1948: Part 1

*I’m going on vacation from July 23 to August 6, so this will be my last post until two weeks from now.

Easter Parade. Directed by Charles Walters. When I think about it, I realize that I probably saw Easter Parade more than any other film during my childhood. Not only did I watch the movie all the time, but I owned (and still listen to) the soundtrack on CD. The songs are terrific: “Happy Easter,” “Drum Crazy,” “I Want to Go Back to Michigan (Down on the Farm),” “A Fella with an Umbrella,” the montage of songs performed on the vaudeville circuit, “Shakin’ the Blues Away,” “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” (made popular in recent years after a duet by Tony Bennett and Christina Aguilera), “A Couple of Swells,” “The Girl on the Magazine Cover,” “Better Luck Next Time” and my absolute favorite, “It Only Happens When I Dance with You.” The pairing of Fred Astaire and Judy Garland was absolutely heavenly. Astaire, definitely one of the most inspirational figures of my formative years, slinks through his dances as though he were moving on air. He always makes dancing look effortless, no matter how complex the routine. He and Garland (another childhood favorite, particularly for Meet Me in St. Louis) are ably supported by Ann Miller, Peter Lawford (never more charming than in his “A Fella with an Umbrella” scene with Garland), Clinton Sundberg and Jules Munshin. Easter Parade made a lasting impression on my young mind. It might not have been the most technically innovative of the classic Technicolor musicals made by MGM in the 40s and 50s, but it is was and still is a truly glorious movie!

A Foreign Affair. Directed by Billy Wilder. Jean Arthur was a decidedly unusual leading lady in the 1940s. Born in 1900 and not a real star until her mid-30s, she was much older than the typical Hollywood leading lady by the time she made A Foreign Affair. Even so, she retained a youthful appeal, going so far as to play Peter Pan on Broadway in the 50s. A Foreign Affair’s other female star, legendary sex symbol Marlene Dietrich, was born in 1901. The two actresses were a decade older than the man they fight over, John Lund, playing a US Army captain. Billy Wilder knew how to show Arthur and Dietrich at their best: the former as a workaholic Congresswoman and the latter as a seductive nightclub singer. Her “Black Market” number is a real show-stopper, highlighting both her unique Sprechgesang-like delivery and her timeless beauty in Charles Lang’s Oscar-nominated cinematography. The film features the always-wonderful Millard Mitchell as Lund’s commanding colonel. His habitual nose-scratching is a nice touch.

Letter from an Unknown Woman. Directed by Max Ophüls. “From his tempestuous past… from her impassioned memories… the story that will live… as long as there is love!” That’s what the poster I have in my house says. As a little girl I used to make up stories about what I thought Letter from an Unknown Woman might be like. Some of the films we have posters of in my house fell a little flat in actuality – Rebecca, Arsenic and Old Lace, Crossfire – but I waited patiently for Letter, hoping it would be as great as the poster made it sound. I finally got the chance to see the movie when it premiered on TCM in June 2010. Ophüls’ depiction of turn-of-the-century Vienna is romantic and decadent, an elegant love letter to a city of hopes and dreams. Joan Fontaine, so often the waif (Rebecca, Suspicion, The Constant Nymph, Jane Eyre, etc.), is beautiful and sympathetic. Louis Jourdan was never better than as Stefan Brand, the vain pianist who Fontaine desperately loves. The haunting use of Liszt’s “Un sospiro” is perfect. A few months after seeing the film I read the original novella by Stefan Zweig, along with some other novellas of his. Zweig’s prose enchanted me and I am now a big fan of his work. I love his verbosity and careful choice of rich vocabulary. I know I often talk about any given film being one of my all-time favorites, but Letter is definitely in my top ten. It is a film that hurts to watch, but it is worth watching and falling in love with – it’s as easy to do as it is for Fontaine to fall in love with Jourdan.

Red River. Directed by Howard Hawks; co-directed by Arthur Rosson. John Wayne as an almost-bad guy? Yes, it works! Red River proved that Howard Hawks could tackle any genre: crime drama, screwball comedy, war epic, noir, musicals and, with this film, westerns. Besides Wayne and Walter Brennan as his right-hand man, Red River stars Montgomery Clift, one of the great sensitive young actors of the 40s and 50s, shown here in his second film role. Poor, dear Monty! His facial features were quite delicate, although as Matt Garth he displayed more masculinity than usual. If it weren’t for the horrible car crash in 1956 that nearly killed him and required reconstructive surgery, he might have found some happiness after the sexual revolution (and growing acceptance of homosexuality) in the 60s and 70s. Anyway, Red River was the first film of Clift’s I ever saw. There are some very memorable scenes, including the opening one with John Wayne and Coleen Gray; the foggy, moonlight scene where Joanne Dru runs her fingers through Clift’s hair as they sit under a tree; and the famously symbolic scene where Clift and John Ireland compare the sizes of their guns.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Directed by John Huston. I love the opening lines: “Say, buddy, will you stake a fellow Am…” The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, adapted from by Huston from the novel by B. Traven, is not a “western” so much as a noir that just happens to be set in Mexico. Humphrey Bogart had one of the best roles of his career as Fred C. Dobbs, the down-on-his-luck drifter whose lust for gold overpowered him. Like Lawrence of Arabia, Treasure benefits from an all-male cast. Having women hanging around would only weigh the story down, adding the unnecessary element of sex to a basic plot about greed. Treasure stays fresh and interesting because its explores the desire for money above all else. Co-starring in the film are Walter Huston, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as wise old Howard, Tim Holt (often stuck in B-movies but given a real chance to shine here), Bruce Bennett, Alfonso Bedoya (who speaks these immortal lines: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.”) and, in uncredited but notable roles, Robert Blake as a young boy selling lottery tickets and John Huston as the American man in the white suit who is pestered by Bogart at the beginning of the film.

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