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TM2YC's 1001 Movies (Chronological up to page 48/post 480)

TM2YC

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64 years ago...

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Journey to Italy (1954)
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Country: Italy
Length: 105 minutes
Type: Drama

The title of 'Journey to Italy' ('Viaggio in Italia') should have been more accurately translated as something like 'Travels in Italy' because it's about a couple from England exploring Naples, not about them traveling there. The husband (George Sanders) is a brusque workaholic, while the wife (Ingrid Bergman) is more of a gentle poetic soul. After 8-years of busy work and marriage, suddenly having nothing important to do makes them realise they have become strangers. The landscape offers metaphors a plenty, from Mount Vesuvius lying dormant, catacombs of ancient skulls, to unearthing a petrified married couple in the ruins of Pompeii. Shooting almost entirely on location makes Roberto Rossellini's film seem much more modern than the work of his contemporaries and the sharp 1950s clothes and cool shades haven't dated either. Renzo Rossellini's score is redolent of 'The Godfather' and since the story ends on a Festa, I'm sure the Coppolas have seen this.


The first Kenji Mizoguchi film in the book next.
 

TM2YC

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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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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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TM2YC said:
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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Garp said:
TM2YC said:
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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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! :D

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.
 

TM2YC

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A Star is Born (1954)
Director: George Cukor
Country: United States
Length: 176 minutes
Type: Musical

As far as I can tell, the only version of this 1st remake of 'A Star is Born' available on any home-video format (VHS included) is the 1983 "reconstruction". A cut with the misguided goal of restoring the film to it's Premiere length of roughly 3-hours, whether they could find the footage, or not. So lower quality material, outtakes, b-roll and even black&white production photos are used to fill in the missing 22-minutes. The original and polished 154-minute Theatrical Cut, which is what audiences saw in 1954 and which was nominated for 6 Academy Awards is unavailable, unless you purchase an old pre-1983 print. I would applaud an alternate extended cut but to make this the only version is folly, especially when the majority of the amazing CinemaScope/Technicolor/Anamorphic footage has been scanned at 6K.

The film itself is a pretty close remake, scenes and dialogue are reproduced verbatim but with the addition of many musical numbers (accounting for the inflated run-time). Unfortunately they are largely not integrated into the plot, so only serve to interrupt the arc of the story. None more so than 'Lose That Long Face', an upbeat number coming between two emotional crisis (the song was apparently not in the Theatrical Cut for good reason). However, the power of Judy Garland's voice is undeniable and some of the numbers are visually stunning and catchy. James Mason plays the role of the fading star, the anguish on his face during the scene where he decides to die is so tragic.  Unfortunately he never plays it as a "lovable drunk", he's unpleasant from the outset, making it hard to warm to him.  I'm yet to see the 1976 version but I'm ranking this as the least of the three 'A Star is Born' versions I have watched.


Another Bogart film next.
 

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64 years ago...

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The Barefoot Contessa (1954)
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Country: United States
Length: 130 minutes
Type: Drama

'The Barefoot Contessa' of the title is a Spanish dancer called Maria (played by Ava Gardner), plucked from obscurity, turned into Hollywood's most desirable actress, becoming a wealthy Contessa and finally dying tragically. Her life story is told entirely in flashback by several men who had a role to play in her rise as they stand mourning her grave, wondering if any of them truly understood Maria. This unusual mosaic story structure is very 'Citizen Kane'. Humphrey Bogart plays a washed up movie Director/Writer who instantly bonds with Maria but his part doesn't play out anything like I expected... nothing does. It's all very lavish and romantic, with characters conversing in passionate and poetic speeches written by Director/Writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz. I was looking forward to watching another film shot by Technicolor master Jack Cardiff but the current blu-ray transfer has distractingly magenta skin tones.


Next is the first film in the book by Federico Fellini.
 

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La Strada (1954)
Director: Federico Fellini
Country: Italy
Length: 108 minutes
Type: Drama

'La Strada' ('The Road') follows a brutish carnival Strongman (Anthony Quinn) and his childlike female Clown assistant (Giulietta Masina) as they drive around performing at small towns. Quinn's performance is thoroughly unpleasant, cruel and animalistic, contrasting with the gentleness of Masina, played like the love-child of Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx. They encounter a third character, a Circus fool, who delights in antagonising the Strongman, headless of his violent temper. It's a worthwhile character study of broken people but it wasn't one that sustained nearly 2-hours for me. Nino Rota's violin score plays a major part in the film and sticks in your head.


Another Kurosawa film next.
 

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Seven Samurai (1954)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Country: Japan
Length: 207 minutes
Type: Drama,Samurai,Action

This was probably the 3rd time I've seen Akira Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' ('Shichinin no Samurai'). A remote farming village in 15th Century Japan is being threatened by raiders, so they journey to the nearest town to try and find some Samurai willing to fight for them. Since the farmers can't offer any money, they end up with an odd group of good-hearted but aging Ronin and misfits. Kurosawa is careful to define all seven just by their silhouettes but also in the way they move, think and fight. Takashi Shimura as the noble leader Kambei, Toshiro Mifune as the joker Kikuchiyo and Seiji Miyaguchi as the masterful Kyuzo are all superb and so different. 

At 3.5 hours (with an Intermission), it is a long and slow film but time isn't wasted. All the characters get their moments and the strategy used to defend the village is explained very carefully, so the audience know exactly what is happening when the mayhem of the battle descends. I had forgotten how downbeat and depressing the ending is. For my tastes, 'Seven Samurai' is surpassed by the similarly titled '13 Assassins' from 2010. Takashi Miike's film has many of the same recognisable elements but also has copious thrilling action-packed Samurai swordfights, which the more sedate 'Seven Samurai' lacks.


Another Visconti film next.
 

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Senso (1954)
Director: Luchino Visconti
Country: Italy
Length: 117 minutes
Type: Drama,Romance

'Senso' (aka 'The Wanton Countess') finds Luchino Visconti in full-on glamorous Costume-Drama mode after 'Ossessione', his more lo-fi debut.  'The Third Man's Alida Valli stars as an Italian Countess in Austrian occupied Venice. Trapped in a dispassionate marriage to an older man, she becomes obsessed with a dashing younger Austrian soldier (Farley Granger), throwing everything away for him.  After seeing Granger overshadowed by his co-stars in two Alfred Hitchcock films ('Rope' and 'Strangers on a Train'), I was impressed with his performance here, speaking fluently in Italian and German. He really conveys the subtleties required to be a truly loathsome, indolent and manipulative cad but also convincing as the object of the Countess' misplaced desires. The final confrontation scene where he throws the full vitriolic truth in her face is devastating. The battle scenes late into the film were impressive but since they didn't feature any of the central characters, they felt like a distraction.


Next up, a Western starring John Payne (yes, with a 'P').
 

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Silver Lode (1954)
Director: Allan Dwan
Country: United States
Length: 81 minutes
Type: Western,Political

The plot of this Western is similar to the more famous 'High Noon' but it's a much more overtly allegorical condemnation of McCarthyism (the antagonist is called "McCarty"). On the day of Dan's wedding (also the 4th of July) a dubious man from his past rides into town claiming to be a US Marshal with a warrant for his arrest. The film begins with the townsfolk all joyfully celebrating their good friend Dan and ends with the very same people baying for his blood. The decision to set it all in real-time, across a concise 81-minutes, plays into the intensity and sad plausibility of the town's easy spiral downwards into mob vengeance. The long tracking shots following Dan running the length of the Western town as he tries to evade capture are exciting stuff.


A Musical from Otto Preminger next.
 

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Carmen Jones (1954)
Director: Otto Preminger
Country: United States
Length: 105 minutes
Type: Musical

Director Otto Preminger adapts Oscar Hammerstein's Musical reworking of Georges Bizet's Opera 'Carmen', transposed to WW2 era USA, with an all-black cast. I do mean all, even sequences with hundreds/thousands of people, Chicago streets, train stations, even packed sports arenas feature not a single white face. I'm not sure if film censorship at the time required this to be the case, so that there would be no suggestion of people of different races mixing and white actors wouldn't be seen in inferior supporting roles, or if it was an interesting creative decision on Preminger's part. It gives the impression that the characters are living in a parallel-universe 1940s USA, where black citizens occupy every strata of society, something that must have seemed forward looking and welcome to see on the big screen a year before the Montgomery bus boycott. Only the frequent use of "Dee", "Dat, "Dem" and "Dis" in the lyrics dates the piece.

Dorothy Dandridge is super sexy in the title role, Harry Belafonte delivers an amazing performance, ranging from wide eyed innocence to possessed anger and Pearl Bailey is a lot of fun. Star Trek's Brock Peters looks unrecognisably young in a key supporting role but his deep voice is unmistakable. The colourful CinemaScope compositions look great and the opening titles were the first ones by the famous Saul Bass (he designed the beautiful poster above too).


Another film by Kenji Mizoguchi next.
 

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65 years ago...

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Sansho Dayu (1954)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Country: Japan
Length: 124 minutes
Type: Drama

Kenji Mizoguchi's 'Sansho Dayu' is usually translated as 'Sansho the Bailiff', or 'Sansho the Steward'. Either way the film isn't about his character, a cruel slave owner, he's the antagonist for the larger plot. In pre-Shogunate Japan, a benevolent Governor is banished, his family is scattered to the wind and his wife and children are sold into prostitution and slavery. We watch the two children grow up and see if the brutality they endure will dull the selfless kindness their father instilled in them. It's basically a 2-hour wallow in misery it but does have moments of catharsis.


Next up, a Communist film improbably made in '50s USA.
 

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Salt of the Earth (1954)
Director: Herbert J. Biberman
Country: United States
Length: 94 minutes
Type: Drama, Political

'Salt of the Earth' is based on the then pretty recent 15-month 1951 Empire Zinc Strike in New Mexico. Exploited Mexican and Mexican-American miners successfully appealed for equal pay and conditions with the white workers. Director Herbert J. Biberman was one of the famous 'Hollywood Ten' and it was written, produced, scored and starring other blacklisted people.  Apparently it's the only major communist feature-film made in the USA, so I guess they all thought, hell if we're blacklisted from mainstream Hollywood, why not go for broke! The star of the film, Mexican actress Rosaura Sánchez, was arrested and deported on trumped up charges part way through the film, so her scenes had to completed with a double and footage smuggled in from Mexico. The cast was also filled with non-professional actors and some were the real people involved in the 1951 strike, including Union activists Virginia and Clinton Jencks. The simplistic portrayal of heroic downtrodden workers, versus evil unreasonable bosses was expected, the main focus being on the wives of the miners and their proto-feminist struggles to be respected as equals by their own husbands, was more unusual. It all feels very current.


Next, the first film in the book featuring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Jeff Goldblum played Director Herbert J. Biberman in the 2000 film 'One of the Hollywood Ten' aka 'Point of View' which dramatized the filming of 'Salt of the Earth'. I'd be interesting in seeing that, if I can track down a copy.

 
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