The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Directed by Irving Reis. Cary Grant is at his harried, zany best in this delightful romantic screwball comedy also starring Myrna Loy and a teenaged Shirley Temple, both of whom vie for Grant’s affections. The cast also includes Rudy Vallee (one of my favorites in comedies The Palm Beach Story and Unfaithfully Yours), Ray Collins, Johnny Sands, Don Beddoe and Veda Ann Borg. The clever script is by Sidney Sheldon, which won the Academy Award for original screenplay. One of my favorite moments in the movie involves Grant in a potato sack race, wherein hilarity ensues, of course. Grant had a natural knack for comedy that was an oddly perfect fit for his otherwise suave charm and elegance, so scenes such as this come off as both simply funny and sharply witty. Sadly, director Reis’s career was short; although he also made The Big Street (1942), All My Sons (1948), Enchantment (1948) and The Four Poster (1952), Reis died of cancer at age 47 in 1953.
Black Narcissus. Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The longing is almost tangible in this drama about nuns in the Himalayas. Deborah Kerr (radiant as always), Flora Robson, Jenny Laird, Judith Furse and the haunting Kathleen Byron play the nuns while Sabu portrays a young general, David Farrar is the local generals’ agent and 17-year-old Jean Simmons (just a year after playing young Estella in David Lean’s Great Expectations) plays a local girl who casts her eye on Sabu. Over the course of the film David Farrar sheds more and more clothing, contrasting with the covered-up nuns. The story itself, based on the novel by Rumer Godden, is a crushing ode both to lost love and to loves that can never be. The film won Oscars for its deeply beautiful color cinematography by the great Jack Cardiff and for its color art direction/set decoration by Alfred Junge. Powell & Pressburger were a fantastic writer-director team and Black Narcissus is proof of their unique vision and grasp of filmmaking. It is the P&P film you should probably start with, along with “I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945).
The Lady from Shanghai. Directed by Orson Welles. Rita Hayworth gives one of her finest performances in this crazy, dazzling noir. At the time of filming, Welles and Hayworth were estranged, but their chemistry is still tangible. The actors themselves were transformed: Hayworth’s trademark red tresses were gone in favor of a short bleached-blonde haircut; Welles’ Irish brogue feels overdone at first, but you eventually get used to it. Everett Sloane (best known as Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane) is excellent as Hayworth’s husband (often proclaimed to be the greatest lawyer in the world) and Glenn Anders is creepily menacing as George Grisby, using his slippery vocal inflections to color the character. Additionally, the many mentions in the screenplay of suicide via pill overdose bear an eerie resemblance to Sloane’s real-life suicide from barbiturate overdose in 1965. The best part, however, is the amusement park funhouse finale in which mirrors are used in a fascinating and innovative way. The film was edited by Viola Lawrence, one of the top female film editors of her day (my own favorites are Blanche Sewell and Adrienne Fazan – check out their résumés). Lawrence also edited such classics as Queen Kelly (1929), Man’s Castle (1933), The Whole Town’s Talking (1935), Craig’s Wife (1936), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Cover Girl (1944), In a Lonely Place (1950), Queen Bee (1955) and Pal Joey (1957).
Out of the Past. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. If ever there were a definition of “cool,” Robert Mitchum would be it. Is there any other actor who could say the phrase “Baby, I don’t care” without sounding ridiculous? (No, there isn’t.) Jane Greer makes for a perfect femme fatale (her beach scene with Mitchum is intense and sexy), Kirk Douglas has one of his best early supporting roles as the grinning bad guy Whit Sterling, Virginia Huston is sweet as Mitchum’s new girlfriend and Dickie Moore (one of my longtime favorites) makes an impression as “The Kid,” the deaf-mute who works at Mitchum’s gas station. Theresa Harris is quietly majestic in an uncredited role as Eunice Leonard. The black-and-white cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca (Cat People, the aforementioned The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and I Remember Mama) illuminates Mitchum and his murky atmosphere thanks to a stunning mastery of light and shadow.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Directed by Norman Z. McLeod. McLeod, who also directed the Marx Brothers films Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932), the W.C. Fields classic It’s a Gift (1934) and the supernatural comedy Topper (1937), did a fine job with this wacky tale. Based on a story by James Thurber, the film gives Kaye a forum for acting out insane fantasies, whimsically absurd dream sequences and even a little romance. Besides being a great vehicle for Danny Kaye’s exuberant talents, the film boasts a great supporting cast: Virginia Mayo, Boris Karloff, Fay Bainter, Ann Rutherford (still with us at nearly 91), Florence Bates (I always think of her as Madame Dilyovska in On the Town), Konstantin Shayne, Reginald Denny and even Robert Altman (!) in an uncredited part. Like The Lady from Shanghai, Walter Mitty was edited by a woman: Monica Collingwood, who received an Oscar nomination for another 1947 film, The Bishop’s Wife.