Cinematographer Sol Polito (1892-1960) lent a special touch to exuberant musicals, swashbuckling adventures, goofy comedies, solemn dramas and everything in between. You may have heard of some of the more famous films he photographed - I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), 42nd Street (1933), The Petrified Forest (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Sergeant York (1941), Now, Voyager (1942), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) – but the three films I have decided to highlight here deserve attention as well.
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, dir. Mervyn LeRoy) – This gem has many of my favorite songs from the classic age of Busby Berkeley’s 1930s musicals, including the tunes “We’re in the Money,” “Shadow Waltz,” “I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song,” “Pettin’ in the Park” and the one that I have chosen for this post, “Remember My Forgotten Man.” This grand finale is not another upbeat display of nubile chorines; instead it focuses on the sobering plight of veterans from the Great War, men who fought for America’s honor and who were then discarded by their country. The struggles of these men, from the trenches to the bread lines, are made all the more powerful by the singing of Joan Blondell and Etta Moten and by Polito’s expert use of the camera.
Wonder Bar (1934, dir. Lloyd Bacon) – Like many pre-Code films, Wonder Bar is best remembered for its risqué (and in some cases, racist) attitudes, but “Don’t Say Goodnight” is both a lovely song and a classic example of Busby Berkeley’s choreography at its best. The scene utilizes Berkeley’s trademark birds’-eye-view shots of the dancers and also has some novel cinematographic tricks done with mirrors.
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948, dir. Anatole Litvak) – Polito adds a shadow-layered noir feeling to this unsettling thriller. You can see both the creepy emptiness of the apartment and the possibility of things lurking in the night as Barbara Stanwyck tries desperately to get closer to the incessant ring of the doorbell.