40s Quadruple Bill

Been catching up on a few Golden Oldies from the....well....Golden Age of Hollywood, I suppose. Here's four from the forties.

In Unfaithfully Yours (Preston Sturges, 1948), a famous composer (Rex Harrison) suspects his wife (Linda Darnell) of having an affair and plots revenge. However, that's easier imagined than done, and it's the word 'imagined' that's key to the playful presentation of the story. This was a big flop on original release, before it was re-appraised as a Sturges classic, but actually it belongs somewhere between those two poles. It generates some blackly comic mileage from contrasting the imagined and real attempts of a husband to take revenge on his wife for cheating - Harrison's attempt to use an apparently simple recording machine is a very funny highlight. However, it's a rather uneven affair, taking an age to get going and rather unsure of its moral compass. On the plus side, Darnell pouts magnificently and Max from Hart to Hart is in it. "These guys are moider!"

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Elia Kazan, 1945) is a heartfelt adaptation of Betty Smith's coming-of-age story about a young girl growing up in a poor Brooklyn family in the early 20th century. Kazan's direction is assured and economical, but it's the performances here that really sell the story. Johnny Dunn won an Oscar as for his performance as the alcoholic father, whose endlessly optimistic demeanour hides a sadness at his inability to provide for his family. Opposite him, Dorothy Maguire is equally good as the proud, practically-minded mother, who is pulled in several different directions as she attempts to keep her family together. But it's a wonderful turn from 13-year old Peggy Ann Garner which tugs on the heartstrings most, playing the young girl on the cusp of adolescence who must grow up (too) fast. Her adoration of her father and burgeoning love for her mother is both touching and convincing (a scene toward the end when she receives some flowers had me muttering about something in my eye), and she was a deserving recipient of a juvenile Academy Award for her performance. It may be a bit episodic, and there's a couple of over-egged moments, but it's a moving film and a quietly life-affirming celebration of the human spirit and the decency of people.

From lowly beginnings in Hollywood's 'Poverty Row', Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945) has risen to the status of B-movie film noir classic, praised for distilling the essence of the genre into a mere 68 minutes. Indeed, if Detour were a character in a noir thriller, it would be the one with the seemingly inconsequential role, which turns out to be more important than first thought. Thing is, if I was watching such a thriller, I wouldn't be too convinced by Detour's performance. Yes, it's impressively bleak and atmospheric, but its low-budget and 6-day shoot mean technical errors abound, its unknown stars presumably never became....er....known because they aren't very memorable, and it's only 68 mins because the story is so disappointingly slight. Worth a look for curiosity value, but not worth going out of your way for.

Now Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942) has a big reputation as both a classic romantic drama and a key 'woman's picture' from the 40s. However, it's a good job Bette Davis has such a screen presence because she pretty much single-handedly elevates what is really a baggy, soapy melodrama into something a bit more memorable with her commanding performance as the repressed spinster who blossoms into a strong, confident woman. She's the main reason to see this, although I should also give a special shout-out for Paul Henreid and his super-smooth double cigarette move, which would surely melt the heart of any woman, even in these health-conscious days. In fact, I'm off to put on my suit and natty trilby and try it out now.

Take note, men : the way to any woman's heart


  1. Anonymous30/11/14

    ive never seen a Bette Davis film. Is there anything special or remarkable about her eyes?????

  2. They are quite bright and sparkly. Then again, that might just be her eyes watering from all the cigarette smoke