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G.I. War Brides (1946)
Things could not ever be the same
There are two major cultural ideas that come from this post-World War Two film: one, that pre-war ideas would still prevail after the war;and, two, that many marriages during the war were mistakes. One the first point, pre-war ideas did not simply return for America after the war was a modern industrial society which had cast off its Great Depression woes. On the second point, documents indicate that the divorce rate after the war was the highest in United States history, thereby indicating that many marriages were indeed ill advised. In effect, both points emphasize the in 1946 it was becoming obvious that things were not and that things could not ever be the same.
Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942)
Well worth seeing and preserving
Although another of the "common folk against Nazi invasion and occupation" films, this one is better than most. The acting on all levels ranges from good to superior. The plot is complete and dynamic, and the technical elements, like music and setting, are extremely good. Amazingly, the accomplishments of Norway's underground during World War Two are more dramatic than those portrayed in the film. In addition to sabotage, the underground was able to cross and recross the Swedish border, many times to save Nordic Jews. In this instance, reality exceeds the fictional world of the movie industry. This is a well written dramatic film, well worth seeing and preserving!
Flight Lieutenant (1942)
Sam Doyle (Pat O'Brien), discredited pilot, has a son who becomes a test pilot for the United States Army Air Corps, just prior to World War Two. What must Sam do to regain his former respectability, both in his son's opinion and that of the military?
Once Upon a Time (1944)
Fantasy is the real star
A truly happy film produced in the middle of World War Two. The fantasy of the caterpillar which turns into a butterfly is well-worn, yet always popular. To a large degree, the war is ignored, yet due to the pervasive nature of long-term world conflict, some allusions to the conflict are noted. Especially pointed is the crew of the B-17 bomber who name their plane "Curly" after the caterpillar. They highlight the event with: "I've been in London, Chun King, and Malta and saw kids dodge bombs to try to save some mangey dog." Why not save a dancing caterpillar? The remarkable thing about this film is how many times one sees the caterpillar. Curly the caterpillar is a welcomed respite from the drudgery of prolonged war. Even with one hundred and fifteen credited actors, in this movie fantasy is the real star.
Eyes in the Night (1942)
Everyone needed for the war effort
Overcoming the fears connected with World War Two was indeed difficult for citizens who were not physically challenged. For those who were, it must have added yet another burden. Duncan Maclain (Edward Arnold) as a detective who is visually challenged leaves no doubt that he will indeed solve the a murder and uncover a Nazi plot. The only real mystery is how he will go about doing it. There is little question in this film that the Nazi spy ring is more of a threat to America than is the murder; in fact, the film could probably do well simply confronting the Nazi threat. The message is clear. If someone who cannot see can aid in the war effort, so can others. So much the better if one had Friday (his dog) to help in the attempt. In a word, Americans in 1942 were beginning to understand what the British had already learned, that, sooner or later, everyone would be needed for the war effort.
Espionage Agent (1939)
There is little doubt in this film that World War II is about to begin. In fact, it was released just twenty-one days after the invasion of Poland by German forces and was in production long before. Scare tactics aside, the movie reveals real fears during the months preceding the war. Spies, counterspies, terror, suspicions, and other prologues to war gave ample warning of renewed global conflict. This movie reflects that warning.Viewing this film leads one to wonder, given the ample clues, how the war could surprise anyone.
The terror of it all.
Seldom does a film capture the tone of the moment of significant historical events. This movie indeed does. One of the most dramatic events of World War Two was the counter attack by the Soviet troops against the Nazi invaders. The power of it all is beyond comparison to this very day. This film gives the audience a good account of the action, the drama, and the sense of just how far the Russians would go to drive the German army from its land. Paul Muni is extraordinary, and his acting gives meaning to the theme of this film that "there is no such word as impossible." In this movie, the heroic revenge of the Russians is exceeded only by the terror of it all.
Thousands Cheer (1943)
If only temporarily...
Rats! Not only are the numerous actors and actresses good looking they are also talented. Gene Kelly's dance with a broom is as good as anything he ever did on film. But the World War Two message of this movie is that talent and good looks are not enough to win a war, one must also have high moral character. Bad boy Kelly says that he can get himself into trouble and that he can find his way out of trouble--but can he? There are some great Vaudeville lines that keep one amused while Kelly is trying to find out what a good soldier should be. For example, the doctor says he "only did appendix operations on the side" and that he did grafting "only because his salary was so small." The movie is great fun at a time in United States history when there was not much to laugh about. Song and dance does take the edge off war, if only temporarily.
One can always find a place to die.
The explicit message in this film is that in 1943 every American should sacrifice for the World War Two war effort. A small group of troops defending a bridge against the Japanese army is symbolic of the actual attempt to delay Japanese victory as long as possible--time as a weapon, according to the prologue. Yet, action war movies do not operate on logic, and some of the delaying tactics are highly unlikely. The rebuilding of an old plane while under attack Japanese attack is just one example of the illogic of Hollywood. In one sense, this film is little more than the Alamo replayed, this time in the Pacific instead of Texas. Still, the movie qualifies as a good propaganda film for the Homefront, especially since American forces were suffering their greatest defeats in the history of the Republic about the time of the fall of Bataan. Hollywood cannot turn defeat into victory, but it can claim, and does in this film, that the course of history was changed by the heroic defenders of Bataan. Like the Alamo, it does not "matter where a man dies as long as he dies for freedom." In war, one can always find a place to die.
Who dunit? Who cares?
This is a below average "whodunit" with the cliche everyone in the living room routine. Charlie Chan is a Secret Service Agent doing government work, and he must find who killed a scientist working on a bomb to defeat German U-boats in World War Two. There is little to recommend with this movie, since the neither the bomb nor the scientist nor the war have much to do with the plot. Charlie Chan fans will most likely find this movie disappointing. Who dunit? Who cares?
Great Guns (1941)
Timing is everything
In one respect, this is Laurel and Hardy's best movie, particularly in terms of comic timing. No longer are there silent era delays in the action and no longer are there long set-ups before the comic act. In this film, the comic timing is quick and precise. A 1941 release before the attack on Pearl Harbor (by only two months), this is another of the pro-Army non-specific enemy movies. War had not yet been declared by the United States. However, the draft had been operational in expectation of war in both Europe and the South Pacific. What this film does is to try to illustrate that the draft was fair and equitable, and that the rich were also being called to serve. The movie suggests that the Army was a relatively nice place to be, as Dan Forester (the rich boy) says: "I like the Army more and more each day." Stan and Ollie had joined to protect Dan from the pitfalls of Army life, but who is to protect them from themselves? All in all, it's a funny movie, especially the "first breakfast in the mess hall" scene and the "wrong side of the target range" scene. In war and comedy, timing is indeed everything.
A Yank on the Burma Road (1942)
New York was never like this...
A New York City cabby gets to lead a caravan of medical supplies up the Burma Road to Chungking for the Chinese Five Brothers Society. History testifies that more than medicine was delivered by these runs, most likely fuel and ammunition were common. However, the American role in World War Two China was not clearly defined until the Declaration of War on Japan in December of 1941, so, like the Flying Tigers, the convoys were, until then, sort of official-unofficial adventures. At face value, at least, this film claims humanitarian ends. Cabby Joe Tracey must negotiate dangerous mountain roads during a gasoline shortage, and deal with a determined Laraine Day as well. Can he survive it all? One thing is certain: New York was never like this.
Star Spangled Rhythm (1942)
An uneven ride
At best, 1942 was a year of confusion because of World War Two. Perhaps that is why the movie is uneven. The movie was released before the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which drew the United States into the war as a legal active participant. The purpose of this film seems two-fold: to entertain in time of war and to provide Paramount with a opportunity to do its part in the war effort in public. There are some extraordinary scenes, such as the dance number in the aircraft plant and Betty Hutton's singing during a jeep ride. In general, however, the movie promises more than it delivers, and the scene with Bing Crosby singing of "Old Glory" in front of Mount Rushmore (with a patriotic chorus) is simply too jingoistic. One bright result is the Bracken-Hutton screen relationship in this movie which blossomed into very good comedy in a later film, "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek."
A frightening prophecy
There were plenty of early warnings of the horrors of another land war in Europe after World War One. Indeed, World War Two was to be avoided at all costs, yet this became impossible. Particularly evil was the war waged against civilians who cared little about politics and even less about military tactics. Yet, some 63,000,000 people were victims during the war, most of them civilians. This movie is a fictional account of one woman who must confront death because she was accused of treason by the Nazis for selling a house. The conflict is driven by the possibility of rescue by her son from America, and the suspense becomes overpowering. Unfortunately, her plight is a symbol of a historical reality from which the civilized nations have not yet recovered. For reference, this movie was released just one year after the fall of Poland and one year and a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. In terms of terrorizing civilians, this film was indeed a frightening prophecy.
The Thin Man Goes Home (1944)
A touch of civility
This film was released in January 1945, and the "home by Christmas" hope had not been fulfilled in regard to the end of World War Two in the European Theatre of Operations. Victory in the Pacific was still further away. Yet, that the war would end soon was a common expectation. Therein lies the attraction of this movie, especially noticeable in what one might consider "light" propaganda. To comment on the war was almost an obligation, to do so in the face of certain victory was almost a formality. Nick Charles is in his home town investigating espionage, and his wife Nora wants to help. Can they collaborate and solve the mystery? William Powell as Nick is typically flip and egotistical. Myrna Loy as Nora is delightful. How these two manage do so well is their sophisticated comedies is one of the pleasures of their film partnership. Even some of the stock lines sound funny, and even some of the weak plots can be overlooked. Their acting seems always to the point and the scripts keep one guessing. Near the end of a dreary war, their humor provided a touch of civility to a maddened world.
So Proudly We Hail! (1943)
Everyone's war, everyone's peace.
It is much too easy to fall into the post-World War Two media trap that the war was a man's war, and that women were just incidental to the effort. Thank goodness there are movies like this to remind Americans that the war was a total effort by almost everyone. In a real sense, women have not yet received full honor for their contribution to the war effort, whether they were ferrying planes, tending wounded, of carrying intelligence. In this film, one finds the horrors of war go beyond the battle lines into the minds of those who faced the reality of a world weary and frightened of war. This movie is also a reminder that most Americans during the war saw the fall of Bataan and the Phillippines as the major tragedy of the time. Pearl Harbor was frightening enough, but the very magnitude of defeat in the Pacific brought home the reality that there would be more casualties--if they could get off the island. It is difficult to find a Colbert movie of this period where she did not excel as a actress. This movie is no exception, she is extraordinary. Also, the evacuation scene is spectacular. If this movie did not inspire the Homefront to greater effort, what could? World War Two was everyone's war, and the peace would be everyone's peace.
The Sky's the Limit (1943)
Answering the call to duty
Another of the many World War Two films which was intended to demonstrate that everyone had to answer the call to duty, even the wealthy. This one contains characters who find themselves in glamorous places with clever lines and works of classical art. They are into champagne and penthouses, and mandatory dance scenes on ballroom size terraces. There is, and can be, only one star in this film: Fred Astaire. The finest part is his song and dance routine, "One For The Road." This scene is a classic movie moment of which one never tires. When it comes to dancing, the sky is indeed the limit.
Follow the Boys (1944)
"Close your eyes and I'll be there"
It is difficult in the modern world of mega-entertainment to comprehend how little was available in 1944, especially for troops stationed in remote regions, at least if movies made during World War Two are any testimony. This movie is loaded with talent, singing what the "boys" wanted to hear. The plot is typical of USO movies, lots of entertaining and lots of appreciation. Dinah Shore's "I Promise You" and the Andrew Sisters' "Apple Blossom Time" must have put many minds at ease, at least for a short time. The film is worth seeing, especially when George Raft dances in the rain.
Test Pilot (1938)
Testing for World War Two
This film is essentially about testing planes for the war that anyone who even had a passing interest in international affairs knew was unavoidable, World War Two. The plot deals with the experimental phase of flying military equipment, of which the United States had inferior quality and little quantity in 1938. In the interest of progress, test pilots were willing to take to the air and strain both themselves and their equipment beyond normal bounds. The mythology is enhanced by the prologue in terms of the lack of the publication of "the specifications of government aircraft." It is probably just as well since America's enemies generally had better aircraft before the American involvement, except perhaps for the C-47 and the B-17. This initial disclaimer only sharpens the fiction of the film. The movie is worth a look if one is even mildly interested in aircraft lore.
A Western in the East
No doubt things were confusing at the onset of World War Two, especially with one American defeat after another, yet political confusion is no reason to move Dodge City to Pennsylvania and call it Pittsburgh. This movie is a warmed-over western, pure and simple. All the ingredients of a formula plot are incorporated, including the ambition, the fist fight and the rich "cowgirl." The themes of redemption for the good of the nation and cooperation in steel production define the conversion of steel plants during the war. The only real question is whether an overly ambitious industrialist (John Wayne) can be corralled for the benefit of the nation, of labour, and of the company itself. The acting is fairly stiff and the plot predictable. One expects more from the film, but it just doesn't happen. Redemption is a common salvation for overly selfish industrialist, but there is little that can redeem this movie--it seems to be a remake of a remake of a remake. For anyone who likes westerns, this movie is ideal. How often does one find a western in the East?
Arise, My Love (1940)
And spite the envious moon!
In the final analysis, a film is about cinematography. From the very beginning at the Spanish prison, extraordinary cinematography is used to an exceptional degree, and it continues through the film. There are minor exceptions, as with the file film of airplanes flying. More importantly, the film claims the obvious: The Spanish government in 1939 had more than casual leanings toward Berlin. The bombing of Guernica by the Nazi air force is testimony, here reinforced. Tom Martin (Ray Millard) says he had a pet rat in his jail cell named "Adolph." Spain's neutrality during World War Two is in question with Paramount Pictures, as it was in diplomatic circles. Of course, a 1940 movie about event of 1939 has the advantage of historical retrospect, yet the public actions of the Spanish government stand. Claudette Colbert as Agusta Nash is the career woman whose career comes before love, who puts her career before all. Her assignment as Special Berlin Correspondent is to tell of Hitler and his gang. A series of unpredictable events leads her to redefine her sense of patriotism. There are, in effect, many loves which must arise and spite the envious moon. Cinematography, historical theme, and some darn good acting all unite for an effective historical perspective on life at the beginnings of World War Two.
Thrill of a Romance (1945)
More romantic than thrilling
It is difficult to discern the main theme of this film because the script is in itself confusing. Most likely it has to do with the extraordinary number of hasty marriages which took place in America during World War Two. The problems surrounding such marriages seemed insurmountable. For example, need marriages of convenience be honored as Cynthia Glenn (Esther Williams) attempts to do when her husband goes to Washington for a week-long meeting during their Honeymoon? Tens of thousands of real life soldiers did in fact leave their new wives shortly after the ceremony, many times leaving unresolved domestic problems as well. Cynthia, a swimming instructor, falls in love with a Major Milvaine (Van Johnson) the non-swimmer, and the complication begins. The value of this film is that a Homefront problem is addressed within the frame of fairly good acting by both Johnson and Williams. Can Cynthia keep swimming with the Major without sinking her marriage?
Son of Lassie (1945)
Boy loves dog, dog loves boy.
This is a fine movie for animal lovers, for it is far more that the usual canine showcase. It is an exceptionally well made film in terms of technical excellence. The dialogue is always appropriate, the cinematography is very good, and the color is flawless. As the movie progresses the symbiotic relationship between Joe (Peter Lawford) and Laddie (son of a Lassie) enhances both roles. The cultural setting is that of World War Two, and Laddie experiences the full range of wartime threats, from being bombed to being captured, and so on. The supporting actors are good beyond expectation, and the topography of Norway (even though the movie was filmed in Canada) is precise. What is particularly unique about this film is that Laddie is not portrayed as a human in dog's clothing. Laddie is a dog that does what dogs do, both rightly and wrongly. One wonders how many children in the post-war era better understood war and its dangers after seeing this film. There must have been many. Bottom line: Lawford is better as a member of the dog pack that he ever was as one of the rat pack. This movie should not be missed!
The Scarlet Clue (1945)
This is a typical Charlie Chan movie, wherein the World War Two spying angle is not a factor in the plot but simply period window dressing. Stolen radar plans and German spies are also a thematic nonfactor in 1945. Radar was no longer a secret and Germany was a weaken Axis power at this time in World War Two. There are some interesting scenes in the movie, however. The building in which the murders occur is both a radio station and an experimental television station. (Now there's a better secret!) There is an amusing television skit call the "Dance of the Spirits" in which Willy Rand (Jack Norton) performs as a drunken party goer. Unfortunately, the character dies immediately after the skit. "The Scarlet Clue" died much earlier.
They Got Me Covered (1943)
Funny lines about a not so funny topic
Bob Hope's comedy seems always funny, and this satire is funnier yet. Spies and secret foreign agents have the run of Washington. This movie is best described as Hope meets Axis spies, while Dorthory Lamour laments that the "dreadful Nazi" is responsible for the perfume shortage. The movie is replete with comic dialogue which the war weary audiences on the Homefront during World War Two must have found refreshing. Hope's best line in this one (about Lamour): "She must work the swing shift." Lamour's best line (to Hope): "Bet a new tire?"