Late Spring (1949) Written by Kogo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
Japan was in the middle of a significant cultural transition when Late Spring was in production. American forces occupied the country in the wake of World War II and aggressively fought back against the Japanese’s traditional feudalistic customs. One of these was arranged marriages, and it was rigidly enforced in Japanese popular culture by Americans. I don’t think Americans today fully comprehend how much we interfered in Japan’s development after the atrocity of dropping two nuclear bombs on them. Yasujirō Ozu’s body of work was all about examining Japanese traditions in the context of his own time, so blanket censorship like this proved to be a major obstacle in his way.
Key Largo (1948) Written by Richard Brooks and John Huston Directed by John Huston
Back during the 1930s & 40s, it was common for a director to have two films out per year. These days that would be a surprising accomplishment, but you were expected to churn out a larger workload at the height of the studio system. John Huston was working under this type of contract at Warner Brothers, so 1948 saw the release of The Treasure of Sierra Madre in January, followed by Key Largo in July. Huston had such an eye for detail & quality he wasn’t going to let one film suffer to make the other better. He’d ensure both movies were fantastic. And that he certainly did.
Movie Review – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) Written & Directed by John Huston
John Huston served in the U.S. Army during World War II, making films for the Signal Corps. He directed several films, both narrative & documentary, about soldiers and the war during this time. Despite the acclaim these pictures received, they were ultimately banned because some of them focused on failures of the U.S. military. The brass labeled them as “demoralizing to the morale of the troops.” He seemed to develop a fascination with war documentaries for the rest of his life as his daughter, Anjelica, said that when the family moved to Ireland, that was most of what they watched at home. I think something about men put in desperate situations surrounded by violence must have appealed to Huston, and it was the basis of his next film.
The Maltese Falcon (1941) Written & Directed by John Huston
John Huston was born into entertainment. His father, Walter, got his start in vaudeville and then transitioned into movies. When John was born, his parent ended their earlier careers (his mother was a sports editor) to be more domestic. Walter became a civil engineer for a few years but eventually returned to acting. The couple divorced when John was six, and he spent much of his childhood at boarding schools, ferried between his two parents. Watching Walter act on stage profoundly affected John’s burgeoning love of storytelling and set him on his path to becoming a filmmaker.
Oliver Twist (1948) Written by David Lean & Stanley Haynes Directed by David Lean
David Lean’s second attempt at adapting Charles Dickens is even better, in my opinion. This time around, instead of relying on other screenwriters, Lean and Stanley Haynes worked out the script together and managed to keep most of the story’s high points. Lean was audacious enough to add to the story with two critical bits at the beginning and end that work beautifully and are some of the best scenes of the entire film. Even more so than Great Expectations, we find the director leaning into noir-ish Gothic production design and lighting, which leads to an incredibly memorable viewing experience.
Great Expectations (1946) Written by David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Cecil McGivern, Ronald Neame, and Kay Walsh Directed by David Lean
The success of Brief Encounter rocketed David Lean into a level of acclaim that would only grow for the remainder of his career. His next projects would be adaptations of two classic Charles Dickens novels, starting with Great Expectations. The idea to adapt the story to the screen came after Lean saw a stage production that abbreviated the text and turned it into a digestible narrative while cutting away subplots. It took a couple of years of drafts, explaining the writing credits until Lean was satisfied with the final product. On Boxing Day (December 26) 1946, Great Expectations premiered in the U.K.
Mank (2020) Written by Jack Fincher Directed by David Fincher
Jack Fincher died in 2003. He was a screenwriter and journalist out of Texas who married a nurse after serving in the airforce. Eventually, he would come to serve as the San Francisco bureau chief of Life magazine and pen a script that would be merged with others to make Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator. After a year-long battle with cancer, Jack Fincher passed away at the age of 72. His son, David Fincher, had become a critically acclaimed director by Jack’s passing. David had wanted to adapt his dad’s script about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and the development of Citizen Kane, but the insistence on shooting in black and white led Hollywood to balk at the idea. It would be seventeen years after Jack’s passing that David would finally release his dad’s movie through Netflix.
Brief Encounter (1945) Written by Noël Coward, Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean, and Ronald Neame Directed by David Lean
David Lean was born into the Quaker faith in 1908 in the pastoral environs of Surrey, England. While in school, Lean was deemed too dreamy and not up to snuff with the level of academics he was expected to master. At age 18, he entered into an apprenticeship under his father’s accountancy firm. At age ten, Lean had been given a Brownie box camera, and this event was looked back at by the director as one of the most formative experiences in his life. The next formative moment came when at age 15, Lean’s father left his family. Lean would follow suit with his first wife and child. He would remarry five additional times, and friends claimed he slept with around 1,000 women in his lifetime.
A Christmas Story (1983) Written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark Directed by Bob Clark
A Christmas Story is a great little holiday comedy about childhood but also one of the most disgustingly overhyped pieces of Americana in recent years. The TBS 24-hour marathon of the film definitely didn’t help things and has honestly led to the oversaturation of the picture. It’s a look back at the Depression Era Midwest and dramatizes Jean Shepherd’s memories of his childhood. The film is done in a series of vignettes that make it easy to consume by casual viewers or kids whose attention spans might wan after too long. But it definitely doesn’t deserve as much licensed merchandise or a Broadway musical based on the picture.
The Palm Beach Story (1942, directed by Preston Sturges)
From my review: This is the ur-text of screwball comedies, every core element boiled down to its purest essence. There are pratfalls galore, windows getting smashed, and people confusing each other for others. It exists as both an ode to the comedies of mixed-up identities from Shakespeare and commentary on the late stages of the Great Depression. This film will inspire future pictures like Some Like It Hot and Intolerable Cruelty, but it doesn’t put on airs of being profound or world-changing. This is a pure character-centered comedy that understands how important it is to have a diverse variety of roles.