The Wizard of Oz was intended to hit the same audience as Snow White, and won’t fail for lack of trying. It has dwarfs, music, technicolor, freak characters and Judy Garland. It can’t be expected to have a sense of humor as well—and as for the light touch of fantasy, it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet. Children will not object to it, especially as it is a thing of many interesting gadgets; but it will be delightful for children mostly to their mothers, and any kid tall enough to reach up to a ticket window will be found at the Tarzan film down the street.
Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is going to be the big movie explosion of the year, and reviewers are going to think twice and think sourly before they’ll want to put it down for the clumsy and irritating thing it is. It is a mixture of tough, factual patter about congressional cloakrooms and pressure groups, and a naïve but shameless hooraw for the American relic—Parson Weems at a flag-raising. It seems just the time for it, just the time of excitement when a barker in good voice could mount the tub, point toward the flag, say ubbuh-ubbah-ubbah and a pluribus union?
Somebody in Boots, by Nelson Algren. New York: The Vanguard Press. $2.50. Hungry Men, by Edward Anderson. New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company. $2. Both of these books are built around a subject that, once unknown to most of us, is quickly becoming almost as standard in background and situation as the older and more romantic themes of adventure: the life of men who live on the road, on the bum.
It was just four years ago, when I hadn’t been going to movies very much, that I stopped around to see Footlight Parade and made the happy discovery of James Cagney. He had been known to almost everybody else before that in heavier roles (Public Enemy, for instance), and before he was well known at all he had been doing bits in pictures. But in this one he happened to be cast as the original Cagney, the hoofer and general vaudeville knockabout.
The march of time is putting out a collection of old newsreels, stock shots and many bridging reenactments that runs the length of a feature picture and tells all in the title: The Ramparts We Watch. It is history and also rub-a-dub-dub. There are indications in the early sections that under the corporalship of Mr.
I wish to report editorial pressure on me to review the film version of “Gone with the Wind,” from which I have been shrinking ever since the first year of hot gossip over who was to play Clark Gable. The editors don’t really care whether it is a good thing for me to see or what line I take on it. What they want is an office guinea pig; they want someone to go sit through that four hours of four million dollars, to see what the shooting’s fer—as naturally no one as smart as an editor would subject himself to such a business without visual proof that it won’t kill you.
The word that comes in most handily for The Grapes of Wrath is magnificent. Movies will probably go on improving and broadening themselves; but in any event, The Grapes of Wrath is the most mature picture story that has ever been made, in feeling, in purpose, and in the use of the medium. You can drag out classics (it is often safer not to go back and see them) and you can roll off names in different tongues and times. But this is a best that has no very near comparison to date. I still don’t know how they did it, though its possibility has been latent in Hollywood for years.
To say of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that it is among the genuine artistic achievements of this country takes no great daring. In fact, outside of Chaplin, Disney’s is the one Hollywood name that any corn doctor of art and culture dare mention without fear of losing face, or on the other hand of having to know too much about the subject. There is this to be said of Disney, however: he is appreciated by all ages, but he is granted the license and simplification of those who tell tales for children, because that is his elected medium to start with.
I have been on this pitch for quite a long time, and now I should like to inquire why we as the nation which produces the movies should never have developed any sound school of movie criticism. That we haven’t is obvious; read your papers. Why we haven’t is probably owing to the ineradicable ignorance in theatricals of the ordinary writing hack, and to the fact that the ordinary reviewer on a newspaper or magazine is traditionally an amiable chump who has been kicked upstairs.
The Maltese Falcon is the first crime melodrama with finish, speed and bang to come along in what seems ages, and since its pattern is one of the best things Hollywood does, we have been missing it. It is the old Dashiell Hammett book, written back in the days when you could turn out a story and leave it at that, without any characters joining the army, fleeing as refugees or reforming bad boys, men or women.