1944: Year Seventeen

Yes, the war is still on. Yes, I think we’re winning. Yes, I’m still feeling guilty about skipping categories, and the Academy keeps piling on the guilt by adding new categories I ignored in my books. We’re now up to six: Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Short Subject (One-Reel), Best Short Subject (Two-Reel), Best Documentary (Short), and Best Documentary (Feature).

I can handle it? Can you? After all, there’s a war on, ya know!

Best Documentary (Feature):

First of all, I’m very grateful to the Academy for cutting back on the number of nominees. While I would ordinarily be a little worried about what they’re forgetting, this time around I’m not. Why not? Because they picked an excellent winner, one of my favorites. I’ve always loved aircraft carriers since I was a kid. They still have a flavor of science fiction about them. Later on, I learned that the greatest American science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, served on one of our first aircraft carriers, the Lexington, where he helped to develop the basic working methods of an aircraft carrier. If you’re curious about Heinlein’s time in the Navy, allow me to point you at the excellent biography by the erudite Bill Patterson (http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Heinlein-Dialogue-1907-1948-Learning-ebook/dp/B003OUXEFQ/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-4&qid=1389371156).

The Fighting Lady won for the United States Navy. An uncredited William Wyler directed; Robert Taylor narrates. Unlike most of these documentaries, here we get color footage of the USS Yorktown (she is permanently on display in Charlestown, South Carolina). This was the replacement vessel for the first Yorktown, which was lost during the Battle of Midway. Three other carriers were also used, without any distinction between which was being shown — in fact, no ships were named anywhere in the film. The other ships were the Hornet, Ticonderoga, and Bunker Hill. But the Yorktown was the primary subject. The combat footage is real, and much of it is terrifying. Here is the full feature:

The other nominee, Resisting Enemy Interrogation from the United States Army Air Force, might be a good thing to watch for juvenile delinquents, errant husbands, or my dog when he’s been left alone too long. Arthur Kennedy, Lloyd Nolan, and Mel Tormé have roles. Basically, keep your mouth shut! Here’s how:

Best Documentary (Short):

With the Marines at Tarawa won for the United States Marine Corps. No actors were involved. Rather, this is authentic and shocking footage of the real battle. FDR himself had to approve its release, over military objections. The Academy rightfully handed over the Oscar. Even today, watching can be difficult, but understanding the true violence of war is better than ignorance:

Arturo Toscanini: Hymn of the Nations  from the United States Office of War Information Overseas Motion Picture Bureau is a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s patriotic piece, Inno delle nazioni — known in English as Hymn of the Nations. Burgess Meredith narrates. Toscanini was the single most famous conductor in America, largely due to his leadership of the NBC Symphony Orchestra from 1937-1954. Toscanini added new sections to the Verdi piece, including the national anthems of the US and USSR. I enjoyed it, but then, I’m a classical music nut. They used to call us longhairs, which is ironic, because I’m bald. Enjoy:

Finally, RKO got a nomination for New Americans. Slavko Vorkapić directed (he was famous for his montages).  Unfortunately, I could find no other information, much less a copy to view.

Best Short Subject (One Reel):

The Academy must have decided we needed some relief from WWII, because all of these nominees don’t seem to be aware that there’s a war on!

Who’s Who in Animal Land won, showing that even back then, videos of animals are your best bet for going viral. This is the third in a series of talking animals, started by Tex Avery. This time around, the best bit is cows singing…wait for it…”Cow Cow Boogie.” I don’t know about you — this just makes me want to order a double cheeseburger:

Blue Grass Gentlemen has nothing to do with the current band, but I suspect there might be bluegrass music involved. I could be wrong; it could be about stud horses in Kentucky performing obscene acts…

Jammin’ the Blues is an absolutely priceless piece of musical history, offering some of the greatest musicians who have ever lived in an artistic presentation at their prime, among them Lester Young, Red Callender, Harry “Sweets” Edison, “Big” Sid Catlett, Barney Kessel, Jo Jones, and Illinois Jacquet.  I’ve seen this countless times. Now you can too!

Movie Pests is another Pete Smith short. displaying all those annoying habits one encounters in the movie theater. Some of these have vanished; new ones have arrived. People, stop taking out your cell phones during the movie!!! And Hollywood, stop making movies so boring people take out their cell phones during the movie!

Screen Snapshots’ 50th Anniversary of Motion Pictures is more than likely a compilation of movie clips, of the kind most of us film nuts tend to love — but it’s completely disappeared. Perhaps the singing cows ran off with it to visit the stud horses. You just can’t trust talking cows…

But hopefully you can recognize that the short which should have won is Jammin’ the Blies! Long live the Prez, Lester Young — and yes, he played the saxophone slantwise like that. Don’t try that at home, kids!

Best Short Subject (Two Reel):

I Won’t Play won, over Bombalera and Main Street Today.

I Won’t Play features a soldier who seems to have been everywhere and done everything, even helping Gershwin write Rhapsody in Blue. When a piano is delivered, he refuses to play. Are his lies exposed? Wait — what’s the pinup girl doing here? You’ll have to watch and find out:

Bombalera is about a dancing Latina bombshell named Rose Perez — and known as “La Bomba.” You’ll have to decide for yourself if she’s the bomb or not…if you can have her. I couldn’t — she probably blew herself up…

Finally, Main Street Today is on the first DVD box set of Esther Williams. The army wants more parts for artillery, but the factory owner can’t find the manpower for a third shift. Enter the ladies! Go, Rosie the Riveter!

Best Sound:

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Wilson won for Twentieth Century-Fox, but I don’t really understand why, except because Darryl F. Zanuck thought it was the best thing he ever did, and the Academy threw this Oscar at him (along with some others) so he wouldn’t whine too much. In fact, I’d have rather listened to Zanuck whine than this movie, which is mostly D.O.A.

Let’s cover the nominees I’ve seen, then get to the movies I managed to avoid seeing the first time around for my books.

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Brazil (Daniel J. Bloomberg, Republic) is mildly amusing fluff with lots of Brazilian music, along with Edward Everett Horton and Roy Rogers, of all people. Decent sound.

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Casanova Brown is Gary Cooper wanting to be a daddy, with some fairly lame jokes about him taking care of a baby and hiding out from the mother Teresa Wright. Unimpressive sound from Thomas T. Moulton (Samuel Goldwyn) in what is an obvious attempt to cash in on the pairing from a far better movie, The Pride of the Yankees.

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Cover Girl, on the other hand, has some prime music, including “Long Ago and Far Away.”  Gene Kelly dances with himself in the reflection from the store window; Rita Hayworth and Phil Silvers add to the fun. A great nomination for John Livadary (Columbia Studio).

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Even better, Double Indemnity, one of the greatest films ever made — and a movie that requires top notch sound, for the narration, and that quiet moment in which Barbara Stanwyck shows her genius as an actress, while she listens to her love Fred MacMurray kill her husband. Loren L. Ryder (Paramount) really should have won the Academy Award for this one.

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Deanna Durbin, anybody? What a fine voice, indeed, but most of her movies are just pleasant excuses to sing. His Butler’s Sister does a good job with the songs, for Bernard B. Brown (Universal).

Hollywood Canteen is one of those all-star fundraisers, albeit set in a real place, where stars served servicemen before they headed overseas.  Nathan Levinson (Warner Bros.) had to record, among others,  The Andrews Sisters, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Joan Crawford, Sydney Greenstreet and his sidekick Peter Lorre, Ida Lupino, and Roy Rogers — with Trigger! God help the sound guys, they had to record Bette Davis singing. For that ordeal alone, they deserve this nomination…

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With It Happened Tomorrow, French director René Clair offers us another fantasy (he also shot I Married a Witch); this time, Dick Powell has a ghost give him tomorrow’s newspaper. He uses the advance knowledge to radically change his future. A decent movie, if not what we hope for from a gifted man like Clair.  Nothing particularly justifies this nomination for Jack Whitney (Sound Service, Inc.)

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The only reason to watch Kismet is if you’ve got a Marlene Dietrich fetish — this is the one with the golden Technicolor legs.  Ronald Colman’s voice is recorded well, so we’ll leave Douglas Shearer and MGM alone.

Voice in the Wind is a musical rip-off of Random Harvest. Nothing special recommends the nomination for W. M. Dalgleish (RCA).

I did miss one movie, but it does not fill me with regret for the omission. At least, nowhere near as much as not having that last piece of apple pie when I could have…

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In Music in Manhattan, Anne Shirley and Dennis Day are performers and romantic partners; through a series of mishaps, she gets confused as another man’s wife, which causes her career to boom. Day looks confused. Stephen Dunn (RKO) should be thanked for recording Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra. Here’s a clip:

Best Editing:

Wilson won for Barbara McLean. If the stroke Woodrow Wilson got from fighting for the League of Nations didn’t kill him, the dull editing here did. This is not the kind of editing the Academy should be rewarding. Neither is that for Going My Way, by Leroy Stone, which is as quiet as a churchmouse.

Nor for Since You Went Away, by Hal C. Kern and James E. Newcom, which needed about an hour cut from it.

And still again, not for Roland Gross and None but the Lonely Heart, which should be run through the heart with a stake for ever thinking we wanted to see Cary Grant in this kind of depressing, unimaginative far.

Which leaves the one movie I didn’t see, Janie, edited by Owen Marks. Joyce Reynolds stars as the title character, a bubbly, friendly, happy-go-lucky girl without a thought in her head but young soldiers; Robert Hutton is her love interest. Edward Arnold, Alan Hale, and Robert Benchley have supporting roles. Surprisingly, Michael Curtiz is the director. Not surprisingly, complications ensue. Very light, innocent fluff.

So what SHOULD have won for Best Editing? Double Indemnity, a movie perfectly cut, balanced, and as taut as a strangler’s cord as it throttles yet another victim. Take a look at this scene and tell me if you don’t agree. The genius of the back and forth, the slow reveal, the cutting to the exquisite detail of the anklet — sheer perfection!

Editor Doane Harrison — The Uninvited, Sunset Blvd., many of Billy Wilder’s movies — should have been nominated for this outstanding piece of work — and should have won the Academy Award for Best Editing.

The war to recognize true quality continues — but let’s not forget we’re still not done with WWII! Maybe next year…

If you’re interested in the more mainstream categories, please see my book! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PKK8MBY

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