Caught in the Draft (1941, Directed by David Butler) English 8

Starring Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Eddie Bracken, Lynne Overman, Clarence Kolb, Paul Hurst

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Farcical. Inspired. Winning.

It’s 1941, World War II looms, and fussy, self-serving Hollywood actor, Don Bolton (Hope), is wary of the possibility for a military draft. Attempting to get ahead of it and out of its way, he exploits a loophole that would excuse him. If he gets married, he’s exempt. The problem is, he needs to find a girl. Setting his sights on the beautiful Antoinette Fairbanks (Lamour) turns out to be a mistake since her father is a Colonel and once she figures out what he’s up to, she despises him. And by this time, Don’s fallen in love with her for real, so he has to prove that he’s not a coward to win her back. Eddie Bracken and Lynn Overman play Don’s friend and agent, respectively, and go with him down any insane scheme he comes up with. Inspired farce with one great scene after another, Caught in the Draft represents one of Hope’s best comedies.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(843)

Strange Fascination (1952, Directed by Hugo Haas) English 6

Starring Hugo Haas, Cleo Moore, Mona Barrie, Karen Sharpe, Rick Vallin

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(6-Good Film)

Intriguing. Vague. Low-key.

Talented concert pianist, Paul Marvan (Haas), tours in the states to no little success, but once he meets beautiful but shallow Margo, his talent and his career go downhill. What is this film? Noir? Character study? Melodrama? Each attempt I made to define Strange Fascination while watching it only frustrated me, mainly because it’s ill-defined. The “femme fatale” isn’t actually very dangerous (at least, she means no harm) and the “tragic hero” never does anything wrong. He falls in love and his career suffers. That’s not to say this isn’t a good film. It grips, entertains, and lingers well after it’s done, even if I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly its point was. Rather than the plot revolving around the actions of its characters, Strange Fascination seems tethered to fate or some unseen forces, which is why the consequences sometimes feel melodramatic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(842)

Take One False Step (1949, Directed by Chester Erskine) English 6

Starring William Powell, Shelley Winters, Marsha Hunt, James Gleason, Dorothy Hart, Felix Bressart, Sheldon Leonard

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(6-Good Film)

Tame. Typical. Solid.

Happily married Professor Andrew Gentling (Powell) reconnects with an old flame, Catherine Sykes (Winters), while visiting California on a business trip. Soon after, she’s murdered and the cops are after the professor for questioning. It’s a prime setup for noir, and Take One False Step delivers on so many fronts that it’s disappointing that it watered down the tone instead of being the dark cautionary tale it set up. First of all, the professor is too much of a saint. Even when he’s having drinks with a woman that’s not his wife, there’s no threat that he’s tempted to cheat. There is genuine suspense in this film, however, and Shelley Winters, as demonstrated on many occasions, excels as a dangerously unstable woman.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(832)

The Last Wagon (1956, Directed by Delmer Daves) English 7

Starring Richard Widmark, Felicia Farr, Tommy Rettig, Nick Adams, Susan Kohner, Timothy Carey, Stephanie Griffin

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(7-Very Good Film)

Potboiler. Thrilling. Simple.

A fugitive, Comanche Todd (Widmark), is caught by a sadistic Sheriff and dragged along with a wagon train of civilians to some town where he’ll be hanged. Comanche Todd, a white man raised by Indians, is given some sympathy by a few of the travelers but feared by most. When the wagon train is attacked by vengeful Apache, Comanche Todd is called on to lead the few survivors to civilization. This is a classic old Hollywood western in a number of ways but manages some moral ambiguity which is rare for westerns of the period. It also depicts Indians as something more than mindless killing machines, which is rarer still. Although a bit hokey at times, all in all, it’s a rousing adventure filmed beautifully in Cinescope by director Delmer Daves who filmed many excellent westerns.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(824)

Holiday Affair (1949, Directed by Don Hartman) English 8

Starring Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey, Gordon Gebert, Griff Barnett, Esther Dale

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Warm. Witty. Thoughtful.

Widowed mother, Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh), meets department store salesman, Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum), one day and the kind, charismatic guy complicates all of her carefully considered life-plans. For one thing, she’s already practically engaged, to nice, secure Carl Davis (Wendell Corey).  Holiday Affair plays out slowly, with no trumped-up action and little fuss. It’s all dialogue (witty and intelligent) and engaging characters. It’s also an attractive look at New York back in the 1940s during the Christmas season.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(822)

Murder, My Sweet (1944, Directed by Edward Dmytryk) English 8

Starring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki, Miles Mander

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Witty. Fast. Hardboiled.

Raymond Chandler’s immortal character, Phillip Marlowe, gets his big-screen debut in this adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely. Marlowe’s played by song and dance man, Dick Powell, who wanted to expand into dramatic fare and did so successfully, thanks to a strong performance here. Two cases collide for Marlowe as he searches for missing gems that were stolen during a payoff he was paid to monitor. This leads him to the wealthy but dysfunctional Grayle family, a sinister “psychic healer,” and a mentally unstable brute named Moose (Mazurki). Murder, My Sweet is an excellent adaptation and an early example of film noir. It has all of the wonderful conventions of the private detective subgenre: femme fatales (in this case two), a small-time case that unravels into a big one, thugs, murder, mystery. I love this stuff. It’s impressive to me the degree of complexity it accomplishes with such few characters and an economy of runtime.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(812)

Holiday Inn (1942, Directed by Mark Sandrich) English 8

Starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale, Marjorie Reynolds, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers, Irving Bacon

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Endearing. Sparkling. Consummate.

Glossing over a couple of benign, but still problematic scenes involving blackface, Holiday Inn is a fantastic musical.  You can’t do better than Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin together. Crosby plays Jim Hardy, a showbiz veteran who’d like a simpler life for himself and his wife-to-be, Lila, living on a farm in quiet Connecticut. Then, Lila runs off with his dance partner, Ted Hanover (Astaire), and his farm turns out to be a lot of work. Time passes and Jim gets a new idea. A themed-based hotel only open on holidays complete with complimentary music shows. Working to put it together, he gets the lovely, talented Linda Mason (Reynolds) to work for him, but Ted, already kicked to the curb by Lila, has plans to lure Linda away. Great music, dancing (Astaire’s drunk number is incredible), shimmering black-and-white photography, and impressive sets. Holiday Inn puts on an outstanding show.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(809)