A Diary for Timothy (1945)

It is 1945. The tide of war has finally turned in Great Britain’s favour. The Germans are retreating on all fronts, and victory is now more than just a vague dream. But many cities in southern England are in ruins, and the V2 rockets are still a very real threat. It is into this world that Timothy is born. As a tribute to him, director Humphrey Jennings tells the story of A Diary for Timothy.

A Diary for Timothy (1945)

I am not sure if Timothy actually existed, but whether he did or not is of minor importance. In this film, the infant baby is a storytelling device, and an effective one. Though the film is not really about Timothy, or his mother, the film repeatedly returns to them and their home in Oxfordshire.

But the stories told in this film are about other people. About the Air Force pilot recovering from his wounds. About the coal miner doing his best to produce as much coal as possible for the war effort.

This is pure propaganda, and well made. It stresses how both military and civilian personnel must work together to take Britain through the war. As a factual documentary, A Diary for Timothy has very little to offer, even though many factual events are doubtlessly recorded.

This film is best enjoyed for its effectively woven image of a strong and resilient country. A country that will not give in, no matter what. Additionally, it is interesting because of its narration, written by famous author E. M. Forster.

A Diary for Timothy (1945)

A Diary for Timothy
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Year: 1945
Running time: 37 min
Director: Humphrey Jennings
Stars: Michael Redgrave (narrator)
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (768×576)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.4 G)

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Manhunt of Mystery Island (1945)

There are quite a few old serials at the Internet Archive. The serial was a common cinematic genre from the 1910s through the 1950s. There were many different subgenres (western being, perhaps, the most common), but nearly all were focused on light entertainment with action and adventure a-plenty. Manhunt of Mystery Island (chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15) was no exception in this regard, although it was in some respects of higher quality than most.

Richard Bailey and Linda Stirling in Manhunt of Mystery Island (1945)

The plot, in typical serial style, is basically simple, yet in some ways a bit silly. The scientist William Forrest has been captured by the evil Captain Mephisto, who wants to use Forrest’s invention for world domination. Captain Mephisto, a long-dead pirate, is in reality one of the heirs of Mystery Island, who by molecular transformation can change between his two roles. Fortunately, Forrest manages to get word to the mainland. His daughter, Claire, along with the crime-fighter Lance Reardon, travel to Mystey Island to find Forrest and thwart Mephisto. But Mephisto turns out to have both cunning and resources to set up his defences. And who is he really?

Modern Hollywood action aesthetics may owe a lot to the heritage from the serials, but in one respect at least, modern films are very different. The fight sequences are governed by a completely different set of standards. Today, we often see a lot of close-ups, fast cuts and techniques inspired by tae-kwon-do or karate. The serials apparently took their inspiration from boxing, street brawling and jujitsu, and additionally used long, carefully choreographed shots. Well, at least the more lavish serials, such as this one, had well-made choreography. In some serials, the fights mostly look sloppy, but here they are fascinating and well worth watching, even though they may become a bit corny at times.

Another interesting aspect of this particular serial is the female sidekick, Claire Forrest (Linda Stirling). Far from the weak females of some earlier (e.g. Adventures of Captain Marvel) or later (e.g. Radar Men from the Moon) serials, Miss Forrest is a strong and self reliant character, who can fly a plane and fire a revolver, and even wrestle or kick a bit when the need arises. In fact, she saves the day on a number of occasions. Sure she faints or gets kidnapped every once in a while, but our male hero tends to pass out about as often as she does. She reminds me of the female “Zorro” in Zorro’s Black Whip from a year earlier. This is hardly coincidental, seeing as it is the same actress and the same co-director (Spencer Gordon Bennet). But it may also be a sign of the times that strong female characters rose up briefly. Women had taken a stronger position in society due to the war, which required many men to go overseas with the armed forces. However, there are many contrary examples of weak female leads from about the same time, and in any event the trend did not last very long. As far as I know, you have to go back to the early 1930s to find similar strong female characters in serials, and the serial as an artistic form was long since dead when the female hero made a real comeback in Hollywood.

One of the few really annoying things about the serials from the 1940s and 1950s is that there is basically no plot development. The first episode (usually about ten or fifteen minutes longer than the others) sets the stage and intruduces the characters, but thereafter things mostly follow the same pattern. Either the hero or the villain will make a move toward achieving his ends. Then the opponent will find a way to thwart him. The ensuing fight or chase will end with the mandatory cliffhanger, and when we have found out in the next episode how the hero rescued himself, everything is back to normal. I have sometimes compared it with a chess game, but in reality it is more like a tennis match without points, and especially with a 15-parter the whole thing becomes more like a transportation toward the inevitable final showdown in the last episode.

This serial is best enjoyed as one of the best of Hollywood’s soundie serials. The tempo is high, the chases and fights are entertaining, even the actors are pretty decent. But if you happen to skip an episode or two, you do not risk to miss very much of essence.

Linda Stirling, Richard Bailey and Kenne Duncan in Manhunt of Mystery Island (1945)

Manhunt of Mystery Island
Download links: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15
Year: 1945
Running time: 3 h 39 min
Directors: Spencer Gordon Bennet, Yakima Canutt, Wallace Grissell
Stars: Richard Bailey, Linda Stirling
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Low (384×288)
Sound quality: Good

Captain Kidd (1945)

Last week, I wrote about how Douglas Fairbanks defined the entire pirate film genre with The Black Pirate (1926). Having said as much, all pirate films are naturally not made from the same template. Though a number of clichés can certainly be found in Captain Kidd, the film also contains a number of original elements.

Randolph Scott in Captain Kidd (1945)

Captain Kidd is nowhere near as lavish and epic as The Black Pirate, yet it is well worth watching on its own merits. The plot is a bit too intricate to be described in just a few sentences, but rest assured that you will find both romance and adventure a-plenty. It involves the greedy and scheming pirate William Kidd (Charles Laughton), the greatest menace of the seven seas, and Adam Mace (Randolph Scott), a man who is out for revenge.

Captain Kidd has often been criticised for being historically inaccurate. That may well be the case, but it is totally beside the point. The film does make use of a number of historical names, places and ships, but the entire plot is just a wonderful fantasy, and it should be watched as such.

This film is best enjoyed for Charles Laughton’s acting. Even though Randolph Scott may nominally be the film’s hero, Laughton is definitely the main character. I did not clock, but I am sure he gets more screen time, and he is absolutely magnificent in his role. There is also a very good John Carradine in a minor role.

Captain Kidd (1945)

Captain Kidd
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Year: 1945
Running time: 1 h 29 min
Director: Rowland V. Lee
Stars: Charles Laughton, John Carradine
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (720×576)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: DivX (700 M)

Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Street is an excellent Film Noir, one that would easily defend its place even if it did not happen to be directed by legendary German director Fritz Lang, during the period that he worked in Hollywood.

Edward G Robinson and Joan Bennett in Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945)

Fritz Lang’s Hollywood career is somewhat overshadowed by his early German works. Many of them were silent, like Metropolis (1927), but Lang also had time to make a couple of sound movies, M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (1931) being one of the best-known, before he had to leave Germany to get away from the Nazis. With deathlessly classic pictures like the ones above, Lang wrote himself into cinematic history.

But Lang’s Hollywood career of about two decades should not be disregarded. His films from that period may not be as revolutionary as his German masterpieces, but they are for the most part solidly crafted. Good, sometimes first-rate, acting; interesting plots; and, not least, even an uninspired and tired Lang was still a brilliant director.

This is where Scarlet Street comes in. A typical example of Lang’s Hollywood – one of his better, actually. The actors do excellent work. A very positive surprise is Dan Duryea, whom I had not seen before that I can remember. The story, about an old and somewhat shy clerk who is seduced by a young girl who only wants to use him together with her somewhat crooked fiancé, is very neatly played out by the creative team.

This film is best enjoyed if you want to explore Fritz Lang after his German period, or if you just enjoy a solid Film Noir.

Dan Duryea and Joan Bennett in Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Street
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Year: 1945
Running time: 1 h 41 min
Director: Fritz Lang
Stars: Edward G Robinson, Joan Bennett
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (2.1 G)

The Woman in Green (1945)

I have written before about Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. All in all, he made fourteen films about the detective, and in addition to that radio plays and stage plays. A number of the films (and several of the radio episodes) are available at the Internet Archive, among them his eleventh Sherlock film, The Woman in Green.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes playing the violin and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson smoking a pipe in The Woman in Green (1945)

The film opens with a voice-over narration, but as an oddity, the narrator is not Doctor Watson. The voice belongs to Scotland Yard inspector Gregson, who takes the place in the story normally held by inspector Lestrade.

A serial killer is at large in London, and Sherlock Holmes is the only one who can stop him. The killer strikes at women, and after the deed is done chops off one of their fingers. The tracks eventually lead to a hypnotists’ club where Holmes and Watson face some serious peril, not to mention the notorious Professor Moriarty.

For the well versed Holmes fan, this is a fairly interesting and novel story. Like many other Rathbone films, it is not based on any of the original Doyle stories. There are some logical holes in the plot, but none glaring enough to take away the enjoyment of watching.

The crew makes good use of low angles and effective lighting, lending a dramatic, almost melodramatic, aspect to many scenes.

This film is best enjoyed for Basil Rathbone’s iconic portrayal of the great detective. There are good reasons why he remained the King of Sherlock Holmes actors for decades. And even though he may have since been dethroned by Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch, and perhaps even Robert Downey, Jr., his performance is nevertheless a pure joy to behold.

Henry Daniell as Professor Moriarty and Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in The Woman in Green (1945)

The Woman in Green
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Year: 1945
Running time: 1 h 8 min
Director: Roy William Neill
Stars: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.2 G)

And Then There Were None (1945)

Agatha Christie’s most well-known book (possibly together with Murder on the Orient Express) was published in 1939 as Ten Little Niggers. That title, of course, cannot be used today for reasons of political correctness, and even back then was an impossibility for the American market. Hence, movie adaptations and various editions of the book have had other titles, such as Ten Little Indians and Ten Little Soldiers.

Film and TV adaptations are numerous (Wikipedia lists over twenty). Even though I have only seen a couple, I feel fairly certain that the very first one is also one of the best. Fortunately, it is available at the Internet Archive, under the nowadays most common title: And Then There Were None.

Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Richard Haydn, C Aubrey Smith, Louis Hayward and Judith Anderson in And Then There Were None (1945)

Christie’s story is very well though-out. I sometimes find Christie’s whodunnits to be easily outguessed, but in this case it is almost impossible to be clever and guess the solution to the mystery. Clair’s adaptation also features a good bit of humour, and the ten actors playing servants and guests invited to an isolated island (the only actors you will see during most of the film) are all excellent.

This film is best enjoyed if you are unfamiliar with the ending. Some people have complained that said ending is different from the book, but in fact the movie’s ending is just a slight variant of the ending of the stage play Ten Little Niggers (later changed to Ten Little Indians), written by Christie herlself.

Roland Young, June Duprez, Barry Fitzgerald, Louis Hayward, C Aubrey Smith and Judith Anderson in And Then There Were None (1945)

And Then There Were None
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Year: 1945
Running time: 1 h 37 min
Director: René Clair
Stars: Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Louis Hayward
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (800×608)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (700 M)