Love Me or Leave Me (1955)

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Directed by Charles Vidor
Written by Daniel Fuchs and Isobel Lennart, story by Fuchs
1955/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

Martin Snyder: [Indignantly to Ruth] Now look here, you stupid little broad, do you know who I am? Do you think I let dames talk to me that way?

Strong performances by James Cagney and Doris Day raise this musical biopic above the average.

It is the Roaring Twenties.  Marty (‘The Gimp’) Snyder (Cagney) runs a laundry to restaurants and clubs in Chicago that mainly functions as a protection racket.  Ruth Etting (Day) is working as a dancer in one of the clubs he “services”, a job at which she has no talent.  Marty spots her in the line and decides she will make a great next girlfriend.  The feisty Ruth gives him the brush off until he figures out what she really wants – to be a singer.  With his contacts in the city, he offers to get her work.  Ruth needs the help but resists Martin’s sexual advances. Pianist Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell), who is sweet on Ruth, warns her against getting trapped by Marty.

Marty is surprised to discover that his protege has real talent.  Once she has a venue, she is a big hit.  Foolishly, however, Ruth continues to rely on Marty’s management.  Eventually, he gives her no choice but to take their relationship to the next step.  They marry soon after.

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Once Ruth hits the big time, Marty changes from an asset to a liability.  He cannot break the habit of getting what he wants with his fists.  She is totally miserable in the marriage but retains a kind of loyalty to the man, partly based on fear.  Can she free herself before succumbing to despair and alcohol?  With Robert Keith as Ruth’s agent and friend.

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James Cagney is excellent in this movie.  He brings a lot of humanity to his very unsympathetic character.  Day is very good as well and sings a series of standards from the era.  I enjoyed it a lot.

Love Me or Leave Me won an Academy Award in the category of Best Writing, Motion Picture Story.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Actor; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Sound, Recording; Best Music, Original Song (“I’ll Never Stop Loving You”); and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Trailer

The Trouble with Harry (1955)

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Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by John Michael Hayes based on a novel by Jack Trevor Story
1955/USA
Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Jennifer Rogers: He looked exactly the same when he was alive, only he was vertical.

If nothing else, this movie gave us Shirley MacLaine.  But it’s light and amusing as well.

Harry makes a highly inconvenient corpse but is mourned by nobody.  In fact, everybody thinks they may have killed him.  Captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) stumbles upon the body while he is out rabbit hunting and thinks a stray bullet has killed Harry.  He doesn’t have a chance to hide the body because a succession of people come out of nowhere to discover it.  Finally, he comes clean with local spinster Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick) and she invites him for coffee and muffins.

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Along the way we discover that Harry is the unlamented late husband of Jennifer Rogers (MacLaine).  She beaned him when he came to reunite with her.  The murder brings Jennifer together with painter Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe).  The witnesses/murderers all team up to help each other while burying and unburying the body over and over as new clues develop.

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This is super slight and purely fanciful.  It’s a pleasant watch but nothing more.

Trailer

The Seven Year Itch (1955)

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Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Billy Wilder and George Axelrod from Axelrod’s play
1955/USA
Charles K. Feldman Group/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Richard Sherman: Miss Morris, I’m perfectly capable of fixing my own breakfast. As a matter of fact, I had a peanut butter sandwich and two whiskey sours.

This is not one of Billy Wilder’s most highly rated films but I think it’s one of his funniest.

Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) is a man with a vivid imagination who is a bit of a Walter Mitty.  He sends his wife (Evelyn Keyes) and son off to Maine for the summer while he toils at a pulp fiction publisher’s in hot, humid Manhattan.  He has strict instructions from his wife and his doctor not to smoke or drink.  Naturally, his resolve withers the minute he is on his own.  Then it crumbles completely when confronted with his new upstairs neighbor  played by a luscious Marilyn Monroe and named in the credits only as The Girl.

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The Girl’s apartment has no air conditioning and she is suffering mightily from the heat. Richard’s has air conditioning in every room.  Even Richard’s wildest dreams could not have come up with the situation that falls into his lap.  With Sonny Tufts as an imaginary rival, Oskar Homolka as a psychiatrist, and Robert Strauss as a randy building superintendent.

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The title refers to that stage in a marriage when the parties’ attentions supposedly start to wander.  Monroe reveals herself to be an expert comedienne as the temptation in question but your reaction to the movie will probably depend on your views on Tom Ewell’s performance.  I think it is absolutely hilarious.  He’s so lame and full of himself all at the same time.  Recommended.

Trailer

This Island Earth

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Directed by Joseph Newman
Written by Franklin Coen and George Callahan; story by Raymond F. Jones
1955/USA
Universal International Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Dr. Ruth Adams: My mind is my own, and nobody’s going to change it! I’m not going into that room!

Some interesting special effects accompany a plodding and puzzling screenplay.

Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) is a genius nuclear scientist who also pilots his institute’s private jet.  He is about to make a major breakthrough in harnessing nuclear energy. When he returns from a conference, his plane goes haywire and is finally landed by unknown forces.  Soon enough, he begins getting shipments he hasn’t ordered.  He begins to piece together the parts and finally constructs an “interroceter”.  Unknowingly, he has passed an intelligence test contrived by the planet Metaluna which is looking for nuclear scientists such as himself.  He begins communicating with the alien Exeter (Jeff Morrow) who tells him his plane will be flown to Metaluna at a certain time.  Not one to pass up a challenge, Meacham agrees.

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When he arrives on Metaluna, Meacham is met at the airport by Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue), who he had a fling with at a conference previously.  She denies she ever met him and generally acts very paranoid.  Eventually we find out that Metaluna has gathered many of the earth’s scientists to solve its nuclear energy problems.  The planet has been protected up until now from meteor attacks by an enemy planet by a force field powered by atomic energy.  Its energy reserves are dwindling rapidly.  The rest of the film is occupied with Ruth and Meachum’s adventures and attempts to escape.

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For 1955, I thought this had some OK special effects.  It’s fairly talky though and it was never satisfactorily explained why a civilization as superior as Metaluna required Earthlings to solve its problems.    It passes all tests for cheesy late night viewing, however.

Trailer

Oklahoma!

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Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Written by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig based on the musical play by Rogers and Hammerstein
1955/USA
Magna Theatre Productions/Rogers and Hammerstein Productions
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
#312 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Oh what a beautiful morning,/ Oh what a beautiful day,/ I’ve got a wonderful feeling,/ Everything’s going my way. – Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein III

This musical has been part of my life – Gloria Grahame was Ado Annie long  before I knew her as a femme fatale – and I will always love it.

The story takes place in the last days of the Oklahoma territory.  Settlers are looking forward to statehood.  There is some good-natured conflict between ranchers and farmers in the area.

Laurie (Shirley Jones) lives on a farm with her Aunt Eller (Charlotte Greenwood).  She is being courted by cowboy Curly (Gordon MacRae).  This courtship consists mostly of teasing and bickering.  Reclusive farmhand Jud Fry (Rod Steiger) takes an almost proprietary interest in Laurie.  He creeps her out but she agrees to go to a barn raising with him to make Curly jealous.

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Concurrently, Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame), who “can’t say no”, is having a dalliance with peddler Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert).  Her fiance, cowboy Will Parker (Gene Nelson), returns from Kansas and wants to marry her but her father will not this happen unless Will can produce $50 cash.  In the meantime, dad catches Annie and Ali in a compromising position and encourages their marriage at the point of a shotgun.

When Laurie rebuffs Jud’s advances on the way to the party, he vows revenge.  The singing and dancing continues until everybody ends up with the right partner.

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Oklahoma! was the first Rogers and Hammerstein collaboration and signaled a new era in Broadway musicals with the songs integrated into the story.  We also get the first dream ballet, which will be a feature of musicals for the next several years.  I think the music is glorious.  I have always loved Shirley Jones in everything.  Fred Zinnemann films the scenery beautifully.  Recommended to musical lovers.

Oklahoma! won Academy Awards for Best Sound, Recording and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated for Best Cinematography, Color and Best Film Editing.

Trailer

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Guys and Dolls (1955)

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Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from the play by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and stories by Damon Runyon
1955/USA
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#309 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Sergeant Sarah Brown: That bacardi flavor, it certainly makes a difference, doesn’t it?

Sky Masterson: Oh, yeah. Nine times out of ten.

I’m not ashamed of loving this movie

Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) has a problem.  On the 14th anniversary of his engagement to stripper Adelaide (Vivian Blaine),  he is broke and without a venue for his illegal crap game.  The town is full of high rollers but the heat, in the form of Sgt. Brannigan, is on.  He needs $1,000 cash up front to use a friend’s garage.  So Nathan decides he will earn the money by means of a sucker bet.  He finagles Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) into bragging that he can take any woman at all to Havana for dinner the next day.  After Sky falls for a bet, Nathan picks Save-a-Soul Mission missionary Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) as the lucky lady.

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Sky realizes he has been had and vows that he will not let Nathan get the better of him.  Finally he sees a way to get Sarah to bite in exchange for delivering twelve sinners to impress a General that wantq to close down the struggling mission.  Naturally, he gets more than he bargained for once he gets her to Havana.  With Stubby Kaye as Nathan’s henchman Nicely-Nicely Johnson.

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I was in this musical in my youth, have it practically memorized, and love it still.  One has to accept the cartoon sensibility of the piece and the picturesque Damon Runyon way of speaking.  I think these are quite charming and like the music a lot as well.  It’s fun to see Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons sing and dance.  I hadn’t realized Joseph L. Mankiewicz was at the helm until this viewing.  Recommended to musical lovers.

Guys and Dolls was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Trailer – Ed Sullivan looks so young!

Clip – “Fugue for Tinhorns”

I Live in Fear (1955)

I Live in Fear (Ikimono no kiroku) (AKA “Record of a Living Being”)fear poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Shinobu Hashimori and Hideo Iguni; story by Akira Kurosawa and Fumio Hayasaka
1955/Japan
Tojo Company
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

I do not believe that civilization will be wiped out in a war fought with the atomic bomb. Perhaps two-thirds of the people of the earth will be killed. — Albert Einstein

This has an intriguing premise and Toshiro Mifune as a 70-year-old but it doesn’t rank with the best of Kurosawa’s films.

Dr. Harada (Takashi Shimura) is a dentist who volunteers his time as a judge in the court that arbitrates family disputes.  The wife of Kiichi Nakajima (Mifune) has filed a petition with the court asking that the old man be deemed incompetent at the insistence of her children.  The problem is that Nakajima, who has made his fortune in the foundary business, wants to move his entire family to Brazil.  He figures that Brazil is safe from the hydrogen bomb and has an opportunity to buy a farm there.  No one else shares his sense of urgency and the entire family relies on the foundary, which would have to be sold, for their employment and income.

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We follow the story behind the scenes where the children reveal themselves to be ingrates. Nakajima also has a couple of mistresses and illegitimate children whom he also wants to move to Brazil.  These people outdo the legitimate family in their ingratitude and grasping ways.  Harada has sympathy for the old man’s fears but the court finally agrees it has no choice but to grant the certificate of incompetency.  Nakajima immediately appeals.  But when his exit route is cut off, his fear builds to dramatic proportions.

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It’s just hard to buy MIfune as an old man once one has been so familiar with him as an action hero.  He certainly gives it his all however.  The movie is a little heavy on the message but it’s not bad.  Just not the ideal follow-up to Seven Samurai!

Theme music – sorry no video

I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955)

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Directed by Daniel Mann
Written by Helen Deutsch and Jay Richard Kennedy from a book by Lillian Roth, Mike Connolly and Gerald Frank
1955/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

Lillian Roth: What I’m doing now is ‘wrong’… and I’m *doing* it!

Susan Hayward makes an excellent alcoholic in this inspiring biopic.

Lillian Roth (Hayward) starts life trying to fulfill the dreams of her stage mother (Jo Van Fleet).  She does pretty well as a child act on the vaudeville circuit and then moves on as a teenager to Broadway and even, briefly, to Hollywood.  There she is reunited with childhood sweetheart David.  They defy her mother to become engaged and are on the way to happiness when tragedy strikes.  Lillian goes into a tailspin from which she does not recover for many years.

She is so distraught she is unable to sleep yet insists on performing.  Her nurse gives her her first drink to help her sleep and it is downhill from there.  She breaks with her mother then continues a wild lifestyle until she marries a man she doesn’t love while on a bender.

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After that marriage fails she gets even deeper into the sauce.  She thinks salvation may have come when she meets Tony Bardman (Richard Conte), a commanding businessman with a drinking problem of his own.  She marries him thinking that they can help each other break their habits but this marriage is a greater disaster than her first.

The rest of the movie tracks Lillian’s descent to her “bottom” and rebirth to life and love in AA.  With Eddie Albert as Lillian’s sponsor.

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I liked this a lot.  It’s one of Hayward’s great roles and not too melodramatic or cliched.  It all rang pretty true to me.  Van Fleet is outstanding in a much more nuanced version of the typical stage mother.  Recommended.

I’ll Cry Tomorrow won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Actress; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.

Trailer

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)

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Directed by Otto Preminger
Written by Walter Newman and Lewis Meltzer from the novel by Nelson Algren
1955/USA
Otto Preminger Films/Carlysle Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant
#307 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Frankie Machine: You got any money, Molly?… I feel so sick. I hurt all over…

Molly: Jump off a roof if you’re gonna kill yourself but don’t ask me to help ya…

This is probably the first post-Code heroin addict movie.  As such, I should cut it some slack for the many elements that have become cliches over the years.

Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra) has just been released from a federal prison hospital where he has kicked the monkey off his back.  He returns to his wife Zosh (Eleanor Parker), a clinging whiner.  It is clear he sticks around solely due to his guilt over being the driver in an auto accident that has left her in a wheelchair.  He would rather be with Molly (Kim Novak) and she reciprocates his feelings.  They keep it platonic for the moment though.

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Frankie learned to play drums in the hospital, is talented at it, and has a referral from the doctor to a booker of players in big bands.  He soon has lined up an audition. Unfortunately, his golden arm refers to his prowess as a poker dealer rather than as a drummer.  From the moment Frankie enters the his local hang-out, his former employer is after him to get back in the game and his pusher is needling him to take his first shot.  A few setbacks pull Frankie back to his old life.

The third act features the obligatory withdrawal scene, a murder, and the resolution of the love triangle.  With Arnold Stang as Frankie’s friend.

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This movie was another Code breaker from Otto Preminger and surely felt quite wild and risque in 1955.  I’ve seen so many other drug movies (not my favorite genre at that) that today its presentation of drug culture seems vaguely hilarious.  The pusher is the most ludicrous of the characters.  Sinatra is very solid though and the ladies are good,  My favorite part was Elmer Bernstein’s jazzy score.

The Man with the Golden Arm was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actor; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer

She Was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum (1955)

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Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Keisuke Kinoshita fram a novel by Sachio Ito
1955/Japan
Shôchiku Eiga
First viewing/Hulu

 

among my pitifully/ thatched eaves…/ a chrysanthemum — Haiku by Issa

This is a picturesque rural romance featuring Kinoshita’s standard buckets of tears.

An old man (Chisû Ryô) is being rowed back to the island where he grew up.  As he goes he reflects on the one true love of his life.  We segue into flashback where we spend most of the film.  Masao is a fifteen-year-old who is preparing to go off to the mainland for high school.  Tamiko is his seventeen-year-old cousin.  Masao’s family is better off than Tamiko’s and she  is more or less a servant in Masao’s household.  The two are inseparable.

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Tamiko, however, is considered to be of marriageable age and Masao’s mother is determined that her boy will spend the next several years studying and will not be marrying her.  The rest of the family and the townsfolk are downright nasty and malicious in their gossip.  The young couple has a totally chaste relationship but Masao is beginning to develop feelings for Tamiko.  Mother sets out to break off the friendship resulting in the aforementioned tears.

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The best part of this film for me was its observation of old-time Japanese rural culture and the beautiful scenery.  The score is also fantastic.  The story did not really grab me but it’s an OK doomed romance if you like that kind of thing.

Stills set to the beautiful music of the film