The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad7th_voyage_of_sinbad-1958-mss-imp-poster-1
Directed by Nathan Juran
Written by Ken Kolb
1958/USA
Morningside Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Sinbad: Allah has many ways of dealing with hungry men.

This fun fantasy features some of Ray Harryhausen’s best work and a stirring score from Bernard Herman.

Captain Sinbad’s entire crew has been starving and stranded at sea for several days. Finally they spy land – the island of Colossa.  While there is plenty of food, it is protected by a Cyclops.  The Cyclops has been unusually cranky lately and has begun to interfere with the resident evil magician as well.  The magician helps Sinbad and crew to escape to the ship but must leave his magic lamp behind.  Despite the magician’s continuous pleas, the ship continues on to Baghdad for Sinbad’s marriage to his beloved princess.

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The magician is unable to intimidate Sinbad into returning to the island to pick up the lamp until he manages to shrink the princess.  The only way to return her to normal size is with a potion.  The key ingredient, shell from a Roc’s egg, is only available on the island.  So Sinbad sails back with a crew made up mostly of convicts.  Many fantastic adventures ensue.

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Harryhausen creates the cyclops, a dragon, baby and adult rocs, and a sword-fighting skeleton.  These are still awe-inspiring and must have been doubly so to children in the 50’s.  The splendid Bernard Hermann score is another highlight.  The Blu-Ray 50th anniversary DVD contains both a beautiful print and a commentary by Harryhausen, a couple of visual effects artists, and a Bernard Hermann scholar.

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Weddings and Babies (1958)

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Directed by Morris Engel
Written by Morris Engel, Blanche Hanalis et al
1958/USA
Morris Engel Associates
First viewing/Amazon Prime

I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury. — Groucho Marx

Love is a messy thing as Engel’s docu-drama illustrates so well.

Al is a professional photographer who specializes in wedding and babies but aspires to something more creative.  He has been going with Bea for the past three years.  She is more than ready to get married.  He says he will marry her “soon”, when he has saved up enough money.  “Soon” does not seem to imply anything in the immediate future.

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Al spends his savings on an expensive camera and Bea starts crying more than previously.  When Al is unwilling to really care for his senile mother, Bea may have finally had it.

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I would rank this right behind Little Fugitive among Engel’s films.  The evocative camerawork brilliantly captures the time, place and people of a slice of 1950’s New York City.  Sure, some of the sequences run on too long and the amateur acting is spotty.  The total effect is so raw and real that I was moved in the end.

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A Tale of Two Cities (1958)

A Tale of Two Citiesa-tale-of-two-cities-movie-poster-1956-1020198606
Directed by Ralph Thomas
Written by T.E.B Clarke from the novel by Charles Dickens
1958/UK
The Rank Organization
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

“‎And yet I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire.” ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

My love for Dirk Bogarde is well known and I thoroughly enjoyed his Sidney Carton as well as the rest of the acting in this faithful adaptation of the Dickens classic.

The two cities are Paris and London and the story takes place immediately before and during the French Revolution.  Dr. Manet has been imprisoned 18 years in the Bastille for treating some peasants that had been cruelly used by the Marquis St. Evremond (Christopher Lee).  He is finally released.  His daughter Lucy journeys to France to take him home.  During a coach  ride, she meets Charles Darnay and instantly falls in love.

Darnay is framed by the evil Barsad (Donald Pleasance) on a treason charge.  He is acquitted after his resemblance to the dissolute young lawyer Sidney Carton (Bogarde) is used to discredit eyewitness testimony.  Lucy Manet is called as a witness in the trial and it is undying love at first sight for Carton.  Her heart goes out to him but permanently belongs to Darnay.

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I will dare to spoil a 150 year old classic and reveal that Darnay is actually the nephew of the evil Marquis and heir to the title.  When the Revolution comes, someone is waiting to take revenge on the Marquis and all his descendants, guilty or not.   With Cecil Parker as the banker Lorry and Leo McKern as a prosecutor.

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Bogarde is perfection as the soulful rake Carton.  The rest of the production is of a very high standard.  The plot is chock full of all the usual improbable Dickens coincidences but they never bother me in the least.  Recommended.

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The Haunted Strangler (1958)

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Directed by Robert Day
Written by John Croyden and Jan Read from a story by Read
1958/UK
Amalgamated Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

James Rankin: You mean he killed while in some sort of trance?

This is a low-budget horror flick that is actually worthy of Boris Karloff’s talents.

James Rankin (Karloff) is a novelist who is researching a book about the Haymarket Strangler, who was executed twenty years previously.  He is convinced that the wrong man was convicted and sets out to prove it.

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No one will believe him so he must resort to undercover operations.  These include robbing the condemned man’s grave to uncover the murder weapon.  But in Rankin’s hands, this knife is even sharper …

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The Jekyll-Hyde story itself is nothing special but the 70-year-old Karloff is very good.  He transforms himself convincingly without make-up.

Actually, the commentary on the DVD was more interesting than the film.  Richard Gordon, the producer, reminisces about the film and his brother Alan, who made pictures in America, talks about their long relationship with the actor.  This was a project brought to the producer by Karloff.  The distributor insisted on a double-feature and The Haunted Strangler was released with Fiend Without a Face, made simultaneously.  The latter film proved to be more in tune with the times.

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Bonjour Tristesse (1958)

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Directed by Otto Preminger
Written by Arthur Laurents based on a novel by Françoise Sagan
1958/USA/UK
Wheel Productions
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Cecile: It’s getting out of control. I just wish I were a lot older or a lot younger.

I don’t remember Otto Preminger for his imagery but this is a beautiful film.  Of course, the Riviera never hurts.

As the film begins, we are introduced to Cecile (Jean Seberg), a young girl who drifts from one man to another, feeling nothing for any of them.  Her life is filled with a deep sadness. As she dances to the title song, she thinks of happier times and we segue into flashback. Scenes of Paris in the present will be alternated with scenes of the Cote d’Azure in the recent past throughout.

Cecile and her father Raymond (David Niven) are kindred spirits.  He is a playboy who has a ditzy blonde in tow for the duration of his vacation and she lives for fun and good times with a law student she hooks up with.

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Into this menage comes Anne Larson (Deborah Kerr).  Raymond has even forgotten that he invited her to come down for a couple of weeks.  The fashion designer is a more serious sort.  When she and David fall in love, she tries to steer Cecile back onto the straight and narrow.  It proves to be the recipe for the tragedy that haunts the girl’s Paris nights.

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I’m still sorting out my feelings about this one but overall I was entertained.  Jean Seberg’s flat line delivery has always left me a bit cold but she certainly is beautiful and suits her character well.  The Riviera never looked better and the black-and-white sequences could almost have come out of a French New Wave film.

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Terror in a Texas Town (1958)

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Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Written by Dalton Trumbo (fronted by Ben Perry)
1958/USA
Seltzer Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

[explaining how he got the nickname “Wagon Wheel Joe”] I carried a box filled with different wagon wheels. Whenever I’d come to a scene which was just disgraceful in dialogue and all, I’d place a wagon wheel in one portion of the frame, and make an artistic shot out of it, so by the time the scene was over you only saw the artistic value and couldn’t analyze what the scene was about. — Joseph H. Lewis

Here is your only opportunity to see Sterling Hayden with a Swedish accent and a shootout involving a harpoon vs. a sixgun.  I thought it was a ton of campy, pulpy fun.

Ed McNeil (Sebastian Cabot) is a fat, greedy city slicker with a big appetite for the local land.  He claims he owns all of it via a land grant and that the honest farmers of the place are squatters.  Nonetheless, he tries to buy the settlers out.  If that doesn’t work, he turns to his trusty hit man, Johnny Crale.  A few settlers try to unite to stand up against McNeil but fear holds them back.

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Enter George Hansen (Hayden).  He has returned from his last whaling voyage to join his father on the farm they have jointly bought only to find his father has been shot down.  He gets little cooperation from the sheriff or anyone else until a humble Mexican reveals the possible reason behind McNeil’s lust for the land.

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This movie is a hoot!  The dialogue is supremely clunky but that only suits the ridiculous story.  Watching the stone-faced Hayden sporadically attempt a Swedish accent only adds to the fun.  I’m surprised this is not a cult classic.

This was Lewis’s last feature film.  He continued to direct in television.

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Ten North Frederick (1958)

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Directed by Philip Dunne
Written by Philip Dunne from a novel by John O’Hara
1958/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/YouTube

Kate Drummond: Ann, a stuffed shirt didn’t give me that ruby.

This, another in the line of slightly racy Peyton Place-type melodramas of the era, didn’t wow me.

The story begins at Joe Chapin’s (Gary Cooper) wake.  His widow (Geraldine Fitzgerald) is hosting the biggest wheels in town and all are engaged in their customary backstabbing. Relations are not warm between mom and daughter Ann (Diane Varsi) or drunken son Joby.  We segue into flashback as Ann considers the sins of her parents.

Somehow Joe was both a man of high integrity and willing to buy himself a political nomination.  His aspiration was to be Lieutenant Governor on his road to the Presidency (why this would be a winning strategy is never made clear).  He gets in with some mighty unsavory party hacks in the process.  We sense that much of this is done to appease the rabid ambition of his wife.  Anyway, the push to get the nomination means that both wifey and cronies will do anything to avoid scandal.  So when Ann marries (horrors!) a trumpet player, both her happiness and her unborn child must be sacrificed.

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Poor Joe cannot catch a break, Ann leaves home for New York, and his bad marriage steadily deteriorates.  So when Joe becomes acquainted with Ann’s roommate (Suzi Parker), she is almost irresistible despite the pair’s vast age difference.

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At least this time Gary Cooper is playing a father rather than strictly a romantic lead and his age is acknowledged.  This is fairly well put together but too sudsy for me.  The movie was not aided by the print available on YouTube or by watching it in parts.

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The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)

The Inn of the Sixth Happinessinn_of_the_sixth_happiness-1958-mss-poster-5
Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Isobel Linnart from a novel by Alan Burgess
1958/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

[Robert Donat’s final line in his final film] The Mandarin: We shall not see each other again, I think. Farewell, Jen-Ai.

This is an overlong but solid drama about faith and endurance, featuring the always radiant Ingrid Bergman.

The film is loosely based on the true story of Gladys Aylward, an English missionary to China.  Gladys (Bergman) is a simple working-class girl who feels called to spread the gospel in China.  She applies to the official missionary society and is rejected as “unqualified” due to her humble class and education.  Undeterred, Gladys goes to work for an aristocratic China hand as second maid and saves enough money for an un-sponsored journey by train through Europe and the USSR.

She has an introduction to an elderly missionary in hand and joins her to establish the titular inn in a remote mountain town.  This is designed to attract muleteers with its lack of fleas, good food, and Bible stories.  Gladys’s colleague dies soon after and she must carry on on her own, but has no funds.

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Fortunately, Gladys’s financial worries are resolved when she is befriended by a mandarin (Robert Donat) who is under instructions by Chang Kai-Shek’s government to enforce the law requiring girl’s feet to be unbound.  He is in need of a willing “foot inspector” and Gladys fills the bill nicely.  She also becomes his messenger to the hinterlands and very popular with the populace.  At about the same time, Gladys meets Nationalist Capt. Lin Nan (Curd Jurgens) and they eventually become friends and start an unconsumated romance.

Time goes by and China is invaded by the Japanese.  Gladys has adopted several children and is entrusted with about a hundred more whom she must take across treacherous mountains to safety.

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It was touching and a bit sad to see Donat in his final film.  I thought this was quite OK but it could have been trimmed by at least half an hour with no ill effects.  The DVD contains a good commentary by film scholars.  It appears that the trek across the mountains was only one of the many hardships Gladys underwent in service of her Lord.

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director.

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Ivan the Terrible, Part II

Ivan the Terrible, Part II (Ivan Groznyy. Skaz vtoroy: Boyarskiy zagovor)600full-ivan-the-terrible-part-2-poster
Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein
Written by Sergei M. Eisenstein
1958/USSR
Mosfilm/TsOKS
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#184 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

We had hoped that you were ruler in your Kingdom and that you yourself ruled, and that you yourself looked after your Kingdom’s honour and your Kingdom’s advantages and that is why we wanted to deal such matters with you. But it appears that other people rule for you. They are not just people, they are trading peasants and they do not care about our Ruler’s heads and our honours and the advantages of our lands, instead seeking just their own trade advantages. And you are in your virginal state like some old unmarried female. And you should have not believed anyone who even though he was aware of our matters had betrayed us. — Letter from Ivan IV of Russia (the “Terrible”) to Elizabeth I of England

Stalin was not a fan of this movie.  I could have died without seeing it again.

The movie takes up where Part I left off with the same cast of characters minus those slain in the first film.  Ivan has been recalled to Moscow where the boyars and clergy continue to plot against him.  His prime enemy is his own aunt Efrosinia, who wants to put her feeble-minded son Vladimir on the throne.

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Ivan suspects that it was Efronsinia that poisoned his wife in the first film and exacts an intricate revenge.  After he defeats Efrosinia and company, Russia is ready to take on the rest of the world.

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This contains the same weird and stylized acting style as in the first film.  It might almost be a silent movie for the amount of facial contortions employed.  If you can get beyond that, it’s one exquisite frame after another.  I find those in the first film more memorable, however.  Eisenstein filmed two sequences in a two-strip color process.  I prefer the black-and-white.

The film was made between 1945 and 1949 but Stalin supressed it, presumably because the increasingly dictatorial Ivan reminded him too much of himself.  It was finally released during Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign.

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The Fly (1958)

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Directed by Kurt Neumann
Written by James Clavell from a story by George Langelaan
1958/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Insp. Charas: He put his head and his arm under the press. Why?

Helene Delambre: I cannot answer that question; coffee, Inspector?

This glossy technicolor horror flick is genuinely creepy.  I suppose the ick factor is affected by how one feels about flies – I don’t like ’em much.

The setting is contemporary Montreal.  As the film begins, a scientist is found crushed to death in a mechanical press.  His wife is seen fleeing the scene.  She readily admits killing her husband but refuses to reveal her reasons to either his brother (Vincent Price) or the inspector investigating the murder (Herbert Marshall).  The brother deduces that the motive has something to do with a fly Helene is obsessed with catching and finally drags the story out of her.  We segue into flash back.

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Helene and Andre were blissfully married with a young, adorable son.  They are also both animal lovers.  One day Andre had a surprise for her.  He had invented a process for teleporting solid objects which he thinks can cure world hunger.  Unfortunately, his invention has a few kinks in it.  When he tries the device on the family cat, it disappears.

Andre spends weeks locked up in his lab working out the problems.  Loving animals as he does, Andre decides to experiment on teleporting himself.  When a fly lands on the teleporter at the wrong moment, the couple’s problems really begin …

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The whole concept of a person trapped in the body of a fly grosses me out. This movie is graphic enough.  I’m sure I could not cope with the David Cronenberg version.

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