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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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Artists and Models (1955)
Director: Frank Tashlin
Country: United States
Length: 102 minutes
Type: Comedy, Musical

Apart from his serious role in Martin Scorsese's 1982 film 'The King of Comedy', where he was great, this was my first time seeing US comedy superstar Jerry Lewis in his prime and doing what he is famous for. It must just be me but I think he is a spectacularly unfunny guy, over playing every moment, mugging for the camera and shrieking in this grating high-pitched voice. His character is too stupid to live and made me think of a 1950s Jar Jar Binks. Since twenty years had past and with no access to home video, I guess Lewis felt comfortable in ripping off a few of Harpo Marx's best routines verbatim without the public noticing. The writing has some nice touches, satirising hysterical establishment reactions to the perceived bad influence of comic books, a neat spoof of 'Rear Window' (I reckon they shot on the same sets) and a risque running gag about a publisher's mistress. Dean Martin is charming and the farcical energy of the plotting just about sustained my interest.


Marlon Brando doing a Musical next.
 

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64 years ago...

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Guys and Dolls (1955)
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Country: United States
Length: 150 minutes
Type: Musical

The chemistry between Marlon Brando's impulsive gambler and Jean Simmons' buttoned up (literally) "Save a Soul Mission" Sergeant (a Salvation Army proxy) is absolutely electric. So the scenes about the 2nd couple, fellow gambler Frank Sinatra and his dancer fiancee (Vivian Blaine) feel like a bit of a distraction. Plus Blaine has a couple of songs unrelated to the plot which could be snipped out and nobody would miss 'em. The verbal jousting between all the characters really snaps with intelligence and humour. I wasn't sure if the "SS" symbols on the black collars of the "Save a Soul" uniforms was an innocent coincidence, or a sly dig at moralisers. The 2.5 hours dragged a little at times but when it was working, I was utterly swept up.


The first Indian film in the book next.
 

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64 years ago...

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Pather Panchali (1955)
Director: Satyajit Ray
Country: India
Length: 125 minutes
Type: Drama

This is the first Indian film in the 1001 book, the first of four by Director Satyajit Ray and the first in his "Apu Trilogy". 'Pather Panchali' ('Song of the Little Road') chronicles the fortunes of a family in reduced circumstances, sheltering in what is left of their crumbling ancestral home. Little Apu and his loving older sister Durga, their stern but caring mother, often absent father and frail elderly aunt. There are touches of 'The Railway Children' about it but it's simply searching for work that keeps the dad away, rather than political intrigue. The performances of the two child actors are astonishingly real and the eyes of Apu are deep pools of emotion. The Cinematography in every shot is gorgeous.

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Famous musician Ravi Shankar provides a beautiful Indian classical-music score. Satyajit Ray sometimes cuts all soundFX, leaving only the intensity of Shankar's Sitar playing, which suddenly gives way in one scene to reveal a cry of anguish from the father... I nearly cried too. Many films since (e.g. 'Godfather III') have used the same sound mixing technique. I'm looking forward to seeing the next two parts of the trilogy.


The 4k restoration by the Academy and Criterion (detailed in this video) is incredible, especially considering the negative was burned in a fire:


Next up, another Spencer Tracy movie.
 

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64 years ago...

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Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Director: John Sturges
Country: United States
Length: 81 minutes
Type: Western, Thriller

Mysterious one-armed, black-clad stranger Spencer Tracy gets off the train at the small and remote desert town of Black Rock. The townsfolk eye him with suspicion because they have a guilty secret to hide and they suspect he knows it. 'Bad Day at Black Rock' is a Western at heart in the 'High Noon' mold but is a tense thriller on the surface. Tracy acts as both protagonist for the audience and antagonist for the other characters. Much of the nail-biting suspense is down to discovering the central secret at the slow pace the script intends, so avoid spoilers. Director John Sturges makes full use of the CinemaScope format to capture the desolate location and to crowd Tracy in the frame with threatening looking men. The cast is packed with quality character actors and the exhilarating aerial photography of the opening credits is worth seeing alone.


A "Docufiction" short next.
 

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64 years ago...

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The Mad Masters (1955)
Director: Jean Rouch
Country: France
Length: 28 minutes
Type: Docufiction

What the f**k did I just watch?!? 'The Mad Masters' ('Les Maîtres Fous') is a short French film chronicling the "Hauka" movement, Africans who met up to perform a bizarre parodic imitation of Colonial officials. They acted out a sort of play in Pith helmets, featuring trance like dances, copiously dribbling from the chin, the sacrificing and cooking of dogs, waving wooden rifles about and worshiping a painted ant hill. I don't know what to make of it?


The first feature made in Israel next.
 

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63 years ago...

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Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955)
Director: Thorold Dickinson
Country: Israel
Length: 101 minutes
Type: War

'Hill 24 Doesn't Answer' ('Giv'a 24 Eina Ona') was the first feature film made in Israel, a war-movie about the founding of the state from the perspective of four soldiers who have different backgrounds and motives for being in the fight. One is a stern British/Irish policeman who is engaged to a beautiful Palestinian-Jewish resistance operative. One is a headstrong Jewish New Yorker who was originally only there for a sight-seeing tour of Jerusalem! One is a jaded but decent soldier who tells of his chance encounter with a former SS Officer. The fourth female soldier is a Polish nurse and Holocaust survivor. The flashback structure is episodic by design, a romance, a midnight raid, a religious revelation and a moral examination. The experience was marred by having to watch a terrible VHS transfer on youtube (see below), with barely legible Hebrew subtitles (thankfully it's 95% in English) because the obscure DVD is out of print and prohibitively expensive.


An Alec Guinness film next... huzzah!
 

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63 years ago...

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The Ladykillers (1955)
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Country: United Kingdom
Length: 97 minutes
Type: Comedy

'The Ladykillers' is rightly considered one of the very best of the Ealing comedies and once again stars Alec Guinness. I've seen it lots of times but on this re-watch, after having seen 'The Testament of Dr. Mabuse' I noted the similarities between Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse and Guinness' Prof. Marcus. They've both been plotting ingenious criminal schemes from their rooms in a mental asylum. Plus the way Guinness creeps around like Max Schreck's Nosferatu and the twisted angles of the house are also very German expressionism.

Marcus' plan involves his gang renting a room from a respectable old lady on the pretext of rehearsing a string quintet, committing a daring robbery, stashing the money, then getting the innocent dear to unwittingly collect the loot for them, from under the very noses of the police. Unluckily for the gang, they choose Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson), a dotty Sea Captain's widow who somehow manages to interfere with all their plans purely by accident. The film's title refers to the gang's thoughts of murdering Mrs Wilberforce. A pure classic of macabre humour.


A starring role for Ernest Borgnine next.
 

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The Alec Guinness version is so good, and the Tom Hanks version is so bad.
 

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asterixsmeagol said:
The Alec Guinness version is so good, and the Tom Hanks version is so bad.

Generally that's the view but I have heard some people saying it's an underrated gem. I'm curious to see it one day.
 

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64 years ago...

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Marty (1955)
Director: Delbert Mann
Country: United States
Length: 90 minutes
Type: Drama, Romance

Marty (Ernest Borgnine) is a socially-awkward, kind and lonely middle-aged butcher in a very traditional Italian-American neighborhood. He's almost ready to give up ever finding love and marriage, when he meets a shy woman who seems to like him but his fear of being hurt again gets in the way. Borgnine deservedly got the Oscar for the role, whenever his tough-guy face crumples up in hope and fear your heart bleeds for him (the film also got Best Picture and two other Oscars). The central relationship is much like Rocky and Adrian but without the boxing. I loved all the Italian-American flavour of the neighborhood, especially the old ladies grumbling away in thick New York accents about all the people they know that have died. This is a near perfect heartbreaking and heartwarming film.

At a time when film and television never mixed, Director Delbert Mann unusually based 'Marty' on his own 1953 TV play. The Eureka! blu-ray included it on the bonus features so I gave it a go afterwards. It's about half the length and the sound and video are poor. Some of the supporting cast are the same but Marty is played by Rod Steiger. He physically fits the part and is believable but he's nothing like as powerful and nuanced as Borgnine with the same lines and scenes.

This is such a great scene:


Another Carl Theodor Dreyer film next.
 

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Ordet (1955)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Country: Denmark
Length: 126 minutes
Type: Drama, Religous

'Ordet' ('The Word') concerns a farming family in 20s Denmark, a devout father and his three sons. The eldest has lost his faith, the youngest wishes to marry a girl from another religion and the other is disturbed and believes himself to be Jesus. A couple of problems confront the family and they all have their ideas about God tested and reshaped. Director Carl Theodor Dreyer works in long takes with subtle smooth camera movements, minimal dialogue and sparse sets. The deep felt emotions conveyed by the actors make this 2-hour film (which mostly takes place in one room) a lot less boring than it sounds.

By the way... Kudos to whoever designed the theatrical poster (above) because it looks totally modern.


The first film by Jean-Pierre Melville in the book next.

I found it a bit distracting and unintentionally funny that one of the main characters is basically doing the hilarious high-pitched voice from this popular/famous Danish comedy clip:


It was a little frustrating that many of the film's releases (including the BFI DVD and Amazon Prime stream I watched) use a major spoiler for the cover art and posters:

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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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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 :D .


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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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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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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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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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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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 ;) ).

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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