Pinky (1949, Directed by Elia Kazan) English Okay Film

Starring Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore, Ethel Waters, William Lundigan, Kenny Washington

(Okay Film)

Born to a poor black family in the deep south, Pinky Johnson (Crain) grows up pale enough to pass for a white woman. She moves to the North, studies, becomes a nurse, and gets engaged to a young doctor. Returning home to visit her grandmother, Dicey (Waters), Pinky’s confronted with all manners of injustice and bigotry. Knowing that she could walk away from it all-return North-at any time proves to be a crisis of identity for Pinky. Dealing with a most serious subject at a time when the majority of people were not ever going to be receptive makes Pinky something of a noble cause. Racism and the idea of “passing” is handled well, but at the center of the film is its biggest problem. Rather than cast Lena Horne or another light-skinned black actress of the time, the studio forced the director, Elia Kazan, to hire a white actress for the role. It undermines the film and blunts much of its sharpness. Crain lacks the righteous anger that the role calls for and instead looks perpetually apathetic. It’s still a compelling drama but not the heavyweight its material had the potential for.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-14-

The Ghost Breakers (1940, Directed by George Marshall) English Good Film

Starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Willie Best, Anthony Quinn, Richard Carlson, Tom Dugan, Paul Lukas, Pedro de Cordoba, Noble Johnson

(Good Film)

Capitalizing on the success of their previous horror-comedy collaboration, The Cat and the Canary, one of my favorites, Paulette Godard and Bob Hope team up again in The Ghost Breakers. Goddard plays an heiress warned to stay away from her land in Cuba which is said to be haunted by the ghosts of slaves and voodoo zombies. Hope, in a rare turn as the shining knight, shows up with problems of his own at just the right time to help her get to the bottom of her mysterious inheritance. Equal parts horror and comedy as all great mashups should be, The Ghost Breakers is a blast as all of Bob Hope’s best films are. A little confusing at times with an abundance of misdirection, the plot becomes slightly irrelevant the deeper into the picture we get, but the stars work well together and the set pieces-chiefly the climactic journey through her inherited mansion- are fantastic. Check out the Hollywood zombie circa 1940. Not bad.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-13-

Silver Lode (1954, Directed by Allan Dwan) English Good Film

Starring John Payne, Dan Duryea, Lizabeth Scott, Dolores Moran, Emile Meyer, Alan Hale Jr., Harry Carey Jr.

(Good Film)

When U.S Marshall, Fred McCarty (Duryea), and his deputies ride into town, what was to be a joyous wedding day in Silver Lode quickly becomes a nightmare of frenzied action and hysteria. They’ve come to collect on Dan Ballard (Payne), the groom-to-be, a popular newcomer to town, and though the handbill says dead or alive, you get the feeling Marshall McCarty would prefer to take Ballard in dead. The town stands behind Ballard at first when he questions the legitimacy of McCarty’s handbill and position as a Marshall, but slowly turn on him as the day wears on. Silver Lode is another ’50s allegory for McCarthyism and compares just as easily to The Crucible as it does to High Noon. Mob mentality reigns in this town despite its population of well-meaning, upstanding citizens, and, by the end, friends turn on friends and relationships are broken. This is a solid western on the surface, expertly staged, with a wealth of subtext making it a favorite of film critics. I appreciate the characterization of Ballard. His stoic, unapologetic demeanor had even me questioning him a time or two and Duryea is, as always, a fantastic creep. I don’t hold it in the same esteem as the very best of the genre-like other critical favorites, it’s more entertaining as a discussion point than it is to watch-but there’s no denying it’s an exceptional film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-2-

Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Directed by Howard Hawks) English 9

Starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Thomas Mitchell, Rita Hayworth, Richard Barthalmess, Sig Ruman, Allyn Joslyn, Noah Beery Jr.

Only Angels Have Wings 1939, directed by Howard Hawks | Film review

(9-Great Film)

Adventurous. Exciting. Polished.

Bonnie Lee: I’m hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me.

When Bonnie Lee (Arthur), American showgirl, stops over in Barranca, a remote airbase in South America, she expected to stay for a night. After meeting and instantly falling for the brusque Geoff Carter (Grant), head-pilot and the base’s leader, Bonnie finds she doesn’t want to leave but can’t bear to watch him put his life in danger night in and night out. He loves her but refuses to stop flying. Only Angels Have Wings is an excellent picture. It’s amazing to me how quickly filmmakers figured out the art of filmmaking and how adeptly they expanded its limits. Howard Hawks was a consummate Hollywood storyteller and he’s working with two of its greatest stars in Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. Wonderful, well-drawn characters, romance and action.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,117)

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934, Directed by Harold Young) English 7

Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, Raymond Massey, Nigel Bruce, Anthony Bushell, Joan Gardner

(7-Very Good Film)

Entertaining. Frenzied. Slight.

Percy Blakeney: They seek him here, they seek him there, / Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. / Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell? / That damned elusive Pimpernel!

Sir Percy Blakeney is an English nobleman during the late 18th century. While England enjoys its time of peace, nearby France is plunged into hell by the Reign of Terror and its new leader, Robespierre’s penchant for the guillotine. Blakeney, in response, becomes “the Scarlet Pimpernel,” masked vigilante determined to rescue condemned aristocrats from France and bring them over to England. He also affects the role of idiotic fop in his own country so that no one would ever suspect him of being the masked hero; including his beautiful wife, Lady Marguerite (Oberon), who’s ashamed of him. This premise has been recycled through the decades and told much better in my opinion through the characters of, first, Zorro and, later, Batman, but I believe it started with The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s a well-crafted swashbuckler with a compelling romance between Blakeney and his estranged wife, but I do wish the ending was more exciting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,113)

Foreign Correspondent (1940, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 7

Starring Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Edmund Gwenn, Harry Davenport, Albert Basserman, Robert Benchley

American Genre Film Archive FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Uneven. Hokey.

Mr. Powers: I don’t want any more economists, sages, or oracles bombinating over our cables. I want a reporter! Somebody who doesn’t know the difference between an -ism and a kangaroo. A good, honest crime reporter. That’s what the Globe needs. That’s what Europe needs!

Wanting a fresh set of eyes, the New York Morning Globe sends crime reporter, John Jones (McCrea), overseas to Europe, where a second world war is brewing and several diplomats gather to invoke peace. Instead, Van Meer (Basserman), a leading diplomat, is assassinated and Jones gets thrown into a whirlwind conspiracy of spies and foreign plots. He’s determined to break the story and get the girl, Carol Fisher (Day), in the process. If Foreign Correspondent afforded Hitchcock a greater budget than his previous work in his home country of England, it also demanded he appeal more conspicuously than ever before as a sort of war propaganda. Certain touches, monologues seem hokey now, 80 years later; the use of our (America’s) national anthem in its ending credits, for example. Add to this, the opening act far exceeds the following two so that the film begins to feel anticlimactic for the majority of its running time. As soon as Van Meer gets shot in that spectacular sequence with the assassin and the umbrellas, Foreign Correspondent has reached its apex. Despite its deficiencies, it’s a sprawling, exciting film with an incredible opening and a slow but satisfying conclusion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,112)

Man of the West (1958, Directed by Anthony Mann) English 8

Starring Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O’Connell, Jack Lord, Royal Dano, Tom London

Man of the West (1958) | MUBI

(8-Exceptional Film)

Violent. Impressive. Harsh.

Link Jones: You know what I feel inside of me? I feel like killing. Like, like a sickness come back. I want to kill every last one of those Tobins. And that makes me just like they are. What I busted my back all those years trying not to be.

Like Will Munny, Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven many, many years later, Link Jones is a man with a violent past who fancies himself reformed, and like Will Munny, you’ll find yourself wanting Link to go back to being the man he swore he’d never be again; at least long enough to save the day. Played by Gary Cooper (56 at the time) in one of his best roles, Link used to run with the Tobin gang, a savage bunch led by his Uncle Doc (Cobb). Now Link is a small-town family man, riding a train west to Fort Worth to find and hire a school teacher for his community. Along the way, he meets Sam Beasley (O’Connell), an amiable gambler, and Billie Ellis (London), a beautiful saloon singer who catches his attention despite his already being married, but he also runs into the new Tobin gang with Uncle Doc still pulling the strings. Man of the West was made during the 1950s classic era of westerns and apparently wasn’t all that successful. Still, famed French filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, gave it a glowing review and perhaps he saw clearly that it’s ahead of its time. Man of the West is an early revisionist western with a compelling brutal streak. It’s hero has a checkered past, to say the least. It’s villains are unspeakably ugly and evil. The innocent get caught in the middle and the film is clearly not beholden to your cursory Hollywood, happy ending.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,109)

The Blue Dahlia (1946, Directed by George Marshall) English 8

Starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling, Hugh Beaumont, Tom Powers, Howard Freeman

William Bendix in 'The Blue Dahlia' | by Joe Sommerlad | Medium

(8-Exceptional Film)

Hardboiled. Stylish. Surprising.

Joyce Harwood: Why is it? You’ve never seen me before tonight.

Johnny Morrison: Every guy’s seen you before somewhere. The trick is to find you.

Raymond Chandler’s first foray into scriptwriting, The Blue Dahlia boasts all of his hallmarks: great dialogue, tough guys, beautiful but dangerous women, colorful supporting characters, and a convoluted plot. Alan Ladd plays Johnny Morrison, a war hero who returns to find his wife’s been unfaithful. When she winds up dead soon after, naturally, Johnny is the prime suspect and it’s up to him to prove his innocence. With the help of a beautiful stranger, Joyce Harwood (Lake), Johnny finds that his wife had plenty of enemies. Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake really were great together and the supporting characters are perfectly cast. This film may not be as iconic as some of its contemporaries (The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon), but it’s one of the best of its kind.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,094)

History is Made at Night (1937, Directed by Frank Borzage) English 6

Starring Jean Arthur, Charles Boyer, Leo Carrillo, Colin Clive, George Meeker, Ivan Lebedeff, George Davis

Antti Alanen: Film Diary: History Is Made at Night (1937)

(6-Good Film)

Melodramatic. Unique. Engaging.

Irene Vail: You’re right, Bruce. This time you’re right. This time there *is* another man.

Irene Vail (Arthur) has been faithful to her husband, Bruce (Clive), whose insecurity and jealousy have caused her to file for divorce, but Bruce is also obscenely wealthy. He hatches a blackmail scheme meant to keep her tied to him but instead introduces her to Paul Dumond (Boyer), a French waiter who’s suave personified. The two fall in love but Bruce’s jealousy and his wealth threaten to tear them apart. Shifting through tones skillfully, History is Made at Night, which starts as a sort of romantic comedy, goes in several surprising directions. I’m not much a fan of what I call the “weepies,” melodramas designed to induce tears, but Boyer and Arthur are magic together.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,093)

Midnight (1939, Directed by Mitchell Leisen) English 8

Starring Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Francis Lederer, Rex O’Malley, Monty Wooley

Matinée Moustache — deforest: Claudette Colbert in Midnight (1939)

(8-Exceptional Film)

Surprising. Witty. Charming.

Eve Peabody: [at the ball] Don’t forget, every Cinderella has her midnight.

Most films that I consider charming aren’t as jaded and sarcastic as Midnight, an underrated classic that for years has been difficult to find. Written by two giants of scriptwriting, Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, Midnight is a clever spin on the Cinderella fantasy. Claudette Colbert plays Eve Peabody, a beautiful but penniless American in Paris, scrounging for a job. She meets Tibor Czerny (Ameche), a handsome cab driver who’s instantly smitten with her, but she runs off in the middle of their night together, leaving little clue as to who she is or where he can find her. While he searches the city, she helps her newfound fairy godmother, millionaire Georges Flammarion (Barrymore), get rid of a playboy hitting on his wife. Wonderful dialogue and zany, unpredictable scenarios throughout make Midnight a fantastic romantic comedy and Colbert, Ameche, and Barrymore are terrific stars.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,092)