Joe Sixpack's Film Blog -- October, 2001
October, 2001


"December 7th" (1943)
John Ford's quirky, semi-documentary look at Hawaiian life before and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor is certainly one of the oddest historical films ever made.

"The Man Who Could Work Miracles" (1934)
A quirky British comedy wherein the Olympian gods grant miraculous powers to a nebbish from Essex, one Mr. Fotheringay, who at first is quite modest in his use of reality-bending, and eventually succumbs to the temptations of (near) absolute power. The prewar concerns of war, peace and the polite class politics of the UK are at the heart of this film; nice cameo by Ernest Thesiger (of James Whale horror film fame) as Mr. Maydig, a Bertram Russell-style swords-into-plowshares peacenik intellectual who is as quickly seduced by the lure of ultimate power as are his Establishment counterparts. Odd film; worth checking out.

"The Ex-Mrs. Bradford" (1936)
A thinly-veiled knockoff of the "Thin Man" series, starring (yay) William Powell, but with Jean Arthur in the place of Myrna Loy. The chemistry between them is a bit off -- she's too perky and not as sardonic as Loy was. This is okay, an interesting oddity for Thin Man fans to check out, but not top-flight.


"The Young Philadephians" (1959)
A steamy "Peyton Place" style sex story, featuring Paul Newman as Tony Lawrence, an ambitous young man whose soul is twisted by his aristocratic family's unwillingness to let him marry for love. Forced to play the power game, he plays it to the hilt, cynically using his sex appeal and ruthlessness to bring ruin to anyone standing in his path. I'm sure they must have toned the film script down quite a bit from what the book was like, but it's still pretty raw. Plus, Newman was one sexy monkey when he was young... if you wanna see him at his shirtless, hunky best, then this is the film for you.

"Long Voyage Home" (Warner, 1940)
Director John Ford took big lug John Wayne out of his usual prairie wanderings in this sad, slowly deliberate film about a group of merchant marines eager to make it home, with the shadow of WWII hovering over them, and German U-boats haunting the waters of the Atlantic. It turns out the Germans are less of a menace than their fellow sailors, as Wayne's naive young Swede, Ole Olafson, falls prey to a criminal pack of shanghai-ers in a seedy local tavern. The ever-dependable Thomas Mitchell brings this film its emotional core, playing his old-timer experience beautifully off of the Swede's wide-eyed innocence. Nice flick; not as exciting or robust as other wartime offerings, but complex and emotionally resonant. From a story by Eugene O'Neill.

"49th Parallel" (aka "The Invaders) (1941)
Michael Powell directed this odd wartime propaganda film, set in Canada, before the American entry into WWII. A German U-boat has infiltrated the Canadian coastline, seeking to attack and subvert our neighbors to the North, before Uncle sam can wake up and get into the fight. The Canucks make short work of the Nazi, sub, sinking it in Hudson Bay, but a reconnaissance team, now stranded in Newfoundland, sets out to smuggle themselves into the US, where they intend on escaping to the German embassy, or perpetrating some unmentionable act of terrorism. Viewed in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 bombings, this was a remarkable film, particularly as the German strategy was specifically to subvert the openness and freedom of the "decadent" democracies, and turn the rule of law into a weapon against them. Sound familiar? Two sequences bear the unique Powellian stamp of the director's odd, askew sense of humor. The first is a prolonged "Witness"-like interlude in a rural Mennonite community, where the gentleness and loving acceptance of the farmers threaten to upend the authority of the fanatical German leader. Once he manages to peel his men away from the embrace of pacifism and equality, the commandant leads his men Westward in a reckless race towards the border in the Pacific Northwest. The film's most brilliant scene unfolds as the manhunt traps them in an "Indian Days" celebration at a national park: when the police take over the PA system and address the crowd to warn them of the hidden spies, the Germans shrink with terror as they are described to the tiniest, most accurate detail. But the celebrants -- typical consumers of spectacle and passive entertainment -- don't even bother to look sideways at the sweating, tense terrorists in their midst. Why bother? Isn't that someone else's job? This is a fun film, both an historical oddity and prescient reminder that wicked people may always prey on the goodwill of those they see as "weak." Recommended!

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