East of Eden (1955)

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Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Paul Osborn from a novel by John Steinbeck
1955/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Cal Trask: I’ve been jealous all my life. Jealous, I couldn’t even stand it. Tonight, I even tried to buy your love, but now I don’t want it anymore… I can’t use it anymore. I don’t want any kind of love anymore. It doesn’t pay off.

Elia Kazan shows how Cinemascope should be done, James Dean tries to become the next Marlon Brando, and the supporting actors shine.

The Steinbeck source novel is a loose retelling of the Cain and Abel story set at the time of WWI.  Adam Trask (Raymond Massey) is a God-fearing farmer in the Salinas Valley of California.  He has two sons Aaron and Cal (Dean).  Aaron is a lot like his father but Adam struggles to comprehend Cal’s behavior.  Cal is troubled, feels unloved and as the story opens thinks he has tracked down his supposedly dead mother Kate (Jo Van Fleet).  He tries to visit her at the brothel she runs in Monterey but is vigorously rebuffed.

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Adam’s dream is to establish a market for California produce back East during the winter. He hopes to do this through refrigeration, which is in its infancy.  The dream makes him happy for awhile but the reality is that the technology is not ready and Adam loses his shirt.  Cal decides to win his father’s respect by earning back the lost money through speculating in bean futures on the hunch that the U.S. will get into the war in Europe.  He is more successful in his second attempt to reunite with Kate and she loans him the seed capital for the venture, seeing a kindred spirit and a business man in Cal.

Aaron is vehemently opposed to the war and Adam has found work at the draft board, where he agonizes over sending boys off to combat.  Aaron’s fiancee Abra (Julie Harris) is strangely drawn to Cal and helps him organize the disastrous birthday party at which Cal plans to present his father with the money.  With Burl Ives as the town sheriff and Albert Dekker as Cal’s business partner.

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Kazan frames his shots to really take advantage of the wide-screen process and the whole thing looks beautiful in a rather faded old-timey way.  The acting is uniformly good.  My favorite was Raymond Massey.  Dean has enormous presence but he is no Brando.

Jo Van Fleet won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.  The film was Oscar-nominated in the following categories:  Best Actor (Dean); Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Trailer

Bride of the Monster (1955)

Bride of the Monsterbride poster
Directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Written by Edward D. Wood, Jr. and Alex Gordon
1955/USA
Rolling M. Productions
Repeat viewing/YouTube

 

Dr. Eric Vornoff: My dear professor Strowsky, twenty years ago, I was banned from my home land, parted from my wife and son, never to see them again. Why? Because I suggested to use the atom elements, for producing super beings, beings of unthinkable strength and size. I was classed as a madman, a charlatan, outlawed in a world of science which previously honored me as a genius. Now here in this forsaken jungle hell I have proven that I am alright. No, Professor Strowski, it is no laughing matter.

One advantage of watching a bunch of boring bad movies is that they make Ed Wood’s flicks look a lot better.

People are being found killed at an alarming rate on Marsh Lake swamp.  Rumors are spreading that the swamp is guarded by a monster.  Within the first five minutes of the story, we learn that the slain are dispatched by a gigantic (rubber) octopus kept by mad scientist Dr. Eric Vornoff (Bela Lugosi) who has set up shop at Manor House.  The muscle of the operation is Vornoff’s mute Tibetan slave Lobo (Tor Johnson).  The strangers that are not immediately dispatched by his pet are subjected to the doctor’s experiments aimed at creating an atomic superman.

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Ace reporter Janet Lawton believes the monster rumors.  The police are interested only in facts and evidence.  Janet is engaged to Lt. Dick Craig.  She sets off to the swamp on her own without telling anyone.  In the meantime, the police are approached by suspicious foreign scientist Professor Strosky who tells them of his experience as a monster hunter. The chief assigns Dick to accompany Strosky to the swamp.  Good thing too as Dick arrives just in time find Janet in the clutches of Dr. Vornoff.

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One thing we can say about Ed Wood is that he had a vision.  A demented vision, to be sure, but a vision.  This 60-minute film moves along fairly briskly and has the Woodian dialogue that I can’t resist.  One could ignore the phony rubber octopus but why do that when the death struggles of its victims are so darn amusing?  This is by far the best of the Ed Wood movies I have seen.  That does not make it “good”, of course.

Trailer

Bride of the Monster v. Ed Wood

One Way Ticket to Hell (1955)

One Way Ticket to Hell (AKA “Teenage Devil Dolls”)one-way-ticket-to-hell-over-sized-one-sheet-1955
Directed by Bamlet Lawrence Price Jr.
Written by Bamlet Lawrence Price Jr.
1955/USA
Bamlet Price’s master’s thesis at UCLA
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

“KNOW YOUR DOPE FIEND. YOUR LIFE MAY DEPEND ON IT! You will not be able to see his eyes because of the Tea-Shades, but his knuckles will be white from inner tension …. He will stagger and babble when questioned. He will not respect your badge. The Dope Fiend fears nothing. He will attack, for no reason, with every weapon at his command-including yours. BEWARE. Any officer apprehending a suspected marijuana addict should use all necessary force immediately. One stitch in time (on him) will usually save nine on you. Good luck. -The Chief” — Hunter S. Thompson

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good “bad” drug exploitation movie.  This one filled the bill nicely.

The story is told in flashback and relates the saga of Cassandra Leigh.  We watch her go from troubled teen to motorcycle gang member to pothead to unhappy wife to prescription drug abuser to heroin addict to pusher and on to yet another stint in jail.  Her life is suitably lurid and punctuated by harrowing withdrawal scenes.  Poor Cassandra.

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This was the director’s film school project and was made for $11,000.  Budget constraints meant that the movie was dialogue free.  The whole tale is told via voice-over narration from a narcotics detective with some post-synchronized Foley sound effects and rudimentary music.    All considered, it kept my interest for its 60-minute running time.  I didn’t think it was too terrible for what it was.

Trivia:  The director was married to contract actress Anne Francis at the time.

Somebody’s (cast or crew?) photo memory book of the film

Night of the Hunter (1955)

Night of the Hunter1955-night-of-the-hunter
Directed by Charles Laughton
Written by James Agee from a novel by Davis Grubb
1955/USA
Paul Gregory Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#310 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Ben Harper: What religion do you profess, preacher? Rev. Harry Powell: The religion the Almighty and me worked out betwixt us.

This is an odd but extremely beautiful film with fantastic performances from Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish, two of my favorite actors ever.

The story takes place in the rural South during the Great Depression.  Ben Harper (Peter Graves) has robbed a bank and killed a guard in order to provide for his young family.  As the police close in, he hides the loot, making his son John and daughter Pearl swear never to reveal the location of the loot to anyone, including their mother Willa (Shelley Winters). Ben is then arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death.  He has the misfortune of sharing his cell with “Preacher” Harry Powell (Mitchum), who learns many details of Ben’s life but not the location of his money.

Powell, a serial wife murderer, sets off for the Harper farm after his release from prison.  He is on a mission to steal the money.  If necessary, he will add another widow to his collection.  Willa and Powell marry, after which he begins his reign of terror on the children.

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Finally, the children escape in the nick of time and set off downriver in their father’s skiff. After some hardship and Harry’s constant menace, they are taken in by Rachel Cooper (Gish), a kind woman who rules over her charges with tough love.

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I watched the Criterion Blu-Ray release of this and it looks stunningly beautiful.  The lighting is absolute perfection throughout.  Mitchum, who was working well outside his comfort zone, makes a fantastic villain but I love Gish even more in this.  She has one of the great all-time faces.  Somehow this film has always felt very naive to me, especially in the second half where we get all kinds of too obvious symbolism using the beasts of the forest, etc.  I think I understand it better now that I’ve heard the commentary.  It seems that Laughton was simply ultra faithful to the novel.  His vision was to tell the tale through the eyes of the son.  My quibbles aside, this is a classic and a must-see.  Recommended.


Trailer

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)

The Phantom from 10,000 Leaguesphantom-from-10000-leagues-poster-review-monster-b-movie
Directed by Dan Milner
Written by Lou Ruskoff; original story by Dorys Lukather
1955/USA
Milner Brothers Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

William S. ‘Bill’ Grant: You seemed a little anxious not to be seen.

George Thomas: Well, I saw two strangers standing over a corpse. Not being the hero type, I decided this was no place for me.

This is one of those movies where everybody acts suspicious but we never exactly find out why.  That coupled with the early reveal of the ludicrous monster makes this a stinker.

In so far as I understand it, here goes.  We open with a shot of the monster slaying a fisherman.  A man in a suit is examining the body when he is interrupted by a federal agent.  He tells the agent his name is Ted Baxter but we soon learn he is actually genius scientist Dr. Ted Stevens.  Next we are introduced to genius scientist #2, Professor King. He is the most suspicious of all and conducts all his experiments behind locked doors.  His secretary and assistant are both trying hard to find out what goes on in King’s lab.  King lives with his beautiful adult daughter.  Two guesses as to what happens when Stevens meets her.

Anyway, a bunch of stuff and several deaths happen before we learn that the monster is guarding a large radioactive deposit.

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1955 is turning out to be a good year for bad movies.  This one also ranks lower on IMDb than Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster, which sets a very low bar indeed.  It thoroughly deserves its abysmal rating.  See the Joe Dante clip for the reasons why.

Clip – opening

Joe Dante on the film – Trailers from Hell

Conquest of Space (1955)

Conquest of Spaceconquest of space poster
Directed by Byron Haskin
Written by James O’Hanlon, Philip Yordan, Barré Lyndon, and George Worthing Yates from a book by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley
1955/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Sergeant Imoto: Some years ago, my country chose to fight a terrible war. It was bad, I do not defend it, but there were reasons. Somehow those reasons are never spoken of. To the Western world at that time, Japan was a fairybook nation: little people living in a strange land of rice-paper houses… people who had almost no furniture, who sat on the floor and ate with chopsticks. The quaint houses of rice paper, sir: they were made of paper because there was no other material available. And the winters in Japan are as cold as they are in Boston. And the chopsticks: there was no metal for forks and knives and spoons, but slivers of wood could suffice. So it was with the little people of Japan, little as I am now, because for countless generations we have not been able to produce the food to make us bigger. Japan’s yesterday will be the world’s tomorrow: too many people and too little land. That is why I say, sir, there is urgent reason for us to reach Mars: to provide the resources the human race will need if they are to survive. That is also why I am most grateful to be found acceptable, sir. I volunteer.

General Samuel T. Merritt: Thank you, Sergeant Imoto. You’re not a little man.

This George Pal space extravaganza would be the definition of mediocre if it were not so strange.

It is the contemporary future and a unit of the International Space Agency works on a space station constructing a space ship.  Its commander is Col. Sam Merritt, who designed the space station.  Merritt is a no-nonsense guy to say the least, having commandeered his son Barney for involuntary work there and taking no flak whatsoever from any of his men.  We learn early on that prolonged stays on the station can cause “space fatigue” which manifests itself in different forms.  One of the astronauts who was selected for the initial expedition experiences temporary paralysis and is booted out of the program.  Col. Merritt is secretly experiencing severe headaches and insomnia.

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An official from earth comes to deliver new orders sending the spaceship to Mars, rather than the moon as had been expected.  Here is where the colonel begins to wig out.  He calls for volunteers and his son tears up his transfer orders to become second in command in the craft.  Once launched the colonel, now promoted to general, spends much of his time reading his bible.  He begins to view landing on Mars as the ultimate blasphemy.  Can the ship and crew survive its commander’s hysteria?

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The special effects are rudimentary even compared to earlier science fiction films produced by George Pal.  The story is a little reminiscent of Moby Dick with the General as Ahab.  It’s heavy on the melodrama with some not-too-comic relief from the resident Brooklynite and Irishman.  Yet I watched it all in a single sitting.  The biblical prophesies piqued my interest.  I really could not figure out whether the filmmakers meant them as a warning until the end.

Trailer

Rififi (1955)

Rififi (Du rififi chez les hommes)rififi
Directed by Jules Dassin
Written by Jules Dassin, Rene Wheeler, and Auguste de Breton from a novel by Le Breton
1955/France
Pathé Consortium Cinema/Indusfilms, Societe Nouvelle Pathe Cinema/Primafilm
Repeat viewing/Netflix

Mario Ferrati: [to Tony about Cesar] For a job with you he’ll come. Cesar! There’s not a safe that can resist Cesar and not a woman that Cesar can resist.

This excellent heist film never loses its fascination.

Jewel thief Tony le Stephánois (Jean Servais) is released from prison looking old and ill with a persistent cough.  His first stop is the home his young friend Jo shares with his new wife and young son, also named Tony.  Another associate proposes that Tony lead a daylight robbery of a jewelry store show window.  Tony refuses the offer.  His prime goal at the moment is to get revenge on his lover Mado, who took up with evil nightclub owner Grutter while Tony was in prison.

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This accomplished, Tony is ready for another job.  On his terms of course.  He has in mind a complex scheme to rob the jeweler’s safe.  His old gang is game and one of them calls on an Italian safecracker friend of his named Cesar (Jules Dassin under the name “Perlo Vita”).

We follow the gang’s preparations and then get 32-minutes of thrilling dialogue and music-free footage of the actual heist.  Can the gang sustain its plan until the bitter end?

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The heist sequence of this film has never been topped.  It is so completely spell-binding that one does not even notice the absence of any sound other than the dull tapping of the mallets and muffled whirr of drills.  The rest of the movie is not quite on that level but Dassin shoots Paris lovingly, the acting is very good, and the jazzy score is a treat.  I really can’t figure out how it missed the 1001 Movies list.  Recommended.

Clip – the song “Rififi” (no subtitles)

American Trailer – dubbed (I watched a subtitled version)

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Godzilla Raids Againgodzilla raids poster
Directed by Motoyoshi Oda
Written by Takeo Murata and Shigeake Hidaka; story by Shigeru Kayama
1955/Japan
Toho Company
First viewing/Amazon Prime

[last line; Japanese version] Shoichi Tsukioka: Kobayashi… we beat Godzilla for you.

The quaint language used in the English dub wrecked this otherwise worthy first Godzilla sequel for me.

Kobayashi is forced to crash land his plane on a remote island.  His pilot friend Tsukioka comes to rescue him.  This is when the men witness a resurrected relative of Godzilla battling the Angilas monster.  They report when they come home and a high-level meeting is called.  Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) from the first movie tells the crowd that, now that the oxygen destroyer and its creator have perished, Japan is doomed.

The two monsters set off toward Osaka.  For a while, authorities are successful in attracting the beasts off shore through the use of bright lights.  Unfortunately, some escaped convicts manage to set a refinery on fire and the battle is on in downtown Osaka.  The rest of the film follows the all-out effort to defeat the monster.
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Rumor has it that the original Japanese version of this movie is up there with the original Gojira.  The only one available to me though was dubbed in English.  This might not have been so bad except that the characters were made to speak in a very old-fashioned and slightly ridiculous lingo as when a crowd is said to be “making merry” in a night club.  The character of Kobayashi, played by one of the Seven Samurai, comes off as comic and mentally slow, when in fact he is the hero.

American Trailer

Joe Dante on the film – Trailers from Hell

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende)Smiles of a summer night
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman
1955/Sweden
Svensk Filmindustri
Repeat viewing/DVD collection
#313 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Mrs. Armfeldt: I am tired of people. But that doesn’t stop me from loving them.

For my money, this is the most charmingly poetic romantic comedy of all time.

The story takes place at Midsummer near the end of the 19th century in Sweden. Lawyer Fredrik Engerman (Gunnar Bjornstrand) has married his young ward Anne (Ulla Jacobsen). She is now about 18 but the marriage is still unconsumated.  The pair live with servants, including randy parlor maid Petra (Harriet Andersson), who is the same age as Anne.  Fredrik’s gloomy adult son from his first marriage, Henrik, a student of theology, is visiting.

One day as he is enjoying a chaste nap with Anne, Fredrik utters the word “Desiree” in his sleep.  This is the actress Desiree Arnfelt (Eva Dahlbeck).  Desiree and Fredrik had an affair following the death of his first wife at the end of which she dumped him.  Fredrik and Anne go to see Desiree in the theater but Anne asks to return home with a sick headache, a fairly common maneuver with her.  Frederik sneaks out later to visit Desiree.  Their reunion is interrupted by the arrival of her lover Count Carl Magnus Malcolm, a pompous and macho officer.

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Desiree decides to do a little match-making, including some of her own, and invites Fredrik and Carl Magnus, with their respective wives, as well as Henrik for a weekend at her mother’s country estate.  We get a lot of great dialogue plus a complicated suite of romantic maneuvers before every person at the event ends up with the right partner.

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I love this movie.  It reminds me a bit of Renoir’s Rules of the Game without the tragedy. All the acting is perfection as are many of the shots and moments.  Desiree’s mother is priceless.  The ending is sublime.  I wish Bergman had continued to direct some comedies later into his career.  Highly recommended.

The story was remade as Sondheim’s Broadway musical A Little Night Music and the 1977 movie made from that musical.

Trailer

The Court Jester (1955)

The Court Jestercourt jester poster
Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama
Written by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank
1955/USA
Dena Enterprises
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Hawkins: But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?

Griselda: No! The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!

This musical send-up of “Robin Hood” features what is probably Danny Kaye’s best performance.  As a bonus, it reunites us with Basil Rathbone, who even does some fencing.

Hubert Hawkins (Kaye) entertains the rebel band headed by the Black Fox and is often assigned to care for the infant heir to the throne of England.  He is in love with Maid Jean (Glynnis Johns), one of the rebel soldiers.  Evil King Roderick I, who has usurped the throne receives news that the infant lives.  Hawkins and Jean are assigned to move the boy to a hidden sanctuary.

On the way, they run into Giacomo, who is on his way to become jester to the King.  This looks to be the ideal way to infiltrate the palace and Hawkins takes his place.

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Once Hawkins arrives, there are any number of mishaps before the fairy tale ending.  One of the most amusing of these is when a witch (Mildred Natwick) hypnotizes Hawkins to woo the Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury).

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I’m not the world’s greatest Danny Kaye fan but he keeps his shtick under control here and is entertaining.  Rathbone has aged a lot by 1955 but he’s still a very good villain and a graceful fencer.

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