Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage)
Directed by Georges Franju
Written by Pierre Gascar, Claude Sautet, Jean Redon et al from Redon’s novel
1960/France
Champs-Elysees Productions/Lux Film
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Doctor Génessier: Smile. Not too much.

“Beautiful” is not an adjective usually applied to horror movies.

Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) is a physician who experiments with tissue transplants in his off hours.  Many of these are performed on the kennel of dogs he has stolen.  When his reckless driving causes an accident that destroys the beautiful face of his daughter Christiane (Edith Scobe), he has a new project.

His technique actually had some success with Louise (Alida Valli).  Now she is his faithful assistant and sets about kidnapping girls with Christiane’s delicate beauty for the doctor’s horrendous facial transplant surgery.  In the meantime, Christiane’s simple wish is to go blind or die.

This is a horror movie without monsters or jump cuts.  The shivers come mostly from the artfully graphic surgery sequences.  Then there are all those enraged dogs.  This is a poetic, somberly paced film.  The black-and-white cinematography looks exquisite on the Criterion Blu-Ray.  Recommended.

Film club trailer

Critic Mark Kermode discusses the film

Zazie dans le metro

Zazie dans le metro
Directed by Louis Malle
Written by Louis Malle and Jean-Paul Rappeneau from a novel by Raymond Queneau
1960/France
Nouvelle Editions de Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

Uncle Gabriel: [Looking at the Eiffel Tower] I wonder why Paris is always pictured as a dame.

 

For me, one of the least funny things on the planet is a mean, bratty little kid.  Naturally, I hated this movie.

Zazie, a 10-year-old country girl, is left with her Parisian Uncle Gabriel (Philippe Noiret) for a couple of days.  Her one goal is to ride the Metro.  Unfortunately, it is on strike.  So instead, she smart mouths all the adults, gets into a lot of destructive mischief, and has various solo adventures.

This is basically a crazy movie about nothing so a further plot summary is unnecessary. Some continuing characters include a dirty old man, a hapless widow, a taxi driver, etc.  Zazie makes life miserable for all of them.

Noiret is one of my favorite actors and Malle is high on my list of directors.  I know this is supposed to be a madcap farce.  When you add the personality of Zazie to a bunch of unfunny food gags, it only succeeded in irritating me.  My husband hated it as well.

 

Criterion: Three Reasons to watch

L’Amour existe

L’amour exixte
Directed by Maurice Pialat
Written by Maurice Pialat
1960/France
Les Films de la Pleiade
First viewing/YouTube

 

Some people like neat suburbs. I always am attracted to the rundown and the old and the offbeat. William S. Burroughs

This poetically depressing documentary short contrasts the squalor of post-War inner city Paris with the sterility of its suburbs.

If beauty and scathing sociological critique can occupy the same frame this film manages it.  The narration tells a sad tale of millions of Parisians living without concert halls, parks, or schools on the outer fringes of the city while mindlessly working for the Man.  The score is sad and beautiful as well.

Montage of stills accompanied by music from the film

The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960)

The Trials of Oscar Wilde
Directed by Ken Hughes
Written by Ken Hughes from a book by Montgomery Hyde and a play by John Furnell
1960/UK
Warwick Film Productions/Warwick Production/Viceroy Films Ltd.
First viewing/YouTube

 

[the Marquis of Queensbury hands an insulting bouquet of vegetables to Oscar Wilde] Oscar Wilde: How charming. Every time I smell them I shall think of you, Lord Queensbury.

 

My second film about the trials of Oscar Wilde in as many days.  This one had a bigger budget, color, and somewhat more finesse going for it.

At the height of Oscar Wilde’s (Peter Finch) popularity as a playwright, he has the misfortune of meeting Oxford student Lord Alfred Douglas, known as “Bosie” to his family and friends.  Douglas is in an ever lasting feud with his mad (in more ways than one) father, the Marquis of Queensbury.  It seems to be a one sided relationship, with Douglas more interested in Wilde’s money than his affection.

Queensbury relentlessly persecutes Wilde and more than once is the public victim of the writer’s barbed wit.  Finally he can take no more and sends the infamous note addressed to “Oscar Wilde posing as a sodomite”.  This leads to history’s disastrous libel suit and tragic consequences for Wilde.  With James Mason as Queensbury’s defense attorney and Nigel Patrick as Wilde’s attorney.

This film leaves it more ambiguous as to whether Wilde actually had sexual relations or a more platonic intention toward the many youths he cultivated.  His relationship with his wife seems much closer as well.  Much of the dialogue duplicates that in Oscar Wilde (1960) confirming my suspicion that it was taken directly from the trial transcript.  (Apparently each film was racing to come out first.)  The acting is equally good.  I would give the edge to Finch, though neither Finch nor Morley remotely resembles the playwright.

Finch won the BAFTA award for Best British Actor.

Clip – “the love that dare not speak it’s name”

Never on Sunday (1960)

Never on Sunday (Pote tin Kyriaki)
Directed by Jules Dassin
Written by Jules Dassin
1960/Greece/USA
Lopert Pictures Corporation/Melinafilm
Repeat viewing/Amazon Prime

Homer: Because you are the whole world. Beautiful and corrupt.

Only a doting husband could create a hooker this happy.

American Homer Thrall (Jules Dassin) is an amateur philosopher in thrall to Ancient Greece.  He visits the modern equivalent to discover how his idealized past could have fallen so far.  When he gets there, he finds his project encapsulated in the person of independent, fiery prostitute Ilya (Melina Mercouri).  Although Ilya is contented and even joyous in her profession, Homer takes it upon himself to attempt to “educate” and “save” her.

At the same time, there are two other men who are trying to reform Ilya.  They are her Italian client and lover Tonio, who wants her all to himself, and “No Face”, who runs a stable of prostitutes that are encouraged in rebellion by Ilya’s independence.  All these men might just as well try to tame Mother Nature.

The best parts of this movie are the exuberant Greek music and dance and the unrestrained performance by Mercouri.  The worst is Dassin’s casting of himself in the male lead.  He really cannot act.  His performance aside, the movie is thoroughly entertaining.

Never on Sunday won the Oscar for Best Music, Originial Song for its title tune.  The film was nominated in the categories of Best Actress; Best Director; Best Writing, Story and Strcreenplay – Written Directly for the Screen; and Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.

Trailer

Oscar Wilde (1960)

Oscar Wilde
Directed by Gregory Ratoff
Written by Jo Eisenger based on works by Frank Harris and a play by Leslie Stokes and Sewell Stokes
1960/UK
Vantage Films
First viewing/YouTube

Yet each man kills the thing he loves/ By each let this be heard/ Some do it with a bitter look/ Some with a flattering word/ The coward does it with a kiss/ The brave man with a sword” ― Oscar Wilde, “The Ballad Of Reading Gaol”

This film makes a very sad story remarkably dull.  Fortunately, we get a chance to watch Robert Morley and Ralph Richardson act – always a good thing.

This is the true story of the downfall of the late Victorian poet, playwright and bon vivant (Morley).  It begins with the meeting of the 40-something Wilde and the 20-something Oxford student Lord Alfred Douglas who pursued him.  The relationship developed into a love affair and infuriated Douglas’s father, the Marquis of Queensbury.  In an effort to end it, the father writes Wilde a note accusing him of “posing as a sodomite”.

Douglas, who here is basically portrayed as the villain of the piece, has long had a very strained relationship with his father.  He encourages Wilde to sue the Marquis for libel.  The Marquis’s defense is that the note was true.  Through the able and withering defense of the Marquis’s attorney (Richardson), it becomes clear that the Marquis has the evidence to amply prove Wilde’s many liaisons with much younger men.  At Douglas’s urging, Wilde pursues his case for far too long.  By the time he throws in the towel, Wilde’s arrest for homosexuality, a crime at the time, is inevitable.

This should not be confused with the same year’s The Trials of Oscar Wilde starring Peter Finch, which I have not yet seen.  This one lacks any real depth to the characterizations and, for most of its running time, appears to be a blow-by-blow enactment of the trial transcript.  I could happily watch Richardson enact the telephone directory so I was not entirely displeased.

No clip or trailer so some music from the film

Wild River (1960)

Wild River
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Paul Osborn based on novels by William Bradford Huie and Borden Deal
1960/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Carol Garth Baldwin: You’re gettin’ awful human, aren’t yuh, Chuck?

It’s nice to have a candidate for Best New-to-Me Film of 2017 so early in the year!

The year is 1937.  We begin with documentary footage of survivors of tragic flooding on the Tennessee River and segue into our story.  Northerner Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift) works for the Tennessee Valley Authority established by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He is sent to the backwoods to convince octogenarian Ella Garth (Jo Van Cleef) to sell her family property on a river island.  Chuck’s three predecessors have all failed at this task.  The dam will be opened soon and anyone remaining on the island will be covered by several feet of water.

Ella is one tough cookie and is not about to leave the land where her late husband is buried.  Her granddaughter Carol (Lee Remick) is more amenable, especially after she falls hard for Chuck.  Chuck finally figures out a way to lure the many Black inhabitants of the island away with new jobs.  His problems double when that earns him the enmity of most of the Whites in town.  Bruce Dern made his film debut in an uncredited role as one of the good ol’ boys.

This movie belongs to its leading ladies and to Kazan’s gorgeous wide-screen compositions.  Lee Remick is exquisite in this one.  She is sexy but not a sex pot for a change, revealing a sweet and touching vulnerability.  Van Fleet disappears into her character and has most of the best lines.  I had never heard of this movie before and was very glad to have seen it.  Recommended.

Trailer – this movie is not as fixated on the sex as this makes it appear

Primary (1960)

Primary
Directed by Robert Drew
Written by Robert Drew
1960/USA
Drew Associates/Time
First viewing/Netflix rental

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. John F. Kennedy

Back when politicians ran on their records, we still had exciting political primaries.

This was the first in a series of documentaries Robert Drew about John F. Kennedy.  The film follows the 1960 candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, during their campaigns in the Wisconsin Presidential primary.  Such events as rallies, broadcasts, and more intimate moments are shown.

This film made me long for the days of corny campaign theme songs and statesmanship.  Humphrey comes off as a well-meaning and competent candidate.  He didn’t stand a chance against JFK’s movie-star-like charisma.

Drew obviously enjoyed privileged access.   I especially liked the sequence inside JFK headquarters waiting for the results to come in.  The sound on the DVD I rented left something to be desired.  Recommended for political buffs.

Clip

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The Magnificent Seven
Directed by John Sturges
Written by William Roberts
1960/USA
Mirisch Company/Alpha Productions/Alpha
First viewing/Netflix rental

Vin: It’s like a fellow I once knew in El Paso. One day, he just took all his clothes off and jumped in a mess of cactus. I asked him that same question, “Why?”

Calvera: And?

Vin: He said, “It seemed to be a good idea at the time.”

This might be the most famous mainstream film I had never seen.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Horst Buchholz is certainly no Toshiro Mifune!

This is famously a remake of Akira Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai, reset as a Western in which gunmen are hired to protect a poor Mexican village.  The village has suffered repeated pillaging by a gang of bandidos headed by the heartless Calvera (Eli Wallach).  It may not survive another attack.  A village elder sends some of the men to the border buy guns.  All they have to offer is whatever they can get from the elder’s gold pocket watch, the only valuable remaining.

When in town, the men observe Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen) stand up to the majority by escorting the body of an Indian for burial at Boot Hill, considered by townspeople to be an all White cemetery.  Their victory in a gun battle convinces the Mexicans that they would be better off with gunmen like these than with the guns.  There is a long sequence in which Chris and Vin are convinced to help them and others are recruited.  The seventh samurai is the youth Chico (Buchholz), whose bark is bigger than his bite but who refuses to be left behind.

We then move to Mexico where we watch the team plan and execute the village’s defense.  Plenty of action ensues.  With James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and Brad Dexter as the rest of the seven.

With this cast, the movie was guaranteed to be entertaining!  I enjoyed it but I had always imagined that the story would parallel Seven Samurai more closely than it actually did. Many of the characters are conflated and the filmmakers could not resist the classic Hollywood ending.  If you don’t compare it to the Japanese original, however, this is superior Western fare.  Elmer Bernstein’s score is absolutely iconic and a total joy.

The Magnificent Seven was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

The Sundowners (1960)

The Sundowners
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Written by Isobel Linnart from a novel by Jon Cleary
1960/UK
Warner Bros. Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Ida Carmody: This is a good country for sheep and it’s not bad for men, but it’s hard on us women. The men come here because of the sheep, and we come here because of the men, and most of us finish up looking like the sheep. Wrinkled faces, knotty hair, and not even much of a mind of our own.

This is a pleasant picture about a family of Australian migrant workers played by Americans and Brits.

Paddy Carmody (Robert Mitchum) has a serious case of wanderlust.  He would rather spend his time in various pubs but when the family is out of cash he prefers to work as a drover.  This involves herding sheep from farm to market.  The family lives in a tent.  His wife Ida (Deborah Mitchum) and son Sean are tiring of life on the road but basically this is a close and devoted family.  As the film begins, the Carmody’s are about to set off on their latest droving work.  Paddy gets drunk, magnanimously hires aging Englishman Rupert Venneker (Peter Ustinov) and his horse, and regrets it in the morning.  Rupert talks his way back onto the journey and develops a special bond with Sean.

When the family arrives at its destination, Ida, still desperate for a home of her own, hears of well-paying sheep-shearing work.  This is really not Paddy’s thing but fate has other ideas.  It turns out Paddy is a fast and efficient worker.  Ida gets hired on as a cook and both Rupert and Sean have other jobs.  The family accumulates a nest egg but it is another matter to get Paddy to settle down … With Glynis Johns as a cheerful inn proprietor who strikes up a sometime romance with Rupert.

It took awhile for me to get used to Robert Mitchum’s Australian accent but once I did I settled down to enjoy the film.  All the acting is good with Kerr particularly fine in a role that is a bit of a stretch for her.  The movie seemed to have something for the entire family with beautiful shots of Australian scenery and animals as a bonus.

The Sundowners was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actress (Kerr); Best Supporting Actress (Johns); Best Director; and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Trailer