The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
Message
Author
User avatar
Lowry_Sam
Joined: Mon Jul 05, 2010 3:35 pm
Location: San Francisco, CA

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#26 Post by Lowry_Sam » Mon Dec 02, 2019 3:45 pm

Well I'm starting of this decade list by doing what I usually do, go to my IMDB ratings to compile an initial list of my most highly rated to start with...and it looks like I have enough "10"s & "9"s to fill out 50 slots, so I won't be dropping down into "8"s. Competition will be stiffer than the 40s list, though the list might actually be easier to compile as a result. Fewer British titles, more French & Japanese (I consider Hitchcock's 50s output to be American). While I'll still be looking at unwatched titles, looks like I'll have to do a lot more rewatching this time if I want to be more accurate in my fine tuning.

User avatar
therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#27 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Dec 02, 2019 3:51 pm

Many filmmakers hit their stride this decade, but even for Hitchock who already achieved a status of master well before this point, this is his best span with probably five films placing for me. North by Northwest takes the cake within his entire filmography as possibly the most simply entertaining film ever made. Each setpiece and twist to the narrative is executed with more excitement and suspense than any other adventure film, pound for pound, and Grant's innate charms have never been used better. If cinema is an adventure, this film is pure cinema taking that idea at face value, though just because it’s not as thematically complicated doesn’t mean its pleasures have less merit. To Catch a Thief deserves special mention in this camp, but is even lighter and easier to engage with, regardless of my preference for the later film. A delightful ‘wrong man’ entry but with a cunning spy-like protagonist who knows the game better than Thornhill, making this fun for different reasons. Grant here has the confidence of Bond, producing a more calm exercise, while his naivete in NBN drives the thrills and humor up a notch.

Vertigo needs no championing from me, and while it has gradually sunk in my rankings, it will still likely place somewhere near the bottom of my list. I’ll confess that despite my slipping enthusiasm, I watch this one quite frequently, several times a year, at first with the purpose to try to force the reaction it once gave me (this was my favorite Hitchcock as a kid) but now it’s to ride the psychological chaos to that heartstopping ending, which is perhaps the most cynical in all of cinema.

This film has been analyzed to death, especially as a contextual exercise in voyeurism - though I prefer Rear Window as a lighter metaphor that also works as a validating experience of participating in cinema, including passively enjoying, attempting to gain mastery, and engaging in analysis for meaning and intent (in addition to escapism from unfulfilled expectations of relationships in the real world, even Grace Kelly!). For Vertigo my interest lies in its commentary on control and powerlessness, perfectly laid bare in the final image. [It feels strange to spoilerbox a film like this, but I'd hate to spoil the madness in the event that a member has happened to live x amount of years without having seen perhaps the most highly regarded film ever by the masses]
SpoilerShow
Stewart is broken down repeatedly by the burdens he places on himself, leaving him emasculated by guilt and powerlessness. He becomes obsessed and controlling through his initial voyeurism and then by his desire to transform Novak’s appearance. In the end, he finally gains a surge of confidence in his ability to gain control: he’s figured out the plot (through accident, not skill) and has been able to climb a few extra stairs, which stimulates him into believing he’s conquered his fear when he’s only been distracted through his menacing rage. The climax seems to be Stewart gaining what he had lost, security in his identity as defined by abilities, physically and intellectually. He has control, or so he thinks. So when Novak’s (final) death occurs, due to yet another unexpected variable in the form of a surprise nun, Stewart is blindsided and re-traumatized- not because he’s lost his love but because his idea of control has been deflated in an instant. The film ends with Stewart emerging from the confines of the tower top, signifying the narrow scope of his sights that’s really been his shortcoming all along- an inability to emerge from solipsism, to accept a world in which his markers of a man, and masculinity, don’t exist, one that limits his control. As he peers out over the clocktower, bells ringing like the chaos in his soul, he exists in the peripheral space of god’s world, uncontrollable and intangible. Stewart has lost everything now, again, and yet he doesn’t look around at this space but focuses down on the object of his desire- perhaps still doomed to ignore his powerlessness and remain in cyclical denial over his existential limits. It’s perhaps my favorite ending ever.
Strangers on a Train: Up there for my favorite of the ‘darker’ Hitchcocks (certainly this decade), this is a terrific objective portrait of one’s psychological defense mechanisms working overtime to force the will. In a culture where people are so focused on themselves and yet seek social connectivity they are doomed to be let down when their character denies the flexibility to change their expectations in others who don't commit actions that resemble their ideas for the makeup of an authentic friendship, often through a convoluted, solipsistic interpretation of reciprocity. These people will never be happy or learn how to function in a social world. They might even take a passive affirmation at face value and expect you to fulfill a non-promise created in the mind. If you’re really unlucky, perhaps even a murder.

Walker plays the deranged personification of a social nightmare so well that his confidence alone elicits chills, and reflects our own self-consciousness back to us, even though in this case the trait is one to cherish. Granger has social skills but, despite being a victim of harassment and some strong setup material to put us in his camp and against his wife from the start, his fear defaults to selfishness and narcissism. This presentation is not extreme enough to distance the viewer from aligning with Granger, but there’s a sleazy immoral stamp on his non-actions, and his passivity that shooed off Walker at the start bleeds into his failure to act through the film revealing a deeper, grim truth to his character. Granger’s soft, kind personality hides this well and helps complicate the judgment as he dictates unease in small facial reactions, from fake smiles to pained slight frowns, just barely squeaking by in hiding his fear from those he encounters.

And so solipsism battles narcissism here on a behavioral level, masked by the intensity of psychology at play, which elevates Granger to a worthy surrogate and damns Walker further into hell with sociopathic rationalization backing the irredeemable acts. It’s one of Hitchcock’s most beautifully shot films for such oily material, as each character can be reduced to a single negative trait, and yet they aren’t because of the casting and Hitchcock’s ability to complicate Granger’s pathetic qualities and transform them into relatable fears. In this invisible space lies the genius of the film. Beyond the beautiful carnival scene and antisocial taunting chaos, the master of horror allows a behaviorally weak, unethical, and selfish man to transform into one we root for, by developing him through a psychological lens that subconsciously reminds us that with our backs against the wall, perhaps we would exhibit similar qualities, maybe even the same behaviors, because we all have the same driving force of fear behind a personalized history of cognitive dissonance. Plus, well, between the two, we prefer to side with the socialized gent and not the antisocial menacing threat. In a scene that materializes as a wonderfully strange take on a typical suspense mashup, one man battles another man in a civilized game of tennis while the other battles a sewer drain and an inanimate lighter with the same intensity. That says it all.

User avatar
Michael Kerpan
Spelling Bee Champeen
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:20 pm
Location: New England
Contact:

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#28 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Dec 02, 2019 4:27 pm

Strangers on a Train is the only Hitchcock film I outright love. Not only do I find the story compelling, I like the way this looks without reservation.

User avatar
mizo
Joined: Mon Aug 06, 2012 10:22 pm
Location: Heard about Pittsburgh PA?

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#29 Post by mizo » Mon Dec 02, 2019 5:16 pm

therewillbeblus wrote:
Mon Dec 02, 2019 3:51 pm
North by Northwest takes the cake...as possibly the most simply entertaining film ever made.
I believe science has actually proven this. I pretty much concur with all your Hitchcock judgments and North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, and To Catch a Thief should all find a place on my list (though, if a fourth Hitchcock makes a surprise showing in the lower ranks, it'll probably be Dial M for Murder). Regarding North, it bears emphasizing how beautifully the film functions as a summation of Hitchcock, at least up to that point in his career. Ernest Lehman's oft-stated goal of writing the "ultimate Hitchcock film" never struck me as more than empty hyperbole until a year ago, when I ran through a lot of Hitchcock films in quick succession. Almost every thread of his work up till then gets some kind of representation: hints of high melodrama in Eva Marie Saint's suffering, astonishingly conceived and executed suspense set-pieces, and marvelously bold symbols and stylistic flourishes into which the film sublimates danger and eroticism with wild, practically fetishistic abandon. And all this richness is covered in a beautifully polished (even reflective) surface of unerring wit and near-constant invention. So, basically, I like it because it's the Hitchcock film that most resembles a chocolate ganache truffle.

Glad to see that Bunuel has already come up, as his run in the 50's (which I've just lately been exploring) rivals Hitchcock's in invention and fun, as well as in all the other commonalities that attracted one to the other's work. I'm with Domino on El being the funniest (and an impressively precise film formally for a director often mislabeled as stylistically drab) but the brutally sharp satire in Nazarin is not to be ignored. In addition, El Bruto is maybe my favorite expression of Bunuel's attitudes towards society and Robinson Crusoe is also great fun and has a lot to say about, of all things, racism.

Nobody's mentioned Preminger yet, and while he's my favorite director of the studio era, this decade largely finds him in an odd, transitional period between the twin highs of his amazing female-centered noirs and melodramas of the forties and, then, his remarkable run of massive ensemble pictures in the early sixties. There are more failed experiments and qualified successes than outright masterpieces this decade. But there are at least two of the latter: Angel Face, which closes the noir cycle with an almost apocalyptic expression of misanthropy and cynicism, anchored by one of the great obsessive characters in cinema, and Saint Joan, a truly bizarre experiment that, for a change, is wildly successful. An immensely entertaining movie that resists being pinned down at every unpredictable turn. I'm actually working on an extended piece of writing on this film, so I'll likely have more to say in the coming weeks, haha.

Also, that Kenji Mizoguchi, huh?

User avatar
Lowry_Sam
Joined: Mon Jul 05, 2010 3:35 pm
Location: San Francisco, CA

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#30 Post by Lowry_Sam » Mon Dec 02, 2019 5:24 pm

I caught most of Hitchcock's 50s output on the big screen during their 80s arthouse re-releases. At that time, Rear Window stood out as my favorite. However, after a day of playing tourist in SF & seeing several of the sites where Vertigo was filmed (by complete chance, not planned), we were close to ending our day in The Castro & by sheer coincidence seeing Vertigo on the marquee of The Castro Theater, we popped in to see it, despite having seen it several times & I was surprised to have enjoyed it so much more than previously. This in spite of the fact that the local audience did not sit quietly through the film but reacted rather lively to both the familiar spots in SF & to the action on the screen almost as they would in a John Waters' film (which would ordinarily get on my nerves during a serious film). I am now in agreement with all the critical raves and it will be Hitchcock's most highly positioned title on my list. Strangers On A Train will also be making my list, though I don't feel it's as perfectly constructed as Vertigo technically, I do find its storyline to be one of Hitchcock's best. But the one film of his from the 50s that I would want to plug over the others, is his most leftfield effort from the decade The Wrong Man, which will also be making my list, though perhaps not as highly as his others. As the title implies, The Wrong Man concerns a man wrongly accused of murder, however, unlike the majority of noirs, it tackles this trope with focus on how such matters actually transpire (interactions with police & court system, impact on family & career) & therefore becomes an indictment of the American judicial/penal system rather than just another story of a guy down on his luck & burned by a traitorous colleague or spurned lover. I find North By Northwest to be very entertaining but not quite as substantive as Rear Window & Vertigo, though it will probably also be making my list. For me, a few of the scenes (particularly the skiing in front of a very noticeable blue screen & the staged climax on Mount Rushmore) make it a little less than perfect, despite Hitchcock's precisely detailed sketches & outline for it.

User avatar
therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#31 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Dec 02, 2019 7:15 pm

mizo wrote:
Mon Dec 02, 2019 5:16 pm
Regarding North, it bears emphasizing how beautifully the film functions as a summation of Hitchcock, at least up to that point in his career. Ernest Lehman's oft-stated goal of writing the "ultimate Hitchcock film" never struck me as more than empty hyperbole until a year ago, when I ran through a lot of Hitchcock films in quick succession. Almost every thread of his work up till then gets some kind of representation: hints of high melodrama in Eva Marie Saint's suffering, astonishingly conceived and executed suspense set-pieces, and marvelously bold symbols and stylistic flourishes into which the film sublimates danger and eroticism with wild, practically fetishistic abandon. And all this richness is covered in a beautifully polished (even reflective) surface of unerring wit and near-constant invention. So, basically, I like it because it's the Hitchcock film that most resembles a chocolate ganache truffle.
Well I’ll be, you’ve made me appreciate one of my all-time favorite films even more. Great writeup!
mizo wrote:
Mon Dec 02, 2019 5:16 pm
Nobody's mentioned Preminger yet, and while he's my favorite director of the studio era, this decade largely finds him in an odd, transitional period between the twin highs of his amazing female-centered noirs and melodramas of the forties and, then, his remarkable run of massive ensemble pictures in the early sixties. There are more failed experiments and qualified successes than outright masterpieces this decade. But there are at least two of the latter: Angel Face, which closes the noir cycle with an almost apocalyptic expression of misanthropy and cynicism, anchored by one of the great obsessive characters in cinema, and Saint Joan, a truly bizarre experiment that, for a change, is wildly successful. An immensely entertaining movie that resists being pinned down at every unpredictable turn. I'm actually working on an extended piece of writing on this film, so I'll likely have more to say in the coming weeks, haha.
I actually like most 50s Preminger I’ve seen, though I don’t remember anything about Carmen Jones, and felt apathetic towards The Man with the Golden Arm, not a mood I usually meet films regarding addiction with, as I tend to have a pretty involved opinion one way or another. Perhaps it deserves another go.

The Moon is Blue hasn’t got a shot at making my top 50 but I like it a lot more than critics seem to, and I recall the divisive Bonjour Tristesse being fine. Angel Face is a shoe-in for my list for the reasons you already stated perfectly, and Anatomy of a Murder might make the cut too as one of the better court dramas, ever?

I’ve been meaning to check out Saint Joan for a while now, and given its status here I’ll be doing that sooner rather than later. I’d love to read your piece on it too if you’re willing to share here or via PM when you’re done.

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#32 Post by knives » Mon Dec 02, 2019 8:06 pm

See, Preminger (or Ray) is probably my big Hollywood director for the decade and definitely the one most likely to overwhelm my list. Even his weakest work for the decade, mostly his African American stuff, is interesting. The Moon is Blue in particular strikes me as one of the best examples of Preminger using what he saw in Hollywood against itself. It plays almost like a mirror to Susan Slept Here getting at the underlying emotion behind such a character and relationship while retaining a mood of comedy.

User avatar
therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#33 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Dec 02, 2019 8:25 pm

Great comparison, and while I like both films I definitely prefer The Moon is Blue’s take on that idea.

User avatar
therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#34 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Dec 02, 2019 9:35 pm

I watched La Casa del ángel and have to add to the praise here. It’s a beautiful film to be sure, but almost ironically so since it’s entirely built around a world of fear that encloses on freedom with aggressively rigid attitudes and actions (despite a respected figure disclosing that people cannot achieve absolute goodness early on, this is what is expected and drives the Catholic guilt). This seems very much intentional though, as the spirituality that breaks through comes from our heroine who can access aspects of this beautiful world shown through the photography and doe-eyed camera as if we were her discovering the actual sublime for the first time right there with her amidst the dark oppressiveness which is religion, accentuating the latter’s function as a poisonous vacuum that replaces life with dead space as it obsessively labels all fears as sin. I love this kind of satirical stance taken bitterly serious in a film that finds the spiritual on the opposite side of the tracks of the religious, and like last decade’s La Symphonie Pastorale, this film manages to take a straightforward idea and manipulate the concept in twisted, dynamic directions to completely refreshing, uncharted territory. The end finds a way to fuse the developing vitality and awareness of Daniels with the brooding muck of sinfulness and fear, to the degree where I’m not sure if what we’ve seen is to be taken as a dream or a nightmare.
SpoilerShow
What are thoughts on which is reality and what is fantasy? It seems like the sex, murder from the duel, and subsequent haunting is a collection of sinful content that Daniel is fetishizing in a daydream, signifying the distorted effects of her upbringing on transforming her own mind, sexual, and identity development to absolutely wild places. This reading further highlights the irony in paradoxically matching disturbing psychosexual consequences with the polar opposite intentions of the ‘faithful’ advisors and parents figures, and reveals the dark side to the social context only those blinded by egocentric fear could have missed. Perhaps I’m off in my assessment, but either way, what a mindfuck.
Unfortunately, I also revisited Some Like it Hot tonight and wow, how did I ever find this funny? It never knocked me down in fits like it did to so many I know but I at least used to find it amusing. This viewing left me downright uncomfortable at how each gag tried so hard only to yield no reaction. The film itself isn’t bad but when Monroe is the clear comic highlight there’s a problem with Lemmon in tow.

I have a feeling that, like the 40s, Wilder will fare poorly for me this decade. Sabrina could make an appearance, and I do relish the nastiness of Sunset Boulevard and Ace in the Hole, but it’s very possible that he’ll be absent entirely. For a director that I can often take or leave, but have stood to defend a handful of efforts, these lists tend to reveal how even the better aren’t so great when battling with over fifty other great films.

User avatar
barryconvex
billy..biff..scooter....tommy
Joined: Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:08 pm
Location: NYC

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#35 Post by barryconvex » Tue Dec 03, 2019 2:54 am

There's such an embarrassment of riches this decade yet I have no clear cut number one. Nothing that jumps to the top of my list like every other decade at least. I'm looking forward to revisiting Bunuel's output, it's been years since I've seen any of them (will there ever be a Bunuel Mexican films box set?) and getting better acquainted with Sirk-I'm really only familiar with the Criterion releases. As of right now at least five spots on my list will be filled in by Chuck Jones and Tex Avery shorts. This is the decade where both reached heights no one since has come close to. Symphony In Slang, Robin Hood Daffy and Drip-Along Daffy might even be in my top ten.

User avatar
Drucker
Your Future our Drucker
Joined: Wed May 18, 2011 9:37 am

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#36 Post by Drucker » Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:41 am

barryconvex wrote:
Tue Dec 03, 2019 2:54 am
There's such an embarrassment of riches this decade yet I have no clear cut number one. Nothing that jumps to the top of my list like every other decade at least. I'm looking forward to revisiting Bunuel's output, it's been years since I've seen any of them (will there ever be a Bunuel Mexican films box set?) and getting better acquainted with Sirk-I'm really only familiar with the Criterion releases. As of right now at least five spots on my list will be filled in by Chuck Jones and Tex Avery shorts. This is the decade where both reached heights no one since has come close to. Symphony In Slang, Robin Hood Daffy and Drip-Along Daffy might even be in my top ten.
I don't generally participate in these lists, and won't for this one, but saw your note about Sirk. Do not sleep on Imitation Of Life, which I saw in theaters last year, had me crying harder than I've cried in a theater...ever? And quickly cemented a spot as one of my favorite films of all time.

User avatar
TMDaines
Joined: Wed Nov 11, 2009 1:01 pm
Location: Stretford, Manchester

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#37 Post by TMDaines » Tue Dec 03, 2019 1:54 pm

C’mon, Drucker, you’ve seen enough films to join in submitting ballots for these lists!

User avatar
therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#38 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Dec 03, 2019 3:39 pm

Image

Peyton Place

Apologies in advance to Sirk-devotees for the following pronouncement will likely seem blasphemous, but having seen this several times now in the last few months, it’s with careful consideration and an awareness of hyperbole that I declare this to be one of the best melodramas I’ve ever seen, and likely the best multi-character community drama epic that dares to pierce the layers of micro, mezzo, and macro systems and expose their inherent interconnectivity. The chaos of the ‘50s tense transitional purgatory is perfectly applied to an early ‘40s setting, and conveyed in its milieu of characters struggling to exist between two poles: the old ways in superficial stability of defined roles and social customs of accepted ideologies, and the pull to break free from such conventions and develop unique identities separate from institutional influence. The depth given to youth matches Rebel Without a Cause in its authenticity, and the inclusion of adults of various ages isn’t solely for contrast but to explore their own debilitating pathos, internal conflicts, resilience through change, or in the case of Arthur Kennedy, utter destruction as a result of the incapacity to cope with a changing world. This is a film that directly, at times perversely, addresses the intense passions and fears of people, recognizing them as humans as well as parts of a system going through change. Some sink, some swim, most do a mixture of the two and everything in between; learn, grow, and morph right with the times in their own ways.

As fixed positions battle change, and vice versa, we see how deep and fastened the roots of personal fear and institutional ideology take hold on these people and communities, and even more importantly how this battle is both one of nature that must exist, and futile in its prevention of either option producing a change on those who participate, which is everyone. The fleeting ephemerality of life comes in moments like the goodbyes before the men depart for war, with underlying agitated musings on the finality of bonds producing surges of emotions only to end abruptly as we watch the men board the bus and see the leftover partners and parents disperse from a long omniscient shot as the bus drives away. No one, regardless of life experience and tangible accumulations of ideological security, can be prepared for, or spared from, the effects of these instances that refuse catharsis and force one to cope with an unpredictable loss of stability and future orientation. However, the same "fleeting epheremality" also comes in warmer forms, such as a skinny dipping romance that will be burned into each lover’s memories until the end of time but that physically lasts only a brief look, which is more than enough to be cherished by each party, and surely will as is clear from the way their personal expressions meet in subtle unison. At the same time, to counter the thematic exposition of change, there is an equal force binding these characters to their situations and cultural staticity. The long, drawn out sequences of Hope Lange trapped in her dangerous household evoke a continuous trauma that, to a more extreme degree, mimics the same hopelessness found in the lives of the other residents of Peyton Place in their own respective trappings. These scenes stress that despite the transitory experiences constantly occurring, some last too long and we feel the youths' pains in staticity just as we do the adults’ ennui in transition.

Lee Philips as the new principal at first seems to be the foreign initiator of such change, or at least the film’s central perspective, one that mixes the importance of tradition with the acceptance of the necessity and inevitability of change. However, in another way he is actually not the focal point but a safe realist position that unconsciously stunts progress while enabling change. See the scene where he advises Varsi to publish more appropriate works rather than ones from her impassioned, personal point of view. Is this truly reinforcing the freedoms of the creative process, or actually championing conformity due to realism, rather than his own philosophy of supporting ideas against hivemindedness? His character is important as an emblem of what a blend of this central struggle may look like, but taken as the moral center it invalidates the extremities of the youth’s intensity in their emotional and identity formation. He seems to be there to help the adults see a personification of their own abilities to change, but for the youth, well, they don’t have one yet, even if he can serve as an ally on their road to self-discovery. This idea only adds to the complexity of the portrait: can he serve as a center to one side of the equation, but not the whole story? I believe so, but what a structurally abstract idea for Robson to propose, even subliminally.

Speaking of the direction, Robson masterfully fleshes out so many individuals and their intertwined dynamics, giving careful attention and validation to each, to a degree that seems a near impossible accomplishment (I love how equal screen time is given to the young brother who seems to live for his solitary vices, sneaking food and basking in the simple pleasures of this indulgence, as is given to the crotchety old lady who lives to focus away from herself, escaping in gossip that actually affects the plot; polar opposite interests and directions of their pleasures, with the same denominator driving their actions: to feel alive). It’s not only a balancing act but one that takes an interested and empathetic position willing to dig deep enough to provoke the genuine emotional space of each person, while also pulling back to see every one of these individuals as part of the collective whole system. When characters clash, boy do they clash (this has perhaps the most uncomfortably violent rape scene of the code era, though plenty of less physical conflicts boil to abrasively cutting verbal aggression and emotional abuse); and when they connect it’s something to behold; a reminder of the mystical, ineffible power that creates thick, spiritual energy between two people. The exchanges between Varsi until Tamblyn have so much lingering beauty compared to most any Hollywood epic, each of them sharing their most precious thoughts with one another uninhibited and wildly alive.

I’m often most moved by films that offer a grey picture of the world by splitting rays of dark cynicism and bright optimism to cast on the formation of identity and existential growth, including the impermanence of acceptance, and self-actualization as a process best understood by interactions between individuals and their social contexts. When done right, like here, cinema is nothing short of sublime in its ability to emote the complexity of the experience, some that we know and some that we don’t, from a fusion of subjective perspectives that form an objective collage, a picture of life. It’s telling that after the climax of the trial, the musical score remains restrained and melancholic, refusing to manipulate the viewer towards a desired state and allowing the material to carry its own raw power. The doctor’s speech in the finale reveals the casualties of fear and the prisons this creates, but the application of his words stretch far beyond the trial or even Peyton Place, to America and the era of conflict during which is was filmed. Here is a film that isn’t angry or joyous but validates both anger and joy, sees the world as full of tarnished conflicting parts and, most importantly, believes that change is not only the solution to this problem but - as indicated by the final lines of the film - possible for everyone, regardless of age, sex, or status, precisely because the tools exist within us all.

I'm curious, has anyone read the source novel? I can’t imagine any text can match this film’s progressiveness applied to complicated dissections of culture and psychology, but if the book is even close to as open-minded I'll be picking it up immediately. This is probably the 'newest' discovery with the most potential to pierce by top ten, and I can't recommend the film highly enough for fans and enemies of melodramas alike.

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#39 Post by domino harvey » Tue Dec 03, 2019 5:19 pm

After I screened the film (with an intermission— it was by far the longest film I ever showed my students), one of my students told me her grandmother was shocked that she was shown such filth, which I loved— really sold how groundbreaking and radical the movie (and book) was, even after all these years. Also, Arthur Kennedy’s Oscar-nommed rapist has to be the least sympathetic character ever recognized by the Oscars

Free advice: don’t watch the sequel for next decade’s roundup, or any other reason

And Delmer Daves has always been and will always be my answer to those who keep ringing the same damn “Blah blah melodrama blah blah Sirk” bell over and over. Plenty of evidence from him alone in this decade to support my position that other directors knew perfectly well what they were doing

User avatar
therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#40 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Dec 03, 2019 5:56 pm

That's awesome, so you recommend the book then?

Kennedy is a national treasure and I was about to say that he should have been nominated for his other work with Robson, especially Trial, only to check the 'net and find out that he was issued a nom for all three perfs this decade (plus Some Came Running, another easy top ten contender)!

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#41 Post by domino harvey » Tue Dec 03, 2019 6:03 pm

4/5 of Kennedy’s lifetime Oscar noms come from Robson films! That he didn’t win for Trial is a... miscarriage of justice 😎

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#42 Post by knives » Tue Dec 03, 2019 6:14 pm

Man, I was just thinking how I wish more of Robson's work was easily available. His sort of mischievous melodrama is my favorite sort though I can't begrudge Dom his Daves love. A Summer Place has a good chance of making my list and for me is easily the best young lovers story ever.

User avatar
Drucker
Your Future our Drucker
Joined: Wed May 18, 2011 9:37 am

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#43 Post by Drucker » Tue Dec 03, 2019 6:27 pm

TMDaines wrote:
Tue Dec 03, 2019 1:54 pm
C’mon, Drucker, you’ve seen enough films to join in submitting ballots for these lists!
Fine, I'll try to write some thoughts up tonight!

User avatar
therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#44 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:28 pm

Since we're talking Robson, I’ve been pretty blind to his 50s work until a few months ago after I was floored by Peyton Place and immediately sought to change that deficit. I jotted down some thoughts before the thread opened up and while I may try to seek out more of my blind spots, I feel that this string of films has given me a pretty concrete understanding of the director's values.

Throughout his work, Robson seems more interested in the theme of individual change in response to external forces, a fluidity of exchange that is more realistic and comprehensive than the broad personal revelation more typical of melodramatic character development. The nihilistic perspective on the futility of change in the face of environmental systems signified horror in his debut, the excellent Seventh Victim, though Robson has opted out of cynicism since then towards more objective presentations of the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between, with an intentional lack of directorial interference of opinion. One could even say this mode is in step with the spiritual films of the decade that keep people ‘right-sized’ and resign their places to only a part of a whole structure of moving parts.

Bright Victory shoots spaces in a way that doesn’t lend itself to claustrophobia. Some filmmakers might have heightened the confinement to replicate the sense of blindness or its consequential isolation, but Robson sees the world as full, populated with characters and abstract variables that are in constant flux, and an individual is never alone regardless of how he feels.

Robson never reverts to cutting scenes short when uncomfortable news and painful details take place, allowing them to play out in real time to capture the truth of the experience. Kennedy delivers an absolutely masterful performance, and it’s a testament to his likeability and Robson’s direction that we have him established as a pretty good person with only minimal interactions with his fellow soldiers prior to his injury. His own transformation is not rooted in moral growth of character but in adjustment to change, despite the obvious addressing of racism this doesn’t play out in the narrow scope of a simpler film, and is instead blended into the ableist social prejudices within a systematic relationship to culture rather than being kept to a micro-level issue. Fear, pride, awareness, and the breaking down of ego are all present and accounted for like Robson’s other strong dramatic works, and Kennedy is able to seamlessly transition between moods and challenges in his identity without resorting to contrivances.

I Want You meditates on the complications that exist in the grey area between loyalties to family, country, or oneself in response to the uncontrollable externally-imposed change of war that upsets all homeostasis. Subjective compromising of ideologies are tested, and while the film ultimately comes out as collectively nationalist, the struggles examined are deep. Don’t let the end result fool you, for Robson is careful to show how within this collective, the drama revolves around the interactions of various individuals belonging to distinct groups. It’s a creative way to deliver a surface-level Code-friendly film, with a brooding intensity of rebellion within the soul between innate protection and socially-constructed conscience.

Phffft is a change of pace for Robson in a comedy about divorce. He succeeds in treating each character with fair objective distance and patient observation, in similar form to his more successful multi-character dramas. There are some humorous interactions often due to the communication constraints exposed in more layered works but otherwise this didn’t do much for me as either a comedy or an exploration of interpersonal relations. A rare dud in Robson's canon.

The Bridges of Toko-Ri is an engaging actioner that has curiosities elsewhere, in loyalty and camaraderie of umbrella nationalist groups a la Hawks, but smartly juxtaposed with the loyalty to family and oneself, and not in a way that manipulates artificial dramatic conflict. I admire the bedroom scene that dances around the frightening issue of Holden’s safety by discussing piano lessons only to abruptly splurge out, because it doesn’t make this a silly metaphor to highlight communication issues. Rather, it's clear that this couple has strong rapport and are both terrified of addressing the concern, and they collaboratively decide to remain present outside of crisis for a brief moment, holding on as long as they can manage. The nonverbal communication is not played as a flaw but an asset, and Robson understands people enough to treat all aspects of this lifestyle, and all affected parties, with respect without putting them at odds with one another or proposing one perspective or solution. There’s some cultural interplay in the pool scene too, that briefly signals the processes of frustration through a lack of competency to joining via more nonverbal tools. Robson knows that he doesn’t need to show us more than this simple exchange to get across what he wants, and the film is better for it. The emotional and psychological study of the soldiers, Holden specifically, is all visual but there is a lot of space left for these internal dramatic moments. The way Holden expresses his fear is subtle and alone, divorced from any consequence of these loyalties and authentic to the hazier space that exists in isolation, not in direct relationship to any one clear external stressor. The ending isn’t so much tragic as it leaves us confused on how to feel by death, given all these areas to consider and interpret sans intrusive explanation, again wildly different than a Hawks film that may rationalize the casualty with a consistent mantra and established code, or a traditional melodrama that may reduce death to a simplistically false finite status. Not a knock on Hawks (or 'traditional' melodramas), I prefer his war films to this one, but Robson’s carries a special ambiguity that’s most welcome.

Trial: You have to admire Robson for making a film that has a clear anti-communist agenda into an expansive portrait of the inner-workings of politics. The justice system is the perfect place for the director to examine his interest in systems, and he dips his feet in racism, publicity, subjective judgments, and the significance of one's profession or politics on identity, and then steps back to show how they all affect one another without laying a heavy hand on any particular issue. Where Robson does land is in his usual place of objective humanism, and this makes the ending an acceptable compromise between realism and cinema. One of the better courtroom dramas I’ve seen in a while, partly due to strong writing, direction, acting, and technical choices, and partly because of Robson’s stance in treating the material, and by extension the audience, with the respect it deserves. Oh, and where's Kennedy's Oscar?

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness follows a passionate optimist as she navigates systems, clashing with cultures and coping with obstacles outside of her control, to achieving her goal of helping others, itself an initiation of change. It’s fascinating how Robson presents various structures as barriers but also as supports. For example, Bergman must pay for a train early on, and can only afford a dangerous one- a barrier to her dream. And yet, she admits that she cannot save the money as she does not trust herself to commit under pressure, and thus trusts this very institution that acts as a barrier with the currency of her dreams, making them complicit in realising this objective. It’s a fascinating portrait of a positive force of good personified in a post-Rossellini Bergman drained of her stardom as a foreign mystery coming back to the states and applying such unknowable and curious eccentricity to become the optimist martyr of her character. That she achieves her intended position from Europe ‘51 in true Hollywood fashion is of some reflexive interest, though obviously this story is rooted in a leg of truth. Both films can be right in their own respective paths at arriving at different ends, while maintaining a similar grey view of the world.

I'm not sure if any of these are going to fight their way onto the final list, but they’re mostly all worth watching, especially if one is looking at the thread through Robson’s advanced anthropological view expressed in his filmography.

User avatar
Drucker
Your Future our Drucker
Joined: Wed May 18, 2011 9:37 am

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#45 Post by Drucker » Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:19 pm

Dainesy, I've pulled all the 1950s films out of my kevyip. Will begin tackling some this week!

nitin
Joined: Sat Nov 08, 2014 6:49 am

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#46 Post by nitin » Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:21 pm

I ordered Peyton palace from the current TT sale so these gushing posts have me looking forward to it.

Would anyone recommend Robson’s From the Terrace (I realise it’s not from this decade) or Daves’ Kings Go Forth?

User avatar
therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#47 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:29 pm

nitin wrote:
Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:21 pm
I ordered Peyton palace from the current TT sale so these gushing posts have me looking forward to it.
Enjoy! I just rewatched my copy the other day and thought it looked great, better than I expected.

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#48 Post by domino harvey » Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:46 pm

From the Terrace is a touchstone social mobility melodrama of the period, but probably not worth more than a rental for most folks. Kings Go Forth is rather forgettable, the key Delmer Daves titles from this decade are the Last Wagon (available on Blu-ray in Germany) and Never Let Me Go (Warner Archives DVD-R)

nitin
Joined: Sat Nov 08, 2014 6:49 am

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#49 Post by nitin » Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:54 pm

Thanks Dom, Never Let Me Go was actually on my gigantic wish list so I might go ahead and get that one. The Last Wagon though was not on my radar (I have the other 50s westerns by Daves on blu but have not seen any of them yet).

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#50 Post by domino harvey » Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:58 pm

The Last Wagon is the perfect blend of the two Daves modes: juvenile melodrama and western message picture. It's as entertaining a western, or film, as they come. I actually ranked it number one on my top 50 ballot for the Westerns Redux List Project!

Post Reply