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1001 Movies in Chronological Order
62 years ago...

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Bob the Gambler (1956)
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Country: France
Length: 102 minutes
Type: Heist, Noir

Roger Duchesne is outstanding as 'Bob the Gambler' ('Bob le flambeur'), a tough gentleman crook with immaculately quaffed silver hair, sharp tweed suits and cigarette elegantly perched in hand. Everyone in Paris knows Bob and likes him, even the Police Inspector is an old friend who owes his life to Bob. His only enemy seems to be the violent pimp Marc, after Bob rescues a beautiful young girl from his clutches (the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Isabelle Corey). A run of bad luck cleans him out, so he is forced to plan a daring and lucrative Casino heist but his old flame "lady luck" has a few twists in store. Director Jean-Pierre Melville delivers a stylish film-noir/heist-movie that is arguably a forerunner of the French New Wave. It's also said to be an influence on 'Ocean's Eleven' and Paul Thomas Anderson's debut film but I haven't seen either, so can't comment on that assertion.



Next up, the first film in the book from Robert Aldrich.
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64 years ago...

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Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Director: Robert Aldrich
Country: United States
Length: 106 minutes
Type: Film Noir

Right from the unusual backwards opening credits, over real driving footage (not the phony back projection typical of the period), this felt subtly different to your average Film Noir. Then again you have the generic sounding title and it's once again about a cynical private-eye, various femme-fatales, murder and conspiracy. It's not until 10 minutes in when you are shocked by the screams of a naked woman being tortured with pliers (just out of frame) that you really think, Jesus Christ! this is something altogether beyond what came before. The cast of characters is also markedly different, not the Hollywood white-washed version of 50s America, Los Angeles is shown as the multicultural metropolitan city I'm sure it was in 1955. Hammer hangs out in African-American bars, chats with Italian-American removal men and black boxing promoters and his best friend is an eccentric Greek-American mechanic who shouts "Va va voom 3D pow!" at girls and cars Big Grin .



Ralph Meeker plays PI 'Mike Hammer' so dark, he looks permanently furious, brutally beating an attacker's head against a wall, or crushing the fingers of a creepy mortician in a drawer while grinning with enjoyment at his screams of agony. He has a massive problem with authority, so being aggressively pressured from all sides to drop the case only antagonizes him more. Without going into spoilers (because not knowing what the mystery is will have so much more impact), there is a scene towards the end that Steven Spielberg used almost shot-for-shot in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (you'd know it when you saw it). I'd put Robert Aldrich's film up there with 'Touch of Evil' and 'The Killing' as the very best of late period Noir.



Another James Stewart Western next.
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63 years ago...

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The Man from Laramie (1955)
Director: Anthony Mann
Country: United States
Length: 104 minutes
Type: Western

Another classic Western from Director Anthony Mann and actor James Stewart, who plays the stranger from Laramie getting tangled up in the problems of an isolated town. The level of violence meted out to Stewart is stronger than most Westerns of the period and the psychological torment of the characters is also a measure deeper. This and the more muted colour palette and realistic costuming brings this a step closer to the Westerns of the 60s. The three "villains" are all understandable and relatable and although Stewart's hero seems quite placid at the start, he's secretly harboring a thirst for vengeance. Stewart's range is perfectly suited to play both sides of the man's personality.



James Dean's most famous role next.
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63 years ago...

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Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Director: Nicholas Ray
Country: United States
Length: 111 minutes
Type: Drama

James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo play three troubled teens running the streets of Los Angeles, struggling against authority and their absent, distant, or ineffectual fathers. We see them form their own family unit, with Dean and Wood as the parents and Mineo as the younger brother, or son. In 2019, it's almost impossible to not see the way Mineo idolizes and fantasizes about the handsome older Dean as homoerotic, whether it was intended that way, or not. Dean's Jim Stark character is an iconic looking 50s rebel in his jeans, white T-shirt and red jacket with upturned collar. Tommy Wiseau has slightly ruined the big "You're tearing me apart!" line, due to his probably now more famous terrible reading of it. 'Rebel Without a Cause' is like a film version of a Bruce Springsteen song.



A Noir from Phil Karlson next.
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64 years ago...

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The Phenix City Story (1955)
Director: Phil Karlson
Country: United States
Length: 100 minutes
Type: Noir

'The Phenix City Story' is an unusual Noir for several reasons, it's based on a real case (although sensationalised), it's a b-picture, which allows it a freehand with violence and controversial topics and it's prefaced by a 13-minute news segment interviewing the actual people involved in the case. The film follows the attempts of various citizens to restore honest elections to a mob-controlled Alabama town and the violent intimidation they face. I couldn't fail to notice the resonance the premise had with the civil rights movement that would start in another Alabama city (Montgomery) some 80 miles west of Phenix City later that same year. I assumed the film would be naive enough not to acknowledge the irony of disenfranchised (mainly) white people fighting for an honest vote in a place where the black half of the population were denied their rights as a matter of "normal" policy. But a black father (and his family) is actually one of the main protagonists and suffers the worst reprisals. The film definitely lacks that usual Hollywood polish but that kinda works with the hard subject matter.





The first Ingmar Bergman film in the book next.
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The 300th film! (I think)

63 years ago...

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Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Country: Sweden
Length: 108 minutes
Type: Comedy, Romance

This is the first Ingmar Bergman film I've watched, so I was expecting something serious along the lines of 'The Seventh Seal', not this fun Oscar Wilde style sex comedy. In 1900-something Sweden, we begin with an ensemble of vivid characters who are all married, or having affairs with the wrong people. They farcically swap their partners and their obsessions, showing none of the prudishness of some 1950s British and American Cinema.



A Holocaust documentary next.
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63 years ago...

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Night and Fog (1956)
Director: Alain Resnais
Country: France
Length: 32 minutes
Type: Documentary, Essay, Short

'Night and Fog' ('Nuit et Brouillard', 'Nacht und Nebel') is a French short Documentary/Essay reminding people about the horrors of the concentration camps, then a decade in the past. Black and white film and photos of the camps during construction, operation and liberation is book-ended with colour footage of the Auschwitz sites in present day 1955 (looking as they appear now, the way they felt to me in 2008, cold and desolate). Director Alain Resnais uses shots that are more shocking that a lot of stuff in other documentaries.



I noticed that the lyrics of 'The Intense Humming Of Evil' by Manic Street Preachers align closely with the specific images in the film, I wonder if they watched 'Night and Fog' before writing the song.



Charles Laughton's only Directing credit next.
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64 years ago...

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The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Director: Charles Laughton
Country: United States
Length: 92 minutes
Type: Thriller, Noir

Due to it's initial failure critically and commercially, 'The Night of the Hunter' was the only film actor Charles Laughton Directed but it's now regarded as a masterpiece. In 2008 the French film magazine 'Cahiers du cinéma' voted it the 2nd-best of all-time (behind 'Citizen Kane'), which is an exaggeration but not by a great distance. Robert Mitchum plays a woman-hating, serial-killing preacher with "Love" and "Hate" tattooed on his knuckles. He learns of a family hiding a fortune and inveigles himself into their lives to find where it's hidden. The honey-sweet faux innocence of Mitchum's voice as he beckons "Chiiiiildren" is really chilling. The family's two kids find refuge with a kind but steely old lady (she's like a shotgun wielding Mary Poppins) played by Lillian Gish, who was the biggest star of the early silent era. The film is replete with religious themes and biblical images, Gish could represent the love of the New Testament and Mitchum the vengeful old Testament. She could be Christ, he could be the Devil, truth and lies, light and dark, love and hate. Stanley Cortez carries this through in the Cinematography, bright light coming in from the side, hiding half of the actor's faces in shadow. There are moody shots that were clearly an influence on 'The Exorcist'. It's always a pleasure to re-watch Charles Laughton's film, it's just a shame he never made another one.



Next up, the most expensive European film ever (up to 1955 anyway Wink ).

Included on 'The Night of the Hunter' blu-ray is an unusual 2.5 hour making-of Documentary (an hour longer than the actual film):

Charles Laughton Directs 'The Night of the Hunter' (2002)
What makes this unique in the "making of" Genre is that it's mostly cut from hours of alternate takes, different angles and behind-the-camera directions from Laughton, all in surprisingly pristine 1080p. It's assembled in script order, allowing you to witness how the film came together, scene by scene. So we aren't just told about how the film was made, we are actually shown how.  Laughton does take after take to get the exact reading of the lines he is after and carefully coaxes convincing performances out of the child actors. The Doc is pretty dry though and 2.5 hrs long, so you need to bring along a familiarity and appreciation for the original film to fully enjoy it. There is enough material here to allow an editor to make a whole new alternate cut of the film for fun, using takes they favour. The Arrow Academy blu-ray's inclusion of an 'Isolated Music and Effects' track, original Mono and optional 5.1 mixes would make the job even easier.

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63 years ago...

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Lola Montès (1955)
Director: Max Ophüls
Country: France
Length: 114 minutes
Type: Historical, Romance

'Lola Montès' (aka 'The Sins of Lola Montès') was Director Max Ophüls last film and was butchered by the producers but it's now been restored to something close to it's original cut after years of restoration. The scandalous life of real 19th century courtesan Lola Montès (Martine Carol) is told in flashback through the framing device of a New Orleans circus performance in which she is the star attraction. Peter Ustinov beautifully plays the ringmaster and narrator, building her up to mythic proportions but also degrading her at the same time. As far as I can tell the film is quite accurate, portraying Lola's affairs with Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, a newspaper tycoon and King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The latter is played by the ever wonderful Anton Walbrook. The production is beyond lavish and was the most expensive film made in Europe at the time. Despite Lola being in nearly every shot of the film, she gets lost among all the colourful theatricality and dazzling artifice. After 2-hours, I'd struggle to say what made her tick.



The forerunner to Star Trek next.
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63 years ago...

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Forbidden Planet (1956)
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Country: United States
Length: 98 minutes
Type: Sci-Fi

I'd watched the first half of the influential Sci-Fi film 'Forbidden Planet' before but never finished it until today. The debt owed by 'Star Trek: The Original Series' (and 'The Motion Picture') is indeed obvious, although the unusual electronic score is more like early Radiophonic Workshop Doctor Who. The costumes, designs and concepts all look very dated and naive now but the technical brilliance and precision of the Visual FX still hold up. Huge faultless matte paintings, impressively large sets, clever back projection and convincing animated elements really bring the alien planet alive. Like TOS, one of the elements that has not aged well are the sexist attitudes. It seemed like half the film was devoted to the crew creeping on the young girl Altaira, including a guy "teaching" her about kissing and our "hero" implying she would deserve what might happen to her if she didn't stop dressing sexily around his sex-starved crew. The story would have made a great 45-minute Star Trek episode but feels a bit too slow and padded at 98-minutes.



A film by Kon Ichikawa next.
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