Margin for Error (1943)

marginforerror_1Starring Joan Bennett, Milton Berle, Otto Preminger, Carl Esmond, Howard Freeman, Poldi Dur, Clyde Fillmore

Directed by Otto Preminger

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


Margin for Error is an interesting film for the way it handles tensions among Americans and Germans in the US during World War II, but interesting is about the kindest thing you could say about it. It’s not all that entertaining, nor does it deliver any deep message, so instead it just feels like some kind of pro-American propaganda film. The Germans are predominantly of the villainous “Sieg hiel!” variety, with the main villain sporting a monocle and doing absolutely nothing to hide his outright hatred of America, the country he’s living in and is a diplomat to. If he had a mustache you can bet he’d be twirling it like the war depended on it, too.

But before we get to this guy, Margin for Error opens on a military boat carrying a load of soldiers off to some unnamed foreign shore or WWII battle. Max (Carl Esmond), one of the soldiers, has a thick German accent. When the red-blooded American soldiers give him a hard time, Moe (Milton Berle) stops the group and tells them the story of how Max came to become an enlisted man. No, this doesn’t lead into a 1940s version of the Full Metal Jacket boot camp scenario; it’s about the intrigue that develops at the German consulate in some unnamed East Coast city.

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Power of the Press (1943)

powerofthepress_1Starring Guy Kibbee, Gloria Dickson, Lee Tracy, Otto Kruger, Victor Jory, Larry Parks, Minor Watson

Directed by Lew Landers

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


Power of the Press doesn’t bother with subtlety. It’s a film that focuses like a laser on the power that the press can wield and how constructive/destructive it can be in the right/wrong hands. It’s a story and a setting that makes the Sam Fuller connection seem like a given, but unfortunately little of Fuller’s biting social commentary or affecting dramatics make it to the screen here. Power of the Press is an enjoyable little movie, but it’s one so straightforward and obvious that it’s almost pointless to watch.

The film opens as John Carter (Minor Watson), the publisher of the New York Gazette, is about to give a speech about the freedom of the press. What stops him from heading out and delivering the speech is an editorial in a small Nebraska newspaper that was recently sent to him. The editorial was written by an old friend, Ulysses Bradford (Guy Kibbee), and it takes Carter to task for being at the head of a completely corrupt newspaper that cares little for the truth. Bradford writes that freedom of the press means freedom to tell the truth, not the freedom to twist the truth.

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Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

shadowofadoubt_6Starring Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Patricia Collinge, Hume Cronyn, Wallace Ford, Edna May Wonacott, Charles Bates, Irving Bacon, Clarence Muse, Janet Shaw, Estelle Jewell

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Expectations: Super high. I love Hitchcock.

fourstar


Shadow of a Doubt opens very mysteriously as Charlie Oakley lies on a bed in a boarding house. Money is strewn about the floor, but Charlie doesn’t seem to mind. He does mind when two men come calling after him, so he quickly gives them the slip and sends a telegram to his older sister. He’s coming to stay with her family, and it’ll be a grand ol’ time! As the audience we aren’t exactly sure what’s going on and why people are looking for Charlie, and it is this constant questioning and evaluation of the situation at hand that makes Shadow of a Doubt an absolute thrill to watch.

Many thrillers place an emphasis on a ticking clock or some other overt tension, but such devices are not necessary in the hands of a master like Alfred Hitchcock. Instead, the film is set in the small town of Santa Rosa, CA (population roughly 12,600 according to the 1940 US census). Every character in the film wears a smile and goes about their business with a polite attitude. There are no villains in sight, but there are suspicions and rumblings of things being not what they seem. In lesser hands this kind of taut, yet subtle tension could have come across as boring or misguided, but Shadow of a Doubt actually ranks as one of Hitchcock’s most suspenseful films. The tension is so thick you could cut it with anything you have handy, sharp or otherwise.

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