Tuesday, May 22, 2012

1937 Response

I don't really have anything great or insightful to respond with. Sorry. My brain feels fried today as well. Great list and thoughts, though, my dude. Always a pleasure to read.

The one-two punch for 1937 has to be GRAND ILLUSION and MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW. Regardless of one's preference between the two, they cannot NOT be at first and second on one's list. Anything less would be a disservice. Glad to see that we are in accord on the ordering of them though.

I find it hard to write about GRAND ILLUSION. Yet, I'm certain it's one of the greatest films ever made. It might be the greatest. Very few films can rival its emotional impact (the other indisputable masterpiece from this year being one of them), its sense of the soul laid bare–hungry, desperate, determined–under the threat of destruction, and its unquenchable thirst to celebrate life and community amidst the lacerations of war. It's a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful film. I'm not exactly sure why, but I seem to respond strongly to the immediacy of humanistic POW films like this, STALAG 17, and A MAN ESCAPED. The stakes are readily physical and apparent in these films. There is an explicitly clear demarcation between freedom and imprisonment, between self-preservation and death. It's just purely compelling conflict.
Anyway, if film teaches you a lesson about empathy, then GRAND ILLUSION is one of the greatest teachings on love and commonality in film history. It humbles you to the core and reminds you what it means to be human. Its the grandest of them all.

Speaking of empathy, good god, MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW is one of the most emotionally reflective and incredibly sad films ever made. Welles was right; it could make a stone weep. You'd have to try to feel anything other than complete empathy and emotional absorption for this film and its characters. I don't have much to really say about it other than that it's a completely essential film experience. It will humble you, move you, and reduce your cynicism and rigidity to tears and dust. It may be one of the most singular films in Hollywood history. A landmark.

PEPE LE MOKO is another gorgeous and harrowing example of poetic realism and why it was such an amazing genre in film history. I agree that it was probably best to have stayed in Algiers amongst its labyrinthine streets and with its many allies and protectors. Of course, love never ends well in poetic realism, and its heroes, like Pepe, must inevitably face their doom. Beautiful and heartbreaking finale. It WAS beauty that killed the beast. I need to watch this again sometime soon, and that reminds me, you have got to see LE JOUR SE LEVE at some point. You'll love it too.

Gregory La Cava is awesome. He was a studio outsider and comedy auteur who didn't get to make many films. But the two stand-out films he did make (MY MAN GODFREY and STAGE DOOR) are among the greatest comedies of all time. He loved improvising on set and finding the natural chemistry and comedic rhthym with the actors as the film unfolded. This sort of free-form creativity really makes STAGE DOOR such an alive and bustling picture. The insults and wise-cracks are unrivaled. But there is also real sense of friendship and connection forged over the course of the film that makes something even more than a very beautifully sounding comedy. It's clever and razor sharp, but also genuinely poignant and naturally comforting. I bet this one does hit close to home for ya. It's a great one.

THE AWFUL TRUTH is a terrific screwball comedy. The "remarriage" genre is full of gems like this one. I don't have really anything more to add than what you said. I think recognizing that what you've been missing has been right under your nose the whole time is a theme for anyone to relate to. I really want to watch this one again soon. Grant and Dunne make a great team.

You're very right, DEAD END very adamantly attacks the gangster-fetish notion that you don't share your community but that you must conquer it. Mcrea's character may not be the "success" that he wants to be or the big shot that Bogart's character is, but he proves himself to be the real hero of the neighborhood by bringing down the spiteful glam of Bogie's gangster idolatry. Very similar to ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, indeed.

You're also very right about YOUNG AND INNOCENT. Nothing completely fresh about it, but just great entertainment made by a masterful filmmaker. I watched this one a few months ago. It felt really good to see a new Hitchcock film from the 30s that I hadn't seen before. Hence how high it is on my list. It just felt really good to experience, like visiting an old friend. I loved it.

I don't know what else to say about SNOW WHITE either. It speaks for itself. Pure movie magic. I'm, of course, speaking of the porn version.

I haven't seen Ford's THE HURRICANE, though I easily could since it's on NWI. Maybe I'll do that soon. I'm sure it's great.

I'm quite jealous that you've seen YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE. I've been trying to see that since I started my list, but to no avail (not on Netflix, hasn't been on TCM, not on youtube, etc.). How did you see it?

I'm planning on seeing TOPPER on TCM at the end of the month and STELLA DALLAS is on in June. Those might alter my list, but for now, here's the most recent update for 1937:

1. Grand Illusion (Renoir)
2. Make Way for Tomorrow (McCarey)
3. Stage Door (La Cava)
4. Young and Innocent (Hitchcock)
5. Pépé le Moko (Duvivier)
6. Way Out West (Horne)
7. Nothing Sacred (Wellman)
8. Dead End (Wyler)
9. The Awful Truth (McCarey)
10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (lots of people)

HM: The Prisoner of Zenda (Cromwell), Shall We Dance (Sandrich), The Life of Emile Zola (Dieterle), A Day at the Races (Wood), Captains Courageous (Fleming), A Star is Born (Wellman)

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