Kehr Capsule of the Week: Gone with the Wind (1939)

A critic-proof movie if there ever was one: it isn’t all that good, but somehow it’s great. The first part, in which the gracefully moving camera of George Cukor (soon to be replaced) establishes the ordered world of Tara in elegant visual terms, is really very fine. But the last half is all slow, desultory denouement, and the death of the little girl is the dirtiest kind of screenwriter’s trick. No one I know of has yet solved the secret of this 1939 film’s apparently timeless appeal, though I’d guess it has something to do with the elaborate mechanisms of fate, history, and sex brought to bear on Scarlett, whose overweening libido must be punished as magnificently as it has been celebrated. The striking color overlays, which are the film’s sole stylistic eccentricity, were the contribution of that cryptic auteur, production designer William Cameron Menzies. Victor Fleming signed it, though there were many, many fingers in this particular pie. 222 min.

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Kehr Capsule of the Week: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

The film Frank Capra was born to make. This 1946 release marked his return to features after four years of turning out propaganda films for the government, and Capra poured his heart and soul into it. James Stewart stars as a small-town nobody, on the brink of suicide, who believes his life is worthless. Guardian angel Henry Travers shows him how wrong he is by letting Stewart see what would have happened had he never been born. Wonderfully drawn and acted by a superb cast (Donna Reed, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore, Gloria Grahame) and told with a sense of image and metaphor (the use of water is especially elegant) that appears in no other Capra film. The epiphany of movie sentiment and a transcendent experience.

Kehr Capsule of the Week: The Searchers (1956)

We may still be waiting for the Great American Novel, but John Ford gave us the Great American Film in 1956The Searchers gathers the deepest concerns of American literature, distilling 200 years of tradition in a way available only to popular art, and with a beauty available only to a supreme visual poet like Ford. Through the central image of the frontier, the meeting point of wilderness and civilization, Ford explores the divisions of our national character, with its search for order and its need for violence, its spirit of community and its quest for independence. 119 min.