Showing posts with label 1942. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1942. Show all posts

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Review: Crosby and Astaire Keep "HOLIDAY INN" Open with Crooning and Hoofing

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 73 of 2021 (No. 1811) by Leroy Douresseaux

Holiday Inn (1942)
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
WRITERS:  Claude Binyon-screenplay; Elmer Rice-adaptation (based on an idea by Irving Berlin)
EDITOR:  Ellsworth Hoagland
COMPOSERS:  Irving Berlin (songs and music); Robert Emmett Dolan (musical direction)
Academy Award winner


Starring:  Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers, Irving Bacon, Marek Windheim, James Bell, John Gallaudet, Shelby Bacon, and Joan Arnold

Holiday Inn is a 1942 musical, comedy and romance film from director Mark Sandrich.  The film is based on an idea by legendary American song writer and composer, Irving Berlin, who also wrote twelve songs specifically for this film.  The most famous of the film's songs is “White Christmas,” which went on to be the biggest hit record in the career of one of Holiday Inn's stars, Bing Crosby, and also the best selling record of all time.  Holiday Inn is set at an inn that is open only on holidays, and the story focuses on a love triangle involving a singer, a dancer, and a beautiful up-and-coming young female performer.

Holiday Inn opens on Christmas Eve at the Midnight Club in New York City.  Crooner (singer) Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby), hoofer (dancer) Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), and signer-dancer Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) have a popular musical act.  Jim plans for tonight to be his last performance.  He is retiring and moving to Midville, Connecticut where he will be a farmer.  Jim wants Lila to retire with him, and she has previously accepted his marriage proposal.  However, she has fallen in love with Ted and wants to continue working as his partner in a new act.  Jim accepts this and bids them goodbye.

Over the next year, Jim does not have much success running a farm.  So on Christmas Eve, a year after he retired, Jim is back in NYC.  He tells Ted and his agent, Danny Reed (Walter Abel), that he wants to turn the farm into an entertainment venue that opens only on holidays.  He has named it the “Holiday Inn.”  Ted and Danny are amused at the idea, and Ted is not interested in performing there.

Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), an aspiring young singer and dancer, does find her way to the Holiday Inn.  There, she finds Jim, his African-American housekeeper, Mamie (Louise Beavers), and her two small children, son Vanderbilt (Shelby Bacon) and daughter Daphne (Joan Arnold).  The homey feeling that permeates the Inn and Jim's new song, “White Christmas,” convince Linda to stay.  But old rivals are conspiring to return and ruin Jim's plans again.

First, I have to be honest with you, dear readers.  I never really watched very much of those Bing Crosby holiday television specials that ran decades ago and now, still occasionally pop up on vintage TV channels.  I do, however, love to watch the films in which he appeared.  The man dazzles me, and I just love his singing voice.  He doesn't need to try hard; he seems to be amazing just naturally.

Watching Holiday Inn for the first time just recently also gave me a chance to really start to appreciate Fred Astaire.  He's amazing on film, and now, I see why the late “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, was such a fan of his.  It's the same as Crosby – he doesn't even have to try hard.  Astaire just seems naturally an incredible dancer and performer.

The production values on Holiday Inn are beautiful, obviously so even in black and white.  In fact, Holiday Inn features some of the most beautiful and sharp black and white photography that I have ever seen in a Golden Age Hollywood film.  Director Mark Sandrich, a highly respected director in his day, makes this simple story, with its nonsensical plots and narrative, seem like it is almost high art.

Crosby and Astaire's co-stars, Marjorie Reynolds (as Linda) and Virginia Dale (as Lila), are also delightful, especially Reynolds in a larger role than Dale's.  Reynolds makes Linda seem like the equal, in terms of stage performance, of both Jim and Ted.  They bring Irving Berlin's wonderful songs to life with the kind of professionalism and skill that makes such songs into hits or at least into memorable tunes.  Besides the great “White Christmas,” there are a number of stand-out songs in this film, such as “Happy Holiday” and “Be Careful, It's My Heart.”

Like some Hollywood films from the first half of the twentieth-century, Holiday Inn has characters in “blackface,” which is when White actors blacken their face to play racist and stereotypical caricatures of Black people.  In this film, it occurs during the “Lincoln's Birthday” holiday performance when Crosby's Jim and Reynold's Linda perform a song called “Abraham.”  Crosby's blackface makeup is not the worst that I have seen, but Reynold's get-up, a sort of female “picaninny” with fake ponytails radiating from her head like sunbeams, is horrible.  However, the song “Abraham” is weak, and the sequence in which it is performed is forgettable.  Honestly, I had forgotten the song, the performance, and the blackface less than a minute after it finished.

For me, Holiday Inn is a magical Christmas movie.  No, the film does not depict all 15 holidays that Jim plans to celebrate at the Holiday Inn, but the ones that really count seem to be Christmas Eve-Christmas and New Year's Eve-New Year's Day.  And in these moments, the film is most lovable and at its most enchanting.  Holiday Inn is not my favorite Christmas movie.  That would be the Holiday Inn semi-remake, 1954's White Christmas (also starring Bing Crosby), which takes its inspiration and title from the beloved song.  Still, Holiday Inn is special because it introduced the biggest Christmas song of all time, Irving Berlin's “White Christmas.”  For that reason, I will always try to find my way back to Holiday Inn … especially during the Christmas season.

8 of 10

Saturday, December 25, 2021

1943 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Music, Original Song” (Irving Berlin for the song “White Christmas”); 2 nominations: “Best Writing, Original Story” (Irving Berlin) and “Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture” (Robert Emmett Dolan)

The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Jack Benny is Eternally Cool in "To Be or Not to Be" (Remembering Jack Benny)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 161 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

To Be or Not to Be (1942) – Black & White
Running time:  99 minutes (1 hour, 39 minutes)
WRITERS:  Edwin Justus Mayer; from a story by Melchior Lengyel
EDITOR:  Dorothy Spencer
COMPOSER: Werner R. Heymann
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Stanley Ridges, Sig Ruman, Tom Dugan, Charles Halton, George Lynn, Henry Victor, Maude Eburne, Halliwell Hobbes, and Miles Mander

The subject of this movie review is To Be or Not to Be, a 1942 film starring Carole Lombard and Jack Benny.  The film was produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who also wrote the film’s original story with Melchior Lengyel, although Lubitsch did not receive a screen credit.  Set during the Nazi occupation of Poland, the film focuses on an acting troupe involved in a Polish soldier’s efforts to track down a German spy.

If you’ve ever seen the 1983 Mel Brooks’ film, To Be or Not to Be and wondered how anyone could eke laughs out of the Nazi’s invading Poland, part of that most contentious time in recent history, World War II, then imagine how shocked many moviegoers must have been when they the original To Be or Not to Be, a 1942 directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

In occupied Poland, ham actor Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) leads a troupe of actors in a game of subterfuge against the Nazi’s.  It begins with the Nazi’s invasion of Poland.  At the same time, Tura’s wife, Maria (Carole Lombard, who was killed in a plane crash before this film was release), is returning the affections a young military pilot, Lt. Stanislav Sobinski (Robert Stack), who often visits the Turas’ theatre, the Polski, to woo Maria.  After the invasion, Sobinski escapes to England where he continues the fight against the Nazis.  However, he must sneak back into Poland to stop Prof. Alexander Siletsky (Stanley Ridges), a Nazi spy who has information on the efforts of the Resistance in Poland.  Upon discovering Maria and Sobinski’s playful “affair,” Tura is reluctant to help the young pilot, but his patriotism wins the day.  Tura and his ragtag troupe of actors don Nazi uniforms and march right into the heart of the Gestapo headquarters in Warsaw to take on Nazi Col. Ehrhardt (Sig Ruman), but his is a game not only to save the Resistance, but also save their own necks.

Ernst Lubitsch is perhaps one of Hollywood’s best directors of satire and subtle comedy, and his phrase, “The Lubitsch Touch,” became famous because his films reflected his sophisticated wit and style.  Taking nothing away from a novel concept and unconventional comic script or even denying the talents of the cast, a film like To Be or Not to Be could be a disaster without a master helmsman.  Lubitsch (who directed Ninotchka, The Shop Around the Corner, and Heaven Can Wait among other) gracefully mixes menace and comic in an erudite manner that manages to poke fun at the Nazi’s (essentially this movie is the filmmakers’ way of thumbing their noses at Nazi Germany), while satirizing the Nazis’ insatiable need to conquer and their arrogance in believing that they had all the right answers.  While Mel Brooks remake was broad slapstick presented as if it were a stage show (vaudeville?), Lubitsch film is a clever farce that treads broad comedy with highly understated sexual innuendo, cunning wordplay, and sly mischief.

Although they’re good, most of the cast comes across as either workman-like character actors and glorified extras, which is not an insult to them.  There are some standout performances.  Sig Ruman as Col. Ehrhardt personifies this film’s monsters/clowns approach to the Nazis, and Henry Victor is menacing as the machine-like Capt. Schulz, so much so that he is the victim of some of the film’s best humor.  Carole Lombard pretty much owns the first half of the film, and while the second half relegates her to a supporting player, it allows her breezy sexiness and comedic talents to shine through.  Whenever she dresses in an evening gown, the audience can see why she was one of those special actresses who personified the glamour of old Hollywood.

The second half of the film belongs to Jack Benny.  His gentle sarcasm, mock self-deprecating humor, and his clueless belief that he was more talented than he was – all part of his act – solidifies this film’s unusual mixture of farce, slapstick, patriotism, and idealism.  Benny is a sly fox and his Joseph Tura knows he’s smarter than the Nazi’s, even when he’s in mortal danger.  His performance mixes leading man as comic hero and comic hero as overconfident ringmaster.  The joke was supposed to be on Benny’s Joseph Tura, and it is for a long time.  Still, Tura will get the last laugh no matter how many times the joke’s on him.  It is that uncommon nature that makes To Be or Not to Be an inimitable comedy and drama.

8 of 10

1943 Academy Awards:  1 nomination: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Werner R. Heymann)

1996 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry

Friday, July 28, 2006

Updated:  Thursday, December 26, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: "King-Size Canary" is a Tex Avery Classic (Remembering Tex Avery)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 101 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

King-Size Canary (1947) – animation
Running time:  8 minutes
DIRECTOR:  Tex Avery
WRITER:  Heck Allen (story)
PRODUCER:  Fred Quimby
ANIMATORS:  Ray Abrams, Robert Bentley, and Walter Clinton
COMPOSER:  Scott Bradley


The subject of this movie review is King-Size Canary, a 1947 animated cartoon short film directed by Tex Avery and produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).  In 1994, animation historian Jerry Beck conducted a poll of animators, film historians, and directors, and King-Size Canary was the voted the 10th greatest cartoon of all time.  Pinto Colvig performed the voice of the “Cat” and Frank Graham the voice of the “Mouse,” but did not receive a screen credit.

King-Size Canary starts with a mangy cat on the verge of starvation.  The feline gives an itty-bitty, scrawny canary some “Jumbo-Gro” fertilizer, which in turns makes the canary grow to monstrously large yellow bird.  Thus, the cat has to engage the colossal canary in a pitched battle to see which will end up the other’s meal.  A vicious bulldog and a wily mouse also join in on a madcap comic adventure of gigantic proportions.

If there is a quintessential Tex Avery cartoon, King-Size Canary makes the short list.  In animated cartoon shorts, Fred “Tex” Avery is the most revered name next to Chuck Jones.  Everything that marked Avery’s cartoons, the quasi-normal realities, the series of sight gags – sometimes each more outlandish than the next, and the other improbably elements are all in ample supply in a cartoon that has less than eight minutes of narrative time.

Avery always wanted to make his cartoons wild and wooly, and he does here.  From a dog whose right eye becomes a searchlight to funny animal behemoths chasing each other across the country, King-Size Canary is a feast of gag comedy.  Much of that material would never make it into today’s cartoons, especially the gag in which the cat pours a bottle of sleeping pills down the dog’s mouth to knock him out.  This is a classic short and a superb example of cartoons for big kids, from a time when cartoon shorts were shown in theatres to entertain adults as much as children.

9 of 10

Friday, May 12, 2006

Updated:  Monday, August 26, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for syndication rights and fees.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Casablanca: Still the Greatest 70 Years Later

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 143 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Casablanca (1942) – B&W
– wide release in 1943 –
Running time: 103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz
WRITERS: Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch (based upon a play Every Body Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison)
PRODUCER: Hal B. Wallis
EDITOR: Owen Marks
Academy Award winner

FILM-NOIR/DRAMA/ROMANCE with elements of thriller

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Dooley Wilson, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.Z. Sakall, Madeleine LeBeau, Leonid Kinskey, and Corinna Mura

The subject of this movie review is the 1942 American romantic drama film, Casablanca. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the film was apparently considered, at the time of its production, to be just another Hollywood movie.

Casablanca: some consider it to be the best American film ever made; the winner of the Oscar for “Best Picture” at the 1944 Academy Awards certainly has a place in my holy trinity. Directed by Michael Curtiz, who won the directing Oscar for helming this film, Casablanca is a beloved and popular movie, cherished by film fans, movie historians, and film critics throughout America – then and now.

In the story: Casablanca (a city in Morocco, a country in northwest Africa), circa 1941, is easy to enter, but much harder to leave – especially for people trying to escape the Nazi infestation of Europe. Living a life of exile in Casablanca is American Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), who owns and operates Rick’s Café Américain. He’s a cynical man who sticks his neck out for no one, but his ex-lover Isla Lund (Ingrid Bergman) tests that rigid cynicism when she arrives in Casablanca with her husband, both on the run from Nazi persecutors.

Isla’s husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), is on the top of the Nazi’s most wanted list. Victor and Isla came to Casablanca seeking the transit papers/official documents that would get them safe passage to Lisbon, Portugal, from where they could leave for America. From the USA, Victor could continue his work in support of the various European undergrounds fighting the Nazi’s. However, the papers have come into Rick’s possession, and his bitterness at Isla for suddenly and mysteriously leaving him some years ago after a whirlwind Paris love affair. So when Isla offers herself to Rick in exchange for Victor’s safe transport out of the country, the bitter and angry Rick must decide what’s important – his happiness, revenge, or the countless lives that hang in the balance and depend of Victor Laszlo’s safe passage.

What can I say that hasn’t been said. Casablanca was the right movie at the right time. It’s the consummate Hollywood production – superbly acted and directed, and filmed with beautiful production values, including art direction, set decoration, cinematography, and editing. The film’s popularity at the time has much to do with America’s involvement in World War II. The Allies invaded Casablanca in real life on November 8, 1942, and Warner Bros. premiered Casablanca in New York about three and half weeks later. By the time, of the film’s wide release in 1943, the real life city was still in the news, and the film captured the sense that the good guys (represented by Rick, Isla, and Victor) were at war with the bad guys (the Nazi’s, best represented in the film by Major Strasser, played by Conrad Veidt), mirroring American’s situation. The semi-tragic romantic triangle of Rick, Isla, and Victor, the intense drama, the fictional Casablanca’s atmosphere of intrigue and danger all came touched audiences and continues to.

The miracle, considering that Casablanca began filming without a completed script and went through the usual casting difficulties, is not really that the film was popular then (it was, after all, topical), but is instead that the film remains a favorite and outshines most of the great films made after its release nearly 63 years ago.

10 of 10

1944 Academy Awards: 3 wins: “Best Director” (Michael Curtiz), “Best Picture” (Warner Bros.), and “Best Writing, Screenplay” (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch); 5 nominations: “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Humphrey Bogart), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Claude Rains), “Best Cinematography, Black-and-White” (Arthur Edeson), “Best Film Editing” (Owen Marks), “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture” (Max Steiner)

1989 National Film Preservation Board, USA: National Film Registry

Friday, September 9, 2005

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: Walt Disney's "Bambi" is Eternally a Masterpiece

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 21 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Walt Disney’s Bambi (1942)
Running time: 70 minutes (1 hour, 10 minutes)
DIRECTOR: David D. Hand
WRITERS: Perce Pearce, Larry Morey, George Stallings, Melvin Shaw, Carl Fallberg, Chuck Couch, and Ralph Wright (based upon the novel Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten)
PRODUCER: Walt Disney
Academy Award nominee


Starring: (voices) Donnie Dunagan, Peter Behn, Stan Alexander, Paula Winslowe, Cammie King Conlon, Margaret Lee, Will Wright, and Fred Shields

Walt Disney recently released its classic, 1942 animated feature, Bambi, on Blu-ray for the first time. Since I hadn’t watched Bambi in well over a decade, I decided to see it again, because I wondered if it would hold up to my initial high estimation of the film. It held up; it super duper held up.

Adapted from novel, Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Austrian author, Felix Salten, Bambi tells the story of a white-tailed deer named Bambi, who is destined to one day be the Great Prince of the Forest. Bambi befriends Thumber, a rambunctious pink-nosed rabbit; a skunk Bambi names Flower; and Bambi’s childhood friend and future mate, a deer named Faline. The young animals frolic and play, learn to survive, and discover how to adapt to the changing of seasons. Tragedy strikes when humans enter the woods, and suddenly, life becomes as precarious as it is beautiful.

What Pixar does in its 3D or computer animated films seems miraculous. Pixar’s films are beautiful, and Walt Disney’s 1990 animated features are spectacular. Still, they fall short of the artistry on display in Walt Disney’s early feature films like Snow White, Pinocchio, and Bambi (among others). Without the computers and technology of today, Walt Disney’s animators, artists, and filmmakers created animated films of soaring quality and of astonishing heart and sentiment.

Look at the impeccable character animation, velvety movement of characters and objects, and the verdant pastoral backdrop and be amazed that the animation is hand-drawn and the backgrounds are hand-painted. I am not overstating things when I say that Bambi is a work of art. It is museum-quality art. It is the art of the Old Masters transformed into animated film.

Through the years, this film has enthralled children, and Bambi will always hold a special place in their hearts. People like me who see the film for the first time as an adult are stunned. The love, joy, terror, excitement, and pride the animal characters exhibit is so real. When the film depicts the terror Man’s encroachment into the forest evokes in the animals, I also feel it.

Walt Disney and his cohorts worked so hard and delivered one of the three greatest animated feature films of all time (with Snow White and Pinocchio being the other two) and one of the best films of all time. Bambi, you’re still as good as ever.

10 of 10

1943 Academy Awards: 3 nominations: “Best Music, Original Song” (Frank Churchill-music and Larry Morey-lyrics for the song "Love Is a Song"), “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture” (Frank Churchill and Edward H. Plumb), and “Best Sound, Recording” (C.O. Slyfield-Walt Disney SSD)

1948 Golden Globes: 1 win: “Special Award” (Walt Disney for furthering the influence of the screen and for the Hindustani version of the movie)

Monday, March 07, 2011