One of America’s all-time favourite films, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” tells the story of a young politician who becomes a senator in the corrupt US Senate. The film, directed by Frank Capra, is quite often seen on television on Christmastime, even if it is a critical view against the American politics and its politicians. The naive future senator is played by James Stewart (in one of his greatest screen performances), and the cast also includes the lovely Jean Arthur, in the role of a journalist who helps Jefferson Smith to win the battle against the political “dinosaurs”, and Claude Rains, in an equally memorable role of the old senator Joseph Paine. There is a remarkable and outstanding sequence in which Smith, holding in his hands the Constitution of the United States, pleads for his innocence in a fake case of corruption for which he is considered guilty in order to lose his place in the Senate. James Stewart is trully unforgettable, and so is Frank Capra’s direction. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was one of the top films of 1939, which was recently considered Hollywood’s greatest year. It got an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story, and other 8 nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (twice), Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Recording, Best Film Editing, and Best Music, Scoring. Even if it couldn’t compete at the Academy Awards with his colossal rival, “Gone With The Wind”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is one of the best films in the history of Hollywood, and is still watched on television and remembered with great joy by the American people and also by the moviegoers around the world.
One of the greatest screen versions of novels ever filmed, “Wuthering Heights” is a great classic, just like another film of Laurence Olivier, “Rebecca”. Directed by William Wyler, “Wuthering Heights” brings to our attention the tragic love story of Cathy (played by the exotic, part-Indian Merle Oberon, the wife of the British film producer and director, Alexander Korda) and Heathcliff (played by Olivier). Initially, the role of Cathy was sought by Vivien Leigh, but she was quite harshly pushed aside by Wyler, who told her she could never get a better part than Isabella (a supporting, minor role, that was later given to Geraldine Fitzgerald), because she is still unknown in the United States. Vivien’s reply was above expectations, as she earned the most coveted female role in the history of motion pictures: Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind”. In “Wuthering Heights” you will also get to see other two great British actors, David Niven (as Cathy’s husband) and Flora Robson. Despite the fact that the impressive novel by Emily Brontë was turned into a film at about one hour and a half (it’s just as if someone would cut “Gone With the Wind” at two hours in length), this production won an Oscar for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and it got other seven nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Laurence Olivier was very disappointed when he lost his Oscar to another great British actor, Robert Donat, and he was also furious at Vivien’s success after she got her Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role), Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Music, Original Score (by Alfred Newman).
All in all, “Wuthering Heights” is a very good film, even if one has to admit that there is no chemistry between Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon (they appeared together also in “The Divorce of Lady X”), just like in the case of Joan Fontaine in “Rebecca”. Both actresses argued that they had a very tough relationship with Olivier, and they weren’t in good relations with him. Obviously, the only one who could stand his “genius” was his lover and wife, Vivien Leigh. Despite the uncharismatic couple of Olivier and Oberon (Olivier was slated as being one of the ugliest faces on the American screen, and perhaps this is the reason why his early career in Hollywood ended after other two great films, “Pride and Prejudice” and “That Hamilton Woman”), I recommend you to watch “Wuthering Heights” because it is a wonderful film, very well directed, with a great cast and an admirable crew that turned the famous novel into a memorable motion picture.
The screen version of the homonymous novel by Louis Bromfield, “The Rains Came” is one of the greatest films made in 1939. Starring Myrna Loy, George Brent and Tyrone Power, this production of the 20th Century Fox Studios was a big hit, earning an Oscar for Best Effects, and also five nominations, for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Music. It was directed by the masterful Clarence Brown, who was loaned by MGM, like Myrna Loy, to the 20th Century Fox for this film. “The Rains Came” is beautifully photographed, with lots of impressive scenes – especially the earthquake and the floods. It was a great accomplishment for 1939, which is considered “Hollywood’s greatest year”, as many top films and masterpieces appeared then, such as “Gone With The Wind”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Women”, “Ninotchka”, and “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”. In “The Rains Came”, aside from the wonderful music by Alfred Newman and the special effects that were as effective as the ones that I saw in “The Good Earth”, the real attraction were the actors’ performances (and the good looks of Tyrone Power as the Indian Major), the costumes and the exotic settings. The film’s budget was also a huge one for those times, approx. $2.600.000, but it had enough earnings, as it was amply publicized in the international press. I, personally, liked very much the acting of George Brent, who reminds us of Clark Gable, and Tyrone Power and Maria Ouspenskaya were also impressive, but I have to admit that Myrna Loy was terribly miscast. There were times when not even she realised what to do with the scene. We are all accustomed to see her as William Powell’s wife in “The Thin Man” series – witty, funny, very distinguished and ladylike. In the role of Lady Edwina Esketh, the ideal choice would have been Jean Harlow, but unfortunatly she died in 1937. Another good choice would have been Greta Garbo (who appeared in a quite similar film opposite George Brent, and that was “The Painted Veil”), Marlene Dietrich or Joan Crawford, so that is why I really can’t understand what made them cast Myrna Loy. She was good, because she was a very fine actress, but her acting was superior in other films. All in all, “The Rains Came” is a top film, without being a masterpiece. You will like the atmosphere and also the direction of Clarence Brown – especially in the romantic scenes between George Brent and the young Brenda Joyce, who was a pleasant surprise among the supporting actors, and who later played Jane in the “Tarzan” films from the 1940s. I might as well add that there was also a remake, “The Rains of Ranchipur”, from 1955, directed by Jean Negulesco in glorious Technicolor, with a perfect choice for the leading role, Lana Turner, but with a disastrous performance of Richard Burton as the Indian Major.