Feature: A Movie Through It’s Posters–It’s a Wonderful Life

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It’s a Wonderful Life has become a nauseating mainstay of the American Xmas tradition, but the movie was seen elsewhere in the world when it was released in 1946. What the movie was about at its core seems to have been perceived differently in other countries, at least as far as we can gather from their respective posters.

The American poster that we have all come to know shows our protagonist joyously engaging his wife, which drives home the moral that as long as one has family (and friends), he is the richest man alive. The  poster from Belgiumin the next spot randomly features a somewhat minor character, Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell). Naturally one would expect if any third character were featured on the cover that it be the angel Clarence (Henry Travers), but apparently not in Belgium.

Next up is a fairly ugly poster from Denmark featuring our protagonists but suggesting the important angel aspect of the plot, although it might be portrayed in too-goofy a manner with the cartoon of Clarence. Next, France’s poster lets us know the movie is about throwing away your money –except for that it really is not. Losing one’s money, yes. Tossing it to the wind, not so much.

Sexiest among the posters is the first of three from Italy. Although the romantic aspect of the story is present on screen, it is perhaps less exciting and prominent than this poster might suggest. Next, the Italians have created a confusing poster that makes Jimmy Stewart look like a conductor or singer (think Carlo from My Man Godfrey). And then there’s the party and scantily clad women in the background! What movie was this artist watching?! The final Italian poster might be the most accurate of any of those featured above. Besides prominently featuring Stewart, the poster also includes a scene of our major characters looking at an empty money tray. A cherub whispers in Stewart’s ear.

Finally, Spain offers us a fairly ugly and boring portrayal of young love, which although a part of the story, also leaves too much up to interpretation.

As far as visual beauty, the first Italian poster strikes me as a favorite, but I cannot help but like the utterly absurd Italian artwork with the singing Stewart. It’s just too goofy not to love!

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Final Tribute & Brush Roper

Gasser

     My latest foray into the 1955-56 television series Screen Directors Playhouse involved a rather pointless drama and decent, if not annoying, comedy. In The Final Tribute Larraine Day as small-town nurse Joyce Carter narrates the story of the new doctor in town. This Dr. Kent (Dan O’Herlihy) is young, cold and unsympathetic with his patients, yet they flock to his professional ways. In doing so they somewhat abandon the town mainstay, Dr. Walton (Thomas Mitchell) whom Joyce describes as being as taken for granted as the post office.

     Joyce gets a job as a nurse alongside Dr. Kent, and we find minor romantic tension between them. At one point getting flustered, Joyce attempts to speed away in her car but the vehicle lets her down and she is stuck accepting a ride home from Dr. Kent, along with dinner. Dr. Walton arranges with Dr. Kent to take the house calls he receives at night because the young man refuses to help people in an unnecessary panic.

     When an accident involving a dump truck and a school bus sends loads of injured kids to the doctor’s office, everyone pitches in –including Joyce who had recently quit in a huff– and Dr. Kent refuses to rest. The town later names him their person of the year, but, in revealing Dr. Walton has been making all those house calls for free, he passes the award to the old man. This again warms Joyce’s heart.

     For me Andrew Stone‘s The Final Tribute felt rather pointless. If it is meant to be a romantic plot, it fails to give the necessary exigence to Joyce’s occasional hatred for the man and gives us little to believe she should be attracted to him. If it is meant to show us that a cold-hearted man like Dr. Kent can do a kind thing like giving his award away, it fails because he seems to be rejecting the town’s affection as he begins his speech about why his colleague better deserves the tribute. The plot contains neither a clear villain or hero. The bus accident would have made a better climax than the doctor’s rejection of the award.

     A western comedy, Director Stuart Heisler‘s The Brush Roper offered some relative humor and one amazing feat of chance. Western standby Walter Brennan plays Grandpa Atkins, a former cow roper who is relegated to the position of family farmer in his old age. When a couple of young cowboys (Chuck Connors and Edgar Buchanan) come along and say a prize bull has escaped, Atkins’ grandson Cowhide (Lee Aaker) volunteers the old man to beat the young ones to the reward money.

     Riding his old cow-roping horse Liver Pill, grandpa initially finds and ropes the bull but loses him when his saddle flies of the horse and he and it slide on the ground until the rope breaks. Next, using a stronger rope, Grandpa and Liver Pill follow the roped bull off a cliff. Although the secured bull lands on the ground, Grandpa and the horse are stuck in the branches of a tree. Grandma and the young cowboys arrive to cut the man down and hear his gloating.

     Brennan was the slightly annoying yet funny aspect of The Brush Roper. His predicaments and complaining are worthy of enjoyment as are the trick his horse seems to play on him. Cowhide tells the story in addressing the camera, which felt a bit unnecessary and showed off the boy’s acting weaknesses. Overall it was a well-constructed short story and had its humorous moments but is nothing to write home about.

Out of the Fog

Gasser

Out of the Fog (1941)

     Is it possible Ida Lupino was once a young woman? Her mature, cynical roles suggest that the dame skipped over any vulnerable portion of life and went straight for adulthood. In Out of the Fog, however, Lupino seems to shift between her usual tough gal and a girl on the verge of adulthood.

     As 21-year-old Stella Goodwin, we first meet Lupino as she erupts at her boyfriend for playing around with card tricks and allowing other men to mock him. She rushes out the doors of the Sheepshead Bay restaurant and stands by the water where she next confesses to boyfriend George (Eddie Albert) that she is not content with plans to marry him and live in a three-room flat while continuing her miserable existence as a telephone operator. She seems like an adult until she goes home to the flat above her father’s shop where she tries to quietly enter her room without alerting her parents. Here I got an entirely different feel for the character whose long curls suggest youth but dark makeup says otherwise.

     Stella is only part of the plot, however. The antagonist is John Garfield‘s Howard Goff, a racketeer who makes his living selling “protection” to boat owners along the pier. That protection means he will not beat them or set their vessels aflame. His newest target is Jonah (Thomas Mitchell), Stella’s father, and Olaf (John Qualen), who share a small motor boat that provides their only pleasure in life: four nights a week of fishing. Goff is charging $5 a week, saying the duo are getting a discount because Jonah has a pretty daughter, which sparks even deeper worries for the working-class man.

     At first blush, Stella is unimpressed by the mysterious gent, but is quickly thrilled by the exciting life he leads. She starts hitting the town with him instead of George and refuses to let Goff’s business dealings with her father scare her off. When Stella reveals her father has $190 saved up with which he offered to send her to Cuba (to get away from the new beau), Goff sees the dough as an opportunity to demand it from his clients. He also plans to have Stella run away with him to Cuba, so Jonah naturally feels the need to take matters into his own hands.

     Besides Lupino’s mixed maturity in Out of the Fog, I also noticed the almost Jekyll and Hyde way of Garfield’s persona. The man has a sweet face whose round, smiling cheeks make him adorable, but he often played brutes like in this flick. It is almost like casting against type in that he could play an attractive villain capable of violence as easily as someone with the mug of Edward G. Robinson.

     Out of the Fog is no crown in either Lupino or Garfield’s crowns. The plot of a girl nearly corrupted by the intrigue of a criminal is nothing new. Ordinary people considering knocking off their aggressors is also not a novel concept. This movie has standard elements composed with somewhat unique surroundings. I would not say avoid it, but don’t go rushing to rent it.

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