The 1943 Retro Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

I managed to use various plane flights and Eurostar journeys profitably to work through this category, all between 67 and 108 minutes in length so quite digestible. I generally enjoyed them, but some more than others.

7) Invisible Agent

A frankly silly film about the grandson of the original Invisible Man, who is persuaded to use the invisibility forum for the USA’s war effort, and infiltrates Berlin, getting mixed up with Allied spies and German and Japanese goons. (The chief Japanese baddie is played by Peter Lorre, a few months before his role in Casablanca.) The special effects are good, but the plot lacks credibility, and in particular I felt that Jon Hall, the lead actor, wasn’t all that great. (His uncle co-wrote the Bounty trilogy, on which the Oscar-winning film was based.) Ilona Massey is much better in the lead female role. You can, if you wish, watch the whole thing here and here.

6) No Award. The others all met my minimal criteria of being serious work.

5) Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book

Very different from the Disney adaptation, this is a presentation of the Raj to American audiences, adapting Kipling’s stories to a narrative where Mowgli (played by young superstar Sabu) is adapting to human society. I thought Patricia O’Rourke as his love interest was good too; she was a former Olympic swimmer whose acting career consists of this film only. (Her sister Peggy Stewart and her husband Wayne Morris were better known.) It loses points for too many actors blacking up to look Indian, but the sets are spectacular and the special effects are very good (apart from the rubber crocodile).

You can watch the whole thing here.

4) Cat People

Much better here – this is the story of a young Serbian woman (who mysteriously has a French accent) who falls in love with a young American chap, but refuses to have sex with him even after they are married because she believes that she will turn into a cat creature and start killing people. He sends her to a psychiatrist to cure her of this delusion, but, of course, she is right. She stalks one of his work colleagues out of jealousy, and again of course she is right. There is some great cinematography, and the cast are giving it their all (especially Simone Simon and Jane Randolph as the two female leads), but I must admit I found the sexual politics somewhat creepy and off-putting.

3) I Married a Witch

More sexual politics here: the heroine, played by Veronica Lake, has cursed the Wooley family to always marry the wrong woman for generations, and this resonates from the Salem witch trials to the present day – when our heroine is reincarnated and herself falls in love with the latest scion of the Wooley family, played by Fredric March, who is running in next week’s election for governor. It’s intended to be funny, and it generally is; though in these less innocent days, the means by which she helps him to win the election would definitely not help his credibility once in office.

The full thing is supposedly on YouTube here, but I find that it simply stops working for me after a few minutes.

2) The Ghost of Frankenstein

Totally to my surprise, I was really impressed by this. It may have made a difference that I was watching it on its own, and not as the third film in a sequence of Frankenstein films with similar plots. I thought it stood up on its own merits very well, with excellent tension between Cedric Hardwicke as Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi as Ygor, with Lon Chaney Jr dominating as the monster, for the first time after taking over the role from Boris Karloff. (Bela Lugosi’s Ygor is the spitting image of an Eastern European political commentator who I used to know.) No wobbly sets (the German village is recycled from All Quiet on the Western Front) and some excellent cinematography and special effects. I may watch the earlier films too to see if this is a case of taking an existing formula and doing it a bit better. (Incidentally, Cedric Hardwicke is also in Invisible Agent, as the lead Nazi.)

1. Bambi

Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter what I write about any of the others, because Bambi is going to win this category by a country mile. And for good reason. The two particular joys of the film are the character of Thumper, as voiced by four-year-old Peter Behn (who never acted again) for the first half of the film, and the climactic forest fire sequence. But the scene that lingers in everyone’s mind is the death of Bambi’s mother offscreen at the hands of the unseen villain, Man. It’s a drastic emotional punch for a film aimed at such a young audience; unlike Snow White, Bambi’s mother does not return to life. (She is the first in a long line of Disney mothers who get killed.) I do think the film misfires by cutting straight from the death to skip forward a few months to the “gay little spring song” which I have always hated. But maybe Disney had planned a more graceful transition in the 12 minutes that he apparently had to cut before release.

I don’t think I had actually seen the full Bambi before, though I certainly read the original novel by Felix Salten and also the Disneyfied novelisation by Idella Purnell when I was very much younger. This was a real delight.

And now I can go back to watching Oscar-winning films, where coincidentally I had just reached this year in my sequence; so next will be Casablanca.

2018 Hugos: Novel | Novella | Novelette | Short Story | Related Work | Graphic Story | Dramatic Long | Dramatic Short | Professional Artist & Fan Artist | Series | Young Adult | Campbell Award
1943 Retro Hugos: Novel | Novella | Novelette | Short Story | Dramatic Short | Fan Artist