Blue Hawaii (1961)

Blue Hawaii
Directed by Norman Taurog
Written by Hal Kanter; story by Allan Weiss
Hal Wallis Productions
First viewing?/Netflix rental

Fred Gates: Sarah Lee, how many times do I have to tell you, he was not in a war.

Sarah Lee Gates: I know you’re right, Daddy, but if I don’t tell myself there was a war, I have a most depressive feeling Chadwick’s just wasted two years.

This is all you would expect from a movie starring Elvis and set in Hawaii.

Chad (Elvis) is discharged from the army and returns home to Hawaii.  His faithful half-Polynesian girlfriend Maile (Joan Blackman) s waiting for him.  Chad’s first priority and fondest wish is to return to his former life as a beach bum.  His mother (Angela Landsbury) is dead set on him entering the family’s pineapple business.  Chad refuses.

He gets a job as a tourist guide.  His first assignment is to squire four teenage girls and their teacher around Hawaii.  Naturally, this provides many opportunities for misunderstandings with Maile, beautiful scenery, and occasions at which the singer can perform – some times with a Hawaiian band.

The mother of one of my childhood friends was a huge Elvis fan and the soundtrack to this movie was on constant rotation at her house.  This has left me with a residual fondness for all the songs, most of which are admittedly pretty bland.  If you know what you are in for, it’s a perfectly pleasant way to spend an afternoon.


The Choppers (1961)

The Choppers
Directed by Leigh Jason
Written by Arch Hall Sr.
Rushmore Productions
First viewing/YouTube

Mr. Lester: [drunkenly, into microphone] I wanna tell the whole world something. Those cops, they ain’t gonna take my boy Torch. There ain’t enough cops in the whole world to take my boy Torch. You hear me? They ain’t gonna take my boy Torch!

The title refers to stolen auto parts, not motorcycles, in this low-budget JD movie.

A gang of teenagers has a thriving business in stripping stalled cars and selling them to a corrupt auto repair shop.  They target their victims by siphoning just enough gas to strand the drivers in the middle of nowhere with a long walk ahead of them.  Needless to say, all the kids are having a crummy childhood.  A police man and an insurance man team up to find the culprits.

There were a couple of characters that made me smile – a gun-toting old-timer and Arch Hall Jr. and his guitar.  I can actually still hum the tune of “Monkey in My Hatband”.  These moments were not enough to move the film into bad movie gold.

Montage of clips

The Comancheros (1961)

The Comancheros
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by James Edward Grant and Clair Huffaker from a novel by Paul Wellman
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Circuit Court Judge Thaddeus Jackson Breen: Most say, except for them who are unfair minded, that I have the finest legal mind in the entire southwest. So you can have faith in your lawyer, son. How much money you got?

This is your average late John Wayne film in his avuncular  mode.  It does boast a partially scalped Lee Marvin!

As the film begins, Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), a New Orleans gambler, kills his opponent in a duel.  The opponent was a prominent person and Louisiana decides to enforce its anti-duelling legislation.  Regret flees into Texas.  He resumes gambling on a river boat and falls in love at first sight with Pilar Graile (Ina Balin).  Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (Wayne) apprehends him but he manages to escape.

When Jake returns to his command, he is assigned to intercept 76 rifles intended for the Comancheros, a band of outlaws in alliance with the Comanches.  During this mission, he retakes Regret.  The two end up battling the Comancheros together.  You may be sure Pilar makes a reappearance.

This is entertaining enough for those who enjoy John Wayne bantering with some fairly snappy dialogue.  I’m one of them.  It’s nothing special though and I have never understood the appeal of either Whitman or Balin.


Pigs and Battleships (1961)

Pigs and Battleships
Directed by Shohei Imamura
Written by Hisashi Yamanouchi and Gisashi Yamouchi from a novel by Kazu Otsuka
First viewing/Netflix rental


“Mac, Phase: everyone here is of the we-don’t-use-real-names-here mentality, so most of the time I feel like a really pilled up Snow White rolling around in the hood with seven drug-dealing dwarves—which, I don’t know… these things are never really as fun as they sound like they’d be.” ― Kris Kidd

In Imamura’s vision of Post-War Japan, the people are pigs feeding on the U.S. military.

Japanese low life living in the vicinity of a U.S. naval base have figured out a way to make it pay.  A Chinese entrepreneur has started a pig farm based on refuse from the base that he corruptly procures for a pittance.  Others live off a thriving prostitution racket.

Kinta is a young hoodlum who is working his way up from the bottom as a flunky on the pig farm.  He and girlfriend Haruko are expecting their first child.  She wants him to leave with her to get a factory job in another town.  He resists.

The movie basically depicts the depraved existence of the gangsters.  When Haruko can’t get Kinta to change his ways, she gets revenge by a tentative move into the prostitution racket.  This doesn’t work out so well.  Kinta eventually discovers that his number one use to the gang is as a fall guy.

This is a strikingly-shot, savage social commentary.  I can see the reasons why it is highly rated.  Imamura may not be for me.  I don’t have a lot of time for misanthropes.

Scream of Fear (1961)

Scream of Fear
Directed by Seth Holt
Written by Jimmy Sangster
Hammer Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

Penny Appleby: [to Dr. Gerrard] You say my mind is affecting my legs. You’re wrong. It’s my legs that are affecting my mind.

Hammer Picture goes into Hitchcock and Clouzot territory with this psychological thriller.  The film does not near the level of the masters but is interesting and worth seeing.

Paraplegic Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) has not seen her father since his divorce from her mother nine years earlier.   He now invites her to his estate in France.  But on arrival, she is informed that he has gone away on business.  His new wife (Ann Todd) is very friendly and wants Penny to have a good time.  The visit will hardly be that.

Almost immediately, Penny begins seeing her father – dead – in the strangest places.  The father’s psychiatrist friend (Christopher Lee) questions her sanity and even suggests that her paralysis is psychosomatic.  The only person willing to help her is Robert, the chauffeur.  It would be criminal to delve further into the plot.

The plot may seem a tad predictable to viewers with a lot of thrillers under their belts but there are some surprises and actual thrills for everyone.  The film also boasts an awesome creepy atmosphere.  I’m glad I was able to see it.

West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story
Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
Written by Ernest Lehman from the musical play by Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
The Mirisch Corporation/Seven Arts Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Action: When *you* was my age? When my old man was my age, when my brother was my age… You was never my age, none of ya! And the sooner you creeps get hip to that, the sooner you’ll dig us!

This movie was made for musical comedy/ballet/opera geeks like me and I love it.

This is famously Romeo and Juliet updated to reflect gang life in New York City.  The Montagues and Capulets are replaced by the Jets, a gang of working class “white” teenagers, and the Sharks, a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants.  Tony (Richard Behmer), who is trying to go straight after having been leader of the Jets, falls in love with Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris) the leader of the Sharks.  The Jets and the Sharks are already locked in gang warfare and the attentions of Tony to Maria only escalate matters.

The feud leads to tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.  With Chita Rivera as Bernardo’s girlfriend and Russ Tamblyn as Riff, Tony’s friend and new leader of the Jets.

I assisted the director of my high school production of West Side Story and it has a special place in my heart.  But besides nostalgia, I continue to think that the music is some of the best ever written for the stage. Bernstein’s score gives me chills in places.  I can see how some might find all the pointy toed dancing by gang members and their girls ludicrous but I just sit back and enjoy it.  Rita Moreno absolutely deserved her Academy Award even if George Chakiris remains a puzzlement.  Highly recommended to others like me.

The Blu-Ray that came in the mail contained a song-specific commentary by Stephen Sondheim that I ate up.

West Side Story won ten Academy Awards – Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor; Best Supporting Actress; Best Director; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Sound; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.


Paris Blues (1961)

Paris Blues
Directed by Martin Ritt
Written by Jack Sher, Irene Kamp, and Walter Bernstein; adapted by Lulla Rosenfeld from a novel by Harold Flender
Pennebaker Productions/Diane Productions/Jason Films/Monica Corp./Monmouth
First viewing/You Tube

Lillian Corning: You know, everybody’s always waiting for everybody else to take a chance because they’re so afraid!

Part romance, part travelogue, and part Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.  I guess I don’t have to tell you what I thought was the best part.

Ex-pat Ram Bowen (Paul Newman) leads a very popular jazz band in Paris.  He is working closely with saxophonist Eddie Cook (Sidney Portier) on orchestrations of his music. (Since he writes exactly like Duke Ellington, he is great at this too).

The arrival of two American tourists, Lillian (Joanne Woodward) and Connie (Dihann Carroll), throws a hitch in both men’s wild lifestyles.  With Armstrong as a famous trumpeter on tour in Paris.

The music is just fantastic and and, as usual, Armstrong is the best thing about any movie he is in.  The plot is kind of all over the place with race relations, patriotism, and Paris landmarks thrown in for good measure.  Newman and Woodward sizzle in their scenes together.

Duke Ellington was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture


Fanny (1961)

Directed by Joshua Logan
Written by Julius J. Epstein from the Marseilles Trilogy by Marcel Pagnol and the play by Joshua Logan and S. N. Behrman
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Netflix rental

Panisse: It’s not dying I mind. It’s giving up life that annoys me.

This was bound to suffer in comparison to the 1930’s Marseilles Trilogy. which I consider to be practically perfect.  It’s got a lot going for it though.

The film compresses the trilogy into one story.  Cesar (Charles Boyer) runs a bar on the Marseilles waterfront.  His son Marius (Horst Buchholz) reluctantly works for him but dreams constantly of going to sea.  Fanny (Leslie Caron), who works for her mother selling mussels, has been in love with Marius since childhood.  Wealthy sixty-something widower Panisse (Maurice Chevalier) is looking to remarry and has his eye on Fanny.

As the film begins, Marius has the opportunity to go to sea with a five-year scientific expedition.  There is no way Cesar will approve.  Marius does confess his plan to Fanny however.  She responds by seducing him and they have one night of passion.  In the cold light of dawn, Marius continues to talk of the sea and Fanny reluctantly encourages him to go. He does and Fanny is heartbroken.

Panisse continues his pursuit of Fanny, who rejects him until she finds herself pregnant. The childless Panisse is delighted. They marry and have a son they name Marius Cesar Panisse.  The film continues to track the lives of all the protagonists.

Hollywood glitz and “romance” does not improve the touching tale told in Marius (1931), Fanny (1932) and Cesar (1936), which I highly recommend.  The acting in that, particularly that of Raimu as Cesar and Pierre Fresnay as Marius, is superior as as well. That said, I am certain if I had not seen the French films I would have liked this better than I did.  It is still a lovely story, the actors are charming, and Marseilles never looked more beautiful.

Fanny was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Boyer); Best Cinematography, Color; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer – DVD print quality is fine

Leon Morin, Priest (1961)

Leon Morin, Priest (Léon Morin, prêtre)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by Jean-Pierre Melville based on a novel by Beatrix Beck
Concordia Compagnia Cinematografica/Rome Paris Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

“Celibacy goes deeper than the flesh.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

This is a well-acted story about a spiritual awakening and the struggle that accompanies it.

The story begins in France in a village occupied by Italian soldiers.  Seemingly the only inhabitants are women and children.  The plot centers on Barny (Emmanuelle Riva), a young widow.  She is mightily attracted to her beautiful co-worker Sabine.  When the Germans come to take over from the Italians, Barny needs to protect her half-Jewish daughter.  She and others in a similar predicament decide baptism is the answer.

In this way, atheist Barny becomes acquainted with young priest Leon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo).  He senses she is searching for something and begins to meet with her regularly.  Gradually, she sees things his way and converts.  Unfortunately, their closeness sparks another forbidden desire  in Barny.

This is a quiet film, consisting mostly of conversation.  I found the talk to be interesting and the acting great so I enjoyed it.  Belmondo displays a subtlety denied him in his performances for Godard.


The Phantom Planet (1961)

The Phantom Planet
Directed by William Marshall
Written by William Telaak, Fred De Gorter and Fred Gebhardt
Four Crown Production Inc.
First viewing/Amazon Prime

[last lines] Narrator: What the future will reveal of this story is only the beginning, only the beginning, only the beginning…

Sometimes wooden acting and a ridiculous alien are not enough to make an enjoyably bad movie.

Rheton is a small invisible asteroid which can evade its enemies by moving in and out of galaxies.  When a team is sent from Earth to investigate, its spaceship is drawn into Rheton’s force field and all but one of the astronauts perish.  The survivor has become six inches tall like the rest of the folk on the planet.  He blusters and tries to establish himself as alpha-male but to no avail.  Rheton’s rulers have no intention of letting him go.  So he spends his time dabbling in a love triangle and battling a Solorite.

That’s Richard (“Jaws”) Kiel in the alien costume

This plays it a little too earnestly to make a good “bad” movie.  Quite missable.