Category Archives: 1950s

#329 Pickpocket

(1959, Robert Bresson)

“Perhaps everything has a reason”

So, uh, I have a slight problem. I’m sitting down to write this review because my list says that I’ve watched it. However, this came as a shock to me, since I couldn’t remember watching it initially. So this review may prove difficult and I have to rely on information online as well as my notes to try and remember what it was all about. This probably isn’t the best start.

Pickpocket is, apparently, about a pickpocket. Sorry to shock you, but it is. Martin LaSalle is Michel, who pickpockets someone at a racecourse and is arrested, although the charges don’t stick. Following this, he then falls in with a bunch of professional pickpockets and then shenanigans.

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#320 The Big Heat

(1953, Fritz Lang)

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better”

Today I’m reviewing a film noir! Awwwww yeaaaaaah!

The Big Heat stars Glenn Ford as Dave Bannion, a police detective investigating the death of fellow officer Tom Duncan. After a woman named Lucy (Dorothy Greene) tips him off that the case may not be as open-and-shut as it first seems, she soon turns up dead. Bannion begins investigating further, and finds himself receiving threatening phone calls, and a confrontation with a local mob boss results in the death of his wife. Now Bannion is on the trail of the truth, both for justice and for revenge! Read the rest of this entry

#318 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

(1956, Don Siegel)

“They’re here already! You’re next!”

Imagine if you will, an ordinary day, with an ordinary man, wandering through the streets as if everything is as ordinary as can be. But this ordinary man is not an ordinary man. He is something else. He is a facsimile of a man. A duplicate of a man who had his body snatched. What you are imagining is the scenario presented in Invasion of The Body Snatchers.

One of the most well-known, influential and well-respected movies of the 50s alien invasion b-movie canon, Invasion of The Body Snatchers stars Kevin McCarthy as Dr Miles Bennell, a doctor who has recently returned from a trip and finds his hometown acting a little strange. Numerous people are coming to him claiming that their relatives aren’t who they say they are, the normally buzzing diner is devoid of customers and a resident reports a mysterious body appearing on his pool table. Something fishy is going on in Santa Mira, and Miles intends to find out what.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is definitely a b-movie, although it is one with slightly better production values than the average alien invasion flick. That said, it’s still a very ropey and slightly cheesy movie that falls flat on an awful lot of things.

First of all, the acting. While certainly a step up from the acting you typically came across in 50s b-movies, it’s still shaky as hell at times. Characters often feel a little too stoic where they really should be shocked or scared, and the square-jawed emotionless hero kind of got a little silly after a while, especially as it began to become difficult to tell the difference between the emotionless clones and the hero. At least until the end when he starts freaking out.

Also, the plot is really not consistent. Certain things move too quickly, meaning there’s never really a strong sense of dread going on. Miles and his lady-friend wander through the town experiencing weird thing after weird thing, spending very little with each weird thing until eventually there’s a body on a table slowly growing features and I feel like I skipped a few pages of build-up.

And when it’s not doing that, the movie has an alarming tendency to over-explain itself. Quite often we’ll be told of extra weird things, or we’ll get frequent summaries of the movie so far. Very rarely does the movie just stop and let the tension build. And it definitely makes the experience feel weaker. There are also some logistic issues with the way the “body snatchers” operate. There are times when the clones are created separately from the original, but other times it feels like the original body is taken over, and there’s a constant clash on this front.

But that’s not to say Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is an inherently bad movie. Far from it, in fact. The central concept is definitely intriguing and it plays itself out nicely. We get reveals at appropriate times and despite the general lack of tension, there are scenes where tension does pop up briefly, and these are probably some of the stronger scenes in the movie. A scene late in the movie where the whole town moves in sync with one another is eerie and particularly notable.

The effects are also surprisingly good for an old sci-fi b-movie. Okay, admittedly this mostly stems from the pods and the resulting pod people, but these are still things that worked fantastically well. The pods looked creepy and organic, and the unfinished clones were creepy and unpleasant in all the right ways.

I think perhaps the monster being other people also worked in the movie’s favour as it allowed it to keep its effects minimal and create a sense of paranoia instead of the shock of seeing plastic flying saucers floating in on strings. It’s easy to see how the movie was taken as a McCarthyism allegory, since the fear of other people is strong here.

Overall, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a ropey and somewhat shaky movie that tells an interesting story in a flawed way. It’s a low-budget sci-fi b-movie that sits firmly at the higher end of the quality scale for the genre. It’s clear why this has endured the way it is. It has moments of tension and action, while also remaining somewhat charmingly silly at the same time.

Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan & Carolyn Jones
Written by Jack Finney (novel) and Daniel Mainwaring
Produced by Walter Wanger
Music by Carmen Dragon
Cinematography by Ellsworth Fredericks
Edited by Robert S. Eisen

Favourite Scene: The town moving in unison and preparing to deliver pods out of town is easily one of the more unnerving sights in cinema history.
Scene That Bugged Me: There was something very silly about the pod people casually explaining their whole plan and then gathering in a separate room expecting Miles to sit still.

Watch it if: You like cheesy 50s alien invasion movies, because this is one of the best
Avoid it if: You like your alien movies to be full of spaceships and little green men

#304 Hiroshima Mon Amour

(1959, Alain Resnais)

“You saw nothing in Hiroshima”

So it is today that the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II, which seems an appropriate time to review a movie about the Hiroshima bombings. I would have done it back on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombings themselves, but I took a long hiatus and didn’t do it so this will do instead. So, Hiroshima Mon Amour then. What’s it like?

Set in Hiroshima (obviously), a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) is in Japan filming a movie about peace, where she gets into a relationship with a Japanese man (Eiji Okada). The two discuss the Hiroshima museum and then start talking about love and loss and memory. And…uh…the movie kinda stopped being about Hiroshima at that point and…I’m not really sure what it was about by the end.

Yes, this is another French-made film about Japan that rambles on about nothing for a long time and ends up not being about Japan after all. Yes, it’s Sans Soleil all over again. What is it about Japan that makes French filmmakers so enamoured with it that they have to make a philosophical essay of a movie in response? Please tell me. I’d like to know. I’d also like to ask, can we ban them from ever doing it again?

Essentially, this is a long conversation between two people of different nationalities about things. Not specific things. Just things. It starts out with them discussing a Hiroshima memorial museum and ends up with the actress reminiscing about a German soldier that she dated during the war, which of course was forbidden and so she was full of angst. And there’s some stuff about memory in there and everything is dressed up in flowery poetic dialogue that sounds completely unlike anything a real human being would say in casual conversation.

Because of this latter issue, the main problem with the movie is our good old friend “not giving a crap about the central characters.” They waffle on about nothing and talk in such flowery ways that they don’t feel like people, they feel like a catalyst for an essay that Alain Resnais wrote once. And not a very interesting essay either. Your essay gets an F, Alain. Sorry.

Here’s why. Your essay makes no sense and has no central point. Is Hiroshima Mon Amour about Hiroshima? No, that’s just added to the title to mislead you and make you think it may be about something a little more interesting (as interesting as World War II can be at this point). It drops the Hiroshima stuff pretty quickly and then just rambles on forever. I also found it hard to care much about the German solider romance backstory because I kept wondering what the hell happened to the Hiroshima stuff that the movie was allegedly supposed to be about.

In fact, it’s so hard to talk about this movie beyond this aspect because this is all there is. It’s just two people who barely know each other and are never really introduced to the audience talking. For 90 minutes. About nothing.

So again, I say, can we ban French people from making rambling essay movies about Japan? Or if not, can we ban them from being praised by critics and ending up on these lists? You want a movie about the devastation WW2 wreaked on Japan? Go watch Grave Of The Fireflies instead. You’ll get a lot more out of it.

Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas & Pierre Barbaud
Written by Marguerite Duras
Produced by Samy Halfon & Anatole Dauman
Music by Georges Delerue & Giovanni Fusco
Cinematography by Michio Takahashi & Sacha Vierney
Edited by Jasmine Chasney, Henri Colpi & Anne Sarraute

Favourite Scene: Whenever they actually talked about Hiroshima, which, you know, the film was allegedly supposed to be about.
Scene That Bugged Me: Absolutely everything else.

Watch it if: You like rambling French films
Avoid it if: You want a movie about Hiroshima

#296 Touch Of Evil

(1958, Orson Welles)
“In any free country a policeman is supposed to enforce the law”

Hey look, it’s another film noir! I’m getting pretty happy with how often these seem to be turning up these days, so today I’m particularly happy. This one is an Orson Welles film too, so hopefully it’ll come with a Citizen Kane level of sheen. Let’s take a look shall we?

Touch Of Evil is set around the US-Mexico border, with the star of the show being Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Charlton Heston), a Mexican drug enforcement officer newly married to Susie (Janet Leigh), an American. When a car explodes after passing onto US soil, an investigation is launched, headed up by Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), a disgusting, overweight slob of a man. As Vargas assists with the investigation, he begins to question Quinlan’s judgement and suspects him of falsifying evidence for his own gains, causing him to launch his own investigation. However, this potentially puts his wife in danger.

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#293 Throne of Blood

(1957, Akira Kurosawa)
蜘蛛巣城 Kumonosu-jō

“You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you”

My experience with Shakespeare is not the best. Due to a British education system that seems determined to suck the life out of every form of literature by drily overanalysing every line of a play, my experience of Shakespeare has been spending an entire year reading Macbeth very slowly and subsequently wanting to never read Macbeth again.

So perhaps reframing Shakespeare could help. Perhaps if an influential Japanese director could have made a movie transposing Macbeth to feudal Japan and making it a dark movie about samurai, I could feel a little better about it. Oh hey, look, it’s Throne Of Blood! That’ll do nicely.

While returning from a battle against their lord’s enemies, samurai generals Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) encounter a spirit in the forest who tells of a prophecy for the two men. Washizu is to become master of North Castle, and will soon become lord for the whole castle complex too. Upon returning to their lord, the first part of the prophecy comes true, leading Washizu’s wife, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), to convince him to kill the lord and bring about the second part. As you can imagine, it doesn’t end well.

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#288 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

(1953, Howard Hawks)

“We’re just two little girls from Little Rock”

It was only a matter of time before we got round to taking a look at a Marilyn Monroe movie, and where better to start than with one of her more iconic appearances – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – but is it any good?

Adapted from a stage musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is about two close friends who work as showgirls. Lorelei Lee (Monroe) loves diamonds and is determined to marry a rich but socially awkward man so she can share in his wealth. Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell), however, isn’t interested in wealth and seeks out men based solely on attractiveness. The plot of the movie involves the duo travelling to Paris for work and so Lorelei can prepare for her marriage. A private detective has been hired by Lorelei’s fiancee’s father, and the duo have to avoid shenanigans, although shenanigans inevitably ensue.

So initially, I didn’t know what to expect. My experience with Marilyn Monroe is through her modern-day iconic image, where she’s largely been reduced to t-shirt slogans and teenage girls’ messenger status messages, and images of her standing on a vent. The fact that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a musical didn’t really help my wariness.

But the good news is, I was wrong to be wary. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is an excellent movie. In fact, the musical aspects of the movie are barely there bar a couple of flashy numbers, including the famous “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” sequence. On the whole, this movie is a screwball comedy with female protagonists, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Lorelei had the potential to be incredibly annoying. She’s a somewhat ditzy gold digger, exploiting a man for his money as the central premise of the movie. But Monroe makes her incredibly likeable, and her character is more often made fun of for her more negative traits, meaning that we’re not really supposed to approve. Plus there are depths to her character that get revealed as the movie progresses, so this helps significantly. Oh, and she delivers my favourite line in the movie, so there’s that too.

But while Monroe is clearly the star of the show here, I have to say that this gentleman preferred the brunette. Jane Russell as Dorothy had superb comic timing, flinging out quips and one-liners at every turn. She’s a smart counterpart to Lorelei and spends most of the movie despairing about what she’s gotten herself into. She was a fantastic character.

That said, I didn’t really like the subplot where she falls in love with the detective. It didn’t really make a lot of sense to me because he was such a slimy character and she seemed to be a lot smarter than being interested in someone like that. Especially after he screws her best friend over. It also just…happens instead of following a revelatory moment that maybe he isn’t as bad as he first seemed to be. He does some terrible things and gets off scot-free and wins the girl, which frustrated the hell out of me.

Another gripe I have with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes does revolve around the musical numbers, although probably not in the way you’d expect. There seems to be a real sound mixing issue going on between the normal spoken portions of the movie and the musical numbers, the latter of which constantly sound louder than the rest of the movie. This includes vocals too, and it’s incredibly jarring when Lorelei or Dorothy are speaking and then break into song, with their voices suddenly ramping up several decibels for no apparent reason.

Aside from this, I seriously enjoyed Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, much more than I ever expected I would. It’s a fantastic classic comedy and it’s a lot of fun, even if at times it can feel a little dated. I can see why Monroe was such an icon now.

Starring Marilyn Monroe & Jane Russell
Written by Joseph Fields & Anita Loos (play) and Charles Lederer
Produced by Sol C. Siegel
Music by Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Adamson, Jule Styne & Leo Robin
Cinematography by Robert Taylor
Edited by Hugh S. Fowler

Favourite Scene: “Don’t be fooled, she’s only marrying you for your money!” “No, that’s not true! I’m marrying him for your money!”
Scene That Bugged Me: They couldn’t have picked a better colour for the Olympic swimming team’s trunks? Really?

Watch it if: You’re a fan of campy screwball comedies
Avoid it if: You never like gold diggers under any circumstances

#278 The Day The Earth Stood Still

(1951, Robert Wise)

“Klaatu barada nikto”

The 1950s were a haven for alien invasion movies involving floppy costumes and cheesy acting, thanks to pop culture being massively influenced by Cold War anxiety and the growing interest in outer space. Some of it was consigned to the dustbin of film history, while other movies found themselves worthy of ridicule on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But what of the successes? What about the sci-fi movies that gained genuine critical acclaim and went on to be hugely influential? Enter The Day The Earth Stood Still.

A mysterious flying saucer has landed in Washington D.C., and the public flock to the site in droves, desperate to see first contact with extra-terrestrial life. When a humanoid by the name of Klaatu (Michael Rennie) emerges from the saucer, he is immediately shot by a solider and taken to hospital, while his robot bodyguard, Gort, fires back. While Earth tries to figure out how to respond to this “attack”, Klaatu escapes the hospital and begins his attempt to deliver a very important message.

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#273 The Quiet Man

(1952, John Ford)

[No quote for this review]

I’ve never made a secret of my dislike for John Wayne, which is a big part of my dislike for many classic Westerns in general. As an actor, he was very dry, very samey and generally dull to watch. I can never tell his characters apart, and his drawl is often so devoid of emotion that I can never get emotionally invested in them anyway. But perhaps things might change if we change the setting. Instead of a Western, The Quiet Man is a comedy drama set in Ireland.

Wayne plays Sean Thornton, an Irish-born American from Pennsylvania heading back to Ireland to reconnect with his “home”. There he buys his family’s old farm, attracting the ire of a local landowner, Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), who dislikes that this stranger has rolled up and bought land next to his. However, Thornton has more interest in Danaher’s sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara), and looks to marry her.

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#263 Strangers On A Train

(1951, Alfred Hitchcock)
“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer”

Hello I am a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies and this is often considered one of his best. Therefore today I am going to replace my normal review with a single sentence that says “it’s a Hitchcock movie, so yes”.

That’s a copout? Dammit. Fine, I’ll write a proper review. But only if you murder someone for me.

No, not really. But that is the plot of Strangers On A Train. Tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is looking to divorce his cheating wife Miriam (Laura Elliot) so that he can marry the more elegant Anne Morton (Ruth Roman). On a train journey, he meets a man named Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), and the two get talking. In the process, Bruno suggests the perfect murder – Bruno murders Miriam, Guy murders Bruno’s father, and neither will ever be suspected. Guy is naturally reluctant, but Bruno goes ahead and executes his part of the “deal”, and now expects Guy to uphold his end of the bargain.

When I first heard about the movie, the concept seemed incredibly implausible – who in their right mind would agree to commit murder with a random person on a train? But once I started watching, it made sense. One man is crazy and openly admitting to psychopathic tendencies and the other is reluctant and doesn’t know what to do about him, getting himself unwittingly involved in a murder without knowing.

The concept even manages to address its single plot hole – why doesn’t Guy just go to the police after some random man starts talking to him about murder? Granger’s performance makes it pretty clear that Guy is the kind of man who’d simply prefer to pretend it never happened, and that he was too awkward to approach the police. The fact this can be picked up rather subtly is a testament to the performances here.

Aside from Granger, who is an excellent everyman and hugely sympathetic for the bizarre situation he’s found himself in, Walker is also utterly terrifying as Bruno. He’s alarmingly polite and charming with an unmistakeable sinister edge, and he’s creepy as hell.

There are times, however, when he’s a little too over-the-top. There’s a scene at a party that Guy is attending and Bruno decides to crash where the latter skulks about being noticeably odd (which is commented on by other attendees) and even attempts to strangle a woman, but still escapes scot-free. It’s bizarre.

Then again, the conversation with the women that led to the strangling was hugely weird anyway. Casually discussing murder as if it’s some jolly romp and then allowing a random man to demonstrate strangling techniques on you is some strange form of ignorance that could only possibly exist in an alien civilisation that has no concept of murder or, I don’t know, the issues of letting a stranger put his hands on your neck!

Oddly enough, though, that scene was my only complaint. As is typical with Hitchcock movies, Strangers On A Train is tense and mysterious, drawing suspense not from a whodunit, but from wondering exactly what will happen to Guy if he doesn’t hold his end of the supposed deal. Will he do it? Will he try and escape? Where will this dangerous game lead?

And it all builds up to an incredibly dramatic climax involving a thrilling fight on an out-of-control carousel. It’s a little silly, but Hitchcock made it work within the film’s universe. The ending was also immensely satisfying and the final scene was another fine example of Hitchcock’s dark humour, and I loved it.

That said, it wasn’t as good as The Birds, Psycho, Rear Window or even Frenzy, but it certainly felt more tightly-woven together than Vertigo or Spellbound. It’s definitely somewhere in the middle, and it’s another example of why Hitchcock was one of the greatest directors of all time.

Starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman & Robert Walker
Written by Patricia Highsmith (novel) and Whitfield Cooke, Czenzi Ormonde & Raymond Chandler
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Music by Dimitri Tomikin
Cinematography by Robert Burks
Edited by William H. Ziegler

Favourite Scene: When Guy appears to agree to hold up his end of the “bargain”, the movie is just dripping in tension and gluing me to the screen.
Scene That Bugged Me: That damn strangling scene! No, not the actual murder, the other scene!

Watch it if: You like Hitchcock, obviously
Avoid it if: You, for some reason, don’t like murder thrillers (what’s wrong with you?)