Showing posts with label 1950's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1950's. Show all posts

Monday, November 2, 2020

Elementary Watch: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)


 

Watched:  10/31/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Terence Fisher

Frankly I'm surprised I'd never seen this movie before, except:  I've always been embarrassed to not have actually read the novel, which I usually like to do first on things like this.  For a while as a kid I read my brother's Sherlock Holmes collections, and like many a 13 year old kid, was a fan.  Frankly haven't read much since, so if anyone is doing any Christmas shopping for me... could use a nice Holmes collection.

Anyhoo...  Peter Cushing was TCM's Star of the Month, and they aired the movie and I decided: heck, now is the time.  It's Halloween-ish.  Ghost hounds and all.

Cushing plays Sherlock Holmes (to perfection, I might add).  Andre Morell is Watson.  I was further delighted to find out it co-starred Christopher Lee is the heir to the Baskerville manor and fortune, Sir Henry.  

The mystery surrounds a longstanding curse of the Baskerville family, that a demon hound occasionally gets them out on the moors surrounding their manor house.  When the latest occupant dies, killed by some large creature, the next in line is summoned home from South Africa to take his place.  In London, a Dr. Mortimer enlists the aid of Holmes and Watson to sort things out before Sir Henry falls to a similar fate.

The scope of the story plays well to the strengths of Hammer studios - access to solid actors, a limited number of locations, a grisly murder and kind of crazy story.  It has that Terence Fisher touch to it of not being overly stuffy, but also not ever feeling exploitative regarding the horror or grisly details while also painting a picture of what has occurred off screen or which was hinted at.  

If I have *any* complaint, I could have stood *more* of this movie.  It runs 87 minutes, and feels like it could have spent more time building suspects, detailed a bit more here and there, and given more room for Sir Henry's budding romance/ infatuation with the neighbor's comely daughter.  And, of course, with Cushing as Holmes such a delight, it would have been great to get more Holmes/ Watson time.  


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Watch Party Watch: House on Haunted Hill (1959)




Watched:  10/30/2020
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1950's
Director:  William Castle

We were trying to find an ideal movie to prep friends for Halloween, and I think a William Castle spooktacular starring Vincent Price is a pretty good option.  

House on Haunted Hill (1959) is a classic in part because it's an examplar of Castle's interactive theatrical experiences (I believe during this movie, he released a skeleton over the audience on wires) and because it seems to be in the public domain.  But, I dunno, I kind of like it.  It's cheesy, it's giddily malicious, and it makes no sense unless you say "I guess maybe the house WAS haunted?"

Anyway - it's not high art, and doesn't have quite enough spooky scenes, but it's still a fun one.



Saturday, October 31, 2020

Interactive Watch: The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)

 


Watched:  10/27/2020
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Edward L. Cahn


I had never heard of The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959) before this week.  But it was Jenifer's selection for the Tuesday watch-along party, Halloween appropriate, and had a wacky premise.  And that premise was: what if someone read an article on head-shrinking in National Geographic?  

A family somewhere in America full of the last vestiges of Victorian gentlemen scientists/ explorers had once gone to South America, gotten killed and brought a curse down upon the Drake family.  Now, the brother of Jonathan Drake has been murdered/ decapitated, and a skull has mysteriously appeared in the family crypt.  

But a lot of heads have gone missing in the Drake family over the years, and skulls keep appearing in a handy skull-accommodating curio cabinet they've got.  

Well, turns out there's an evil scientist who seems to have it in for the Drakes (the last of which is a young woman with a solid profile), and there's a spooky guy dressed in some sort of clearly supposed to be "native" garb that looks like a track suit who has his lips sewn shut running around poking people with a stick dipped in poison, which is a real dick move.  

A cop gets involved and is cranky, but decides magic makes as much sense as anything else.

Look, these days it's hard to do a story where "evil" is based on anything coming from a place other than WASP-based culture without getting the twitter cops on you.  I get it - this movie is xenophobic at minimum, exploitative at best, and has the weirdest opposite of "brown face" you're gonna see in a movie.  I do think that it's okay to have *some* aspect of mystery out there in the world and that it's possibly not a reason to go into hysterics re: the movie's racism.  This is not the movies to champion that idea, but it's possible.

As a straight horror movie, it actually has a nice, pulpy set-up, and I can see this in a horror comic or the like, as much as on the screen.  It sticks to *some* tropes, like the big, strong American cop plowing ahead through the film's action, but it also has so much to set up with the premise, it still has a bit of novelty.  Mostly, it really, really leans into using a few key real-world terms and indigenous words and no one sounds natural using them.

Much discussion was had about the stiff acting of Valerie French in this film, but I think (a) she wasn't given much to do and this was probably shot in a week, and (b) she's doing something approximating an American accent over her London accent, and it's clearly a struggle.  She might have been happier in a Hammer Horror during this window.



Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Noir Watch: Destination Murder (1950)




Watched:  10/21/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Edward L. Cahn

Shown on Noir Alley, Eddie Muller set the stage perfectly - Destination Murder (1950) is not going to fool anyone into thinking they're watching an A picture, but it is a wild ride of a film with a lot of character and more twists than a bag of pretzels.  

Laura Mansfield (Joyce MacKenzie) has come home from college on the east coast when her father opens the door for a seeming delivery man and takes a fatal bullet.  The cops seem to be stumbling, so Laura takes it upon herself to do some snooping.  Unfortunately, all of the delivery drivers in their line-up had alibis, but Laura fakes trust in her most likely suspect, and that opens a door into the underworld of the city, all based around The Vogue nightclub.  

Cast includes most recognizably Stanley Clements as the delivery man and assassin, Albert Dekker as the boss of the nightclub, Hurd Hatfield as the brains and manager of the nightclub, and Myrna Dell as a competing femme fatale.  

For the first thirty minutes, it feels like a standard B-picture, and then the twists start coming hard and fast.  Some are jaw-droppers, some are "say what?" moments, but all of it does fit into the logic of the movie.  And, anchored by the solid delivery by Joyce MacKenzie, it's all a bit crazy but just works.  That said - no one will be in a rush to nominate anyone here for an Oscar.  

Highly recommended in a "well, that was crazy!" kind of way.

Watch Party Watch: Slighty Scarlet (1956)




Watched:  10/20/2020
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Allan Dwan - Director of Photography:  John Alton

This week's Tuesday selection by Jenifer was Slightly Scarlet (1956), an RKO noir picture that seemed to have all the hallmarks of an RKO crime picture, and - starring the late Rhonda Fleming - was released in technicolor.  Jenifer no doubt selected the film because Fleming passed just last week on the 14th, and it seemed like a good way to remember the red-head bombshell, known as "Queen of Technicolor".*

Shot by John Alton, one of the now-most-famous noir DP's, it's wild to see a noir of this period in color, and one that was still being lit like all we were working with was gray tone and black and white.  Even if the story of the film doesn't grab you, it's interesting enough just to see how the rules for how these movies would be shot that had been brewing for a decade works and doesn't work once your subjects are in living color.

The story is James M. Cain, who gave us Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice, so you know it's family melodrama mixed with MURDER.

Fleming plays a career-gal who has just landed the next mayor of her California coastal city (the fictional Bay City) as her beau.  She's picking up her sister from jail, a troubled young woman with a bent psyche.  But along comes John Payne - an educated fellow playing dirty in the rackets and has an eye on the Big Man's chair (Ted De Corsia).  

Payne romances Fleming, the sister - who becomes increasingly unhinged out of her prison environs - decides she wants her some John Payne, and city politics mix with mob corruption.

All in all, a tight noir plot.  Aside from color, the stand-out difference is really Arlene Dahl's portrayal of the troubled sister, who would be winding up in a Mental Health Court these days, and how treatment and support of family (even as Dahl is blaming Fleming for her state) is everything.  It does lean into "there's a specific event that caused this" psychology of the time, at least as far as movies are concerned - and it is lifted wholesale from 1946's The Locket - but it's still an interesting twist to not just write off the sister as twisted or evil.

Also - a harpoon gun is deployed!

I think I did a phenomenal job of not acting like a Tex Avery wolf cartoon when Fleming was on screen - and the movie (in classic RKO noir fashion) - was certainly going for production value.  I can't tell if this was part of the Howard Hughes era of the studio - certainly it has the feel of something he would have had his hands on, from Fleming's wardrobe, to Arlene Dahl's personal line of negligee playing a featured role, and fight scenes that feel a little bone-crunchy.  My suspicion is: yes.  But I'm not sure when Hughes' grip on RKO slipped, and it would have been around this period.  But, man, that poster looks like something Hughes would have insisted on.



*it's hard to say the impact red-heads had on Technicolor and it had on red-heads.  I know Maureen O'Hara was also considered a highlight of Technicolor film.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Noir Watch: The Racket (1951)




Watched:  10/13/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  John CromwellMel Ferrer...(uncredited), Tay Garnett...(uncredited), Nicholas Ray...(uncredited)  Sherman Todd...(uncredited)

Part of the "tough, straight-lace cop goes up against the mob" noir genre that crescendos (for me) with The Big Heat, The Racket (1951) sees Robert Ryan cast as a mob boss who came up the ranks thanks to his Capone-like ruthlessness who now realizes that by joining a combination that's moved into town and absorbed him - he's getting sidelined.  And in his business, that can mean a pine box.  Ryan's opposite is Robert Mitchum, a guy who grew up in the same neighborhood as Ryan, but found satisfaction on the side of the angels.  before we see him, we know he's paid the price for not playing patty-cake with the mob -  passed over for promotion despite his success and pushed to yet another district.

There's no small amount of politics, graft and corruption, and Ryan's to-date clean record (bought via a line of pliable judges) is still holding up, but his desire to remain top dog in his town is leading him to recklessness - including deciding to put out a hit on a would-be judicial candidate.  Mitchum takes the indirect route to Ryan, picks up his brother, which brings the brother's songbird ladyfriend into the picture - here played by noir icon Lizabeth Scott.  There's also an amorous reporter who is awkwardly guileless for the profession he's selected, and William Talman plays a cop trying to live up to and follow in Mitchum's footsteps.

Also look for a young, The Killers-era William Conrad playing a role 20 years ahead of its time and "that guy" actor Ray Collins as the scumbag politician.

The film is an RKO picture, and on the tough side.  Even our good-guys play a bit fast and loose with the truth when they know the mob is using the law as a blunt instrument.  People throw punches with minimal provocation.  Even the virginal housewives (Joyce Mackenzie and Virginia Huston) have to deal with death and their foyers exploding.  Cars don't just crash, they flip.  

If you're a Mitchum or Robert Ryan fan (and I am), then that's enough.  RKO spent some money on this one, if not a ton of money, and the performances, dialog and stakes work well enough to gloss over some rockier aspects of the story.  

It's interesting to see Lizabeth Scott cast as more of a free-agent than the love interest of a main character.  Yeah, she's pursued by two characters in the film, but when her character speaks to Ryan and Mitchum, it's not through the filter of a romance - she's just laying down the truth, man.  She's pretty good here, honestly (she's never been my favorite of the noirista favorite dames), but credit where it's due.  I think she's terrific as an end-of-her rope songbird who couldn't believe she'd stumbled into a little luck in romance and possible financial security (those post-Depression notes just don't show up in movies anymore as a motivator, and they should).  

This is an ancestor of tough guy cops and robbers movies that we're still enjoying  - although after Heat, I'm not sure anyone is bothering anymore.  It's got that visceral appeal of an RKO noir, and doesn't put a shiny veneer on anything.  And, honestly, probably hews closer to a version of the truth than we want to think about as more than a fun crime story. It won't make you rethink cinema, and it's not the best even in it's sub-genre, but it's a solid production despite multiple writers and 4 directors (that we know of).

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Amazon Watch Party: How to Make a Monster (1958)




Watched:  10/06/2020
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director: Herbert L. Strock

How to Make a Monster (1958) turned out to be a surprisingly watchable bit of borrowed-thunder schlock from American International Pictures, an indie studio that knew Universal couldn't copyright wolf men or frankensteins and really focused on the hep teens as an audience.  You know they loved the kids because a character, just at the far end of middle-age, literally monologues for a minute about how great "teens" are, just sort of out of the blue.

On the heels of I Was a Teenage Werewolf (an early Michael Landon film) and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, I guess AIP decided to do some metacommentary and, thus, How to Make a Monster is about how monster pictures are no longer the cool thing, daddio, so our aging movie-monster specialist is told that after this last movie, he's being cut loose.  See, new producers just bought the studio and they basically want to make singing and dancing pictures (a real eye for the future, these guys).  

The make-up specialist has figured out that a formula he's been working on for make-up application has a hypnotic quality, and he uses it to get the teens he's so fond of to start murdering the interloping new bosses.

There's plenty of 1950's B-movie hijinks, some deeply questionable decisions, and a seemingly stable make-up artist who has a whole different scene going on in his private life than you'd have guessed.

I am unsure if the movie is trying to comment upon the career of Jack Pierce, famous for the creation of Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and others - who was ousted in 1946 from Universal.*  After all, the movie is about a make-up artist who created wolfman and Frankenstein monsters and who is let go as new studio brass comes in and wants a change in tone for the studio.

Jack Pierce didn't go on to murder anyone that I know of, nor was he a master of mind-control, and finished his days working on Mr. Ed.  It's really been the rise of the Rick Baker's of the world who discussed Pierce that means he's discussed today among make-up nerds.

It is not clear why the villain needs to put on full make-ups in order to get his minions to kill people, or why he puts recognizable make-ups on them, but the effect is something else as the poor kids run around strangling business guys just going about their own business.  Nor is it clear why the make-up man doesn't clear out to give himself a better alibi, rather than waiting around while the murders happen.  

But, all in all, a cheery little horror movie that abruptly goes into color in the final reel, making for a jolting effect that feels almost surreal.




*there's a whole weird chapter of Hollywood make-up history that includes a near mafia-like relationship between the Westmore family and all of the studios.  The Westmores basically took over make-up across LA in the 40's and 50's, and were jealously protective of their reputation.  In some ways, the relationship continues to this day with SyFy's Face Off monster movie make-up contest - a product of the Westmore family.  Some of this, I believe, is covered in the recent Lady From the Black Lagoon book, which describes the sidelining of Millicent Patrick as a designer for the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Noir Watch: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)




Watched:  10/08/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Otto Preminger


Before watching, I had a general awareness of Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), a movie I've seen listed here and there as a noir-buff favorite.  Starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney and directed by Otto Preminger, you'd think I'd have prioritized the film.  I did not.  No idea why.  

And, of course, because noir buffs don't tend to oversell movies, the movie does not disappoint.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

PODCAST: "Frankenstein" (1931) "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) and "Curse of Frankenstein" (1957) - Halloween 2020 w/ SimonUK and Ryan

 


Watched:  09/18 (Curse), 09/19 (Frank), 09/20 (Bride of)
Format:  Amazon Streaming, BluRay
Viewing:  Third, Unknown, Unknown
Decade:  1950's, 1930's
Director:  Terence Fisher, James Whale


It's the story of a scientist with a dream and the friends he made along the way! We stitch together three films for one monstrously excellent discussion about one of pop culture's favorite go-to's, the mad scientist and his shambling pal(s). From the shocking arrival of the 1931 film by Universal to the mid-50's experiments by Hammer to bring the story to life, we chat what makes the story work from any angle, and why we're still watching 90 years later.




Music
Frankenstein Main Theme (1931) - Giuseppe Becce
Bride of Frankenstein Suite (1935) - Franz Waxman


Halloween 2020
Halloween and Horror

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

PODCAST! "Dracula" (1931) and "Horror of Dracula" (1958) - Halloween 2020 w/ SimonUK and Ryan



Watched:  09/11/2020 and 09/12/2020
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  Unknown and Unknown
Decade:  1930's and 1950's
Director:  Tod Browning and Terence Fisher



It's Halloween! This year SimonUK and Ryan are taking on the classics of horror from not just one - but two studios! We're starting with a monster that really sucks - our dear old pal, The Count! Join us as we talk two great takes on Dracula - from Universal and Hammer Studios, respectively - that cemented the character in the collective imagination and which still continue to thrill! Let's talk creepy castles, alluring monsters and rubber bats! 

Horror of Dracula Main Theme
- James Bernard
Swan Lake - Act II (excerpt) - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky 


Halloween 2020 Playlist
All the Halloween and Horror

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Crawford Watch: Johnny Guitar (1954)


 

Watched:  09/11/2020
Format: Watch Party
Viewing:  Third
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Nicholas Ray

I don't know how successful Johnny Guitar (1954) was upon its release.  As a Western, it plays with a lot of the tropes of expansion, cattlemen versus progress and settlement, gunslingers, robbing stage coaches and more.  But at the end of the day it's about two iron-willed women who really, really do not like each other, and how one self-righteous person can lead everyone down a path that ends in murder.

1954 was part of the second act of Joan Crawford's bumpy ride of a career that solidified nine years prior with Mildred Pierce.  The glamour days of Grand Hotel were 20 years in the past.  She still had the weirdo horror movie career ahead of her, and was just about to set out as America's foremost proponent of Pepsi Cola.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Forgot to Write It Up Watch: "The Bigamist" (1953) and "A Crime Against Joe" (1956)



 


Watched:  The Bigamist 09/02 and ACAJ 09/09/2020
Format:  Watch Party w/ Jenifer
Viewing:  First for both
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Ida Lupino and  Lee Sholem

Jenifer's been hosting Amazon Watch Parties on Wednesdays, and she's picked some good ones.  And A Crime Against Joe (1956).  

I was delighted to finally see The Bigamist, starring and directed by the great Ida Lupino.  And I watched A Crime Against Joe.  It was certainly a movie.

Not doing a write up of either, but suffice it to say, anything with Lupino is a pretty good idea, and seeing her get to direct is always a treat.

lovely eyes stare into middle distance
Lupino ponders how Edmond O'Brien of all guys landed two women at once



Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Forgot to Post Watch: Catwomen of the Moon (1953)



Watched:  07/10/2020
Format:  Watch Party
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Arthur Hilton

This is a very, very silly movie, but it stars Marie Windsor, so it can't be all wrong. 

They aren't women who are cats, they are women in cat suits.  Cat women.  You know. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Ann Miller Watch: Kiss Me Kate (1953)

normally I wouldn't include a poster featuring spanking, but this was the image they stuck on *every* poster


Watched:  08/18/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  George Sidney

You know, I liked this one a lot.

Yeah, a lot of stuff dated very badly, but, I mean...*

No, Kiss Me Kate (1953) didn't feature enough Ann Miller, but nothing does.  The idea and execution worked for me.  The film works in the age-old tradition of a "play within a play", which is only fitting when adapting Shakespeare - as Howard Keel's leading man of Broadway tries to woo his ex-wife (Kathryn Grayson) back to the stage and back into his arms.   Even if he's also got Ann Miller lined up, and cast as Grayson's sister in the show. 

I've seen *some* Shakespeare, but never The Taming of the Shrew, which is the basis for the musical in the movie.  Still, it's tough to get through life in the English speaking world without getting some reference to the show at some point in life, and I'm familiar with the idea.  The film is adapted from a 1947 Broadway show - and in the film, Howard Keel has teamed with someone playing a fictional version of Cole Porter to put on a musical of Taming of the Shrew, so we get a framing first act and then jump to the opening of the show, including backstage antics, and parts of the show mixed in.  Complete with a theater full of extras on the stage and in the seats.

Of course the backstage and on-stage stories intermingle in theme and character arcs, and everyone ends up happy in the end.  But there's something about the contrivances and even "you said the quiet part out loud" bit where watching Shakespeare makes people feel smart - that actually kind of works.  Musicals have notoriously goofy plotlines piled on the oddness of people just busting into song, so keeping you busy with this much story just sort of works.

Miller has the big show starter with Porter's "It's Too Darn Hot" as a sort of tap burlesque,  and with Porter providing songs, it's kinda hard to go wrong.  Of course Keel and Grayson were musical stars of no small stature (well, Grayson looks to be about 5'1"), and play well together. 

The film is a visual spectacle, shot and released in 3D - I can only imagine how the sets and dance numbers looked for 1950's audiences.  That includes some sets and costumes designed with an almost Mary Blair palette approved by Technicolor.

It's also worth noting that the film includes a young Bob Fosse, who apparently got a big boost from his work on the film that led to him getting work on Broadway. 

Anyway - light, fun, better than I figured - it's a good time.  But I'd love to see it in 3D on the big screen.

*sometimes you have to think of the past as an exotic locale where you can have your opinions, but the locals are gonna do what they're gonna do.  You just gotta do better when you get home.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Ann Miller Watch: The Opposite Sex (1956)



Watched:  08/15/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing: First
Decade:  so very 1950's
Director:  David Miller


This is essentially a remake of The Women (1939), still rightfully hailed as a Hollywood classic. 

I dunno.  The Opposite Sex (1956) is somehow more dated than its 1939 counterpart, although both take place in Manhattan's society page sort of environment.  The real reason to watch this one is probably to see a movie so chock full of "oh, wow, she's in this" actresses of the era.

Ann Miller
Joan Collins
Dolores Gray
Ann Sheridan
Agnes Moorehead
Joan Blondell
Alice Pearce
June Allyson

and two of the main dudes in the movie are Leslie Nielsen (back when he was straight leading man material) and a favorite around here: Sam Levene.

I don't think *any* men appear in The Women, they're just discussed.  And it's arguable both films fail the Bechdel Test, despite the female centric casts- but they do give a curious bit of insight into the topsy turvy world of wealthy women dependent on men, alimony, and bouncing back over and over - in both good and mercenary ways.

Frankly, it doesn't make anyone look *great*, but it is silly and dishy, and goes by fast.

I didn't particularly like this movie, but Ann Miller looked stellar.  But she wasn't in it enough for my dollar, so.


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Musical Watch: Guys and Dolls (1955)


Watched:  08/09/2020
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  Third?
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Joseph L. Mankiewicz

This movie is so kooky.  Dancing hoods and a singing Marlon Brando.  Big, expensive sets, extravagant costuming, and a cast out of central casting who all seem game. 

It's got maybe one of the dopiest stories in a genre that includes @#$%ing Brigadoon, but the off-kilter dialog, the surreal scene-design and catchy numbers (half of which you already know even if you never saw the play or movie) are all very winning. 

I like some parts of it more and some parts of it less - I think Sinatra is genuinely funny in the movie.  I am not in love with the ear-piercing voice Blaine effects, but find her character endearing.  I am deeply jealous of how good Brando looks in a suit.  Jean Simmons is, as always, lovely and can act!

But if you're looking for some fluff, it's some quality fluff.  And get ready for some dynamic dance sequences there in the sewer sequence.

Ann Miller Watch: Hit the Deck (1955) and Reveille with Beverly (1943) and The Great American Pastime (1956)




shut the hell up, Tom Ewell

Watched: 08/8 (HtD), 08/9 (RwB), 8/11 (GAP)
Format:  Ann Miller Day of TCM
Viewing:  First for all 3
Decade:  1950's, 1940's


Look, I've been clear about the whole Ann Miller thing, and I'm not going to apologize for it.

It's August, and therefore "Summer Under the Stars" time on TCM, which means 24 hours of movies from one actor each day all month.  And this last week featured Ann Miller day, and here we all are.

Three very different movies.

Hit the Deck (1955) is pretty clearly a "I like Guys and Dolls" and "wow, was On the Town a decent movie" mash-up.  I dunno.  It was fine.  Little Debbie Reynolds is cute as a button.  Ann Miller got a couple of numbers.  It's okay.  It has a lot of deeply sexist set-up that kind of unravels in a pleasant way and has a great few numbers by the women in the movie.  And it's always great to see Russ Tamblyn.  And I need to look into this Kay Armen.  She was terrific.

Reveille with Beverly (1943) is war-time spirit-boosting propaganda and was one of the movies that was essentially an excuse to do a musical variety show with everyone from Duke Ellington to Bob Crosby.  Ann Miller plays a feisty and insanely perky radio host.  The film, however, ends on a very strange pivot as they remind you, all the soldiers are going off to war - and it was this odd, incredibly sad transition, with Beverly still in her show costume watching them go.

The Great American Pastime (1956) is a post-war movie trying to recapture some of the magic of Seven-Year Itch and reminding me "I don't particularly care for Tom Ewell".   What could have been a Bad News Bears instead is kind of a sitcom dad who seems oblivious to the fact he's married to Anne Francis and that Anne Francis has decided Ann Miller is a sexual threat (she is not, which...  I mean).  Anyway - the movie felt really under-written and I kind of hated the way they wrote Tom Ewell's son.  Seemed like a dopey ingrate.


But Ann Miller looked great in all of these movies.  So.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

French Noir Watch: Elevator to the Gallows (1958)



Watched:  07/18/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Louis Malle


Look - I'd never seen this movie, thoroughly enjoyed it, and would quickly recommend. But I can also imagine it hits the buttons of every pretentious film dork out there.

A shining example of (a) made in the 1950's, (b) being French (b) more or less New Wave (c) noir, (d) with a fatalistic, downbeat ending and (e) the soundtrack is by Miles Davis.  Ferchrissake - I can just see my film school instructors getting the vapors talking about this one.

And, you know, deservedly so.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Monroe Watch: "The Seven Year Itch" (1955)


Watched:  07/12/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Billy Wilder

I found this movie some hard going, but given it starred Monroe and was directed by Billy Wilder, I'm going to give it some grace.  It's not just a product of its time, it's a distilled crystallization of its time.  Add in that it's been so copied from, borrowed from, and it's novelties have been so co-opted and, in fact, are a mainstream method of visual comedy for the past 20 years, it's a bit odd to see it in its nascent form.

Based on a stage play, The Seven Year Itch (1955) is a movie about a married man who sends his wife and young son out of New York City and into the country during the hot summer months so he can get some work done, kick cigarettes and lay low.  Until he returns home the first night and finds Marilyn Monroe living upstairs, sub-letting his neighbor's apartment.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Invasion! Watch: War of the Worlds (1953)


Watched:  07/11/2020
Format:  Criterion BluRay
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade: 1950's
Director:  Byron Haskin

War of the Worlds (1953) the movie and the Mercury Theatre radio play from 1938 are so baked into my formative years, they're alongside Superman, King Kong, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and other popular fictions that make up the mythology and common language for a lot of born in the shadow of the mid-20th Century.

I saw the movie after buying and listening to the Orson Welles radio program when my dad found out I was interested in the radio show and the events surrounding it that I'd read about in a magazine.  My dad, always one to say "if you liked that, you need to check out this", got me to the video store within a few days and we sat down and watched it together.

What's remarkable is how genuinely *thrilled* I was by the movie, in both senses of the word.  The movie only has one or two quasi-jump scares, but - as was the novel (which I finally read about 15 years ago) and the radio show - the movie is so relentless in putting all of Earth on its heels, from the moment the three pals approach the ship waving a white flag onto get atomized, it's some weird viewing.  There's no brilliant but dangerous plan to be enacted that defeats the aliens - humanity loses this one.

As I've pitched the movie - in the middle of a pandemic, it's a lovely reminder of the time germs were our friends.

Lovingly restored by Paramount and just released by Criterion, War of the Worlds is a movie geek's dream.  There's so many technical aspects to the movie worth discussing, from the original three-strip technicolor to the construction of the Martian crafts, to the myriad visual effects, matte paintings and absolutely perfect sound effects - an army of character actors, and two leads who've somewhat otherwise fallen through the cracks of film nostalgia - it's an amazing technical achievement, done so well it holds up as a visual masterpiece.  And, in fact, with this restoration, is just an astonishingly crafted, visually beautiful film.

If the last time you've seen the movie was from the 2005 re-release, run (don't walk!) to watch this version, which recovers the original color palette employed in almost punchy candy colors, restores the visual effects to maximum effectiveness, and has cleaned up audio and re-created sound effects by no less than Ben Burtt.

The movie features the typically generous collection of extra features that get me to pay the entry fee for Criterion discs.  There are a few documentaries, the 1938 radio drama, an interview from San Antonio's KTSA with Orson Welles and HG Wells, and more.

The movie itself is just as gripping as ever.  From small town America to the final scenes in the fall of Los Angeles, it's anchored by focal characters Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) - a scientist and professor of Library Science, who happened to be there when one of the initial craft came down and are there throughout.  And, of course, there's a romance a-bloomin' between the two.  Through Barry and Robinson, we get the realization of the horror of the situation, but the still very human need for connection in the darkest hour.  A parable for any time, really.

If you've never seen the movie - now is the time!  This restoration is utterly remarkable.  If you have seen it but it's been a while - do it for the same reason and to remind yourself of one of the md-20th Century's finest technical filmic achievements, and to get all the bonus materials from Criterion.