Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Best Animated Short - 1942
1942. For all intents and purposes, many Americans probably believe that World War II began around this time. Never mind that there has been fighting in Europe for three years and in Asia for over a decade, but 1942 is significant for being the first full year of involvement by the United States of America, and that's when stuff got real. Because America!
Yeah...I'm sure that's how the Europeans and Asians view Americans. Oh well.
1942 was also the year that studios began to make films addressing the war. There have been a few films made in America about the army and what eventually became World War II, but there number really exploded in 1942. And of course none was more popular than William Wyler's Mrs. Miniver, an American film set in Britain that explored the effects of the war on the common citizens overseas. According to Wyler he made the film showing what the sacrifices the people in Britain must make in order to generate support for the war in America, who was observing a mostly isolationist policy when production began. And it was a major hit, possibly because by the time it was finally released America was deeply involved. Mrs. Miniver was the highest grossing film of 1942, and when Oscar nominations were released it also led the way with 12 nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, and at least one nomination in every acting category, the first film to do so. The other nominees went to (in descending order of nominations) the Lou Gehrig biopic The Pride of the Yankees (11), the George M. Cohen biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy (eight), Random Harvest (seven), The Talk of the Town (seven), The Magnificent Ambersons (four), Wake Island (four), 49th Parallel (three), Kings Row (three), and The Pied Piper (three). Of those Best Director nominations went to Kings Row, Random Harvest, Wake Island, and Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Yankee Doodle Dandy started off well, capturing the Oscar for Best Music (Musical), beating out seven other flicks. Meanwhile, Now Voyager had a much harder time to come up with Best Music (Comedy/Drama), as it had to beat out 17 other films. Meanwhile, the Bing Crosby classic "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn came out on top against nine other songs for Best Original Song. Yankee Doodle Dandy also won Best Sound, beating out 11 other films. In the visual technicals, Mrs. Miniver won Best B/W Cinematography (in a field of ten) while the pirate adventure The Black Swan won for Color (field of six). The wartime romance This Above All won B/W Art Direction (in a field of ten), while the musical biopic My Gal Sal won Color Art Direction (in a field of only five). The Pride of the Yankees became the first baseball film to win an Oscar when it won Best Editing. The pre-Civil War boating film Reap the Wild Win won Best Special Effects (in a field of ten). The writing categories had only five nominees each, and they went to Mrs. Miniver for Best Screenplay, 49th Parallel for Best Original Story, and the Hepburn/Tracy comedy Woman of the Year for Best Original Screenplay.
As the first film to receive a nomination in all four acting categories, Mrs. Miniver sure had a lot riding on them. Things didn't start well when Best Supporting Actor went to Van Heflin for the noir film Johnny Eager. But then the young and lovely Teresa Wright made well by winning Best Supporting Actress. She was also nominated for Best Actress for her spirited role as the loyal Eleanor Gehrig, who supported her husband Henry Louis every step of the way even as his body may or may not have been wracked by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but in the end the Oscar went to Greer Garson for playing the titular role in Mrs. Miniver. Garson then proceeded to bore everybody to tears with a record setting speech that lasted between five and a half to seven minutes depending on who you ask. It's doubly impressive when you consider that some famously long speeches such as Shirley MacLaine's rambling speech for Terms of Endearment, Gwyneth Paltrow's tearful speech for Shakespeare in Love, and Halle Berry's emotional speech for Monster's Ball lasted for no more than four and a half minutes. I'm sure nobody really cared by the time James Cagney finally won an Oscar for Yankee Doodle Dandy for Best Actor.
At the end of the night, Mrs. Miniver led with four wins followed by Yankee Doodle Dandy with three. Since both were in competition for the final two awards it could have gone either way, but seriously was Mrs. Miniver going to lose? William Wyler won for Best Director and then cruised to an easy win for Best Picture, the sixth win of the night.
And yet, as long as Greer Garson's speech was, it wasn't quite as long as any of the films nominated for Best Animated Short.
All Out for 'V'
Where Can I Watch It?
So it seems like somebody put this online. I bet it'll get taken off sometime soon but here it is for now.
Logorama, but the soundtrack features mostly George M. Cohan's "Over There" instead. Blitz Wolf was a great film that established Tex Avery as the premiere comedic director at MGM, not that it really mattered to the Academy.
Where Can I Watch It?
Der Fuehrer's Face
getting drafted and wanting to fly. However, the most powerful and most bizarre propaganda film starring Donald Duck would have to be Der Fuehrer's Face. Disney created this film to drum up support for the war by painting a picture of a Nazi-centric world that had terrible standards of living. The portrayal of Nutziland was over the top. Swastikas adorn every possible surface, and an oompah band made up of caricatures of Axis leaders like Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, Hirohito, and Mussolini goes around singing about Der Fuehrer. Even the rooster heils Hitler while crowing in the morning. The exaggerated design of the world is good for some laughs, but it only gets better through Donald's living condition. His daily bread, hard as a rock, gets interrupted by orders to read Mein Kampf. And his job becomes downright hilarious with his frequent need to stop and heil pictures of Hitler in between screwing heads on missiles. Of course Disney doesn't stop there and adds frequent visual and situational humor. And the film climaxes in a surreal breakdown that ranks up there with Pink Elephants on Parade in terms of sheer freakiness. To see it happen to a familiar character like poor Donald makes it that much more powerful. The original song written by Oliver Wallace and popularized by bandleader Spike Jones is hilarious and adds to the farcical nature of the film. Of course it's hard to think of Nazis as being something to laugh at, but this was 1942 and the horrors of the Nazi Final Solution was still largely unknown in the West. The Nazis were an enemy and by portraying them as buffoonish can audiences feel better about fighting the war. I suppose that gets at the heart of propaganda, and that's what makes Der Fuehrer's Face such a great film.
Where Can I Watch It?
As you might have heard, after the war ended and the horrors of what the Nazis did with their Final Solution came out during the Nuremberg Trials, Disney quickly snatched up the prints of the film and left it stashed in their vault. And there it stayed for close to 70 years until it was finally given a wide release on the Walt Disney Treasures - On the Front Lines DVD. And since it's out on DVD, there are ways to get it online, not that there weren't ways to get it before. >.>
Juke Box Jamboree
Where Can I Watch It?
Yes, the only versions online are the annoying European releases that chose to dub everything, including English words that appear on the screen, but it's kind of acceptable in this one because there is no dialogue, just annoying disembodied voices that read translations of certain words.
Pigs in a Polka
Dance No. 5 that is quite familiar to me for some reason. The tunes were rearranged by Termite Terrace composer Carl W. Stallings in a way that is quite pleasing to the ears and manages to flow from different dances quite seamlessly. Other than a rather useless introduction from the Big Bad Wolf*, the film actually follows the story of the Three Little Pigs quite well, but done with very little dialogue and set to music. Of course to keep things exciting they added plenty of slapstick and visual humor, but much less than what you may expect from a normal Warner Bros. film. The animation is quite good, with great expressions such as the third pig's exasperated expression while watching his stupid siblings dance. Pigs in a Polka may not challenge as much socially as some of the other propaganda films, but it is still a great work of art.
*At least compared to Elmer Fudd's witty opening in A Corny Concerto.
Where Can I Watch It?
Tulips Shall Grow
Where Can I Watch It?
Well, here are the six nominees and wouldn't you know that more than half of them had something to do with the war that broke out. And all six are all very good. Juke Box Jamboree may have been the worst of the bunch, but it was still a colorful film with a bold design and terrific music that is still great today. Terrytoons and Puppetoons came out with perhaps their best films of the year. And while the two Three Little Pig adaptations may not have been blowing away the rest of their studio's fares, but they still are still classics in their different ways. But the top of this excellent lineup of films may be Der Fuehrer's Face. Disney was willing to make a film that is both challenging and hilarious, one that addressed current events in such a way that they shy away from nowadays, and one that paints a strong picture of history. And the Academy recognized the genius of the film and awarded Disney with their tenth win in this category, a record that is still unmatched for a studio, especially since they are still out winning Oscars with films like Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and Paperman while the other competing studios shut down. So naturally Disney took their classic and stashed it away for close to 70 years, making it almost as hard to find as Lorenzo and Redux Riding Hood. Almost.
My rankings (by quality)
Der Fuehrer's Face > Tulips Shall Grow > Blitz Wolf > Pigs in a Polka > All Out for 'V' > Juke Box Jamboree
My rankings (by preference)
Der Fuehrer's Face > Tulips Shall Grow > Blitz Wolf > All Out for 'V' > Juke Box Jamboree > Pigs in a Polka
We've got a Saturday post coming, then since we just finished ten reviews since the last ranking post, next week we'll have the ranking post for nominees from 1942-1951. And then comes the epic 1941 year with 10 nominees! Yeah...I hope I'll have a chance to get the thing done by the regular scheduled time. If not, then we may see ourselves getting into another hiatus.