By G. Michael Dobbs
This week in the movie review column, we got to “Nebraska” and into a time machine back to 1939.
If you missed this low-key story about family in theaters you should take the time to discover it on home video.
The film is deceptively simple. Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a retired mechanic living in Billings, Mont. He is convinced that he has won $1 million in a sweepstakes and must get to Lincoln, Neb. to collect. Nothing will stand in his way and, after setting out on foot several times, his son David (Will Fort) decided to drive his father to the sweepstakes office, despite his mother’s vocal objections.
At first the film seems like a half-humorous, half-tragic road trip. Woody is not he best traveling companion.
Along the way, the pair stops at Woody’s brother’s house in his small hometown in Nebraska and that is where the story shifts into something really special. David had been hoping to have some father and son bonding as they drove, but Woody is taciturn to say the least.
While staying in the town, he begins to find out facts about his father’s life that add considerable understanding to his views.
Payne and screenwriter Bob Nelson touch quite a few themes in this film that certainly ring true. This is a story about aging and met and unmet expectations. It’s about revelations that put pieces of a puzzle together. Most of all the film is about forgiveness and understanding.
The center of the film is the relationship between Woody and David and both Dern and Forte do an excellent job. Dern gives a muted performance that succeeds in speaking volumes, while Forte, best known for his work on “Saturday Night Live,” shows considerable dramatic ability.
The film’s black and white photography is well done and fits the quiet nature of the story very well.
I had wished “Nebraska” had won an Oscar this week, but perhaps its several nominations – including one for the fearless June Squibb as Woody’s outspoken wife – will attract the attention of movie fans.
Back to 1939
I both love and loathe the annual Academy Awards presentation and as always this year’s bash missed a major opportunity.
The show took time to pay tribute to the 75th anniversary of the release of “The Wizard of Oz.” While that was all well and good, the show’s writers should have taken the time instead to note just what a year 1939 was for American cinema.
If you would like a home video project this year, explore the films of 1939 and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Consider that one year movie fans had the opportunity to see “Gone With the Wind;” Bette Davis’s tour de force in “Dark Victory;” director Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington;” “Of Mice and Men;” director John Ford’s “Stagecoach;” one of Greta Garbo’s final films, “Ninotchka;” Charles Laughton in the title role of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame;” The great action film “Gunga Din with Cary Grant; “Another Tin Man” with William Powell and Myrna Loy; “The Hound of the Baskervilles” with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes; the monster fest “Son of Frankenstein;” and the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musical “Babes in Arms.”
I’ll offer a disclaimer: yes, these films are “old” and yes they are in black and white for the most part. If those qualifications are deal-breakers then move on.
If they are not, though, you’ll find that 1939 was indeed a historic year. If only the folks at the Academy realized that!