Category Archives: 1940 Movie reviews

Night Train to Munich-1940

Night Train to Munich-1940

Director-Carol Reed

Starring-Margaret Lockwood, Rex Harrison

Scott’s Review #855

Reviewed January 9, 2019

Grade: B

Night Train to Munich (1940) is a taut war thriller unique in the subject matter of World War II made before the war became full-blown and all the horrors not known. The film has a measure of tie-in with The Lady Vanishes (1938), an Alfred Hitchcock project with familiar crossover characters. The final thirty minutes of the film are spectacular in excitement and chase scenes, but the overly complex plot takes way too long to take-off, leaving me underwhelmed and bored through most of the experience.

In March 1939 a Czechoslovakian scientist, Axel (James Harcourt) is wanted for questioning by the German Gestapo. Residing in Britain, they accost his daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood) and throw her in a concentration camp. She meets fellow prisoner and assumed ally Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid) who escapes with her to the safety of London. He is revealed to be a Gestapo agent assigned to gain her trust and question her father. Finally, Anna meets undercover British intelligence officer Dickie Randall (Rex Harrison) who poses as a Nazi officer to take Anna and her father to safety.

The first forty-five minutes to an hour of Night Train to Munich is slow moving with a complicated and rather uninteresting plot. I am all for slow moving films provided the setup is there and the elements align properly. I felt shammed since the cover art and title of the film suggest a more robust experience and I found myself continuing to ask, “Where is the train?” and “Where is the mountainous terrain and ski lift?” as pictured.  These elements finally do arrive, but the wait is longer than necessary.

The fact that Karl and Dickie are similar in physical appearance and are both undercover make the average viewer a bit confused. Plus, it takes a while to realize who is playing for whose team and since the film is related to The Lady Vanishes I expected a bit more of the suspense and intrigue commonplace with a Hitchcock telling. The core of the film is mediocre.

Yet the above criticisms can be almost forgiven when events kick into high gear and Night Train to Munich becomes an entirely different film. A riveting train ride bring enormous treats and intrigue as Dickie, Anna, and Axel attempt to outwit Karl and escape before their train arrives in Munich. The fun becomes the cat and mouse game between the group when a secret note is hidden under a doughnut as they sip tea together and feign pleasantries in one of the film’s best scenes.

The ravishing mountaintop finale is breathtaking when Dickie attempts to transport everyone via a ski lift from Germany to the safety of Switzerland over perilously high mountains.  The suspense reaches a boiling point when Karl and the Gestapo are hot on his heels. As a wild shootout commences we know not whether those on the lift will be saved. A pot boiler reaches a shocking crescendo as the seconds tick by. For 1940 the sets and effects are remarkably impressive and believable rather than silly or staged.

Introduced in the final segment are humorous characters from another film, The Lady Vanishes. A late entry into the story, nonetheless they breathe life into the script making it as suspenseful as much as a yarn. British gentlemen Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Charters (Basil Radford) add humor and sophisticated wit as they aid the group’s successful escape. I wondered if the pair were gay since the men appeared in The Lady Vanishes, and the esteemed director known for slyly adding discreet LGBT characters into his pictures.

Slightly above a middling affair Night Train to Munich (1940) has impressive moments and a startlingly good ending worth the price of admission. The main portion of the film feels tired and overlong with not enough gravy to keep viewers caring for very long. An interesting double feature would be to watch thus film side by side with The Lady Vanishes for similar concepts and theme.

The Grapes of Wrath-1940

The Grapes of Wrath-1940

Director-John Ford

Starring-Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell

Scott’s Review #828

Reviewed November 8, 2018

Grade: A

Based on the famous novel written by John Steinbeck and released only one year prior to the film, The Grapes of Wrath (1940) is a superlative offering by director John Ford, known mostly for western. The work accurately depicts life for the struggling American family during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. With gorgeous cinematography and a sad yet poignant story, the film is a must-see and a timeless depiction of the perils of life in the United States for working-class people.

Set on the vast plains of Oklahoma, the Joad family has run a successful farm and lived as a thriving family unit for decades- an extended group enjoying their lives.  When the United States suffers from a depression, the Joad’s lives are turned upside down and they are forced to sell their farm. They decide to traverse the countryside in hopes of the promise of profitable jobs and wealth in far-away California. The Grapes of Wrath depicts the families journey as hardship and deaths occur.

When the film was released in 1940 many studios were not interested in bringing the story to the big screen as aspects were deemed too left-leaning for conservative types. The social issues the film delves into are still incredibly relevant today and Ford wisely dissects not only the poverty that the Joad family suffers, but the psychological trauma and ruination they must endure. What a devastating effect this must have had on families.

The casting is spot-on. A young Henry Fonda was merely an upstart actor in 1940 and successfully exudes a rich, passionate performance as Tom. Plenty of close-up shots reveal the quiet pain and desperation the young man feels and the humiliation at having lost his livelihood. Fonda shares poignant chemistry with the preacher character, Jim Casy (John Carradine), who once was filled with glory and has now lost his spirit and his belief in goodness.

Jane Darwell, a famous character-actress, gives a treasured performance as the family matriarch, Ma Joad. The actress won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, deservedly so, as she relays a haggard woman wanting only the best for her family and attempting to hold them together. Her determined final speech at the film’s conclusion is teary and meaningful as she utters, “We’re the people… We’ll go on forever.” Speaking of Oscars, Ford also won for Best Director.

The film sees no age, but rather endures as a timeless journey alongside the Joad family. Sticking very close to Steinbeck’s novel, the story is modified in an important way. Perhaps to please studio financiers or simply to provide a more hopeful message, the Joad’s are left with a positive future thanks to a government-run camp where they finally live. In the novel they reside at the camp first but later are ultimately reduced to starvation wages.

A monumental scene is when the family drives their battered vehicle to a squatter’s camp for needed shelter. The scene is shot documentary style with the camera focusing both on the Joad’s and on the faces of the occupants of the run-down and filthy shacks that they are forced to live in. We wonder with sadness what the lives of these unfortunate people were like before the Depression.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940) was quite the humanistic cinematic masterpiece when it was released. Forging into a new decade plagued by a terrible war and other worldly problems, it reminisced about a previous decade also fraught with different types of problems. The film is one for the ages and should be appreciated by all.

Pinocchio-1940

Pinocchio-1940

Director-Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske

Voices-Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones

Scott’s Review #723

Reviewed February 1, 2018

Grade: B+

As a follow-up to the marvelous 1937 Walt Disney production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1940’s Pinocchio is a darling tale  of a wooden puppets longing to become a real boy. The film is vastly different from its predecessor in that the protagonist is male and the thematic elements are Italian (based on an Italian children’s novel), but similarly, Pinocchio is a touching experience and is magical and whimsical, telling a humanistic story about wishes and dreams coming true.

As narrated by a fantastic, cheerful little insect named Jiminy Cricket, an elderly wood-carver, Geppetto, creates a wooden puppet named Pinocchio and wishes upon a star for the puppet to be turned into a little boy. A mysterious, yet lovely Blue Fairy arrives one night and tells Pinocchio that he must be brave and truthful for the desired effect to occur- Jiminy serves as his conscience. Throughout the remainder of the film  Pinocchio’s morals are tested by unsavory characters, who attempt to steer him down a dark path.

Certainly Pinocchio is intended as a message film to little boys and girls everywhere regarding the importance of being honest and truthful, but with some comic elements mixed in so as to not make the experience too dark or scary. This is evidenced by the , by now legendary, way in which Pinocchio’s nose grows longer with each fib that he tells.  What a valuable lesson the film preaches, and is a main reason the adorable story holds up so well in present times. Some values never go out of flavor.

In wonderful Disney form, Pinocchio features an emotional, tearjerker of a scene towards the end of the film as Geppetto mourns the loss of his son.  The scene is sweet, touching, and will fill even the hardest of hearts with feeling- regardless of age. In this way Pinocchio becomes even more of a timeless treasure, and is a film that the entire family, generations upon generations, can enjoy together. Films of this nature are so important as a bonding form.

Enough praise cannot be given to the incredibly effective theme song of Pinocchio, “When You Wish Upon A Star”, belted out by Jiminy Crickett. The resounding tune is as emotional as it is timeless and bold, belted out at just the ideal time during the film and is still identified with the legendary film. In fact, over the years the song has come to be identified with the Walt Disney company itself.

One slight oddity of the film is how Geppetto- clearly at the grandfather age- is the father of a young boy, which perhaps in 1940 might be perceived as sweet, but in 2018 may be perceived as a bit creepy or at least unusual. Still, this is a minor flaw and easily overlooked. In fact, I have come to assume Geppetto serves as the grandfather in the story.

For those in the mood for a charming, classic animated Disney picture, 1940’s Pinocchio is a mesmerizing and creative experience, and at its core is a timeless benevolent lesson in goodness and purity. Artistically filmed and told, Pinocchio is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age or gender.

Fantasia-1940

Fantasia-1940

Director-James Algar, Various

Starring-Leopold Stokowski, Walt Disney

Scott’s Review #544

Reviewed December 11, 2016

Grade: B+

Before viewing this 1940 gem by Walt Disney, I was naive to knowing exactly what Fantasia was about- certainly, I had heard of it and knew it was an animated production, but was also mystified by it. Now embarrassed, I realize what a creative treat I missed out on. Better late than never.

I expected a Walt Disney animated story along the lines of Snow White or Pinocchio, but I was sorely mistaken by this assumption. While the film took me a bit to get into, it is a marvel and quite extravagant. The mixing of classical pieces and animated story is brilliant and is visually amazing. There are eight pieces in total, all with stories to tell.

Animated films are not typically my genre of choice, but this one impressed me quite a bit, if nothing more than the imagination involved. A Fantasia reboot emerged in 2000.

Rebecca-1940

Rebecca-1940

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine

Top 100 Films-#63

Scott’s Review #345

895272

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

The only Alfred Hitchcock film to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar trophy, Rebecca is a very early offering in the famous director’s repertoire. His heyday being well ahead of this film (the 1950’s and 1960’s saw his best works), Rebecca is a blueprint of fine things to come and on its own merits is a great film. Shot in black and white, the film is a descent into mystery, intrigue, and madness, with a gothic look to it.

Laurence Olivier stars as rich widower Maxim de Winter, whose first wife, title character Rebecca, has died some time before the story begins. In a clever twist, the character of Rebecca is never seen, but takes on a life of her own through the tellings of the rest of the cast. Joan Fontaine plays a nameless, naïve young woman who meets the sophisticated Maxim and marries him, becoming the new Mrs. de Winter. This development is met with disdain by the servants who work in the grand de Winter mansion, named Manderley, a character in its own right.

Housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) in particular, is cold and distant from Maxim’s new wife, and begins to reveal an obsession with the deceased Rebecca, creating jealousy and intimidation for Fontaine’s character- so much so, that, she begins to doubt her sanity and decision making capabilities.

Rebecca is a fantastic, old style film, that provides layers of mystery and wonderment thanks to Hitchcock’s direction. The mansion that is Manderley is central to the story as is the obsession that creepy Mrs. Danvers has with Rebecca. She keeps the dead woman’s bedroom neat and tidy, a sort of shrine to her memory, so much so that, despite the time the film is made, 1940, a lesbian element is crystal clear to attention paying audiences. This aspect may have not been noticed at the time, but in more recent times, this is quite obvious.

The film is also a ghost story of sorts since the central character, Rebecca, is never seen. Could she be haunting the mansion? Is she actually dead or is this a red herring, created to throw the audience off the track? Is the new Mrs. de Winter spiraling out of control? Is she imagining the servants menacing actions? Is Maxim in on the torment or simply seeking a replacement wife to his true love? The pertinent questions not only are asked of the character, but of the audience themselves as they watch with bated breath.

The climax and finale to Rebecca is fantastic. As the arguably haunted mansion is engulfed in flames and the sinister Mrs. Danvers can be seen lurking near the raging drapes, the truth comes to the surface leaving a memorable haunting feeling to audiences watching. Rebecca is a true classic.