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63 years ago...

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Aparajito (1956)
Director: Satyajit Ray
Country: India
Length: 113 minutes
Type: Drama

'Aparajito' ('The Unvanquished') starts soon after where 1955's 'Pather Panchali' left off. The Roy family have completed their move from rural Bengal and are living on the banks of the Ganges in the holy city of Varanasi. It's mainly focused on the tension between teenage son Apu and his mother. He yearns to get an education and see the world, she is happy for him but also afraid of being left behind when he goes off to study. Karuna Banerjee's performance as the sad eyed mother is terrific, Ravi Shankar's music is great again and Ray's lingering shots of nature and Indian life have a quiet melancholy about them. When a character suddenly dies, Ray smash cuts to an unrelated flock of startled birds taking off (like the natural world has been disturbed by the passing), I know I've seen it done before in later films but maybe this is where that idea originated?

Another Kirk Douglas performance next. Hurray!
62 years ago...

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Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
Director: John Sturges
Country: United States
Length: 122 minutes
Type: Western

I was less keen on this take on Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas respectively), than I was on Henry Fonda and Victor Mature's interpretations from John Ford's 'My Darling Clementine' a decade earlier. Douglas is suitably disreputable as the fatalistic Holliday but Lancaster is a bit too menacing to fit the typical clean-cut idea of Earp. Young Dennis Hopper turns up again in a small but important role. Star Trek's DeForest Kelley and Lee Van Cleef are in there too but they sadly don't have much to do. I found John Sturges' Direction to be generally unremarkable and I didn't like the decision to use folk song narration. I liked how the gunfight of the title is staged how these things probably really went down, not a choreographed duel but a messy scrabble for survival, owing as much to luck, as skill with a gun. Overall this a pretty enjoyable Western.

The first of David Lean's five colour epics next.
62 years ago...

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The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Director: David Lean
Country: United Kingdom / United States
Length: 161 minutes
Type: War, Epic

The first of the five large-scale historical epics that David Lean would devote the last couple of decades of his career to making. Beyond it being a terrifically dramatic WWII POW war film, I'd forgotten it was such a savage satire of army regulations, gallantry and the officer classes. The recalcitrant low-ranking American soldier (William Holden) and the defiant British military Doctor (James Donald) are stand-ins for the presumably sane viewer, men who are prisoners and bystanders to the deluded insanity of three British and Japanese commanding officers. The story begins with Alec Guinness' Lt. Col. Nicholson withstanding months of deprivation and torture on the principle that his officers and the wounded refuse to do manual labour on the orders of a Japanese Colonel (as per the Geneva Conventions) but the story ends with Nicholson ordering them to work himself, for reasons that seem entirely logical and honourable to him. The closing shots show the Doctor looking at what these officers have wrought and just repeating the word "madness" over and over again. The last act is absolutely boiling over with tension, even when you've seen the movie several times before.

This time I noted the choices Lean often made to not directly show violence, we see the events that lead up to it, the perspective of those doing it and it's aftermath but not the act itself. 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' was undoubtedly a massive influence on Spielberg, Lucas and friends. Malcolm Arnold's score is much like John Williams, Jack Hildyard's Cinematography is indistinguishable from Douglas Slocombe's in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'.  The way Lean shoots the jungle and wildlife is referenced very closely in the first two Indy films and of course it's got Alec Guinness in it (not to mention the yellow text crawl in the film's trailer below). I could re-watch this movie any weekend.

The first colour Indian film in the book next.
62 years ago...

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Mother India (1957)
Director: Mehboob Khan
Country: India
Length: 172 minutes
Type: Epic, Drama

Director, Writer, Producer Mehboob Khan remakes his own 1940 film 'Aurat' into a sort of Bollywood 'Gone with the Wind'. 'Mother India' was the first Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award. The title is a reference to American author Katherine Mayo's infamous 1927 anti-Indian book of the same name.  Mononymous actress Nargis plays a poor yet indomitable farming matriarch (Radha) across several decades. Her family are tricked by the unscrupulous village moneylender into a loan that they will never be able to repay and the story is about the consequences. It's 3-hours long and features numerous musical numbers, so surely this is the template for most Bollywood films thereafter. Even on the pretty awful DVD transfer I had, beset by damage, warping, colour fluctuation and obvious reel changes, you could tell the Technicolor images were a riot of colour. My copy also lacked subtitles for the musical numbers, which meant I probably missed a few plot details. I'd be well up for re-watching a full digitally restored blu-ray transfer, if they ever did one.

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Next up, a Soviet WWII film.
(03-27-2020, 02:42 PM)TM2YC Wrote: [ -> ]62 years ago...

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Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
Director: John Sturges
Country: United States
Length: 122 minutes
Type: Western

A good western but when it comes to the legend of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, I think both HOUR OF THE GUN (with James Gardner and Jason Robards) and TOMBSTONE (with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer) are vastly superior.
(03-29-2020, 05:02 PM)bionicbob Wrote: [ -> ]A good western but when it comes to the legend of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, I think both HOUR OF THE GUN (with James Gardner and Jason Robards) and TOMBSTONE (with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer) are vastly superior.

 Never seen the first one and it's ages since I saw the second one but I remember it being good. I liked the Costner one too.
62 years ago...

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The Cranes Are Flying (1957)
Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Country: Russia
Length: 97 minutes
Type: War, Drama

I watched an old copy of 'The Cranes Are Flying' two weeks ago, then I noticed Criterion just happened to be about to release it on blu-ray with a new 2K transfer from the negative but I loved the film so much I waited for it to arrive and watched it all over again yesterday. Mikhail Kalatozov's film is a composition fan's dream, a marvel of Cinematography (by Sergey Urusevsky). It's got extreme angles worthy of Welles, Noir lighting worthy of Lang and gliding steadycam-style shots worthy of Kubrick. The crane shots are the most stunning (could the title be about more than the birds? Wink ), some of them begin with intense closeups on actor's faces, or frenetic handheld crowd scenes and then sweep out and up with the characters to reveal the world around them. There is this one corkscrew shot that somehow follows the film's hero as he runs up a spiral staircase, it's jaw dropping. There are several montage sequences that are equally as impressive. A girl runs in panic and the scenery around her seems to somehow be moving at twice the speed, or we see a character's life pass before his eyes in a blur of dreamlike images, or a scene of implied sexual violence is amplified by a discordant visual and aural mix of howling wind, wrenching piano, breaking glass and the rumble of war.

The power of the filmmaking is matched by the beauty of the story. Veronika (played by the stunningly beautiful and talented Tatiana Samoilova) and her boyfriend Boris are separated by the outbreak of WWII. It's about the life they could, or should have had and the grim realities they must face. Little is shown of the actual war, the focus is mostly on the toll it has on the people at home. Boris' family take care of Veronika while Boris is gone, like she was already their daughter in law. Vasili Merkuryev is so wonderful as the father, the weight of his responsibility as a parent and as a doctor is all over his face. Moisey Vaynberg's score begins with the lightness of a carefree Parisian romance but is capable of descending into dark despair and violent terror. 'The Cranes Are Flying' is easily one of the greatest films ever made and definitely the best Soviet film I've watched so far (it was made post Stalin of course).

The first Stanley Kubrick film in the book next. Yeesss!
62 years ago...

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Paths of Glory (1957)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Country: United States
Length: 88 minutes
Type: War

Stanley Kubrick's 'Paths of Glory' is one of those films that only gets better with every re-watch and I've seen it many times. At first it hits you with it's raw power, then it's artistic brilliance, then it's peerless performances but this time I was marveling at it's expert efficiency. To fit this much painful emotion, political intrigue, brutal action, edge-of-the-seat drama and character depth into 88-minutes is unbelievable. The film is based pretty closely on a real WWI event (The 'Souain corporals affair', with names and details changed) in which a French infantry assault failed, so a General ordered the artillery to shell his own men and then selected soldiers at random to face death by firing squad for alleged cowardice. So controversial was the subject, that 'Paths of Glory' was not released in France for almost two decades. Banning films just for being critical of the past seems like insanity to me. Probably Kubrick's best film and Kirk Douglas' best performance, which is saying something for those two guys.

Kubrick's future wife was the German girl singing in the heart breaking final scene:

The US debut of British Director Alexander Mackendrick next.
62 years ago...

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Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Country: United States
Length: 96 minutes
Type: Drama, Noir

After making two award-winning dramas and three of the funniest films ever made ('Whisky Galore!', 'The Man in the White Suit' and 'The Ladykillers') as a contract Director for Ealing Studios in the UK, the company was winding up, so Alexander Mackendrick moved to the USA and made 'Sweet Smell of Success' for United Artists.  A dark, twisted, acid-drenched Noir set in the sleazy world of New York gossip columnists and publicists. Audiences reacted badly and it lost a million dollars but critics loved it. Mackendrick's revulsion for the brutal business of show, it's money and it's politics is palpable, he would only direct sporadically over the next 10-years, including getting fired from a couple of high profile films for being a perfectionist, so he spent the rest of his life as a Professor at CalArts, mentoring people like 'Logan' Director James Mangold.

Burt Lancaster radiates malevolence as newspaper columnist J. J. Hunsecker, a man who gets a sadistic pleasure out making or breaking people on a whim. Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco a crawling, immoral and nakedly ambitious press agent, desperately trying to curry favour with Hunsecker. The main focus of the plot is Falco being willingly used by Hunsecker in his schemes to ruin his younger sister Susan's happy relationship with an honourable but hot-headed Jazz guitarist. For a film from 1957, it's surprising how obvious the film makes Hunsecker's incestuous desire for his sister and how damaged and submissive she appears from his constant mental torture. Falco is despicable too, the scene where he virtually forces a ditzy blonde waitress (who clearly loves Falco) to have sex with another columnist is really horrible. Again the film barely attempts to disguise what the scene is about with the usual 1950s implications and symbolism. Of the two men it's Falco that comes off worst because at least Hunsecker enjoys the evil he does, where as Falco knows he's doing wrong, despises himself and does it anyway. The hard-boiled dialogue is so dense with 50s New York street lingo, sarcastic slang and loaded metaphors that you have to really concentrate to take it all in... even then you're going to appreciate this more on repeat viewings. I can't believe this was Susan Harrison's first and only co-starring film role because she is sensational.

Another Cary Cooper film next.
61 years ago...

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Man of the West (1958)
Director: Anthony Mann
Country: United States
Length: 100 minutes
Type: Western

Cary Cooper's Link is a seemingly timid fellow taking a train to go and hire a schoolteacher for his little town. When the train is held up by a gang of dangerous outlaws, he is stranded with Sam an ineffectual confidence trickster and Billie a beautiful saloon singer (Julie London). They run into the psychotic gang and it soon becomes clear that Link was once one of them long ago. Lee J. Cobb chews up all the scenery as the malevolent old gang leader, a growling, abusive mad dog. There were a few references to low-level sexual-harassment in the beginning scenes involving Billie, which I took to be lazy 50s sexism but I later realized they were there deliberately to plant that theme in the audiences mind. Link realises that the gang will try to rape Billie, even before they've thought it, so he pretends she is "his woman" (he actually has a wife and kids). The scene where the gang force her to undress is horribly menacing. Link's other fear is that if he starts killing again, he'll find that he still likes it. It's a film interested in the real consequences of violence, so Anthony Mann does unusual things like lingering on an unnamed background character discovering the body of his murdered wife. In the end Link can't avoid killing and he can't protect Billie but it's a sort of victory because they both emerge unbroken by the ordeal. 'Man of the West' is one of the best Westerns I've seen, rivaling ones from the 60s/70s for unflinching realism.

An Orson Welles Noir next.