Le Chant du Styrene (1959)

Le Chant du Styrene 
Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Raymond Queneau
Les Films de la Pleiade/Pechiney
First viewing/FilmStruck

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics. – The Graduate

Resnais brings poetry to a documentary short about the production of plastics.

This follows the production process for polystyrene and a number of articles made from the material.  Part of the process is observed in reverse order.

Resnais makes the quotidian beautiful.  The narrative is fairly straight-forward this time, lacking the resonance of his documentary shorts Night and Fog and Toute la memoire du monde.

Images from the film set to music from Blade Runner

All the Boys Are Called Patrick (1959)

All the Boys Are Called Patrick (Charlotte et Véronique, ou Tous les garçons s’appellent Patrick)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Eric Rohmer
Les Films de Peliade
First viewing/FilmStruck

Charlotte: We went to that cafe by the bus stop. I gave him a hard time. You have to be mean to men. Keeps ’em on their toes.

Screenwriter Erich Rohmer brings his characteristic charm to this early Godard short.

Close friends Charlotte and Veronique plan to meet at the park between two and three in the afternoon. Veronique arrives after Charlotte leaves.  Thus both are available to be chatted up by a persistent young ladies’ man, Patrick (Jean-Claude Brialy).  When the women finally meet up, each sings her man’s praises to the other.

This is slight and sweet.  I’m not a huge Godard fan but I do love Rohmer and his take on relationships.  There are some nice early New Wave images as well.

The complete 21-minute film is currently available on YouTube.


The Giant Behemoth (1959)

The Giant Behemoth1-the-giant-behemoth-1959-everett (AKA Behemoth the Sea Monster)
Directed by Douglas Hickox and Eugene Lourie
Written by Eugene Lourie and Daniel James; story by Robert Abel and Allen Adler
Artistes Alliance Ltd./Diamond Pictures Corp.
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Dr. Sampson, the Paleontologist: Oh, it’s heading for the Thames. They always made for the freshwater rivers to die.

Neither good enough nor bad enough to float my boat.  Meh.

Marine biologist Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) has discovered that the fallout from atomic testing in the Pacific results in unequal distribution of radioactivity.  In particular, the intensity of the radioactivity increases as it travels up the food chain.  In the way of these things, the top of the food chain turns out to be a prehistoric sea dinosaur.  To make matters worse, the monster is also electric, like an eel.  And it’s on its way to devour London.


It takes a long time for this film to get to the monster action and when it does it is nothing really special, despite Willis O’Brien’s handiwork.


Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

Teenagers from Outer Space220px-teenagersouterspace
Directed by Tom Graeff
Written by Tom Graeff
Tom Graeff Productions

First viewing/Amazon Prime

Derek: Betty, when you learn where I’m from, well… you will not understand but, I hope it will not make any difference between us because…

The acting and dialogue bring this B baddie into Robot Monster territory.  That’s not a complaint!

A UFO lands in the desert.  It is occupied by a small cohort of young men on a mission to see whether the Gargon, an enormous crustacean that is their planet’s food source, can survive on Earth.  If the experiment is successful, millions of the creatures will be introduced and will quickly devour all living beings on Earth.

The aliens are heartless, revealed by their casual slaughter of the dog Sparky.  One of them, Derek, however, begins to soften as soon as he meets Betty Morgan.  He rents a room with Betty and her kindly grandpa and quickly discovers the benefits of family relations and the American Way.  He determines to stay on earth and to foil the UFO mission.  Alas, he is actually the son of the planet’s Leader and nothing will be easy for him.


I have not been able to find the words to describe the charmingly clunky effect conveyed by the witless dialogue and its delivery.  This made me smile and it’s going on my list of cult classics.


Trailers from Hell

The 400 Blows (1959)

The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups)
Directed by Francois Truffaut400-blows-poster
Written by Francois Truffaut and Marcel Moussy
Les Films de Carrosse/Sedif Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#356 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Truffaut captures the giddy freedom of adolescence along with its worries and sadness.

The story is loosely based on Truffaut’s own past as a neglected youth whose juvenile rebellion gets him in nothing but trouble.  Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), Truffaut’s surrogate, is a thirteen-year-old Parisian.  He lives in a cramped apartment with his mother and her husband, whom we gradually learn is not the boy’s father.  Between their work, the mother’s extramarital affair, and simple selfishness, they have little time for their son.  For Antoine’s part, he steals from them when he can to get money for the days when he plays hooky from school.  These days are filled with movies, a visit to an amusement park, and exploration in the streets of Paris.


Antoine’s extracurricular activities necessitate many lies to both his parents and school authorities.  He is always found out.  Finally, the boy’s misconduct prompts his parents to agree to send him to an “observation camp”, which looks suspiciously like juvenile detention.


The film tells a relatively sad story but it is the pranks of the various boys that stick out in my memory.  Truffaut has an instinctive understanding of children.  Scenes where boys peel off in groups during an escort’s march through the city and rapt young children at a puppet show are particularly memorable.  Truffaut was blessed to have discovered the perfect Antoine, a child actor that is deeply sympathetic without exhibiting a trace of “cuteness.”

The cinematography is glorious.  I like the way the shooting combines improvisation with stunning formal shots.  One in which Antoine is surrounded by no less than three different mirrors is pretty jaw-dropping.  The music is fine as well.  Highly recommended,

The 400 Blows was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Material Written Directly for the Screen.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Journey to the Center of the Earthjourney_to_the_center_of_the_earth1959
Directed by Henry Levin
Written by Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett from the novel by Jules Verne
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Cooga Mooga/Joseph M. Schenk Enterprises
First viewing/Netflix rental

Sir Oliver Lindenbrook: Do you realize we know less about the earth we live on than about the stars and the galaxies of outer space? The greatest mystery is right here, right under our feet!

I thought this was fairly dull for what is supposed to be a fabulous adventure yarn.  James Mason stars, though, and that is never a bad thing.

Sir Oliver Lindenbrook (Mason) has just received a knighthood.  He is also a professor of geology at the University of Edinburgh.  A student, Alec McEwan (Pat Boone), is in love with Lindenbrook’s ward (?) Jenny (Diane Baker).  Alec gives Lindenbrook a piece of volcanic rock which turns out to have evidence that an Icelandic scientist found a route to the center of the earth.  Lindenbrook is now determined to explore himself.  He takes Alec with him.


They set out for Iceland.  There he finds that all the equipment necessary for his mission has been scooped up by a rival scientist.  That scientist has been murdered and Lindenbrook gets the equipment only on the condition that he, a confirmed misogynist, take the widow Carla (Arlene Dahl) along.  The party is rounded out by a husky young Icelander and his pet duck Gertrude (who won a PATSY award for animal acting).

Eventually, the party makes it deep underground where they are hounded by the evil son of the Icelander who came before them.  There are a number of fantastic happenings in the surprisingly well-lit earth’s core, including encounters with giagantic beasts (played by large lizards), discovery of the lost continent of Atlantis, etc.


As the plot description might indicate, this movie takes awhile to get going.  By the time it did, I was pretty distracted.  I just never felt these people were at any risk or believed they were at the center of the earth.  There is some witty repartee, however, and the movie was a big hit so it must have got a lot of people’s juices flowing at the time.

Crooner Pat Boone actually has top billing and sings a couple of tunes which do not enhance the period vibe of the picture.

Journey to the Center of the Earth was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Sound; and Best Effects, Special Effects.


The Wasp Woman (1959)

The Wasp Womanwasp-woman-poster
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Leo Gordon; story by Kinta Zertuche
Film Group Feature/Santa Cruz Productions Inc
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Arthur Cooper: I’d stay away from wasps if i were you, Mrs. Starlin. Socially the queen wasp is on the level with a Black Widow spider. They’re both carnivorous, they paralyze their victims and then take their time devouring them alive. And they kill their mates in the same way, too. Strictly a one-sided romance.

Kindly, but whacky, old scientist Eric Zinthrop is employed to collect royal jelly from bee hives for use in the cosmetics industry.  Instead, he researches his own theory about uses for royal jelly from wasps and treats the tiny creatures like prized pets.When he is inevitably fired from his beekeeper job, he offers his ideas about wasp royal jelly as a rejuvinating agent to Starlin Cosmetics.

Starlin has been losing market share since it started using new model.  Formerly owner Janice Starlin was the best advertisement for her own products but she has now aged too much to be attractive (indicated by her glasses).Thus Starlin gives Zinthrop carte blanche to do his research and offers herself up as the first human subject.  At first the modest amount of serum Zinthrop injects work wonders.  Then Starlin decides things are going too slowly and surrepticiously ups the dosage and frequency.  I think we can all see where this is going …


Had there been more Wasp Woman and had she resembled the poster, this would have been awesome!  As it is, Corman gets in some digs at the youth culture and it’s an entertaining watch.  Available in several complete versions on YouTube.


The Bat (1959)

The Bat220px-thebat_2poster
Directed by Crane Wilbur
Written by Crane Wilbur from a play by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood
Liberty Pictures

First viewing/Amazon Prime

Cornelia van Gorder: [locking their door] Nothing should get us now, I think, this door seems good and solid.

Lizzie Allen: Like the door to a tomb.

It was fun to watch Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead combine forces in this “old dark house” mystery story.

The story is a remake of The Bat (1926) and The Bat Whispers (1930) and harkens back to a simpler time.  Mystery writer Cornelia van Gorder (Moorehead) and her maid/companion Lizzie Lane have rented a country mansion for the season.  All her other servants are on the verge of quitting because of rumors that 1) a murderer known as “The Bat” is once again on the loose and 2) The Bat has released rabid real bats in the area.  This fazes Cornelia not at all.


Concurrently, $350,000 in negotiable securities have gone missing from a private vault in the bank.  Later investigation reveals that $1 million has disappeared from the books.  The likely suspect is bank’s president who is also the house’s owner.  The smart money is betting that the cash is hidden somewhere in the house.  The Bat is clearly after that money.  But who is he among the many suspicious characters?  With Price as a local physician and rabies researcher.


Both Price and Moorehead are at their slightly hammy best and this is a short and entertaining ride.  It is about on the quality level of good late 50’s TV.  Multiple complete versions are currently available on YouTube.

The Cosmic Man (1959)

The Cosmic Manthe_cosmic_man_1959
Directed by Herbert S. Greene
Written by Arthur C. Pierce
Futura Productions Inc.
First viewing/Netflix rental

I’ve made some of the greatest films ever made – and a lot of crap, too. — John Carradine

When your space ship resembles a golf ball and your alien resembles John Carradine in a trench coat and shades, you know you have got a dud.

A strange spherical object drops out of the sky near a nuclear research lab.  Noble scientist Dr. Karl Sorenson (Bruce Bennett) is convinced there is something inside.  The military wants to exploit the UFO’s secrets to build bigger and better weapons.  Sorenson, who helped develop the atom bomb, fights them every step of the way.  Then a mysterious man arrives to seek lodging at the home of a widow and her crippled son.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.


This is more or less a The Day the Earth Stood Still rip-off without any of that film’s merits.  A whole lot of talk transpires before we get to the uninspiring Carradine reveal.


Black Orpheus (1959)

black-orpheus-posterBlack Orpheus (Orfeo Negro)
Directed by Marcel Camus
Written by Marcel Camus and Jacques Viot from a play by Vinicius de Moraes
Dispat Films/Gemma/Tupan Films
First viewing/Netflix rental
#360 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

[last lines] Young Girl: [to Zeca] Play a song for me, please. Come on.

With music, color, and carnival who needs acting?

The story is loosely based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.  In legend, Orpheus, the son of the god Apollo and the muse of music Calliope, fell in love with the beautiful mortal Euridyce.  They married but she died shortly thereafter.  Touched by Orpheus’ sorrowful playing on his lyre, Zeus allowed Orpheus to seek his wife in Hades.  She would be allowed to follow him back to the land of the living on the condition that Orpheus not look at her until she returned to the light.  Orpheus could not resist temptation at the last minute and Euridyce vanished.  He was reunited with her only in the underworld.

orpheus-1The film takes place in the favelas above Rio de Janeiro and in its streets at Carnival. Orfeo, the leader of one of the carnival groups, plays the guitar and sings so beautifully that he is said to cause the sun to rise.  Mira, his girlfriend, as managed to cajole him into taking out a marriage license.  But when Orfeo spots Euridyce, a naive girl from the country who is escaping a man who was trying to kill her, it is love at first sight.  They enjoy a beautiful romance and carnival together but Euridyce is constantly in danger from a man in a skeleton costume.


Rio gets my vote for the most scenically beautiful city on the face of this Earth and the film is jam-packed with vistas taken from the slums overlooking its harbor.  It is a riot of color as well, emanating from daily life, carnival and Candomble ritual .  The music is a fantastic blend of sambas and bossa nova.  The acting is stiff and the characters are superficial but it hardly detracts from the pleasure of being in Brazil for a couple of hours. Recommended.

Black Orpheus won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.