FILMS I WATCHED IN 2020, THE YEAR OF OUR PANDEMIC: PART 1

I kept track of most of the films that I watched for the majority of this past year, especially while in lockdown for five months–and still counting.  Without including any that I wrote an entire post on, here they are:

Captured! (1933) with Leslie Howard and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  A POW war camp story, where two old friends meet up.  Meanwhile, we know that Fairbanks is having an affair with Howard’s wife who has been gone from civilian life for the past two years.  I suppose it depends on which man appeals to your heartthrob sensibilities more in order for you to decide if you liked the romantic outcome or not.  A climatic violent scene ends the film.  Paul Lukas plays the “kindly” German commander.

I had been reading a book by Lillian Hellman with regards to her HUAC time and decided to watch Watch on the Rhine (1943) based on her play about fascism.  Also with Paul Lukas.  (Yes, I like him.)  Starring, in case you didn’t know, Bette Davis and featuring the always delightful Beulah Bondi, regardless of her character’s temperament.

Years ago, I remembered seeing a British film at a May Weekend, This Man in News (1938), about a married couple (Barry K. Barnes and Valerie Hobson) where the husband is a reporter and always involved in sleuthing and the wife is never cross with him, no matter what trouble he gets involved in.  It also features Alastair Sim, who I always love to see, and although the film received poor contemporary reviews, I remember being thoroughly entertained.  I have a poor copy of the film, which is always a hinderance, but it still held all the fun I remembered.

After watching Hell’s Heroes (1929) and, with my two kids 3 Godfathers (1936), films which I wrote about in an earlier post, I thought my son might be interested in seeing Law and Order (1932) which I had been impressed with when I had seen it a few years ago at Eastman House.  My son and I had also watched Stagecoach (1939) a couple of weeks earlier and both films featured Andy Devine.  Both the Hell’s Heroes and this film featured Raymond Hatton, who having come from Silent films, talked much less wooden by 1932.  Also, Harry Carey was in Law and Order, and he had been the main character in the two silent Godfather versions.  So, to my way of thinking, all these film have a tie in together.  Law and Order also had a climatic shootout scene at the end, just with different weaponry than in Captured!.

I decided to watch Among the Living (1941), a film featuring Frances Farmer and Susan Hayward, and surprisingly, Harry Carey here again, this time as the not-so-benevolent doctor.  It wasn’t a very good print, but it was an entertaining enough story about identical twins—one “normal” the other “crazy”–played by Albert Dekker.  The director, Stuart Heisler, made some interesting films such as The Monster and the Girl (1941) and the well-known The Glass Key (1942).

I watched the pretty awful Are You Listening? (1932), one of William Haines talkies before he left the acting business and went into home decorating.  He was a big star during the Silent era, but he began to lose his looks, his voice (in my opinion) wasn’t particularly good, plus it’s quite possible that his homosexuality might have been a hidden motive as to the real reason the studios didn’t want him around anymore.  Although it might have been a better film with a different actor in the starring role, I won’t place the blame entirely on Haines’ shoulders; it just wasn’t a particularly good story although it featured three beautiful platinum blondes and, of those three the one most entertaining for me, Karen Morley as his miserable, estranged wife who wasn’t giving him a divorce until he paid up, come hell or high water.  There’s a tiny, tiny scene with Hattie McDaniel as a musician.  After you see her and her band members arrive at the studio to record, you only see them through the glass that separates their studio from the one where the main action is taking place.  Kind of a coolly shot scene.

My son and I watched a DeMille film that I quite like, This Day and Age (1933) with Charles Bickford (he was also in Hell’s Heroes).  I’d seen it a couple of years back at a film festival and ended up coveting a copy.  DeMille’s work is usually a bit (or lots) over the top in one way or another and the central theme to this movie has this anarchic idea running through it, saying it may be okay to take the law into your own hands.

I had added notes to the Toronto Film Society website on Tarzan Escapes (1936) and figured since I have the full Johnny Weismuller “Tarzan” boxset, I should probably take a look at the film.  I’d already seen (more than once) the first two installments made in 1932 and 1934 which of course are the best, so I figured why not take a gander at this one.  It was beautiful to look at but a somewhat silly and typical “Tarzan” story.  I remember as a kid, loving these films when they came on TV.

I watched The Day of the Jackal (1973), a good thriller.  I remember the book was a bestseller when I was a teenager and I think I read it and saw the movie then but remembered nothing about it except that it was a fictionalized story about an attempted assassination on Charles de Gaulle.  I recently watched Thoroughly Modern Milly (1967) which featured James Fox (who I always had a bit of a crush on) and so it was nice to see his brother Edward, who I have seen a lot less of in films.  A bit of a “brag” by me is that a few months earlier, when I was into viewing Basil Dearden and Joseph Losey films, I watched the beautifully shot but rather boring Modesty Blaise (1966) and at the beginning of the film noticed that one of the characters (who is dispensed of almost immediately) looked somewhat familiar.  While in profile, I thought he held a remarkable resemblance to James and Edward Fox and then when I looked up the credits was quite impressed to see that it was their father, Robin Fox.  Very strong family resemblance these three had.

One night my daughter and her boyfriend came up and with my son we watched The Windermere Children (2020).  It was recommended by my mother and sister, a true story about children, preteen and teenagers, who survived the Holocaust and were brought to England to be rehabilitated into society.  Quite touching.  Of course I am affected by Jewish-related disasters, but we talked about the fact that things similar to this still happen to children, mentioning Africa in particular.  Families killed, children try to survive.  Another aside, with regard to Tarzan Escapes above, one of the things that I found quite disgusting was that there is a scene where Benita Hume sees two lion cubs in a tree hollow and she thinks “how cute” while stupidly beginning to cuddle one of them.  And, as we well know what is going to happen, the mother comes charging and Benita is saved from being attacked when the lioness is shot at the very final moment.  End of scene.  All I could think was “those poor babies”, losing their mother, while only imagining what would become of them.  Anyway, we can find all types of flaws in old films that we wouldn’t tolerate nowadays.  Let’s not even get into the (comical) racism in Tarzan films.

So this ends some of the films I viewed in 2020.  There’s always something worthwhile in most, but certainly vintage film, I always say.  Hope you find some of these intriguing enough to watch yourself.

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