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Archive for Sunday, May 19, 1996

PICKETT COLUMN

May 19, 1996

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A few weeks ago I checked out "Pulp Fiction" at my favorite video store. It was just terrible -- the movie so many of the hotshot critics told us was such a landmark. After about half an hour, I gagged and decided not to invite my wife to join me in a viewing. Then I checked out "Seven." Ugh. If you have not yet missed this one please do so immediately.

I start this commentary on movies of 1946 with words about those two pieces of trash. I contrast both with that splendid private eye movie of '46 "The Big Sleep," which came from the Raymond Chandler novel and had Philip Marlowe, played by Humphrey Bogart, entering a beautiful old mansion and encountering a nasty-tongued (but no four-letter words in 1946) heiress played by, naturally, Lauren Bacall.

That movie year of 50 years ago was a year for movies that the admirers of "Pulp Fiction" now call "film noir." There was "The Big Sleep," and there was a cleaned-up treatment of James M. Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice," Lana Turner and John Garfield plotting the murder of Lana's husband. There was a thriller set in the Canadian countryside, "The Spiral Staircase." Burt Lancaster made his debut in "The Killers," utilizing Ernest Hemingway's short story and then expanding the tale. Alan Ladd starred in "The Blue Dahlia" and Olivia de Havilland played twins in "The Dark Mirror."

In '46, there were a lot of movies about World War II. Some friends who had been in the Army in Europe thought "A Walk in the Sun" was the best movie yet about what war was really like. The year's most notable achievement was about three men returning from war, a banker, an ex-soda jerk and a boy who had lost both arms. I'm talking, of course, about "The Best Years of Our Lives," which William Wyler directed and which had Fredric March, Dana Andrews and Harold Russell. How I love the eloquent scene in which March comes home and his wife, Myrna Loy, her back to the camera, realizes the war has come to an end for her.

Some film historians put down "The Best Years." It was certainly topical, and it's an artifact of 1946. Maybe it was preachy, March scolding his fellow bankers for refusing to give loans to veterans who had little collateral to offer. I saw the movie again a few weeks ago, and it's still the best of '46.

That one opened about the same time as "It's a Wonderful Life." I don't know why, but I've never been high on that one. It embarrasses me. Back in '46 or maybe '47, I wrote a criticism, saying that director Frank Capra seemed to be making a movie he could have made the same way in 1936. I don't comprehend why Jimmy Stewart, who was in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," says "Wonderful Life" is his best.

Well, it clearly is better than "Seven" or "Pulp Fiction." In 1946, I argued that the best performance of the year was by Walter Brennan as Ike Clanton in "My Darling Clementine." I overstated a bit. Brennan was gunned down in the O. K. Corral by Henry Fonda, playing Wyatt Earp. Victor Mature, of all people, was just fine as Doc Holliday. This movie is still the best yet about the famous gunfight in Tombstone.

It also was the year of "The Yearling," which is a beautiful movie, one that grows and grows. A while back, I saw "Anna and the King of Siam," with Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison, and it was surely one of the best of the year. One night in '46, we went to see "Open City," that realistic Italian movie by Roberto Rossellini. I do remember that I went to sleep. In 1946, I saw the Al Jolson movie, "The Jolson Story," at least twice. "The Anniversary Song" became quite memorable to me, and I still enjoy hearing it.

My fondest memory of the movies of 1946 was going to the theater to see "Henry V," the Sir Laurence Olivier picture. My very theatrical friend, Eddie Redford, who, I was sure, would become a great figure in the drama, came in, took a seat in the middle of the theater, folded his arms, and waited for all the grandeur to unfold. Eddie knew what was good. Olivier's treatment of Shakespeare was a movie monument, impressive and, amazing in a way -- enjoyable for almost anyone who saw it.

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