1950s Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 2)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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Michael Kerpan
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#126 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Apr 12, 2007 9:21 am

Japanese 1951 films I think are better than Mizoguchi's Lady of Musashino:

1. Naruse's Repast
2. Ozu's Early Spring
3. Kurosawa's Idiot
4. Mizoguchi's Miss Oyu
5. Naruse's Maihime (Dancing Girl)
6. Naruse's Ginza Cosmetics
7. Kinoshita's Carmen Comes Home

;~}

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#127 Post by mikeohhh » Thu Apr 12, 2007 1:44 pm

jt wrote:
jonp72 wrote: visual hints of a wet, naked Ava Gardner
Well, that film has just jumped to the top of my 50's to-see list.
yup

I wish I had access to so many of those Japanese films. Can't we extend the due date for our lists until after Late Ozu is released? Good thing Sansho the Bailiff will squeak by the June cutoff (though I will see it tomorrow on the big screen... so pumped! Saw Life of Oharu on Tuesday and it's in my top 10). Not Japanese, but Ace in the Hole is another soon-to-be-released title that would fare better if we were submitting our lists later.

But I'm cool with June 1 as a deadline. I went into this project fully aware of how rich a decade the 50s were but the main thought in my mind each time I update my spreadsheet is how small a number 50 really is (did I really just bump off The Asphalt Jungle AND The Seventh Seal? And is Some Like It Hot's position really that precarious?)

I wish I had access to so many of those Japanese films. Can't we extend the due date for our lists until after Late Ozu is released? Good thing Sansho the Bailiff will squeak by the June cutoff (though I will see it tomorrow on the big screen... so pumped! Saw Life of Oharu on Tuesday and it's in my top 10). Not Japanese, but Ace in the Hole is another soon-to-be-released title that would fare better if we were submitting our lists later.

But I'm cool with June 1 as a deadline. I went into this project fully aware of how rich a decade the 50s were but the main thought in my mind each time I update my spreadsheet is how small a number 50 really is (did I really just bump off The Asphalt Jungle AND The Seventh Seal? And is Some Like It Hot's position really that precarious?)[/quote]

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#128 Post by zedz » Thu Apr 12, 2007 5:34 pm

mikeohhh wrote: Can't we extend the due date for our lists until after Late Ozu is released?
The cut-off date is immaterial to me (and I'm actually going to be away at the time, so the compiling will be delayed anyway), so if there's support for this proposal I'm happy to go with it.

Late Ozu is due out on 12 June, so I'd suggest the end of the following weekend (24 June) as an alternative date. This should give non-US voters a chance as well.

I'll post this in the 'official' Lists Projects (admin) thread as well, so please direct any discussion there.

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#129 Post by Scharphedin2 » Thu Apr 12, 2007 5:54 pm

zedz, why not make a clean break of it, and say July 1st... that will give Ozu (I mean the non-US voters) an even better chance to participate.

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#130 Post by sevenarts » Wed Apr 18, 2007 11:52 am

Still more 50s viewing. I watched two of the Mann/Stewart westerns back to back in the last two days. The Far Country wound up being the slightly weaker of the two, but it's still a fascinating film and an excellent introduction to Mann for me. It features perhaps the most frustrating and iconoclastic screen "hero" ever shown in a Hollywood western, as Stewart's character systematically subverts every expectation for a western lead. He's steadfastly individualist, to the point of total selfishness -- he mistrusts all other people except his old friend (Walter Brennan) and believes in nothing but self-preservation. As such, it's a curious type of western where most of the film consists of the hero standing by passively and mostly allowing bad and unfair things to happen to good people. There's almost a masochistic element to it, a focus on suffering with very little of the release usually achieved through the hero fighting back. The complaint I have with it is that its message is delivered too obviously, partly because Stewart's selfishness is so exaggerated, and the reversal at the end so sudden. It's just not entirely satisfying in the end, though it's still a stylish and moody western in terms of pure atmosphere.

The other Mann/Stewart western I watched was The Man From Laramie, which certainly was entirely satisfying. In fact, it's a downright masterpiece. It shares some similarities with Far Country, especially in the suffering of the hero, who, though not nearly as passive as the other film, still suffers quite a bit from circumstances beyond his control, before Mann finally allows him to act decisively. Mann seems interested in how far a man can be pushed before he breaks and turns to violence -- this is obvious not just in Stewart's lead, but in the character of Vick, whose breakdown over the course of the film parallels and contrasts against Stewart's own arc of revenge. There's a surprising amount of psychological complexity on display here, and moreso in the peripheral characters than in Stewart's hero, who is pretty much just fixated on his mission. But Vick, Alec, and even Dave have a lot more going on, and Vick and Alec at least progress and develop through the course of the film. It's a stunning film, with gorgeous open vistas and some striking psychologically motivated tracking shots -- like the jaw-dropping one that pans from Dave's corpse up to Vick's face sitting next to it, then across an open space until Alec unexpectedly appears in the foreground. The only minor strike against it is that cheesy and entirely inappropriate theme song, which mars the opening titles and the otherwise perfect ending. Can't really blame Mann for that though, I'd guess.

The other Hollywood western I watched recently was Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo. Lots of fun and incredibly intense, achieving a taut suspense narrative with just a minimum of actual violence and a maximum of buildup. The final shootout is incredibly staged, too. Dean Martin provides most of the character interest, and John Wayne proves himself entirely unbelievable in the romantic subplot despite a very sexy Angie Dickenson. But finally all that really matters is Wayne's casual drawl and the constant threat of violence that overhangs the film.

I gather that The Trouble With Harry is a widely unloved Hitchcock, but I thought it was wonderful, only slightly below my favorite Hitch film, Rear Window. That means, along with North By Northwest, my three favorite Hitchcocks fall in the 50s. As a comedy, it's incredibly subtle, even dry and deadpan, with a distinctly British flavor despite the American cast and setting. It's also gorgeously shot, possibly the best evocation of autumn ever filmed, with its luscious oranges and golds everywhere. And the sunny tone of the images provides a nice contrast to the gallows humor as poor Harry's dead body gets shuffled back and forth. As a satire of American priorities and the modern attitude towards death, it's an utter masterpiece. I also loved the constant sexual witticisms, some of which were just shockingly bold for the Production Code era -- in particular, I remember the exchange about being the first man to cross Miss Gravely's "threshhold." Heh.

As for other 50s Hitch, I also watched The Man Who Knew Too Much. More great color cinematography, and some stunning set pieces like the rightfully legendary Albert Hall sequence and the chase scene and murder in Marrakesh, but the whole somehow didn't quite add up. It also bothered me a bit that the whole last sequence depended on the characters not taking the most logical course, which would've been to simply tell the ambassador the whole story while they had him on the phone. Hitch's plots are usually so tight and logical that such holes stick out even more than they do in other thrillers. Anyway, enjoyable but minor Hitchcock.

My first exposure to Yasuzo Masumura came with Giants and Toys, and it's great stuff. A really harsh and bitter satire, sweetened somewhat by the over-the-top visuals and the breakneck pacing. The film really pulls you into its absurd world, amping up its image of corporate Japan to insane levels where execs vomit blood and companies resort to giving away live squirrels just to sell candy. It's a lunatic film in the best sense, and its characters fully inhabit and rarely question the warped logic that dominates their lives.

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#131 Post by zedz » Wed Apr 18, 2007 6:12 pm

Thanks sevenarts. I'm with you on the comparative merits of the two Manns. If these are your first Mann westerns, gobble the rest of the available ones up. Man of the West is sorely in need of a better release, but it's an incredible film, and The Tin Star shouldn't be overlooked either.
sevenarts wrote:I gather that The Trouble With Harry is a widely unloved Hitchcock
Not with me. For a long time this was my favourite Hitchcock film, and it still surges in my estimation when I resee it. It's a pitch-perfect black comedy that really shows off his versatility.

If you liked Giants and Toys, do check out the other Fantoma Masumura releases. They're much darker in tone, but they share that characteristic of fearlessly pursuing their chosen subjects to their logical (or obsessively surreal) conclusions. Red Angel is one of the most uncompromising anti-war films you'll ever see.

As for my own viewing, I've been a little lax lately, but I've reviewed several experimental works. Genet's Un chant d'amour is even stronger than I recalled. The Fantoma Kenneth Anger release is stunning - easily a front-runner for release of the year - even Rabbit's Moon, one of my least favourite Angers, looks so jaw-droppingly gorgeous that it's now in contention for my 50s list. The sublime Eaux d'artifice remains solidly in my top ten.

I've revisited the few 50s films on the Criterion Brakhage set. Window Water Baby Moving remains my favourite, but as it's ineligible, I might have to make room for the spooky Wedlock House. It's been so long since I've seen various other Brakhage films from this period (Wonder Ring, Daybreak and Whiteye, Anticipation of the Night) that I don't feel confident in ranking them. Actually, imdb seems to have Anticipation misdated as 1962 anyway, so it's out of contention.

Plus I've picked up the surprisingly good Facets James Broughton set (thanks to whoever recommended it here - was it you, Scharph?), though I'm not especially taken with any of the whimsical 1950s works.

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#132 Post by Scharphedin2 » Wed Apr 18, 2007 7:20 pm

zedz wrote:Plus I've picked up the surprisingly good Facets James Broughton set (thanks to whoever recommended it here - was it you, Scharph?), though I'm not especially taken with any of the whimsical 1950s works.
Not me, although I have been eyeing that particular set myself. And, by the way, thanks for the extension Commandante Zedz. Daylight savings time here in Scandinavia adds up to film viewing reduction time in my book. Throw the filmmakers' sub-forum and work commitments on top, and my progress through the fifties has slowed to something like a crawl in recent weeks. Still, at the end of 1953, and into the year of 1954, I came across the following odd bouquet of films…

Generally not considered one of Marcel Carné's best films, Thérèse Raquin has nonetheless remained vividly in my thoughts, since I saw it a couple of weeks ago. I am no longer certain that the alleged lack of chemistry between Raf Valone and Simone Signoret was in fact not intentional. Clearly, Signoret is a very beautiful young woman, who is trapped in a marriage to a dusty old man, with his imposing mother living under their roof. Having entered into this situation at a very young age, I think a case could be made that she, while she is discontent, she is also unable to envision any other kind of life. Valone steps into the picture, and, I think she (probably only half-consciously at first) sees him as a ticket out of her dreary existence. She is not in love with him, and the question is whether she is really even sexually attracted to him. Events soon begin to spin out of her control, leading through a maze of the kind of plot turns that Carné was so great at – stretching the fabric of the story into shapes that are all the closer to life, for being plausible both improbable – until the finale, which again takes a turn or two that are completely unexpected. In fact, I just love that ending. I also adore Signoret's feline performance – her demeanor, as she metes out her existence behind the counter of the store, amounts to so many soundless sighs, and the way that she is seen, always taking things in without comment, her eyes like little lanterns in the dark. There is an unforgettable moment, when Signoret carefully peeks through the blinds of her upstairs window down at the story's antagonist, parking his motorcycle across her window in the narrow street below, and casting a sly glance up at her. So, much of the story in this film is told through stolen glances, quiet observations, and things caught out of half closed eyes. The evocation of Lyon, and the domestic details are also wonderfully realized, almost as if Trauner had been on hand for the production design. The film is a clear sibling to Carné's masterpieces of the forties and fifties, and I think that any admirer of Quai des brume, Les enfants du Paradis and Le jour se leve will enjoy it.

I expected a very simple John Wayne picture, when I sat down to watch Island in the Sky, and of course that is basically what I got. However, somehow I am still happily able to be overtaken by just how nail-bitingly exciting a fairly simple formula picture like this can be. Wayne is a pilot, who crashes with his cargo plane over uncharted Canadian territory. In the excruciating arctic winter, the little group of men fight for survival, and, without fuel or electricity continue to send out distress signals for their friends at home base to be able to find them. Meanwhile a colorful group of other pilots are pushing themselves and their planes beyond the limit of endurance to keep up the search – having only a very vague idea of where the plane has actually gone down, the area to be covered is immense, and the search is literally for the needle in the haystack. Wild Bill Wellman directed the film, and he also directed Track of the Cat the following year. Again, the setting is a particularly remote Northern American mountain area in deep winter. Robert Mitchum is the rather nasty and domineering son of an old drunkard and a bitter old bible-thumping woman, with a cowardly older brother, a spinster sister, and a younger brother who has not yet stepped into character, and whose wife-to-be, Mitchum covets. Surprisingly – given Wellman's penchant for action – the film veers on the edge of being a real talk fest, even though Mitchum and his elder brother spend most of the film chasing the cat of the title in the snowclad mountains (albeit off-screen most of the time). Filmed in (sparse) color and cinemascope, the film often looked very good, but it never developed into the kind of adventure spectacle that Wellman excelled at, and which I probably expected it to be.

Another old Hollywood professional with a penchant for tough dramas was Henry Hathaway, and with Garden of Evil he had the cast to make a really tough western. Both Richard Widmark and Gary Cooper are present and very much live up to their established screen personas, and, as the elusive love interest, Susan Hayward is at hand. The film was shot in Technicolor and cinemascope, and being largely a travelogue, the film makes a lot of the South-Western locales that it travels through. In the story department, things do not run quite as smoothly. Initially, the premise of a lone woman coming into a saloon to hire a group of gunmen to help her through hostile Indian territory in order to rescue her husband from a collapsed mineshaft makes enough sense to get things moving. But then the film settles into a very long trek on which the trustworthiness and toughness of the different men in the group is tested again and again, and when we finally reach the mine, there are several developments and plot twists that just did not seem natural to me within the story. In the end, I felt that this was a film that was largely produced to capitalize on the novel spectacle of cinemascope, which admittedly it does well.

Much the same could be said about Jean Negulesco's Three Coins in the Fountain; a film that largely recycles How to Marry a Millionaire in the setting of Rome. It is a really pleasant and gorgeous looking picture, if one enters into its spirit. Aside from the lovely ladies, and their at turns funny and frustrating love adventures, Clifton Webb is at his curmudgeonly best, as an expatriate writer, and his brief appearances are of the kind that keeps you tucked into the film, waiting for his next entrance. I enjoy films like these for their place in film history, and for allowing me to drift back into the times of the fifties, and experience for a couple of hours, the dreams and imaginings of that day.

They Were So Young is another B/C-Noir that was released by VCI as part of their Forgotten Film Noir series, and it is a fast-moving exposé of what boils down to white slavery in Brazil. The location is established through a couple of aerial stock shots from above Rio de Janeiro, and the rest is fairly inventively shot in the studio and amongst the foliage of the studio's untended back lot (I presume). Raymond Burr rumbles around imposingly in a handful of scenes, and the film delivers a handsome amount of plot reversals and (insinuated) violence to keep things lively. Again, if one does not come to the film expecting the smoothness of an A-studio production with big stars, and instead rolls with the punches of what the film has to offer, this is a highly enjoyable little film.

And then, another wonderful VCI disc: The Cowboy by Elmo Williams. This is about an hour long documentary on “realâ€

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#133 Post by sevenarts » Thu Apr 19, 2007 12:45 am

zedz wrote:Thanks sevenarts. I'm with you on the comparative merits of the two Manns. If these are your first Mann westerns, gobble the rest of the available ones up. Man of the West is sorely in need of a better release, but it's an incredible film, and The Tin Star shouldn't be overlooked either.
Yup, those were my first by Mann. As for other Mann, viewing those two was enough to make me immediately order The Tin Star, Winchester '73, The Last Frontier, and Bend of the River, and I've already got the non-Western Men In War in my to-view pile. I'm sure I'll be tracking down at least a few more Manns too, once I've seen those.

Definitely agreed with you about Eaux d'artifice, which will certainly be on my list representing Anger. My own Brakhage pick will be the sublime Cat's Cradle, and if I made room for more it would've been the IMDB-ineligible Window Water Baby Moving, though Wedlock House is a great little film too.

Tonight I watched Billy Wilder's Witness For the Prosecution, which seemed to foreshadow Preminger's very similar Anatomy of a Murder 2 years later. For me, Anatomy is the much better and deeper film, but Witness is a solid courtroom drama buoyed largely by Charles Laughton's comedic presence and timing. And of course, the ending with its litany of shocks is great fun, and totally unexpected to me.

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#134 Post by zedz » Thu Apr 19, 2007 1:36 am

sevenarts wrote:As for other Mann, viewing those two was enough to make me immediately order The Tin Star, Winchester '73, The Last Frontier, and Bend of the River, and I've already got the non-Western Men In War in my to-view pile. I'm sure I'll be tracking down at least a few more Manns too, once I've seen those.
I didn't even realise that Men in War was out on DVD. And hey! It's $3.80 at DVD Pacific. I assume this is a pretty nasty edition, but who can argue with that price?

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#135 Post by Scharphedin2 » Thu Apr 19, 2007 3:53 am

zedz wrote:
sevenarts wrote:As for other Mann, viewing those two was enough to make me immediately order The Tin Star, Winchester '73, The Last Frontier, and Bend of the River, and I've already got the non-Western Men In War in my to-view pile. I'm sure I'll be tracking down at least a few more Manns too, once I've seen those.
I didn't even realise that Men in War was out on DVD. And hey! It's $3.80 at DVD Pacific. I assume this is a pretty nasty edition, but who can argue with that price?
I think there have been two releases in R1. First by Image (now OOP) and then by a company specialising in Anime (Geneon?) At the time of release, I remember Beaver giving it the short end of the stick, so I did not pick it up. Subsequently I have wondered, whether the quality of the disc really is as bad as all that. However, in the end I picked the film up from the French label Wild Side, which once more has released really nice editions of both Mann's Men in War and God's Little Acre.

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#136 Post by sevenarts » Fri Apr 20, 2007 10:07 pm

Tonight I did watch Mann's Men In War. Quite a good, simply told war movie -- it avoids imposing any overbearing messages and simply tells its story with a grim and purposeful drive. There is a lot of waiting and not a whole lot of action, a lot of tense but atmospheric scenes where nothing much happens, and the film is infused with an oppressive fear and uncertainty that perfectly reflects life in the war zone. The opening and the finale are particularly powerful, the former for its creation of a tranquil but unsteady peace, and the latter for the poignant and memorable impression it leaves. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen, but that final scene will certainly be enduring in my mind for a long time as an iconic anti-war image. I watched this on the Geneon DVD, which is as expected a public-domain analog-sourced disc, but with that caveat, it actually doesn't look bad -- one of the better PD discs I've seen. It's interlaced, and some of the long shots are a bit blurry, but then the close-ups often look surprisingly good and clear. It was certainly more than watchable, more than enough to convey the precise beauty of the cinematography, and I don't feel like I wasted my $6 at all. I'm sure the Wild Side is better (and way more expensive) of course, and I'd appreciate any comments on that disc in case I feel like upgrading at some point.

I also recently watched High Noon, which was fantastic. Speaking of waiting in the Mann flick, this is a film that's practically all about waiting. An hour passes practically in real time, and I could feel my nerves getting wrecked right along with Gary Cooper. The editing, the camera angles and movement, the pacing, everything comes together just perfectly. The final shootout is inevitably almost an anticlimax after all that buildup, but really that's the only way it could be. An hour of waiting, twenty minutes of taut and quick violent action, and then it's all over. Great stuff.

Everybody says Night of the Demon is so scary and a horror classic, but I don't see it. Maybe I'm just jaded by the intervening 50 years of horror films, but this was so not scary. It's technically nicely done, and I still enjoyed it, but it's hard to get too deeply into a horror film that doesn't really lay on the scares.

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#137 Post by sevenarts » Tue Apr 24, 2007 11:02 pm

Watched a pair of Westerns tonight, both from Fox's "Classic Western Collection." Not a bad set based on the two I've watched so far -- it's got three 50s Westerns and a random pick from 1972. The fact that they felt the need to make these all flippers with the cropped 1.33:1 versions on side A is a bit baffling, but I'm just glad the proper widescreen versions are there as well.

And that widescreen is crucially important to Sam Fuller's Forty Guns. In this acerbic, low-key western, Fuller's camera moves fluidly and languidly, reflecting the uneasy stasis that develops in this frontier town. The opening panorama, with Barbara Stanwyck and her forty gunmen streaming across the trail, is breathtaking, and the funeral scene towards the end is one of the most beautifully composed tracking shots I can think of. Actually, there's tons to love here. There's Fuller's typically hard dialogue -- "That's the first time I ever kissed a gunsmith." "Any recoil?" And the subversion of the tough-guy milieu with those wonderfully silly bathtub scenes. And of course, that stunning showdown at the climax, just brutal stuff. The studio-mandated ending is almost too much to bear, though, probably the worst hatchet job ever. It barely lasts 10 seconds but manages to ruin practically everything that came before. Still, if I can manage to forget about those 10 seconds, this is an incredibly powerful film that works beautifully as a western classic even as it subverts the genre and presents an image of the western hero on his way out.

Edward Dmytryk's Broken Lance is another film about the end of the western era, a film that pits the frontier hero against the forces of legality and economics and business and legitimization. Not as technically accomplished as Fuller's work, this is a film whose aesthetic pleasures reside mainly in mise-en-scene rather than camera movements. In addition to the obvious beauty of the open landscapes ubiquitous in these types of films, Dmytryk arranges some striking interior compositions, most notably a ruined ranch house which looks like it came from some weird Technicolor horror flick. The film's King Lear re-telling is mainly presented through an extended flashback that takes up the bulk of the film -- to the point that the framing story in the "present" is nearly forgotten. It's a tough film, and its best feat is to make its most stereotypically "western" character -- the patriarch played by Spencer Tracy -- a complex and rather hard to like character. And it's very difficult not to see some justice in the claims of Tracy's otherwise intensely unlikeable trio of sons. It's a generation gap story as much as anything else, about the disappearance of the frontier and the effect that had on men like Tracy, who could really only thrive in the absence of hard rules. And its conclusion is striking in its utter rejection of the circular code of violence and revenge presented by most westerns. This isn't a masterpiece or anything, but it's a very good and intelligent western that I haven't seen mentioned much (at all?). Certainly worth a look for any 50s western fans.

The other 50s western in this pack is Robert Webb's The Proud Ones. Anybody seen that one yet?

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#138 Post by sevenarts » Sun Apr 29, 2007 9:51 pm

Anybody else still going?

Antonioni's Story of a Love Affair was very interesting -- quite different from the later style he came to be known for, but not without some hints towards the future. And on its own merits, quite a good example of melodramatic noir. It's interesting from an Antonioni standpoint primarily for the characterization, since there's not much of his later visual aesthetics recognizable in the stark, simple style of this film, with its use of shadow-strewn noir nightscapes and none of the later Antonioni's long shots and sweeping camera moves. The later director is recognizable in the film's juxtaposition of psychological depth with seemingly unfathomable surfaces. It's an excellent film, especially considering it's a feature debut.

I also watched a trio of westerns today. Of these, the best was clearly Anthony Mann's Bend of the River, a very powerful and exciting film with so many twists and double crosses and large scale gun battles that you wouldn't think there was even time for Mann to explore his characters as thoroughly as he does. As usual for Mann, the surface adventure tale carries along a great deal of intelligence and depth with it. It's fascinating to see a western with such a genuine interest in domesticity and the taming of the frontier through it rather than the usual violence and greed. Budd Boetticher's Seven Men From Now was pretty solid as well. Its ending rang a slight bit sour for me, and it didn't play with its central triad of bravery, cowardice, and bullying quite as much as it could have, but it was still interesting and well made. Not a list contender, but a solid western I'm glad I saw. Can't quite say the same for Andre De Toth's Thunder Over the Plains, which was very disappointing. The lame voiceover narration put a bad taste in my mouth from the beginning, and the rest was mostly pretty undistinguished too. There was a nice long suspenseful gun battle/chase towards the end, which was pretty well executed, but otherwise this didn't add up to much.

I Confess is another of those solid mid-level Hitchcock pictures that's not bad, but nothing amazing. This one also happens to be rather uncharacteristic, with its twists played more for drama than suspense. I also had a similar problem in this to the one I had with The Wrong Man, in that the situation really sets things up for the hero to resolve his dilemma, but he never takes action, just waiting for fate to intercede and clean things up. In this case, the priest's solemn lack of speech goes beyond just keeping his vows -- he even seems to keep silent on things when it would seem that his vows about the confessional were not restraining him. It's another case of Hitchcock twisting behavior and circumstances to serve the thriller plot. It doesn't happen very often in Hitch, but when it does it's rather frustrating.

I can't remember the last time I laughed through a movie as much as I did with Kazan's Baby Doll. The central performances from Eli Wallach and Carroll Baker are just pitch-perfect, dripping with sensuality, and practically every other line is subtly hilarious. The central seduction scene is possibly one of the sexiest scenes ever committed to celluloid, and all without a bit of flesh being shown or even anything said explicitly. But you can just feel the heat rising on the screen. Incredible stuff, this is stunning now, even more so for 1950 I'm sure.
Last edited by sevenarts on Wed May 02, 2007 10:45 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Michael
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#139 Post by Michael » Wed May 02, 2007 10:16 am

sevenarts, I enjoyed reading your thoughts of Baby Doll. Incredible movie indeed.

I picked up two more 1950s films:

Forbidden Games - Joining the pantheon of the most emotionally devastating films ever made. Films seen through the eyes of children tend to be syrupy (which is perfectly fine with me) but I was struck by the film's coarseness that killed every possibility of sentimentality. The children were so amazingly believable that it sparked my curiousity how Clement directed the children. The girl walking the countryside with a dead puppy in her arm brought my mind to the girl with the cat in Satantango. And who doesn't love the owl? Forbidden Games is quietly beautiful - very simple but deeply affecting. Not meaning to be picky but Forbidden Games would be greater if it was more lyrical (maybe editing-wise).

Gun Crazy - There are many classic noirs, such as Out of the Past and Double Indemnity but for some reason, they didn't do anything for me even though I recognized their greatness. I remain having no interest in revisiting them. But Gun Crazy - a fierce gun-sucking puppy! I feel the desire to see it every day! Its unexpectedly wierdly poetic quality left me in sheer awe and excitement. Peggy Cummins is the femme fatale to die for - with a baby-sweet face with an inescapable deadly, venomous twink in her eyes. And of all the noirs I've seen, Gun Crazy's cinematography is the greatest - fresh and innovative. With such a contagious energy that it remains amazingly new and watchable even by todays standard. 99.9% of movies playing at multiplexes today are terribly boring compared to this 57-year-old stunner. Shooting straight up to my top ten of all time. I haven't seen much said about Gun Crazy on this forum so what do you folks think of it?

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#140 Post by Scharphedin2 » Thu May 03, 2007 1:05 pm

sevenarts wrote:Anybody else still going?
I am, although at a reduced pace...

Based on someone, somewhere, heartily recommending the collection of Alexandre Alexeiff's animations (released by the French label Cinedoc), I recently purchased this disc, and sat down last night to view the ‘50s shorts contained in the collection. However, I soon found myself drawn into Alexeiff's universe, and ended up viewing most of the material on the disc, which ranges from the 1930s to the ‘70s. The pinboard animations, which are his most famous works, had me completely dumbfounded – especially the adaptation of Gogol's “The Noseâ€

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#141 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu May 03, 2007 1:30 pm

I have no problem with "24 Eyes" sentimentality, as such. I have problems with how the sentimentality is evoked and manipulated. Kinoshita takes rather cheap shortcuts to our emotionality -- rather than trying to actually _earn_ our tears.

Compared to his contemporaries, Kinoshita had a very simplistic visual imagination. His films are visually quite weak compared not just to Ozu. Naruse, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa-- but to Tadashi Imai (Japan's most popular director of the 50s) and Gosho (among others).

My comments (and links to screen shots) on the Japanese film of the year from 1953 ...

Nigorie / Muddy Water (Tadashi Imai, 1953)

A three part-film based on short stories about the difficult lot of women in the early Meiji era. This is the film that swept almost all the Japanese awards for the year of "Tokyo Story" and "Ugetsu" (among others great films) -- and lost to the fairly inconsequential "Gate of Hell" at the Cannes Festival. Imai and Kinoshita (and not Ozu, Naruse or Mizoguchi) were the most popular (and critically acclaimed) directors of the Japanese Golden Age of the 50s. While I find the contemporaneous adulation for Kinoshita beyond my understanding, I have found the few Imai films I've seen fairly impressive. And this is no exception.

This film has an interesting structure. Part 1 lasts around 20 minutes, part 2 around 40, and part 3 around 60. And part 1 is the most muted and slow moving -- while part 3 is the most noisy and (literally) in your face.

Part 1 tells of a young woman returning home for the first time after her arranged marriage. Parental pleasure at seeing her vanishes when it turns out she hates the marriage and wants to come home -- for good. Her mother responds with weepy lamentations and the father with sarcastic hostility. She decides to leave again -- and a rickshaw is called. As she rides (and then walks) with the rickshaw man, the two talk -- presumably exchanging the stories of their lives. They arrive at her destination -- and part. Unfortunately, this is unsubtitled -- and it will be a good while (if ever) before I figure out the details of the long concluding conversation.

http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie01.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie02.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie03.png

Part 2 is a bit reminiscent of Cinderella (up to a point). Yoshiko Kuga is a servant in the house of a rich merchant family, consisting of an imperious mother, a mostly absent father, two very pretty (and even more spoiled) daughters, and a rather irresponsible (but handsome) college-going son. Not only is Kuga over-worked and poorly paid, but her employer is quite stingy -- with her. As it turns out, Kuga is supporting her own family with her meager earnings (her father can no longer work, due to grave illness). When her family's situation worsens, Kuga steals some money to give to her mother. I shan't say what happens next -- but will provide some screen shots:

http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie04.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie05.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie06.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie07.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie08.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie09.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie10.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie11.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie12.png

Part 3 is centered around a Yoshiwara prostitute played by Chikage Awashima. She has a patron she is in love with (So Yamamura), but is also a big favorite with local gangsters. In addition, she has a creepy, stalker-ish ex-client -- now married and living in poverty with Haruko Sugimura and a young son. While the cinematography (by Shunichiro Nakao, Imai's regular cameraman -- who also shot Naruse's wonderful "Spring Awakens) is uniformly fine throughout this film -- it is most impressive in this last section. Examples:

http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie13.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie14.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie15.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie16.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie17.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie18.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie19.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie20.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie21.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie22.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie23.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie24.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie25.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie26.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie27.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie28.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie29.png
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/mk ... orie30.png

Not quite as perfect as "Tokyo Story", perhaps -- but a more impressive film overall than "Ugetsu" (and at least as good as Mizoguchi's best 1953 film "Gion Festival Music" / "A Geisha").

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#142 Post by toiletduck! » Thu May 03, 2007 2:23 pm

A quick campaign for Wajda's Kanal -- I had bumped this one to the bottom of the 'unwatched' pile after being unimpressed by Ashes And Diamonds and A Generation, so I was in no way ready for the taut nightmare that awaited me. Wajda has tunneled (edit: Ha! Just noticed the pun...) through the human soul and reports back on the variety of ways that it can be crushed. "War is hell" no longer applies: this is hell, taking place underneath the war -- a relief in comparison.

-Toilet Dcuk
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#143 Post by colinr0380 » Thu May 03, 2007 2:43 pm

toiletduck! wrote:A quick campaign for Wajda's Kanal -- I had bumped this one to the bottom of the 'unwatched' pile after being unimpressed by Ashes And Diamonds and A Generation, so I was in no way ready for the taut nightmare that awaited me. Wajda has tunneled through the human soul and reports back on the variety of ways that it can be crushed. "War is hell" no longer applies: this is hell, taking place underneath the war -- a relief in comparison.
I'd agree. It is my favourite of the trilogy too!

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#144 Post by zedz » Thu May 03, 2007 10:56 pm

I third Kanal. Ashes and Diamonds always impresses me mightily when I see it, but it doesn't stay with me like Kanal does.

On Alexeyev and Parker, there's a fascinating documentary in the Norman McLaren box set of a pinscreen workshop conducted by Parker. It's only marginally related to McLaren (who's sitting in), but it's well worth tracking down for more insight into this most mysterious of animation techniques.

Not much 50s watching for me lately, or not much of great worth, anyway.

Duel at Silver Creek - OK western by Don Siegel starring Audie Murphy and Stephen McNally. McNally seems miscast in the lead role. After Winchester '73 it's really hard to believe him as a naive sheriff - he's oblivious to stuff we can see coming a mile off. Murphy's surprisingly effective in the more rewarding second lead. It's really only in the action sequences that Siegel comes alive.

Wreck of the Mary Deare - Still working my way through the Gary Cooper Signature Collection, which is starting to feel like some kind of penance. I love Cooper in some films, but find him appallingly wooden much of the time. In this film he tends to wait a second before delivering any line, and Charlton Heston is not the screen partner to bring out the best in him. The film is mildly interesting as a project Hitchcock wanted to film, but I can't imagine him making that much out of it. It's a maritime thriller that's way too prosaic and convoluted.

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#145 Post by tryavna » Fri May 04, 2007 11:29 am

toiletduck! wrote:A quick campaign for Wajda's Kanal -- I had bumped this one to the bottom of the 'unwatched' pile after being unimpressed by Ashes And Diamonds and A Generation, so I was in no way ready for the taut nightmare that awaited me. Wajda has tunneled (edit: Ha! Just noticed the pun...) through the human soul and reports back on the variety of ways that it can be crushed. "War is hell" no longer applies: this is hell, taking place underneath the war -- a relief in comparison.
I can understand why many folks would prefer Kanal over the other two. It's certainly more stylized and thus more cinematic, in a way. It's also totally unique.

I, however, actually prefer the simplicity and realism of A Generation, despite the more predictable Communist propaganda. I've always liked Tadeusz Janczar, who plays Krone in that film (and Korab in Kanal). It's probably blasphemy to suggest this, but I think that Ashes and Diamonds would be a much better film if Janczar (who was Wajda's original choice), rather than Zbigniew Cybulski, had played Maciek in that film. Cybulski is charismatic, but his presence always takes me out of the film. Janczar's presence also would have given the "trilogy" more unity, in my opinion.

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#146 Post by Lemmy Caution » Fri May 04, 2007 2:59 pm

Jacques Cousteau's first feature film, The Silent World (1956) contains a world of impressive visuals and interesting encounters. But the main impression is what a bunch of assholes these guys are ... by today's standards.

Almost any sizable creature they come upon, they harass, torture, kill and occasionally eat. This includes dynamiting a lagoon in order to get an accurate count of what had been living there (prior to the explosion), running over and killing a baby whale, gaffing and then clubbing to death sharks ("to avenge the whale" -- although the Calypso crew killed the whale and the sharks are just making a meal out of the carcass), riding on giant sea turtles, sitting on land tortoises, etc.

It's a fascinating film to watch, both for what it shows about sea life and mankind. Especially interesting to see their state-of-the-art-for-the-time equipment, including essentially underwater jet-skis (with which they carelessly chew up the kelp). The camera work is impressively handled by a very young Louis Malle. Of course, this is all rather early in the development of the conservation and environmental movement. But the key point that I took away from the film is that man is never very aware of his shortcomings and always over-confident in his belief of how advanced his knowledge and ethics are.

Tokyo Story (Ozu). I watched this for the first time last week, and for me it didn't live up to its reputation. I only began watching Ozu films about 6 months back, and started with his early output. I was very impressed with There was A Father, along with What Did The Lady Forget? IMO, these were better films than TS, and had a greater impact. There's a good deal to admire about Tokyo Story, but the old couple seemed perhaps purposely under-developed, their children a little too broadly drawn, and the message too pointed (and driven home too blatantly in the final 20-30 minutes). More didactic than I prefer. And overlong.
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#147 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri May 04, 2007 3:15 pm

With all due respect, Lemmy Caution...

You utterly misunderstood "Tokyo Story".

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#148 Post by Lemmy Caution » Sat May 05, 2007 1:16 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:With all due respect, Lemmy Caution...
You utterly misunderstood "Tokyo Story".
Perhaps. Though it seems to me hard to misunderstand a film which made its points so clearly. Maybe "didactic" is too strong a word (though I still feel parts of the film were just that), but I thought the film made its points in a heavy-handed and blunt fashion thoughout.

For my taste, there was too sharp a contrast between the "bad" daughter and the "good" daughter-in-law. And yes, I think Ozu is indeed saying that familial piety and Confucian values are important. Then when the film shifts gears and emphasizes that things change and the past cannot be recaptured, we are twice told that the d-in-law is too dedicated and needs to move forward instead of living in the past. Too much piety and one risks missing out on her own life, and the new options available. Lesson: what appears "good" can be imprudent if overdone, and progress cannot be stopped.

Then towards the end the d-in-law addresses the "bad" behavior of the adult children. Their bad behavior is somewhat excusable and understandable given the changing times, the modernization, the increased pace of life, the focus on money, the devaluation of the countryside ways -- social factors that inevitably shape their world and are beyond their control. The problem I have with all this shading and tempering of "good and bad" behavior is how much we are told these things. I especially didn't care for the d-in-law basically talking directly to the camera (via the naive foil of the youngest daughter who argues for greater respect to the family and tradition).

I think alot of my distance from the themes of cultural dislocation came from how talky and stagy these counter-moments were. I will admit that the extreme reserve, bowing and polite platitudes which the family engages in with their parents were frustrating for me personally and helped distance me from the proceedings. I don't think Ozu was trying to critique these old manners, but instead was trying to more-or-less accurately depict that era and its mores.

Even more however, my overall reaction stems from living in China for the past decade plus and witnessing an analogous period of change and development, the transition from traditional to modern values, from rural to city ways, the commercialization of the culture, a serious generation gap as older folks get left behind by the children they sacrificed so much for, etc. I can walk out of my door and see these things play out everyday. I'm aware of many similar stories, among my friends and acquaintances, more dramatic and poignant than Tokyo Story.

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#149 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat May 05, 2007 1:25 pm

Lemmy Caution wrote: I'm aware of many similar stories, among my friends and acquaintances, more dramatic and poignant than Tokyo Story.
Well, good for you.

It is your loss if you choose to dismiss the film as heavy-handed and didactic.

If you think the film's message was simplistic, I would submit that you simply weren't paying much attention. (Not saying you had to like or admire the film -- but your total blowing off of the film says a lot more about you than about the film).

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#150 Post by Lemmy Caution » Sat May 05, 2007 3:06 pm

Fwiw, I liked the visuals of the film, and thought the storytelling was simplistic, not the message. I've been watching quite a lot of Japanese films lately, and will have to think about how or whether that influenced my reaction. Will hopefully re-visit the film at some point -- probably after watching more Ozu -- and perhaps in a different frame of mind or with different expectations I might find more to admire in the film.

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