so perhaps I had unreasonable expectations. 'Gunga Din' does feature a Kali death-cult in a sinister temple, a precarious rope bridge over a chasm, a snake pit and plenty of Indian-set adventure. The DNA is definitely there but there isn't that central dashing hero, the focus is mostly on comedy larks and the action only really kicks in at the finale. If I watched it again, I'd not be trying to make comparisons and just enjoy the quarreling interplay between brothers-in-arms Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Another Greta Garbo film next.
78 years ago...

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Ninotchka (1939)
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Country: United States
Length: 110 minutes
Type: Political, Satire, Drama, Romance

Part of watching through this list is seeing the classics "I always meant to see" but it's also finding gems like 'Ninotchka' that I knew nothing about. The film begins with three shabby looking Soviet officials staring astonished at a lavish Parisian Hotel. Their Socialist principles instantly begin to crumble and they indulge themselves to the Royal Suite, Champagne and pretty girls. That's when the stern, robotic and intimidating Russian envoy Ninotchka (Greta Garbo) is sent to take charge.

What starts as a clever and hilarious satire of Stalinist values, becomes a wonderful east-meets-west romance in the middle and ends with a more Sober look into everyday realities under a Totalitarian regime. Hollywood would have done well to dispute Communist ideas through further satirical films like this, rather than the shameful witch-hunts and blacklisting that would occur in the post-war years. 'Ninotchka' would go well in a double-bill with Armando Iannucci's recent 'The Death of Stalin'. It seems unbelieveable to read that this sparkling performance would be the last but one that Garbo would ever make before retiring from movies forever, aged just 35.

Another Renoir film next.
(05-16-2018, 05:21 PM)TM2YC Wrote: [ -> ]An influence on Indiana Jones next.

I was expecting ‘Secret of the Incas’. I have it, still haven’t got round to seeing it.
I have “Ninotchka” on my watch-list.  It must be wonderful.  It is also famous for being one of the few (perhaps the only) film where Greta Garbo pulls a full-on smile!   Big Grin
(05-21-2018, 05:51 AM)Canon Editor Wrote: [ -> ]I have “Ninotchka” on my watch-list.  It must be wonderful.  It is also famous for being one of the few (perhaps the only) film where Greta Garbo pulls a full-on smile!   Big Grin

I'm not sure that's entirely true. I've only seen a few of her films but she laughed and smiled in them. It's true she is much more famous for being moody and introspective and saying things like "I vant to be alone".