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71 years ago...

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The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Director: William Wyler
Country: United States
Length: 172 minutes
Type: Drama

'The Best Years of Our Lives' is an early post-war movie examining the return of three Iowa soldiers from the conflict and their struggles to re-integrate into society. Fred (Dana Andrews) is a decorated Airforce Captain from a broken-home and the bad side of town, trying to be something more. Al (Fredric March) is an Army sergeant who returns to his respectable up-town middle-class family and job at the Bank but begins to rely on drink to get through it all. Homer (Harold Russell) served in the Navy and comes from one of those idyllic, picture-box 1940s American suburbs. He has had his hands replaced by mechanical hooks and has to learn to deal with how others see his disability and how he sees himself.

Harold Russell was a non-professional actor who had actually lost his hands in the war but he gives one of the best performances in the film. The scene where he finally sums up the courage to share the hard truths of his reality with his sweetheart is tender and emotional. The Academy gave him a special Oscar but then he ended winning the Best Actor trophy anyway, making him the only person to win two Oscars for the same performance! It was interesting to see a scene where two of the Veterans encounter a right-wing nut (and Nazi apologist) who is wearing one of those little flag-pins that a certain type of US Politician still hide behind today (things never change). Homer rips it off his lapel and then Fred kicks his ass Big Grin . The scene of Fred wondering among already rusting and abandoned B-17s stretching as far as the eye can see, is a powerful visual metaphor. 'The Best Years of Our Lives' was a huge box-office hit, probably because it gave a nation the chance to unpack what just happened.

The first film in the list from David Lean next.

By the way... I hadn't realised until the line was spoken, that the title of the Manic Street Preachers song 'Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky' is from this movie and is a darkly comic reference to a photo of a B-17 surrounded by flak explosions.

72 years ago...

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Brief Encounter (1946)
Director: David Lean
Country: United Kingdom
Length: 86 minutes
Type: Romance

The first time I watched 'Brief Encounter' years ago, I misjudged it as laughably sexless, even for 1946, not helped by Celia Johnson's ever "so dreadfully, dreadfully" clipped English accent. Watching it again within the context of other 1940s films, I can see that it's actually boiling over with sexual desire but it's about two characters that are too decent and honorable to act upon them. Johnson and Trevor Howard play two happily married people who meet by chance at a railway station cafe and fall passionately in love. The film becomes about them trying to resist acting on their impulses and facing up to the fact that they can never be together, without first breaking up the families that they love.

The affair is told as a flashback confessional that Johnson can never actually make to her husband. Cleverly the main middle-class couple tortured by the possibility of their indiscretion being revealed, is contrasted with two working-class background characters who are enjoying flirting harmlessly, loudly and openly. The rising sound of passing trains is timed to emotional crisis points, a technique that was famously re-used for 'The Godfather's restaurant slaying scene. The beautiful cinematography is a British take on Noir, all shadows and steam. Several trips to the movies are used for some fun pops at the film-industry. The film-within-a-film "Flames of Passion" is billed as being "Based on the novel 'Gentle Summer'" Big Grin . I'm sure the use of Rachmaninoff for the love theme, inspired Marion's theme for 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. I still don't think 'Brief Encounter' is the official '2nd greatest British film' ever but I do now think it's right up there.

Another war film from Roberto Rossellini next.
71 years ago...

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Paisan (1946)
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Country: Italy
Length: 134 minutes
Type: War

'Paisan' ('Paisà') is the second in Roberto Rossellini's loose "War Trilogy". The film is broken up into six quite separate "Episodes" but all take place during the Allied campaign to take Italy from the Nazis and Italian Fascists. 1. An Italian peasant girl and an American GI try to communicate while on guard duty. 2. An African-American MP and an Italian street-urchin cause trouble. 3. A drunken US soldier and an Italian prostitute reminisce. 4. An American nurse and Italian Partisan on a nail-biting "parkour" chase across a war-torn city. 5. A 500-year-old Catholic monastery takes in three US Chaplins for the night but the monks get into a flap when they discover one is Jewish and one is Protestant. 6. OSS and Partisan operatives try to hide from the Nazis in river marshes. The tales end with life-lessons, or unexpected twists of a bitter-sweet nature. I could take, or leave episodes 1 and 6 but the other four are fantastic for different reasons, being in turn, charming, romantic, action-packed and spiritual.

The first Lana Turner film in the book next.
72 years ago...

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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Director: Tay Garnett
Country: United States
Length: 113 minutes
Type: Drama

After seeing it, I'm still questioning the inclusion of this Hollywood adaptation of 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' on the 1001 list, when the 1943 Italian version 'Ossessione' was so much better. The two murderers are played by John Garfield, who is a little wooden and Lana Turner, who I thought was somewhat miscast. She is just too glamorous for the waitress/cook in a 2nd-rate roadside Diner.  Things only get interesting about two thirds in when we switch from the murderous plotting, to the law trying to catch the pair. In this version, the authorities know they are guilty instantly but they need to prove it. The shady practices of the lawyers trying to entrap the two and put them in the gas chamber, over a $100 bet, actually had me feeling sorry for the killer couple.

Another John Ford Western next.
71 years ago...

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My Darling Clementine (1946)
Director: John Ford
Country: United States
Length: 97 minutes
Type: Western

The title of 'My Darling Clementine' had me thinking it was a Comedy/Musical Western but it's actually a Noirish take on the Wyatt Earp story. Henry Fonda plays a stern yet likeable Earp but it's Victor Mature's fatalistic turn as Doc Holliday that steals the show. He's dressed all in black with a face lined with sadness, anger and tragedy. His gravel voice reciting doom-laden Shakespeare verse, while choking from consumption. I don't think I've ever seen a Victor Mature film before but I now plan to watch many more. When we now think of the Western Genre, I think we often tend to picture it CinemaScope but the way John Ford frames Monument Valley in the Academy Ratio is something else. The people appearing ant-like in the bottom third of the shot with acres of sky and landscape above and below, it looks so desolate and vast:

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A Scope Western would probably compose that same shot more like this:

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(Dammit I read afterwards that there is a slightly longer "preview" cut available (I watched the Theatrical Cut). I would have happily spent more time with these guys.)

Orson Welles' third film next.
72 years ago...

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The Stranger (1946)
Director: Orson Welles
Country: United States
Length: 95 minutes
Type: Drama, Noir

'The Stranger' finds Orson Welles trying to make a successful mainstream film, rather than an epic art project that only pleases the critics. Orson plays a Nazi 'Franz Kindler' (a fictional architect of the "Final Solution") hiding in a quiet American town, about to marry the daughter of "a famous liberal" politician (a fact that amuses Kindler). Edward G. Robinson plays the UN Nazi hunter who has tracked him down. The plot is neatly arranged so that Robinson knows Kindler lives in the town but cannot be certain of the identity he has assumed. Welles had to make some compromises, like removing a whole South American opening sequence and having his original choice of a woman (Agnes Moorehead) as the Nazi hunter vetoed, which would have been a more interesting casting choice. That's not to say Robinson isn't very good in a part, playing it like a proto-Columbo.

Welles had seen the footage of Concentration camps but much of the American public had not, so he includes a scene where Kindler's wife is shown Billy Wilder's 'Death Mills' documentary (that was an otherwise restricted military film). Mostly we just see the light of the projector and the resulting revulsion flicker on her face but a few of the less harrowing shots are cut into the movie. Robinson eventually zeroes in on his prey when Kindler makes an unguarded comment at a dinner party discussing how Karl Marx's ideology differed from the Nazis. Kindler replies "but Marx wasn't a German, Marx was a jew" not realising he's let his disguise slip but Robinson notices.

The Library of Congress sourced 35mm print on the Kino Lorber blu-ray is in pinsharp HD but totally unrestored, so frames are missing, the picture is unstable, scratches are all over the place, the soundtrack crackles and you can hear/see the difference when reals are changed... but still it's a damn sight better than the VHS level DVD I used to have. Hopefully Criterion, or some other label will undertake a full cleanup one day.

Next up is a Jean Cocteau film.
71 years ago...

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Beauty and the Beast (1946)
Director: Jean Cocteau
Country: France
Length: 93 minutes
Type: Romance

'Beauty and the Beast' ('La Belle et la Bête') uses makeup, set-design, glowing light and mysterious shadow to create a sense of intoxicating enchantment. Director Jean Cocteau also uses deceptively simple in-camera tricks like slow-motion, reverse photography, wire-work, crossfades and trick editing to put on an in-camera conjuring show. Belle cries tears that transform into diamonds, the Beast's fur smoulders as if it's catching fire and statues come to life.  It's a literal case of "smoke and mirrors". Jean Marais is wonderful as The Beast and so is Josette Day as Belle. I'd compare this very favourably with the definitive Disney animation (which I now notice makes visual references to the 1946 film). The myriad little plot differences in Cocteau's version (while still feeling like the same plot) also serves to illustrate how little Disney's later live-action remake bothered to even try.

More Bogart and Bacall next.
72 years ago...

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The Big Sleep (1946)
Director: Howard Hawks
Country: United States
Length: 114 minutes
Type: Noir, Detective

'The Big Sleep' was shot soon after 'To Have and Have Not', re-uniting the chemistry of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Due to WWII ending, the film was held back for over a year until Warner Brothers had cleared their backlog of war movies. When it was finally released about 20-mins of re-shoots were added to include more Bogart/Bacall magic. So we have the option of watching two cuts, I went with the re-shot theatrical release as it's supposed to be marginally better and includes the dynamite scene where the pair are discussing horse-racing but are really talking about f***ing Big Grin . The whole movie is just as sexy, with Bogart's PI 'Philip Marlowe' half-flirting/half-verbally-sparring with every girl he meets (and several of the men too). The convoluted plot is notoriously hard to follow but you somehow don't care "who killed who" because you are too busy enjoying the moody atmosphere and snappy dialogue.

Burt Lancaster's very first role next.
11 years ago...

One of the site's first listed fanedits:

This was also the subject of one of our early cover art contests.
(08-23-2018, 09:49 AM)ThrowgnCpr Wrote: [ -> ]11 years ago...

One of the site's first listed fanedits:

This was also the subject of one of our early cover art contests.

I thought about watching that (if I could have found it) but I wanted to watch in HD. I then thought about making a similar hybrid edit using my blu-ray and I still might Smile . 11 years of edits eh.