Archive for ‘1950s’

July 2, 2012

Mr. Arkadin (1955 – DVD)

“I knew what I wanted. That’s the difference between us. In this world there are those who give and those who ask. Those who do not care to give… those who do not dare to ask. You dared. But you were never quite sure what your were asking for”

In 1958, at a time when Orson Welles was perhaps being forgotten, french magazine ‘Cahiers Du Cinéma declared that Orson’s then new film ‘Mr. Arkadin’ was one of the greatest movies ever made. This was meant as a bold provocative statement designed to raise debate and awareness of a Director they loved. After a weekend emersing myself in an imported copy of The Criterion Collection’s triple DVD exploration of ‘Mr. Arkadin’ I can see elements of truth in their declaration. I love the film despite or because of its little flaws and eccentricities.  The plot follows the mysterious eponymous millionaire (Played with aplomb by Welles himself) and jaded investigator Guy Van Stratten (Played by Robert Arden) who is hired to research Arkadin’s murky past. Arkadin claims this is because he suffered from amnesia and is simply curious… but does he have a darker motive?

Like ‘Citizen Kane’ this is a film about conflicting memories, dark motivations and intrigue told piece-by-piece like a cinematic jigsaw. The fact that like many Welles projects this was interfered with in the edit by the studio was a tragedy. This resulted in several versions being released or later discovered, variously called ‘The Corinth Version’, ‘The Spanish Version(s)’ and most infamously the butchered ‘Confidential Report Version’. This version changed the title and removed the complex flashback structure that underpinned Welles’ vision. Also included on the set is Criterion’s own ‘Comprehensive Version’ combining elements from all the cuts to create the most complete and longest possible cut available. While this version is interesting to view I found ‘The Corinth Version’ to be the most pleasing to digest. It closely follows Welles wishes while having superior image and sound quality with the dodgy lip-synching (That sometimes plagued Welles’ ingenious piece-meal European productions) kept at a minimum.

In ‘Mr. Arkadin’ Welles’ typical eye for framing and mood is absolutely exquisite as every angle and composition seem designed to disorient the viewer. He employs swirling camera work, quick edits, skewed angles, extreme close-ups and deep focus to unsettle the eye. One famous shot is set up like a magic trick of the light, in such a way that as a character runs from the camera his shadow remains the same size.  This puzzle like movie demands to be seen repeatedly to even begin to unlock its secrets so the multiple cuts available on The Criterion edition make it the only way to go.  So get yourself onto the Criterion site and order a copy of this fantastic set.

May 26, 2012

The Seven Year Itch (1955 – DVD)

“What blonde in the kitchen? Wouldn’t you like to know! Maybe it’s Marilyn Monroe!”

I’m getting quite a taste for the films of Golden-Era Hollywood Director Billy Wilder after watching some of his early gothic Noir masterpieces. Now I fancy watching some of the light comedies that he’s also famous for. So I come on to 1955’s ‘The Seven Year Itch’, a sexy comedy starring Marilyn Monroe as a temptress known only in the script as ‘The Girl’. The title alludes to the period of time that supposedly elapses when a married man begins to look at other women. So when Richard Sherman’s (Tom Ewell) wife goes to Maine for the summer the neurotic Manhattan Advertising exec promises himself he will be faithful. That’s until he runs into his new neighbour upstairs, a younger jaw dropingly beautiful girl who is seemingly oblivious to the effect she has on men.

Of course this is the film with the iconic scene of Marilyn’s white dress getting blown up by air from a passing subway train rushing between her legs, a wildly suggestive idea. For 1955 this film is racy, naughty and even downright rude with scenes like the one featuring an obviously naked Monroe peeking out from the bushes and saying lines like “When it’s hot like this, you know what I do? I put my undies in the Ice Box!” to a flabbergasted Sherman.  Tom Ewell’s performance as Sherman seems to be channelling the pent-up energy and sexual frustrations of the archetypal Woody Allen leading character, only 15 years before Woody did it.  Throughout the movie poor Sherman has fevered dreams about the women in his life and by the end you are left wondering if ‘The Girl’ upstairs is entirely a figment of his overactive imagination.

May 25, 2012

Limelight (1952 – DVD)

“This has been a wonderful evening, I’d like to continue… but I’m stuck”

I’m still only half way through my Charlie Chaplin box-set and I’ve come onto 1952’s ‘Limelight’. It was released at a time when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had revoked Chaplin’s American visa at the height of the McCarthy era forcing him to live in Europe. Seeing that the plot is about a forgotten tramp comedian called Calvero from the same area of London where Charlie learned his trade, you’d think it was filmed as a response to his troubles. But ‘Limelight’ was actually entirely filmed on the backlot in Hollywood and it was only when Chaplin travelled to the London premiere that he was informed he could not return to the country he had made his home for nearly forty years.

It’s a beautifully nostalgic and quietly tragic film dwelling on life, love, death and self belief.  Most of Charlie’s previous films are about optimistic characters who are larger than life but in ‘Limelight’ Calvero and the young ballet dancer (Claire Bloom) he befriends are lonely damaged souls that seem crushed by the weight of life.  Terry the dancer has a deep psychological problem that has convinced her she can’t walk and Calvero has turned to the bottle.  Most of the movie is confined to the claustrophobic set of Calvero’s flat with the two leads helping each other build up the courage to face the outside world that they are each hiding from.  The film climaxes with a Music-hall revue featuring Chaplin doing a side-splitting double act with his great silent film rival Buster Keaton, which is the only time they appeared together on-screen.  So far, from this box set, it seems that unlike a lot of Directors, Chaplin only got better with age.

April 28, 2012

Lady & The Tramp (1955 – Blu-Ray)

“A human heart has only so much room for love and affection. When a baby moves in, the dog moves out”

Yay, another Walt Disney Blu-Ray to watch with the usual peerless perfection they bring to the format.  1955’s ‘Lady & The Tramp’ looks totally stunning and probably didn’t actually look this good back in the day, with every handcrafted detail of the animation up there in glorious detail, even the microscopic feint shadows between animation transparencies are occasional visible.  The plot follows ‘Lady’, a dog belonging to a well-to-do couple as she finds herself neglected when a baby arrives, resulting in her meeting carefree homeless dog ‘The Tramp’.

Like the African-American black crows from 1941’s ‘Dumbo’ this film is populated with dog characters based on mostly fairly harmless racial stereotypes.  Like a Scottish Highland Terrier, a Mexican Chihuahua and a cockney Bulldog all helping the central couple. However the song sequence featuring two evil Siamese cats with buck teeth and slanted eyes singing “We are Siameeeese, if you pleeeease” is jaw droppingly misjudged viewed half a century later.  This scene aside the movie is a charming romantic story with the silent sequences giving the animators full reign to tell the story through their artistry alone.  So much so, that it feels slightly disappointing that dialogue was used at all, since I’m sure the team behind this were clever enough to work without it.

April 22, 2012

The Bad & The Beautiful (1952 – Cinema)

“Don’t worry. Some of the best movies are made by people working together who hate each other’s guts”

I adore dark Hollywood films from the 50s so I went along for a sunday evening screening of Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 movie ‘The bad & The Beautiful’ at the BFI (The second half of a 50s double-bill mentioned in my last post). If you think Alexander Mackendrick’s ‘Sweet Smell Of Success’ or Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’ are deliciously dark then check out the cavernous blackness of this film’s humour.

It’s structured a bit like ‘Rashomon’ in that the story is told by three characters in flashback, except in this case they all tell pretty much the same story. Movie producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) took them from nothing, befriended them, lavished time and money on them, finally betrayed them and then left them with everything. In one scene Shields is actually referred to as ‘The devil’ and we see him as not just a producer of movies but a producer of people. Remaking them into how he sees them and fulfilling their creative potential even if he destroys himself in the process.

Lana Turner gives a brutal performance as the alcoholic and suicidal actress Georgia, who is closet to Shields, sharing some of the same past demons. The cracking script is full of acidic lines and twisted humour while the sexual content must have had the 1950’s sensors hot under the collar. I’m getting this the instant it comes out on Blu-Ray, ‘The bad & The Beautiful’ is a masterpiece.

April 22, 2012

A Night To Remember (1958 – Cinema)

“We have dressed now in our best, and are prepared to go down like gentlemen”

I did a short story project for my English class when I was at secondary school about the sinking of the Titanic. Two sources of inspiration were a scrapbook with a detailed timeline of the facts and the other was Roy Ward Baker’s acclaimed 1958 movie ‘A Night To Remember’.  I’ve just watched it again as part one of a self-created sunday evening 1950s-double-bill at the BFI with Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 film ‘The Bad & The Beautiful’.

Seeing it again for the first time since then was a revelation. It was testimony to the actors and Baker’s eye that every shot seemed seared onto my brain as if I’d viewed it yesterday. For me the look on actor Frank Lawton’s face as he slips past an officer onto a lifeboat is one of the greatest performances ever captured on film. He never utters a word but we can see the unbearable mix of abject terror and shame in his eyes. The movie is crafted of such moments, the old couple choosing to die together, the doddering waiter cradling a lost child as they go under and the father kissing a final goodbye to his sleeping son. The film has Kenneth More as its defacto lead character but really this is an ensemble piece. Baker never attempts to try to show the passengers lives, you can imagine their whole existence based on how each person meets their death in the few seconds the camera is on them.

Apparently there is some little-known other 3D Titanic movie doing the rounds at the minute but I wouldn’t bother if I were you, they nailed it ’58, in black and white, in 4/3 and with a hundredth of the budget.

You can watch a controversial Nazi version of ‘Titanic’ uncut on YouTube here:

Also here is the trailer for ‘Titantic’ in SUPER3D!

April 8, 2012

Ice Cold In Alex (1958 – Blu-Ray)

“Let’s hope the beer was all I said it was okay”

After enjoying John Mills in ‘Great Expectations’ I thought I’d have another dip into his oeuvre with 1958’s ‘Ice Cold In Alex’.  Like everyone in the UK I’m aware of the famous Carlsberg drinking scene through sheer cultural osmosis, but this was my first time watching.  The WWII plot follows a disparate group of Allies as the drive a battered ambulance across the searing heat of the desert avoiding landmines and german patrols.  John Mills is of course magnificent as a noble yet damaged and alcoholic officer who has the task of keeping their hopes alive by leading them towards a promised ice-cold beer in Alexandria.  The small cast of supporting actors is also outstanding including the unspeakably gorgeous Sylvia Syms.

‘Ice Cold In Alex’ ranks alongside other throughly stiff-upper-lipped British war films like ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘The Dambusters’.  It speaks not of garish patriotism but quite bravery and dignity in the face of seemingly impossible odds.  The Blu-Ray transfer has a gorgeous pin-sharp clarity defining every grain of red-hot sand and every bead of sweat on the ambulance crews faces.

April 2, 2012

The African Queen (1951 – Blu-Ray)

“It’s a great thing to have a lady aboard with clean habits. It sets the man a good example. A man alone, he gets to living like a hog”

Next in my run through of Bogey classics is 1951’s ‘The African Queen’ which sits in the AFI’s top hundred films of all time.  It’s kinda like an anti ‘Apocalypse Now’, in this sweet tale two lonely souls fall in love as they traverse the dangers of a Jungle river, where as in the similarly Jungle river bound ‘Apocalypse Now’ the characters just go insane and start chopping of people’s heads!  So a tip for tourists; African river trip = romance / Cambodian river trip = plunge into nether regions of hell.

Unusually for the period, half of the film was shot on location in African and it was really worth the poisonous water, hornet attacks, illness and plagues of soldier ants that beset the crew.  As the Jungle scenery is gorgeously shot by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who gives the film a lushly colourful, painterly quality.  Humphrey Bogart’s performance as curmudgeonly riverboat Captain Charlie Allnut rightly won him the Oscar but Katharine Hepburn should’ve also received a gong for her portrayal of closeted Missionary Rose Sayer.  The Blu-Ray transfer is awe-inspiring and ranks alongside ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ and ‘Gone With The Wind’ as the best presentations I’ve seen on the format.  You can almost reach out and touch the African foliage, bare the searing heat  and feel the bristles of Bogey’s stubble.

March 29, 2012

Sunset Boulevard (1950 – DVD)

“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”

I’ve been rather remiss in my watching habits as far as Billy Wilder goes, as I’ve only seen two of the respected Director’s films so far; ‘Double Indemnity’ and ‘The Lost Weekend’.  The dark genius of these films has led me onto the famous 1950 Noir ‘Sunset Boulevard’.  The fact that it was turned into a musical had me imagining a glitzy Hollywood romance film, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  ‘Sunset Boulevard’ follows washed up hack screenwriter Joe Gillis played by a young William Holden as he’s dragged inexorably into the faded world of forgotten Silent-Movie star Norma Desmond, played by real-life Silent icon Gloria Swanson.  I’m unsure whether to call a film as dark and bitter as this a ‘Love ‘letter’ to Hollywood but that’s kinda what it is.  As it features a plethora of vintage Hollywood stars (Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille etc) either playing themselves in cameos or playing twisted versions of their own personas.

Desmond exists in a crumbling Mansion lost in dreams of her glory days convinced they will come again.  She is looked after by her creepy valet Max (Played by acclaimed Director Erich von Stroheim) who prowls the gothic palace like the phantom of the opera.  On the run from the debt collectors Gillis accepts the job of editing a mammoth screenplay Desmond has written for herself and ends up staying at this ‘Haunted House’ of Cinema.  ‘Sunset Boulevard’ feels like the dark flip side of ‘Singin’ In The Rain’, in that film the characters make a glorious Technicolor transition into the Talkies but here Desmond is shuttered away from the reality that the world has forgotten her.  Gloria Swanson gives us a darkly camp and suffocating but ultimately sympathetic performance which makes this film unmissable.

March 27, 2012

Genevieve (1953 – DVD)

“This is the end! Making a public spectacle of yourselves. I couldn’t have believed you could have behaved like this, either of you. Just hauling like brooligans!”

My lovely ‘Rank Films’ box set has still got a few treats in store. One ‘BFI Top 100’ approved treat is 1953’s ‘Genevieve’, a comedy centred around the titular vintage-car and it’s passengers as they drive the London-to-Brighton run.  The question at the heart of the movie is does vintage-car nut Alan (John Gregson) love ‘Genevieve’ or his long-suffering wife Wendy (Dinah Sheridan) more.

Being an English film from 1953, I was expecting the central marriage to feature scenes of the couple reading books in separate twin beds. But instead we get Wendy sprawling drunk on the couples (Very definitely ‘Double’) bed begging Alan to make love to her. Back in the day this must have been considered as racy as the vintage cars themselves. The wager in the second half reminded me of Top Gear’s infamous prank contests but in the film it’s between two lovabley immature and eccentric gents instead of those three smug tits.  Excellent support is provided by Kenneth More as Alan’s friend/rival and Rosalind Peters as the poor lady he drags along.  The vibrant Technicolor splendour of the film is only slightly dimmed by this DVD transfer. But I’ll be treating myself to a Blu-Ray upgrade if they ever release it in the UK.