WWII is in full force. Are you ready for an overdose of patriotism and kicking fascist enemy tail?
You’d better be — there’s a war on, you know!
Personally, I’m at war against all the movies I didn’t see and categories I didn’t write about. By the time I’m done with this book series and these special feature blogs, I’m going to be known as The Man Who’s Seen Everything — and Lived to Tell About It. Either that, or I’ll steal a line from Professor Irwin Corey and get business cards that read “World’s Foremost Authority.”
If you haven’t met the wild genius of the Professor, here he is:
The Academy is really pushing their new Best Documentary category (no longer a Short Subject!). Try this on for size: TWENTY FIVE nominees, with FOUR winners! I’ll manage to get through this somehow, hopefully without boring you, but I won’t blame you if you need frequent refreshment and occasional smacks upside the head to keep going. I know I did…
Before we get to that slog, let’s do the four other missing children I left out in the cold: Best Editing, Best Sound, and the two Best Short Subject (One Reel, Two Reel).
Best Short Subject (One Reel):
Speaking of Animals and Their Families won for Paramount, over Desert Wonderland (Twentieth Century-Fox), Marines in the Making (Pete Smith, MGM), and United States Marine Band (Warner Bros.).
Speaking of Animals and Their Families is a sequel to Tex Avery’s Speaking of Animals. Same gag of animals with animated mouths spouting funny business. At least, I’m fairly sure that’s what it is — I couldn’t find this one.
Desert Wonderland is apparently about a desert, but more than that I cannot say. Once again, impossible to find. Actually, one reference suggests this is a tour of the Grand Canyon. If so, it is just possible that this may be the video, but I make no promises:
Marines in the Making is a recruitment poster for the U.S. Marines. The short is a feature on the DVD release of Mrs. Miniver, a recruitment poster for Greer Garson. Pete Smith uses his usual humor (such as it is). Here’s an example; if you become a Marine, they will teach you how to “zap a Jap, nix a Nazi, and fricassee a Fascist.” Feel free to make your own jokes — I do, after all:
United States Marine Band is another recruitment poster for the U.S. Marines — and for being a proud American. The USMC Band plays in various patriotic locations. Jean Negulesco directed. You can find it on The Ronald Reagan Signature Collection — or here:
Best Short Subject (Two Reel):
Beyond the Line of Duty won for Warner Bros., over Don’t Talk (MGM) and Private Smith of the U.S.A. (RKO).
Beyond the Line of Duty honors the aviation duty of pilot Captain Hewitt T. Wheless, whose bomber was attacked by eighteen Japanese fighters over the Philippines. Ronald Reagan does the voice-over; FDR and the Captain play themselves, just as I do in real life. Perhaps you do as well. The short can be found on the DVD release of Yankee Doodle Dandy, which is even more patriotic.
Don’t Talk is one of those regular reminders to be vigilant against espionage within the United States. You know, “a slip of the lip sinks ships.” Dwight Frye — Renfield from Dracula and Fritz from Frankenstein — makes a brief appearance as Ziggy the saboteur. A waitress gathers information from the enemy from her chatterbug customers — obviously, she told them to talk with food in their mouths. The short is included on the DVD release of Mrs. Miniver — and here:
Private Smith of the U.S.A. is a complete mystery. I could find no trace whatsoever. I assume it’s another recruiting poster. And speaking of recruiting posters, here’s my favorite one:
The Pride of the Yankees won for Daniel Mandell, over Mrs. Miniver (Harold F. Kress), The Talk of the Town (Otto Meyer), This Above All (Walter Thompson), and Yankee Doodle Dandy (George Amy).
I have no problem with Lou Gehrig beating out an upper-class British Housewife, a weird intellectual menage-a-trois/bromance, a romance about a deserter, and a patriotic hoofer. Do you?
I’ve fortunately seen them all. Just so we don’t waste your time, here’s a great poster for Mrs. Miniver, complete with stiff upper lips.
Yankee Doodle Dandy danced its way to the Oscar, over Arabian Nights (Bernard B. Brown, Universal); Bambi (Sam Slyfield, Walt Disney); Flying Tigers (Daniel Bloomberg, Republic); Friendly Enemies (Jack Whitney, Sound Service, Inc.); The Gold Rush (James Fields, RCA); Mrs. Miniver (Douglas Shearer, MGM); Once upon a Honeymoon (Steve Dunn, RKO); The Pride of the Yankees (Thomas T. Moulton, Samuel Goldwyn); Road to Morocco (Loren Ryder, Paramount). This Above All (E.H. Hansen, Twentieth Century-Fox); and You Were Never Lovelier (John Livadary, Columbia).
I’ve seen all but two of those, so let’s go through the old friends first.I have no problem with any of these nominations.
Arabian Nights should be watched by Sabu fans; Shemp Howard shows up as, believe it or not, Aladdin. It does have a great poster:
Bambi has exactly one moment of unforgettable, terrifying sound: when the shot kills the mother. I know people who have never recovered.
Has there ever been a better plane paint job than those bared teeth on Flying Tigers? Here’s an unfamiliar poster for the John Wayne WWII pic:
Why is the silent Charlie Chaplin classic The Gold Rush on a 1942 Oscar list? Because Chaplin re-released it, complete with new sound effects. Unnecessary, but Chaplin is always worth watching!
We can almost hear the lips stiffening in Mrs. Miniver.
I love the sound of a bat smashing into a ball. I also enjoy the sound of a strike hitting a catcher’s mitt, but you won’t hear that much with Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees.
My favorite of the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road pictures, Road to Morocco, has what I think is their best song:
Great poster too — the camel actually spit in Hope’s eye, and Crosby ad-libbed, “Good girl, Suzy!”
We can hear how pretty Tyrone Power is in This Above All.
You Were Never Lovelier has Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth dancing — and challenging the glory of the Astaire-Rogers musicals. You be the judge:
As for the two I had not seen, one of them would not have kept me awake at night out of sadness for having missed them. The other one stars Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers…and probably wouldn’t have lost me any sleep either.
Friendly Enemies is a WWI propaganda play brought back to the movies for WWII. Charles Winninger and Charles Ruggles play two German-Americans. One is opposed to joining the war, because he doesn’t want to go to war with the country in which he was born; the other supports the war effort. By the end, the two come to agree. Care to guess which side they end up on?
Once upon a Honeymoon is an odd mix of WWII propaganda, romance, and intrigue. Cary Grant is an American reporter; Ginger Rogers is a burlesque performer masquerading as a society girl, who’s about to marry Walter Slezak, a German agent. Grant tries to stop her; she ignores him; Slezak sets up Poland for invasion by selling them lousy weapons. Is is a spoiler to say that the two pretty people end up together and the bad guy ends up punished for being a Nazi? No, I wasn’t surprised either.
Here comes the horde! Remember — 25 nominees, 4 Oscars, one exhausted blogger…
Let’s start with the winners.
First, the single documentary I think genuinely should have won the Oscar: John Ford’s The Battle of Midway. Ford was serving in the Navy at this point, and he was actually on the island of Midway when the battle began. He personally shot the color footage of the combat, and survived the battle to continue his career as perhaps the greatest director America has ever produced. The Academy had this to say: “A special award to Battle of Midway for the historical value of its achievement in offering a camera record of one of the decisive battles of the world – a record unique both for the courage of those who made it under fire, and for its magnificent portrayal of the gallantry of our armed forces in battle.” Indeed — Midway was the turning point of the war in the Pacific. Ford’s crafting of this footage into a emotionally convincing, artistically complete short documentary is nothing less than compelling — and tremendously historic. Here is the entire short:
The next winner is Kokoda Front Line! (Australian News & Information Bureau), for which the Academy said: “A special award to Kokoda Front Line! for its effectiveness in portraying, simply yet forcefully, the scene of war in New Guinea and for its moving presentation of the bravery and fortitude of our Australian comrades in arms.” This was Australia’s first Oscar. We see the fight against the Japanese in New Guinea. Here is the complete short:
The third winner is Moscow Strikes Back (Artkino), with the notation: “A special award to Moscow Strikes Back for its vivid presentation of the heroism of the Russian Army and of the Russian people in the defense of Moscow, and for its achievement in so doing under conditions of extreme difficulty and danger.” The Battle of Moscow is the subject, with first-hand footage. Here is the hour-long American version:
The last winner is Frank Capra’s Prelude to War, for the United States Army Special Services, with the notation, “A special award to Prelude to War for its trenchant conception and authentic and stirring dramatization of the events which forced our nation into the war and of the ideals for which we fight.” Capra would go one to make six total of these propaganda films in the Why We Fight series, which have been widely available for years due to their quality and historical value. The U.S. military required all soldiers to view Prelude to War as part of their indoctrination; later, the movie was released to the public to build consensus on the purpose of the war. Here is the entire version:
The other nominees are largely cut from the same wartime cloth. I’m sure for an audience going through the uncertainties of the war, desperate for news, they were a comfort.
The March of Time produced Africa, Prelude to Victory as a means of explaining why we were attacking Africa before Europe. At least, that is my assumption, since I could find no trace of this short. It may be on the VHS boxed set I mentioned in an earlier post.
Combat Report is another United States Army Signal Corps production, this time showing anti-submarine efforts. The short is available here:
Conquer by the Clock (Frederic Ullman, Jr.) encourages all you lazy people to work harder to beat the Axis! Work! Faster! NOW! Perhaps this will help:
The Grain That Built a Hemisphere is Walt Disney’s paean to CORN! Everything you always wanted to know about corn but were afraid to ask, rendered in simple animations, in order to build up a common community of the Americas. Because corn, don’t you know, makes us all want to fight the fascists!
Henry Browne, Farmer is from our friendly United States Department of Agriculture, who wants to tell all African-American farmers how important they are to the war effort. African-American actor Canada Lee (Lifeboat) narrates. Inspiring and dignified, with little reference to skin color and an emphasis on being American first and foremost, here is the whole short:
All that I can say about High over the Borders is that the National Film Board of Canada produced it. No other information. Sorry to be so dense, and no, I’ve never been high on either side of the border…
The same is true of High Stakes in the East. I’ve never been high East or West. Apparently, some of this short from The Netherlands Information Bureau may still exist, but only in the Netherlands. Feel free to send me on a fact-finding mission!
Inside Fighting China is another short from the National Film Board of Canada narrated by Lorne Greene, this time detailing the efforts of the Chinese to fight off the Japanese. You can watch this short at http://www.nfb.ca/film/inside_fighting_china/.
It’s Everybody’s War, from the United States Office of War Information, offers an unusual look at the effects on the war, particularly the disheartening losses of sons and fathers and brothers, and shows that the right thing to do is to work even harder to win, rather than to give up. Henry Fonda narrates:
Listen to Britain is from the British Ministry of Information, but seems to exist in a world of its own, away from any other propaganda of its time. No music. No narration (other than a highly poetic introduction). Only images and sounds showing the British living, tolerably well, during a time of war. A very odd, highly artistic approach to supporting the war effort. Take a look:
Little Belgium is a touching little look at a refugee town of Belgians in Brixham, England. Sorry about the lack of subtitles…:
Little Isles of Freedom has left no trace of the subject, although the IMDB does state that it was filmed in France. Your guess is as good as mine, but I suspect this might have had something to do with pockets of resistance in occupied France.
Mr. Blabbermouth! is yet another warning to watch what you say from the United States Office of War Information. So shut up already!!! You know you’re not supposed to talk during a war:
Mr. Gardenia Jones supports the USO. Ronald Reagan stars as the title character, with co-stars Laraine Day, Charles Winninger, Chill Wills, and Fay Bainter. Rather than concentrating on entertainers, this is an odd little story of Reagan being bored before the war begins, thus laying out the need for the USO. I saw it thirty years ago when Reagan was president, and had completely forgotten about it. Now I can forget about it all over again.
The New Spirit is from Disney: Donald Duck wants you to pay your income tax! For most Americans, this would be the first time they would be paying, as part of their patriotic duty to support the war (don’t you think we’ve been patriotic long enough, Donald?):
The Price of Victory offers Vice-President Henry Wallace trying to buck up our spirits with a lecture from his office:
A Ship Is Born details the creation of a ship for the United States Merchant Marine. I’m not sure what the midwife looked like, but I am NOT going clean up the placenta…Jean Negulesco directed:
Twenty-One Miles isn’t quite a marathon at 26.2 miles, but I suspect it is the distance between Britain and France. Other than that, I have no clue, as the short seems to have vanished.
Likewise with We Refuse to Die. I refuse to worry about it. Want to bet it had something to do with WWII?
And once more, with White Eagle. I know Leslie Howard narrated (I also know he would soon be dead). I also know the year before, there was a serial of the same name. Here’s that poster, just for something different:
Winning Your Wings is out to recruit fliers for the United States Army Air Force. Jimmy Stewart stars (as he was pursuing this path in real life); John Huston directs. Let’s go out with a wing and a prayer that I never have to deal with this many nominees EVER AGAIN!!!
See you next year! Buy Bonds! And books…
And my book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OPEELH0