Category Archives: 1940s

#328 The Heiress

(1949, William Wyler)

“I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters”

The trailer for this movie (above) is very keen on informing us that The Heiress is an absolutely marvellous piece of cinema that’s going to shape the future of cinema, but the fact that I hadn’t heard of it until now makes me question those studio-appointed accolades. But, it could still very easily be a good movie, even if it didn’t set the world on fire in the way the dramatic announcer above seemed to wish it would. Let’s find out.

Olivia de Havilland stars as Catherine Sloper, the plain and naïve daughter of a rich and successful doctor (Ralph Richardson). She is despised by her father, who constantly compares her to her late mother and finds her physically and emotionally dull, and considers her to be an embarrassment to him. Catherine soon finds an emotional connection in a man named Morris (Montgomery Clift) and hopes to marry him, but Dr Sloper suspects him of trying to muscle in on her future inherited fortune.

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#323 The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp

(1943, The Archers)

“Can’t imagine anything more awful than to be a prisoner of war in England”

In 1930s Britain, a cartoon character emerged in one of the major papers, openly criticising the British establishment by being blundering, preposterous and full of hot air. Colonel Blimp was designed to be a satirical representation of British military officers who spoke with a great deal of authority on topics they didn’t understand and expressed very jingoistic views. In 1943, production team The Archers decided to develop this character further in a movie, exploring his life and expanding him into more than just a stereotype. And thus, The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp.

The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp focuses on Major-General Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), exploring his life through a series of lengthy flashbacks. Starting with his escapades in the Boer War in the early 20th century and leading through the World Wars, we witness his attempts to maintain a stiff upper lip in the face of complicated diplomatic incidents and his growing affection for a woman named Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr), and how this affects his decisions. Read the rest of this entry

#317 La Belle et la Bete

(1946, Jean Cocteau)

“Belle, you mustn’t look into my eyes”

It’s a tale as old as time – a beautiful romantic tale about a young girl enslaved by a beast-man in his magical castle until she is able to turn him into a charming prince through her innocent nature. Wait, that doesn’t sound very romantic at all! Yes, it’s everybody’s favourite children’s story about Stockholm Syndrome, Beauty And The Beast.

However, this isn’t the famous Disney version, this is instead the original French adaptation, La Belle et la Bête. After a wealthy merchant loses his fortune through dealings with unscrupulous people, he finds himself lost in the forest. Upon finding a large castle, he picks a rose from the garden and is immediately caught by a fierce beast-man (Jean Marais), who sentences him to death. However, a deal is made, and he can be spared if he sends his daughter to take his place. And so, Belle (Josette Day) is sent to the castle, where she is imprisoned and must now live with the Beast, who appears to hide a soft side under his gruff exterior. Read the rest of this entry

#308 How Green Was My Valley

(1941, John Ford)

“They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever.”

Oh good, a John Ford movie. As evidenced by previous reviews of his movies that I’ve done, I’ve not been too fond of most of his work. But wait, most of that involved the bland acting of Mr John Wayne, who I’m definitely not fond of. But he’s nowhere to be seen in How Green Was My Valley, set in a Welsh coal-mining village. So perhaps I might be okay with this one? Let’s see!

The movie follows several years in the life of the Morgan family. Father Gwilym (Donald Crisp), along with his elder sons Ianto (John Loder), Ivor (Patric Knowles) and Davy (Richard Fraser), work in the surrounding coal mines, along with many other villagers who depend on the mine for their wages. Conflict comes when the miners find their wages being reduced, and when local preacher Mr Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) falls in love with the Morgans’ daughter Angharad (Maureen O’Hara). Events are viewed mostly through the eyes of youngest son Huw (Roddy McDowall), with an older version of him narrating many of the events.

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#301 The Wolf Man

(1941, George Waggner)

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”

I was sitting in my big leather armchair wondering what it would be like to be a werewolf. Then I realised it probably wasn’t that good an idea and I decided to watch a movie about a werewolf instead. And why not start with the werewolf movie that started them all, The Wolf Man, one of the classic Universal monster movies?

It’s 1934, and Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) has heard about the death of his brother and returns to his ancestral home in Wales to reconcile with his estranged father, John (Claude Rains). While there, he takes an interest in antiques dealer Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), and purchases a walking stick with a silver wolf head, supposedly representing a werewolf, a local legend. When Larry is attacked in the woods by a wolf, he manages to kill it using the cane, but ends up bitten in the process. I’ll let you figure out the rest.

The Wolf Man may be a classic, but it’s definitely on the b-movie end of things. The first indication of this comes fairly early on when it becomes apparent that the movie is intent on drumming the werewolf legend into your head at every point. It does this by insistently repeating a poem about wolfbane that’s supposedly a local legend, pretty much to the point of tedium. Every character offhandedly tells Larry the poem, who seems amazed by it every single time, while I began to groan every time someone started saying it.

Of course, not much of the film’s other dialogue is much better. From comments about a pentagram-shaped scar being nothing because “that scar could have been made by any animal” (are you sure?) to some incredibly awkward flirting, this movie isn’t going to win any awards for writing. The flirting especially annoys me because it results in a forced love story that doesn’t make any sense and starts by Larry spying on Gwen with his dad’s telescope and then casually dropping personal information about her into their first conversation based on this. This is more terrifying than the movie’s actual horror!

The acting isn’t much better. For the most part, everyone is either phoning it in or seems to not care. The only actor who seems to be putting some degree of effort in is Claude Rains, which makes John Talbot the best character in the whole movie because he’s the only person who feels believable. Of course, this doesn’t make his relationship to Larry believable, because there is no way to think these two actors share any genes because they’re so vastly different in terms of body type and demeanour.

But of course, no one comes into a werewolf movie expecting a deep story and believable characters, we come to watch horrific transformations and see people get attacked by hairy men. How does it do on that front?

Well, it does…okay. It’s kind of a fun watch once the transformations start happening, but marred by some dated effects and makeup that make the “wolf” man look more like a man with an unfortunate medical condition. The first transformation we see is also a major letdown, as Larry’s feet calmly fade to a pair of fuzzy slippers which then walk out of a door.

But it has charm. At least it has that going for it. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a creaky old Universal horror movie from the 40s. It’s there for silly entertainment as you watch a man in questionable monster makeup stalk around.

So, The Wolf Man. Not great, but charming and entertaining enough.

Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patrick Knowles & Bela Lugosi
Written by Curt Siodmak
Produced by George Waggner
Cinematography by Joseph Valentine
Edited by Ted J. Kent

Favourite Scene: The wolf attack in the woods is pretty exciting.
Scene That Bugged Me: That pentagram scar line. Not many animals would make a scar that shape. Just saying.

Watch it if: You like creaky old monster movies
Avoid it if: You like nuanced art pieces with complex plots

#287 The Magnificent Ambersons

(1942, Orson Welles)

“The magnificence of the Ambersons was as conspicuous as a brass band at a funeral.”

Although history sometimes like to suggest otherwise, Orson Welles did more than just convince America that Earth was being invaded by Martians and direct the Greatest Movie Ever Made™ (also known as Citizen Kane). He also sometimes directed other movies, movies that he personally didn’t star in at that. And this is one of them – The Magnificent Ambersons.

It should come as no surprise that The Magnificent Ambersons is a movie about a wealthy family called the Ambersons, and that many people consider them to be rather magnificent. Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten), a young man who has his eyes on building strange contraptions known as “automobiles”, certainly thinks so, as he attempts to woo the family’s daughter, Isabel (Dolores Costello). She rejects him, and marries a wealthy but passionless man, and bears a child, George (Tim Holt).

Twenty years later, George returns from college, and the Amberson family throw him a huge reception. Eugene returns to the town for the first time in years, and is now surprisingly successful with his “automobiles” (who knew they’d take off?). George takes an instant dislike to Eugene but finds himself rather smitten with his daughter, Lucy (Anne Baxter). Shenanigans ensue.

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#280 Rope

(1948, Alfred Hitchcock)

“Nobody commits a murder just for the experiment of committing it. Nobody except us.”

It should be no surprise to anyone by this point that I’m quite fond of Alfred Hitchcock and his movies. So be warned, this is a Hitchcock review, so if you don’t want me to sit here and tell you how fantastic he was and why Rope is such a good movie, then feel free to sit this one out. Sound good? Okay, let’s get going.

Rope starts with the murder of David Kentley by his former classmates Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) in the duo’s apartment. They strangle him with a rope and stuff him in a chest in the lounge. Their reasoning is that they wish to commit the “perfect murder”, even going as far as holding a dinner party immediately afterwards. As the guests arrive, Brandon maintains a psychopathic calmness while Phillip’s panic and guilt threatens to reveal itself in front of the party. Cue the arrival of their former teacher, Rupert Cadell (James GODDAMN Stewart!), who begins to suspect them.

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#269 Great Expectations

(1946, David Lean)

“Pip, a young gentleman of great expectations”

UUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGGGH period drama. As if to prove to me that an obsession with period drama based on dusty old literature is not a new phenomenon in British cinema, here’s Great Expectations, an old 1940s adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novel. Go on then, let’s get this over with.

Like all Charles Dickens stories, this is the story of an orphan. It is the story of Pip (Anthony Wager / John Mills), a young orphan who encounters an escaped convict and visits a wealthy spinster named Miss Haversham (Martitia Hunt) as a companion for her adopted daughter Estella (Jean Simmons / Valerie Hobson). Later in life, Pip inherits property from a mystery wealthy benefactor and moves to London to become a gentleman. Over time, he pursues Estella, tries to work out who the benefactor is and learns a few life lessons along the way.

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#260 The Big Sleep

(1946, Howard Hawks)

“I don’t know yet what I’m going to tell them. It’ll be pretty close to the truth”

Humphrey Bogart was pretty much the star of film noir during the forties. Best known for his roles in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca (which will be appearing on here at a later date), he also famously played acclaimed mystery writer Raymond Chandler’s detective Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep. I like me a good mystery thriller, so I should like this, right?

The Big Sleep sees Marlowe, a private investigator, being called to the offices of retired general General Sternwood (Charles Waldron). Someone is blackmailing his daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers), and he wants Marlowe to find out who, and find a way to resolve those debts. Meanwhile, Sternwood’s older daughter, Vivian (Lauren Bacall), informs Marlowe that her father’s real motive for contacting him is to find a missing friend of his. What follows is a twisted tale of twists and mysterious motives.

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#258 Brief Encounter

(1946, David Lean)
“I’ve fallen in love…I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.”

Bonus review this week! Yes, because today is Valentine’s Day, I’m doing a special romantic-themed review. Last year I went with an 80s romantic comedy, and this year I decided to go a little further back in time and review old British classic Brief Encounter, a romance about two people who have a…well, brief encounter and fall in love. Awwwww.

Problem is, both Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) are already married, and not to each other, which kind of throws a spanner in the works a little. Cue a turbulent affair and a tornado of feelings and emotions. So, not exactly the happiest romance movie ever then.

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