2015 in Review: Top Ten New-to-Me Movies

 

My viewing for 2015 spanned from 1945 to 1954.  I saw 508 movies this year, about 320 of which I had never seen before.  There were many gems among them, far too many to include in a top ten list!

There were no new-to-me films that I rated 10/10.  The 9/10 “new” films I did not have room for here were:  Samurai Rebellion (1967); No Regrets for Our Youth (1946); Night and the City (1950); She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949); Red Army (2014); Twelve O’Clock High (1949); All My Sons (1948); Gate of Hell (1953); The Quiet Duel (1949); White Mane (1953); Morning for the Osone Family (1946); and Directed by John Ford (1971).

Many thanks to all of my readers.  You keep it fun.

10.  Last Holiday (1950) – directed by Henry Cass

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9.  Gion Bayashi (1953) – directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

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8.  Young Man with a Horn (1950) – directed by Michael Curtiz

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7.  Umberto D. (1952) – directed by Vittorio De Sica

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6. Death of a Salesman (1951) – directed by Laslo Benedek

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5.  The Heart of the Matter (1953) – directed by George Moore O’Farrell

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4.  The Heiress (1949) – directed by William Wyler

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3. Le Plaisir (1952) – directed by Max Ophüls

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2.  Brighton Rock (1947) – directed by Rowan Joffé

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1.  All the King’s Men (1949) – directed by Robert Rossen

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Just for fun, here is a mash-up of clips from about 300 films that had appeared on the IMDb Top 250 by November 2012. How many can you spot?

Johnny Guitar (1954)

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Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by Philip Yordan from a novel by Roy Chanslor
1954/USA
Republic Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#292 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Johnny: There’s only two things in this world that a ‘real man’ needs: a cup of coffee and a good smoke.

Nick Ray strays into Sam Fuller territory with this gaudy, off-kilter Technicolor Western.

Vienna (Joan Crawford) owns a saloon in the middle of cattle country.  The headstrong businesswoman’s plan is to wait for the railroad to pass through and then cash in on a new town.  The ranchers have little use for the railroad or Vienna.  But Vienna has a secret weapon in the form of the enigmatic Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden).  The two apparently had a thing at one time but at first things are more platonic not least because Vienna has since had a thing with the Dancin’ Kid.

A stagecoach is robbed and a man is killed.  Blame is pinned on the Dancin’ Kid’s gang. Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), the sister of the victim, insists that Vienna was also mixed up in this.  She starts organizing a lynching party.

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The Kid’s gang is evidently innocent of the stagecoach hold-up but decides the best way to get money to leave town is to rob the local bank.  Vienna is in the bank at the time but her money is spared.  All these things whip Emma into a state of righteous wrath and builds up to the climactic battle between the two women.  With Ernest Borgnine as a gang member, Ward Bond as a town elder and John Carradine as a loyal drunk.

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If for nothing else, this is worth seeing simply to watch Crawford and McCambridge try to outdo each other in the overacting department as each actress’s character vies to become Queen Bee of the territory.  Otherwise, it’s enjoyable but nothing that makes me want to see it again.

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The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

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Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
1954/USA
Figaro/Transoceanic Film
First viewing/Amazon Instant
#288 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Maria Vargas: In Hollywood, it is not easy to become a star.

Harry Dawes: Ah, where is it easy?

Mankiewicz takes a melodramatic look behind the “glamour” of show business through a cynical Cinderella story of a Spanish beauty who becomes a Hollywood star.  It’s watchable enough.

Writer-Director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) has fallen on hard times and has taken to working for egomaniac producer Kirk Edwards.  The two are in Europe scouting for a fresh face to star as leading lady in their new film.  They find her in gorgeous nightclub dancer Maria Vargas.  Despite her bearing and beauty, Maria is a simple sort who prefers going barefoot and has a turbulent home life.  With the help of Dawes and PR man Oscar Muldoon (Edmund O’Brien),  Maria’s film debut is a sensation and she is a star.

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All Maria’s fame and beauty seem to do for her, however, is make her the prize in a tug-of-war between the men in her life.   Finally, it seems she may have found her Prince Charming in the form of handsome, wealthy Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rossano Brazzi).  But life is not a fairy tale even for the rich and famous.  With Valentina Cortese, Warren Stevens, Elizabeth Sellars, and Marius Goring.

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I thought this film dragged and could not really get too excited about Gardner’s fate.  The actors all seemed tired.  I might not have been in the right mood.

Edmund O’Brien won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor beating out three far superior performances in On the Waterfront.  Mankiewicz was nominated for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay.

Trailer

Magnificent Obsession (1954)

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Directed by Douglas Sirk
Written by Robert Blees and Wells Root based on a screenplay by Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman and a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas
1954/USA
Universal International Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Dr. Bob Merrick: [of a plan to do anonymous good works] Well, if it’s as simple as all that, why, I’ll certainly give it a chance.

Edward Randolph: Now wait, Merrick! Don’t try to use this unless you’re ready for it! You can’t just try this out for a week like a new car, you know! And if you think you can feather your own nest with it, just forget it. Besides, this is dangerous stuff. One of the first men who used it went to the Cross at the age of thirty-three…

Once you get past all the glorious Technicolor, all that is left is a thoroughly preposterous melodrama.

Spoiled playboy Bob Merrick (Rock Hunter) recklessly loses control of his speedboat and crashes, requiring treatment with the only resuscitator in town.  Because he has selfishly monopolized this item, it is not available for use to revive saintly and beloved Dr. Phillips when he has a heart attack.  Despite a thriving practice, Phillips leaves his widow Helen (Jane Wyman) little money.  It turns out that the doctor has spent most of his income on anonymous good deeds.

Bob tries to apologize to Helen but she wants nothing to do with him.  Finally, she gets hit by a car when fleeing from him and is left blind.

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The contrite Bob pledges his life to carrying on the altruistic philosophy of Dr. Phillips and to the study of neurosurgery.  In the meantime, he gets next to Helen in the guise of “Robby”, a humble medical student.  Surely my astute readers can put together a suitably inevitable and sudsy ending without further assistance from me.  With Agnes Moorehead as Dr. Phillips’ nurse and Otto Krueger as of his disciples.

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I have a confession to make.  While my records show that I had seen this movie before, I have no recollection of any part of the plot.  This time, as I often do with movies I have seen, I first watched the film with the commentary track on, in this case sparing me much of the treacly dialogue.  When I played the movie again I simply could not stay awake.  Since there is no way I am going to subject myself to Magnificent Obsession again, this will have to suffice as my only review.

This was a remake of a 1935 picture of the same name directed by John Stahl and starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor, which I have not seen.

Jane Wyman was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress.

Trailer

French Cancan (1954)

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Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Jean Renoir and Andre-Paul Antoine
1954/France/Italy
Franco London Films/Jolly Film
Repeat viewing/My DVD collection

 

Henri Danglard: You know why it breaks my heart to see you go? They can smash the place to pieces for all I care! But the profession’s losing a good trouper. I thought you were one of us. If not, get out! Line up for the quadrille, girls.

Jean Renoir finally returns to a liberated France to capture all the color and gaiety of Belle Epoque Paris in this fictionalized look at the birth of the Moulin Rouge and the Cancan.

Henri Danglard’s (Jean Gavin) nightclub is doing a lackluster business despite the attraction of Lola ‘La Belle Abbesse’ (Maria Felix), a fiery Spanish beauty who belly-dances and sings for the crowd.  Henri and Lola are having an affair.  One night they decide to go slumming in Montmarte.  There Henri finds that people are still dancing the cancan.  He dreams of opening a place where the bourgeoise could enjoy moderately priced luxuries and beautiful, untarnished girls.

He also notices a young laundress dancing at the cafe, who appears to have the requisite talent.  Her name is Nini (Françoise Arnoul).  Danglard dances with her, sparking the jealousy that will consume Lola for the rest of the film.  He asks Nini to try out for a show.  She assumes this offer will include a visit to the casting couch so moves quickly to lose her virginity to her baker sweetheart Paolo.  But Danglard treats her only with gentlemanly courtesy,

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The rest of the movie follows the Danglard’s money woes in builiding the Moulin Rouge and the training of the dancers.  Eventually, Danglard and Nini begin an affair leading to typical love dramas with Lola, Paulo, and a Russian Prince who has taken a fancy to Nini.  But the plot is very secondary to several musical numbers and the spendid dancing.

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After a long exile, Renoir returned to his beloved Paris in a mood to recreate her most glamorous days.  He also masters his father’s ways with the faces and figures of beautiful women.  He found the perfect rosy Renoir subject in Arnoul.  Gabin lost little of his sex appeal as he aged.  This is all handled in such a way that it might very well appeal to musical comedy naysayers.  Recommended.

Clip – Edith Piaf

The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954)

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Directed by Frank Launder
Written by Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat and Frank Valentine inspired by the original drawings of the Girls and Staff of St. Trinian’s by Ronald Searle
1954/UK
London Film Productions/British Lion Film Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Arabella: Monica Drew wasn’t expelled when she burnt down the gymnasium.

Miss Fritton: The gymnasium was insured! The sports pavilion was not.

If you are ready for some non-stop mayhem from some cheeky schoolgirls and their equally delinquent teachers, this movie may be right up your line.  Alistair Sim is outstanding in a dual role as Miss Fritton, the headmistress and her twin bookie brother  Clarence.

An Arab prince decides to send Fatima, one of his many daughters, abroad for a Western education.  St. Trinian’s is considered ideal as it is located near the prince’s prize racehorses.

Fatima arrives at a time when chronic mismanagement and pilferage have caused a squadron of debtors to start breathing down the neck of Miss Fritton, who of course promptly confiscates Fatima’s pocket money to buy groceries.  The school has a long history of stymying the Board of Education and the police now plant a mole in the form of
Sgt. Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell) who is posing as a hockey coach.  She is practically apoplectic with horror at the goings the entire time.

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A visit from Clarence alerts Miss Fritton to the money to be made from backing the winner in an upcoming horse race.  Clarence has a horse in the race and is desperate that Arab Boy, the prince’s horse, not win. Miss Fritton sends out spies who discover that Arab Boy is virtually unbeatable.  They gather their money for a large bet.  Another subset of girls has its money on Clarence’s horse.  Every underhanded trick in the book is played to fix the race as the custody of the horse changes several times.

Racing aside, the story is stuffed to the gills with gags featuring the misdeeds of the motley crew of students and their teacher co-cospirators.  With George Cole as Flash Harry, a bookie and fence, and Hermoinie Baddley as one of the teachers.

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The comedy is very broad indeed.  That’s not usually my favorite but there are so many gags and the comics are such pros that the smiles kept coming.

Montage of stills with theme music

On the Waterfront (1954)

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Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Budd Schulberg based on his original story suggested by articles by Malcolm Johnson
1954/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Horizon Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#281 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Edie: I want you to stay away from me.

Terry: Edie, you love me… I want you to say it to me.

Edie: I didn’t say I didn’t love you. I said, “Stay away from me.”

Every few years a group of craftspeople and artists at the peak of their creativity come together at one time and place and create a movie.  This is one such movie.

Terry Malone (Marlon Brando) grew up among longshoremen on the waterfront.  His brother Charley (Rod Steiger) went to college and became a big shot in the extremely corrupt union run by boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb).  At one time, Johnny backed Terry in his career as a prize fighter.  Now Terry works as longshoreman, raises pigeons, and does the bidding of Johnny and Charley.  One day this involves luring a whistle-blower, Joey Doyle, to the roof, from which he is then pushed by Johnny’s henchmen.

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Terry has very mixed feelings about his part in Joey’s murder, which are further complicated by his feelings for Joey’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint).  A local priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden), becomes radicalized and starts working to get Terry to testify against Johnny and his gang before a crime commission.  Terry is torn between loyalty to his roots and his developing conscience and love for Edie until the powerful climax of the story.

I hadn’t seen this one in awhile and was blown away yet again.  I think this is Marlon Brando’s greatest performance.  He balances sensitivity and explosive power brilliantly. Then we get some of the best character actors of the 50’s and 60’s at the top of their game.  The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray makes the fantastic cinematography shine.  If all this were not enough, Leonard Bernstein’s amazing score perfectly accompanies the action and emotion of the piece.  Most highly recommended.

On the Waterfront won Academy Awards for Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Saint); Best Director; Best Writing, Story and Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; and Best Film Editing.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Supporting Actor (Cobb, Malden, and Steiger) and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comediy Picture.


Trailer

A Star Is Born (1954)

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Directed by George Cukor
Written by Moss Hart; 1937 screenplay by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, and Robert Carson; story by Carson and William A. Wellman
1954/USA
Transcona Enterprises/Warner Bros.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#284 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Judge George J. Barnes: Were you Norman Maine the actor?

This is a fine musical melodrama but it’s not a movie I love.

Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) is the singer with a band that is one of the opening acts at a benefit.  Norman Maine (James Mason), one of the featured stars, shows up roaring drunk and stumbles into her act.  Esther reacts like a trooper turning his appearance into a comedy spot.  Later that night, after he sobers up, Norman goes in search of Esther and finds her jamming with some other musicians at a closed club.  He recognizes star quality when he sees it and offers to bring Esther to the attention of Hollywood bigwigs.  Before he can do this, though, he is more or less shanghai’d off to a remote shooting location.

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Esther has bought the dream though and does her best to get somewhere in Hollywood. She is renamed Vickie Lester in the process. When Norman returns, he gets her a plum part and her talent does the rest and makes her a major star.  Unfortunately, twenty years of heavy drinking and bad behavior have rendered Norman virtually unemployable.  Norman’s addiction plays havoc with his romance and marriage to Vickie.  With Jack Carson as a cynical PR man and Charles Bickford as a studio head.

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This has some amazing numbers for Garland, particularly “The Man That Got Away”, and a great performance by Mason.  The rest of the numbers seem sort of shoe-horned into the melodrama but are quite OK. The jabs at Hollywood hypocrisy are effective.  I’m going to be in the minority, I know, in feeling like Garland goes way over the top in the final third of the movie.

This movie was a remake of A Star Is Born (1937) directed by William A. Wellman and starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March.  I prefer the story as a straight drama.  It was remade again in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson as a rock and roll melodrama.

A Star Is Born was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress; Bess Actor; Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Music, Original Song (“The Man That Got Away”); and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Trailer

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

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Directed by Stanley Donen
Written by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich and Dorothy Kingsley based on a story by Stephen Vincent Millay
1954/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#294 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Milly: Well, it wouldn’t hurt you to learn some manners, too.

Adam: What do I need manners for? I already got me a wife.

For us dance fans out there, this entertains despite the dated sexual politics and corn.

Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) is the eldest of seven parentless brothers carving out a homestead in a remote region of the Orgeon territory.  The housekeeping and cooking isn’t exactly up to scratch, so he decides what they need is some wives.  Adam makes one of his rare visits to town for supplies and starts scouting prospects.  All the eligible ladies are already spoken for.  But, rather miraculously, Milly, the feisty cook at the local saloon takes a long look at the big galoot and decides to marry him on the spot.  After she gets used to the idea of living with seven illiterate ruffians, the marriage works out ok.

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Milly begins to groom the other boys to win them wives as well.  They succeed in attracting some girls at a local barn-raising but courtship is not going so fast as they would wish.  Inspired by tales of the Sabine women, Adam decides to simply kidnap the lasses.  With Russ Tamblin as one of the boys and Julie Newmar as one of the brides.

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The superb dancing and singing was enough for me to overlook any political incorrectness in this one.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers won an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Color; and Best Film Editing.

Clip – Barn-raising dance