Faye Emerson

We’re With the Army Now (1943, Jean Negulesco)

We’re With the Army Now is somewhat inexplicably a rarity. It’s a Warner Bros. “training short” for the Army (during World War II) but in the public domain. It’s got no IMDb entry, no Google results outside a citation from Doug McClelland’s Eleanor Parker: Woman of a Thousand Faces book… yet it’s available on archive.org and YouTube. The book’s got a seemingly accurate cast list, so McClelland got his information from somewhere… but that somewhere hasn’t been digitized. Or isn’t available digitized anymore.

Anyway.

Most of Army appears to be documentary stock footage. Some of the action-packed shots might be from a Warner Bros. movie, but a lot of it is definitely real-life stuff. The short’s all about the establishing of the Woman’s Army Corps (WAC) and women from all walks of life joining the service so the Army men can do the important thing, be cannon fodder.

Now, since these training shorts were intended for Army consumption and not the general public, the jingoistic narration probably could use some thorough unpacking (the description of U.S. involvement in World War II as deciding the “nation’s destiny” is a little weird), as well as how the narration tries to appeal to women—you get new clothes to wear! Women are good drivers and mechanics too! But their real talent is at switchboards! Also this woman’s army lets ladies lie about their weight plus and minus fifteen pounds!

But the original narrative material is its own thing. The short follows four very different women through their basic training. There’s lead Nina Foch (lead because she gets the most close-ups). She’s the receptionist good girl. There’s Faye Emerson, she’s the slutty shopgirl. Ann Shoemaker is the motherly one (two sons in the war already) who has to lose weight to join. She gets a first and last name though, which is more than almost anyone else gets. Finally, there’s Eleanor Parker as the college girl.

I mean, you almost want to see a movie where Foch, Emerson, Shoemaker, and Parker are all basic training buds, even though none of the material in the film is good and it’s often cringe-y (at one point Emerson seems to be shaming Parker for being in college), but they’re all likable at least.

Negulesco’s direction is adequate, I guess. There’s nothing he’s got to do outside try to match a couple of the dramatization shots with documentary footage. It’s not heavy lifting.

I’m very curious about why We’re With the Army Now is somehow lost to history while still being extant but as the short itself is fairly superfluous. Outside seeing future stars slumming it in an Army training film.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jean Negulesco; produced by Gordon Hollingshead; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Nina Foch (the receptionist), Faye Emerson (the shopgirl), Ann Shoemaker (the mother), Eleanor Parker (the college student), and Marjorie Hoshelle (the sergeant).


Crime by Night (1944, William Clemens)

Jerome Cowan’s detective in Crime by Night slides through the film soaked in bourbon. While the film’s mystery isn’t a bad one, perfect for a seventy minute running time, the suggestions of off-screen actions are a lot more fun to think about. The detective, with his love interest secretary along (played well by Jane Wyman, who manages ditzy humor without coming off dumb) manages to find time to romance the hotel operator, get to know all the bar staff intimately, and generally just settle himself in to small town life, enough he doesn’t seem alien to it when he’s investigating in it. The film rarely deviates from the era’s standard–we follow the detective, finding clues with him (not always getting to piece things together as quickly as he does, though all the necessary information is actually presented to the audience in Crime by Night, it’s so obvious), but the private life of the detective is–to a degree–kept from the audience. It’s a different approach, especially since Cowan’s detective is only likable in his dealings with the country bumpkins (he uses electoral competition to get paid more for investigating) and it’s Wyman who’s the likable character throughout. Given Cowan’s practically goofy performance, it’s easy to read the detective as a drunk jerk. The best thing about him is he brings Wyman around and he’s better than the country bumpkins. Still, at the end of Crime by Night, I still found myself wishing Warner had done more films with Cowan and Wyman.

I’m trying to think if the film does one unexpected thing, or even one unique thing, but, like most of the Warner b-movies from the early 1940s, it’s really a crock pot of reused ideas. The competing politicians are a comedic subplot out of something else, the family troubles precipitating the falsely accused client of Cowan’s (which is a recycling of a Thin Man plot, probably two or three or six of them) are such a non-starter the kid in the custody battle never even shows up… which is unfortunate, because Eleanor Parker, at this age, is always worth seeing working with kids–but what’s more interesting is the film forgets about the kid, just like it forgets about the inheritance after it’s introduced in the case set-up. obviously, there’s a far amount of editing incompetence, maybe there were cut scenes or maybe everyone forgot, because those scenes weren’t fun. Cowan hadn’t come out as a drunk in the opening; he wasn’t very serious, but he certainly wasn’t as goofy as immediately following. In any event, it doesn’t matter… the seventy minute b-movie needs to entertain and engage, which Crime by Night does, mostly with its cast.

Wyman’s incredibly personable performance aside, there’s also Parker as the suspicious, shady daughter of the victim. She’s one of the film’s villains, the detective’s foils, throughout, and she manages to bring some depth to a shallow role (you almost believe she has a kid somewhere, while she’s off with the nightclub singer). At the end, for her big scene, director Clemens makes his only terrible directing misstep–he inexplicably shoots her from the ground up. It looks funny; the camera on the floor appears to be the perspective of Cowan’s left shoe. Faye Emerson is unfortunately disappointing as one of Cowan’s extracurricular activities and Charles Lang is too bland, but Stuart Crawford is good as the falsely accused and Cy Kendall is amusing as the slow-witted sheriff.

I just checked IMDb and Night is the only one with these characters. Too bad. It’s a fine setup for a series.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Clemens; screenplay by Richard Weil and Joel Malone, from a novel by Daniel Mainwaring; director of photography, Henry Sharp; edited by Doug Gould; music by William Lava; produced by William Jacobs; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jane Wyman (Robbie Vance), Jerome Cowan (Sam Campbell), Faye Emerson (Ann Marlow), Charles Lang (Paul Goff), Eleanor Parker (Irene Carr), Stuart Crawford (Larry Borden), Cy Kendall (Sheriff Max Ambers), Charles C. Wilson (District Attorney Hyatt) and Fred Kelsey (Dad Martin).


The Very Thought of You (1944, Delmer Daves)

Delmer Daves–for someone whose directing occasionally makes me cover my eyes in fright–does an all right job with The Very Thought of You. He has these tight close-ups and, while there are only a few of them, they work out quick well. Otherwise, technically speaking, he doesn’t have many tricks. He’s on the low end of proficient and I kept thinking, as I watched the film, what a better director could have done with the material, since the film’s so strong.

There isn’t much internal conflict in The Very Thought of You. World War II applies pressure on the characters, pushing them into conflicted situations, which gives the film a nice lightness. It gets slow occasionally, since the only foreseeable suspense throughout is Dennis Morgan’s character getting killed in battle–except he and Eleanor Parker have multiple goodbyes, only to get to see each other again before he goes off. The first act is loaded with good scenes and great conversations and, while the second doesn’t have as many, it has enough the pacing doesn’t get too bothersome.

I suppose the film is propaganda, but it’s incredibly light propaganda if it is–a shot here or there, an extra line of dialogue. Morgan looks like a leading man, but he’s probably the weakest actor in the film. I’ve seen it before but didn’t remember much and I was worried he’d be expected to carry it. Instead, Parker’s got an awful family–Beulah Bondi and Andrea King remind of wicked characters from a fairy tale and both are excellent. Obviously, Parker needs some support in the family scenes, so Henry Travers is her understanding father and does some nice work. Georgia Lee Settle is her precocious little sister and she’s good too. The 4F brother, played by John Alvin, also does some good work. The family scenes are most of the best written ones, since they have visible conflict. The other good scenes are the ones with Parker and Faye Emerson and the ones with Dane Clark as the comic relief (with a heart of gold). The romance between Morgan and Parker–the majority of the film takes place over two days–has all off-screen conflict and, though it’s the subject of the film, one just takes it for granted and engages with the rest.

The film is well-made (though there’s mediocre direction–with a few exceptions) and it’s nice and a pleasant viewing experience. Still, without any conflict and any real suspense, it’s a chore to maintain interest. It’s rewarding, but still a chore.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Delmer Daves; screenplay by Alvah Bessie and Daves, from a story by Lionel Wiggam; director of photography, Bert Glennon; edited by Alan Crosland Jr.; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dennis Morgan (Sgt. David Stewart), Eleanor Parker (Janet Wheeler), Dane Clark (Sgt. ‘Fixit’ Gilman), Faye Emerson (Cora ‘Cuddles’ Colton), Beulah Bondi (Mrs. Harriet Wheeler), Henry Travers (Pop Wheeler), William Prince (Fred), Andrea King (Molly Wheeler), John Alvin (Cal Wheeler), Marianne O’Brien (Bernice), Georgia Lee Settle (Ellie Wheeler), Richard Erdman (Soda Jerk) and Francis Pierlot (Minister Raymond Houck).


Between Two Worlds (1944, Edward A. Blatt)

Between Two Worlds has some nostalgic value for me. When I first discovered Eleanor Parker (through an article in the magazine, “Films of the Golden Age,” which I’ve had to drop because problematic), Between Two Worlds was somehow one of the first of her films I came across. It’s early in her career, when Warner Bros. was done using her in the one-hour B films and moved her up to the two-hour ones. However, it’s not Parker who stands out in Two Worlds, it’s John Garfield.

Between Two Worlds is a play adaptation, but doesn’t feel too much like one. It does, however, have two protagonists (Garfield and Paul Henreid). Garfield isn’t the film’s intended protagonist–it doesn’t open or close with him–but his performance is so strong, he takes the lead in a few sections. Henreid is okay, I guess, playing a character somewhat like Victor Laszlo, but Parker, as his wife, doesn’t seem to know much about him. The play is from 1924 (Outward Bound) and they updated it for World War II, so some of the tripping can be attributed to that adaptation.

Regardless, the film is too long. Some sections breeze past–whenever Garfield’s running it or when Sydney Greenstreet’s there–but others, mostly the ones with Henreid, clog. Parker’s got a great scene to herself at the end and there are a lot of good performances. Faye Emerson, who appeared in at least two other films with Parker and Garfield, is particularly frustrating. Sometimes she does good work, sometimes she does bad. She leaves on a good note and so does Between Two Worlds. I had to force myself to remember its faults.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edward A. Blatt; screenplay by Daniel Fuchs, from a play by Sutton Vane; director of photography, Carl Guthrie; edited by Rudi Fehr; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Mark Hellinger; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Garfield (Tom Prior), Paul Henreid (Henry), Sydney Greenstreet (Thompson), Eleanor Parker (Ann), Edmund Gwenn (Scrubby), George Tobias (Pete Musick), George Coulouris (Lingley), Faye Emerson (Maxine) and Sara Allgood (Mrs. Midget).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.
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