Saturday, March 28, 2015

GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT (1947)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 10 of 50)


I'm not sure Gentleman's Agreement is held in as high esteem as it once was. Despite winning Best Picture and Director for Elia Kazan at the 1947 Academy Awards, it really isn't on a lot of people's short list of great Kazan films. It also didn't make the 1001 book of movies you must see before you die. Perhaps this story of a gentile who goes undercover as a Jew to experience firsthand antisemitism may seem a little tame by modern movie standards, but I don't think that is being fair. We can learn a lot by subtle prejudice. Our hero (played by Gregory Peck) falls in love with a woman (Dorothy McGuire) who seems to be on his side as far as antisemitism goes. But there are problems lurking beneath the surface. Her dealings with her not-so-subtle family is one. They seem like nice folks, but a Jew moving into their neighborhood? Are you kidding? And her not willing to stand up to them for the sake of her relationship or her inability to tell someone who made an anti-semitic joke she didn't appreciate it is another. I think prejudice is something we fight every day. It's not just from the guys who say it to your face (like the scene above) it's the ones we don't expect. Sometimes it's ourselves. Sometimes we don't even know it.

Here's to a long life!:The five leading ladies of Gentleman's Agreement:

Dorothy McGuire as Peck's love interest died at the age of 85 in 2001.
Anne Revere, as Peck's mother, died at the age of 87 in 1990.
Celeste Holm, who won the Oscar for her supporting role died at the age of 95 in 2012.
Jane Wyatt, who plays McGuire's sister died at the age of 96 in 2006.
And June Havoc, who plays Peck's secretary died at the age of 97 in 2010.
Not sure what my point is here. I just found the consistent longevity of the cast kind of interesting.


And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to Anne Revere. I thought that Anne was only so-so in Secret Beyond the Door, but I like her very much here as Gregory Peck's mother. She conveys strength, determination and a great deal of maternal love. You can see where Peck's character gets his resolve. Also, let's give a nod to usual leading man John Garfield who took a nice supporting role here as Peck's Jewish military buddy.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

JEZEBEL (1938), THE LITTLE FOXES (1941)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 9 of 50)

I had the good fortune to meet both of director William Wyler's daughters (Melanie and Cathy) at our library as part of the Southern Literary Trail http://www.southernliterarytrail.org/events.html film series. We showed Cathy's 80's documentary about her father as well as the William Wyler/Bette Davis collaborations Jezebel and The Little Foxes.


Jezebel
Jezebel is a story set in 1850's New Orleans featuring a cast of thousands, a look at pre-Civil War plantation life, Southern chivalry and traditions, some catchy Negro spirituals, an unfortunate red dress, a case of Yellow Jack and of course Bette Davis. Davis's role may remind some viewers of Scarlet O'Hara, but Davis really makes this her own and it is hard to argue with her receiving the Academy Award for her role.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...George Brent. I was browsing through David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of American Film when I came across his piece on George Brent.

Bette Davis and George Brent in Jezebel
Brent was typed as a romantic lead despite his somewhat porcine face and his sticklike acting--his performances divide neatly between those in which he's wearing and mustache and those in which he isn't; not much else distinguishes them.

Ouch!...That may be a bit harsh! He's no Henry Fonda and is certainly outclassed by Ms. Davis in this picture, but he does a decent enough job as Bette's alternate love interest, Buck Cantrell. You know, somebody's go to be the second tier leading man, David!

Bette Davis in The Little Foxes
The Little Foxes is a drama based on a play by Lillian Hellman set in Demopolis, Alabama, 1900. It is a dialogue heavy story of shady business dealings and unethical characters in the deep south. The film doesn't really hits its stride for me until the second half when we really get an idea of the characters (mostly bad) true motivations. And Bette Davis plays an evil dame unlike anyone else of her time.

Teresa Wright in The Little Foxes
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Teresa Wright. A lot of unlikable characters in this film, but that description certainly doesn't apply to Teresa Wright, whose nice girl daughter is a marked contrast to mother Bette Davis's manipulative opportunist. Teresa truly had success with her appearances in Wyler films. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role as the daughter in Little Foxes. The following year, she won the supporting actress Academy Award for Wyler's Mrs. Miniver. And after the war, she had a nice role in Wyler's classic The Best Years of Our Lives. Teresa was also in Pride of the Yankees and had a rare lead role in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt.


And thanks again to the Wyler daughters!





Sunday, March 22, 2015

TWELVE ANGRY MEN (1957)

The Golden Age of Hollywood
(Post 8 of 50)


Twelve Angry Men has the dramatically simple setting of a jury room where there are twelve jurors about to decide on a seemingly open and shut case until one juror (Henry Fonda) isn't quite so sure of the defendant's guilt. Classic story, expertly directed, wonderfully acted-what more could you ask for? Would also love to see this on stage some day.


And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…An eleven way tie between Martin Balsam, John Fiedler,  Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeny, Ed Begley, George Voskevec and Robert Webber. Co-stars like Fonda has in this film are one of the reasons I like to give away my imaginary award in the first place. All the supporting parts are significant and all are performed by top-notch actors, many who would be seen in movies and television for years to come.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

MRS. MINIVER (1942)

The Golden Age of Hollywood
(Post 7 of 50)


William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives showed what it was like for veterans coming home after the war. His earlier film, Mrs. Miniver, showed what is what like before and after the war began for a family and a community. I think it's interesting that both of Wyler's films ended up winning Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards. Mrs. Miniver isn't all that exciting in the beginning, but these people are just living their lives. As the call to war begins, they try to keep a stiff upper lift (they're British, after all) and do what they can for the war effort when they aren't desperately trying to survive. I can see why Mrs. Miniver got the reputation as a movie you'll need a box of tissues for during the second half. It's pretty effective in that way. I can only imagine how audiences were emotionally effected by it in 1942.


And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Henry Travers. I'm sure many vintage film watchers see Henry Travers and think mostly of his portrayal of Clarence Oddbody, Angel second class in It's a Wonderful Life. I know I do. But he did appear in other movies! In Mrs. Miniver, he plays a working class station attendant who grows a prize rose that he names after the title character. He is charming and likable and you really root for him and his special flower. Travers received his only Academy Award nomination for Mrs. Miniver.