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1001 Movies in Chronological Order
63 years ago...

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The Burmese Harp (1956)
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Country: Japan
Length: 116 minutes
Type: War, Drama

'The Burmese Harp' ('Biruma no Tategoto') takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Burma Campaign and Japan's surrender in 1945. We experience this era through the eyes of the noble Captain Inouye's unit, who boost their morale by singing and playing the titular harp. Private Mizushima is lost on a final desperate mission to try and persuade another suicidal Japanese unit to surrender. Inouye's troop find themselves in a POW camp, while Mizushima wonders Burma in the guise of a Buddhist Monk, burying the bodies of Japanese soldiers. There is something about the black & white photography, religious themes, emotional string music and shots of barbed wire camps that made me think of 'Schindler's List'. Other acclaimed films based on the Burma Campaign from the same period include 'A Town Like Alice' and 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' but 'The Burmese Harp' might be the most eloquent. The scene where Mizushima plays for his comrades one last time is so sad.



Kon Ichikawa remade his film in 1985 in color:



Another John Wayne Western next.
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63 years ago...

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The Searchers (1956)
Director: John Ford
Country: United States
Length: 119 minutes
Type: Western

Even on a second viewing it's surprising how far John Wayne and John Ford go with their anti-hero Ethan Edwards, he's an angry, bitter and prejudiced man. Their film simmers with sexual violence, racism and allusions to war atrocities so horrible that Ford won't permit us the audience, or any other character to see them (only making them worse in your mind), only Ethan can bear the cost. Wayne has a memorable catchphrase "That'll be the day", when delivered in his trademark slow drawl, it's half joke, half threat. The posse of the title ride off to track a Comanche raiding party who have massacred their loved ones and abducted 8-year-old Debbie. The pursuit across the years takes a toll, physical and emotional. The Monument Valley location photography looks spectacular and ageless, so it's a shame Ford occasionally resorts to phony studio inserts, for no obvious reason. On my first viewing I hadn't twigged the subtle suggestion that Ethan is secretly Debbie's father, implied by the 8-years of her life and of his absence, the looks he gives his brother's wife and the exultant way he holds Debbie up at the end. 'The Searchers' is a classy Western, full of rich characters and powerful drama. The AFI placed it at No.12 on their official top 100 American movies list (one above 'Star Wars').





A Robert Bresson prison film next.
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62 years ago...

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A Man Escaped (1956)
Director: Robert Bresson
Country: France
Length: 99 minutes
Type: Drama, Prison-Break

This would make a perfect minimalist French prison-break double-bill with 1960's 'The Hole'. Director Robert Bresson based the film very closely on the escape of French Resistance member André Devigny from the Gestapo controlled Montluc prison. His camera never leaves the side of the protagonist 'Lieutenant Fontaine' (played beautifully by François Leterrier, father of Hollywood action Director Louis Leterrier) and rarely takes us outside the blank walls of his cell. A constant monologue takes us into Fontaine's hopes and fears. Watching the patient way he files down spoons, twists ropes, bends hooks and loosens panels across months makes for intensely compelling viewing.



A Douglas Sirk film next.
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63 years ago...

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Written on the Wind (1956)
Director: Douglas Sirk
Country: United States
Length: 99 minutes
Type: Drama

'Written on the Wind' was is too melodramatic for my tastes. The story centers on an elderly Texas oil baron's two self-destructive offspring and two other "normal" characters in a love quadrangle. Robert Stack is the weak and alcoholic son, Lauren Bacall is his understanding and loyal wife, Rock Hudson is his friend and protector and Dorothy Malone is Stack's vindictive tramp sister. Stack pitches his performance at near hysteria, where as Hudson's stiff acting is down the other end of the register. It passed the time well enough I suppose.



Another Alfred Hitchcock thriller next.
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63 years ago...

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The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Country: United States
Length: 120 minutes
Type: Thriller

James Stewart is the man of the title, once again an unwitting and innocent participant in an international spy plot. Although Alfred Hitchcock's 1956 version of 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' (remaking his own 1934 film) is a very entertaining thriller, it's not one of his greatest, or most distinctive works. It does have some memorable meta touches, such as casting the composer of the score Bernard Herrmann, as himself conducting a concert at the (actual) Royal Albert Hall performing the finale music from the 1934 film, during the finale of this film! Also Doris Day is cast as a popular singer performing 'Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)' which was written for the film and is now ubiquitous. All the strands of the mystery plot tie up in a really neat bow at the end.



James Dean's last film next.
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63 years ago...

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Giant (1956)
Director: George Stevens
Country: United States
Length: 201 minutes
Type: Epic, Western, Drama

You get 'Gone with the Wind' straight away, 'Giant' has a similarly epic 3.5hr runtime, it follows the fortunes of another American family across generations and changing times as they try to maintain their cattle-ranch "Reata" in Texas (instead of "Tara", a plantation in Georgia), it centers on the turbulent relationship of a determined woman and racial intolerance is a central theme. The difference with 'Giant' is that the characters are actually likeable (despite serious flaws) and the social commentary is surprisingly modern. It's got a lot to say about racism towards Mexican border immigrants, female empowerment and the wealthy class corrupting politics to play very well in 2019. The stubborn Texan rancher Bick Benedict is a perfect role for the stern Rock Hudson, he didn't impress me in 'Written on the Wind' but he is magnificent here. The most epic thing about the film is perhaps Hudson's big fist-fight at the end, I was cheering him on as he fights for his very soul. James Dean plays the antagonist Jett Rink (although the character is also very sympathetic), an alcoholic young oil-baron, intent on proving he is better than the Benedicts. Sadly Dean died in a car accident during post-production, so a few of his lines had to be dubbed by someone else but you can't tell.



This is one hell of a fist fight! The way it's shot and edited makes you feel like you're in the middle of it (set to "The Yellow Rose Of Texas") :



Another Rock Hudson film next... 1956 was his year!
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(11-10-2019, 03:33 PM)TM2YC Wrote: 63 years ago...

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Giant (1956)
Director: George Stevens
Country: United States
Length: 201 minutes
Type: Epic, Western, Drama

Agree.  Absolutely fantastic soapy epic drama.  Love it!!!
"... let's go exploring!" -- CALVIN.
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(11-11-2019, 09:36 AM)bionicbob Wrote:
(11-10-2019, 03:33 PM)TM2YC Wrote: Giant (1956)

Agree.  Absolutely fantastic soapy epic drama.  Love it!!!

I've been whistling 'The Yellow Rose Of Texas' to myself at work all day Big Grin  and watched another Rock Hudson film this evening...

64 years ago...

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All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Director: Douglas Sirk
Country: United States
Length: 89 minutes
Type: Melodrama, Romance

I struggled to get onboard with this story of two single 30-somethings causing a social scandal simply because Rock Hudson is a few years younger than widow Jane Wyman. Maybe in 1956 this was a huge earth-shattering taboo but in 2019 it's difficult to get your head round what the problem is? If her circle of c**ty middle-class friends and her selfish grown-up kids didn't like it, so what? The colour lighting is pretty astonishing, a studio controlled fantasy world of cold electric blues, confronting fiery reds across golden autumnal scenes (echoing the emotions of the characters). Sometimes this atmosphere strikes a powerful romantic mood but sometimes it comes off as schmaltzy and sentimental. Using a Bambi-like dear frolicking in the snow to represent love is too much.





A Don Siegel film next.
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63 years ago...

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Director: Don Siegel
Country: United States
Length: 80 minutes
Type: Sci-Fi, Horror

Watching late at night, half a century later, 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' still has the power to make your skin crawl. There is something really unsettling about the idea of aliens imitating our friends and family almost perfectly. It's that "almost" that gives it the "uncanny valley" feel.  Star Kevin McCarthy brilliantly takes his character from stereotypical mild-mannered 50s stiff, to wild-eyed paranoid lunatic, without us seeing the join. The practical creature FX hold up pretty well. The ending felt like a slight cop-out after the nihilistic tone of the rest of the film.



Another Hitchcock film next.
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62 years ago...

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The Wrong Man (1956)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Country: United States
Length: 105 minutes
Type: Drama

'The Wrong Man' isn't up there with Alfred Hitchcock's best but the fact that it's based closely on a recent real-life case makes it almost unique in his filmography. Hitchcock still goes for the thriller angle, really getting across the horror, bewilderment and out-of-body feeling of being accused, arrested and charged with crimes you didn't commit and yet the police find witnesses testifying against you. Henry Fonda superbly plays Manny the accused man with a sweet innocent nature and then haunted despair. Vera Miles isn't all that convincing as his hysterical wife and Bernard Herrmann's score is unremarkable compared to his other scores for Hitch. That all of Manny's problems in the film are shown to be created by "woolly minded" irrational women and then all solved by "cool headed" rational men looks a little sexist to modern eyes. The police (who were of course all male in the 50s) get off very lightly but maybe critiquing trusted institutions wasn't gonna fly in 1956 Hollywood? Nevertheless, it's an interesting case-study of the unreliability of eye witnesses and the dangers of presuming guilt.



Another Nicholas Ray film next.
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