Jean Negulesco’s life story reads like a fable, and he spoke about it in much the same way. How did he wind up in the movies? When I interviewed him in 1985, he answered, “It’s almost a result of everything I have done in life, because if you like to live and if you like to have excitement in life and if you like to paint and if you like sculpture, and poetry, and music, then you have to do cinema, because it pulls them all together.”
The man who later directed such films as Three Strangers (1946), Humoresque (1946), Johnny Belinda (1948) and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) paid his dues by churning out more than forty 10- and 20-minute shorts in the early 1940s, bringing his keen eye to subjects as diverse as The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1942) and The United States Army Band (1943). It took determination, and a creative spirit, to find artistic challenges in some of these assignments, but Negulesco took it all in stride, hoping to impress Jack L. Warner enough to get a crack at a feature film. The wide-ranging selection of musical featurettes in this program will give you a fair idea of how the fledgling director earned his wings.
He looked back on this period with fondness. “I think my experience was very helpful,” he said. “I made shorts, and you have to use your imagination, your film storytelling, your comedy, your sense of grammar, and I learned from that, so when I [had] a technical problem on a big picture, there was no problem for me.”
He also had a firm belief that “talent is the result of work. When somebody wants to be a director, he has to eat film, sleep with film, think film, love film, work film from morning until night. You have to work, work, work. And then you’re going to have talent.”
Jack Warner finally recognized that talent and gave him a medium-budget feature to direct called The Mask of Dimitrios (1944). Negulesco was well prepared and never looked back. But if you’ve never seen the surreal Hollywood fantasy Alice in Movieland (featuring future real-life star Joan Leslie) or appreciated how a clever filmmaker can present bandleaders and vaudevillians in a visually pleasing way, this program will transport you back to the studio era’s version of film school: the short subject department.
– Leonard Maltin
The Short Films of Jean Negulesco BORRAH MINEVITCH AND HIS HARMONICA SCHOOL (U.S., 1942, 10m)
ALICE IN MOVIELAND (U.S., 1940, 22m)
SIX HITS AND A MISS (U.S., 1942, 9m)
SKINNAY ENNIS AND HIS ORCESTRA (U.S., 1941, 9m)
THE GAY PARISIAN (U.S., 1941, 20m)