This Week at the Movies - The List

Because I can't make a decision on Netflix. . . and because of my extended stay in 1959. . . and because I had never seen some of the big films of 1959. . . this seemed a good idea at the time.   In no particular order within their respective categories:  

(Apologies for the atrocious spacing - I keep fixing it and it keeps unfixing itself.  Honest, the draft looks good - it just won't post.)

Best So Far:

On the Beach -- 

*  Doomed Australians await  radiation poisoning after nuclear war.     

*  Yet this movie is very, very sad without being depressing.  Goes right up to the edge of hopelessness and topples over, but quite beautiful in the pause before the fall.   Everyone is going to die, yet no one behaves badly.  I guess because they're Australians.  Only the American is embarrassingly delusional.

*   This film came right before Psycho made a cartoon out of Anthony Perkins.  Fred Astaire should have played more character roles.  I always thought of Ava Gardner as a generic movie star, like Kim Novak, but here she is the hero -- strong, sexy and heartbreaking.

North by Northwest 

* A man walks into a bar and ends up dangling from Abe Lincoln's nose.

*  Notice the preview doesn't give away the crop duster.  Lucky 1959 audience!  I've seen this twice in the theater, and still I enjoyed it on the laptop.  I had forgotten entirely the bit toward the end in the fascist Frank Lloyd Wright-style villa.  Even the odd console television/wet bar plays its own part.  And Martin Landau as the spurned lover - never noticed that before.  

*  Cary Grant.  Kept reminding myself that it was Cary Grant and not George Clooney, who must watch this movie every single day.  Very refreshing break from James Stewart and all his agonizing anxiety.  Cary Grant has no inner landscape.   It always struck me that the whole story hinges on Roger's exaggerated concern that he will miss meeting his mother at the theater that night.  

Pillow Talk 

*  A breathless nations awaits the defloration of Doris Day.

*  Much better than I had remembered.  As a jeering teenager, I hated this.  I know better, now.  Doris Day has marvelous wtf scene in taxi.  And, leaving aside the layers of Rock Hudson, or not, has anything really changed?  Lolololol.  No.

* Thelma Ritter as a comic alcoholic.  This should be appalling.  And it is -- except Thelma Ritter in every scene makes this whole thing a lot more human than you'd expect.  Especially when she advises Doris Day not to pick up men in bars:  "It doesn't work."  She's marvelous.

The Nun's Story --

* Beautiful and actually suspenseful story of a young nun who struggles with the vow of obedience while pursuing her dream of nursing in the Congo.
* Audrey Hepburn perfect - everyone else excellent.  Dated, but reasonably sensitive African sequence.  
* Rare film of hard-working woman.  Of course, a distracting romance is not really an option.

Odds Against Tomorrow -- 

Gorgeous late noir about a rotten ex-cop, a gambler and a bigoted loser who rob a small-town bank along the Hudson River.
* Robert Ryan, whom I have never really noticed, fantastic in unsympathetic role; no one to really root for here - even Harry Belafonte is a rather a jerk.  Shelley Winters excellent; Gloria Graham wasted.  Directed by Robert Wise in between I Want to Live and West Side Story; edited by fellow Scrippsie Dede Allen.  Tangential link to this blog:  Richard Bright, who stands out in a bit part, was also memorable in The Panic in Needle Park, directed by Jerry Schatzberg, who made an appearance in Vogue October 15, 1959.
* Can't we all get along . . . at least long enough to rob a bank?  

Shadows --  

* Three hipster siblings in Manhattan, wobbling between sympathetic and aggravating.  They're black -- incidentally.  You could barely manage the "incidentally" today, let alone in 1959.   
* Seems much improvised with barely professional actors; shot in bars and on the street, a real apartment.  Still, everybody is good:  (just wikicheated;  first feature by John Cassavetes using students from his acting studio).  I never look these up beforehand; can hardly overstate what a surprise this was.  
* Compare and contrast:  the "Omg!  She's black!" scene here with the excruciating, sadistic version in Imitation of Life. Or, actually, everything in those two movies.  

North West Frontier -- 

* Exciting, actually topical, well-done, well-paced adventure set on a train through what is now Pakistan. 

* Kenneth Moore and Lauren Bacall, who I did not expect in this movie, were great;  I.S. Johar, actually funny in what could have been the native-as-comic-relief role, but just escapes it.

* See it! Can't find the trailer. . .

Violent Summer - -

*Italy, toward end of World War II.  Teen-aged son of fascist politician and widow fall in love.

*When Jean-Louis Trintignant takes Eleanora Rossi Drago in his arms. . .

*Moody, beautiful cinematography, well-paced.

Anatomy of a Murder -- 

* George C. Scott in court; the Judge played by attorney Joseph Welch, famous for "Have you no sense of decency?" (McCarthy hearings.) 

* Black and white photography of upper Michigan.

* Hollywood at its most grown-up and nuanced. Everything good.   

Hiroshima Mon Amour -- 

* In Hiroshima, very minor French actress has affair with Japanese architect during filming and identifies too much with suffering of  citizens; this because of her own entirely unheroic wartime experiences.   

* I intensely disliked this movie, but that doesn't mean it's not good. Even when it was repetitive and the motivation of the female lead was unfathomable, I stuck with it.  Don't know why. 

* Interesting to see Japan in the late 1950s; one oddity: huge ad for Aunt Jemima pancakes in the background.

Room at the Top

*  In post-war Britain, working class Laurance Harvey is on the make in a provincial city.  Loves married, older Simone Signoret, but marries the boss's daughter.  I have a weakness for Britain at its height of primness and grunge.

 Simone Signoret, when she says, "Oh, I was a good teacher."

* Laurence Harvey almost likable here.

Fires on the Plain -- 

* Grim Japanese anti-war drama about dreamy, guiless, tubercular  private in Japanese army trying to get to evacuation point on Philippine island in February 1945.  More than grim.  Actually, more depressing than Stalingrad, which would make quite a double feature.  

* Director Kon Ichikawa had made mostly light comedies before this.  Quite a change. And also, what was a post-war Japanese comedy like? 

* Mickey Curtis. Played the kind of young soldier who'd be on the make as a civilian.  Startling performance. Never heard of him, but he was huge rock star (rockabilly, Elvis-style) in Japan in the 1950's.  Canadian mother. 19 at the time, no acting experience, just thrown into the movie, partly because he was already very thin.  Still around.  (Another big singing star in 1959 film:  Ricky Nelson, Rio Bravo.

Pretty Good, Actually

* Two strangers share a sleeping compartment on a night train to the holiday towns of Baltic Poland.  A murderer is on board.  Is it him?

* True to life portrait of a night on a crowded holiday train.

* Much is done with very little.  Definitely worth seeing.  
Kaagaz Ke Phool -- 

*   Not quite disappointing, but not quite pretty good, either.  Interesting.  From supposedly the golden age of Indian film, but Bollywood today is a lot more fun.

*  Some musical numbers, but no dancing.  Kind of like A Star is Born starring the Orson Welles of India.   Interesting to see a Bollywood film about a Bollywood film; many affecting scenes; very, very, very long movie.

*  Tragic film with comic relief added by Johnny Walker, an Indian actor known for comic drunkenness.   Almost, but not quite, excruciating.

400 Blows -- 

*  A French boy has problems in school and at home.

*  Well, it wasn't about an orphan constantly getting beaten up. Whew!   I have a hard time in seeing what all the self-congratulatory fuss was about.  An average, slightly unpleasant boy and his almost good-enough parents - film seemed to keep pointing things out in an accusatory manner, but I don't see the big indictment of society.

*  Beautiful film, beautiful music, drags in the final quarter.  I don't know if this is the first movie with the sudden, pointless ending, but after having seen plenty of them, a time came when I just waited for the  sudden, pointless ending.  Still - gorgeous movie.

Pork Chop Hill -- 

*   Gregory Peck's earnest portrayal of a particularly inane military action in which ordinary soldiers obeyed cretinous orders the best they could.   Seems to have been made on the cheap, which is a shame because the talent in the cast runs very deep.

*  Besides Gregory Peck:  Harry Guardino, Rip Torn, George Peppard, Gavin MacLeod, Martin Landau .  . . Harry Dean Stanton and Clarence Williams III have tiny roles.  Robert Blake and Woody Strode are very good, but the big surprise is Norman Fell as the guy who should have been on his way home, but the Army screwed up.

*  Interesting non-handling of newly integrated troops and the Japanese-American Lieutenant played by George Shibata, who was the first Japanese-American to graduate from West Point.  A surprisingly intelligent movie.  Bosley Crothers gave it a respectful review, noting it was a good movie to see on Memorial Day Weekend.   

The Wreck of the Mary Deare --
* A salvage boat owner finds more than he bargains for on what seems to be an abandoned freighter.
*  This turned out to be a pretty good, engrossing thriller about maritime insurance.  Really.  Gary Cooper is old and sad; I swear there's a moment when Charlton Heston seems to make the decision to help out a fellow actor.  
* Richard Harris very good in a supporting bit.  Exciting storm at sea.  Definitely worth a remake.

Best of Everything -- 

*  In this living, breathing, issue of Vogue, three girls go to New York to work at a place very much like Conde Nast.

*  This was my favorite movie when I was 10.  Still very fond of it, but it sure is awful in many ways. (Robert Evans (!!) as rich Wasp heel, who. . .no -- you've got to see it to believe it.) 

*  Hope Lange and Stephen Boyd very good together; Suzy Parker dreadful.  Joan Crawford is Joan Crawford. 

No Name on the Bullet --

* Pleasant assassin comes to town; chaos ensues.

* Tidy, almost noirish pacfist Western; more confidence in material could have made a great movie;

* Audie Murphy just good enough and strange enough to pull it off.

A Bucket of Blood -- 

*  Pretty funny Roger Corman satire of the beatnik scene, with jokes about hydrogenated fat, wheat germ and organic guava juice.

*  Uh, no - nebbishy busboy murders his way to artistic renown.

*  Warm-up for the far superior Little Shop of Horrors.

House on Haunted Hill -- 

* Silky, sulky Vincent Price.

* Crude and elegant at once; nothing extra in the acting and nothing wasted in the story.

* All the horror anyone ever needs. 

Come Dance With Me --

*  Brigitte Bardot in a sort of Doris Day role as a wife who poses as a dance teacher in order to clear her husband of murder, except she goes to a drag club and there is a funny reference to mother's milk.

*  Serge Gainsborough as a strange bartender.

*  Very funny!

Carleton Brown of the F.O. --

* Terry-Thomas, who is not the same person as Terry Southern - now I know -- in very British comedy of the British Empire that was actually pretty funny.

* I don't remember the scene in the poster at all.

* Peter Sellers forgettable here - that's a plus.  


Pickpocket --

*    A meditation on Crime and Punishment with interludes of instruction in an interesting art.

*   I saw this just now in the theatre.  (Robert Bresson retrospective at Pacific Film Archive).  Drawn like a moth to the flame of mediocrity and philistinism, I liked all the parts that were not part of the greatness of Robert Bresson.  That would be scenes of Paris in 1959 and all the pickpocketing.  I understand that it's a great movie - great as in academically great -- but I was slightly bored.

*  Except when Henry Kissig  was on screen.

Warlock --

*  A town besieged by a biker gang on horses hires a private security consultant.

*  That clip had it all, including Anthony Quinn's weirdly lingering hand on the guy with the gun, which goes well with earlier mentions of his strong interest in decorating Henry Fonda's rooms.  We have the corpselike Henry Fonda, the always reliably sociopathic Richard Widmark, Anthony Quinn in the Dean Martin role and bonus performances by DeForest Kelley and Frank Gorshin.  Actually, it's missing Dorothy Malone as an ex-prostitute who was married to either Anthony Quinn or Henry Fonda, or both or something.  I have about 20 minutes left, but I've had enough.

* Based on book by the late Oakley Hall, whose name leapt out because he's still mentioned a lot around here as a writing guru.  Protege of Wallace Stegner (bored senseless by Angle of Repose and loathed Crossing to Safety) and mentor of Michael Chabon, a fellow Berkeleyite who wrote a very good essay on Berkeley.  And we'll leave it at that.    Not inclined to track down the book.    But, did the NYT like it?  Mostly, yes.  BTW, Jane Fonda will be showing up one of these pages.  Stay tuned.

Thank God for Bones.

Ben Hur -- 
*  The ups and downs of a Prince of Judea, with mystical interludes and a cast of thousands.

  *  Charlton Heston is often acting by himself, especially with Stephen Boyd - a big year for him - who seemed a lot happier in Best of Everything;   chariot race and dramatic pacing better in 1925 version; story doesn't even make sense;  no dramatic tension; turgid direction.
  *  Jesus (Claude Heater) and I were once agents at the same Prudential Real Estate office in San Francisco.  He was notable for little selling and much opining. 

Gidget --

* A sixteen-year-old girl learns about men and surfing.

* I was hoping for much better.  Sandra Dee awful; writing awful. Didn't look that great.  

* Reduced to noting details of set and costume.  Pink gingham hoodie!

The Bat -- 

* Extremely stagey maniac-runs-amok-in-search-of-million-dollars movie with cheap televisionish overtones and not enough bats.

* Vincent Price is not the villain; Agnes Moorehead provides parody of Katherine Hepburn.

* On the plus - a fairly strong female lead, and an older female at that. 

The Atomic Submarine -- 

Something is wreaking havoc under the North Pole!
* Atomic submarine warfare, a UFO, an octopus from outer space - none of it adds up to anything. Good poster, though.
* I had a little plastic submarine that you put baking soda in and it cruised around the bottom of the bathroom sink.  And it starred in this film!

I Fell Asleep

Man in a Net.  Better keep those New York bohemians out of Connecticut - for their own good.  Cue dramatic hamster.

*  A sad and comatose Alan Ladd, overly vivacious Carolyn Jones (at least she keeps you awake while she's on screen).  Directed by Michael Curtiz, I was very sad to see.  (Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, Yankee Doodle Dandy - some favorites.)   No one's heart was in this.  

*  Stick with the trailer. 

Solomon and Sheba -- 

*  Gina Lollabrigida had a few good moments.  Then I fell asleep.

Don't Give Up the Ship -- 

*  Jerry Lewis. But I got through a lot more than I thought I would.

4-D Man -- 

* Just stupid.  Fell asleep.

Terror Is a Man --  

* Sad and bad nasty-things-are-happening-in-the-jungle movie.  I wish I had fallen asleep. 

The F.B.I. Story --

*James Stewart at his most emasculated.

*Pure propaganda and not very interesting.

*Fell asleep.

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