When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan wo agaru toki)
Directed by Mikio Naruse
Written by Ryuzo Kikushima
1960/Japan
Toho Company
Repeat viewing/FilmStruck

 

Keiko Yashiro: [Narrating] Women in the Ginza fought desperately for survival. It was a battle I couldn’t afford to lose.

I love this beautiful, heartbreaking and infuriating film.

Keiko (Hideo Takamine) is a widow and the manager of a bar in the Ginza.   It is the kind of club where hostesses drink with businessmen after a long working day.  The other girls call her Mama.

She dreads her climb up the stairs to the bar but is beautiful and fairly good at her work. She does not date customers after hours and cannot bring herself to be nice to certain particularly distasteful clients.  Her business manager (Tetsuyo Nakadai) warns her that she cannot afford to lose the business and should seek to please them all.  He secretly admires her integrity.

Keiko is thirty-something – at the age when she should either open her own bar or marry. An elderly client offers to set her up in business in exchange for an “arrangement”.  She shuns this and seeks loans from subscribers.  She watches a former employee’s dreams of her own club go horribly sour.  Her mother and brother-in-law are parasites.  She must keep an expensive apartment and wardrobe to keep up appearances.  Love seems a remote possibility and she isn’t getting any younger.  With Masayuki Mori as the banker she is most attracted to.

I’ve seen this movie several times and am more impressed with it and saddened by it on each viewing.  Naruse’s compositions are exquisite and he makes Keiko complex and human.  Takamine is perfect in the part.  The story ends with Keiko’s determination to carry on and survive but it’s hard to imagine a really happy future for her.  Highly recommended.

Trailer

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

The Little Shop of Horrors
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Charles B. Griffith
1960/USA
The Film Group
Repeat viewing/Amazon Prime

[repeated line] Audrey Jr.: Feed me!

This Roger Corman comedy is a kick in the butt!  Topped only by the 1986 musical version of the story.

Gravis Mushnik runs a florist shop on Skid Row.  Needless to say business is bad but he offers employment to two people – sales girl Audrey and hapless delivery boy Seymour Krelboyne.  Seymour is under constant threat of termination.  He tries to redeem himself with a plant he has developed in the apartment he shares with his hilariously drunken hypocondriac mother.

Seymour is in love with Audrey and names his plant Audrey Jr.  The plant is sickly and unimpressive until Seymour accidentally discovers that it thrives on fresh human blood … With Jack Nicholson in a cameo as a masochistic dental patient.

The jokes are most lame but they come so fast and the plant is so awesome that you don’t mind in the least.  This held up really well to a second viewing and could probably withstand several more.  Recommended to fans of this type of thing.

Trailer

Bonus trailer

Two Women (1960)

Two Women (La Ciociara)
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Written by Cesare Zavattini and Vittorio De Sica from a novel Alberto Moravia
1960/Italy/France
Compagnia Cinematographica Champion, Cocinor, etc.
Repeat viewing/Cinefest Free Trial on Amazon

Cesira: I’d like to see you living like I did, sleeping in a shed! And we ate once a day, that’s all. So, I went with the first one that said “I will bring you to Rome.” I married Rome, not him.

The story is set in the days and weeks following the Allied invasion of Italy in WWII.  Cesira (Sophia Loren) hasn’t done too badly during the war.  She married an older man, moved to Rome, and had her beloved daughter Rosetta.  Now a widow, she runs the grocery store her husband left her.  When the bombs start falling too close to home in the city, Cesira decides to flee with Rosetta to her home village.

At first things go relatively well.  Cesira has an ample supply of lira to purchase food with and takes things easy.  She and Rosetta become friendly with Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo), an idealistic ex-seminary student who hates the war and facism.  Cesira is apolitical and just wants the war over with.  Life in the countryside goes downhill as the roads fill with Allied and German tanks and food supplies dwindle.

When the fighting gets close to home, Cesira attempts to flee again with Rosetta back to Rome.  Tragedy besets them on the way.  With Raf Vallone as Rosetta’s sometime married Roman lover.

Loren is the principal reason to see this finely crafted neo-realist drama.  She is very good but somehow her movie star good looks get in the way for me at times. I keep wondering what Anna Magnani would have done with the part.  The film is well worth seeking out.

For an Academy Award-winning film, this was surprisingly hard to get my hands on.  The version that was available was dubbed.  I’m pretty sure that Loren dubbed her own lines, less so for the other actors.  I think the only other time I saw this it was dubbed as well.  I’ll be sure to try it again if I can find the subtitled original Italian version

Sophia Loren won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Two Women, making her the first actor to have done so for a foreign language film.

Fan trailer

Concrete Jungle (1960)

Concrete Jungle (AKA The Criminal)
Directed by Joseph Losey
Written by Alun Owen
1960/UK
Merton Park Studios
First viewing/FilmStruk

I don’t think there is any business in the world which is self-styled an ‘industry’ – because it is only the producers and directors who insist on calling the film a ‘business’ or ‘industry’ – where people so cavalierly hire specialists at vast prices only to devote themselves to hampering the work of the specialist they’ve hired. — Joseph Losey

This well-made crime drama was lacking a certain something in the excitement department.

Johnny Bannion (Stanley Baker) is a career criminal with a lot of like-minded friends both inside and outside prison walls. One of his first moves when released is to organize and execute a race track robbery.

He is captured and returned to prison but the money is never found.  Neither the police or his co-conspirators will rest until he gives up the location of the loot.

I generally like Joseph Losey’s movies a lot but this one just never grabbed me.

Trailer

Cruel Story of Youth (1960)

Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun zankoku)
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Written by Nagisa Oshima
1960/Japan
Shochiku Ofuna
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

“Funny,” he intoned funereally, “how just when you think life can’t possibly get any worse it suddenly does.” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Oshima is not growing on me.  You can’t help but admiring the filmmaking but two hours of sex-fueled nihilism is not my cup of sake.

I’m not exactly sure how they fit in but the story coincides with some violent student rioting in South Korea.  Makoto is a sweet-looking young high school student who has no problem cadging rides with middle-aged men. When one inevitably comes on to her low-life Kiyoshi comes to her rescue and extorts money in the process in exchange for not going to the police.

Kiyoshi knows that Makoto is secrety yearning for his studly young self so he rapes her when he gets her alone by a river.  He throws her in then exacts his price for rescuing her. As in films of this mindset, Makoto becomes eternally devoted to him after this treatment.  At first he tries to give her the brush off but then falls in love with her.  She scandalizes her family by moving into his filthy bachelor pad.  They decide to make ends meet by running the hitchhiker scam that brought them together.  Events lead them to the inevitable mutually assured destruction.  The moral seems to be that in modern Japan no one can protect anyone else against predators.

Oshima is clearly a talented filmmaker.  I have a feeling he will never win me over but I will keep on trying on account of the eye candy.

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School for Scoundrels (1960)

School for Scoundrels
Directed by Robert Hamer
Written by Patricia Moyes and Hal E. Chester from novels by Stephen Potter
1960/UK
Associated British Picture Corporation/Guardsman Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Mr. Potter: Just remember, if you’re not one up on the other fellow, then he’s one up on you.

Britain’s top comic actors are gathered for a tale of one-upsmanship and delicious revenge.

Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) is a good looking captain of industry but he just hasn’t figured out how the world works.  Even his clerk bosses him around.  He meets the beautiful April by chance and they hit it off immediately.  His old college “chum” Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas) crawls out of the woodwork to humiliate him at every opportunity and steal her away.

Cleary, drastic action is necessary.  Henry decides to sign up for the School of Lifemanship run by Mr. S. Potter (Alistair Sim).  Henry becomes a star pupil and puts Potter’s principles into practice at the first opportunity.  But will Henry’s basic decency let him down in the end?  With Dennis Price as an unscrupulous car salesman.

With Sim and Terry-Thomas in the credits this was a must watch for me.  It’s an intriguing premise and an amusing film.  Recommended for all fans of dry British wit and a bit of silliness.

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…And Suddenly It’s Murder! (1960)

…And Suddenly It’s Murder! (Crimen)
Directed by Mario Camerini
Written by Luciano Vincenzoni et al
1960/Italy/France
Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica/Orsay Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

You may have the universe if I may have Italy. Giuseppe Verdi

This probably would have been about 100 times funnier in the original Italian.

Three couples meet by chance on a train.  One of them is traveling to collect a reward for returning a wealthy woman’s dog to her.  When they go to the woman’s mansion, they find her corpse.  Naturally, they become the prime suspects.  Gradually, the other couples become involved in the murder investigation as well.  Mayhem ensures.

The film has an all-star Italian cast including Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi, Alberto Sordi, and Silvana Magnano.  The great French actor Bernard Blier plays the police inspector.  If these people had been allowed to use their own voices, I have no doubt that there would have been several laugh out loud moments.  As it was, the version on Amazon Instant is dubbed, I have a cold, and the whole thing fell flat.

Trailer – no subtitles

Mein Kampf (1960)

Mein Kampf
Directed by Erwin Leiser
Written by Erwin Leiser
1960/Sweden/West Germany
Minerva Film AB
First viewing/Amazon Instant

“The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.” ― Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

I’ve watched a lot of documentaries about Hitler and World War II in my journey through the years.  This is the most comprehensive and best to date.

The film begins with Hitler’s birth and young adulthood and the eventual creation of the Nazi party followed by Hitler’s rise to power. We then move on to the war with Poland standing in for every country devastated by Hitler’s army.  The film concludes with Hitler’s reversal of fortunes and death.

There is nothing precisely new here but the filmmakers have gathered much authentic footage I had not seen before into one place.  The documentation of life in the Warsaw ghetto is as horrific as any concentration camp film.  If you have time for only one documentary on the rise and fall of the Third Reich, I would recommend this one.

 

Teenage Zombies (1960)

Teenage Zombies
Directed by Jerry Warren
Written by Jerry Warren
1960/USA
GBM Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

A non-frightening zombie is a lame zombie. Scott M. Gimple

Those looking for teenage zombies need not apply.  This does have a kind of ridiculous bad movie charm to recommend it, however.

Teenagers go water-skiing and find themselves on an island occupied by a mad scientist and her henchmen.  The scientist is working at the behest of an “Eastern Power” to develop a gas that will turn Americans into abject slaves.  So far the gas has worked on the creepy Ivan and a gorilla.  The young people look like dandy new test subjects.    She proves to be no match for the resourceful kids however.

Teenage Zombies is bad in almost every way.  Yet I kind of enjoyed all the non-sequitors and super-fake fist fights.  There’s an early sixties wholesome vibe that’s endearing.

Trailer

Les Bonnes Femmes (1960)

Les bonnes femmes
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Written by Paul Gegauff and Claude Chabrol
1960/France/Italy
Paris Film/Panitalia
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

“If you’re spending your entire early 20s chasing the next party, what are you running away from?” ― Demi Lovato

I love the way Chabrol makes movies.  I just wish all his characters weren’t so unpleasant.

This is the slice-of-life story of a group of twenty-something single women who work as sales clerks.  They pick up random obnoxious men and party hard  Some of them dream of love.  One thinks she has found it.

This being Chabrol, there is no such thing as true love.

LES BONNES FEMMES, Albert Dinon, Jean-Louis Maury, Bernadette Lafont, Clotilde Joano, 1960.

Some of this reminded me of my own early 20’s and not in a good way.  You would feel sorry for all these women if they weren’t so aimless and empty.  As it is, there is quite a bit of wicked black humor at their expense to enjoy.  The best thing about the movie is the outstanding way it is shot.  Every frame contains something beautiful or interesting.  The acting is quite good as well.

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