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My World Premier and Some More Famous Ones
by Jon Schuller

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The most terrible war in human history has been raging for years but the end is finally in sight. Every life on earth has been affected and will be for generations to come. Geography and maps have been drastically changed. People have been uprooted from their homes, never to return. Multiple millions of civilians and soldiers have been killed and many outcomes of the war cannot be predicted accurately. Science has been advanced but not always in beneficial ways. Military weaponry has become even more sophisticated but its ultimate purpose hasn't changed in thousands of years. Communications have also evolved and more people have learned about the war and its effects than anytime previously. Movies actually show real-time battles to audiences, thanks to brave cameramen and reporters, whenever possible. But films also have another purpose: to help win the war. Propaganda movies started in the 1930s to promote political agendas, like those of the Nazis and Fascists; to arouse deep-seated feelings of nationalism and to place blame on others for bad economic times. This type of film would eventually be used against them to help win the war and crush them. Film-makers around the world, but especially in the United States and Great Britain, were making new movies even as the war raged and defeats out-weighed victories. Many films were about the war, both real and fictionalized, and others were simply escapist fare designed to help reduce the constant stress of war news for everyday people. The variety of stories, locations, characters and plots was there as usual. A few films became classics almost overnight and movie-lovers everywhere can still see them again and again today whenever they wish. I want to highlight a few of these, show how different and entertaining they were, but why they've survived seventy years and are still being shown.

Out of a total of 121 movies, the top-grossing films back then were:
1.Going My WayBing Crosby
2.WilsonCharles Coburn, Alexander
Knox
3.Since You Went AwayClaudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple
4.Lady in the DarkGinger Rogers and Ray Milland
5.Meet Me in St. LouisJudy Garland
6.Mrs. ParkingtonGreer Garson and Walter Pidgeon
7.Here Come the WavesBing Crosby, Betty Hutton
8.The Story of Dr. WassellGary Cooper and Laraine Day
9.Winged VictoryLon McCallister and Jeanne Crain
10.Hollywood CanteenJoan Leslie, Robert Hutton, Dane Clark
11.The Princess and the Pirate Bob Hope, Virginia Mayo
12.National Velvet Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, Donald Crisp
13.GaslightIngrid Bergman and Charles Boyer
14.Thirty Seconds Over TokyoVan Johnson, Robert Walker, Spencer Tracy
15.Arsenic and Old LaceCary Grant, Raymond Massey
16.Mr. SkeffingtonBette Davis, Claude Rains
17.The White Cliffs of DoverIrene Dunne, Alan Marshal
18.Dragon SeedKatharine Hepburn, Walter Huston, Agnes Moorehead
19.Cover GirlRita Hayworth and Gene Kelly
20.Frenchman's CreekJoan Fontaine and Arturo de Cordova
21.Can't Help Singing Deanna Durbin and Robert Paige
22.To Have and Have NotHumphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
There were 9 serials and more than a dozen animated shorts. The variety of movies was wide and many of them dealt with real historical figures and events while others were light, romantic comedies and musicals. Six Academy Awards were presented for acting and picture bests. Easily- recognized names of stars were featured in many of these films as I've listed above.

We have some wonderful antics in Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant at his handsome, comedic best, dealing with his two strange aunts and their interesting hobbies. We have John Wayne helping the war effort in The Fighting Seabees. We have Ingrid Bergman trying her best to keep Charles Boyer from driving her insane in the great thriller, Gaslight. Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr., again pair up for another scary one in House of Frankenstein. Yes, it had been done before in other ways, but so what? Meet Me in St. Louis
starred Judy Garland with a host of classic songs and dance numbers. The highest grossing film, Going My Way stars Bing Crosby as a new priest who is sent to New York to work at St. Dominic's Church. His unusual style runs into the more traditional Father Fitzgibbon, portrayed by everyone's favorite Irishman, Barry Fitzgerald. Out of their initial adversarial relationship blossoms a friendship that pervades the entire parish and makes us all feel better. The Mask of Dimitrios re-united that marvelous duo of Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre for another mystery that might remind you of the Maltese Falcon. Lifeboat, filmed entirely in a large studio water tank, featured many famous actors like Walter Slezak, Tallulah Bankhead, Hume Cronyn and gravelly-voiced Henry Hull, chronicled the survivors of a u-boat torpedo attack on a merchant ship, floating in the ocean. Since You Went Away, starring Irene Dunne, is a sad, romantic melodrama set in the years of World War I as a couple fall in love and are torn apart by war and tragedy. The film helped the audiences of World War II to realize that the sad news from the war zones wasn't new but still powerful. Life as it was is chronicled in National Velvet as young Elizabeth Taylor debuts and rides her horse to victory. Pure escapist fantasy, coupled with predictable Bob Hope comedy, comes from Sam Goldwyn in The Princess and The Pirate, co-starring Virginia Mayo. Passage to Marseilles reunited director Michael Curtiz, Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet - all from 1942's Casablanca. The new film tells the story of how several Frenchmen risk their lives as France falls to the Germans in 1940 and how a romantic involvement must be placed second behind the needs of a country. Bogey and Bacall meet, fall in love and create another famous war story in To Have and Have Not.

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo tells the amazing story of how Jimmy Doolittle put together a raid of 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers, taking
off from the deck of the carrier USS Hornet, to fly and bomb Japan only four months after December 7, 1941. The story was told accurately using real film footage taken when the medium bombers took off into a powerful headwind a maneuver never before attempted and successfully bombed major cities in Japan, then flying on to land in China. How they trained in utmost secret and defied the odds makes a true story amazing. An all-star cast, headed by Van Johnson, Robert Walker and Spencer Tracy playing Doolittle, worked with the real survivors of the raid as the film gave the look and feel of a real-time documentary. Another war movie, Wing and a Prayer centers on an American aircraft carrier group and how the U.S. Navy came back from a near-total defeat at Pearl Harbor. Don Ameche, Dana Andrews and William Eythe head the cast as the film shows how the Navy fooled and trapped the Japanese fleet into what became the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, inflicting serious losses on the "invincible" Japanese Navy and boosting morale at home. Great movie stalwarts like Charles Bickford, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Harry Morgan and Reed Hadley play significant roles. Comedian B.S. Pully had a featured part.

There were many other films of different genres, some good and some forgettable. But we must remember what a truly difficult time it was back then. The world had been slowly climbing out the Great Depression and then was thrust into another world war, more horrible than ever before. No one was unaffected or spared the daily terrible news reports and casualty lists. I think we can, today, relate to times like that as we too see and hear an even-greater flood of news, instantaneously, from all over the world, about wars, destruction and death happening daily somewhere. Movies can help us forget or remember; they can raise our spirits or dash our hopes. Mostly, I like to think and hope, they can bring us closer to each other as we see and hear the realities of life that touch us all.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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