Thursday, March 29, 2012

THE KILLING (1956)


(1950’s movie #11)

The Killing (1956)

Expectations: Classic film noir. First of the great Stanley Kurbrick films. A favorite. And why is this not in the 1001 book again?

After viewing: The great heist in the film told by different viewpoints (which is the reason Kubrick chose this source material) and is what really sets this apart. The cast of character actors is quite good, the ending (different from Lionel White’s book) is a doozy and everything really comes together here. One question: What is the deal with Maurice,the Russian chess player/wrestler who you can barely undersand any of his dialogue?

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Elisha Cook Jr. I’ve made many posts on this blogsite giving out my imaginary Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award. I think the main reason I decided to do it was because of Mr. Cook in this movie.

In The Killing, Cook becomes part of the elaborate plan to rob the racetrack. It’s the one chance he has to impress his blonde wife, who knows that she is out of his league. Of course, she’s two-timing him, doesn’t really love him and you could almost feel sorry for the guy if he weren’t so na├»ve. Small of stature and rather plain looking, Described by critic Leonard Maltin as “the ultimate nebbish,” Mr. Cook had a long career that ran from The Maltese Falcon to The Big Sleep to Shane to The Killing to Rosemary’s Baby to later as Ice Pick on the television show Magnum P. I.

Always a second banana and usually a good bet to not survive to the film’s closing credits, Cook proves that you can have a long career in Hollywood by getting bumped off a lot.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)


(1950’s movie #10)
The Asphalt Jungle

Expectations: I really don’t have any. I just know it was a John Huston film and isn’t to be confused with Richard Brook’s The Blackboard Jungle.

After viewing: I’m really surprised I hadn’t seen this before and knew so little about it. It’s a terrific heist movie and a very worthy follow-up for Huston to Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Fact only I may find interesting: Co-star Louis Calhern starred in both The Asphalt Jungle and The Blackboard Jungle.

Marilyn sighting: One of Marilyn Monroe’s early roles. She is most fetching playing Calhern’s mistress. “Some sweet kid.”

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Sam Jaffe. Despite a strong supporting cast including James Whitmore, Jean Hagen and John McIntyre, I have to once again give the prestigious Cook award to Mr. Jaffe. This time he isn’t playing a bhisti bugle boy as in Gunga Din or a scientist as he did in The Day the Earth Stood Still, but a brilliant, logical, calculating criminal with one fatal flaw: a penchant for young women. (Apparently very, very, young)

Monday, March 26, 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)


We have temporarily taken control of this month's blog run on films from the 1950's to bring you a guest movie commentary on The Hunger Games from author Joyce Scarbrough.

"The book was better."

I'd say this is true for 95% of movies that are based on books, with 4% having the book and the movie equally good and 1% of movies that are better. (I'm a word person and don't play well with numbers, so don't hold me to those percentages. Hey, at least they add up to 100!)

So it was no real surprise that the theatrical version of THE HUNGER GAMES fell into the 95% category, yet I still found myself quite disappointed that this movie I had anticipated seeing on the big screen more than any other didn't quite live up to my expectations. Don't get me wrong--it's a good movie full of excitement, visual thrills and moving scenes. I'm sure anyone who sees it that hasn't read the books will think it's fabulous. It was just missing the deep, soul-stirring elements that make me love the book series so much.

It certainly wasn't the fault of the cast. While some of the actors were not how I pictured the characters, they all did a great job of bringing their roles to life and won me over. Especially Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. Their scenes together were magical--both the action-filled and the emotional ones.

No, I think the biggest problem was the inherent limitations of watching a movie versus reading a book, especially a book written in the first person POV. While Jennifer Lawrence did a wonderful job of showing Katniss's amazing bravery, devotion to her family and strength of character, even her award-worthy acting skills could not portray Katniss's inner conflicts, subtle revelations about herself and her fellow tributes, and her ingenious ability to control her outward appearances and reactions because she knew she was always being watched by the entire country.

Not only did Katniss have to manipulate the spoiled Capitol citizens whose sponsorship she needed to survive, she had to be constantly mindful that her sister and mother were being forced to watch everything that happened to her. You really can't show this through facial expressions, and it's not something Katniss would talk about with anyone even if she could do so without being overheard. So it's a major part of the story's draw that is missing from the movie.

There were other important aspects of the story that I think the director didn't do justice to or omitted altogether. This was probably because of time limitations, but I think some of the special effect scenes and visual gut-punches could have been shortened in order to show things like how desperate Katniss was to find water when she first went into the arena and how she almost died of dehydration. She finds a water source immediately in the movie and never even gets thirsty! The same thing is true of the pain she and Peeta suffered from their injuries and how close they came to dying, and also the emotional bonding between them that developed gradually while they cared for each other. These things were skipped in exchange for more death scenes, and it kept the movie audience from connecting as much to Katniss and Peeta as readers do in the books.

For me, the biggest thing about both these books and the movie is the magnificence of the heroine. Katniss is both bigger than life and completely human at the same time, and I cheered for her not only because of what she meant to the story, but for what she meant to the millions of young girls reading about her. Her message is this:

You are capable of making a difference in the world every bit as much as any of your male counterparts, and don't ever let anybody convince you otherwise!

And while the heroines in my books don't inspire any revolutions like Katniss does, they do share her belief in herself and always stand up for themselves against adversity. If they inspire even a fraction of Katniss's fans, I'll feel as if I've made a difference as a writer.

~Stay true to yourself and your dreams will come true.

-Joyce Scarbrough

http://joycescarbrough.blogspot.com/

We now return control of this blog to Chris, a librarian, at least until the next time we decide to retake control.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

GIGI (1958)


(1950’s movie #9)

Gigi (1958)

Expectations: I think I’ve done enough film noirs this month, so I figured this colorful musical is probably about as far away from film noir as a movie can get.

After viewing: Obviously this movie gets compared to My Fair Lady because they are both Lerner and Lowe and both are Best Picture Winners. I don’t like it as much as My Fair Lady, but it does have some winning musical numbers. And also if I’m doing this list, I might as well check off all the Oscar Winners I go through as well. I just hope this doesn’t mean I have to watch Broadway Melody of 1929 and Cimarron.


And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Maurice Chevalier. Yes, I must be getting older because I’ve come to actually like the old Frenchman. It’s hard to imagine this movie without his musical numbers, “Thank Heaven For Little Girls,” and “We Met at 9.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1958)


(1950’s movie #8)

The Old Man and the Sea (1958)

Expectations: Many of us had to read this book in school. I understand all it’s symbolism of man vs. nature, man vs. himself, yadda yadda yadda, et al. I get it, but it’s still not my favorite. I hadn’t seen the movie in a long time. Or have I just seen part of it anyway? On second thought, I'm pretty sure I haven't ever seen it all the way through.

After viewing: The film and book are basically a one-man show. Since much of the film had to be done with voice over narration while the fisherman was out to sea, this film really needed an actor with stature to pull it off. Luckily, they picked Spencer Tracy, possibly the greatest American screen actor of the 20th century. He actually succeeds for the most part, though it is slow going at times.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…The fish. I guess it’s that whole man vs. nature thing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957)


(1950’s movie #7)

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Expectations: Not in the 1001 book, but the combination of director Billy Wilder, writer Agatha Christie and stars Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power and Charles Laughton make this something that should be seen.

After viewing: I confess that the main reason I picked this movie is because I recently played a supporting part in a local theatrical production of it.* It’s most interesting to see the workings of the British legal system, though I do find the ending a bit much.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Charles Laughton. Now why would I give the supporting award to the actor who I consider the main player in the film and has the most important part? Well, he’s billed behind Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich and doesn’t even have his picture on the DVD release of the film! Laughton completely dominates the film and is the best reason to see it. So because of billing, I give him this award, though his wife Elsa Lanchester is pretty funny here, too.

*Support community theater and God Save the Queen!

Friday, March 16, 2012

THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954)


(1950’s movie #6)

The Barefoot Contessa (1954):

Expectations: One of the more famous Humphrey Bogart movies I’ve yet to see.

After viewing: I can’t say this rags to riches story of a Spanish dancer who becomes an overnight movie star would be on my list of favorites, but it did have some interesting moments. Like Sunset Boulevard (and later American Beauty) we know the main character (Maria Vargas,played by Ava Gardner) has died in the opening scene and the movie is told in flashback. It also has multiple narrators, which did give the film some several different points of view, which does give us some additional insight into Maria's character. The Joseph L. Manciwickz script is pretty sharp, though I did find the movie a bit too talky at times.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Warren Stevens (the Doc in Forbidden Planet) I guess I could have given the to character actor Edmond O’Brien as the always sweating Public Relations agent, but I’ll give it to the arrogant and unlikable movie mogul, Kirk Edwards, played by Stevens. Interestingly, Stevens’s character is almost always referred to as “Kirk Edwards,” and never just by “Kirk” or “Mr. Edwards.” Kind of like that episode of The Brady Bunch where Marsha only refers to ex-Monkee Davy Jones as “Davy Jones.” Wait, I hear a buzzer in the background which means that I’ve made a Brady Bunch reference, so I must now end this blog. There was more I wanted to say, but rules are rules.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

MAN OF THE WEST (1958)


(1950’s movie #5)

Man of the West (1958)

Expectations: I honestly hadn’t even heard of this one before I saw the listing in the 1001 Movie book.

After viewing: I think I appreciate the American Western more than I used to. Man of the West seems a little above standard Western fare of an ex-killer who has gone straight only through circumstances has to hook up with his old gang and mentor. It is enhanced by star Gary Cooper, playing the hero in one of his last roles.

Director Anthony Mann did a lot of Westerns and there’s a few more of his to go through in the book.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Arthur O’Connell. I grew up seeing Arthur O’Connell as the slightly annoying Mr. Goodwin from Crest commercials from the 70’s. Making sure that everyone that came in his general store purchased Crest seemed to be Goodwin's main reason for living.

But in previous years, Mr. O’Connell did make some memorable supporting film appearances in film such as Anatomy of a Murder. In Man of the West, he plays the comic relief, a big talker who acts rather cowardly when faced with problems-only to redeem himself before the end of the movie. So here’s to you, Mr. Goodwin!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)


(1950’s movie #4)

Strangers on a Train (1951)

“The train tore along with an angry, irregular rhythm. It was having to stop at smaller and more frequent stations, where it would wait impatiently for a moment, then attack the prairie again. But progress was imperceptible. The prairie only undulated, like a vast pink, tan blanket being casually shaken. The faster the train went, the more buoyant and taunting the undulations.”
from Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.

Expectations: Another Hitchcock favorite, though now that I’ve read the original book, I may look at it differently

After viewing: You know, reading the book actually did detract from my enjoyment of the film. Some of the psychological (exemplified in the quote below) struggles of main character, Guy Haines, is really missing from the film, though the character of Bruno (Robert Walker) is dead on as portrayed in the movie. But how did Haines go from being an architect to a tennis player? And why did they change Bruno’s name? And there isn’t any carousel in the book!

This is why it isn’t always a good idea to read a book before watching an old favorite.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Robert Walker. Now I could give this to Hitchcock regular Leo G. Caroll as a Senator or Hitchcock daughter Patricia Hitchcock as the comic relief, as you can make an argument that Walker’s Bruno isn’t really a supporting character. But no matter how you slice it, Walker dominates this film as the sociopath Bruno.

“I believe any man can be broken down. I could break you down. Given the same circumstances, I could break you down and make you kill someone! It might take different methods than the ones Bruno used on me, but it could be done. What else do you think keeps the Totalitarian states going? Or do you ever stop to wonder about things like that, Owen?"
from Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

KISS ME DEADLY (1955)


(1950’s movie #3)

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Expectations: The only 1001 listing for a film based on a Mickey Spillane story. I’m game.

After Viewing: Apparently screenwriter A. I. Bezzerides and Director Robert Aldrich threw out much of Spillane’s book to make this most interesting noir. In fact, the resolution has absolutely nothing to do with Spillane’s original story! Sorry, Mickey. But if you like film noir, it's one to see.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…The Two Jacks: Jack Lambert and Elam. Good film noirs gotta have good thugs and Kiss Me Deadly has two of the best.

Jack Lambert (who I last saw in The Killers, playing the same type of role) has one of the most menacing glares in film and an even more menacing voice. He looks a little like John Malcovick here, though he acts more like Joe Pesci.

Jack Elam (who I last saw as one of the doomed gunslingers in the first scene of Once Upon a Time in the West) has a face you aren’t likely to forget once you see it. Elam’s bug eyed appearance kept him working as a Hollywood character actor for decades.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953)


(1950’s movie #2)

Pickup on South Street (1953)

Expectations: Haven’t seen before, though a Samuel Fuller film noir sounds good to me.

After viewing: A B-girl? A pickpocket? A stool pigeon? These characters may be under the law, but even they wouldn’t sell out to a good for nothing Commie rat! I wasn’t expecting the Cold War subplot it ties in rather nicely to this film noirs plot line and the whole film is nicely done.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Thelma Ritter. One of the great character actresses of the 40’s and 50’s, she steals every scene she’s in as the stoolie with a heart of gold.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)


I’ve already seen a number of the classic Hollywood movies of the 1950’s. At least I thought I had. But going over some of the titles in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I noticed more than a few omissions from my movie viewing resume. For the rest of this month, I’m going to try to fill in some of those gaps as well as re-watch some old favorites. I’ll list my expectations for each film going in and state whether these expectations are reached or not. And I’ll give each film my Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award strictly for the reason that I think it would be fun to do so. I’ve also done this already for 30’s and 40’s films so I see no reason to stop now.

(1950’s movie #1)

Night of the Hunter (1955)

Expectations: A very dark movie that I saw years ago. Charles Laughton’ only directorial effort and a very menacing part for Robert Mitchum.

After viewing: Was lucky that I got the opportunity to see this on the big screen this time out. Leading man Robert Mitchum as the preacher plays a character with absolutely no redeeming characteristics. I can see why this was not a great success-it was too different. Many who see this ask the question why Charles Laughton didn’t direct more movies? Robert Mitchum said the answer was because he died. Oh, well.

This grim, dark tale of evil and redemption would certainly make my list.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Lillian Gish. One of the first leading ladies of cinema is the closest thing this movie has to hero (at least an adult one). She gets the award for me just for her singing the second verse to “Lean on Jesus.” which offsets the preacher’s constant rendering of the first verse.