How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

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Directed by Jean Negulescou
Written by Nunally Johnson from a play by Zoe Akins, Dale Eunson, and Katherine Albert
1953/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Loco Dempsey: You don’t think he’s a little old?

Schatze Page: Wealthy men are never old.

I thought this was fun.

Three fashion models team up to share a fancy apartment (paid for by selling the owner’s furniture) with the single goal of marrying millionaires.  They are Schatze (Lauren Bacall), Pola (Marilyn Monroe) and Loco (Betty Grable).  Before we know it each is being squired by an almost suitable candidate.  Schatze sets her sights on a much-older widower J.D. Hanley (William Powell); Pola is dating a one-eyed oil mogul; and Loco decides to allow a married man to take her to his lodge.

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Somehow love intervenes with each one of their plans.  The fun is in seeing how they end up with Mr. Right after all.  With David Wayne, Rory Calhoun, and Cameron Mitchell as the men in question.

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This isn’t laugh out loud funny but is humorous throughout and a fine light entertainment. There has been a long gap since I saw William Powell in a movie and this made me realize I miss him.  This seems to have been a showcase for CinemaScope and the film begins rather oddly with Alfred Newman conducting the Twentieth Century Fox Orchestra in a full version of his “Street Scene” suite.

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Niagara (1953)

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Directed by Henry Hathaway
Written by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Richard Breen
1953/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant

Ray Cutler: Why don’t you ever get a dress like that?

Polly Cutler: Listen. For a dress like that, you’ve got to start laying plans when you’re about thirteen.

This entertaining film noir offers Marilyn Monroe a leading role at her most luscious.

A nice all-American young couple, Ray Cutler and his wife Polly (Jean Peters), are taking a belated honeymoon in Niagara Falls.  Ray is celebrating winning a contest for best publicity campaign at the cereal company he works for and hopes to meet the CEO, who lives nearby.  The Cutlers have been assigned to the best cabin at the motor court. However, they graciously cede it to George Loomis (Joseph Cotten) and his wife Rose (Marilyn Monroe).  The Loomises are extending their stay because George is suffering from some unspecified mental problem, obviously including severe depression.

The Cutlers soon discover that George has at least one reason to be depressed.  Rose is a man magnet who does not discourage those she attracts.  Furthermore, they catch her in a passionate embrace with a young man at the Falls.  One night, George snaps in front of all the guests when hearing a record playing Rose’s favorite song, “Kiss”.  Polly tends to the cut he got while breaking the record.

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Soon the audience finds out that Rose and her lover are plotting a way to rid themselves of old George.  Ray finally meets up with CEO and extends the couple’s stay to socialize.  Polly, who is the closest thing to a friend that George has, keeps being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  With Don Wilson as the CEO.

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While I don’t think this is the best noir ever made or anything, I enjoy this movie, mostly for the atmosphere and scenery.  It is nice and steamy when Monroe is on screen and the falls look magnificent.  If the pacing were better, the plot would make a good thriller but it falls a little flat in that department.  Somehow we are one step ahead of the plot all along the way taking the surprise out of a pretty neat twist.

The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

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Directed by Roy Rowland
Written by Dr. Seuss and Allan Scott
1953/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Stanley Kramer Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Dr. Terwilliker: This is my day! 5,000 little fingers, all playing together on my piano! Every finger obedient to the whim of me, the master! Every infinitesimal, microscopic piece of living tissue of those 5,000 little fingers, cringing and trembling and groveling before me! Before me, Dr. Terwilliker, as I raise my baton! We shall play… raise hands! We shall play the most beautiful piece ever written! I wrote it. Ten Happy Fingers! A one, and a two, and a three, and a play!

This very odd little musical is growing on me.

As the movie begins, strange leotard-wearing men are chasing a young boy through a surreal landscape with colored butterfly nets.  The boy is Bartholomew Collins (Tommy Rettig) who has fallen asleep, as he frequently does, while practicing on the piano.  We are introduced to his piano teacher Dr. Terwiliker (Hans Conreid), his mother, and plumber August Zabladowski.  All these people say that Bartholomew should practice even harder, though the plumber privately tells him that he thinks Dr. Terwilker is pulling the wool over his mother’s eyes.

Bartholomew starts playing once again and promptly falls asleep.  His dream takes him to Dr. T’s piano school, an establishment complete with dungeons for recalcitrant students. Dr. T’s plan is to kidnap 500 boys and force them to practice nonstop forever on his gigantic piano.

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Worse, Bartholomew’s mother has been hypnotized and is working as No. 2 in command of the school.  The evil doctor plans to marry her once his concert takes place.  The plumber is busy installing the sinks necessary for the school to pass inspection. Bartholomew enlists him as a reluctant ally to defeat Dr. T’s plans for both the boys and the mother.  He gains a father in the process.

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I can imagine that this movie was quite scary for little kids and it was a major flop.  Dr. Seuss seems to have pinpointed all the anxieties common to children’s nightmares and gathered them together on celluloid.  Nevertheless, some of the songs are quite good, Conreid is a gas, and the whole thing has a special look that you won’t see anywhere else. I enjoyed it far more on this viewing than the first time I saw it.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Joe Dante on the film – Trailers from Hell

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Martin Luther (1953)

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Directed by Irving Pichel
Written by Allan Sloane, Lothar Wolff, Theodore G. Tappert, and Jarolslav Pelican
1953/USA/West Germany
Louis de Rochemont Associates/Luther Filmgesellshaft/Lutheran Church in America/RD-DR Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying. — Martin Luther

The Lutheran Church spared no expense on this very well-made biopic of its founder.  I am in the wrong demographic to fully appreciate it and found it pretty dry.

The story takes place in the first part of the 16th Century when Europe was dominated by the twin powers of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope.  In his search for peace and salvation, Martin Luther (Niall McGinnis) quits law school to become an Augustinian monk. He is later ordained a priest and becomes a theological teacher and scholar at the University of Wittenberg.

During this period the Roman Catholic church commonly sold “indulgences” that would absolve the sinning purchaser from specified times in Purgatory.  Pope Leo had embarked on the very expensive project of constructing St. Peter’s in Rome.  To finance it, he created a kind of super indulgence that absolved the sinner of all heavenly penalty.  Luther became the most outspoken critic of this practice and posted his Ninety-Five Theses in protest.

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This rebellion was appreciated neither by the Church nor the Emperor.  Luther was given an ultimatum to retract his writings and when he refused was excommunicated and declared an outlaw.  He received sanctuary in Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament into German.  After some years, Luther returned to the public stage and Lutheranism and Protestantism were born.

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Niall McGinnis lays it on a bit thick at various points but this is basically a fine film.  The problem is that it is all too clearly an explication of Lutheran Church doctrine and its origins.  This gives the proceedings a solemn and ponderous tone and made the film drag badly for me.

Martin Luther was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Cintematography, Black and White and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and White.

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War of the Worlds (1953)

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Directed by Byron Haskin
Written by Barré Lyndon from the novel by H.G. Wells
1953/USA
Paramount Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Radio Reporter: All radio is dead, which means that these tape recordings I’m making are for the sake of future history – If any.

This is the epitome of early 50’s science fiction and a ton of fun.

The film begins with a voice over narration describing the plight of the Martians, whose planet is slowly dying.  They have started to cast a longing eye at Earth for resettlement.

A group of campers witnesses an object fall to earth.  Conveniently, one of them is world-reknowned scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry).  He goes to the site and meets Sylvia Van Buren, niece of the local preacher.  Forrester and Sylvia will be partners in terror for the remainder of the film.

It soon becomes evident that the falling object was not a meteorite.  It has deposited a large blob of red-hot molten material.  Firemen hang around to see that the fire it started is truly out.  They are amazed to see a kind of door open at the top of it.  Weird and scary things happen in quick succession.  Flying machines blast everything in sight.  The armed forces can do nothing to stop the destruction, which we learn is happening at several locations world wide.

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Forrester and Sylvia seek refuge in a farmhouse but are searched out by the aliens. Forrester manages to nab one outside its machine and to slay it.  This produces a blood sample and the pair head back to civilization to help in the search for a way to stop the carnage.  An atomic bomb is powerless against the Martians.  It looks like the Earth is doomed and human nature begins to show its ugly face as people fight to be first in line for evacuation of Los Angeles.

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This movie has it all: B movie actors at their best; awesome 50’s special effects; and glimpses of scary aliens.  The film is less than 90 minutes and is tautly and suspensefully written. It is a classic of its genre.   Recommended.

War of the Worlds won the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Sound, Recording and Best Film Editing.

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Island in the Sky (1953)

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Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Ernest K. Gann from his novel
1953/USA
Warner Bros./Wayne-Fellows Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Capt. Dooley: I’ll shoot the first one of ya to leave camp. I’ll aim for your legs. I may miss and hit ya in the back of the head. Either way serves ya right.

What this disaster flick lacks in realism, it makes up for in suspense.

Capt. Dooley (John Wayne) pilots a C-47 transport plane called the Corsair on an Arctic mission. Icing forces him to make an emergency landing in an uncharted part of Northern Labrador.  There, he and his men are forced to wait for possible rescue with scant food and dwindling radio communication.

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Dooley is fortunate to have many fellow pilots who love him.  They rush to the rescue but it is like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Meanwhile, Dooley must stop his crew from succumbing to despair.  With Lloyd Nolan, James Arness, and Andy Devine as rescuers.

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I don’t for a minute believe that people clad as these were with no food to speak of could survive in -70 F conditions for a week.  Nevertheless, while I was actually watching the film I was buying it and rooting for the characters.  Wellman could certainly still make a compelling aviation drama 30 years into his career.

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The Man Between (1953)

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Directed by Carol Reed
Written by Harry Kurnitz; story by Walter Ebert
1953/UK
London Film Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Susanne Mallison: I’m not rich.

Ivo Kern: Any shelter from life is unattainable wealth.

I was hoping for something like The Third Man from Reed’s take on the divided City of Berlin.  That was not to be.  Still, spending a couple of hours with James Mason is never a bad thing.

The year is 1952, almost a decade before the Berlin Wall was erected.  Berlin is still divided in sectors with people passing to and fro but with rather stricter controls on entrance to and exit from the Soviet zone.  Suzanne Mallison (Claire Bloome) comes for a visit with her brother Martin and his German wife Bettina (Hildegard Neff).  When Bettina meets Suzanne at the airport, a boy is lurking nearby.  This boy will be a menacing presence throughout the first act.

Suzanne is interested in seeing the Soviet sector and Bettina takes her there the next day. There they run into an old friend of Bettina’s Ivo Kern (Mason).  Ivo offers to act as Suzanne’s guide to Berlin and they are soon going out daily.

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Unbeknownst to Suzanne, Ivo is being blackmailed to help some sinister figures kidnap Olaf Kastner, a friend of the Mallesons who has been helping Germans flee the Soviet sector.  It develops that Ivo has a hold on Bettina and soon Suzanne is being used in a deadly game as well.

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The atmosphere and acting in this were very good but the story could have been given more focus and tension.  I found the film kind of confusing and I didn’t care all that much about the characters.  Certainly, I am happy to have seen it once though.

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Call Me Madam (1953)

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Directed by Walter Lang
Written by Arthur Sheekman from the musical comedy by Russell Crouse and Howard Lindsay
1953/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

There is nothing you can take/ To relieve that pleasant ache/ You’re not sick, you’re just in love. — “You’re Just in Love”, lyrics by Irving Berlin

This movie gives viewers the unique opportunity to see Ethel Merman in a role she created on Broadway and to appreciate George Sanders’s very pleasant baritone singing voice.

The story is a very topical send-up of Perle Mesta, a fundraiser and society hostess, who was Harry Truman’s Ambassador to Lichtenstein.  In the musical, Truman names Sally Adams (Merman), an outspoken woman who has been unchanged by her wealth, as Ambassador to the fictional country of Lichtenberg.  There she is a constant embarrassment to her snooty Charge d’Affaires (Billy De Wolfe) but well accepted by the Lichtenbergian’s who are broke and anxious for some U.S. government aid.  All, that is, but General Cosmo Constantine (Sanders) who believes his country should pull itself up by its bootstraps.

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Adams and Constantine fall in love early on as do Adams’s press attache Kenneth Gibson (Donald O’Connor) and the Princess Maria (Vera-Ellen).  The usual misunderstandings ensue.  With Walter Slezak as the Minister of Finance.

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The film is firmly rooted in its time period with much mirth supplied by Merman’s frequent telephone conversations with “Harry” about his daughter Margaret’s progress as a concert pianist.  I don’t think it has aged particularly well.  There are some nice numbers though and Sanders is a revelation.  He has an excellent singing voice and here portrays the romantic lead without the slightest trace of irony.  Merman is a force of nature and should be seen at least once.

Call Me Madam won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated for Best Costume Design, Color.

Clip – Ethel Merman and Donald O’Connor sing “You’re Just in Love”

Gate of Hell (1953)

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Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa
Written by Teinosuke Kinugasa and Masaichi Nagata from a play by Kan Kukichi
1953/Japan
Daiei Studios
First viewing/Hulu

 

“I have little left in myself — I must have you. The world may laugh — may call me absurd, selfish — but it does not signify. My very soul demands you: it will be satisfied, or it will take deadly vengeance on its frame.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Gate of Hell presents a dark tale of obsession in glowing colors and a sumptuous setting.

It is 1160.  Lord Kiyomori travels to help put down a rebellion elsewhere and the Emperor’s residence in Kyoto is besieged by two other lords.  There is a great battle and a general decides it is necessary to hide thefather and sister of the Emperor.  He asks for a volunteer to serve as a decoy for the sister.  Lady Kesa (Machiko Kyô) steps up. She sets off in a palanquin guarded by General Moritô and his men.  They are promptly attacked by rebels.  Moritô vanquishes the attackers.  Lady Kesa then resides in Morito’s castle until it is safe to return home.

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Lord Kiyomori rewards Moritô’s loyalty by offering to give him anything he wants.  After extracting a promise that the Lord really means what he says, Moritô asks to marry Lady Kesa.  But unbeknownst to him, she is already married to Wataru, chief of the castle guard.  Morito is undeterred and the Lord says he will allow the marriage if Lady Kesa consents.  But Kesa seems to be very happily married indeed.

Moritô, who started out as the hero of the piece, simply will not take no for an answer.  He takes ever more drastic steps to win his lady, resulting in tragedy for all concerned.

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This film grabs the viewer with its stunning sets, costumes, and use of color from the first frame. The story got off to a slow start for me but by mid-way through I was thoroughly involved and so mad at Moritô that I was yelling at the screen.  The ending is really moving.  Recommended.

Gate of Hell won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Color.  It received an Honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

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Maureen O’Hara 1920-2015

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I’ve seen her in so many movies now that I almost feel like I know her.  She was a beautiful woman, born to star in color movies, and a smart lady well into her 80’s when she was still doing film commentaries.  It is shocking that she was never nominated for an Academy Award.  I’m glad she lived to get her very belated Lifetime Achievement Award this year.  May she rest in peace.

O'Hara on the set of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

O’Hara on the set of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

With John Wayne on the set of The Quiet Man

With John Wayne on the set of The Quiet Man

Va-va-voom!

Va-va-voom!

Piece done when O’Hara was Star of the Month on TCM – interview interspersed with clips