The Grapes of Wrath (Ford, 1940)

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What to say about this pictorial, breath-taking call to arms that hasn’t already been said? Tom Joad’s penchant for brutal violence stands out more than anything else after this most recent viewing, and the evolution of his physicality, beginning with the meaningless drunken brawl/murder that gets him imprisoned, which transitions to his meaningful lethal blow in defense of Casey, seems to be a key point. The sudden violence first stems from Joad’s weakness to liquor, then his own realization about the injustices of unfair wages and labor tactics, a different kind of Kool Aid that produces just as fiery an outcome. As Joad escapes in the final scene, Ford shows his hero in extreme-long shot, a faceless shadow framed by an endless mountainside, a semi-religious icon of perseverance and morality striving forward to preach the gospel of leftist politics. Too bad he’s had to kill twice to find the lord. It’s an interesting dichotomy that complicates Joad’s role as a pure hero of the working man.

Wyler x 2: Mrs. Miniver (1942) and Detective Story (1951)

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Both films are interesting for different reasons. Detective Story hinges on Kirk Douglas’ enraged lead performance while Mrs Miniver evolves based on a changing collective ideology. However, Wyler establishes a specific, uneasy space for his characters to traverse in both films. This includes the intricately cramped theatrical space of the Detective’s Bureau in Detective Story and the spacious, foreboding English countryside in Mrs. Miniver. These tonally different works both use space to reveal the impending dangers threatening specific individuals and communities.

Daisy Kenyon (Preminger, 1947)

Heralded by many as Preminger’s best film, but I’m not buying it on first glance. As a Melodrama, Daisy Kenyon is almost completely contained and dependent on its shifting love triangle (between the great Joan Crawford, Dana Andrews, and Henry Fonda), a critical problem considering how benign the entire affair becomes. Maybe I prefer my Melodrama with some sort of subtext, something Daisy Kenyon skirts around, even during its final scene where Daisy must decide between the two suitors. Ultimately, her feeble decision only undermines the very idea of female individuality Preminger seems to be obsessed with.

The Lady Eve (Sturges, 1941)

I prefer The Palm Beach Story as the penultimate Screwball Comedy, but The Lady Eve produces equally brilliant and zany set pieces, mixing slapstick with flawless zinger dialogue to create an altogether seamless world of innuendo and charm. As the wheeling and dealing con artist Jean Harrington, Barbara Stanwyck personifies the perfect Sturges heroine: smart, conniving, sexy, and completely vulnerable. This just gets better with age.

The Red Shoes (Powell, Pressburger, 1948)

I never thought I’d enjoy a story framed by a professional ballet troupe after seeing Robert Altman’s awful film The Company, but leave it up to masters Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger to prove me wrong. Their technicolor infused melodrama entitled The Red Shoes takes two rising talents, composer Julian Crastor (Marius Goring) and dancer Victoria Page (Norma Shearer), and shows their respective ascents to stardom thanks to the razor sharp support of infamous producer Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). It’s a classic love triangle, but one tightened by the push pull relationship of love and sacrifice on the grand artistic vision at stake. The Red Shoes floats along at a whimsical pace, reveling in crisp hues of red, blue, and black, the colorful environment of the ballet enabling multiple hypnotic performances to parallel the emotion occurring behind the scenes. Fluff you say? Yes, but what beautiful and classy fluff it is.

Railroaded (Mann, 1947)

Immediately after WWII, Anthony Mann made a batch of these crisp crime pictures, however Railroaded isn’t one of the better ones. Besides the simple plot and wooden acting, Railroaded doesn’t hold water as a police procedural of any skill. The beautiful Noir aesthetics of Raw Deal and the brutal characterizations of Border Incident are noticeably and disappointingly absent.

The Big Steal (Siegel, 1949)

A fun, rough and tumble south of the border romp from director Don Siegel that neither hits hard nor folds softly. Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer create some light-hearted chemistry balancing out the seedy chase scenes through the Mexican countryside, but ultimately the film feels too fluffy for a Noir and too gritty for a comedy. The Big Steal entertains somewhere in the middle.