Category Archives: 1941 Movie reviews

The Great Lie-1941

The Great Lie-1941

Director-Edmund Goulding

Starring-Bette Davis, Mary Astor

Scott’s Review #891

Reviewed April 28, 2019

Grade: B+

Clearly breezing into her heyday of films at this point, Hollywood starlet Bette Davis had become an expert at portraying tarts and bitches in most of her films. Desiring to turn left of center and play a more sympathetic character the actress jumped at the chance to play an ingenue. The Great Lie (1941) is the perfect showcase for her talents in a gripping, dramatic film that is pure predictable soap-opera, but lovely escapism done well.

Maggie Patterson (Davis) is a demure and sensitive southern socialite vying for the affections of former beau, aviator Peter Van Allen (George Brent). Peter has impulsively married sophisticated concert pianist Sandra Kovak (Mary Astor) and both are startled to learn their marriage is invalid. Confused, Peter decides to marry Maggie and is quickly sent off to Brazil on business when his airplane crashes into the jungle leaving him presumed dead.

When Sandra realizes she is pregnant, Maggie proposes she be allowed to raise the child as her own in exchange for taking care of Sandra financially. The two women go to Arizona to await the birth, and Sandra delivers a boy who is named after his father. The women face a quandary when Peter shows up alive and well and Sandra bitterly announces to Maggie that she intends to ride off into the sunset with both Peter and her son. The women scratch and claw at each other, metaphorically speaking, for the remainder of the picture.

The story line, despite being perfectly melodramatic and stellar for an afternoon daytime drama, is rather engaging throughout, never suffering from too much contrivance. The reason for this is that both Maggie and Sandra have appeal and both women are likable- or at least the film does its best not to make one woman the clear villain. Sandra, dripping with gorgeous fashion and a sturdy poise is confident, pairing well with Maggie’s southern charm and sensibilities- to say nothing of her wealth. Peter would do well with either woman and I found my allegiances shifting throughout the film.

Nearly upstaging Davis is Mary Astor giving a terrific performance as Sandra. Combined, the women are the reason for The Great Lie’s grit and gusto. They play the hell out of their roles and according to legend, both hated the script and vowed together to turn the project into gold. They nearly succeed as the best sequence is when the women travel to deserted Arizona to spend the remainder of Sandra’s pregnancy. Cooped up together, how delicious to see Davis’s Maggie play caretaker to a whiny and spoiled Sandra- typically Davis would play the Sandra character, so the scenes are a treat to watch.

Suspension of disbelief must be achieved as the major plot point of the film is jarring in incomprehension. Maggie offers to provide Sandra with a large sum of money to ensure her security. I did not buy this point as Sandra appears to be well-off, touring the world with incredible success and living a lavish lifestyle including a staff of servants and gorgeous apartment in New York City. The character hardly appears to need a handout despite the incorporated dialogue of Sandra’s success predicted to wane as she ages.

Another oddity is the location of Maggie’s estate. Set in Maryland, hardly a southern mecca, the location has all the trimmings of the deep south, perhaps Mississippi. With an all-black staff, magnolia trees, and southern style cuisine, the Maryland backdrop is quite perplexing and a misfire. More relevant would have been if the location were Mississippi, Louisiana, or Alabama. Finally, remiss would it be not to mention appearances by Hattie McDaniel and brother Sam as Violet and Jefferson, employed by Maggie, always a treat.

With high drama and terrific acting The Great Lie (1941) offers tremendous chemistry between the female leads resulting in a deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Astor. The dialogue may be silly and superfluous with plot gimmicks and obvious set ups, but the film does work. Viewers can let loose and enjoy a sudsy drama with enjoyable trimmings.

The Little Foxes-1941

The Little Foxes-1941

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Bette Davis, Teresa Wright

Scott’s Review #866

Reviewed February 14, 2019

Grade: A-

Candidly speaking any film starring the ravishing and dynamic Bette Davis is worthy of a watch but The Little Foxes (1941) was released during the Hollywood legends heyday and the actress elicits a strong character portrayal. The film is a complex story of southern scheming and contains enough intrigue to keep the viewer compelled after a slow start. Shot in black and white and due to its age the film quality not the best the story nonetheless  builds in suspense especially during the final thirty minutes. This culminates in a frenetic conclusion with Davis deservedly taking center stage.

Southern matriarch Regina Hubbard Giddens (Davis) is sophisticated and angry. The sole female member of an affluent family she lives in a time when men rule the roost and her brothers control the family money which leaves her with little power. Living nearby, Benjamin (Charles Dingle) and Oscar (Carl Benton Reid) flaunt their wealth while Regina struggles for every crumb she can get her hands on. When the family embarks on a deal to profit from a cotton mill merger Regina schemes to score riches by any means necessary.

The southern setting with luxurious estates and more than its share of cultural and cuisine flavors serves The Little Foxes well with a palpable atmospheric style. With an antebellum, white dresses, grits, and brandy featured, the goodness and girth of a proper way of living is featured. Prominent black characters exist, primarily serving as the household help or various service roles to white folks, but for 1941 this was considered progressive for studios to feature minorities so heavily and must be praised for the inclusiveness.

Throughout the run of the film I felt a push/pull whether I sympathized with Regina or despised the character. Comparisons to Gone With the Wind (1939) entered my mind many having to do with Regina herself. Flirtatious when she wants to be and coquettish to fit her needs, in many scenes she serves as a cross between Scarlett and Melanie. I even began to champion the character at one point and the plight of a female in the early 1900’s with the impossibility of being taken seriously as a business woman in those days.

The Little Foxes is brazen in that it champions a strong and determined female character. Regina will not merely stand behind any man but chooses to stand on her own two feet. Cinema in the 1940’s is known for branching out female characters as independent and self-sufficient and this film certainly serves as a prime example of this movement.

In the film’s final act there can be no denying the true colors of Regina and any sympathy or comparisons to the above mentioned characters are ultimately dismissed in diabolical fashion. The character is faced with the choice to either do the right thing and save a life or cross the line and let a beloved character die. When she chooses the latter the scene is pivotal and filled with emotion. She has made an important decision that which she can never turn back from.

Director William Wyler shoots the astounding Davis in a myriad of ways all central to the character’s particular motivations. Appearing determined and driven in some scenes and downright devious in others Davis is masterful at doing so much with her enormous and expressionistic eyes. The Little Foxes portrays her as a complex and unrelenting character that is tailor made for Davis’s talents.

To say that Regina gets away with murder is an unfair statement. Wyler makes it clear that despite benefiting financially the character is forever after shrouded in suspicion by her brother and her own daughter (Teresa Wright) who decidedly embarks on a new life to Chicago never to see her mother again. This leaves Regina fearful and lonely in her grand house.

The Little Foxes (1941) succeeds as a showcase for the emerging talents of stalwart Bette Davis as well as a good, solid drama. Schemes, conspiracy, and backstabbing are all prevalent themes, but the film also contains a melancholy subtext of loneliness and fear. Appropriately Ms. Davis is awarded the final shot, a closeup that reveals the star power she had begun to muster as her career was in full swing.

That Hamilton Woman-1941

That Hamilton Woman-1941

Director-Alexander Korda

Starring-Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh 

Scott’s Review #779

Reviewed June 27, 2018

Grade: B+

That Hamilton Woman (1941) is an obscure, black and white gem that stars legendary actors and real-life couple Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. Providing a story of an old-fashioned style romance, war battles, and dazzling cinematography, the film succeeds as a classic film that should be better remembered than it is. The overall theme here is a tragic love story with a sad ending.

One of the best aspects of That Hamilton Woman is witnessing the super-couple team of Leigh and Olivier act opposite one other. The actors individual talents are reason enough, but combined make this a fascinating viewing experience. The curiosity of the pairing of big stars in their heyday is a delight, highly appealing and both actors do not disappoint. One wonders whether they were acting or otherwise enjoying the experience.

That Lady Hamilton begins with a jarring scene in which the title character, also known as Emma, Lady Hamilton (Vivien Leigh) is thrown into debtor’s prison after stealing booze in France. The rest of the story is told via flashbacks as she regales her fellow prisoners with how she wound up in her current state. Her former life starkly contrasts as Emma appears as a young woman with hope, promise, and riches. It is hard to imagine how her life turned out so badly which gives the film a quality of strong intrigue.

The film then has a “riches to rags” element as the story is told in reverse. Full of energy, British Emma moves with her mother to the Kingdom of Naples where she marries the affluent (and much older) Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray), presumably for his money. When handsome Admiral Horatio Nelson (Olivier) appears on the scene, the pair fall madly in love. They face tremendous hurdles, however, as the war rages on and each is unfaithful to their respective spouses.

Since the film was made scarcely two years after the epic romance Gone with the Wind (1939), one cannot help but compare Leigh’s portrayal of Emma to Scarlett O’Hara. At times Emma comes across as a British version of the southern lass, especially as she is clad in gorgeous gowns or romancing men. However, as the film develops she becomes a much more sympathetic character and certainly less of a vixen. Still, there are plenty of similarities for viewers to draw from.

The role of Lady Frances Nelson (Gladys Cooper) is completely one-note so the rooting value is never in doubt. The audience is firmly in the corner of Emma and Horatio and this is clearly the film’s intention.  With that said, Cooper does a fantastic job at making her character completely unlikable. Her icy, vengeful spirit is in perfect balance with the sympathetic lead characters. The fact that Horatio and Emma are adulterers, especially for the year the film was made, is not fully explored.

To be critical, and presumably since the film is very old, the video quality is not the greatest. If the film was in color the gorgeous Italian landscapes and Leigh’s lovely costumes would have appeared even more lavish and picturesque. But due to the age of the film not much can be done about it unless it is decided to repackage the disc or make it a Blu-ray offering. Still, the luminous mountains and lush oceans of southern Italy are frequently featured throughout the film, which is a real treat.

Purely a showcase for newlyweds Olivier and Leigh to dish their real-life romance for mainstream audiences, That Hamilton Woman (1941) must have been a big deal at the time released. While suffering a bit from lackluster film quality, the story itself is quite hearty with lots of romantic scenes combined with loud, bombastic battle scenes and a bit of British and Italian history thrown in. Sadly, this film is largely forgotten, but a good watch for fans of the legendary stars.

Dumbo-1941

Dumbo-1941

Director-Ben Sharpsteen

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #559

Reviewed December 24, 2016

Grade: A

One of the best produced (and at sixty-two minutes, one of the shortest!) of the classic Walt Disney films of the golden age, Dumbo, in similar fashion to another Disney classic, Bambi, is both heartbreaking and mixed with fun entertainment. It should be heralded and viewed by everyone- children and adults alike, and teaches a valuable lesson in acceptance and tolerance- messages that never go out of fashion, despite the film being made in the grand old year of 1941.

To draw more comparisons to Bambi, we are introduced to the title character, as Dumbo is nuzzled and cherished upon being brought into the world by storks, by his warm and affectionate mother. Dumbo is an elephant and his mother a circus elephant, where she spends her days as entertainment, along with a group of other female elephants- none of whom has her grace, kindness, or dignity.

Sweet Dumbo is born with an imperfection- he has enormous ears. While others- namely the female elephants- ridicule and stare in horror at the lovable little elephant- his mother embraces and cuddles her little bundle of joy, eliciting a genuine, good-nature warmth rarely seen in cinema history. There is something so innately good about this character, (Mrs. Jumbo). She has a richness and way about her that is fantastic and consuming.

Sadly, one day, while entertaining the masses, a bratty human kid taunts Dumbo, causing Mrs. Jumbo to go ballistic, immediately going into protection mode. She is then deemed a “mad elephant”, shackled, and chained, and worse yet- separated from her baby. How anyone can watch this portion of the film and not shed a tear or get a lump in their throat is beyond me. Walt Disney was a master at eliciting raw emotion from his audience and writing a heartbreaking yet charming stories.

The centerpiece of Dumbo is the wonderful bond between mother and son- a sweet and powerful connection almost everyone can relate to. The pride and joy in Mrs. Jumbo’s eyes when she is granted a visit from Dumbo while imprisoned is magical- it means the world to her.

The supporting characters are key to the richness of the film- Timothy Q. Mouse is an important character to the story. Upon Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo’s separation, he becomes Dumbo’s only friend, sympathizing with Dumbo, and is instrumental to Dumbo’s reunion with his mama as well as his future successes in the circus. The bitchy female elephants are crucial too- despite being one of their own, they still reject Dumbo and mother. There are some light moments, as when the ladies, (Catty, Giddy, and Prissy), gossip and act superior to others.

Another fun scene, to balance out the heavy drama, occurs when Timothy and Dumbo accidentally mistake champagne for water, causing them to hallucinate and imagine pink elephants.

Dumbo is important in that it sends a powerful message about the way animals (especially circus animals) have historically been treated. Why animals should be used to amuse and entertain human beings is anyone’s guess, but this film is a powerful reminder of such. Fortunately, the film goes for a happy and satisfying ending, which should please fans. An animated classic for the ages.

Citizen Kane-1941

Citizen Kane-1941

Director-Orson Welles

Starring-Orson Welles

Top 100 Films-#19

Scott’s Review #296

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Reviewed December 12, 2015

Grade: A

Regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, Citizen Kane is a technically brilliant film that introduces fantastic new elements into film never before seen and replicated for decades to come. It is a timeless masterpiece still enjoyed and marveled at in modern times.

Forget what the story is about, as one can sit back, not having any idea of what the story means (it can be a bit difficult to follow) and look at the film from a cinematic perspective. The various camera angles, shadows, and use of an actual ceiling (never seen in film before) is impossible not to appreciate for any film lover. My favorite scenes occur when director (and star) Orson Welles uses snow falling outside as the cameras look through a window to observe the winter wonderland. This quality is simply astonishing in creative technicality. I can view this scene over and over again.

The plot is a hybrid drama and mystery. The life and legacy of newspaper legend Charles Foster Kane is examined. The character, played by Welles himself, is loosely based on real life figure, William Randolph Hearst. The film is told mainly through narrated flashbacks, as a newsreel reporter attempts to solve the big mystery centered around the deceased celebrity- his dying word, uttered from his lavish Florida mansion, was “rosebud” and nobody seems to know who “rosebud” is or what the word represents.

As the story goes along we begin to learn more about the famous Kane. Jerry Thompson, the reporter, learns that Kane’s childhood in Colorado was one of poverty. His mother, discovering a gold mine on her property, sent Kane away to be educated by a famous banker, thus securing his future. Thompson also interviews Kane’s personal business manager, and Kane’s ex-wife, now a drunk who owns a night club, but neither of them can shed light on the mystery.

The mystery- never solved by Thompson nor anyone else- is revealed at the end of the film, to the viewer only, in fantastic form and Kane’s childhood is key to the entire puzzle. This angle is creative and imaginative and brilliant to the entire film.

Technically, one of the best, most creative film creations, Citizen Kane has lost none of its marvel over the years and can be watched, studied, and introduced to new generations of film lovers eager to learn what a true movie gem is all about.