Saturday, August 17, 2019

Celebrating Rare and Little Known Films

Bobby Walberg and Ingrid Bergman in Adam Had Four Sons (1941)
In the last few months, I have had great fun digging into rare films from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.  In many cases, these are films that you can't see on TCM, can't find on DVD, and will never come across on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.  Take for example Tin Pan Alley.  Twentieth Century Fox had a big hit with this film when it was released in 1940.  The film ran regularly on television when I was a kid.  It was released on VHS in 1994 and showed up on AMC a few years later.  Then it disappeared.  But it's an entertaining film and it isn't fair that it's been forgotten.

Alice Faye, John Payne, Betty Grable and Jack Oakie in Tin Pan Alley (1940)
Let's take a look at the film's "The Sheik of Araby" number, which features Betty Grable, Alice Faye and Billy Gilbert.

 I never knew until I saw this number that Mr. Gilbert could dance.

It is hard to understand the reason that The Blue Veil (1951) has never been released on DVD or distributed to television.  The film featured Oscar-nominated performances by Jane Wyman and Joan Blondell (Wyman won the Golden Globe for Best Actress).

Joan Blondell and Jane Wyman in The Blue Veil (1951)
The film's plot is engaging from the start.  A young woman, LouLou Mason (Wyman), is devastated by two deaths: first, her husband is killed in war; then, the couple's baby dies only hours after birth.  A counselor at an employment agency has a job opening for a governess and thinks it would be good therapy for LouLou to take the job.  LouLou strongly resists the offer at first, but the counselor explains that the baby's mother died in childbirth and the father is desperate to have someone care for the baby.  She assures LouLou that she only needs her to help out until she can find someone else to take the position permanently.  LouLou finds her spirits lifted caring for the baby and gladly keeps the job.  The film consists of four episodes, showing LouLou caring for the children of various employers over a number of decades.

Some of the films that I have been watching are available on streaming services and available on DVD, but the little attention they have received has guaranteed them virtual obscurity.  One film that long escaped my notice was Adam Had Four Sons (1941).  Cynical critics are unwilling to advocate a film as pleasant and wholesome as this one (one online critic dismissed the film as "sickly sweet").  But it is, in fact, a beautiful and moving film about a governess (Ingrid Bergman) who raises four young boys after their mother dies.


I discovered a perfect double feature: Holy Matrimony (1943) and Molly and Me (1945).  Both of these sweet, unostentatious comedies showcase the delightful pairing of Monty Woolley and Gracie Fields.

Woman's World (1954) was released on DVD as part of 20th Century Fox's Cinema Arts series on May 20, 2014.  To my knowledge, it aired at least once on the defunct Fox Movie Channel.

The film examines the harmful friction that can develop between career and family.  The story is set into motion with the death of Gifford Motors' general manager.  Ernest Gifford (Clifton Webb), the owner of Gifford Motors, invites his three best regional managers to New York City to size up the men and decide which one of them is the most suitable for the general manager position.

Gifford makes sure the men bring their wives because he believes the general manager's wife, who will be a prominent figure in the company's social functions, will play a crucial role in her husband's success.  The three couples include Bill and Katie Baxter (Cornel Wilde and June Allyson), a good-natured couple who are content to spend the rest of their lives in Kansas City; Sidney and Elizabeth Burns (Fred MacMurray and Lauren Bacall), a couple that is on the verge of divorce because the hardworking husband is allowing his job to monopolize his time and undermine his health; and Jerry and Carol Talbot (Van Heflin and Arlene Dahl), a couple under the harmful sway of Carol's obsessive ambition for money and power.  Who'll get the job?  The film has the suspense of a murder mystery, with Gifford as crafty and observant as the detective who must figure whodunit.


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