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1001 Movies in Chronological Order
66 years ago...

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Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Country: Japan
Length: 94 minutes
Type: Drama, Fantasy

'Ugetsu Monogatari' (aka 'Ugetsu', or 'Tales of Ugetsu') roughly translates as "Tales of Moonlight and Rain" and is based on 18th ghost stories of the same name. A potter, his friend and their wives from a small farming village in feudal Japan are separated during wartime, trying to evade soldiers raping, pillaging and burning the countryside. The men are seduced away from the care of their families by supernatural spirits and promises of wealth and prestige. I felt that covering two mostly separate stories was a mistake, as sometimes one distracted from the other. Fumio Hayasaka's traditional Japanese score is full of mystery and tension.



The first Widescreen film in the book next.
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66 years ago...

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Shane (1953)
Director: George Stevens
Country: United States
Length: 118 minutes
Type: Western

This is the third time I've watched 'Shane', at first I thought it looked pretty tame and light on action next to the Spaghetti Westerns I'd been more familiar with. It grew in my estimation when I watched it a second time after it featured heavily in 2017's 'Logan'. This time after having watched many of the classic Westerns that preceded 'Shane', it seems deliberately and intensely violent by comparison. George Stevens wanted the guns to sound like cannons and first used the technique of having wires to dramatically pull the shooting victims back to emphasise the terrible power of gun violence. Those moments of bloodshed are contrasted by the green grass and beautiful blue mountains of the Wyoming skyline. The story of Homesteaders being driven off by cattle barons is inspired by the same Johnson County War episode as 1980's 'Heaven's Gate' (also filmed in Wyoming).

'Shane' is the first film in the 1001 book to not be released in the Academy Ratio standard (bar a few early Silent experiments). All Paramount pictures would be Widescreen after this. The 'Masters of Cinema' blu-ray has the film in three AR options. The other two times I watched it was in Stevens' intended open-matte Academy Ratio. This time I went for the Theatrical 1.66:1 ratio used in 1953, although I viewed a new version overseen by Steven's son, optimised for Widescreen shot-by-shot and not just matted. I think I preferred it this way, the restoration is so sharp that it's a bonus to see the details a little closer.



Another Bogart and Huston collaboration next.
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65 years ago...

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Beat the Devil (1953)
Director: John Huston
Country: United Kingdom / United States
Length: 89 minutes
Type: Drama, Comedy

A group of suspicious gents including Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, urgently want to reach Africa in time to conduct a shadowy Uranium deal but ill fate and their own paranoia get in the way. 'Beat the Devil' was shot entirely on location in Italy, no doubt giving Director John Huston and writer Truman Capote more latitude away from prying studio chiefs and censors. Murder is played for laughs, infidelity is treated as harmless fun and all the characters are morally dubious. Often a farcical adventure but Bogart's noir edge keeps things feeling dangerous and unpredictable.

Sadly I had to watch this in a terrible low-res public-domain encode, of a terrible VHS transfer, of a terrible film print... thanks Amazon Prime! I'd love to see it again in the new uncut 2016 4K Restoration I've read about but it's only available on one of those super expensive limited-edition Twilight Time blu-ray imports.



Next up is a Western by Nicholas Ray.
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64 years ago...

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Johnny Guitar (1954)
Director: Nicholas Ray
Country: United States
Length: 110 minutes
Type: Western

Opening on the kind of deadly standoff that would more traditionally end a Western, makes for a nail-biting beginning to 'Johnny Guitar'. What makes it really interesting is that it's about the deadly rivalry between two powerful gun-toting women. Joan Crawford plays the disreputable and ferocious saloon owner Vienna and Mercedes McCambridge plays the local town matriarch Emma Small, a bitter rival in love and power who is hell bent on destroying Vienna. The titular Johnny (Sterling Hayden) is oddly just one of several supporting male characters who act as the hired muscle for the two women. Crawford and Hayden's lack of chemistry is a problem (they hated each other) but Crawford and McCambridge's anti-chemistry more than makes up for it (they also hated each other).

The colour and detail in this 35mm trailer is amazing:





I first became aware of this film because the theme tune features prominently on the soundtrack to the popular 2010 video-game 'Fallout: New Vegas'.



Next is another film by Elia Kazan.
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64 years ago...

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On the Waterfront (1954)
Director: Elia Kazan
Country: United States
Length: 108 minutes
Type: Drama, Gangster

I first saw 'On the Waterfront' so long ago that I barely remembered it, outside of the iconic moments. Those scenes like Marlon Brando's "Contender" performance, the speech delivered by Karl Malden's Priest character and the brutal fist fight ending are so powerful. In context, 'On the Waterfront' feels so far ahead of it's time, the grim location shooting and unflinching violence makes this feel like an early 70s film, rather than a product of the mid 50s. The films of Martin Scorsese are heavily influenced by the mix of mob intrigue and Catholic imagery. If I had to criticise, I'd say the film sagged in the middle because of too much focus on the romantic subplot and too little focus on the brother relationship, which I'd argue was much more important to the outcome of the plot. In fact the famous "Contender" scene is the only major interaction that Brando and Rod Steiger share and it's toward the end. That the film is about somebody wrestling with informing on his peers, made by Elia Kazan (who did just that at the HUAC hearings) adds an extra layer of subtext.



A Stanley Donen musical next.
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64 years ago...

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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Director: Stanley Donen
Country: United States
Length: 102 minutes
Type: Musical

The plot of this fun musical has shades of Snow White and the "makeover" movie genre and it's packed with memorable tunes. The eldest brother of seven practically feral woodsmen brings home his new wife and she battles to civilise them all, which she judges will take six more women. The barn-raising dance sequence is genius, where does the fight choreography end and the dance choreography begin? The act of chopping wood is turned into a melancholy musical number, the swings of the axes like ballet flourishes and the impact on the wood the percussion. The part where the brothers kidnap some women full bag-over-head snatch-squad style takes the film close to dodgy territory but it just gets away with it by the sheer silliness of it all.

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'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' is the first film in the 1001 book released in the then brand new CinemaScope aspect-ratio (usually roughly 2.35:1), which has become almost standard for Cinema films nowadays. They actually shot two versions (see above), as the studio also wanted a Widescreen copy (roughly 16:9) to project at theaters unable to screen the new Scope format.



Another Clouzot film next.
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64 years ago...

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Les Diaboliques (1955)
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Country: France
Length: 114 minutes
Type: Horror, Thriller

I think the title of 'Les Diaboliques' roughly translates as 'The Devils', 'The Fiends', or the 'The Devilish'. The wife and the mistress of a horrible, violent and abusive man enact a plan to drown him and make it look like an accident. When the body mysteriously disappears, is it blackmail, or perhaps something supernatural? The film succeeds because it makes us the audience despise the guy so much that our sympathies irresistibly lie with the two women, despite their crime. So the tension comes not just from the mystery but from us wanting them to get away with it. Charles Vanel is brilliant as the Columbo-style detective who we know is working things out behind his placid smiles.



It's easy to see why this film had people calling Henri-Georges Clouzot the "French Hitchcock". I didn't see the big twist ending coming at all, on reflection, the way Clouzot hid it was masterful. Always cutting on precisely the right frame to make us believe we saw something, when we didn't. Always playing on our fears and suspicions, to divert attention from the obvious. I look forward to a second viewing to appreciate how the trick was performed.



Next is the very first adult-oriented animated film.
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(05-14-2019, 01:46 PM)TM2YC Wrote: Les Diaboliques (1955)

It's easy to see why this film had people calling Henri-Georges Clouzot the "French Hitchcock". 

I meant to watch this last year prior to 'Psycho' during my Hitchcock yearlong marathon, but didn't get round to it. I've never seen it, but believe I have seen the remake, for some reason.
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(05-14-2019, 01:50 PM)Garp Wrote:
(05-14-2019, 01:46 PM)TM2YC Wrote: Les Diaboliques (1955)

It's easy to see why this film had people calling Henri-Georges Clouzot the "French Hitchcock". 

I meant to watch this last year prior to 'Psycho' during my Hitchcock yearlong marathon, but didn't get round to it. I've never seen it, but believe I have seen the remake, for some reason.

It's Hitchcockian but I think the reputed similarities to 'Psycho' are overstated, or at least they were lost on me.



64 years ago...

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Animal Farm (1954)
Director: John Halas & Joy Batchelor
Country: United Kingdom
Length: 72 minutes
Type: Animation, Political

As far as I can tell, 'Animal Farm' is the first ever adult-oriented Animated Feature-Film, decades before anything from Japan, or Ralph Bakshi. It was created by a British Animation company called 'Halas and Batchelor' but was secretly bank-rolled by the CIA as part of their PSYOPs anti-communist media strategy. I used to watch 'Animal Farm' a lot as a kid but this was my first time seeing it as an adult. Scenes like the one in which Boxer is taken off to the knacker's yard are just as upsetting but of course the satirical elements have much more meaning. The animation isn't quite up to the fluid standards of Disney but that only gives it an extra edge. The animation differs from the George Orwell novel by the inclusion of an extra more upbeat end scene.



One of Hitchcock's very best next.
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64 years ago...

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Rear Window (1954)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Country: United States
Length: 112 minutes
Type: Thriller

I've seen 'Rear Window' so many times but it never gets stale, every re-watch only deepens the admiration for the film-making. It's one of several films where Alfred Hitchcock limits his canvas and succeeds on those terms. This time it's James Stewart as an adventurous photo-journalist trapped in a leg cast and trapped in his small flat. Boredom leads him to observe the lives of his neighbours, each of their windows like small movie screens playing a different short film and he begins to suspect that one of them is showing a murder mystery. Hitchcock never takes us outside the confines of Stewart's flat, or his view from the window, so you find yourself straining forward with him to see little glimpses of activity outside. However, we don't completely share his point-of-view, we are also observers of him and his increasingly claustrophobic paranoia from the perspective of his three concerned visitors, his beautiful, caring and "too perfect" socialite girlfriend (Grace Kelly), his deeply skeptical Cop friend (Wendell Corey) and his cynical nurse, the latter being a vessel for Hitchcock's brand of macabre humour (played brilliantly by Thelma Ritter).



Hitchcock uses only diegetic music from the neighbourhood (which is often illustrative of the mood of the character being shown) and he raises and lowers the volume and intensity of the street sounds to manipulate tension. This time I was struck by the shot when we see Stewart finally realise he does want to marry Kelly because it's conveyed entirely visually by a simple closeup at the right moment. It's difficult to pick which Hitchcock movie is the best because his finest works are so different but this is definitely a contender for that prize. I could re-watch it again already! Big Grin

How has this video I found of all the window footage from RW stitched together in a 3D time-lapse only got 100k views?!? It's total genius!:



The first remake of 'A Star is Born' next.
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