Posts Tagged ‘1939’

Stagecoach (1939)

Stagecoach is considered the film where John Wayne became not just a leading man, but a movie star. Director John Ford does an excellent job of supporting Wayne in this venture. With the great name of Ringo, John Wayne is magnetic every time he is on-screen. One of the more iconic shots is the characters introduction on-screen through a quick zoom close-up of Wayne as he turns towards the camera.

Like many of Ford’s westerns this film captures the open plains and vistas of country life in the states with beauty. In addition the main action set-piece between the passengers of the stagecoach and local indian tribes, is still thrilling seventy years later. The quick editing between widescreen location shots and close-up shots, done in studio, with the passengers heightens the tension of the scene.

There are some slow portions of the film, mainly when the characters take breaks from their journey or ponder about what is to come. However, anytime the cast is on the road a sense of danger looms and each character increasingly realizes the stakes of this journey. Overall a great film and strong advancement of the western genre.

Ranking: 4/5

Until next time, Cheers!


Gone With The Wind (1939)

Since grade school whenever I went to my nana’s house for an afternoon we were treated to her large collection of Disney films and various VHS tapes she had picked up over the years. To this day an unwrapped double VHS copy of Gone With The Wind has sat among those films. In all that time I never watched the film. For many this film goes hand in hand with watching The Wizard of Oz from an early age. I was not one of those people. So as I watched the picture for the first time last week I did not find myself swept up in the romance or the grandeur of a by-gone Hollywood era.

It was a kick to see Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh utter some of the most well-known quotes in cinema history, but it was not enough to shake the drudgery of social conventions and the representation of race and gender throughout the film. I know some will argue that you must view a film as a product of the times, but in some areas it was just too much. I would argue that Butterfly McQueen’s alliteration, “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin‘ babies!” single-handedly set back the image of black america in cinema for decades. That may be a tad extreme, but through Prissy, Mammy and Pork the film presents a woeful caricature of people enduring slave life.

Also, I did not feel any concern for Scarlett O’Hara. I was gleeful when Rhett finally leaves her at the film’s conclusion. Scarlett inhabits some of the worst qualities of the privileged. I understand that is the purpose of her character, but it is still unnerving. At the same time I do understand her motivations. Throughout the picture she is married and loses a partner three times all the while pining for the love and devotion of a fourth man. Although, I was never convinced she loved any man. On reconsideration this is the most challenging and interesting aspect of Scarlett’s character.

There are several scenes which highlight the independent streak that runs though Scarlett, but none more so than one set in her second husband’s lumber mill. After usurping her sister’s engagement Scarlett marries Frank Kennedy and begins to run his business affairs and even purchases a saw mill. The film highlights this by including a scene of Scarlett running the factory herself. In a medium shot the camera places Scarlett in the center of the frame with employees and her husband appearing on each side. This shot is on the second level of the saw mill and in the background the shot shows the workers (inmate labors) below toiling away. The composition of the shot places all power and importance on Scarlett. Vivien Leigh is electric in the scene, her eyes scanning blueprints while barking orders at workers and her husband alike. This scene boils Scarlett’s character down to her most base elements and highlights her drive to succeed in business. It is the clearest display of Scarlet acting on her previously restrained desire and ambition.

Heralded as a classic and essential viewing for anyone who aspires to study film, I was not enchanted by this picture. It may be do to the time in life I first saw it, my trouble with the film’s themes or my familiarity with the quotes and more famous scenes. Whatever the reason I do not intend to see the film again any time soon. The grand scale of the picture is remarkable and I doubt it could be made in the current Hollywood climate. On that level the film is worth a look. For my money though there is no beating the intensity of Vivien Leigh’s eyes during the saw mill scene.

Rating: 3/5

Until next time, Cheers!