When Donald Duck Was Nominated For The Oscar For Best Documentary – The New Spirit (1942)

ns1A Donald Duck short nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature? Yep it happened.

You see, because of the various rate changes and income brackets introduced in the Revenue Act of 1942, which was passed in order to help finance America’s part in World War II, approximately 15 million Americans would be asked to pay income taxes for the first time. In order to encourage the public to not only pay this new tax, abut to do so properly and on time, and to explain why the government needed the money, then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. approached Walt Disney to produce a propaganda film to cast the concept in a positive light and perhaps make biting the bullet just a little easier.

At first, it was proposed that a new character to simply be known as “Mr. Average Taxpayer”be crated for the short, but Disney, who certainly was one who understood the American moviegoer and what would appeal to them much more than Mr Morganthau, countered that Donald, who was at that point Disney’s biggest star, would be more appropriate for the task. After all, if even the irascible duck was willing to pay his fair share. then perhaps it would help the rest of the public see doing their part as the good and patriotic thing to do also.

ns3Thus was the short film The New Spirit born.

Directed by Wilfred Jackson and Ben Sharpsteen, and featuring Clarence Nash as the voice of Donald, Fred Shields as the radio announcer, and Cliff Edwards singing the theme song, while this was the first propaganda film Disney produced to aid the war effort, it would be far from the last.

“Interestingly, the financial information included in the short are accurate if one takes Donald’s salary of $2501 as accurate. Donald files as Head of Family since he is single and able to claim Huey, Dewey, and Louie as his dependents, sog his payment of $13 authentic according to the tax bracket. Interestingly, we also see that Donald’s address is 1313 Hollywood Boulevard. and we even get a look at his bank and check numbers

ns2Anyway, the next year, at the 15th Academy Awards, 25 films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, – this was obviously a huge year for propaganda films, and both feature films and shorts ere included in the nominations and The New Spirit was one of them. Unfortunately, it was not one of the four winners, which were The Battle of Midway, Kokoda Front Line!,  Moscow Strikes Back, and  Prelude to War.

Still, one can only wonder just how different Donald’s mantelpiece would have looked with a bight shining Oscar on top of it. Assuming, of course, his nephews didn’t just take it outside to play football with.

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Saturday Double Feature: Noah (2014) and…

Saturday on the blog means Saturday Double Feature, right? Remember, the basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

By the way, if you’re a fan of these double features, be sure to check out this post, which has the details of the new Saturday Double Feature Guessing Game. Be a winner! Show off your movie knowledge! Maybe even win an Actual Prize!

Of course, the big movie opening this week is Darren Aronofsky‘s semi-biblical epic Noah. I say semi-biblical, because from all that I’ve heard (I won’t, unfortunately, be getting to see the flick until later in the week) and considering what we’ve seen from the trailers and the special disclaimers that have already been put forward concerning its biblical origins, it’s likely to be rather controversial in certain circles. Of course, director Aronofsky has never been one to shy away from making daring choices in his movies or from challenging his audiences, and I consider all of those to be positive signs that this might very well be a movie worth plunking down the ducats for.

Of course, when one thinks about special-effects-laden biblical epics, there is one movie that immediately comes to mind, and that is Cecil B. Demille‘s 1956 big-screen spectacle The Ten Commandments, and that’s the one I’m going with for this week’s double feature:

Actually, I’m very curious to hear people’s responses and opinions on the new flick  Are you looking forward to or have you already seen Noah? Do you have any other ideas for pairing films with it? if so, let me know below. And also let me know of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #035: The Variety Show

 

Photograph of a young girl listening to the ra...The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

I’d really thought about skipping this week’s OTR Thursday, while I’m working on a couple of different ideas for future posts and also trying out some new ideas that will hopefully lead to more Old Time Radio related content from me, if not here then elsewhere, in the near future. Stay tuned for further details.

Anyway, insted of simply leaving you guys high and dry this week, I decided to throw together a few shows that feature an aspect of the Golden Age of Radio that I haven’t spent much time focusing on yet: music and variety shows. I will be doing more with these in the future, but for now, here’s a quick six pack of shows for your listening pleasure.

Until next time, as always, Happy Listening!

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Go Ahead, Watch This In The Dark – Lights Out (2013)

loSometimes it’s hard to say just what it is that makes a movie just so darn creepy. And honestly, my rational mind says there’s no reason the two minute and forty second short Lights Out should work as well as it does, but I suppose that’s part of the point. It doesn’t really work on the rational part of the mind, but on that irrational fear of the dark that is part of so many of us, whether we truly admit it to ourselves or not. There’s simply something about knowing, or even suspecting, that that noise that we’re hearing, that shadow that we’re seeing, is something beyond just the usual “what should be there”.

Shot as an entry into, and winner of the Best Director award in the Bloody Cuts Who’s There Horror Short Film Challenge, this atmospheric short really worked in a surprising way for me. The film was directed by David Sandberg and stars Lotta Losten, and I’m not really going to tell you any more about it than that, because i want you to go ahead and experience it for yourselves. I will, however, recommend that you go ahead and watch it at full screen, and also, before you do, yeah, go ahead and turn your lights out.

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Top 250 Tuesday #175 – His Girl Friday (1940)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #175 on the list, Howard Hawks His Girl Friday. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

hgf1

His Girl Friday is, simply put, one of my all-time favorite films. It’s one that I’ve watched and written about many times over the years. A few years back, when I was writing Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, it was one of the first films that I covered, and this is what I had to say about it then:

In 1940, director Howard Hawks set out, with screenwriter Charles Lederer to adapt for the big screen a play called The Front Page which had been written by  Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. The play involved Newspaper editor Walter Burns’s efforts to keep his star reporter Hildy Johnson from leaving the paper in order to get married and get a “repectable” job. During casting for the movie, however, Hawks reportedly had his secretary read Hildy’s lines and decided he liked the sound of the words coming from a woman. The script was quickly re-written so that “Huldy” became short for Hildegard, (and became Burns’s ex-wife) and the previously female fiancee became Bruce Baldwin.

As one watches the movie, it quickly becomes apparent that there are still sparks between Burns (played by Cary Grant) and Johnson (the lovely Rosalind Russell). It also becomes apparent that despite her continued protestations, Johnson is still drawn to the reporting life. Once escaped convict Earl Williams almost drops into her lap and then convinces her of his innocence, she is almost literally helpless to do anything but follow up on the story, even as her fiancee Bruce comes to realise that he has lost her.

hgf2The film maintains an incredibly quick pace throughout its 92 minute running time, containing plenty of verbal jabs between the two main characters along with Hawks’ trademark fast-cut dialog which often sees characters stepping on each others’ lines and repartee that shoots briskly along. Hawks himself said about the dialogue “I had noticed that when people talk, they talk over one another, especially people who talk fast or who are arguing or describing something. So we wrote the dialogue in a way that made the beginnings and ends of sentences unnecessary; they were there for overlapping.” Quite a bit of the dialog was ad-libbed, and there are also plenty of inside jokes, such as Burns’s remark that “the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat” (Archie Leach is, of course, Grant’s birth name.)

hgf3Grant is in top comedic form in this flick, perhaps his funniest outing until 1944’s Arsenic and Old Lace, and Russell proves well able to hold her own against his manic whirlwind, despite her disappointment with not having been Hawks’ first choice for the role and her feeling that Grant had most of the truly good lines. They are ably supported by a fine cast that includes Ralph Bellamy as Hildy’s fiancee Bruce and Alma Kruger as his mother. There can really be no argument, though, that Grant and Russell are driving this particular train and the rest are just there as passengers.

In order to keep this from being simply a reprint review, there is one aspect of the film that I’d like to touch on that I have always found quite interesting, and that’s the way that Hawks and Lederer take the role of Hildy and change it from a male lead into a female one.

hgf4Lately, there’s been a lot of discourse about “diversity” and what it can mean in casting for films. This, of course, just recently came up again when the announcement was made that an African-American actor was chosen to play the Human Torch in the next Fantastic Four movie. So one has to wonder what a late 1930’s internet would have made of the announcement that Russell would be taking over what had previously been a male role in The Front Page. Would it have been considered a progressively forward step for women in film, or would there have been incredible outrage and accusations of pandering? Most likely, a bit of both, as is usually the case, even today.

Interestingly, what seems to have been a bold choice really came about as a matter of coincidence. During the auditions for the character of Walter Burns, Hawks’ (female) secretary read the lines for Hildy and he liked the way they sounded coming from a woman and so he made the decision to rewrite the role to fit a female lead. Sometimes these “outrageous” choices come down to something as simple as that.

hgf5Of course, whatever the inspiration, the outcome can’t be disputed. The result is truly fantastic.

It does make me wonder one thing, however. with same-sex marriage so much in the news recently, has the time come for yet another take on the basic script, but this time perhaps going back to the original pairing of two men in the role, but keeping the romantic angle that His Girl Friday introduces? Is the time right for His Guy Friday? Or perhaps even Her Girl Friday? Of course, there are other complications such a remake would entail, since it couldn’t be set as a period piece, and bringing it up-to-date would necessitate other changes, since the very nature of reporting has changed so much in the ensuing tome. Still, it could be an interesting project, if done correctly.

Anyway, whatever the reasons for the changes at the time, and whatever remakes might be done in the future, His Girl Friday will remain a prime example of the screwball comedy, and will always retain its place in my own personal top 10.

So what are your thoughts on His Girl Friday? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Also, I’m curious about what you think about my argument that some movies simply have to be seen on the big screen before one can even really judge them. And if you agree with it, what films you would put into that category. Let me know in the comments below.

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The X-Men Want To Pass On This Future – Here’s A Brand New Trailer For X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Perhaps it’s a sign of superher0 overload, or just the sheer number of “blockbusters” slated for this year, but for whatever reason, amidst all the hype for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I keep forgetting that there’s also a new X-Men movie just around the corner. Fortunately, this trailer has just come out to remind us all about what may be the best outing for the mutant heroes yet, X-Men: Days of Future Past:

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It’s Not The Time, It’s What You Do With It – 17 Hours In Bed (2012)

17(A quick aside: I’m going with the full onscreen title here, though I’ve also seen it referred to simply as 17 Hours In.)

Time is often what you make of it. That not only refers to the title of this film, but its length. 17 Hours In Bed is a less than 15 minute short film, but it definitely makes the most of the time that you spend with it. The basic premise is simple: in a wordless opening, we meet Liz, who is receiving word from her doctor that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. The rest of the film deals with how she comes to terms with that and what she does directly after receiving this news.

What follows could have been played as a weepy tear-jerker, but instead what we actually get is a fun little celebration of life, it’s quirks and coincidences, and making the most of what time you have. Trust me when I say that there’s more than one surprise to be had in this film, and that’s only part of what makes it so incredibly engaging.

The film was written and directed by Ivo Raza and stars Jennifer Dawson as Liz and David Lipper as Kevin. The two leads are both engaging and talented (and, yes, sexy) performers, and it is they, as much as the material, that really show the strength of what can be done with a very short amount of film time. All three of these are names I’ll be on the lookout to see more from.

Fair warning, the film is NSFW, but you shouldn’t let that hamper you from enjoying this very well made piece.

Spend a little time with these people. You’ll definitely be glad that you did.

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