Monday, August 3, 2015

1942--The Year in Review

This is a VERY complicated year. Even after the previous drubbing of Citizen Kane by the Hollywood community, Orson Welles still had it in him to contribute another stunning masterpiece to cinema with his adaptation of Booth Tarkington's acclaimed novel The Magnificent Ambersons. However, when it came time to show the movie to the public, it was vengefully relegated to being a second feature trailing criminally lesser movies. Still, it got a Best Picture nomination, even though it was severely hampered by its studio RKO, who demanded (because of its downbeat ending and also as a blowback from the negative publicity following Citizen Kane) that its final minutes be reshot and re-edited by some now barely-remembered schlubs (so, when you see the movie, be aware the final abrupt and subpar scenes were NOT the work of Welles). For that outcome, its editor--later the diversely talented director Robert Wise, who actually was the last to see Orson Welles's now presumably destroyed finale--is often seen as an unwitting cinema villain (even though he was doing as he was told by the studio, surely he went to the grave with due regrets, as he was ordered to destroy the negatives of Welles' work). Welles' actual final minutes of the movie are now considered among the most desired pieces of film in all of cinema, and the day they're finally recovered--if they ever are--will be one of immense joy for film fans worldwide (we all know that The Magnificent Ambersons is a finer movie than we can even conceive of, as brilliant as it already is, and Agnes Moorehead as the fed-up Aunt Fanny is definitely one of the film's MVPs). As supreme as Welles work is, I have to give him points off in the Best Director category for letting his guard down regarding control over Ambersons, so for Best Director, I finally recognized someone who's not gotten enough due in his time or in times hence. Even now, if you watch Preston Sturges' The Palm Beach Story, you'll recognize it as being maybe the wildest, most unpredictable comedy ever made (its ridiculous ending will leave your mouth dropped open). With the actual Best Picture winner, the now insufferable WWII propaganda piece Mrs. Miniver, let's just say that it didn't deserve its acclaim and leave it at that (though I do love Teresa Wright in it--she had a superb year with this and The Pride of the Yankees). 

I need to say here: Casablanca, the winner of the 1943 Oscar, actually premiered in 1942, and with that, I have to note that all films in my YEARS IN REVIEW will hail from the actual year in which they were released (this becomes much more complicated as the years progress--especially when it comes to non-American films and festival darlings). Casablanca is a landmark movie, of course--even despite it being filmed without a solid screenplay--its script was pieced together, page by page, as filming went on. As a result, it's a bit confusing and treacly, even though it's difficult not to admire its compelling central romance (between two dazzling stars) and its terrific dialogue (which is so packed with quotable lines, I HAD to give it the adapted screenplay award over The Magnificent Ambersons). And that commanding and slyly hilarious supporting performance by Claude Rains is one of the main reasons such a devoted cult has grown around the movie. I mean, honestly, I know I'll be pilloried for my lack of devotion to Casablanca, but I have to remain true to my impressions--it's among the film classics that I find myself mystified by the love it engenders. Even with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman's indelible lead performances, I confidently hand the lead awards this year to James Cagney and Ginger Rogers, simply because they were venturing so far out of their wheelhouse (they each really deserved the Oscar for their immensely fun and physical performances). I should note this is the first year I'm giving an award to a Documentary Feature, and not to the one some film fans might expect. As World War II is now in total effect, we see its influence mainly in the short film category, where John Ford comes out with a superb color short about the battle of Midway. Then, in the animated films, Chuck Jones bests Disney's Donald Duck not with a Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck piece, but with an unforgettable one-off spoof of 1942 jocks. As for Best Song--it remains the best-selling song from a movie ever! NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold. 

PICTURE: THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (US, Orson Welles) (2nd: The Palm Beach Story (US, Preston Sturges). followed by: Casablanca (US, Michael Curtiz); To Be or Not To Be (US, Ernst Lubitsch); Bambi (US, David Hand); Went the Day Well? (UK, Alberto Cavalcanti); The Pride of the Yankees (US, Sam Wood); In Which We Serve (UK, David Lean, Noël Coward); Saboteur (US, Alfred Hitchcock); Cat People (US, Jacques Tourneur); The Talk of the Town (US, George Stevens); Woman of the Year (US, George Stevens); The Major and the Minor (US, Billy Wilder); Now, Voyager (US, Irving Rapper); Yankee Doodle Dandy (US, Michael Curtiz); For Me and My Gal (US, Busby Berkeley); Random Harvest (US, Mervyn le Roy); Road to Morocco (US, David Butler))

ACTOR: James Cagney, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (2nd: Jack Benny, To Be or Not To Be, followed by: Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca; Gary Cooper, The Pride of the Yankees; Spencer Tracy, Woman of the Year; Joel McCrea, The Palm Beach Story; Ronald Colman, Random Harvest; Alan Ladd, This Gun for Hire) 

ACTRESS: Bette Davis, NOW VOYAGER (2nd: Ginger Rogers, The Major and the Minor, followed by: Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca; Carole Lombard, To Be or Not To Be; Katharine Hepburn, Woman of the Year; Claudette Colbert, The Palm Beach Story; Teresa Wright, The Pride of the Yankees; Jean Arthur, The Talk of the Town; Greer Garson, Mrs. Miniver)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Claude Rains, CASABLANCA (2nd: Tim Holt, The Magnificent Ambersons, followed by: Norman Lloyd, Saboteur; Robert Dudley, The Palm Beach Story; Rudy Vallee, The Palm Beach Story; Ray Collins, The Magnificent Ambersons; Laird Cregar, This Gun for Hire; Cecil Kellaway, I Married a Witch)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Agnes Moorehead, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (2nd: Teresa Wright, Mrs. Miniver, followed by: Gladys Cooper, Now, Voyager; Celia Johnson, In Which We Serve; Betty Field, Kings Row; Marie Lohr, Went the Day Well?; Maria Ouspenskaya, Kings Row; Susan Peters, Random Harvest)

DIRECTOR:  Preston Sturges, THE PALM BEACH STORY (2nd: Orson Welles, The Magnificent Ambersons, followed by: Michael Curtiz, Casablanca; Ernst Lubischt, To Be or Not To Be; Alberto Cavalcanti, Went The Day Well?; David Hand, Bambi; Sam Wood, The Pride of the Yankees) 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Preston Sturges, THE PALM BEACH STORY (2nd: Graham Greene, John Dighton, Diana Morgan, and Angus MacPhail, Went The Day Well?, followed by: Melchior Lengyel and Edwin Justus Mayer, To Be or Not To Be; Ring Lardner and Michael Kanin, Woman of the Year; Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison and Dorothy Parker, Sabotuer)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, CASABLANCA (2nd: Orson Welles, The Magnificent Ambersons, followed by: Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, The Major and the Minor; Sidney Buchman, Irwin Shaw, and Dale Van Every, The Talk of the Town; Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly, I Married a Witch)

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: MOSCOW STRIKES BACK (Ilya Kopalin, Leonid Varlamov) (2nd: Prelude to War (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak) 

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY (John Ford) (2nd: Listen to Britain (Humphrey Jennings), followed by: Marines in the Making (Pete Smith); Three Smart Saps (The Three Stooges; Jules White); Matri Phony (The Three Stooges; Harry Edwards)

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: THE DOVER BOYS OF PIMENTO UNIVERSITY (Chuck Jones) (2nd: Der Führer’s Face (Jack Kinney), followed by: Pigs in a Polka (Leon Schlesinger); My Favorite Duck (Chuck Jones); Tulips Shall Grow (George Pal))

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Stanley Cortez, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (2nd: W. Howard Greene, Jungle Book, followed by: Nicholas Musuraca, Cat People; Arthur Edeson, Casablanca; Rudolph Mate, The Pride of the Yankees; Charles Clarke, Moontide)

ART DIRECTION: THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, Casablanca, Jungle Book, Arabian Nights, This Above All

COSTUME DESIGN: YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, The Magnificent Ambersons, Jungle Book, My Gal Sal, The Black Swan

FILM EDITING: THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, The Palm Beach Story, Cat People, Casablanca, Went The Day Well? 

SOUND: THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Bambi, Casablanca, Cat People

ORIGINAL SCORE: Max Steiner, CASABLANCA (2nd: Bernard Herrmann, The Magnificent Ambersons, followed by: Leigh Harline, The Pride of the Yankees; Frank Churchill and Edward Plumb, Bambi; Alfred Newman, The Black Swan; Max Steiner, Now, Voyager)

ADAPTED OR MUSICAL SCORE: Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemfeld, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (2nd: Frank Churchill, Bambi, followed by: Robert Emmett Dolan, Holiday Inn; Alfred Newman, My Gal Sal; Roger Edens and Georgie Stoll, For Me and My Gal)

ORIGINAL SONG: "White Christmas" from HOLIDAY INN (Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin) (2nd: "It Seems I've Heard That Song Before" from Youth on Parade (Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn), followed by: "At Last" from Orchestra Wives (Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon) "Little April Showers" from Bambi (Music by Frank Churchill, lyrics by Larry Morey); "I Remember You" from The Fleet's In (Music by Victor Schertzinger, lyrics by Johnny Mercer); "There Will Never Be Another You" from Iceland (Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon); "Tangerine" from The Fleet's In (Music by Victor Schertzinger, lyrics by Johnny Mercer); "Jingle Jangle Jingle" from The Forest Rangers (Music by Joseph J. Lilley, lyrics by Frank Loesser); "Be Careful, It's My Heart" from Holiday Inn (Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin)

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