Bicycle Thieves (1948) Written by Oreste Biancoli, Suso D’Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Gerardo Guerrieri, and Cesare Zavattini Directed by Vittorio De Sica
The world is hell. But it didn’t just become hell. It’s been that way for a long, long, long time. Right now, the world is experiencing a significant shift in the world order, and when that happens, it is a harrowing experience. There are a lot of unknowns as a result. That uncertainty isn’t unfounded. When we don’t have guarantees about day-to-day life or even year to year, the opportunity for suffering is increased. The privileged pockets of the Western world finally feel this, while the developing world has been perpetually crushed under the boot. Nothing new for them, though they will likely be harmed more by the fallout of this changing of the order. The last time we had such a big shift was the collapse of the Soviet Union, but places like the United States didn’t really miss a beat, and Western Europe was definitely okay. The last time Western Europe went through “hell” was the aftermath of World War II, as large swaths of the region had been absolutely decimated by bombings. This is the world we enter into with Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.
Mildred Pierce (1945) Written by Ranald MacDougall Directed by Michael Curtiz
I’ve come to realize Joan Crawford is a far more complicated person than pop culture has made her out to be. Most people think of “No wire hangers!” or some other element of Mommie Dearest. I wouldn’t doubt Crawford wasn’t a great mother, but she certainly feels like someone ahead of her time as an actress. The role of Mildred Pierce is not a glamorous one. She’s an older woman whose daughter steals the spotlight, but Pierce is also so complex and layered, making choices that can’t be seen as operating inside your standard binary thinking. It’s the rich nuance and texture you’d expect from a story written by James M. Cain, a predominately noir-leaning author.
Casablanca (1942) Written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch Directed by Michael Curtiz
Few American films have ever been held in such universally high regard as Casablanca. I have to admit that the movie was a blind spot in my education on cinema until this viewing. I have certainly been hearing about Casablanca my whole life as it has been referenced, parodied, and paid homage to across film & television. It’s full of witty, memorable lines (“Here’s looking at you kid,” “Of all the gin joints in all the world…”) and a brilliant cast who are perfect for their parts. Humphrey Bogart was cemented as a film icon with this picture, and he will always be remembered for the role of Rick Blaine. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the picture after watching it, a bit worried it had been overhyped since its release, but I was pleasantly surprised with what a fantastic film is it.
Nightmare Alley (1947) Written by Jules Furthman Directed by Edmund Goulding
When I sat down to watch the original Nightmare Alley, I wasn’t prepared to be hit with such a spectacular film. I expected it would be a decent, pulpy sort of tale but the performances, cinematography, and music were far beyond the bar I’d set in my head. I turned to Ariana during our viewing to make sure I didn’t imagine how amazing this movie is, and she confirmed that she, too, was blown away. For just two years post-WWII, this movie looks ahead of its time. The plot is incredibly complex and can’t simply be boiled down to a single sentence. There are so many supporting characters who are given the type of nuance and complexity we often associate with modern cinema. But here it is, punching far above the weight of most movies and delivering one of the darkest endings I’ve seen from a film of this era.
The Wolf Man (1941) Written by Curt Siodmak Directed by George Waggner
Universal tried their hand at a werewolf movie in 1935 with Werewolf of London. The film was moderately critically successful but didn’t garner the acclaim Dracula, Frankenstein, and others had just a few years prior. The premise was seen as a little too similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, while the box office returns were poor. Universal didn’t see an immediate sequel in the property, so they went on with Dracula and Frankenstein sequels and a surprising number of follow-ups to The Invisible Man. When the 1940s came, it seemed like a time to revisit the werewolf, so we got The Wolf Man.
Recently the Orlando Sentinel published an op-ed by Clark County, Nevada district attorney and human thumb Jonathan VanBoskerck titled “I love Disney World, but wokeness is ruining the experience.” Vanny begins his rant by complaining about Disney’s new employee dress code, which allows visible tattoos, culturally inclusive uniforms, and natural hairstyles. Now, Disney is a demonic megacorporation that should be burnt to the ground, but this is just basic minimum human decency. They will still mistreat employees, but at least these workers aren’t being forced to suppress their race or cultural heritage.
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.