Othello (1952)

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Directed by Orson Welles
Written by William Shakespeare
1952/USA/Italy/Morocco/France
Mercury Prodcutions/Les Films Marceau
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Iago: Oh beware, my lord, of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.

The music and sound quality of the version I watched really got in the way of this movie for me.

Probably all my readers know the plot of Shakespeare’s Othello. Othello (Orson Welles) is a black Moor who is a general in the Venetian army.  He secretly marries the beautiful Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier) against her father’s wishes.  Iago (Michaél MacLiammóir), an ensign, is consumed with jealousy of Othello not only for his conquest of Desdemona but for promoting the younger Cassio above him.  Iago tries to get Othello executed for “using witchcraft” to seduce Desdemona but Othello is saved by his convincing story and by the fact he is needed to lead troops agains the Turks on the island of Cyprus.

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Iago vows to destroy his rival and concludes the best way is though the general’s love for his wife.  By various stratagems, he convinces Othello that Desdemona has been having an affair with Cassio.  The play ends in tragedy.

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The last time I saw this film I rated it highly but this time the music ruined it for me.  Add to that the very murky post-synched dialogue track and I was unable to get lost in the film.  As could be expected from Welles, he did make it look great on a shoestring budget.  I saw some kind of a cheapo public domain version.  I see there is a restoration and seeing that might have aided my appreciation.

Orson Welles won the Grand Prize at Cannes for this film.

Restoration trailer

Viva Zapata! (1952)

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Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by John Steinbeck
1952/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Hernandez – Peasant who challenges ‘president’ Zapata: I don’t speak for myself now, but if anything happens to you, what would become of the people? What would they have left?

Emiliano Zapata: Themselves.

For me, the most memorable thing about this solid biopic is the Oscar-winning performance of Anthony Quinn.

This is the fictionalized story of the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata who helped to oust dictator Porfirio Diaz in the early Twentieth Century.  The story begins with a confrontation between Zapata (Marlon Brando) and Diaz over some land that has been appropriated by rich sugar growers.  When Diaz gives the peasants the brush off, Zapata explodes and he and his followers are pursued by the powers that be for the rest of the film.  Zapata and the peasants take to arms.  His elder brother Eufemio (Quinn) becomes his right-hand man.  Eufemio is the muscle of the operation and takes a positive glee in fighting and killing while Emiliano is the idealist.

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Along with the trials and tribulations of the revolutionary movement, including multiple betrayals by trusted allies, the story covers Zapata’s attempts to become respectable in order to win the hand  of the middle-class Josefa (Jean Peters).  After he returns to revolution following their marriage, Josefa is left to worry about his almost inevitable demise.

zapata 1I followed Quinn’s performances in supporting roles throughout the 40’s.  This movie is where he comes into his own as a kind of embodiment of the life force.  Although his Eufemio is a brute in many ways his magnetism and gusto is undeniable.  One of my problems with this film is that, by contrast, Brando seems pallid.  He is not convincing as a Mexican and, while he acts his socks off, the fire is just missing for me.  Recommended for Quinn’s performance and to those interested in the subject.

Anthony Quinn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.  Viva Zapata! was nominated in the categories of:  Best Actor; Best Writing, Story and Screenplay; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer

 

High Noon (1952)

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Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Written by Carl Foreman from the magazine story “The Tin Star” by John W. Cunningham
1952/USA
Stanley Kramer Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#260 of 1001 Moview You Must See Before You Die

Judge: This is just a dirty little village in the middle of nowhere. Nothing that happens here is really important.

There is not a single thing I would change about this classic.

The story takes place in real time in a small town in the Old West.  It is the wedding day of Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) and Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly).  The bride is a Quaker and has inspired Kane to turn in his badge and become a shopkeeper.  They are about to depart on their honeymoon when the town learns that Frank Miller has been pardoned from his murder sentence.  Kane apprehended Miller, who formerly ran their town, and he has sworn vengeance.  He is expected on the noon train and three members of his gang are already waiting at the train station to meet him.  All Kane’s friends advise him to get out of town as soon as possible and he begins to before deciding that he cannot abandon the town or keep on the run from the insane Miller for the rest of his life.

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Kane is severely tested.  First, Amy demands that they leave and avoid violence.  When Kane refuses she simply walks out on him.  Then his jealous deputy Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) demands that his support for the Marshall job and also abandons him when Kane refuses.  Finally, the time ticks down while all the townsfolk who had been so grateful to Kane for restoring law on order find one reason or another for refusing to help him by joining a volunteer posse. Kane stays strong and the movie ends with a showdown between him and the Miller gang. With Katy Jurado in a strong performance as the former girlfriend of Miller, Kane and Pell, Lee Van Cleef in his film debut as a member of the Miller gang, and Lon Chaney Jr, Harry Morgan, Thomas Mitchell, and Otto Krueger as pillars of the community.

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I watched the Blu-Ray edition of this film and never has the sparse cinematography looked so beautiful to me.  I’ve loved this movie for as long as I have had an interest in classic movies and it never disappoints.  I love it in its talky moments and during the action sequences.  The acting is absolutely first rate, the writing is powerful, and this is one of my favorite movie scores.  Surely a must see.

The Blu-Ray I rented had a good “making of” documentary with Leonard Maltin featuring interviews with a great many of the principals, including Zinnemann, producer Kramer, Cooper, and Bridges.  I had not know prior to watching it that this was Bridges’s last major film prior to being blacklisted for several years.  He continued to work in B movies and in television.

High Noon won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Song (“High Noon ‘Do Not Foresake Me, Oh My Darlin'”) and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic of Comedy Picture.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Trailer

Clip – The Ballad of High Noon (opening credits)

Five Fingers (1952)

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Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Michael Wilson from the novel “Operation Cicero” by L.X. Moyzisch
USA/1952
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Ulysses Diello: There’s nothing as real as money.

Somehow I had never heard of this excellent spy movie before I started this exercise.  It was really worth waiting for,

I came in knowing almost nothing about it and think that only added to the fun.  The film is based on a true story and takes place in Ankara, Turkey in 1944.  Turkey is neutral and both Germany and Britain maintain Embassies there and their diplomats socialize at the same parties.  The impoverished Countess Anna Staviska (Danielle Darrieux), the French widow of a Polish count, has cordial relationships with both the French and German Ambassadors.  As the movie begins, she reveals she is so hard up that she will work as a spy for the Germans in exchange for their financial support.  The German ambassador declines her offer.

five fingers 1One day Ulysses Diello (James Mason) approaches a German Embassy official offering to sell Most Secret and Top Secret British documents for 20,000 pounds.  He declines to reveal his identity.  After much internal discussion, the Germans decide they will bite.  The documents prove to be apparently genuine and, if so, extremely valuable and Diello is paid.  The Germans are quite suspicious but continue accepting installments of the material at 15,000 pounds per delivery.  Meanwhile, they send a counter-espionage expert in the guise of a Swiss business man to Ankara to try to determine Diello’s identity and reliability.

It is not revealing to much to say that Diello is the trusted valet to the British Ambassador. He has a giant chip on his shoulder and dreams of being a gentleman.  He also dreams of becoming the lover of Countess Staviska, whose husband he formerly served as a valet. She begins letting him use her villa for his “business meetings”.  I think I will stop right there.  This movie is full of delicious twists and irony.  With Michael Rennie as the British counter-espionage expert.

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I don’t think James Mason ever gave a bad performance.  This is no exception.  I like Darrieux better every time I see her.  She handles English very well.  It is the writing, however, that was the star for me.  The Diello character is a very cynical type and gets off some great one-liners.  The story is intricate and absorbing. The film features a menacing Bernard Herrmann score.  Recommended and currently available on YouTube.

Five Fingers was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Clip

The Life of Oharu (1952)

The Life of Oharu (Saikaku Ichidai Ona)The_Life_of_Oharu-115420225-large
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Written by Kenji Mizoguchi and Yoshikata Yoda from a novel by Saikaku Ihara
1952/Japan
Koi Productions/Shintoho Film Distribution Committee
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Katsunosuke: Lady Oharu, a human being – no, woman – can only be happy if she marries for love. Rank and money don’t mean happiness.

This story of a woman in medieval Japan is a beautiful film.  It also made me really angry.

It is 17th century Japan.The 50-year-old Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka), a streetwalker, sits in a temple.  The faces of the Buddha statues remind her of the men in her life and we segue in flashback.

Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka) begins life as a pretty teenager whose parents are attached to the the court.  A lowly retainer (Toshiro Mifune) is in love with her.  She resists his advances at first but then succumbs and the two are caught together.  Since it is taboo for the higher classes to associate with the lower classes, Oshiro and her entire immediate family are exiled from Kyoto.  The lover is beheaded.  Needless to say, Oharu’s parents are not happy with her.  But their opinion changes when a court retainer selects her as the ideal candidate to be the Daimyo’s concubine and bear him an heir, something his wife has been unable to do.

bfi-00n-jjc-the-life-of-oharuOharu has a healthy son, from whom she is immediately separated.  Then the Daimyou falls for her and his advisors decide he is “sapping his strength” in the bedroom so Ohayu is sent back to her parents only a tiny bit richer.  In the meantime her father has taken out a large loan in hopes that the match would make him rich.  He decides her to sell her to a high class brothel as a courtesan.

Poor Oharu can’t catch a break.  She  is eventually dismissed from the brothel for insubordination.  She has some happiness as a fan-maker’s wife but he is soon killed by robbers.  She ends up traveling with a thief until the thief is caught.  Finally, some prostitutes see her begging in the street and take pity on her.

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This is a very sad movie but it made me more angry than anything else.  The suffering that these women went through while they were basically chattel is mind-blowing.  Although depressing, it is very beautiful to look at and Tanaka is one of the really great actresses in cinema history and does wonderfully with her role.  I just read that Mizoguchi’s sister was sold as a geisha.  I had not known that before.  It explains the themes of a lot of his films, which tend to focus on the plight of women.

In the absence of clips from the film, here is a clip about Tanaka’s visit to Hollywood showing meetings with many stars of the period

Scaramouche (1952)

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Directed by George Sidney
Written by Written by Ronald Millar and George Froeschel from the novel by Rafael Sabatini
1952/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Andre Moreau: Happy is the rascal, traveling life’s byways, to whom the gods say, here is an easy switch. You may have lost Diana on the highway, but look, there is Aphrodite in a ditch.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good swashbuckler and this qualifies.

It is France in the late 18th Century.  Andre Moreau (Stewart Granger) was raised in the de Valmorin family.  His parentage has been kept from him.  Philippe de Valmorin, who was a brother to him, has been engaging in subversive activities in support of revolution.  Now the authorities are after Philippe and the valiant Andre, although not politically inclined, agrees to help him escape.  To get money for their travels, Andre forces his solicitor to reveal the identity of his father.  He says he was Count de Gavrillac.  But before long, Phillipe is killed by the arrogant Marquis de Maynes (Mel Ferrer) in a one-sided fencing match.  Before he escapes, Andre vows to avenge his friend.

Before he was called in to assist his friend, Andre had been in the process of snatching his amie Lenore (Eleanor Parker) from her intended on the day of her wedding.  He was about to marry her himself when duty called.  Lenore promptly ran away and rejoined the comedia del arte company in which she had been an actress.  Andre is not disconsolate for long as he encounters a vision of loveliness whose carriage has broken down on the road.  He falls in love with Aline (Janet Leigh) at first sight.  She likes him too but he puts the brakes on when he discovers her last name is de Gavrillac as well, thus making her his half sister.

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The rest of the story follows Andre’s many adventures en route to his climactic encounter with the Marquis de Maynes.  Andre reunites with Lenore and adopts the disguise of the masked comic character Scaramouche in the comedia del arte show.  While he is acting by night Andre studies sword fighting by day and becomes a formidable fencer.  With Nina Foche as Marie Antoinette.

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I really enjoyed this.  The dialogue sparkles and the story is full of humor.  Eleanor Parker is so witty and sexy as Lenore one can’t understand how Andre could have eyes for anyone else.  There is a fantastic seven-minute swordfight at the end.  This has some of the most beautiful and lifelike color I have seen in a movie of the period.  I can’t see why it didn’t get several technical nominations at the Oscars.  Recommended if you are in the mood for a good adventure.

Trailer

 

 

 

In 1952

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Bwana Devil became the first 3-D sound film to be released. Paramount’s wrap-around, big-screen Cinerama format debuted . The technique required three cameras, three projectors, interlocking, semi-curved screens, and four-track stereo sound.  This Is Cinerama  was the first Cinerama film shown to the public. Cinerama was the first real widescreen feature film format.  The gimmicks were aimed at attracting TV watchers back to the movie theaters.  The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) negotiated the first contracts that granted performers-actors residuals paid by studios for feature films sold to television.

Charlie Chaplin released his last American film, Limelight. During post-production, he traveled to Europe for premieres of the film in London and Paris. His INS application for re-entry into the U.S. was revoked by Attorney General James McGranery, who called Chaplin an “unsavory character”. Although Chaplin promised to return and answer charges, he broke ties with the U.S. after his wife Oona returned to Los Angeles in early 1953 to get his assets out of the US. Chaplin resided in Switzerland until his death in late 1977.

After appearing and testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he was accused of being involved with the Communist Party and refused to name names, actor John Garfield was blacklisted. He died on May 21.  It is speculated that the 39 year-old actor, already suffering from long-term heart problems brought on by a childhood illness, suffered his fatal heart attack due to the resultant stress.

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Charlie Chaplin on the set of Limelight

In Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, The U.S. Supreme Court limited the power of the President to seize private business after President Harry S. Truman nationalized all steel mills in the United States just before a steel strike began.

Dr. C. Walton Lillehei and Dr. F. John Lewis performed the first open-heart surgery at the University of Minnesota. The surgery was made possible by the first use of a mechanical heart developed by General Motors.   The Pulitzer Prize for Literature was awarded to The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk.  Billboard ranked “Blue Tango”, an instrumental performed by Leroy Anderson, as the number one hit of 1952.

15 Feb 1952, London, England, UK --- London crowds line the route of the procession carrying the coffin of King George VI. The king reigned from 1936 until his death in February 1952. | Location: Edgeware Road, London, England, UK. --- Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

15 Feb 1952, London, England, UK — London crowds line the route of the procession carrying the coffin of King George VI. The king reigned from 1936 until his death in February 1952. | Location: Edgeware Road, London, England, UK. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

The first British nuclear weapon was detonated in Australia making the United Kingdom the third nuclear weapons state  The Treaty of San Francisco went into effect formally ending the war between Japan and the Allies and simultaneously ending the occupation of the four main Japanese islands. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl was published. The first successful sex reasignment surgery was performed in Copenhagen, letting George Jorgensen Jr. become Christine Jorgensen.

King George VI died at age 56 after a long illness. His daughter Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh (now Elizabeth II), was proclaimed queen shortly thereafter.  Her coronation did not take place until 1953, due to the traditional period of mourning for the late king.

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The list of the films I will select from is here.  I have previously reviewed the following 1952 films on this site:  Forbidden Games; The Narrow Margin; Kansas City Confidential; Scandal Sheet; Angel Face; and The Sniper.

1952 Oscar Winners – montage of stills

1951 Recap and 10 Favorites

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I’ve now seen 57 films that were released in 1951.  A complete list can be found here.  A very few films were reviewed only here.  It was a good year on the high end but lacking somewhat in depth below that.

Any way,  I have fourteen 1951 films that I would call favorites.   I reluctantly left out The ProwlerThe RiverThe Man in the White Suit and The African Queen.  Another day I would probably slice and dice another way.  The ranking is fairly arbitrary as well.  Bottom line: These are all films I would watch again any time.

10.  A Christmas Carol – directed by Brian Desmond-Hurst

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9.  An American in Paris – directed by Vicente Minnelli

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8. A Place in the Sun – directed by George Stevens

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7.  Death of a Salesman – directed by Laslo Benedeck

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6.  A Streetcar Named Desire – directed by Elia Kazan

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5.  Ace in the Hole – directed by Billy Wilder

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4.  Strangers on a Train – directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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3.  The Browning Version – directed by Anthony Asquith

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2.  Early Summer – directed by Yasujiro Ozu

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1. The Day the Earth Stood Still – directed by Robert Wise

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Encore (1951)

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Directed by Harold French, Pat Jackson, and Anthony Pelisser
Written by Eric Ambler, T.E.B. Clarke, and Arthur Macrae from stories by W. Somerset Maugham
UK/1951
Two Cities Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Doctor: That nonsense about Englishwomen being icebergs is a mere fallacy made up by the French.

I’m coming to the tail end of my 1951 viewing.  I was so pleased to still have this good film to cap off the year with.

Encore is an anthology of three of Somerset Maugham’s short stories, each with a different director and writer.  The first two are in a comic vein.  “The Ant and the Grasshopper” is about a wastrel’s (Nigel Patrick) series of successful con jobs to get money from his stuffy elder bother. My favorite, “Winter Cruise”, is about a prim shopkeeper (Kay Walsh) who drives everybody on board crazy with her incessant chatter.  On the return voyage, she is the only passenger and the crew decides that only a shipboard romance will shut her up.  The final story is a drama incongruously called “Gigolo and Gigolette”.  A high-wire artist (Glynis Johns) and her husband have struck it rich with a very dangerous act in which she dives into a flaming pool of water only five feet deep.  The story explores what happens when she suddenly loses her nerve.

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An unrecognizable Kay Walsh

I thought all the stories were clever and well-acted.  I laughed out loud more than a couple of times at the one with Kay Walsh.  My husband liked the movie very much too.  Recommended.

Clip – SPOILER

Royal Wedding (1951)

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Directed by Stanley Donen
Written by Alan Jay Lerner
1951/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

How could I ever close the door/ And be the same as I was before?/ Darling, no, no I can’t anymore/ It’s too late now — lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

This has a couple of Fred Astaire’s most famous dance numbers and a couple of good songs.  The story sort of lets the whole thing down.

The brother and sister team of Tom (Astaire) and Ellen (Jane Powell) Bowen are just closing their hit Broadway show.  They get an offer to perform in London while the town is abuzz with the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth with Prince Philip.  Ellen is quite the flirt and has about a dozen guys on a string.  This all changes when she meets playboy Lord John Brindale on their Atlantic crossing.

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Tom tries to be a strict task master but Ellen wants to spend all her time with John.  He meets cute with Anne Ashmond (Sarah Churchill) on the street and their relationship picks up when she tries out for the show.  She turns out to be engaged to an American she hasn’t heard from in awhile.  With Keenan Wynne in a dual role as the Bowen’s American manager and his own English twin brother.

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This is the one with Astaire’s iconic dancing with a coatrack and dancing on the ceiling numbers.  It also has a couple of standards by Burton Lane and Allen Jay Lerner. Unfortunately, the parts in between the numbers is so much dead weight.  The John-Ellen relationship has zero conflict and Sara Churchill is so bland I just couldn’t care less about the Tom-Anne romance.  Keenan Wynne makes a pretty pathetic upper-crust Englishman.

Judy Garland had been slated for the role of Ellen but was fired from the film for “personal problems”.  Her contract with MGM ened shortly thereafter.

Royal Wedding was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for “Too Late Now.”

Clip – “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life” – longest song title in Hollywood history

Bonus track: Judy Garland singing “Too Late Now” on her TV show