Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts

Friday, November 18, 2022

So Proudly We Hail (1943)

Directed and produced by Mark Sandrich, So Proudly We Hail (1943) is a fictional depiction of the Angels of Bataan, a group of nurses during WWII who tended to wounded soldiers in Bataan and Corregidor. The film stars Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake as three nurses who are serve in Bataan. The story is told in a flashback sequence from the point in which some of the nurses have been rescued and brought to Australia. This tempers the story giving us a bit of hope at the beginning despite what we'll see throughout the movie.

Colbert plays Lt. Janet Davidson, affectionately known as Davey, a loyal and reliable nurse who cares deeply about her work and her fellow nurses. In present day she's in a catatonic state, unable to speak, and the story follows the series of events that led her to that point. Lt. Joan O'Doul (Paulette Goddard) is the life of the party mostly concerned with the social aspects of her job. Lt.d Olivia D'Arcy (Veronica Lake) is the total opposite; she's grown bitter having gone through the trauma of seeing her husband die during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Out of all the characters, she's got the most interesting character development. 

The film follows the particulars of their work and their relationships with each other and the men in their lives. While we don't ever meet Olivia's husband, we do see Joan fall for Kansas (Sonny Tufts), an aw-shucks football-player-turned-Marine, and Davey fall for Lt. John Summers (George Reeves), a headstrong medic with a tender heart.

So Proudly We Hail! is one of several movies about the Battle of Bataan and one of two released that same year about these nurses in particular. MGM released Cry 'Havoc' (1943) a couple of months after Paramount Pictures released So Proudly We Hail!. Cry 'Havoc' is a fine picture in its own right and boasts a stellar cast including Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell, Marsha Hunt and Ella Raines. While they both told similar stories, So Proudly We Hail! leans more on the dramatic elements, giving viewers more of a sense of the danger the troops and the nurses faced during the Battle of Bataan. The script was based on Lt. Colonel Juanita Hipps' best-selling memoir and adapted for the screen by writer Allan Scott.  There are several storylines happening at once which makes the plot a little difficult to follow. However, that also speaks to the chaotic nature of the environment. When the film released in September 1943, many of the nurses were still imprisoned by the Japanese as POWs so this film must have been quite poignant for contemporary viewers. 

According to TCM writer Jeremy Arnold, So Proudly We Hail! was a perfect combination of "the combat film and the woman's picture." You have the intense battle scenes with both visual and sound effects (the movie was nominated for an Academy Award in this category) juxtaposed with "a wedding, a honeymoon (in a foxhole, no less), a dance, childbirth, mother-son scenes, and even a negligee which figures prominently in the plot." The negligee plot line was tiresome and it seemed like it was thrown in there to give Goddard more to do. Otherwise, I felt the combination of elements really made this for an enjoyable mix of serious drama and more lighthearted moments.

TCM writer Rob Nixon notes that Chief Nelson Poynter of the Office of War Information "meddled in almost every aspect of the script." Some of these worked in the film's favor by softening the good vs. evil elements and focusing more on team effort and hope. The film begins with a thank you to various units and advisors and is followed by a written introduction providing the viewer context before the story begins. Poynter was also responsible for a monologue delivered by Walter Abel who plays a Marine chaplain. It is a very sentimental monologue but I quite enjoyed it. There is something quite comforting about the emotional aspects of these films released during WWII. There is a profound sense camaraderie and a willingness to work and make sacrifices for the greater good.

"We're a sentimental people, and I think we're proud of it. Despite the fact that our enemies deride us for it, it makes us the stronger... Have faith... Not a blind faith, but faith in those things in which we believe. We must have such faith in those things, such faith in ourselves, such faith in mankind that we are tough about the things we believe in, so tough that we will fight to the death to make those tender and sentimental beliefs like Christmas... a reality forever. Now, God bless us. Every one." - Chaplain (Walter Abel)

As far as the performances are concerned, Claudette Colbert and Paulette Goddard essentially play a variation of a character type they've been known to play. Goddard's role was expanded to give her more screen time. Sonny Tufts, in his film debut, serves as her romantic interest. While she was the one nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, I think, if anything, that nomination should have gone to Veronica Lake. She has a short but powerful role and her intensity really stands out amongst the other performances. Her character is by far the most interesting because she's an outlier and an example of how war changes people. Lake wrote about the film in her memoir. She spoke about how Colbert and Goddard did not get along on set. She was proud of the film, writing to her then husband John Detlie:

“So Proudly We Hail is more than just another Hollywood film, John. It’s a salute to the military. I’m proud to be in the film.”

The film includes several mentions of Superman which is fitting given that George Reeves would go on to play the role years later. It's said that Reeves was inspired by his performance in the film to join the Army Air Corps.

So Proudly We Hail! (1943) is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. It's been restored from a brand new 2K master and looks as good as a black and white film can look. Extras include audio commentary by film historian Julie Kirgo, various Kino Lorber theatrical trailers and English language subtitles.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of So Proudly We Hail (1943) for review!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Hollywood Victory by Christian Blauvelt

Hollywood Victory
The Movies, Stars, and Stories of World War II
by Christian Blauvelt
Foreword by Dr. Robert M. Citino
Hardcover ISBN: 978076249992
TCM and Running Press
240 pages
November 2021

“By the end of the war, motion pictures, having become the voice of the nation, would end up as the definitive American art form– America’s greatest cultural export to the world.” — Christian Blauvelt

During WWII, movies reached the peak of their cultural influence over the American public. Hollywood rallied to support the war effort in many ways. Actors served overseas or entertained the troops. Directors documented battles on film to keep the American public back home apprised of what was happening during the war. Hollywood stars traveled all over the country selling war bonds. The Hollywood Canteen, started by John Garfield and Bette Davis, entertained the troops giving them a morale boost before they went off to battle. And it was movies like Confessions of a Nazi Spy that rang the alarm bells that something truly sinister was happening abroad. And when the United States officially entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, movies offered the public a unique form of encouragement to help get through the struggles ahead.

Hollywood Victory: The Movies, Stars, and Stories of World War II by Christian Blauvelt takes a look at the many ways Hollywood participated in the war effort and bolstered the American public. This book featured themed essays that tackle many aspects of WWII Hollywood in a way that is both informative and visually appealing. It includes a wide breadth of stories; some classic film fans will be familiar with and others that will be quite enlightening. The behind-the-scenes or lesser known stories alongside the ones we come to expect to be told about the war enriches the reading experience.

Key figures discussed in the book include: Lena Horne, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Jimmy Stewart
Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Leslie Howard, Veronica Lake, Hedy Lamarr, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Otto Preminger, Anna May Wong, Orson Welles, Bob Hope, Carmen Miranda, John Huston, Hattie McDaniel, James Cagney, John Ford, Edward G. Robinson, Billy Wilder, Paul Robeson, Marlene Dietrich and many more.

“Entertainment is always a national asset… Invaluable in time of peace, it is indispensable in 
wartime.” — President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Movies discussed at length include: Confessions of a Nazi Spy, The Great Director, Casablanca, Mrs. Miniver, The Human Comedy and many more.

Much attention is given to the history of minorities during WWII. There are several essays about how Hollywood's involvement with Latin American talent as part of America's Good Neighbor Policy, how Chinese American actors were used to depict Japanese characters, how black soldiers were treated during the war and about black talent including Lena Horne and Hattie McDaniel who were very active on the homefront.

The essays are presented in a rough chronological order so you follow the story of Hollywood during WWII from right before Pearl Harbor to the end of the war in 1945.  I particularly enjoyed reading about how the studios approached telling war stories, about the Hollywood Canteen and the Hollywood Victory Caravan, how individual films made an impact on both audiences but also key power players and how each star approached their involvement in the war effort. I wasn't particularly interested in the pieces on Disney however animation enthusiasts will be eager to read more about that. 

Hollywood Victory is a must have for classic movie enthusiasts who have a particular interest in WWII history.

Thank you to TCM and Running Press for sending me a copy of Hollywood Victory for review. 

Check out the video below to see what else I've been reading.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Hollywood Hates Hitler! by Chris Yogerst

Hollywood Hates Hitler!
Jew-baiting, Anti-Nazism, and the Senate Investigation into Warmongering in Motion Pictures

by Chris Yogerst
University Press of Mississippi
Paperback ISBN: 9781496829764
September 2020
208 pages

AmazonBarnes and Noble Powell's

“Those skeptical of motion pictures had long spread fear about the medium’s ability to influence.” — Chris Yogerst

Many of us classic film enthusiasts are well aware of the House Un-American Activities Committee's communist witch hunt that resulted in the blacklisting, or in some cases the incarceration, of numerous members of the film industry. But how much do you know about Senate Resolution 152, the investigation run by the Senate subcommittee that accused Hollywood moguls of spearheading warmongering propaganda? In the Fall of 1941, a group of Senators gathered forces to take on the big studios of Hollywood claiming that movies were used to turn isolationists into interventionists. Anti-Nazi and anti-fascist films were examined, albeit superficially, for their ability to persuade. Among those brought in to testify were Harry Warner of Warner Bros., Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox, Nicholas Schenck of Loew's Inc, Barney Balaban of Paramount. The subcommittee made the argument that Hollywood studios, through consolidation and monopolization, had developed too much power and wielded that power to influence the public. However the Senators, who were staunch isolationists, had several things going against them: 1) a weak argument based on limited knowledge (some hadn't even seen the movies in question) 2) opposition from the press 3) Hollywood's strong rebuttal and 4) the impending attack on Pearl Harbor that would finally thrust the U.S. into the throes of WWII.

Author and historian Chris Yogerst explores this little known yet important moment in film history with his book Hollywood Hates Hitler! Yogerst examines American culture at the time, isolationist vs interventionist mentalities, anti-Semitism, and the events that lead to Senate Resolution 152. And then there is the deep dive to the investigation. The reader gets a front row seat to all of the action; the interrogation, the testimonies, the press response and the inevitable fallout. Films discussed include Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Foreign Correspondent (1940), The Mortal Storm (1940), Four Sons (1940), The Man I Married (1940), Escape (1940), Man Hunt (1941), The Great Dictator (1941), Sergeant York (1941), among others. The subject matter can be quite dry and the details overwhelming but there is enough context given that makes this scholarly book a fascinating read. If you want to expand your knowledge on the film industry and censorship, I highly recommend giving this book a try!

This is my sixth and final review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Thank you to University Press of Mississippi and Chris Yogerst for sending me a copy for review.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Mr. Capra Goes to War: Frank Capra's World War II Documentaries

You may be familiar with Frank Capra's Hollywood films but how much do you know about the propaganda documentaries he made during WWII? The Sicilian born Frank Capra emigrated to the US in 1903. Here he developed a fervent patriotism that helped chart the course of his life and career. After failed attempts at becoming a chemical engineer and later a screenwriter, he found his talents for directing film suited him best. In Hollywood he made hits such as It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Meet John Doe (1941). Before re-enlisting in the Army in 1941, he made Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) hoping that its release would secure finances for his family while he was away. When the war ended and Capra came back to Hollywood, much had changed not only in the industry but with Capra himself. He made the independent film It's a Wonderful Life (1946) which wouldn't become the beloved classic that we know today until much later. Capra would make 5 more films over the next decade and a half but couldn't recapture the magic of his pre-war career.

While Capra was in the Army, his contribution to the war effort was primarily propaganda filmmaking. He served as executive producer and co-director on several different documentaries. Seven of these films made up his Why We Fight series.

New from Olive Films is Mr. Capra Goes to War: Frank Capra's World War II Documentaries and Blu-Ray (and DVD) that features five of these films, 2 of which are from the Why We Fight series. In addition, Joseph McBride, Frank Capra biographer (Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success) is featured in an original documentary about Capra's life and career with a particular focus on his work during WWII. He also makes a 4 minute introduction to each of the 5 films.

This new one disc set contains the following:

Frank Capra: Why We Fight
31 minutes

Capra biographer Joseph McBride covers the scope of Frank Capra's life and his filmmaking career. Capra served in the Army for both WWI and WWII. We learn about his patriotism, conservative politics and personal conflicts. Confused with the changing ideologies of America during the war, Capra tried his best to make sense of this to make documentaries that would serve to help with the war effort. Capra received the Distinguished Service Medal for his contributions but was very ambivalent about the films he made during this time with the exception of The Battle of Russia. McBride speaks throughout this doc and unfortunately has a very monotone and dry delivery. The subject matter is interesting enough to make it worth your while. I was particularly fascinated by Capra's post-war career and his struggle to transition back into the industry.

Prelude to War (1942)
dir. by Frank Capra, Anatole Litvak
52 min

This is the first of Capra's Why We Fight films and it starts off with the following:

"This film, the first of a series, has been prepared by the War Department to acquaint members of the Army with factual information as to the causes, the events lead up to our entry into the war and the principles for which we are fighting."

The film drives home its message of freedom and equality by comparing and contrasting the United States with the fascist regimes of Germany and Japan. These are presented as two separate earths and begs the question: which one would you want to live on? I was particularly fascinated by the propaganda messaging against the suppression of religious freedom and exploring the dangers of not taking the war seriously.

The Battle of Russia Part 1 (1943)
36 min
The Battle of Russia Part 2 (1943)
47 min
dir. by Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak

Russian born director Anatole Litvak joined forces with Frank Capra to direct this two part documentary, another entry into Capra's Why We Fight series. This propaganda film was pro-Russia and served to support our ally in the fight against the Nazis. Along with the pro-Soviet sentiment is quite a bit of anti-Nazi messaging. The first part focuses on Russia's military battles leading up to the WWII and the second part follows their battles against German invasion. It also clearly depicts Russia's successes in either defending or recapturing their borders. A hit upon its release in the US, the film didn't age well in the post-war McCarthy era.

The Negro Soldier (1944)
dir. by Stuart Heisler
produced by
40 min

After reading Mark Harris' book Five Came Back, I was most interested in seeing Heisler and Capra's film The Negro Soldier. This propaganda film had two purposes: 1) as a means to convince white people that it was crucial to have black people fight in the war and 2) as a means to recruit said black people. Carlton Moss wrote the script and also appears in the film as the black priest delivering a message to his parish about the importance of service. The film depicts the history of African-Americans in battle but also explores their contributions to American culture and their potential to contribute to the war effort.

Tunisian Victory (1944)
dir. by Frank Capra, John Huston and Hugh Stewart
76 min

During the war, American and British forces banded together to free Tunisia from the Nazis.  Although united in the battle, the Americans and Brits didn't see eye to eye and their union was fraught with tension. This spilled over to the documentary. The Brits had real footage which they used in their film Desert Victory. The American filmmaking team had their own footage as well but due to an unfortunate accident it was forever lost at sea. The British weren't about to give up their footage so Capra, Stewart and Huston joined forces to recreate the scenes with actors. Because of the reenactments, this one has the most cinematic feel of all the films in the set. It also feels the most contrived.

Your Job in Germany (1945)
dir. by Frank Capra
13 min

"The problem now is future peace — that is your job in Germany."

Made specifically for the American occupation troops in Germany to teach them how to treat the German people and what to be wary of, Your Job in Germany was written by Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. This documentary short stands out in the set because it served to educate G.I.s rather than inform the public. Warner Bros. repackaged the film the following year and released it as Hitler Lives. McBride points out in his introduction that all of these war films were in the public domain because they were made with taxpayer money and not for profit.

Mr. Capra Goes to War: Frank Capra's World War II Documentaries is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Olive Films. The disc includes English subtitles and the option to play McBride's introduction before each film. This is a fantastic one disc set and is a must for WWII buffs and film history enthusiasts alike. 

Thank you to Olive Films for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray for review. 
When you use my buy links you hep support this site.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tender Comrade (1943)

"Teacher, Tender Comrade, Wife. A fellow farer true through life. Heart-whole and soul-free. The August Father gave to me." – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tender Comrade (1943) is a sentimental WWII drama much in the style of Since You Went Away (1944). It follows the story of Jo Jones (Ginger Rogers) a fiesty and strong-willed woman married to mild-mannered soldier Chris (Robert Ryan). After Chris’ 24 hour leave, the two say their goodbyes at a train station as he travels overseas for battle. Doing her part for the war effort, Jo works at a local aircraft factory as a welder. She becomes friendly with a trio of women who've also been left behind. There’s Barbara (Ruth Hussey), an embittered woman who harbors bad feelings for her sailor husband. She openly dates other men and is the voice of discontent among the group. Then there is Doris (Kim Hunter), a sweet and starry-eyed newlywed. A proposal and quickie marriage left her in a suspended virginal state. Then there's Helen (Patricia Collinge), the matriarch and most level-headed of the bunch. Both her husband and son are away at war. All the women struggle to make ends meet and Jo comes up with an idea: they’ll all move in together and share the expenses equally. They add a fifth, Manya (Mady Christians), a German refugee whose husband is fighting the good fight against the Nazis. She takes on a job as a housekeeper. We follow their stories as they adjust to this new arrangement. The film is broken up with flashbacks of scenes from Jo and Chris’ courtship and marriage. It’s equal parts touching and tragic, just as you’d expect a WWII movie to be.

Written by Dalton Trumbo and directed by Edward Dmytryk, Tender Comrade was produced by RKO. Several endings were filmed in order to get just the right tone for the end product. According to Robert Ryan biographer Frank Jarlett, “the picture did well financially, earning $843,00 in profits for RKO, mainly because its tone of patriotic righteous indignation registered in the public’s mind at a peak emotional time.”

Ginger Rogers was on a high point in her career. She had won an Academy Award for her performance in Kitty Foyle (which was also written by Dalton Trumbo). That film did well for RKO and Tender Comrade was a psuedo follow-up to that success. For Tender Comrade, Rogers was billed as the “chin-up girl”, a role model for women embodying the ideal of strength and resilience during wartime. The film premiered in Los Angeles on December 29, 1943, just under the wire to have Rogers’ performance qualify for Academy Award submission. In the end, she didn’t receive a nomination and the film was released to the general public in June 1944. I’ve always been partial to Ginger Rogers and her performances but I felt her role as Jo was overbearing. Perhaps it was the long speeches and the constant bickering, but I found her character not as sympathetic as I wanted her to be.

On the other hand, Chris Jones was an exceptionally good part for Robert Ryan, who was still in the early days of his long acting career. Playing a leading romantic part with a major movie star helped put him on the map. Ryan is incredibly charming in this film. It’s a shame Hollywood relegated him to roles as heavies and villains because there was a “tender” side to him that really shone through.

A few years after its release, Tender Comrade developed a reputation for its perceived Communist agenda. During the HUAC investigations, the film singled out for subversive propaganda and for the term “Comrade” and its connection to Communist Russia. Although the phrase "tender comrade" is a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem The Wife and is quoted at the very start of the film, its reasonable to consider an intended dual meaning.

Trumbo is one of my favorite writers and a huge influence in my life. Reading his novel Johnny Got His Gun completely altered my perspective on the world and I tend to gravitate towards his works. I enjoyed the social commentary and the political subtext of the film even though I thought it to be overly sentimental.

Trumbo was singled out by Lela Rogers, Ginger Rogers mother, during a HUAC hearing. During the filming of Tender Comrade, Rogers started to take issue with some of the dialogue and this was a very dialogue-driven film. In one scene, the German housekeeper receives her husband medal of honor in the mail. Its decided that the medal belongs to all of them and not just Manya. Rogers was supposed to deliver the line “share and share alike, that’s democracy” but instead it was given to Kim Hunter. The film has a bit of a socialist agenda: the give women split their profits evenly, Manya becomes upset at perceived excess and Doris confesses hoarding lipsticks. However I felt the movie as had some strong patriotic messaging. There is Ginger Rogers’ grand speech about the sacrifice needed to live in a better world. And there are various references to being patriotic through rationing and also anti-German and Japanese sentiment. But in the end Dmytryk and Trumbo were both blacklisted by the HUAC and Hollywood. Dmytryk went into exile only to return to the US and give testimony which eventually cleared him from the blacklist. Trumbo was more defiant. After being jailed, he continued to work in Hollywood under pseudonyms. It wasn’t until both Otto Preminger (Exodus) and Kirk Douglas (Spartacus) publicly listed Trumbo as screenwriter in their respective films that the blacklist officially ended.

Tender Comrade holds an important place in the history of WWII films and the Hollywood Blacklist. This film makes its DVD debut thanks to the good folks at the Warner Archive Collection.

Tender Comrade (1943) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection.When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

The Warner Archive trio George, D.W. and Matt discuss the film (about 25 minutes in) on the A Colossal Collection episode of their podcast.

 Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me Tender Comrade (1943) to review!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hollywood Enlists!: Propaganda Films of WWII

Hollywood Enlists! Propaganda Films of World War II
by Ralph Donald
Rowman and Littlefield
Hardcover ISBN: 9781442277267
March 2017
274 pages

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

Over the years the term "propaganda" has developed a negative connotation. It suggests the brainwashing of its subjects by an authority who lacks good intentions. However, the word propaganda really just means persuasion. Professor of communications Ralph Donald, points out in his new book Hollywood Enlists! Propaganda Films of World War II that "the United States is by far the world's biggest exporter of media" and in those pivotal years of WWII used its media, especially in the form of movies, to drum up support for the war effort. The author breaks down propaganda into two definitions:

1) "forming new and adjusted attitudes in the minds of audiences."
2) "urging them to action, to do something about these newly acquired attitudes."

It was during WWII that Hollywood linked arms with the government to deliver many types of propaganda to its devoted audiences. Feature films about Americans fighting overseas and holding down the fort on the home front, flooded the theaters. There were also documentaries, newsreels, promotional reels encouraging the sales of war bonds and much more. In his book, author Donald focuses on American feature films released during WWII and specifically about the war. We all know that countless movies about WWII came after and are still coming out today (two good examples are the recent releases Dunkirk and Darkest Hour). However, the movies of that pivotal time delivered an important message of American loyalty and support of the war.

"Films made during WWII accomplished their objectives so well that they helped to forge an entire generation into one of the most ideologically unified, singularly-minded populations in the history of the world." - Ralph Donald

The author packs so much in what turns out to be less than 200 reading pages. He breaks down the different themes of propaganda, based on theories developed in the academic world, and shows how each of these themes, and even their sub-themes, play out in different films of the era. It helps to have some familiarity with these films as spoilers are not held back especially if the ending of a movie helps demonstrated the execution of a particular theme. Many movies are referenced and the backmatter of the book includes an annotated filmography. Films discussed at length include: J'Accuse (1938), Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Sergeant York (1941), Captains of the Clouds (1942), Casablanca (1942), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Saboteur (1942), Bombadier (1943), Destination Tokyo (1943),  Five Graves to Cairo (1943),  Lifeboat (1944), Back to Bataan (1945), Blood on the Sun (1945), They Were Expendable (1945), and more.

The various themes explained throughout the book really demonstrated just how these movies were intentional in their messages. Sometimes the themes are obvious and some are incredibly subtle. The author breaks down propaganda into five points: Guilt, Sat-nism (good vs. evil), Illusion of Victory, Apocalyptic/Biblical and Territorial. Each of the five points gets it's own chapter with plenty of breakdowns, examples and explanations. In Sat-nism, propaganda films demonstrated polar opposites of good and evil, America vs. the Japanese or the Nazis in many cases, by constantly comparing characters on both sides. This sounds relatively simple and it is on the surface. However, the author breaks down all of the aspects of this good vs. evil portrayal down to many many factions. Not all possible themes were available to use because there was still the Hays Code to contend with. For example, one theme that was often turned down by the Hays Office, was the portrayal of enemy soldiers raping women. It's seen in films like Edge of Darkness (1943) starring Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan. Constant comparisons of the treatment of women, the fairness of judicial systems, suppression of ideas and honor vs. dishonor really drive home the message that we are fighting for the right reasons. I was particularly fascinated by the fact that Italy was not considered a true threat and portrayed that way in many films. It's something I'll look for next time I encounter an Italian character in a WWII film.

"Hollywood was both an influence in, and a dutiful mirror of, American public opinion." - Ralph Donald

This book is by no means light reading. It took me a couple of months to get through as it is packed with information and is delivered in a straightforward academic tone. It is not so much a reference book, unless you are working on a paper on propaganda in film, as it is a book meant to be read cover-to-cover. I wouldn't recommend this to the casual classic film reader. It's really meant for classroom use or for someone, like me, who is particularly interested in WWII and Hollywood.

Hollywood Enlists! by Ralph Donald packs a punch with its thorough and well-researched breakdowns of the propaganda themes found in the feature films of WWII.

Thank you to publisher Rowman and Littlfield for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Since You Went Away (1944)

Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, Shirley Temple in Since You Went Away (1944)
Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, Shirley Temple in Since You Went Away (1944)

"This is a story of the Unconquerable Fortress: the American Home..."

During WWII, producer David O. Selznick was searching for a way to contribute to the war effort. He was offered two opportunities by the government. The first was to produce a radio program, an idea he flatly turned down. Then the Navy approached him about starting a bureau of photography. Selznick took interest in this proposal but the project never materialized. Instead Selznick would produce a movie. But he didn't want to make a war movie. He needed to tell the story of WWII as it was experienced on the home front by those left behind. Fearful that he would be forever known as the producer of Gone With the Wind, this was an opportunity to not only make a great movie but to move from under his own shadow of fame.

The year was 1942 and Selznick was looking for a WWII home front story to be produced at Selznick International Studios. It took him more than a year to find just the right story. Author Margaret Buell Wilder had written a column in the Dayton Journal Herald called "Letters to a Soldier from His Wife." Wilder was a mother of two teenage daughters and while her husband was off at war she made ends meet by taking in boarders. The column proved popular and was even picked up later by the national women's magazine Ladies Home Journal. The letters were compiled into a book and published with the title Since You Went Away. Once Selznick discovered Wilder's book he knew this would be the film he wanted to make. At first Wilder adapted the screenplay but the final result was unsatisfactory to Selznick who would dominate every aspect of the making of the movie. He took Wilder's screenplay, broke it down and rebuilt it from the ground up.

The end result was the 3-hour family melodrama Since You Went Away (1944). The movie stars Claudette Colbert as Anne Hilton. Her husband Tim has gone off to war leaving her behind with their two teenage daughters Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Brig (Shirley Temple). The Hilton family face hardships ahead including rationing, cut backs, opening their home to boarders to make ends meet and worried about the family patriarch when they get the news that he is MIA. In their circle is Lieutenant Tony Willett (Joseph Cotten), Anne's former flame who still holds a torch for her. Then there is retired Colonel William Smollett (Monty Woolley), the crotchety old boarder who likes his breakfast a certain way and has unrealistic expectations for his shy grandson. Corporal Bill Smollett (Robert Walker) is said grandson. He wants nothing but to make his grandfather proud and to spend every waking moment with the object of his affections Jane Hilton. Helping keep the Hilton household together is Fidelia (Hattie McDaniel) who pitches in to help the family even when they can't afford to pay her. Threatening to break the resolve of the Hiltons is uppity socialite Emily Hawkins (Agnes Moorehead). To her the war is an impediment to her expectations of a proper social life. The saga follows the family as Anne, Jane and Brig journey through the tough months ahead and deal with major sacrifices, death and the unknown.

One of the aspects about WWII that fascinates me is life on the home front. What was it like for those left behind? The anticipation of the safe return of their loved ones who are fighting overseas. The struggle to keep the family going through a time of uncertainty. The rationing, the cut backs, the housing shortage, the buying and selling of war bonds and more. Since You Went Away is on the surface a sappy melodrama but explores all of the aspects of home front life in a profound way.

Cast of Since You Went Away (1944)
Cast of Since You Went Away (1944)

The movie was mainly directed by John Cromwell but he also had help from Andre De Toth who worked on some of the scenes and Selznick who stepped in as director when Cromwell fell ill. Max Steiner produced the score which includes an overture and an intermission. Since You Went Away features a grand cast of players. Lionel Barrymore has a small role as a preacher. Guy Madison makes his film debut as a rival for Jane's affections. Alla Nazimova appears in the final role of her career. A sharp eye will spot Dorothy Dandridge, Butterfly McQueen and Rhonda Fleming in certain scenes. Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker were married at the time of filming but separated. Jones and Selznick would later marry.  Selznick had coaxed Shirley Temple out of her early retirement for this film. Actress Katharine Cornell campaigned for the role of Anne but lost out to Claudette Colbert who was a bigger star.

Since You Went Away (1944) proved to be a success. It struck a chord with contemporary audiences who flocked to the theaters to see it. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and Max Steiner won for Best Score. A newspaper announcement prior to the film's release proclaimed that Since You Went Away would be four hours long noting that it was longer than Selznick's Gone With the Wind. The film was edited down several times and the final version is just a few minutes shy of 3 hours.

I had avoided this film for years mostly for fear of watching Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker together. The way their marriage ended has always pained me. I'm glad I overcame that to finally watch the film. Since You Went Away is a favorite of my good friend Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood  who encourage me to see it. I fell for the story hook, line and sinker and was a sobbing mess at the end. It's overly long and sentimental but if you want to immerse yourself in the history of WWII especially the films of that era, it's not one to miss.

Since You Went Away (1944) is coming out from Kino Lorber on Blu-Ray later this month. The disc includes the Roadshow edition featuring the full overture and intermission of Max Steiner's score as well as a selection of trailers as well as closed captions. The Blu-Ray will make a great present for the classic film enthusiast and WWII history buff in your life.

Many thanks to Kino Lorber for sending me the Blu-Ray to review!

Google Newspaper Archive
Hollywood Enlists!: Propaganda Films of World War II by Ralph Donald

Monday, August 28, 2017

Five Came Back by Mark Harris

Five Came Back
A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War
by Mark Harris
Penguin Press
511 pages
February 2014

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

World War II was over and director John Huston was heading home. The army had one more assignment for him before he repatriated to good old Hollywood. They needed him to make a documentary about shell shocked servicemen being treated at a psychiatric ward. With soldiers coming back home and some dealing with serious mental trauma, the army was anxious to show employers across the nation that these men were treatable and would make fine employees. Propaganda films during the war became “a matter of strategic necessity” and this didn’t change when things were winding down. Huston was excited to show a reality of war that had been swept under the rug. The army’s vision of The Returning Psychoneurotic because Huston’s vision of Let There Be Light. Huston spent three months filming psychologists working with patients at Mason General Hospital. He had unfettered access and countless hours of precious footage. Once it was filmed, edited and in the can, a premiere at MoMA in New York City was arranged. At first the army approved the final result. But then they urgently tried to supress it. First they said they didn’t have music copyright permission for public screenings. Then they said the releases the soldiers signed were not legally binding. Even though Huston ended the film on an uplifting note, the army wasn’t ready for the public to see what Huston wanted them to see. Let There Be Light was supressed for 35 years. Huston fought for decades to have it released and finally got his wish when Vice President Walter Mondale gave his approval in 1980.

“The men were seeking adventure, but more than that, they were reaching for relevance in a world that had become rougher and more frightening than anything their studio bosses would allow them to depict on film.” – Mark Harris

The story of Huston’s Let There Be Light is one of many stories contained in Mark Harris’ book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War. Before the United States was involved in the war, there was an understanding that the film industry would be a crucial ally in building pro-War sentiment with the general public. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, five Hollywood directors enlisted and lent their talents as filmmakers to capture scenes of the war for the folks back home. These included John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra and George Stevens. Harris follows their stories from just before the war, through to their assignments on the battle field and their eventual return to Hollywood. Told in chronological order the narrative intertwines their stories to tell the bigger story of WWII.

Anyone with an interest in 1940s film will be fascinated by how the war influenced pictures including feature films but also documentaries and shorts. Many films are discussed at length and what’s particularly fascinating is how the director’s involvement in the war affected their films. Did you know Frank Capra wanted to make Arsenic and Old Lace so his family could have some income while he was away? Or that Harold Russell was first part of William Wyler’s Diary of a Sergeant before he was added to The Best Year’s of Our Lives? Or that George Stevens witnessed the horrors of the concentration camps and after that couldn’t bring himself to make comedies in Hollywood?

“As long as they lived, the war lived in them.” – Mark Harris

William Wyler (left)
George Stevens (center)
John Ford (left)

John Huston (second from left), Frank Capra (right)

Films discussed at length include Meet John Doe (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), They Were Expendable (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and more. Then there are the documentaries that brought home the story of the war. These included Capra’s Why We Fight series and The Negro Soldier, Huston’s The Battle of San Pietro and The Report from the Aleutians, Ford’s The Battle of Midway, Stevens' Nazi Concentration Camps and Wyler’s The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress and others.

Mark Harris’ book is a result of five years of archival research and it shows. It’s incredibly detailed and while it’s not overly long it does take quite a bit of time to read. Mostly because of it’s structure and how much information is packed in its pages. I’m fascinated by this era so it was essential that I read Five Came Back. The book inspired a Netflix mini-series which I’m keen to watch. It does help to have seen some of the films and documentaries mentioned in the book. Many of the docs are available on YouTube including Huston’s Let There Be Light which I highly recommend you see and have included below.

Five Came Back is a fascinating book about Hollywood directors contributing to the war effort during WWII and how their experiences affected them.

This is my fourth review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

36 Hours (1965)

 36 Hours (1965)

Prisoners of war are interrogated and tortured for their secrets. But what happens when they're tricked out of them?

Directed and adapted for the screen by George Seaton, 36 Hours (1965) is a fascinating WWII film about a major in the US Navy whose drugged and captured by the Germans. When he comes to he's made to believe that it's 6 years later and the war is over opening up the opportunity for the Germans to learn crucial information about the imminent invasion of Normandy, also known as D-Day.

James Garner stars as Major Jefferson Pike. The US Navy has sent him to Lisbon, Portugal on an intelligence mission. However before he's able to execute his assignment, a German spy slips something into his coffee which knocks him out and he's taken prisoner. While he's unconscious a team of Nazis work to execute an elaborate plan that's been months in the making. Led by psychiatrist Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor), the team has studied Pike for months. Their plan is to make him think it's 1950 and he's recovering in an American Navy hospital. He's recruited fellow Germans who speak impeccable English to play Americans. Also part of his team is Anna Hedler (Eva Marie Saint), a concentration camp victim who spoke good English, was a trained nurse and saw this as an opportunity out of her situation. Anna plays his wife and nurse and Gerber plays a sympathetic American major and psychiatrist. A team of doctors perform plastic surgery on Pike to make him look like he's aged by 6 years. Gerber gets word from his higher ups that he only has 36 hours to finish his project and get important battle details out of Pike. His superior Otto Schack (Werner Peters) is visiting and anxious to interrogate the prisoner all the while doubting Gerber's plan. Will Pike figure out what's going on before he reveals too much?

Rod Taylor, James Garner and Eva Marie Saint in 36 Hours (1965)
Rod Taylor, James Garner and Eva Marie Saint in 36 Hours (1965)

36 Hours is based on an original story by writers Luis Vance and Carl K. Hittleman. However, Roald Dahl, popular writer and WWII veteran, had written a story in 1944 called Beware of the Dog that was very similar to Vance and Hittleman's story. Dahl's wife actress Patricia Neal was considering the part of Anna and noticed the similarities. In order to avoid a lawsuit, MGM bought the rights to Dahl's story and he received credit. Roald Dahl's biographer Jeremy Treglown confirms that Dahl was paid $30k for the film rights to Beware of the Dog. Most sources say the movie was adapted from Dahl's story but his is quite different. The two stories share in common the concept of tricking someone into think they are in a different place and time. I couldn't find any corroboration to this information other than IMDb. If you see any information please let me know because it makes for a very interesting back story!

James Garner's company Cherokee Productions co-produced 36 Hours along with William Perlberg and George Seaton. It was filmed on location in Yosemite National Park which was meant to represent the German countryside where Pike was isolated. I was delighted to see real footage of Lisbon, Portugal in the early 1960s. My father was from Portugal and I spent quite a bit of time visiting family there. At the time of filming my dad would have already been living in the US but it was still so fun to see my dad's country on film.

36 Hours is a taut war drama that kept me enthralled. I enjoyed the performances by the three leads James Garner, Eva Marie Saint and Rod Taylor. Saint's Anna is a very dark character. She's become numb because of her experiences in a concentration camp and is purely in survival mode. Saint is roughed up a bit in the movie and the plot line about her not being able to cry felt a bit over done. However I think her character was very interesting and it was great to see Saint in a role like this. Taylor's performance as Gerber was nuanced and brilliant. His character is probably the most complex of the bunch. Garner is great as Pike but I don't feel like the role was all that challenging for him. Pike is kind of a one-note character and he's confused when he comes to but I didn't quite believe it when he starts to realize what's going on. Garner is one of my favorite actors so it was still great to see him in this. And I also admire the fact that he was heavily involved behind the scenes too. I really enjoyed John Banner's performance as the Ernst. He plays an important character in the final part of the film. Describing his story line would be a major spoiler because he helps the plot come to its final conclusion.

I thoroughly enjoyed 36 Hours. I loved it's unusual story line and seeing a different take on WWII. The ending is predictable because it's based on real events but it's still so much fun to watch. Hat tip to writer Andy Ross who convinced me that I had to watch this one. You can check out his article on the movie here.

36 Hours (1965) is available on DVD-MOD and Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection. It's also streaming on Warner Archive Instant. I watched the Blu-Ray version and highly recommend it.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a Blu-Ray copy of 36 Hours to review!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Government Girl (1943)

Washington, D.C. during WWII was a hectic place. The new jobs created to support the war effort drove many to the nation’s capital. The influx of people caused a housing shortage that had workers and hotels scrambling. And with so many men away on duty, D.C. became a 10-women-to-every-man kind of a town leaving single gals with few options. The “government girls”, who took on a variety of important roles, were crucial to war effort’s success.

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What better way to examine chaos than with a screwball comedy? The film Government Girl (1943) is a humorous look at this moment in history. It was directed by Dudley Nichols, produced by RKO and adapted by Nichols and Budd Schulberg from a short story written by Adela Rogers St. John. Olivia de Havilland stars as Ms. Elizabeth Allard, AKA "Smokey", a “government girl” living and working in D.C. She’s booked a honeymoon suite at a hotel for her best friend May (Anne Shirley) and her soon-to-be-husband Sgt. Joe Blake (James Dunn). Joe only has 24 hours to get married, have quick honeymoon and be back on duty, so they are on a time crunch.

Anne Shirley and Olivia de Havilland in Government Girl (1943)

Unbeknownst to Smokey, the hotel gave their suite to Ed Browne (Sonny Tufts) a mechanic who has been hired by the government to do important work for the Air Force. When Smokey finds out the gentleman who lent her his ring so that her friend May could get married with one has the suite, they begin to butt heads.

Sonny Tufts in Government Girl (1943)
Sonny Tufts in Government Girl (1943)

And they keep butting heads when they eventually find out Smokey, or Ms. Allard, is really Ed Browne’s new secretary. He thinks she’s the one who was getting married. But really she’s a single government gal who already has two suitors, which is virtually a miracle in a town with an imbalanced ratio of men to women. Ms. Allard becomes Browne’s Girl Friday, helping him with important government work and championing for him when crooked government types try to screw him over.

Olivia de Havilland, Sonny Tufts and FDR.

This movie had a lot of potential but never quite realizes it. I read that Olivia de Havilland got stuck doing this film for RKO because of an arranged loan out from Warner Bros. What would follow was a difficult battle with Warner Bros. over her contract. Would the film have been better if circumstances for de Havilland were different? Male lead Sonny Tufts was being groomed during WWII to be a replacement star. With so many actors on duty and away from Hollywood, film studios needed more leading men. Tufts didn’t quite make the splash they were hoping for.

Government Girl is a quirky and funny movie but ultimately falls flat. The More the Merrier (1943), a Columbia picture starring Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn, is from the same year, deals with the same topic but is much more entertaining. If you are interested in the topic of American life during WWII, I suggest you watch Government Girl and then The More the Merrier to achieve a better experience. 

Agnes Moorehead and Jess Barker in Government Girl (1943)
Agnes Moorehead and Jess Barker in Government Girl (1943)

Notable appearances in the film include Agnes Moorehead as the villain Mrs. Right, Harry Davenport as Senator MacVickers and Una O'Connor as the honeymoon-wrecker-landlady. I love Anne Shirley but I thought her role as the daft but loveable May was a little too similar to Joan Fontaine’s portrayal of Peggy in The Women (1939). I’m not sure why I made that comparison while I was watching the film but perhaps it has something to do with Fontaine and de Havilland being sisters.

The main reason I watched the film is because I’m interested in the D.C. housing shortage during WWII. I’ve lived in cramped quarters all my life so I enjoy watching films about similar situations. The More the Merrier (1943), it’s remake Walk, Don’t Run (1966), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) and Buster Keaton’s Scarecrow (1920) are some of my top favorite movies partly for that reason.

One final note: fans of 1940s fashion will want to watch this for the excellent outfits worn by Olivia de Havilland, Anne Shirley and Agnes Moorehead.

Government Girl (1943) is available from Warner Archive on DVD-MOD.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Government Girl (1943) from Warner Archive for review.

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