Jungle Book (1942)

It is interesting how inspiration can sometimes go in circles – or at least in spirals. Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, published in 1894, lent inspiration to Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the first Tarzan book in 1912. Burroughs has said that Kipling was among his inspirational sources, and Kipling later admitted that Burroughs was a “genius among genii” of imitators (though, strictly speaking, Tarzan is more than just a Mowgli imitation). The Tarzan character was later changed, in both subtle and not so subtle ways, for the silver screen, and among those changes was the iconic vine swinging, allegedly invented by Frank Merrill and popularized by Johnny Weissmuller. Now, here comes the real inspirational loop, for when Jungle Book, one of the most classic of the film adaptations, was made in 1942, we suddenly see Mowgli swinging the vines from tree to tree, just like the Tarzan that was originally inspired by the book Mowgli.

(NB. Tarzan of the books finally did swing the vines, but not until 1948, in the final Tarzan book published during Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lifetime, Tarzan and the Foreign Legion.)

Patricia O'Rourke and Sabu in Zoltan Korda's Jungle Book (1942)

With or without vine swinging, Jungle Book is really a spectacular piece of film, though truth be told, it is not a very faithful adaptation of the literary original. It begins with a neat framing sequence, where an old storyteller somewhere in the Indian countryside tells the story of Mowgli. Then we see many scenes of nature, both beautiful and powerful. And at last, the story comes to Mowgli himself and his struggle for finding his place, among the jungle animals, but even more so among the humans. There is naturally also a romantic interest in the form of a young girl.

Mowgli was played by the actor simply named Sabu, who at this time was at the height of his career. Sabu had a very special screen personality, one that mesmerized and captivated the audience. But after he had served as a tailgunner in World War II, his career never quite got back on its feet, and this is therefore one of his rather few films as leading actor. If you are unfamiliar with Sabu, watching him is by itself worth the price of admission.

This film is best enjoyed because it combines the best of Hollywood and British film of the time. From the British, it has the attention to detail, the flowing dialogue, and that little something which I cannot quite put my finger on. From Hollywood, it has the lavish sets and the budget to truly make it rise above the average.

Sabu as Mowgli among the elephants in Zoltan Korda's Jungle Book (1942)

Jungle Book
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Year: 1942
Running time: 1 h 46 min
Director: Zoltán Korda
Stars: Sabu
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (960×738)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (3.8 G)

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Der Fuehrer’s Face (1942)

Normally, I do not do short film on this blog, but because of the rich treasure of classic short films available at the Internet Archive, I have decided that October is Short Film Month. First out is the classic cartoon Der Fuehrer’s Face.

Hideki Tōjō on sousaphone, Hermann Göring on piccolo, Benito Mussolini on bass drum, Heinrich Himmler on snare drum, Joseph Goebbels on trombone and Donald Duck in Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)

The beginning of the film cannot really be described any better than Wikipedia does it: “A German oom-pah band—composed of Axis leaders Joseph Goebbels on trombone, Heinrich Himmler on snare drum, Hideki Tōjō on sousaphone, Hermann Göring on piccolo and Benito Mussolini on bass drum—marches noisily at four o’clock in the morning through a small German town where everything, even the clouds and trees, are shaped as swastikas, singing the virtues of the Nazi doctrine.” There, the tone is set, and the rest of the film continues in the same crazy, satiric and nationalistic spirit.

Due to its propagandistic content, the film has not been released on DVD and Bluray as many times as most other Donald Duck films from the 30s and 40s, especially not in Europe. Still, some say it is one of the best. At any rate, there are many brilliant gags, and it is a film well worth watching.

The film has many neat little details. For example, in the image below, note how even the telephone poles (barely visible) are shaped like swastikas. Another detail, for anyone interested in how Disney cut corners in the war year animations, is when the band marches back across the screen just after the titles. The swastikas on the uniforms are mirrored, because the entire section is just mirrored from the first time they marched past.

Der Fuehrer’s Face received an Academy Award for best animated short. At least two other nominees from the same year can be found at the Internet Archive: the Tex Avery cartoon Blitz Wolf and George Pal’s Puppetoon Tulips Shall Grow. Both are excellent, and highly recommended.

This film is best enjoyed if you like the Disney shorts from the classic period. This is one you may have missed if you relied on the official collections from Disney.

A factory with swastikas in the Donald Duck film Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)

Der Fuehrer’s Face
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Year: 1942
Running time: 8 min
Directors: Jack Kinney
Stars: Clarence Nash (voice)
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (76 M)

The First of the Few (1942)

As I have previously mentioned, it is 75 years ago this year that World War II began. One year later, the Germans were attacking in full force during the Battle of Britain, a battle which has been depicted in movies on several occasions. The battle ended on October 31, 1940.

The most important (or, at any rate, the most legendary) British fighter in that battle was the Spitfire. Spitfire was designed by R.J. Mitchell, who unfortunately did not live to see his creation in battle. His life and career inspired the film The First of the Few which was released in the middle of the war.

Leslie Howard as R.J. Mitchell in The First of the Few (1942)

The original title was inspired by a famous Winston Churchill quote. When the same film was released in America, it was unfortunately cut down and renamed to the bland Spitfire (that version is also available for download, though I strongly recommend the original).

The First of the Few, like many other films of its kind, is wartime propaganda, though its propagandistic elements do not disturb. It must be noted, however that like so many other historical dramas, this is not a good retelling of true historical events. Director and leading actor Leslie Howard chose to alter events and characters as it best suited the telling of his story.

This film is best enjoyed if you are a fan of David Niven (who plays the fighter pilot Geoffrey Crisp) or if you like this kind of nice biographical pictures.

Supermarine Spitfire in The First of the Few (1942)

The First of the Few
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Year: 1942
Running time: 1 h 54 min
Director: Leslie Howard
Stars: Leslie Howard, David Niven
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (384×288)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (903 M)

In Which We Serve (1942)

On this date, it is exactly 75 years since World War II broke out, a conflict which in many ways, for better or worse, has shaped the society we live in.

World War II is also the period in history which (in my estimate) has left by far the largest imprint upon the film material available at the Internet Archive. There are thousands of items, including newsreels, instruction films, propaganda, and of course fictional films.

British In Which We Serve is one of those fictional films. Like One of Our Aircraft is Missing from the same year and country, it is also very much a piece of wartime propaganda. Propaganda which is easy to forget and forgive when it is this beautifully packaged.

Survivors by a life raft in In Which We Serve (1942)

The film starts with the line “This is the story of a ship.” But that is not true. It is not the story of a ship, it is the story of the people on board the ship. Their joys, sorrows and fears, and how they overcome their problems through comradeship, discipline and courage. (Yes, it is propaganda, as I said.)

As a matter of fact, the ship is sunk early on in the film, and the majority of the film is told as flashbacks to the lives of the survivors. While this is a simple narrative structure in theory, it is handled so elegantly and with such good effect that it is a joy to behold.

The Internet Archive copy, unfortunately, has low resolution, but it looks good on a small screen. In my opinion, it is still worth watching. This is such a beautiful movie.

This film is best enjoyed by fans of Noël Coward. Coward wrote the story, produced, co-directed and played the leading role. It is very much his film from beginning to end.

Noël Coward as captain of the destroyer HMS Torrin in In Which We Serve (1942)

In Which We Serve
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Year: 1942
Running time: 1 h 49 min
Directors: David Lean, Noël Coward
Stars: Bernard Miles, John Mills, Noël Coward
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (480×352)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (697 M)

One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942)

The Internet Archive offers a tremendous scope of films. But of course there is more of some things, less of others. Many of my favourite film makers, such as Bergman and Kurosawa, are not represented at all. Others, like Keaton and Hitchcock, have many titles to their credit in the Archive.

Then there are some favourites that are only represented by a single film, or just a couple. Among these are the British producers, writers and directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. One of their few joint productions in the Archive is One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, a film about a downed bomber crew during World War II and their attempts to make it back home.

Crashing model of Vickers Wellington bomber in One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942)

Powell and Pressburger were together responsible for creating some of the all-time classics in the history of cinema, such as A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948).

They worked together mainly through the 1940s and 1950s, and formed a joint production company called The Archers. Each had his own strengths; Pressburger did most of the writing while Powell did most of the directing, yet they were jointly responsible for the entire creative effort throughout each production. These kinds of cooperative efforts are rare in movie making.

One of Our Aircraft is Missing was one of their earliest joint productions. It is a propaganda film commissioned by the British Ministry of Information, but unlike many other propaganda films, this one is actually good. The script is not as tight as in some of the duo’s later productions, and Powell had not yet perfected the visual language which was to become his watermark. Yet it is a powerful movie with strong and effective characterisations.

The propaganda is easy to overlook, or to become fascinated by. On the surface, it mostly consists of a couple of patriotic speaches, though there is plenty going on more subtly, if you care to look for it.

This film is best enjoyed with the awareness that you will be spoon-fed with the naturally heroic characteristics of the British and the Dutch.

Hugh Burden, Eric Portman, Hugh Williams, Bernard Miles, Godfrey Tearle, Pamela Brown in One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942)

One of Our Aircraft Is Missing
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Year: 1942
Running time: 1 h 38 min
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Stars: Hugh Burden, Eric Portman, Pamela Brown
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×576)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (700 M)