1940s

A Foreign Affair (1948)

A Foreign Affair 1948

In the aftermath of World War II, American Congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) is sent to Germany to evaluate the morale of American troops still in the area. When she arrives, she comes bearing a homemade chocolate cake for Captain John Pringle (John Lund), a gift from his fiancee. Before long, she’s being whisked off on a tour of the city, during which she’s appalled to see American servicemen cavorting with German women. In fact, when she’s mistaken for a German woman by a couple of  American servicemen, they take her out for drinks at a club where singer Erika von Schluetow (Marlene Dietrich) is performing.

While at the club, Phoebe learns that Erika was reportedly the girlfriend of a prominent Nazi leader who is now being protected by her American soldier boyfriend. She also sees a very familiar-looking cake being passed around the club. Unbeknownst to her, John is Erika’s secret boyfriend and he had traded his cake on the black market for a new mattress for her. Once Phoebe is able to prove Erika had ties to Nazi officials, she orders Erika’s apartment to be monitored constantly to find out who her boyfriend is and, still oblivious to who the person responsible is, assigns John to the task.

Following an awkward encounter outside of Erika’s apartment, in which she confronts John for keeping her waiting while Phoebe watches on, Phoebe drags John along to look up files on Erika. To prevent her from finding Erika’s files, John tries to convince Phoebe he’s in love with her. When he kisses her, she really does fall in love with him and John, still willing to protect Erika, even agrees to marry Phoebe to prevent her from investigating. Meanwhile, Colonel Rufus J. Plummer (Millard Mitchell) is aware of John’s relationship with Erika and wants him to keep seeing her in the hopes she will lead them to other Nazi officials.

From a historical standpoint, A Foreign Affair an absolutely fascinating movie to watch. It’s a movie dealing with Nazis and post-WWII Germany that was written and directed by a man who left Germany when the Nazi Party rose to power, stars an actress who despised the Nazis so much she renounced her German citizenship. It’s a role Dietrich absolutely despised, given how her character’s willingness to associate with known Nazis was in direct conflict with her own views. In fact, there’s a scene where Dietrich wears a gown she wore while performing for American troops during the war. It’s also a movie that was released shortly after the end of the war and was actually filmed in Berlin.

Even without the historical significance, it’s simply a good movie. A Foreign Affair is pure, unadulterated Billy Wilder — full of biting wit, razor-sharp dialogue, and a good amount of cynicism. In addition to Billy Wilder’s brilliant writing and direction, Jean Arthur is perfect as the uptight and repressed Phoebe. Although Dietrich hated this role, she worked very well with Billy Wilder and over 10 years later, he’d direct her again in one of her best performances in Witness for the Prosecution. It’s just a wonderful film. I’ve yet to be completely disappointed by a Billy Wilder movie.

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Thieves’ Highway (1949)

Thieves Highway 1949

After an extended trip away from home, Nick Gracos (Richard Conte) returns home full of optimism for the future. He’s eager to marry his girlfriend Polly (Barbara Lawrence) and looking forward to starting a business with her father. The last thing he expects is to find that his truck driver father has lost his legs after getting on the wrong side of Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb), the corrupt owner of a produce market in San Francisco. Now Nick’s father can’t work, has no money, and had to sell his truck to Ed (Millard Mitchell), who is behind on his payments on it.

After meeting with Ed, Nick decides to put his plans on hold and goes into business with Ed. For their first gig, they transport trucks full of apples to the market in San Francisco that’s owned by Figlia. Despite having truck problems along the way, they make it to the market on time. As soon as Nick gets to the market, he has to deal with Figlia trying to scam him and sabotage his truck. He even hires Rica (Valentina Cortese) to distract Nick while Figlia tries to sabotage him. Since Nick is exhausted, she lets him rest in her apartment, but even though she’s working for Figlia, she begins to have feelings for Nick.

When Figlia tries to shortchange Nick on his apples, Nick successfully gets more money and it seems his first shipment went very well. So well, he asks Polly to come down so they can be married right away, much to Rica’s dismay. She insists that Polly is only after his money. But then some of Figlia’s thugs attack him and steal his money, Nick is left empty handed when Polly does arrive — and she doesn’t stick around long once she finds out he’s broke. But now, Nick is in great danger of losing his life in addition to his money.

Aside from the really forced ending, Thieves’ Highway was a highly enjoyable noir. Exactly the caliber of movie I’ve come to expect from Jules Dassin. It’s not often I use the words “gritty,” “sincere,” “heartfelt” together, but they both apply to Thieves’ Highway. The performances by Lee J. Cobb and Richard Conte absolutely make the movie one worth seeing. Lee J. Cobb was absolutely brilliant as the corrupted to the soul Figlia and Conte was perfectly determined to do right by his father without laying it on too thick. The ending was the only thing I didn’t like about it; it just felt really forced and tacked on.

Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945)

Her Highness and the Bellboy 1945

Jimmy Dobson (Robert Walker) has a humble job working as a bellboy at a swanky hotel. When he’s not working at the hotel, he spends his spare time with his friend and co-worker Albert (Rags Ragland), trying to keep him from getting mixed up with gangsters, and their neighbor Leslie (June Allyson), a former dancer who is now disabled and bedridden. Albert and Jimmy like to cheer Leslie up by taking her up to the roof and telling her stories, but Jimmy is completely unaware that Leslie is in love with him.

When Princess Veronica (Hedy Lamarr) arrives in America, she stays at the hotel where Jimmy works. But when she arrives, she accidentally walks into the employee area, she isn’t recognized by Jimmy, who thinks she’s a new maid. He invites Veronica to join him for a walk in the park and they have a lovely time together, but when they go back to the hotel, Jimmy nearly gets fired for hanging around with such an important guest, but Veronica saves him by arranging for him to be her personal attendant while she’s in town.

As Jimmy and Veronica spend more and more time with each other, they become great friends and Jimmy starts to fall in love with her, much to Leslie’s dismay. But Veronica is really in love with Paul (Warner Anderson), a reporter she had been in love with several years before but ultimately left to marry her now-deceased husband. In fact, the whole reason she’s in America is so she can try to win him back. Paul is still too hurt to give her another chance, but she’s not ready to give up. Meanwhile, due to a misunderstanding, Jimmy ends up thinking Veronica is in love with him, too, and at one point, he does have the chance to go back to her home country with her. But when he goes to say goodbye to Leslie, she has some news for him that makes him change his mind.

Her Highness and the Bellboy is what I like to think of as a great Sunday afternoon movie — it’s not great cinema or anything, but it’s simple, charming, lighthearted entertainment that was never meant to do anything more than make the audience smile at the end. Those are the types of movies that always just feel so perfect to me on a Sunday afternoon, hence why I call them “Sunday afternoon movies.” Sure, it’s predictable and hardly innovative, but that’s not always a bad thing. It’s like cinematic comfort food; it just makes you feel good and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a cute, fluffy little movie with a happy ending, a few laughs, and a great cast. I ended up liking it a lot more than I really expected to, actually, and look forward to watching it again someday.

You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

You Were Never LovelierIn desperate need of work after gambling away all his money, performer Robert Davis (Fred Astaire) goes to ask hotel owner Eduardo Acuna (Adolphe Menjou) for a job. Eduardo is too busy getting ready for his oldest daughter’s wedding, but Robert runs into his old friend Xavier Cugat (as himself), who works at the hotel. Xavier will be working at Eduardo’s wedding and suggests that Robert try to get the boss’s attention by performing with his band during the wedding.

The Acuna family has some odd traditions regarding marriage, the biggest one being that daughters are to be married off in order of their age. With the oldest sister of the family now being married, next in line is Maria (Rita Hayworth), who has no interest in getting married, much to the dismay of her two youngest sisters who are both eager to take a trip down the aisle. At the wedding reception, Robert is immediately smitten with Maria, but his attempt to get close to her doesn’t work out as planned.

Knowing how eager his youngest two daughters are to get married, Eduardo decides to try to change Maria’s ideas about romance by writing phony anonymous love letters and sending flowers to her everyday, in hopes that it will be enough to get her excited about a man. During one of his attempts to get a job working at Eduardo’s hotel, Fred is mistaken for a delivery boy and is sent to deliver a letter and flowers to Maria. But when Maria catches a glimpse of Robert delivering the message, she falls madly in love with him. When Eduardo finds out what’s happened, Eduardo does not approve and he tries to make it worth Robert’s while to end it by offering him a job if he drives Maria away. Despite some mishaps along the way, it turns out you just can’t break up true love.

What a charming movie! You Were Never Lovelier isn’t the best remembered movie of Fred Astaire’s career, nor is it one of Rita Hayworth’s best remembered movies, but it’s a really delightful and funny movie full of spectacular dance numbers. My goodness, did Astaire and Hayworth make amazing dance partners! It’s too bad they only made two movies together because I would have loved to see more musicals with the two of them. The story may be a bit convoluted, but overall, it’s just so darn much fun and entertaining to watch that I can’t help but love it. It’s everything I want when I watch a musical from this era.

Father Takes a Wife (1941)

Father Takes a Wife 1941When Frederic Osborne Senior (Adolphe Menjou), a man who has a reputation for never missing a day at the office, suddenly seems to have lost all interest in his business, his son, Junior (John Howard) is both frustrated and confused as to what’s brought on this sudden change in attitude. One day, Senior comes in and informs Junior he’ll be in charge of running the family business from now on because he’s fallen in love and is getting married.

The woman Senior has fallen madly in love with is Leslie Collier (Gloria Swanson), a famous actress who is planning to give up the stage to marry Senior. But the relationship between Leslie and Senior starts to become strained before they even make it to the altar. When Senior, Junior, and Junior’s wife Enid (Florence Rice) go to see her final performance in her play, Senior becomes extremely jealous of her over-affectionate leading man. Then before the wedding, they squabble over her insistence on continuing to use her maiden name. But they go through with the wedding and head off on their honeymoon cruise.

After they’ve set sail, Leslie and Senior find out Carlos Bardez (Desi Arnaz) has been found as a stowaway. Senior allows him to stay, and it turns out Carlos has been a successful singer in other countries and Leslie wants to help him launch his career in America. She becomes his impresario and Senior becomes extremely jealous of all the attention Carlos is getting from Leslie. It nearly drives Leslie and Senior to divorce, but when Junior and Enid try to help, Carlos ends up nearly driving them apart, too. Can Junior and Senior save their marriages and get Carlos out of the picture?

Father Takes a Wife is cute, but not remarkable. Adolphe Menjou has some nice comedic moments and Gloria Swanson isn’t bad in it, but the story falls flat. On the surface, the story sounded like it might have potential, but even with the decent amount of talent involved, Father Takes a Wife just doesn’t measure up. As a Gloria Swanson fan, I thought it was somewhat interesting mostly because it gave me a chance to see her in something that came after her silent films and before Sunset Blvd.; she didn’t make too many movies during that time frame. If you’re a particularly big fan of Swanson, Menjou, or Arnaz, you might want to give it a shot, but otherwise, you’re not missing much.

In This Our Life (1942)

In This Our Life 1942

Sisters Stanley (Bette Davis) and Roy Timberlake (Olivia de Havilland) both come from a prominent family, but lead very different lives. Roy is the more humble and sensible sister and is married to Peter (Dennis Morgan) while Stanley is very selfish and is much more wild than Roy. Stanley isn’t a particularly likable person, but her uncle William (Charles Coburn) adores her and loves giving her expensive gifts and foots the bill for her reckless lifestyle. Stanley is engaged to Craig (George Brent), a lawyer, but the night before they are to be married, Roy runs off with Peter, marries him, and they leave for Baltimore.

Roy isn’t one to wallow in self-pity so she gladly divorces Peter and channels her energies into her work. One day, she runs into Craig and the two of them hit it off and start seeing each other. Craig is a very good man; an honest lawyer and even gives a job to Parry Clay (Ernest Anderson), the son of the Timberlake family’s maid Minerva (Hattie McDaniel), so he can put himself through law school. Meanwhile, Roy and Peter’s marriage is a complete disaster. Roy is still incredibly selfish and Peter doesn’t approve of her spending habits; they’re both completely miserable. Eventually, it drives Peter to kill himself, just as Roy and Craig decide to get married.

Stanley comes back home and it isn’t long before she’s bored and wants to leave. However, she needs money to leave and she can’t get it from her father or her uncle, so she tries talking to Craig to see about getting money from Paul’s insurance policy early. She invites him to come join her for dinner one night and when he stands her up, she gets raging drunk and tries to drive home. Along the way, she hits a child, who dies. Stanley’s car is pretty recognizable to people around town so it isn’t long before the police come to see her. Desperate to avoid accepting responsibility, Stanley tries to pin it all on Parry, but she doesn’t realize how protective Roy is of Troy.

In This Our Life is a really overlooked movie. With lesser stars and a lesser director, it easily could have become a completely forgotten film. But Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland are both so perfect for their roles in it, plus the supporting cast is fantastic, as is John Huston’s direction. Together, they all took what easily could have been a mid-rate melodrama and made it something memorable. Stanley is exactly the type of character Bette Davis reveled in playing and Olivia de Havilland made the perfect calm, yet strong, contrast to Davis. If you’re a fan of Davis or de Havilland, there’s a lot to love about this movie. In This Our Life is also very noteworthy for having a rather progressive representation of African-American characters, which is indeed refreshing to see in a 1940s-era film. Definitely keep an eye out for this on the TCM lineup; it’s well worth a watch.

One Set, Two Movies: Holiday Inn (1942) and White Christmas (1954)

Holiday Inn White Christmas

The movies Holiday Inn (1942) and White Christmas (1954) have much in common. Both movies are Christmas classics, Bing Crosby stars in both movies, both movies are musicals, and both movies feature songs by Irving Berlin, most notably the song “White Christmas.” But according to IMDB, the movies have even more in common than that. According to IMDB, the set for General Waverly’s inn in White Christmas used a remodeled version of the set used for the inn in Holiday Inn. So I took a close look at both movies to see how the sets compared.

When I set out to write this post, I was hoping to have a longer list of similarities to point out, but upon close inspection, it became clear the Holiday Inn set was indeed remodeled for White Christmas, and quite extensively at that. The two inns have very different layouts and several elements seen in White Christmas, such as the indoor fire pit where Judy and Phil can be seen roasting hot dogs and the dining/floor show areawere not part of the original Holiday Inn set.

White Christmas Roasting Hot DogsWhite Christmas Performance Area

One thing both inns have in common is they both have entrances right by the main stairway. However, the two entry areas are so different I’m not sure how much, if any, of it was part of the original Holiday Inn set. The only thing the two entrances have in common is they both have similar windows. The floors are different, the staircases are very different, and the front desk area was added for White Christmas.

Holiday Inn Entrance 1 Holiday Inn Entrance 2 White Christmas Entrance 1 White Christmas Entrance 2

The fact that the two inns have similarly shaped windows is one of the biggest similarities between the two sets. However, even those aren’t exactly the same between the two movies.

Holiday Inn WindowsWhite Christmas Windows

Despite there being so many differences between the two sets, there is one area that is unmistakably part of the original Holiday Inn set. These three distinctive windows, which were originally seen in the area by the piano where Bing Crosby first sang “White Christmas” in Holiday Inn, are also briefly seen in White Christmas when the cast members are having their party and Judy and Phil announce their engagement. The rest of the area had been pretty drastically changed for White Christmas. As you can see, the door was removed, as was the fireplace, and an entryway to another room was created. Those windows, however, look almost exactly as the same in White Christmas as they did in Holiday Inn. The only difference I can see is there was some moulding around them in Holiday Inn which was removed for White Christmas.

Holiday Inn Windows White Christmas Party Scene