Archive for the ‘1953’ Category

hondo

Let’s just get right to the point, we’ve seen better westerns than this during this particular year.  For a film that was propped us as a major awards contender this year, John Farrow’s Hondo left me ultimately disappointed.  John Wayne was never really an actor who portrayed characters that I could connect with, and this film really is no different.  Geraldine Page has gotten quite a bit of attention ahead of this film, but even in an year with little to offer in terms of female supporting roles, Miss Page is overshadowed by much juicier roles this year.

Here’s the bottom line on Hondo:  Shane is overwhelmingly more prestigious, heartfelt, and important.  The Naked Spur gave us so much more wit and ambiguity to chew on, despite its flaws in the final act.  Hondo, as a film in general, and as a western in particular, failed to give us anything fresh to enjoy and supplement those other films.  It’s not a bad film, it’s just not going to contribute anything to your life on the other end.

**1/2 ~AOS

Is There a Mr. Texaco?

Posted: 20/01/2014 in 1953

how to marry a millionaire

Plain and simple, I’ve lost my patience for films like this.  Jean Negulesco’s How to Marry a Millionaire (his second film this year) is in credibly sexist, a bit racist in spots, and just all around ridiculous.  There is no doubt that there is a market for this type of film, but it is not for me.  I had enough after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but having to deal with a double dose of Marilyn Monroe’s antics this year, coupled with a useless Betty Grable and a rather unlikable Lauren Bacall led me to want to avoid and boycott shallow comedies like this one for the rest of the year.  Hollywood, please stop making films like this.

** ~AOS

Isn’t Life Disappointing?

Posted: 20/01/2014 in 1953

tokyo story

For all of the talk of what a masterwork Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story would be before it hit the US, it was easy to fall into the trap of skepticism.  I for one was already gearing myself for the dreaded “it isn’t that good” statements.  Well, I’m here to now go on record by saying it is that good.  This film, in fact, is utterly emotionally devastating.  How do you handle the disappointment of realizing that you are no longer a valued member of a world that you helped built?  We have seen a fair share of contemporary films this year, but Tokyo Story, although it is a foreign language film, captures the truth of the times better than any contemporary film this year!

For all of the trash that Hollywood has fed us this year about modern times and modern people living in it (see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for example), he is a film that, although it takes place a half a world away, captures a human story that all can truly connect with.  What is brilliant about Ozu’s directing is he allows time for self reflection.  As a man with aging parents myself, what kind of a son am I really to them?  What kind of son will about be in 10-20 years?  How will I personally feel when my generation is no longer considered relevant?  Post-World War II Japan, I feel, is a warning to all of us regardless of time or geography.  At the same time, it doesn’t offer any answers.  It offers pause.  And ten years in the wake of the worst war that mankind has ever seen, thank you Mr. Ozu for forcing us to pause and reflect.

This film is further enhanced by the absolutely perfect acting of the entire cast.  You have never heard of these actors, but one must expect that we’ll be hearing so much more about them in the coming weeks.  Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama are absolutely perfect in their roles as the aging Hirayama parents.  Their steadiness brings us to tears, their perseverance makes us hopeful, and their feelings of being lost souls makes us weep.  No two actors this year have generated the feelings deep in our hearts and guts like these two have and I certainly hope they are remembered amongst the heavier hitters and bigger names of the year.  Thank you Chieko Higashiyama for giving these younger American actresses an acting lesson or two.

Tokyo Story is one for the ages.  It is so strong that, although it is in another language and made in another part of the world, it will be remembered through the rest of this year and for years to come.  Thank you Mr. Ozu for this introspective look at humanity.  Job well done sir!

**** ~AOS

The Big Heat 1

We have a seen a few films jump into the film noir genre this year (a couple, in fact, were very strong showings), but none this year performed to the level of Fritz Lang’s incredibly powerful and efficient The Big Heat.  This film absolutely drips with mood, but it’s never hammy, and it’s never over the top.  Much of this is as a result of a wonderful script coupled with some of the best performances we’ve seen all year on the big screen.

One of the beautiful things about The Big Heat is that the writing never strays away the realistic as many films in the noir genre oftentimes do.  Instead, every time I braced myself for the moment when the film would get corny or away from what would really happen in such a situation, I was constantly surprised that it never went in that direction.  The Big Heat is a tough film with tough characters.  It knows what it is and, within the boundaries of censorship, it stays true to itself and the audience throughout.  Thank you Sydney Boehm for this beautifully tight, edgy, dark, and in some parts, shocking adaptation.  Much credit must also be given to Fritz Lang as well for bringing his European sensibilities of directing to American film.  Much of the coldness and edginess of The Big Heat is all Fritz Lang.  I hate to make comparisons, but inevitably this film is going to get a ton of comparisons to Pickup on South Street.  I will first say that Thelma Ritter gives one of the best performances of the year in any genre in Pickup on South Street, but in terms of overall merit, I want to go on record as saying that The Big Heat is the better of the two films.  While Pickup is certainly one of the more entertaining films I’ve seen this year, The Big Heat goes in the direction you hope it goes not in the direction you fear it might.  Some of the most shocking scenes of the year appear here, but never for the purpose of shocking.  Instead, this is a film that truthfully tells its story.

Speaking of acting, the performances here are stellar.  Truthfully, this is one of the strongest ensembles of the year, period.  Glenn Ford more than holds his own as the vengeful Detective Bannion.  His anger is never over the top, yet it’s ride he takes us on, once again in a balanced and true form.  Where The Big Heat really shines however, is in its supporting cast.  Gloria Grahame as Debby Marsh is quite the character.  In the beginning I really thought we were getting just another two-dimensional female character, but instead Miss Grahame fools us and gives us so much more.  Give her performance and character some time to develop in your mind during and after the film, and you realize you’ve witnessed one of the more well-rounded performances of the year.  If Gloria Grahame’s performance is interesting, Jeanette Nolan is absolutely lethal as the widowed Bertha Duncan.  In the end, perhaps her’s is the strongest of the film, but in the buildup of her character and in its dangerous subtlety.  And while Miss Nolan is dangerously subtle, Lee Marvin is deliciously dangerous.  As I chewed on this film, it was Lee Marvin’s sinister Vince Stone that really remained stuck in my head, both for the madness and utter strength of performance.

The more I meditate on The Big Heat, the more I realize we have something special here.  I’m not sure if all that see it will be able to see beyond the noir genre, but look closer and observe one of the most magical and dynamite 90 minutes of the year!

**** ~AOS

mogambo

It must be first of all acknowledged that John Ford’s Mogambo is classic Oscar bait fare.  That in itself does not make this a bad film.  In fact, it’s not a bad film at all.  By the same token, it’s also not a film without its flaws.  But first the good news.  We have another film shot on location here, and shooting on location in East Africa does Mogambo a lot of good.  The visuals are realistic, and there is no doubt that we are on an African adventure throughout.  Additionally, the people of Kenya are not presented to us as complete imperialist-created stereotypes.  There is a respect here given to the extras to a certain degree.  That said, there is still an imperialistic air about this film that is hard to shake off.  Perhaps it is the presence of Clark Gable, an old school actor nearing the end of his career and not presenting us anything new here.  But this is not a film that exists to make any political statements, even as African states were getting their independence during the making of this film (although Kenya itself is still a decade away from from it).

This is a film that seeks to present a web of love interests in an old-school Hollywood fashion.  I’m not sure if I was that invested in the main theme of this film to be honest, as I didn’t particularly have much care for any of the characters.  Ah, but we’re supposed to be focusing on good news here, so aside from the wonderful color cinematography, the other good news here is the presence of Ava Gardner.  As Eloise Kelly, she is a fresh presence in the African bush amongst legally existing poachers of sorts, and she is a fresh presence on screen as well.  Her source material isn’t going to do much in shattering this lingering stereotype of the 1950s woman (which a few films this year have actually been able to dodge and turn around), but I do believe that she does the most she can with what she is given.  She certainly is the best thing about this film, and she does often add a third dimension to an otherwise two-dimensional character.  In terms of an awards contender, she is certainly is in the race with this one, but I think that her script may hinder her chances against tougher competition.

Honestly the bad news is everything else.  The directing does not hold up against fresher offerings this year.  The script is weak and it holds the film back from being something much better.  I love Clark Gable, but I’m tired of the shtick.  He’s simply playing the same character over and over again now.  Grace Kelly I’m a bit more hung on.  Her actual character, Linda Nordley, I have very little regard for.  That said, does that make her’s a bad performance.  Miss Kelly is getting a lot of good press for this one, but I’m just not seeing it.  There haven’t been a lot of amazing supporting performances for actresses this year, so maybe in retrospect this may be a stronger performance than I’m giving her credit for.  However, if Grace Kelly holds any degree of jealousy for Ava Gardner like her character does in the film, rightfully so because Mogambo is the Ava Gardner show all the way.

*** ~AOS

Why Didn’t Ya Tell Me?

Posted: 30/12/2013 in 1953

Little_Fugitive_53_Andrusco_5702

Just simply gorgeous.  For all of the big budget films we have seen this year, with their big sets and high salaried actors, one of the best films of the year is the low budget, independent, hand-held camera shot Little Fugitive.   Ray Ashley and husband and wife duo Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin’s collaboration is a beautiful tale of brotherhood, love, independence, as well as a love story to New York City.  The story is simple enough–a young boy is pranked into thinking that he shot and killed his older brother, and he runs away as a fugitive to Coney Island.  Despite its simple plot, however, this film contains much more depth of meaning than many films we have seen this year.

The world of a boy finding his independence is rare thing to analyze on film, but how appropriate to do so in this independent offering.  Joey, played by the young Richie Andrusco (a non-professional actor, as is the entire cast), invites us into his world.  This is a world plagued by being the little brother, by being underestimated, and by not being given the time of day.  Regardless of the life that he is living, circumstance pushes Joey into pursuing an independent spirit, one that will involve feasting on all of the pleasures he’s always wanted to enjoy, while at the same time being resourceful in finding ways to make money, spending his first night as a homeless person, and dodging the law.  This is Joey’s world, a world that exists in the far more complicated recreational playground of Coney Island in Brooklyn.

The writing, directing, and cinematography are exquisite here, and the same team made up of Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, and Ruth Orkin are responsible for all of it.  This is a team with a passion for film.  There’s no Hollywood stage here.  New York is our stage, and one of our main characters on its own.  Shooting on location with a 35 mm handheld camera is a novel idea, and it brings life and realism to this film that really could not of have been shot any other way.  While this film is indeed a love letter to childhood and a love letter to New York City, it is also a cautionary tale, a warning really, of the influence of violence through the entertainment  media on little boys.  Joey’s final scene is a powerful one, and it should not be overlooked.  The pull of violence on television and in film is something previously meditated on in Shane earlier in the year, and it is a theme that is readdressed in a completely setting here, but no less powerfully.

In the end, Little Fugitive is without a doubt one of this year’s best films.  For those of you who have proven yourselves to be independent throughout your lives, this one’s for you!

**** ~AOS

the robe

Henry Koster’s sweeping Biblical/historical drama The Robe is not the first brush with religious themes that we’ve seen this year, but it certainly is the best produced.  Despite it’s shortcomings, The Robe is cinematic eye candy.  From the costumes, to the production design, to the cinematography, this film is visually one of the most beautiful color films we’ve seen all year.

The film is set in first century Rome during a time of rebellion in the province of Judea.  Enter, of course, Jesus (who we never actually do see) and you have a set of characters that are thrust into the winds of change and history.  Richard Burton plays the lead role of Marcellus Gallio, who is given the job of carrying out the execution of Jesus.  In short, his guilt leads to his conversion, as well as a confrontation with the Roman Empire.  Despite having a potentially juicy role, and despite the praise that has been bestowed upon Richard Burton for this role, I don’t really feel he does anything incredibly spectacular here.  It’s an adequate performance, but there have been more interesting performances this year that I feel will overshadow this one.  The same goes for Jean Simmons as Diana.  In reality, the really standout performance in this film is Jay Robinson as a really mentally unstable Caligula.  Every scene he is in is deliciously uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, the supporting actor race is so packed this year, I don’t know if there will be a place for Mr. Robinson when the year is all said and done.

In short, The Robe is generally well-executed, it’s engaging for the most part, but there are so many more exciting offerings this year that I’m not sure if it will really stick out in my mind come year’s end.

*** ~AOS