Monday, July 3

1946 - Random Cinematic Year in Review

A Random Cinematic Year In Review


By: Emery Martin-Snyder

Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use to determine the actual release year.

With the end of the 2nd World War only one year removed, 1946 was a year of recovery and reflection for the U.S. as well as the rest of the free world. In Germany, those who had previously been in power were now being tried by a military tribunal for war crimes in Nuremberg. The Tokyo Trials would also start this year and continue to occupy the remainder of the decade.

However, a fair trial wasn’t quite good enough for at least one group of Jewish paramilitary known as the ‘Nakim’ (Revenge). They were a group of assassins planning on poisoning the water supply of Munich in an attempt to murder around 6 million Germans… Fortunately, this plan was thwarted and they settled for poisoning 3,000 loaves of bread in an American POW camp housing S.S. prisoners awaiting trial. There are a lot of differing reports as to how effective the operation actually was but I think it’s safe to assume that Quentin Tarantino read up on these guys while he was writing his screenplay for 2010’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.

Back home in the U.S., the fight against injustices was taking a far more comical turn. One of the more popular forms of entertainment in the 1940’s was radio serials, dramatic and episodic stories told weekly over the radio. One of the most popular radio serials of that time was ‘The Adventures of Superman’. Children all over the country would tune in with baited breath as the Man of Steel would fight his never-ending battle for truth and justice…

Around that time, another young a fiercely passionate human rights activist by the name of Stetson Kennedy was battling for truth and justice in his own way. He had gone undercover and joined the Ku-Klux-Klan. He learned their secret code words and the details of all of their ridiculous rituals. This information proved to be fruitless in the hands of the local police so he decided to go another route. He contacted the writers of the aforementioned radio show and collaborated with them on a 16 part series called “Clan of the Fiery Cross” in which Superman defeated the KKK.

The Klan had previously enjoyed a long period of rebirth in the early 20th Century. And in the 1940’s, Jim Crow laws enabled them a certain relative presence in the social and political climate. Many credit Stetson Kennedy’s work with the Superman serial as the delivering the final blow to that relevancy. It still lingers around, even to this day but who could really take a Superman villain all that seriously?

The Post-WWII cinematic climate was known for two major movements, the Neorealism of Italy and Film Noir of America. The former showcased the talents of filmmakers like Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica. These films were among the first in the world that were shot on location, most of which were in the poor slums of a region recently ravished by the war. Many of the biggest parts in the films were played by first time or non-professional actors, and the running theme of the movement probably could have been classified as ‘a day in the life of poverty’.

On the other hand, American Film Noir was cool…. maybe a little too cool. These stories took place in the seedy underbellies of the nation’s urban centers. The visuals were full of sharp angles and deep shadows, much of which was inspired by the German Expressionism movement of the 30’s. This is not a surprise, considering that the Noir movement itself was largely contributed to by German ex-patriots like Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder. Later, the Noir movement, along with Hitchcock’s work would be credited as the major influences of the French New Wave, showing again just how post-modern cinema’s history is.

Emery’s Notable Five

5 – THE BIG SLEEP (Directed by Howard Hawks)

This film exists in a world in which every taxi driver, coat check girl or book store clerk is a gorgeous woman who throws herself at Humphry Bogart’s Philip Marlowe. This is tempered only by Lauren Bacall’s Vivian Rutledge and her (at least initial) resistance to his charm. Imagine THE BIG LEBOWSKI except that the main characters are not completely inept and incompetent. This film’s charm is in it complexities. Don’t expect to be able to follow the plot the first time around.

4 – THE KILLERS (Directed by Robert Siodmak)

I’ve seen two amazing hard boiled noir dramas in which the story revolves around an insurance investigation. The first is Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (’44). As great as Wilder’s film is, it’s not quite filthy enough for me. This film will suffice though. Even though it doesn’t go quite as full pulp as some of its counterparts like KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (’52) or KISS ME DEADLY (’55), it manages to keep just enough heart peeking through its cynicism. It’s a must see for Noir fans.

3 – PAISAN (Directed by Roberto Rossellini)

I usually have an aversion to anthology films. This is one of the very few exceptions. This film was released only one year after the Italian Auteur gave us the masterpiece, ROME, OPEN CITY. This time around, we are witness to a series of six vignettes surrounding the end of WWII in Italy. Considering the fact that each story is only about 20 minutes long, it is extremely impressive how absolutely heartbreaking Rossellini is able to make each one of them.

2 – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Directed by Jean Cocteau)

Great set design is one of the many reasons that I fell in love with film as a storytelling medium in the first place. The sets from filmmakers like Gilliam, Juenet and Wes Anderson have always inspired me and this film is a great example of what obviously inspired them. Imagine all of the magic and whimsy of Disney’s two cinematic versions but doing so without the assistance of any sort of animation or special effects. What we see on the screen was created and filmed on a set with painstaking attention to detail and artistry. The result is magical.

1 – THE STRANGER (Directed by Orson Welles)

“The German sees himself as the innocent victim of world envy and hatred, conspired against, set upon by inferior peoples, inferior nations…”

Orson Welles’ masterpiece is a frightening portrayal of a Nazi war criminal hiding in plain sight in small town America, lying in wait for the new war to begin. Keep in mind, the time frame that this film was released. The Nuremberg Trials weren’t even over yet and we were already allowing our imagination to carry us away into the deep dark corners of suspicion and dread. Over the years, this film has worked its way up through the rankings of my opinion of Welles’ films. I think I still prefer TOUCH OF EVIL and I would probably admit to both CITIZEN KANE’s & THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS’ technical superiority. But this film, quite frankly, is just more fun to watch. It is probably Welles’ most visceral work and it perfectly showcases the talents of one of cinema’s most gifted directors.

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