Song of the South (1946)

If you ever ride one of Disney’s Splash Mountain rides, you’re seeing the characters from this movie, which has remained locked in the Disney vault — at least in America, as it has been released in Japan, Germany and the UK on VHS and DVD — because in the words of executive chairman and former CEO Bob Iger, Song of the South is “not appropriate in today’s world.”

Let me explain to you how wrong the world once was and pretty much still is. A special Academy Award was given to James Baskett “for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and story teller to the children of the world.” He was the first African-American man to ever win any type of Oscar. But when the movie premiered in Atlanta, the actor was prohibited from attending because the city was racially segregated by law. This wasn’t during the Civil War. This was during your parent’s or grandparent’s lifetimes. (Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American woman to win, be nominated, or even be allowed to attend — and, even then, only with special permission — the Academy Awards, for 1939’s Gone With the Wind).

When the movie was released, Walter Francis White — the executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) — sent newspapers a statement that said, “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recognizes in Song of the South remarkable artistic merit in the music and in the combination of living actors and the cartoon technique. It regrets, however, that in an effort neither to offend audiences in the north or south, the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery. Making use of the beautiful Uncle Remus folklore, Song of the South unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master–slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.” He had not seen the film nor realized that it was set after the end of the Civl War. Perhaps a more balanced view came from his fellow NAACP member Norma Jensen who remarked that the film was “so artistically beautiful that it is difficult to be provoked over the clichés, yet it has all the clichés in the book.”

The major issue is that the film features the subserviant status of black characters, the way they dress, their exaggerated dialect and other archaic depections of black people. The stories come from Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris, who was a racial reconciliation activist writer. That doesn’t help the film’s overall tone.

The major thrust of the movie is that a white child named Johnny is inspired by the tales of Bre’e Rabbit, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear that are told by Remus. His mother doesn’t understand and thinks that the stories are making her son — who is already dealing with the seperation of his parents — too much of a rebel. Uncle Remus attempts to leave the plantation as a result, but when Johnny is hit by a bull, only his the stories and songs of the old man can save his young friend.

The funny thing is that as dated as the movie’s attitudes seemed in 1946, it was still re-released in U.S. theaters as late as 1986, when it seemed incredibly wrong. And while Disney  has never released the film on home video in the U.S., it eventually will. That’s because the film will go into public domain in 2039 and Disney will lose all copyright to the film if it is not physically released in theaters, on hoem video or via Disney+.

That said — who knows? I recently watched the film and can see the issues, but when Whoopi Goldberg was made a Disney Legend, she said that she hoped that the movie would be reissued so that people could start a dialogue about it.

Today, characters and songs from the film appear in various Disney media yet children never associate them with this film, which would never be seen if it weren’t for the internet and convention DVD sellers.

I wish there could be an assessment of this film and a discussion of what is wrong about it, while understanding that many of Uncle Remus’ lessons could teach us plenty. But this film remains a media landmine and even the whispers of a home release in 2007 led to controversy and threats of legal action.

You should see it for yourself, make up your own mind and treat everyone with the dignity they deserve. But you already knew that.

Bedlam (1946)

Inspiration can come from anywhere. For example, this movie was based on William Hogarth’s 1732-1734 painting series A Rake’s Progress.

Written by producer Val Lewton and director Mark Robson, who would go on to make Peyton PlaceValley of the Dolls and Earthquake. It would be Lewton’s last movie for RKO.

Boris Karloff plays Master George Sims, who runs a fictionalized version of Bedlam, or as it is more formally known, the Bethlem Royal Hospital. Referring to his patients as looneys, he makes them perform for him. He’s based on John Monro, who was in charge of the real Bedlam and actually charged the public admission to see his patients’ bizarre behavior.

Shocked by the treatment of the patients, Nell Bowen (Anna Lee, “The British Bombshell” who would become the matriarch of soap operas General Hospital and Port Charles) tries to reform Sims’ asylum, only to end up jailed there and menaced by the very patients she was trying to save.

The film closes with this legend: “Reforms were begun in 1773 — a new hospital was erected shortly afterward — and since that time Bedlam — once a by-word for terror and mistreatment–has led the way to enlightened and sensible treatment of the mentally ill.”

She-Wolf of London (1946)

As a kid, I’d see a title like She-Wolf of London and prepare myself for lupine madness, only to be angered by the fact that there is not a single werewolf in this movie. Imagine how angry I am as an adult when I watch films like The Wolf of Wall Street!

Years before Lassie and Lost In Space, June Lockhart would play the title character. There’s been a series of murders at a local park and her relatives inform her that because the blood of a werewolf runs in the family and that she is responsible for the deaths. Not Maureen Robinson!

As our heroine begins to worry that she is the next to suffer the Curse of the Allenbys, her aunt both tries to help and worry her at the same time. I smell gaslighting! Can you smell gaslighting? Because I totally can.

Sara Haden, who plays Aunt Martha Winthrop, is perhaps best known for playing another movie aunt, Aunt Milly Forrest in thirteen Andy Hardy films.

This was directed by Jean Yarbrough, who also brought us Hillbillys in a Haunted House and Jack and the Beanstalk, one of only two movies that Abbott and Costello made in color (the other is Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd).

Black Angel (1946)

Constance Dowling was a heart breaker. She started her entertainment career by lying about her age — and her occupation to her mother — to get a job as dancer at New York City’s Paradise nightclub. She went on to have a long affair with married director Elia Kazan, which only ended when she left town for Hollywood.

She lived in Italy from 1947 to 1950, where she romanced Italian poet/novelist Cesare Pavese, who committed suicide in 1950 after a lifetime to depression, political worries and the final rejection of Dowling. In his poetry, he refers to her as the “face of springtime,” yet one of his last poems was dedicated to her and mentioned that “death will come and she’ll have your eyes.” He overdosed on barbituates.

In 1955, Dowling married film producer Ivan Tors, who created Sea Hunt, Flipper, Daktari and Gentle Ben. He also produced her last film, Gog, before she retired to have three children and a foster child with Tors.

I’m telling you all this so that you know why she’s the perfect person to play gorgeous singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling), who is the mysterious and murdered character at the heart of this 1946 film noir.

Every man in Mavis’ life is now a suspect, like her drunk musician ex-husband Martin Blair (Dan Duryea, who usually plays the bad guy; interestingly enough his parents didn’t approve of him being an actor, so he worked for six years in advertising until the stress gave him a heart attack and he went for his dream of being a star), sinister nightclub owner Marko (Peter Lorre!) and Kirk Bennett, who gets busted for the crime.

Now, it’s time for his sainted wife Catherine (June Vincent, again this movie plays against type as Vincent was named Television’s Favorite Homewrecker by TV Guide as so many of her roles involved her stealing husbands and boyfriends) and Blair to learn the truth.

Broderick Crawford shows up as a cop, as does Wallace Ford (who was in Freaks), former National Boxing Association Middleweight Champion of the World Freddie Steele (who doubled for Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim), former vaudevillian Ben Bard and Junius Matthews (the voice of Rabbit in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons and Archimedes in The Sword in the Stone).

Writer Cornell Woolrich disliked the movie made from his book. He had tons of other films made from his work, including The Leopard ManPhantom LadyThe Return of the WhistlerNight Has a Thousand Eyes and Rear Window. He also had some surprising adaptions made from his stories, like Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Blood Stained Orchids, the 1984 role-playing and video game referencing Cloak and Dagger and the Tobe Hooper director made-for-TV movie I’m Dangerous Tonight.

This is the final movie for director Roy William Neill, who was behind eleven of the fourteen Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, as well as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and an early 3D film called The Man From M.A.R.S.

Looking for an enjoyable noir? Good. This new Arrow Films release features a brand new restoration from original film elements, new audio commentary by writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode, and a video appreciation of the film by historian Neil Sinyard. 

You can get this blu ray release from Arrow Video.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to us by Arrow. Thanks!

So Dark the Night (1946)

Joseph H. Lewis was known as “Wagon-Wheel Joe” by studio editors when he was cranking out B-movie westerns as he was in love with using the wheel itself as a visual motif. But he was about more than just one genre. He directed Bela Lugosi in The Invisible Ghost, the musical Minstrel Man and plenty of TV late in his career, but he’s mostly known for his film noir work. One of those films, Gun Crazy, is a romance about, well, loving guns.

There’s a ten-minute bank heist sequence in that film that’s been celebrated for decades. No one but the principal actors and people inside the bank were informed that this one-take scene was real. It’s audacious — the action goes from inside the bank to the getaway car with no cut and then Lewis let his actors improv all of their dialogue.

But we’re here today to speak of So Dark the Night.

Inspector Henri Cassin (Steven Geray, who was in tons of films in supporting roles, but fans of this site may know him as Dr. Frankenstein in Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter) has left Paris for a vacation he’s waiting a long time for. He’s a renowned expert who has solved all manner of the world’s toughest cases, but he finally deserves some rest.

At a small country inn, he falls for the innkeeper’s daughter Nanette. She’s a simple country girl, but something speaks to the older Cassin and he hopes to marry her. Everyone informs him that he’s too old, but his romantic heart beats for the possibility of a new life.

On the night of their engagement party, her ex-boyfriend Leon informs Cassin that he may have her now, but she will always think of her younger lover and eventually, he will have her. Nanette vanishes from her party with Leon as the main suspect, but he’s soon found dead.

Nanette’s mother is warned that she will be next to die and sure enough, she’s soon strangled. Pierre, the patriarch of the family and owner of the inn, sells the inn as Henri returns to Paris.

The murders and disappearance haunt Henri, who sees the fact that he’s solved hundreds of murders as meaning nothing when facing the one case that concerns the woman he truly loves. He comes up with a sketch of the killer and more information by studying the footprint found near Leon’s body. That’s when he comes up with an audacious hypothesis: he is the murderer. The sketch matches his face and his foot fits the print.

After confessing to the police commissioner, we learn that Henri is schizophrenic. Somehow, he escapes back to the inn where he attempts to kill Pierre. The police commissioner has followed him, however, and shoots our protagonist dead, putting him out of his misery (and mystery).

While this movie emerged from Columbia’s b-movie factory, it’s still fascinating and leagues beyond any movie that would be created today.

As you’d expect from Arrow Video, their new blu ray release has it all. A high def 1080p version of the film that makes it look better than it has since it was originally released, audio commentary and analysis on the film by critics and experts and the original trailer.

I’d never seen any of Lewis’ work before, so this was a welcome change of pace. I’m looking forward to going deeper into his work.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to me by its PR department, but that has no impact on this review.

CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: Shock (1946)

Dr. Cross (an amazingly young Vincent Price) is treating a young patient for shock, as she went into a coma when she saw a man kill his wife with a candlestick. But what if that man ended up being Dr. Cross? And how will she escape?

Lynn Bari plays the Doctor’s lover/nurse Elaine, and if you know anything of noir, she’s never a leading lady but always the seductress, a “sultry, statuesque man-killer” as Wikipedia refers to her. Sadly, her career fizzled by the 1950’s, “sabotaged by unresolved problems with her domineering, alcoholic mother and three marriages.”

Once Dr. Cross realizes that Janet knows he’s the killer, Elaine convinces him to overdose her on insulin and give her shock therapy, which sends her into a coma. He can’t find it in his heart to kill her, but his nurse won’t help him save her, so he chokes her. Luckily, Dr. Harvey saves the day and all is well — but things sure got close.

If you don’t have the Chilling Classics set, you can always watch this on Amazon Prime. Actually, since the original copyright holder never secured the rights, it’s in the public domain, so you can find it pretty much anywhere.