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Full Version: TM2YC's 1001 Movies (Chronological up to page 48/post 480)
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Yes, that is true: perhaps that was one of the first then…?
78 years ago...

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The Rules of the Game (1939)
Director: Jean Renoir
Country: France
Length: 110 minutes
Type: Drama, Comedy

'The Rules of the Game' ('La Règle Du Jeu') has a strong reputation, the most recent 'Sight & Sound' poll ranking it as the 4th greatest film of all time. Nonetheless, I found it a very tedious watch, even though I've loved other Renoir films. I was so uninterested at the beginning and end, that I had to make an active effort to concentrate. Things pick up in the middle when you become familiar with the large cast of characters and it settles down into an upstairs/downstairs, mildly farcical, mildly comedic and mildly dramatic affair. Filmed and released on the very eve of World War II, the destructive squabbles of a party of European toffs on a shooting weekend are said to represent the looming crisis but I didn't take anything particularly profound away from this comparison.

Next, the third William Wyler film in the book.
79 years ago...

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Wuthering Heights (1939)
Director: William Wyler
Country: United States
Length: 103 minutes
Type: Romance, Drama

'Wuthering Heights' looks absolutely stunning with Cinematography by Gregg Toland, who would soon go onto lens 'Citizen Kane'. Deep focus, exquisitely lit shots and Gothic romance, looking and feeling much like a Universal Horror film. The entirely British cast might make one assume this was shot on location in England's windswept and moody Yorkshire Moors but was in fact all shot in sunny California. It goes to show how far the magic and artistry of Hollywood film-making had come by 1939. Laurence Olivier is contained, like a dormant volcano, powerful emotions rumbling beneath his surface. Merle Oberon is good too but becomes a bit melodramatic at times.

A fantastic Howard Hawks Comedy next.
78 years ago...

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His Girl Friday (1940)
Director: Howard Hawks
Country: United States
Length: minutes
Type: Drama, Comedy, Satire

'His Girl Friday' is a frenetically paced Comedy about ruthless New York reporters. Cary Grant plays a scheming Newspaper editor who only has a few hours to win back his divorced wife (and fellow newspaper hack), using any and every underhand and dishonest trick he can think off. What makes it even more fun is that she (Rosalind Russell) knows exactly what he is up, is more than his match and enjoys playing the game with him. Having a strong and independent career-woman at the center makes the film feel very modern (her role was originally written as a man).

The blackly comic and rapid-fire cynical dialogue takes aim at every institution, attacks corrupt politicians and even a tormented women jumping to her death is (successfully) played for laughs. Apparently sometimes the word count gets up as high as 300 words-per-minute (double normal conservation), meaning even on this second viewing there were reams of little jokes I didn't catch the first time. A total classic that needs to seen... and then seen again.

Another Hitchcock movie next.
78 years ago...

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Rebecca (1940)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Country: United States
Length: 130 minutes
Type: Romance, Drama, Psychological, Thriller

I've watched 'Rebecca' on TV before but I realised I must've missed the first 25-minutes on that first viewing. This prologue shows how the central couple come to marry and adds extra layers of psychological complexity that I hadn't understood before. The film is about emotionally abusive relationships and a young bride moving in to her Husband's imposing Cornish mansion. His eponymous ex-wife is dead to begin with (to paraphrase Dickens) and casts a long shadow over all the people she has abused, who in turn torment each other. The neat way all these troubles are resolved with several unexpected but totally satisfactory and logical plot-twists is very clever.

Franz Waxman's score has the same vibe as his one for 'The Bride of Frankenstein', only magnifying the Gothic gloom. A fine cast includes Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine but Judith Anderson stands out as the oppressively disapproving Mrs. Danvers. Conveying utter contempt and withering scorn without even speaking, or seemingly moving a muscle! Definitely one of Hitchcock's best films and one of the first where he's going deep into the psychological realm and relying less on suspense and thrills.

Another Disney film next.
77 years ago...

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Fantasia (1940)
Director: Ben Sharpsteen (et al)
Country: United States
Length: 126 minutes
Type: Musical, Animated

'Fantasia' is a very odd beast that I'd seen parts of before but never the whole. Famous pieces from the Classical repertoire are set to colourful Animated interpretations. It's really a collection of short films, loosely linked by dry and serious live-action lectures/introductions delivered to camera. The best sequences are those where the animation is also serious and high-brow, in line with the dramatic music. The emergence of life on prehistoric Earth set to 'The Rite of Spring', or Satan's terror sound tracked by 'Night on Bald Mountain'. The more whimsical, comedic and narrative segments in the trademark Disney style are less successful. They just play like standard Disney cartoons, before the sound department got round to adding the FX.

A star-studded Hollywood Comedy next.
77 years ago...

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The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Director: George Cukor
Country: United States
Length: 112 minutes
Type: Comedy, Romance

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart is quite the all-star leading trio! 'The Philadelphia Story' centers on the high-society wedding weekend of a dysfunctional wealthy family and a gossip magazine's underhanded attempts to cover the occasion. The ensemble cast at first plays the various characters as seemingly duplicitous, selfish, cynical, or bitter. By the end they learn to be better people and you've grown to love them all, in spite of and because of their flaws. The best scenes involve the rich folks making an effort to put on a friendly and wholesome face to the hacks but being unable (and unwilling) to completely hide their revulsion for them. Some delightful drunk-acting is in evidence by all the cast.

Another John Ford picture next.
78 years ago...

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The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Director: John Ford
Country: United States
Length: 129 minutes
Type: Drama, Political

This adaptation of John Steinbeck's then brand-new hit novel is serious adult film-making from John Ford. The glamorous look of the Hollywood set-bound studio-system is often magical but can grow tiresome, so a dose of gritty American reality is very welcome. The grimness of the depression-era situation, the misery of the characters and the desolation of the empty landscapes was kind of refreshing. The cast all deserve Oscars but Jane Darwell as Ma Joad (she did win one) and John Carradine as Jim Casy were the standouts for me. Not forgetting John Qualen's brief but haunting appearance as a man who has lost everything, almost a living ghost bearing witness. The forces that cast the family adrift, beat them and oppresses them are never shown, or explained. So we the audience share the families' bewilderment at a faceless Capitalist system in crisis, with nobody to help and nobody to blame. For the political climate of 1940s America, I thought the film was daringly close to sympathizing with Socialist/pro-Union principles.

It made me want to put on some of my Billy Bragg records (like I ever need an excuse Wink):

A musical film next.
77 years ago...

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Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Director: Dorothy Arzner
Country: United States
Length: 90 minutes
Type: Musical, Drama, Romance

During this 1001 quest I've seen a few too many set-bound Hollywood films about dancers, or about divorced couples and this does both. Despite that initial disinterest, it's a well made film all round and the female cast/crew give it a fresh angle that the other movies of this genre did not have. Directed by, written by and (mainly) about women, 'Dance, Girl, Dance' manages to pass the "Bechdel Test" easy enough, something many films nowadays can't even manage. The plot mostly concerns Judy (Maureen O'Hara) a very talented but unrecognised Ballet dancer who is forced to dance in Burlesque shows and illegal gambling dens to earn a crust. The emotional climax comes when Judy has finally had enough of being demeaned and gives the jeering audience a piece of her mind (halfway into this clip):

The following scene of the dancers at a Hula show audition is memorable too. The camera moves in closer and closer on the nightclub owner's disinterested face because Judy is not dancing sexily enough for him. Then when Bubbles (Lucille Ball) brings the sex, we go even closer up on his face to see him leering at her. Look closely at 03.00 and you can see the dance teacher smile back at him and then give a look of disgust when he has turned away:

It's always good to have different voices in Cinema so they can take a scenario I was a little tired of and frame it in a new interesting way. Sadly, I think those other voices are going to be in short supply in the list for a while as Dorothy Arzner was apparently the only female Director working in the US at the time.

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Another Disney animation next.
78 years ago...

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Pinocchio (1940)
Director: Ben Sharpsteen (et al)
Country: United States
Length: 88 minutes
Type: Animation, Fantasy

'Pinocchio' is a far superior package on all levels to 'Snow White' and 'Fantasia' in my opinion. Technically it's impressive with the camera not only moving almost like live action but like it was directed with an inventive eye.  The animation is much classier and more fluid with only one instance of obvious rotoscoping. Everything from the songs (classics like "When You Wish Upon A Star"), to the characters, is utterly charming. It's also got enough scariness to get children of all ages hiding behind the sofa. The scene of kids wailing in terror and calling for their mothers as they transform into donkeys is children's-grade nightmare-fuel. I wouldn't be surprised if 'An American Werewolf in London' took some inspiration for how it's transformation scene was shot.

Next up is a rare pre-war anti-Nazi film.