Archive for February 23rd, 2021

David Niven in the opening scene of A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

by Lee Price

The Voice of America in 1945

Opening with the most gripping flirtation scene ever filmed, set against a backdrop of hellish flames, A Matter of Life and Death (1946) never falters in the sweep of its storytelling. With this one-of-a-kind masterpiece, ever-ambitious filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger attempted to entertain in the foreground with one of the all-time great screen love stories while simultaneously promoting a positive post-WWII relationship between England and the US. Filmed immediately following the war’s end, it landed right in the middle of a mind-boggling string of Powell/Pressburger masterpieces, directly following I Know Where I’m Going! (1945) and preceding Black Narcissus (1947). In their professional partnership as leaders of “The Archers,” Powell primarily served as director and Pressburger as screenwriter, working in a relationship that allowed maximal creative freedom for both.

To address the matter of Anglo-American relations in A Matter of Life and Death, Powell and Pressburger cast a somewhat cynical eye on the culture of each country. Naturally, one of their targets was the American music that had just swept across the war-torn countries of Europe, always keeping company with the American soldiers. Within the Archers’ division of responsibilities, music tended to fall to Emeric Pressburger, who was professionally trained as a violinist and had briefly played in a Hungarian orchestra before the war. Therefore, it probably fell to Pressburger to select the representative song that all Europe would immediately recognize as distinctly American. What else but Phil Moore’s “Shoo Shoo Baby”? Everyone would know that one!

Somehow I missed “Shoo Shoo Baby” while growing up in the 1960s, fervently watching old horror movies, Bowery Boys, and Abbott & Costello on Saturday morning TV. I know that “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” sung by the Andrews Sisters, became permanently locked in my brain, inextricably entangled with Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, and their slapstick basic training in Buck Privates (1941). A few years later, Bette Midler cemented my love for the song with her popular revival. But the Andrews Sisters’ nearly-as-popular and just-as-catchy “Shoo Shoo Baby” faded even as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” endured. (more…)

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