Category Archives: 1946 Movie reviews

Song of the South-1946

Song of the South-1946

Director-Harve Foster, Wilfred Jackson

Starring-James Baskett, Billy Driscoll

Scott’s Review #893

Reviewed May 4, 2019

Grade: B+

Song of the South (1946) is a Walt Disney film buried in the chambers of cinema history, reportedly an embarrassment never too soon forgotten by the legendary producer and his company. The reason for the ruckus is numerous overtones of racism that emerge throughout an otherwise darling film. Admittedly the film contains a racial cheeriness that cannot be interpreted as anything other than condescension to black folk and numerous stereotypes abound.

The mysterious appeal of the film during modern times is undoubtedly because of the surrounding controversies that hopefully can be put aside in favor of a resounding positive message and glimmering childlike innocence that resonates throughout the course of the film. The hybrid choice of live action and animation is superlative, eliciting a progressive never before seen, experience that would be shameful to be spoiled amid the surrounding controversies.

Taking place during the Reformation Era in Georgia, United States of America, a period of American history shortly after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the film has quite the southern flavor and feel. Seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) is excited to visit his grandmother’s (Lucile Watson) lavish plantation outside of Atlanta along with his mother, Sally (Ruth Warrick), and father (Erik Rolf). He is soon devastated to learn that his father is to return to Atlanta for business, leaving Johnny behind.

Johnny plots to run away from the plantation and return to Atlanta but develops a special friendship with kindly Uncle Remus (James Baskett) who enchants the young boy with sentimental lesson stories about Br’er Rabbit and his foils Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. Drama ensues when Johnny feuds with two poor neighbor boys and develops a friendship with their sister, Ginny. He also forms a close bond with Toby, a young black boy who lives on the plantation.

Thunderous applause must go to the creative minds who thought of the idea of mixing the animations with the live action drama which results in positive and compelling effect. As Uncle Remus repeatedly embarks on a new story for Johnny to listen to the audience knows they will be transported into a magical land of make-believe as a clear lesson results from these stories.

Uncle Remus is an inspiring character- extremely rare to find a black character written this way in 1946. Often black characters were reduced to maids, butlers, farm-hands, or other servant roles. While the film does not stray the course with casting these roles aplenty, including Uncle Remus himself, his character is different because he is beloved by little Johnny and respected by the grandmother, treated as part of the family. His opinion counts for something and not merely dismissed as rubbish.

The musical soundtrack to Song of the South is particularly cheery and easy to hum along to. The most recognizable song is “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” which reoccurs several times throughout the feature. The best rendition is at the end of the film when the mix of live action and animation culminates with the sing-along. My favorite appearance is when the “blue bird” referenced in the lyric comes into play resting on one character’s shoulder, true to the lyrical content.

The accusations of racism are justified as keen viewers will understand the condescension towards blacks in several scenes. More than once a parade of black people is seen traipsing through the plantation, singing songs, not exactly cheerfully but not despondent either. The scenes have eerie slavery overtones- despite the black character’s all presumably being free to come and go, the reality is they all work for white folk. The black plight and struggle are completely sugar-coated and feels dismissed.

The animated characters are voiced by strong ethnic voices and are presumed to be ridiculous. The usage of a Tar-Baby character, completely enshrined in black tar seems offensive almost teetering on the implication of promoting a blackface, minstrel show moment as the character, once white, is then turned black because of the tar. Song of the South is not the only film of its time to face racist accusations- the enormous Gone with the Wind (1939) and Jezebel (1938) faced similar heat.

Song of the South (1946) is recommended for those who can recognize the racism that exists throughout the film but also can appreciate the films artistic merits. Wise and resounding friendships between white and black characters are evident as is a lovely story about determination, fairness, and respect. The film should be both treasured for its nice moments and scolded for its racist overtones.

It’s a Wonderful Life-1946

It’s a Wonderful Life-1946

Director-Frank Capra

Starring-James Stewart, Donna Reed

Scott’s Review #863

Reviewed February 5, 2019

Grade: A-

A popular holiday tradition in many households eager to cozy up in front of the fire with an enduring and entertaining classic, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) serves an important purpose and is the ultimate annual festivity passed from generation to generation. While not one of my personal standards I do recognize the influence and the endearment the film offers and cannot fault its power to bring people together with its humanistic and sweet message.

James Stewart is perfectly cast as the wholesome and likable George Bailey, a man who strives to help all those needing help in his small community while neglecting himself in the process. Depressed and despondent by the failure of his bank one Christmas Eve in the 1945 snowy locale of Bedford Falls, New York, George is visited by a guardian angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) who teaches him what life will be like if he chooses the dire path of ending his own life.

Along with Stewart, Donna Reed as wife Mary Hatch Bailey is cast exceptionally well and is the perfect counterpart to George. Together the actors immerse themselves in their roles and hold their heads high as the leaders of the sleepy little town they reside in and set an example for the other townspeople with their kindness and thoughtfulness. A sound “king and queen of the prom” the duo radiate and illicit tears from audience members living their lives vicariously through the couple.

A perfect companion piece to A Christmas Carol, perhaps the version from 1951 for similar time-periods, both spirited and teaching life lessons, is recommended. Both thematically similar in the visitation by a heavenly spirit and offering glimpses into the past, present, and future, the comparisons are endless to say nothing of the Christmastime elements both possess.

Arguably, It’s a Wonderful Life is the more uplifting of the two, which is both good and bad. The lesson constantly voiced is to be good to other people and one will then be rewarded or at least have peace of mind. This is not a bad lesson at all, which is the main reason for the films lasting appeal. Bad luck and financial hardship will inevitably make its mark on everyone, but kindness is forever enduring.

The timing of the creation and release of It’s a Wonderful Life is also worth mentioning. As the United States, to say nothing of many European nations, struggled to pick up the pieces after the devastation of World War II, what an opportune time for the picture to immerse itself into the lives of many people in need of a strong and uplifting message. No wonder the film was popular when first released as the feel-good film of 1946.

The black and white cinematography does wonders to portray the films magical atmosphere as the cold and snowy bridge scenes are the high point. Controversial years later was the colorization, and some would say the ruination, of the films appeal, a decision that was met with anger by star Stewart who went as far as testifying in court to voice his displeasure.

At the risk of being raked across the coals and deemed a “scrooge”, portions of It’s a Wonderful Life are saccharin and manufactured in the utmost in goodness-sometimes too good. Admittedly coming across a bit trite at times, the characters of George, Mary, and their children seem to glimmer and radiate with only benevolent characteristics never having an improper or impure action. A fantasy film for sure the overly humanistic approach can sometimes be a tad silly. The same can be said for the angel, Clarence.

Nonetheless films such as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) serve their purpose in the annals of cinema history. With a powerful and heart-warming message, the positive vibes simply cannot be denied and the warmth and emotion the film possesses radiates even the coldest hearts and the harshest of critics willing to accept and be enraptured by the films staying power.

The Best Years of Our Lives-1946

The Best Years of Our Lives-1946

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Frederic March, Myrna Loy

Scott’s Review #858

Reviewed January 20, 2019

Grade: A

Many films emerged during the 1940’s that depicted horrific events occurring during the violence of World War II. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) is the first film to focus on the aftermath of the war and the lasting psychological effects placed upon soldiers and their loved ones. The film may teeter towards soap-opera territory, but is powerful and dramatic, tender, and heart-felt, allowing its audience to experience the challenges of those who serve their country following their service.

Director William Wyler, who also created the similarly themed Mrs. Miniver (1942) again treads into the family drama genre, but this time stages the drama in small town America rather than outside of London. While Mrs. Miniver focuses on the ravages of the existing war he chooses to delve into the after-effects which offer more range and complicated situations to delve into. The result is a heftier and more cerebral experience.

The story revolves around three United States servicemen attempting to readjust to civilian life upon their return home from the battlegrounds of World War II. Homer (Harrold Russell), Al (Frederic March), and Fred (Dana Andrews) all reside in the same small town of Boone City, USA. The men are acquaintances but did not serve together in the war as each had a different rank and duties.

Al has the most going for him with a loving wife Milly (Myrna Loy) and two children in tow and a stable household. He is promoted to Vice President of a local bank, but despite this achievement drinks heavily and is prone to anger. He is enraged at the poor treatment of veterans trying to obtain bank loans and at the United States for hindering veterans attempts at rebuilding their lives. His adult daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) is a prominent character as she begins a flirtation with Fred.

Fred is unskilled and must return to his menial job as a drugstore soda jerk much to his selfish wife Marie’s (Virginia Mayo) chagrin. Homer has lost both hands in the war and wears mechanical hooks for hands rendering him insecure and troubled. His days as a respected high school football quarterback have sadly ended though he has unflinching support from his fiance, Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell).

The trials and tribulations of many of the characters begin to mount as a character fights with another over a dispute about the meaning of the war. Another character plots to ruin a marriage and embarks on a plan to rescue a character from another. The plots run the risk of being too daytime drama-like except that the underlying point of the troubled veterans is always at the forefront and their challenges to be taken seriously.

A poignant moment is a crucial scene when one character admits that they have “given up the best years of my life”, a frustrated testimonial and proof that war can ravage not only the lives of the veterans, but of their loved ones. Wyler pulls no punches in harboring a clear message to the film. The viewer will undoubtedly ponder the film’s title, “The Best Years of Our Lives” and realize that this is open to different interpretations and not only a positive connotation.

The most powerful aspect of The Best Years of Our Lives is that actor Harold Russell, playing a military veteran really was a disabled military veteran. This realism of a man portraying himself and the terrible effects that the war had on him makes his character my favorite and highly empathetic. His Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actor is emotional and deserving as are wins for Best Picture and seven other wins.

Featuring a topic just beginning to gain awareness post World War II, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) is a grand Hollywood film containing all the trimmings of good classic drama. Under the surface the film is dripping with relevance, social commentary, and the psychological trauma that veterans face upon returning home and how some are damaged beyond repair. The rich American style film remains a worthy watch on the cusp of nearly a century since production wrapped.

Notorious-1946

Notorious-1946

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman

Scott’s Review #265

813874

Reviewed August 11, 2015

Grade: A-

Notorious is a classic Alfred Hitchcock film from 1946, a time period that preceded his golden age of 1950’s and 1960’s brilliant works, but is a marvel all the same. Perhaps not as wonderful as future works, but that is like comparing prime rib to filet mignon, if you will. Shot in black and white, the subject matter is a familiar one for Hitchcock fans- political espionage. The film contains elements common with Hitchcock’s films- a romance mixed together with a suspenseful plot.

Starring two greats of the time (and Hitchcock stalwarts), Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman, one is immediately enthralled by the chemistry between the characters they play- T.R. Devlin and Alicia Huberman. Devlin, a government agent, recruits Alicia, per his bosses, to spy on a Nazi sympathizer, Alex Sebastian (Claude Raines), who is affiliated with her father. Her father, having been convicted and sentenced to prison, has committed suicide. Alicia’s allegiance is clearly questioned as she goes to drastic measures to prove her loyalty and complete the hated assignment. The film gloriously is set between Miami and the gorgeous Rio De Janiero, where much of the action takes place at Alex’s mansion.

Clearly a blueprint for his later works, Hitchcock experiments with creative camera shots and angles- specifically the wide and high shot overlooking an enormous ballroom. I also love the airplane scene- subtle, Hitchcock treats the audience to background views of Rio, from the window of the airplane, as Devlin and Alicia carry on conversation. The plane is slowly descending for landing, which allows for a slow, gorgeous glimpse of the countryside and landscape in the background. Subtleties like these that may go unnoticed that make Hitchcock such a brilliant director.

The character of Alicia is worth a study. Well known for his lady issues, did Hitchcock hint at her being an oversexed, boozy, nymphomaniac? Personally, I did not think the character was written in a sympathetic fashion, though to be fair she is headstrong and loyal in the face of adversity. She parties hard, drives at 65 miles per hour while intoxicated, and falls into bed with more than one man. It is also implied that she has a history of being promiscuous. Made in 1946, this must have been controversial during that time period. The sexual revolution was still decades away.

Notorious also features one of the most sinister female characters in Hitchcock history in the likes of Madame Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin). The woman is evil personified and her actions are reprehensible. She is arguably the mastermind behind all of the dirty deeds as well as a fan of slow, painful death by poisoning.

My favorite scene is without a doubt the wine cellar scene. To me, it epitomizes good, old fashioned suspense and edge of your seat entertainment. A cat and mouse game involving a secret rendezvous, a smashed bottle, a key, champagne, and the great reveal enrapture this scene, which goes on for quite some time and is the climax of the film.

Perhaps Notorious is not quite as great a film as Vertigo, Psycho, or The Birds, but is a top-notch adventure/thriller in its own right, that ought to be watched and given its due respect.