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.
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therewillbeblus
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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#476 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:38 am

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The Reluctant Debutante

The introduction into this high-class society immediately secured its footing in Kendall and Harrison’s hilarious banter that quickly dissolved into a realization that this would be normative behavior of our aligned protagonists. The next introduction is in Dee acclimating to this world right there with us. It’s hard to tell where the joke is aimed, because Minnelli appears to be poking fun at his characters while also celebrating their way of life, humanizing them within a ridiculous wheelhouse- but since that is to some extent the status everyone we get a chance to ‘know’ there is a sensitivity that suggests alignment with the foolish upper-class. If everyone is a fool, why not? Exchanges like when the central couple cannot spot the butler- “Perhaps he’s dead” “What a good idea!” are objectively absurd, but if ignorance is bliss (and these people sure are ignorant) then is Minnelli proposing that it doesn’t matter?

The experience of watching this film was genuinely strange, as I really didn’t know if I was watching a satire that also refused to acknowledge a different perspective, and thus also… was not a satire? I greatly admired whatever Minnelli was doing, even if the internal logic was to declare an absence of meaningful logic- beyond the spectacle and social support that this group does have, as well as the laughter we can get from eyeing another from our own vantage point. However, Dee’s claim of love contrasts with her stepmother’s viewpoint, so we do get some genial conflict to highlight a civil way to integrate, conform, and separate with individuality. But what’s the best option? It may not be what you think.

That’s where this becomes really interesting- by the halfway point it becomes clear that whatever this faux-dilemma is, it's not the interest of the film, because Kendall and Harrison are the fun ones, who live a fun life, while the children (Dee and her drummer beau) are just plain boring! Kendall in particular is a kittenish personification of nirvana, twirling the phone chord as she talks to a stranger in Dee’s love interest, fully confident and self-assured while he is puzzled and stiff on the other end of the line. Minnelli makes it clear that it is not Kendall who is to be shamed here, but the boy for being a square, devoid of personality or a looseness that would allow him to be himself and treat life like the joke it is when you've got means.

Kendall is her true ‘self,’ the only character wholly in step with her identity and self-actualized. Harrison is a riot with his nonchalant bad advice, which creates wonderful gags like telling someone to wish their dead mother well (“It can’t hurt”) though these games they play are so amusing that as an audience member I got the feeling that this was a wonderful life, not George Bailey’s self-serious moral one. Not that I believe that, but it was nice to take a vacation to this worldview for a little while. And there is a bitter truth here in that life may be interpreted as one big existential joke or game depending on how we look at it, but for the 1%, they can take this position without batting an eye. Being "fun" is easier, simply by being ignorant of other responsibilities or stress that would force one into a serious state- and as a result this becomes a natural comedy about a comedic actuality.

The final act kicks off with a scene where the central couple play a role-playing drama game to spy on the square couple cements their fluid sense of playfulness. These screwball antics occur as the kids talk about serious subjects like past sexual histories, and use proper manners asking for refreshments between breaths. Harrison prompts the suitor to play along with his solo-gag too, the boy still pathetically sedate next to an old-timer swaying his body around, animated and alive. There could not be a more staggering difference between these mini-groups, and although all parties are within the same 'class'- only those who accept and embrace its comforts can live a good life. Kendall is serious about her classist codes, but her methods of taking herself seriously carry a light weight that is theatrical and malleable, with her retaining her identity regardless of the outcome- contrasting greatly with Dee. The late reveal proposes that maybe, in time, the young couple will lighten up too now that they're even-keeled and welcomed members of the club. This is easily up there with Good Morning, We’re No Angels and Has Anybody Seen My Gal? as one of the best comedies of the decade.

On a less funny note, what a sad fate Kay Kendall had just a year after this film's release. She is an absolute revelation here, her rapport with husband Harrison is perfect, and she had so much comedic potential to give.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#477 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Jun 28, 2020 12:18 am

This should round out the last 50s films on my 'to-watch/rewatch' list (before I inevitably add a heap of musicals following an imminent delve into Altman and Jane Feuer’s books), aside from a revisit of an old favorite that is challenging to find the words for… Anyways, Female Jungle is a relatively dull version of twisty noir that focuses its most mysterious impassioned energy on Carradine so intensely that you want the entire film to be about him. I didn’t pick up on all the happy-accidents domino did, but instead this just fell into the B-noir camp, with some conspicuous shot choices that felt the need to nudge the audience. I enjoyed seeing Tierney as a protagonist (of sorts) rather than a soulless ‘heavy’ but Carradine walks away with the movie. Not a bad way to spend 70 minutes. The Last Hunt, on the other hand, was a head-scratcher. I know people like this western, but I found the entire orchestration to be a poorly handled melodrama with awful acting and strange editing choices (the entire ending especially just removed all suspense or even connective tissue to drive any fluidity of form). I generally like Richard Brooks so perhaps I need to revisit it someday, though I'd be interested to hear someone's defense since I know others here enjoy it.

The Matchmaker is an excellent self-aware comedy that has fun playing with the audience and characters in toying with people's desire to be seen, addressed, and validated. This is all done through flattery and other intentional deceptive behavior rooted in self-centered aims- no clearer than including us in the characters' "wisdom" explaining themselves to us, providing us with wisdom, all through a lens of goofy mannerisms to allow us our own personal jesters in direct address. As observers, we are afforded slapstick, coincidence, sensuality, scheming, and histrionic theatrics that all ensue for our pleasure. The inclusion of Shirley Booth (who destroyed me in a recent viewing of Come Back, Little Sheba, only to delight with cunning glee here!) as well as Perkins and MacLaine only make this better, with those younger actors using their surface-charms to help drive the cute facades. Perkins' fourth-wall gushing about his knowledge of sexual politics is especially funny in how he both dumbs himself down into 'Gee-Wiz!' innocence as if we haven't just witnessed his own behavior, and speaks of 'facts' as if trying to convince himself that he knows anything about the way the opposite sex, or life, works- which he doesn't.

Inferno is one of the better survivalist thrillers with a noirish twist, as Ryan narrates his one-track mission to not only get out alive but to do so to seek vengeance. The film’s success is primarily due to the editing techniques that swing back and forth between Ryan and the culprits in safety, never spending too much time in one space to ensure we feel the tension and become acclimated to everyone’s stress. There is some strange sympathy for the murderous lovers' points of view by aligning with their (well, really her) anxiety during the investigation, and clear moral weight they’re carrying in hindsight, which catapults those areas into toning a unique kind of suspense. Ryan’s transformation of character, from rich, resentful fury to humbled, grateful serenity, is as earned as it can be in this runtime. I loved his temperament in the delivery of the final line that is both unforgiving and humanist. This isn’t a list-contender but it’s as engaging as this kind of film has been, at least in my memory.

A revisit of Outcast of the Islands let me appreciate the strengths more. Similar to my overall feelings on Reed's work, I admire his expert direction but find the actual meat to be less enticing. I largely agree with HinkyDinkyTruesmith’s thoughts earlier in the thread. The attention to environments are striking, and the juxtaposition of Howard with his various social contexts outlines him as a complicated figure, who is objectively a disease in manipulating his surroundings for self-gain, but also briefly sympathetic as an outsider plagued by isolation and psychological mechanics shutting down. The film raises questions that ask how much of his status is self-inflicted due to these harmful faults, and how much is a resilient adaptation to a philosophy of Hobbesian cruel ‘state of nature.’

The descriptive photography of the milieu lends much of the earned drama, with enveloping location shots but also claustrophobic, cutting action in dark enclosed spaces. Each time a character interacts with another or their environment we feel disharmony, aggression, confusion, or fear; even in seemingly cordial exchanges, there appears to be a mismatch of perspectives and attitudes that bars cooperation. Are these morphed into opportunities for selfishness because people cannot find opportunities for collaboration in essence, or as a result of manmade anxiety? It’s a barbaric film, and one that summarizes colonialism well in a micro-scale example.

Richardson’s own view on how to maintain a communal synthesis is still fitting with that worldview, biased from the white conqueror’s view, yet honest in accounting for a validating provision of space and reciprocal services, instead of allowing only greed and narrow-minded violence to drive a relationship. The hollow, empty core of Howard at the end (“Provoke you? What is even in your to ‘provoke?’”) is pathetic in a way that is not entirely damning but not sympathetic enough to throw him an nth bone; in a failure to harness the support of his father-figure for positive change and affection, dooming the self to mirror nature’s unpredictable chaos.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#478 Post by alacal2 » Sun Jun 28, 2020 2:49 pm

Free Cinema

As the blurb on the bfi's boxset states, this was 'a highly influential but critically neglected movement in British Cinema history'. Although these films were seen as a precursor to the British New Wave in the late 50's and early 60's they are fascinating and important in their own right with documentaries by the likes of Lindsay Anderson. Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz. Amongst the duffel coats and trad jazz however, the real discovery and standout for me was
Together directed by Lorenza Mazzetti in 1956. This is a poetically shot tale of two deaf-mute friends in London's East End. Unlike all the other films featured this a drama and a subversive take on the Pied Piper legend. The two young men are followed around by a group of children who, rather than being under their spell, appear to be far more in control and are responsdible for the film's devastating ending. The bfi set is still available and although several of the films are excluded from this LIst given they were made in the 60s, its a beautiful package and worth a deep dive.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#479 Post by senseabove » Sun Jun 28, 2020 4:31 pm

Side Street (Mann, 1950) The leads of They Live by Night, together again! The story is an interestingly earnest take on that noir staple, the good guy tempted and soon in over his head, and it threads the good guy/bad guy demands of the Code needle pretty well. Granger's sometimes grating naif-ness is nicely hardened by his motivation to be An Adult, but O'Donnell doesn't have too much to do besides whimper and feel conflicted, though at least she gets one striking push-in to a close-up. With some great NYC location shooting and some nice supporting turns, this one ended up feeling greater than the sum of its parts—Mann lets it coast on genre conventions or gooses it beyond them in just the right places.

As an aside: did Jean Hagen ever get the opportunity to really stretch out in something more dramatic? She makes so much more out of the devoted deadbeat dames she's given in both this and The Asphalt Jungle than is in the script... Whoever cast her in Singin' had a good eye to spot how the just over-the-top performativeness she uses in both those characters would work so well blown out of all proportion, but I'm curious to see if/how she handles an honest-to-goodness full character.

Man of the West (Mann, 1958) Well whatever clumsiness I thought there was in The Man From Laramie's Cinemascope, it is gone here. This is just jaw-dropping, masterful camerawork and composition. It was, to be honest, distractingly good. Mann pulls off compositions that border on split screen in their discreteness, using foreground/background, architecture, and landscape to separate characters and actions into distinct compositional elements: Doc comes howling out of the cabin in the shadowy distance, prompting Link and Billie to hurriedly jump under the blanket in the foreground, and the camera sweeps right to show Tobin as he enters the barn, leching and looming over them; just before they leave for Lassoo, Beasley scrambles over to tell Link what Coaley's arguing for and Mann keeps cutting back and forth between the two groups, the opposing group in the background, Link's group composed to be either surrounded by them or pinned between them and a building; the climax, with Tobin high and distant on the cliff... The story seems to have some rough spots, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt until another round because maybe I was too often not paying attention to any information coming from my ears.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#480 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Jun 29, 2020 9:07 pm

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The Rebel Without a Cause

There have already been some terrific thoughts written about this film in its dedicated thread but my relationship with this one runs deep- too deep to really convey the power it holds for me, but also deep enough not to try. It used to be my all-time favorite movie in my late teens and early 20s, and while it no longer holds that slot, the impact has dynamically shifted from identifying my youthful frustrations to nostalgically comprehending adult life as a product of this period of heightened development. This film is probably the best ever made at addressing the contradiction of feeling trapped and finding release throughout one’s life- primarily focusing on adolescence, but also making sharp observations on adulthood.

I could fire off the same old thoughts, about how a nuclear family system is portrayed and threatened, how identities are beginning to form and grow outside of the comfort zones we have tools for, and this is all true. But this film portrays such experiences as 100% emotion. There is a philosophical component and sociological examination to extract them, but the emotions are, appropriately, what drive the psychologies- influenced cyclically by the social context. Sadness can manifest as hopelessness or shame, anger can transform into brooding resentment or aggression, but the internalized tension disrupts the self and the system, and must explode eventually, spilling into reality. These adolescents are in that familiar stage where they feel like emerging adults, and as domino says, deserve to be treated as such. Their wants and needs don't comply with social norms, and this mismatched chaos causes a suffocating imprisonment. We have a front row seat to coexist with a group of isolated people who want what the tools available to them cannot grant (much like my thoughts on Bigger Than Life.. only on steroids).

Dean’s confrontation with his father, in particular, is devastating because there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ - only two sets of people doing the best they can with the communication skills they have, talking past one another. One of the greatest choices in a film full of them is in allowing Dean to be unclear about what he is looking for in his father’s response. He wants ‘more’ and ‘different’ but nobody can articulate what that is- it’s a confusion that cannot be cured with a magic word or caring gesture. Dean and his father can privately laugh over his spill, but then it ends. Dean wants his mother to see his father's mistake- for mistakes to be seen, acknowledged, accepted; to emerge from this facade of repressed existence. Jim's father may be right that when he grows up he'll look back on this and give it less weight, but what he cannot comprehend is that in this moment Jim needs validation and the future does not matter. He's not laughing now, and the present is what shapes the future.

Dean's performance in trying to make sense of what he needs is revolutionary. He wants to be defended by his father, punished by the system, held to a higher standard by himself (when his father says, "You can't be idealistic all the time," Dean fires back, "Except to yourself"), cradled by an ideology ("It was a matter of honor"). He wants to be seen as a special, individualized person- yet also be a part of the system, and held accountable by the same rules as everyone without his parents bailing him out. What he really wants is to be comfortable- or rather- safe, but the answers he's asking for are conflicting, and his father is rightfully confused- because so is Dean. What his father needs to do is listen without trying to 'fix' the situation, but even in today's day and age, we aren't so good at that. That's never been our default response, and when you love someone- you want to alleviate that pain through definitive action. Nobody has ill-intentions, and nobody is helping either.

These are deep-rooted problems of complacency creating normative patterns of negation, suppressing expectations in interpersonal dynamics. So what do you do? Act out, drive fast, engage in knife fights, assert your agency where you can- outside of the home. These kids are clawing at freedom when they don’t know what ‘free’ looks like, and when they really just want to be acknowledged, listened to, and respected within their homes. The added layer is that they don’t understand what is happening to them developmentally, that their ennui is appropriate, but their parents’ refusal to engage cuts the umbilical cord of emotional support.

Wood's relationship with her father is crucial- she wants to be treated like his little girl and an adult, but instead she resembles an in-between awkward stage of sexual development that neither she or her father can comprehend or navigate. Her sorrow is one that I recall too well in a different memory- I don't remember how old I was, but I went "Trick-or-Treating" for Halloween and came home in tears, because out of left field I simply stopped. having. fun. It was an indescribable existential crisis where I longed to be a child and an adult simultaneously but felt unprepared for either, and thus had no strategies to cope with an identity I didn't understand. To this day it is one of the most profound recollections of emotional instability I can recall, because it was not triggered by anything expected- it just happened. This entire film is that experience. Dean's sole worry when he is arrested is to keep the monkey he found: a tangible relic to cling to, like a child's stuffed animal who can provide unconditional love and a fantastical sense of safety, when the lights go out and parents need to sleep.

The core group is resilient though; they attach, establish a dynamic, attract and become attracted to one another, and develop a camaraderie with a code of unqualified support because they understand one another even if they cannot express what they 'understand.' The 'belongingness' that Dean, Wood, and Mineo crave, they finds here- momentarily. The sensitivity of their identities doesn’t extinguish with this compassionate aid though, as Mineo still harbors an insecurity that pushes him over the edge as soon as he senses his expectations threatened for the nth time. The conditioned hopelessness at finding contentment or validation is piercingly authentic, and I fall into the camp of seeing this film as grey shades- not an assignment of blame but a thesis that shatters accountability in favor of responsibility.

The ideological system of accountability is disrupted by the introduction of emotion coloring novel identities that don't fit into cookie-cutter affectless roles. The parents are no longer simply accountable for shaping a successful child, and the child is no longer accountable for falling into their predetermined normative path as copies of generations before them. Instead, responsibility must be formed: a shared type of ownership bred from mutual self-awareness and the willingness to listen and adapt empathically. When Dean tells the police chief that he needs to be "locked up" because he's going to hit somebody, he's asking for help, but only suggesting the narrow-minded solution he knows- to go away and be ostracized from society. The police chief calmly offers a new, creative solution for Dean to hit the desk, providing an intervention outside of the expected channels. It works, and right away we see that open-mindedness is not only possible but produces positive results, when adults and children collaborate earnestly, even in an environment populated with rigid, conformist anti-communication. I believe Mineo's lack of a role model, or consistent human vessel for relief, shatters this chance for him- and with a different card deck, it could have been Dean or Wood who met their demise in some fashion.

The social development that occurs in 24-hours carries its own realism too. It doesn't take much to trigger opportunities for maturity in these dense years of life, people constantly bumping into one another, alert to every little detail, deciphering egos and staying busy any way they can. From joking about which direction the school is in ("That way!" pointing at the sky) to a deadly chicken run, no truer line is ever spoken in the film than Buzz's response to "Why are we doing this?": "Well you gotta do something, now don't you?" Ray doesn't chastise these characters for risking lives over a logically-meaningless activity, because emotionally it could not have more meaning. While an adult from the film would scratch their head and point to illogical action, Ray shifts his perspective to the children and thus validates them when nobody else will. These are methods that these kids can use to let loose of their ubiquitous constraints, whether asserting their personalities in teasing, violence, driving fast, or other risky behaviors. If they all had mansions to play 'house' in, maybe they'd be escaping there instead. These are the outlets where they can find their control. At an age where you cannot see more than a day ahead, there is nothing more emotionally meaningful than that.

At the end, when the acts of violence become public, the parents and kids all meet, and everything is out in the open. Only when Jim's father steps into this space outside the home, without trying to silence the impact with bribes of cigars, allowing the situation to exist divorced from a tangible pre-packaged answer, does Jim move toward him comfortable to merge his individualist identity with a conformist action: introducing hist parents to his girlfriend. I don't mean to imply that Dean and Wood are "conforming" and certainly not losing any part of themselves, but their union and this process of engagement is fitting with 'old-fashioned' ways in being inclusive of the family system. Ray believes that a union is possible, that we can expand the possibilities of our institutions to exist independently yet within society. We just need affirmations and harmonious compromise to get there.

As Dean and Wood move toward his parents, they shed snakeskin of malaise, which is not to say that it's behind them. These are the formative years where growing adults shed their skin daily, even by the hour or minute. The police chief or the parents cannot always be there to hold their hands, nor should they be. They step closer to accepting a complicated world whose meaning cannot squarely exist in the confines of two-dimensional 50s constructs. I see the ending as optimistic for a few reasons, the first being that Dean and Wood now have some experience gaining confidence in simply being willing to expressing themselves to their parents and, instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and force their perception, turning to one another for consolation when their parents inevitably fail them -or to reframe- cannot give them what they need. This is directly-reflected progress from the opening scene, where each character ventured out on their own into the dark of night in crises. The ability to practice acceptance and seek solace in other human beings, rather than empty space in solitude, is encouraging.

The other reason for an optimistic reading is that, despite the devastating losses that have transpired, we know that there will be more. Maybe not a series of human deaths, but adolescence and adulthood is full of losses of every kind. Certainly not in every circumstance, but in many, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and by that I mean that there is an opportunity for awareness and growth in many hardships (of course, not declaring them to be net-positive experiences). So when Jim's dad says, "You did everything a man could," and then reaches out his unconditional support in vague language omitting specific superficial wisdom, he begins his part of shared responsibility, even if that road will be imperfect. This crisis has caused a rupture to the system to bring them closer, even if 'closer' is actually ironically translated as gaining distance for Jim. Jim's introduction of Wood may involve his family in his life, but his behavior is aloof enough where he is now clearly more comfortable being independent. They are both ready to part from the expected outlet of family for the full nourishment of their hunger for love and wisdom.

As an adult I now see the film through different eyes- for as they prepare to search for that sustenance elsewhere, I know that this will not be a static process. They will waver along the way, but that first step beyond the fits of confusion into a state of even half-trusting themselves is a beautiful, inspired act to witness. More pain is in their future, but the seeds of self-actualization have only sprouted, and there is nothing more sublime than an evolving identity, existing as a part of one's milieu and autonomously outside of it, special but not alone.

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Naruse in the 50s, part 1 (1950)

#481 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Jun 30, 2020 11:59 am

1950

Ishinaka Sensei gyojoki /Conduct Report on Professor Ishinaka

An adaptation of three short stories by Yojiro Ishizaka, who was a very popular writer whose stories gernerated many films (stories often being used for multiple re-makes as well). Before addressing the film itself one needs to note that the English name is possibly the most botched translation of any Japanese film ever. There is no "Professor Ishinaka" -- the individual in the title is Mr. Ishinaka, who gets the honorific "sensei" merely because he is a famous, popular writer (in essence, a thinly veiled self-portrait Ishizaka, of sorts). And the film is not about a report ON him, but rather reports BY him. The English translation collection of short stories was titled more appropriately - Mr. Ishinaka Tells Tales of Rural Drollery. Alas, only two of the stories adapted in the film were translated in this (incomplete) collection. Clearly the title translator never actually watched the film before providing a title -- because the film clearly shows Ishinaka as observer of rural young romantic goings-on.

The first story involves a girl and her boyfriend who observe their elders' fruitless attempt to find barrels of gasoline buried near the end of the war (possibly a mild parody of more exotic stories about searching for buried gold, etc). The second is a sort of village Romeo and Juliet -- whose families are involved in a feud over an absolutely trivial matter (that was precipitated by a visiting burlesque troupe). These episodes are well cast and amount to amiably watchable fluff. It is the final episode that makes the film a minor jewel. In it, a girl (Setsuko Wakayama) from one farm village hitches a ride on a neighbor's farm wagon to the nearest town to (ostensibly) visit a hospitalized sister but mainly to have a holiday from farm work (and see movies and eat treats). All worn out, she climbs on to the only hay wagon at her rendezvous spot and fall sound asleep. As it turns out, however, it is the wrong wagon and it is headed in the opposite direction from her own village. The mistake is discovered only when the wagon arrives at its destination.

The special treat here -- the young farmer who inadvertently "kidnaps" the girl is none other than Toshiro Mifune (shortly before he became famous) -- and he provides what may have been one of his most delightful performances. He is positively tongue-tied in the presence of his young "guest" (and presumably any other pretty young unrelated woman) and clearly afflicted by love at first sight. Our heroine is no less smitten. Mifune's family is overjoyed and treats her almost like visiting royalty -- sensing the opportunity to get him a proper wife (apparently no local lass having caught his fancy). After some evening adventures (it so happens that a festival is being held), the question arises -- how to get her home (and how to handle a marriage proposal -- family to family, of course). Ishinaka arrives the next morning, a sort of a deus ex machina, to solve the problem (and serve as matchmaker). Perhaps in one of Naruse's many lost silent films, he got to display such unalloyed (and charming) humor -- but this seems to otherwise be quite unique in his outpuut.

Ikari no machi / The Angry Street

The premise here is interesting, sounding on paper almost like a proto-sun-tribe film. Two disaffected college students decide they'll earn money by scamming rich older women they pick up in dance halls. Their lives get complicated when they brush up against some real gangsters. Alas, though this has its moments here and there, it is not well enough written to sustain much interest.

Shiroi yaju / White Beast

This one features what I consider the occasionally-displayed "surrealist" side of Naruse -- which always struck me as reminiscent of some of Bunuel's Mexican period work. Not an entirely successful film by anyh means -- but definitely very "interesting". This is also the same sort of film as Mizoguchi's lurid and exploitative (but often visually fascinating) Women of the Night. This is set in a sort of reform school/hospital for young prostitutes. Needless to say, they are not voluntary patients. The most obstinate of the inmates is played Mitsuko Miura (whose career had an auspicious start -- with roles for Shimizu, Gosho, Naruse, Mizoguchi et al -- but fizzled out in the early 60s). The male doctors/staff are seemingly benevolent but sometimes more than a bit creepy. There are cat-fights, scenes of seduction, disease-induced fantasies, and other assorted violent and odd incidents. There is also a dance for the young women (music courtesy of gramophone). This film also marks the Naruse debut of Chieko Nakakita (who would appear in over half of Naruse's subsequent films, usually in important supporting roles).

Battle of the Roses / Bara kassen

A rare mis-fire for Naruse, made when loaned out to Shochiku. This is based on a recently-published serialized novel – and it strikes me as remarkably flat and overly talky. Apparently he was given little freedom (or perhaps time) to remake the story in his own way.

This has an atypically (for Naruse) wealthy setting -- a family involved in (at the top of) the commercial cosmetic industry. The central characters are three sisters (all well cast). The problem for me is the lurid, romantic-best-seller-based script which Naruse mostly scrambles through as quickly as possible. One of my least favorite Naruse films -- but I would note that my Naruse comrade-in-arms, Dan Sallitt, enjoyed it more than I did (check out his great Naruse compendium - https://mikionaruse.wordpress.com/ ).

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Naruse in the 50s, part 2 (1951)

#482 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Jun 30, 2020 2:19 pm

1951

Ginza Cosmetics / Ginza keshô

Ginza Cosmetics marks the beginning of what would become Naruse's characteristic post-war style -- which was, in fact, very much derived from his best pre-war works -- with the wartime films constituting a deviation, even if some were very good in their own right.

Kinuyo Tanaka is at center stage here -- as a worn-down, rather low-tier bar hostess. For much of its running time it has only a wisp of "plot", being more interested in exploring the heroine's milieu, daily activities (including care of a school-boy son), and people she interacts with. At the end, she develops a crush on a nice younger man, which (this being Naruse) doesn't work out. Tanaka here is allowed a lot more breathing room and scope than she typically displays in her work for Mizoguchi -- and her performance is excellent. Her colleagues are pretty uniformly fine -- including ones by Ranko Hanai (who pops up here and there elsewhere in Naruse's films) and a young Kyoko Kagawa (maybe the only actess of that era still working now). A thoroughly satisfactory film overall -- and well worth checking out.

Dancing Princess / Maihime

Based on a short story Kawabata, this is set int a somewhat higher than usual socio-economic environment (upper middle class professionals -- a writer and a ballet studio owner, played by So Yamamura and Mieko Takamine). Their two just-barely adult children (Mariko Okada in her very first role and Akihiko Katayama) provide an alternate focus. The parents are busy tearing apart their marriage -- while the children are committed (together and separately) to not allowing their lives to be torn apart as well. Visually striking and distinctive -- the settings (sprawling upper-class home, dance studio, dance stage, etc) call for some relatively out-of-the-ordinary cinematography for Naruse. This film has largely flown under the radar of retrospective programmers. It certainly is worthy of attention -- but perhaps its atypicality works against it. Recommended (especially for Kawabata fans -- and Mariko Okada ones as well).

Repast / Meshi

I don't know whether this is Naruse's "best" film (who cares, he has tons of best ones), but it is my own personal favorite. Naruse had wanted to do a Fumiko Hayashi film adaptation back in the 30s, but wasn't given the assignment (it was given to Toyoda instead). He didn't get a chance to "work with" Hayashi until right after she died -- Meshi being her last, never-finished book. Subsequently, Toho allowed him to adapt many other Hayashi works.

This features Setsuko Hara in one of her best performances -- as a vaguely dissatisfied wife narried to a comparatively nice (but usually equally clueless) not especially well-paid junior stock broker (excellently played by Ken Uehara). Her dissatisfaction is aggravated to the boiling point when a niece (avoiding an arranged marriage) moves in and distracts her husband and disrupts the household. Hara returns to her (rather distant) family home and Uehara is left to cope with handling his own housework (the niece having also decamped, having finally won her own battle with her parents). When back in her hometown, she observes the nature of her brother's marriage (he's very authoritarian) and the plight of a widowed friend (with a young child), as well as the long lines of people looking for work. Eventually her husband, comes to town as well. What happens next is probably better dealt with in a setting where spoilers aren't an issue. Haruko Sugimura, playing Hara's shrewd and strong-minded, but fairly kind-hearted mother plays (i think) a key role in the resolution -- but Naruse chose to elide a key scene showing the interaction between the husband and his mother-in-law that precedes his chance (maybe, maybe not) encounter with his wife. I would note that the women member of the script writing team (Sumie Tanaka) was unhappy with the ending chosen for the film (not certain whether this matched Kawabata's ending for Hayashi's unfinished story or not).

I would consider this one of the best (albeit often underlaid with serious issues) romantic comedies ever. It is the film that tipped me from admiration for Naruse's work to infatuation (despite being able to find it only in French-subtitled form) -- and it has held on to the #2 spot on my (purely honorary) top 5 film list for 17 years (a spot it is unlikely to ever fall from).

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#483 Post by knives » Wed Jul 01, 2020 1:00 pm

Storm Center (dir. Daniel Taradash)
There is a lot good going for this film, but it is totally underminded by bad direction and camera placement. I wouldn't be surprised if this independent production was made by theater types as it has a theatrical understanding of the cinema. The camera is stiff as cardboard with lazy placement of the essentials. The editing is somehow worse cutting performances to shred at the most awkward moments. It's self sabotage of the highest order which is unfortunate because otherwise it has so many things going for it.

Davis is of course as is the actor playing the council member who wants to marry here. The script is the real star though as this hefty polemic is all about moving a boulder with a pebble. That's not to say that the script is great. It's a polemic first, last, and middle with no enjoyment or engagement to be had outside of that. In that narrow sphere though it is awe inspiring. Not only is this a film about the red scare at the height of it, but it is very clear how much thought was put into repudiating McCarthy. The script uses a resetting of the scare to a small town scale as a key device to prove the absurdity of the moment.

Davis plays a matronly librarian who refuses to remove objectionable material in the name of free speech, a lesson we really need to regard given how things are going right now, and gets persecuted as thanks. The film makes a tight case against censorship which is its main concern. Early on it ties things shut pointing out how the library holds Mein Kampf and how it was used in the war to show the inanity of Nazi beliefs. The second point is about the toll such needless persecutions have on the person being prosecuted as well as the larger community. Davis is pretty clearly ruined when made an outcast. She goes from this vivacious character to a stone grumbling about while the kids get different strains of hoodlumism floating through with some clear psychological scars developing from this silent war with a figure they had been trained all their life to respect.

The film improves as it trudges along with both better writing and better filmmaking. There's one sequence in particular that is absolutely amazing and should be an emblem of '50s horror. This Twilight Zone sequence starts with a nightmare and ends with a cut from a truly amazing shot to one of the creepiest songs in a film you'll find. If that quality for those five minutes was sustained elsewhere in the film I'd unapologetically call this great rather then the interesting mediocrity it is.

It also features maybe the worst child performance of all time.

The Adventures of Hajji Baba (dir. Weis)
This is a whole other thing entirely. Weis just made a simple, fun entertainment. Everyone involved does their best to make this a pleasant experience in lively storytelling. I'm not sure if modern storytellers would be comfortable making something with such a narrow aim as fun. We're thrown in media res to a beautiful Persia that only could exist in fairy tales (though its use of blue reminds me of an acquaintance who could only describe Turkey as so pink), get introduced to some archetypes in short scenes to highlight everything we need to know, and then have adventure for the next 80 minutes. It's legitimately the perfect boy's adventure story. It has some simple moral elements attached clearly explained which is bizarrely another thing that makes it seem unique in contrast of today.

Arrowhead (dir. Warren)
It's been a long while since a movie has had me dislike it so strongly. Theoretically there are things to recommend. It is a competently made movie after all, but the acting and the thrust of the story are so actively annoying that the film becomes much worse then its basic merits suggest. Worst of all things is Heston's character who has to be the biggest asshole to ever lead a film. Heston plays him rabid which only compounds how noxious the character is written. Mann and Boetticher have had there fair share of bad guy heroes, but none played as irredeemably awful as this shmuck and also in films that weren't so in love with their protagonists. Heston might as well be playing Moses already in this film for how sainted the film thinks of him. It doesn't help either that he is largely playing off a group of disposable nothings cheaply populating the set with even big villain Jack Palance being a stiff bore that could be replaced with a plank of wood with a scowl drawn on it he has so little effect.

As for the much vaunted HUAC metaphor, I'm not sure if I buy it. Mostly the film strikes me as a bad oater trying to be a good one, but if I were to forego that its still a pretty bad metaphor. There are many great conservative movies out there. Hell, it's so easy Michael Bay accomplished it, but Capt. Ahab is right isn't a terribly compelling argument. It's probably the dumbest and most hysterical argument for McCarthyism preaching to the converted with no arguments being made besides, 'commies are dangerous and so we should round them up.' Genocide just isn't a very compelling line of argumentation and a film shouldn't be praised for going to the laziest possible argument. If anything by having such a madman as the face of decency it makes decency look indecent. This is a real sign of ineptness considering Heston is the only character with characterization so he makes the other side attractive by virtue simply of not being him. Look at the Spanish subplot for proof of that.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#484 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Jul 01, 2020 2:01 pm

knives wrote:
Wed Jul 01, 2020 1:00 pm
f anything by having such a madman as the face of decency it makes decency look indecent. This is a real sign of ineptness considering Heston is the only character with characterization so he makes the other side attractive by virtue simply of not being him. Look at the Spanish subplot for proof of that.
I've honestly forgotten much of the movie already, but I thought that Heston's unlikeability was part of the self-fulfilling prophecy, not as much as food for a conservative McCarthyism, which it is in the ways you outline, but for the progressive's nightmare, which is more complex than that. If the film stopped at Heston proven right then it would just serve that superficial shade of this nightmare, but because he's such an asshole the film seems to be going deeper in unpacking the ethos of the two movements: that his (and thus, general) character doesn't matter either, only politics. Our language for watching movies through empathic alignment is disrupted and we are asked to side with a man who is indecent. So not only is it saying that McCarthyism is correct, but that actionable politics are more important than feelings, which is obviously a huge part of the social liberal agenda in empathizing via humanism. This film negates that completely, and while the "Ahab is right" is a 'touche' moment that liberals could bitterly acknowledge and recover from, twisting the knife into the meaninglessness of their emotional code by negating humanity in favor of aloof policy is not as easy to bounce back from. I guess I see this film as less effective as a conservative propaganda film, but extremely effective as a liberal existential horror provocation.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#485 Post by knives » Wed Jul 01, 2020 2:05 pm

You are very potentially correct, but the character is so unlikable I honestly don't care to think about it ever again.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#486 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Jul 01, 2020 2:11 pm

I didn't like the movie much either, though Heston's character's refusal to play by my/liberal/cinema's emotional rules is exactly the kind of cinematic-audience-involving philosophical discomfort I love to analyze, precisely because it's so boldly horrifying and against my ethos. I probably won't ever watch this again, but I think the film is deceptively thin as a conservative-boost only to right-hook you with the complete deflation of your worldview.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#487 Post by knives » Wed Jul 01, 2020 2:20 pm

I actually quite like right wing cinema, but being right wing doesn't mean you have to be an asshole. Even if the leads must be assholes there are ways to make that succeed. Look at Bay's Pain and Gain for a brilliant right wing film featuring unlikable leads. Personally my view was reinforced in this film because of how it was made of straw.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#488 Post by domino harvey » Wed Jul 01, 2020 2:21 pm

The movie doesn’t work if he’s not a complete asshole that you’re sure is wrong. Of course, it didn’t work for either of you anyways, but still!

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#489 Post by knives » Wed Jul 01, 2020 2:23 pm

That's what my last comment was sort of conveying. Even if it's necessary for him to be unlikable there are ways to have him not make it annoying to watch the movie.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#490 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Jul 01, 2020 3:23 pm

The film absolutely worked for me as a piece of destabilizing existential analysis, I just didn't 'enjoy' watching it nearly as much as I like thinking about it.
knives wrote:
Wed Jul 01, 2020 2:20 pm
I actually quite like right wing cinema, but being right wing doesn't mean you have to be an asshole. Even if the leads must be assholes there are ways to make that succeed. Look at Bay's Pain and Gain for a brilliant right wing film featuring unlikable leads. Personally my view was reinforced in this film because of how it was made of straw.
I also can like right wing cinema, but my point is that this film is not operating for me the way you're looking at it. Of course "right wing doesn't mean you have to be an asshole"... I agree that this film's wavelength can be unsuccessful on your terms of evaluation, but very successful and far more complex (hardly "made of straw") in mine where the 'asshole' validation is key to the effects. My entire reading is based on this being less of a thin right-wing salute and more of right-wing through stripping the left of their values, including and most importantly, invalidating the act of empathy, and the placement of emotions on a hierarchy over cold outcomes. The initial reading is a front for the much more sinister and upending ideas being floated. It's not about McCarthyism being right, it's about the foundations of compassion in leftist positions being unimportant when push comes to shove. Anyways, that's how I choose to read it, but we can agree that under your reading, it's not very dimensional (or "straw"). I just think the film deserves more credit than that. Either way, it doesn't make me question my liberal position, but its weapons are far sharper than they appear at trying to.

Maybe there were ways to convey this message without making it annoying.. but to me that's just reinforcing that the provocation is working, even if it's dated now for some and isn't actually going to change anyone's mind. Taking the movie as it is, I think there is some effectiveness even in the off-putting feelings it elicits, and perhaps because of that particular feeling. I find few things more annoying than being told that social issues and emotions don't matter as much as 'results' and would prefer people raise their conservative points through other language, but maybe that's the best way to 'get' to me?

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#491 Post by domino harvey » Wed Jul 01, 2020 4:12 pm


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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#492 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Jul 01, 2020 10:35 pm

Revisiting the Tashlin/Lewis films elevated their strengths to a place of delight where the bar just seems to get higher (in my experience, most of Lewis' work -and Tashlin's for that matter- benefit from repeated viewings more than most comedies). Hollywood or Bust is the perfect cocktail to show what makes both artists excel at their respective talents. The film's opening stands the test of time as the diversity of performance from Lewis playing an international series of moviegoers embraces several stereotypes to outlandish exaggerations. The constructed gags are relentlessly intelligent visual ideas with Tashlin in top form, and Lewis is at his best with a few scenes that destroy my funny bone in his reactions to circumstantial stimuli. His facial expressions at the craps table make this list-worthy, even isolated from the rest of the genius at play. Dean Martin plays his best, and funniest, 'straight-man' character too- so how can you lose?

Artists and Models took the largest upswing though, which I enjoyed the first time but fell in love with here. If Hollywood or Bust featured Lewis at his best playing off a scene, this one showcases his interpersonal comedy skills in ways that have rarely felt so organic. The foursome's wild meshing ramps up the comedy, and MacLaine's early flirtatious physical comedy scene with Lewis (those lips!) is gold, also showing what strong supportive players can add to the already exhaustingly animated mix. That's not to indicate that the situational comedy isn't as strong here- it's arguably even more of a frenzy, with a social focus layered in fewer locations rather than the expansive road movie that would follow (plus some of the setpieces and later plot points that go off the rails are utter pandemonium). I only mean that the communal interplay is explored in a unique method for Lewis with his co-stars. For those who think he does the same old shtick over and over, only need to watch these films side by side to see the subtle differences. I admire how the construction of the apartment complex and interlacing fairy-tale narrative take on a elaborate fantasy world, like one out of Lewis or Malone's creative imaginations. Just a delight from beginning to end, and with a pretty lengthy runtime, sustaining this kind of mania, cleverness, and cozy romanticism is no small feat. Flip a coin for which is the better movie, because I can't decide. Of the two, Artists and Models definitely feels most like a classic musical, which might give it the edge in fitting the vibe of its milieu so impeccably. This really should be the model for the 'musical comedy.'

Deciding what comedies make my list will be a challenge, but Susan Slept Here is sure to be my highest ranking Tashlin, which I've been compulsively rewatching as it continues to grow in my esteem (thank god I didn't write this off after being underwhelmed on a first watch several years back). Hollywood or Bust, Artists and Models and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? could sneak on too, though I doubt I'll have room for the excellent The Geisha Boy, which would have been the shoo-in a couple months back (so there you go- the power of re-evaluating tastes is real!) As for the others, The Girl Can't Help It and Rock-A-Bye Baby couldn't hit my list with a rock, though I enjoy both, and I haven't fulfilled my self-promise to watch the rest of Tashlin's 50s work so I can't comment on the rest- though I have seen Lewis' filmography from this period, and don't think I'm missing anything significant on that front, even if a handful are enjoyable.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#493 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Jul 04, 2020 3:13 pm

The Far Country (Mann 1954). The Mann-Stewart westerns are all good films but this has got to be near the top. It’s kind of unassuming at first, dramatically nothing too developed except following Jeff and his sidekick Ben’s misadventures, and where those they take them, as they make their lonely but driven way in the world, but at the same time they’re all excellent scenes bringing us to different places. The film slowly but surely builds up to something grander, and emotionally resonating, with at the psychological center the challenge to Jeff’s self-sufficiency. There are a few clunky fake scenery shots early on, as in some of these other films, but it also gets better looking the more it goes on. The Dawson City setting and community is just a whole lot of fun and charm, amidst the violence and threat. And the final shootout is pretty terrific too.


The Tall T (Boetticher 1957). I noticed this time that everything here takes place and is shot outside, except for the mine shaft scenes. I don’t know if that was partially a budget consideration, but that and the fact that are also no fake backdrops, etc., gives this - and most of the other Boetticher films - a more modern look than most of its contemporaries, and arguably more realism. This is in stark contrast to Seven Men from Now because it takes its time to establish its much more straightforward drama, and its tone for the first 22 minutes is genial and easygoing. The absolute terribleness of what we find out has happened to that kid just shifts the ground so suddenly and effectively. This second in the Ranown series really gives the first film a run for its money. Again, it’s a lot more simple but extremely effective in its very adult drama and its staging. Chink is a hell of a scary psychopathic youngster, and Richard Boone plays a interesting villain with just the right amount of shades of grey.


Pot-Bouille (Duvivier 1957). This was my favorite of the director’s 50s films when I went through the better part of them, but on second viewing it's definitely not in the league of a potential list-maker (which maybe doesn’t say too much for his output in this time frame). Gérard Philipe and Danielle Darrieux are reunited in this adaptation of another realist novel (Zola), offering a bit of a parallel to the Autant-Lara film in terms of period (a few decades later), the characters’ potential relationship, and Philipe’s character, Octave Mouret, being another ambitious arriviste like Julien Sorel, although without a chip on his shoulder. Duvivier plays this material really as a comedy, almost a sex romp, with a completely disillusioned view of marriage, although the tone stays good-humored despite the accented satire. Fun and with good scene but in the end maybe a bit too light (and lengthy) for its own good - Darrieux is a central figure in the narrative but not so present in the film as I remembered unfortunately, and one wishes more had been done with her part and that the film’s conclusion was stronger than it is.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#494 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Jul 04, 2020 10:47 pm

Look Back in Anger: Tony Richardson directs an early 'kitchen-sink' play adaptation, that finds Burton aggressively chomping at all in his vicinity as penance for his miserable life. The drama evolves into a bitterness of displacement and bleeding emotional eruptions of anger into love, with vulnerability finding connective need between Burton and both women regardless of objective logic or communication. The idea that loud expressions are indicative of care, and that people who love take out their intense emotions on those they love most, is transmitted well- and the last act finds very mature angles to signify this idea without clear markings of growth, which feels incredibly authentic in its desperation and unstable future.


Small Town Girl: Not a great musical but a very good portrait of the virtues of small-town life, pitting empathy against Granger’s oily city manipulator. The best gags come from constantly disrupting the stereotype of small-town folk being dumb, as they continuously smell Granger’s attempts to play them for suckers and call him on it, though this all subsizes in the last act which is mostly a series of cute gestures moving toward harmony. The whole picture didn’t impress much, but in exuding a kind of calm, humble charm, it felt in step with all a small town would ask for!


Room at the Top: I had completely forgotten that I had seen this before (and only a few years ago), which probably says how much I think of it. Clayton is frequently a fun director, who knows how to shoot creative angles that can be graceful but always cut like a knife into the brutal truth of life’s hardships, and not only exploiting dirty social games, but focusing on their effects on the individual’s fragile ego. barryconvex already wrote this one up earlier, but I’m far more apathetic on Harvey’s character, who arrives to town armed to prove himself as the opposite of his branding from a small-town. I see him less as a man swept up with city life, and more as a person who adopts a new personality by polarizing it from the ethics he was raised with, making his ambition and social climbing a premeditated reaction prior to entering the film, rather than spawned from his surroundings in the setting in which we see him.

This reading allows more sympathy because his life choice is divorced from losing emotion before our eyes and more to do with him assigning himself an identity that he has no idea how to cope with, so instead of developing himself, he’s a weak newborn baby trying to act without emotion and failing to succeed with security. It’s hard for me to fault him when he acts like a kid in a candy store- bragging about being sought by multiple women and excelling in his ambitions- because he’s very possibly unleashing his fury of repressed individuality after decades of harnessing this need without an outlet for release. However, the flip side to that is that, in assuming that he has no authentic identity- hiding away the one that he knows and that we’ve never seen- he’s not very interesting either. Alice awakens this with her "honesty" that he chokes down with bittersweet recognition, prompting his actual self to bubble back up.

The eventual emergence of that identity, as he allows himself to acknowledge and accept his own emotions, regardless of their lack of alignment with his superficial goals, is worthy of sympathies- no matter the social trap that affects Alice and drives her to her fate. I guess I see the nature of a social life as a series of interconnected choices, many of them selfish, that beget harm and joy in a busy sphere of engagement- but by faulting Joe for Alice’s actions we deprive her of agency. I won’t forgive him, because there’s nothing to forgive, no rigid moral ground here to judge by without pretending to be saints ourselves. His choices and uncontrollable circumstances land him in a kind of ironic prison that is in step with his false identity’s dreams at the start. It’s not a question of “deserve” - it’s just what “is” - and he will be his own judge, jury, and executioner- just like the rest of us.


Panic in the Streets: This longtime favorite of mine in Kazan’s filmography was even better than I remembered on a revisit. The opening scene is steadily fierce, and the rest of the narrative finds pitch-perfect pacing in balancing investigative suspense, drama on navigating a stressed relationship in the buddy-dynamic between Widmark and Douglas, and even making time for a few elongated scenes that comfortably fleshes out Widmark’s family system without outstaying their welcome, all amidst the threat of a contagion crisis.

Time is precious but the film breathes in making time for patiently following leads and developing its characters, who practice a variety of interventions to get what they need, compassionately or with severity, and grow through engaging in social friction with openmindedness. Widmark initially feels cast against type, but his performance emits a confident intensity that pierces its way into multiple foreign environments, imposing his will for a one-note existential purpose. In that way, it becomes the ultimate ‘realistic’ form of noir. Widmark’s attitude somewhat mirrors Palance’s unsettling, more tranquil, confidence that feels cold in actions while paradoxically speaking with kindness- until he decides otherwise. The exploitation of political systems at odds with each other, due to differentiating egos, professional investments, and self-preservation, is expertly conveyed in brief exchanges. My list is going to be pretty noir-lite (thanks, musicals), but this is a near-perfect film for what it's trying to do, and that gives it an edge for contention.

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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#495 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Jul 05, 2020 11:11 pm

A Kiss Before Dying: I’ve seen this strange take on noir a number of times, but it’s another grower that benefits from repeat viewings to notice the deliberate style and pacing, as well as deeper intentions that reveal themselves only at the end. Dressed up as a colorful melodrama, this noir poisons societal conventions and expectations, with relentlessly long takes and dragged out setpieces provoking the audience’s own cinematic desires and triggering unbearable repulsion simultaneously. Wagner’s shell of a human being is awful in just about every way. His acting is wooden to reflect his nonexistent personality, yet he embodies everything a young woman could want. This setup seems to be a joke, exposing pathetic manipulations of falling into predictable beats of superficial 50s love.

It doesn’t really matter because once we realize what he has planned all bets are off, culminating in the middle rooftop scene that seemingly lasts forever. Oswald slowly twists a knife into us as Wagner doesn’t just take his time preventing the ‘catharsis’ mirroring as ‘horror’ that we want to get over with, but offers a brief soliloquy on love that is utterly demented. His sociopathy evolves as we slip away from an already alien man, barren of any ounce of humanity, to a person whose self-delusion feeds his psyche and somehow stabilizes him.

The rest of the film, masked as an investigation, actually consists of a more insightful agenda to its circumferential milieu. We are really being presented with a series of explorations from people in comfortable systems attempting to expand their peripheries to acknowledge the possibility of foul play. Even the father calls Wagner’s potential status as the culprit to be absurd, but his reasons are born from the very thin rationality that tricked his daughter. When presented with the man’s real identity, the father states, “He must have had a reason,” “He would have said so!” and then decides he cannot confront this as a possible truth because his relationship with his daughter is on the rocks and he’s worried about one more instance of “trying to run her life.” When straight-up murder of your daughter is intellectualized away and buried due to slight concerns and disbelief that one would stray outside of predictable normative behavior, then you know you’re trapped in a 50s waking delusion! In the final moments nobody can say anything to anyone else, they just hide their faces in shame. The sanctity of the systems that promise moral humanity- at least from those inside our institutions- are traumatically destroyed, with no blueprint to rebuild or skills to heal.

I may prefer the first half for its formal construction in expected genre beats through unique spins in methodology, but the back half builds to its own, less obvious objective- a denouncement that is far more nebulous and culturally macro-focused, but no less disturbing. Wagner's killer dissipates into the background, and the power of his diseased humanity dissolves with him into the family that he infiltrates- infecting the foundation with rot that everyone ignores for as long as they possible can.


A Place in the Sun is an inverse of the Oswald, in assessing the moral vs selfish weight of issuing one’s agency to choose or escape a brand for life. The film is shot in a very romantic, emotional fashion, and Clift is- by all accounts- a “good” person, who seems to be considering his own self-interest above empathy for the first time. It’s a warped kind of existentialism, to sacrifice another for his shot at a good life, and the awakening feels earned after observing him meekly and gently traversing relationships, romantic and familial (he’s a pretty sweet momma’s boy, which is a prime indication of his nature).

Ethical dilemmas here are faux-shields for emotional ones, and the feeling of being socially ‘trapped’ triggers a fight/flight response in both Clift and Winters. They both deserve our sympathies because she wants to imprison him in a binding relationship of imbalanced affection, and cuckolding him from his actual love, which makes the hurt so much worse. At the same time, Winters is trapped herself in a pit of invalidation and stuck with a permanent responsibility of a child to raise alone. There is no winning here due to a lack of communication skills, again signaling the era’s barriers to compromise and troubleshoot outside of the expected boxes that scream adverse fatalist paths. Winters projects her vision of a happy narrative on Clift in the boat ride to try to soften the blow and allow for a mutual sense of not contentment, but tolerance. Her heart is in the right place and yet her self-preservation won’t allow herself to be ignored. It’s a dignified human position in trying to hold onto a life with Clift, just as Clift’s is in trying to hold onto his life with Taylor.

This is much better conceived with equity to all parts of the horrific and complex experience than something like Room at the Top. The spiritual angle that RV mentions is apt, and Stevens and his actors realise the wonderful Oscar-winning script by Brown and the always-excellent Wilson to meditate on that impenetrably enigmatic vision of people transcending labels of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and more than the sum of intentions and actions. As RV indicates, ‘desire’ becomes valid as more than just biology- and it is able to exist as a spiritual wonder itself, that encompasses the space where one’s ‘ideal’ life, in emotional fulfillment, individualistic goal actualization, and romantic harmony, can all be achieved in reality. This counters the traditional spiritualism of blanket acceptance and gratitude, to make room for a middle ground where one exerts their will combined with a natural energetic pull into the place that they feel they ‘belong’ to. I never got the sense that either Clift or Winters weren’t following their authentic desires, their Gods, unapologetically- it just so happened that their spiritual paths were at odds and unable to become mutually exclusive.

The moral puzzle may be a distant second to that spiritual desire that just must be sought, but Clift’s burden is indicative that even internally this righteous side of his ‘gut’ instinct doesn’t mesh with the passionate side, creating disharmony within a human being just as it does between social creatures with different agendas. In the trial we are provided with the possibility that Clift’s energy during the incident-in-question may have been tampered by this turmoil within him, subconsciously holding himself back from lending his full potential to saving Winters. The question becomes- if true, is there anything he could do about it, or is this where his agency stops and the spiritual draw of desire begins? In his cell, Clift questions his own guilt, and the possibility is presented forth that God’s presence magnetized him toward ‘desire’ as its own form of individualized morality, and away from the socially-defined morality of saving a life- without the expected one objectively, or omnisciently, preferred. How perverse! Few films outline the complex inner workings of a person’s psyche in such clear, brazen terms, but even fewer would claim that God himself may side spiritual energy with man's typically-marked selfishness over empathic life-preserving action.


Crime of Passion: Oswald’s follow-up noir to A Kiss Before Dying cast a light on the worn fractures of a woman’s place in a patriarchal world. Stanwyck’s feminism threatens to upend the presupposed interpersonal functioning (even refusing to be called “Angel!”) as she rejects her role and ignites an existential quest that cannot float in the ocean of stiffly ingrained culture without rupturing the systems with harm.

Oswald’s tendency to expose men in particular as programmed vessels, dissolved of agency by their dominant status, emphasizes our society’s susceptibility to influence as a weakness, just as Stanwyck’s manipulations within the confines of these barriers are strengths in the form of resilience. The melodramatic games spin into a meaningless well, which seems to be very much the point, but unfortunately none of this was particularly interesting next to the technical and thematic audacity of his first feature. The best uses of Oswald’s talent are subtly expressed in pulling back the camera to betray a wave of solitude in the men’s confusion over their actions and events post-fight, and then slowly moving back in to refuse escape from such maladjustment. This is a fine film, but one that petered out in confidence as the narrative progressed, tripping over itself after establishing initially provocative aims.


Screaming Mimi starts with a bang, via a pre-Psychooutside shower scene,” some psychological babble, and an on-the-run escaped lovers escapade that lands sultry Anita Ekberg in a dance club doing a few numbers that must have raised more than a few eyebrows at the time of release. The promisingly bizarre first act dies quickly too, and aside from a couple of fun tricks with form (eg. the repetitive blackouts in the makeout scene), this is a frail attempt at noir.

I planned to seek out Oswald’s westerns and other 50s output to do a complete rundown, but after being underwhelmed by these last two noirs I’m probably going to stop here unless anyone wants to convince me otherwise.


Dial M for Murder: Always a film I admired more than I loved in Hitchcock’s oeuvre, this benefited from another look after a recent revisit last year, as a demonstration of the director’s expertise for gradually unveiling narrative. This film has never excited me with the same kind of suspense that Hitchcock’s surrounding films elicit with surprise, but the formalist exercise cannot be ignored. The plot is established through its characters in classic stage-play unraveling, spilling information from one scene into the next all within the same inside spaces that become increasingly claustrophobic, as the camera responds to the characters’ unsettling realisations of dread.

Dawson always struck me as perfect casting, who would go on to replicate a faux-confident goon prone to meekness in Dr. No, weaponizing tarantulas, and getting shot in cold blood to much controversy- he just has a face that invites it! The murder scene-gone-awry is a delight, and perhaps the case-in-point of Kelly’s famous quote that Hitchcock taught her that “murder scenes should be played as love scenes” and vice versa.

The self-reflexive commentary by the murder-mystery writer beau, Kelly’s engaging playfulness across roles with both men in her life, and especially Milland’s contented charming attitude holding the same cool temper whether plotting murder or acting as genial host, all make this far more entertaining than the sick plot would suggest. Kelly especially fits into her part of philandering wife that escapes judgment, with everyone operating on the fronts of high society. The layered deceptions from all involved are equal parts oil and sweetness, to the degree where this feels like a subtle critique, while its characters still retain a stamp of authenticity within its 50s universe.

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Red Screamer
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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#496 Post by Red Screamer » Mon Jul 06, 2020 12:10 am

Many thanks for part one of the Naruse guide, Michael! I’ve only seen (and loved) When a Woman Ascends the Stairs of his films, so your notes will be helpful when I dig into this decade of his work.

Shorts Recommendations vol. II:

Un Chant d’amour (Jean Genet, 1950) The immortal French writer Jean Genet’s only film is this wonderful brew of lyrical pornography, frenzied dance film, and acidic allegory that’s (my apologies) even more relevant in a world where many of us are inventing new ways to express and adapt our desires in isolation. Like A Man Escaped, this is a prison film by someone who’s actually been imprisoned, and Genet’s vision of a lonely delirium in which all senses are heightened and everything tangible becomes erotic is, in its own way, as powerful and distinctive as Bresson’s. The climax of the film, where Genet crosscuts between two different fantasies (1. the prison guard’s: sadomasochistic flashes of tangled, faceless limbs + 2. the prisoner’s: daydreams of a Hollywood romance, frolicking with the man in the neighboring cell) is exhilarating in the lucidity and daring of both its concept and its execution. This sequence is unforgettable, as is the film’s opening and closing images and the shots of cigarette smoke passed through a wall between prisoners, impersonal and intimate—all of which must be among the most memorable images in cinema.

Studie II: Hallucinationer (Peter Weiss, 1952) A dozen or so haunting tableaux vivants whose stagings/compositions make the most of camera perspective by deforming it and exaggerating almost to the point of parody cinema’s ever-enchanting union between three dimensions and two.

Rentrée des classes (Jacques Rozier, 1956) An impressive debut with beautiful cinematography, especially in how its river scenes capture the subtleties of natural light. Two of Rozier’s signatures, shaggy stories and an anti-psychological focus on behavior (which immediately distinguishes this from Truffaut’s films about children), are already present here. I think Blue Jeans is usually considered the calling card between Rozier’s two 50s shorts, at least in part because it fits into the stereotypical image of the nouvelle vague, but I prefer this.

No. 11: Mirror Animations (Harry Smith, 1956) Harry Smith predicts the coming decade’s so-called psychedelic imagery with delightfully junky cut-out collages. Animating different figures simultaneously is more of a technical accomplishment than it may seem and this technique creates some of the lively-detailed stiffness which casts this film’s weird spell.

Surprise Boogie (Albert Pierru, 1957) Another hand-painted jazz film, but Pierru’s personal recipe adds a cup of Émile Cohl and a dash of Miró to keep it fresh. And his eye for composition and skill with color are undeniable. Also of interest because, according to Émilie Cauquy at the link above, this was originally programmed alongside Tati’s films.

Kineformy (Andrzej Pawłowski, 1957) Fluid, organic-feeling lightplay somewhere between painting and sculpture. Fans of Brakhage who don't yet know this gem are missing out.

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swo17
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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#497 Post by swo17 » Mon Jul 06, 2020 1:16 am

Kineformy made my top 10 last round!

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therewillbeblus
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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#498 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Jul 06, 2020 1:31 am

I'll third its greatness- Here and There from the same year is quite good too

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knives
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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#499 Post by knives » Fri Jul 10, 2020 10:49 am

therewillbeblus wrote:
Wed Jun 17, 2020 7:51 pm
Silk Stockings surprised me right out of the gate in revealing itself to be a musical version of Ninotchka! The strengths between them couldn’t be more distinct, for while the Lubitsch is a laugh riot, this one falters on the humor but has a few solid numbers to sway itself into a stagey light romanticism. I've always felt that the romance feels too heavy and curiously placed in the Lubitsch, which tries to strike a balance between cross-cultural comedy and drama by injecting the romance with self-seriousness that doesn't fit. The tonal shifts are better served here for embracing the mood of a breezy dream, where song and dance can convey what strong words and music cannot, retaining a safer modality to deliver the story that's far cuter and less intensely emotional than the prior adaptation. The film is not without its own comic moments (the typewriter sound effect gag is funny) but most attempts as humor fall flat, including the three Russians. They aren't a complete wash, and Lorre is inspired casting, but they don't take advantage of the potential in these terrific character dynamics.

The technical aspects were inconsistent too, at least for the non-musical parts, with the filmmakers seemingly undecided at how to shoot the action, especially in the first half. At times this feels like a play, with stagnant wide shots of dialogue exchange detaching me from the cinematic elements when lingering for an odd amount of time, before abruptly changing to medium shots and close ups with no triggering event. The numbers are another story. They range in quality but the weaker ones are still good and there are more than a few gems. Stereophonic Sound is incredible, using sound itself for noticeably witty effect during the singing portions, and some really unique reciprocal moves like the body crawl on the desk- plus the song is terrific too. Fated to Be Mated might beat it though, and the accompanying dance commands the set's space with confidence in a manner that reminded me of some of my favorite dances from Kiss Me Kate.

In the end, it's a bit too long and generally uneven in style and vibe, but the exciting numbers keep coming through the final act to stop this from petering out as it nears two hours. The always reliable Cyd Charisse comes more and more alive during this progression, which greatly helps as her character develops almost directly through dance, a liberation that evolves in a way few musicals pull off with purity. The second half saves the first half (although Stereophonic Sound and a few other strong scenes come early), I just wish the form of the whole movie was as tight and well-organized as the musical numbers.
Just saw this and I wish I could be as positive on it as you, but I got nothing out of this. Even if Ninotchka wasn't my favorite comedy it would be hard to talk about this musical remake without it as beyond the three stooges this is such a pale shadow of Lubitsch's genius. Focusing on the good the three stooges are significantly different from the Yiddish comedy trio of the original film with plenty of unique jokes and performances that make them very distinct even among each other. That originality and goofiness if it had infected the rest of the film would make something which could stand on its own. Though Janis Paige is a lively addition who seems to understand how to make this fun, but she's not in it enough to make this worth it.

As to the rest, Porter's songs are fairly bland with the choreography being DOA and leaden. It almost seems like a deliberate irony that Stereophonic Sound is shot as if it was shot in Academy. The scrappy Bob Hope short on the disc is filled with more great songs then the whole of this feature. The real killer of the film though is Cyd Charisse who to keep things short is not Greta Garbo. It doesn't help that Astaire looks to be old enough to be her grandfather either. Which is a weird place to be in as I'm totally sold on The Band Wagon as a perfect movie.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: The 1950s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#500 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Jul 10, 2020 12:26 pm

After its sloppy formalism distracted me so much in the first part and then unexpected transitioned into the terrific Stereophonic Sound, I was invested in looking for ways to be charitable with caution. The second half came alive through Charisse’s own rebirth, but since the bar was so low it’s hard to say (or remember) whether that means it was ‘good’ or just ‘better’ than the first part.. and since I already forgot the film I have to imagine it was decent by approximate comparison.

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