The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956)

The Solid Gold Cadillac220px-The_Solid_Gold_Cadillac_FilmPoster
Directed by Richard Quine
Written by Abe Burrows from the play by George S. Kaufman and Howard Teichmann
1956/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Laura Partridge: Do you like Shakespeare?

Edward L. McKeever: Well, I’ve read a lot of it.

Laura Partridge: Well, take my advice and don’t play it! It’s so tiring! They don’t let you sit down unless you’re a king!

Judy Holliday is playing a smart “dumb blonde” again with her Born Yesterday co-star from Broadway.  Laughs are to be had.

Unemployed actress Laura Partridge (Holliday) has time to kill so she attends the annual meeting of International Project Corporation, in which she own ten shares of stock.  At this particular meeting, the board is saying goodbye to the founder and CEO of the company Ed McKeever (Paul Douglas), who has sold his stock prior to departing for Washington on a government assignment.  Thereafter, she asks lots of embarrassing questions, mostly about the high salaries being paid to the board members.  The voice-over narrator (George Burns) has already made clear that the board is a gang of thieves.

SolidGoldCadillacLaura Partridge keeps attending meetings and the board gets so desperate that it hires her for a make-work position in charge of stockholder relations.  But Laura takes her job seriously and spends her time actually reaching out to small shareholders.  Later, she is sent to Washington to persuade McKeever to give the company insider deals on projects. The whole thing is further spiced up with a romance and a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington type ending.  With John Williams, Fred Clark, and Ray Collins among the crooks.

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This wasn’t perfect but I laughed out loud several times so I don’t have anything to complain about.

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Carousel (1956)

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Directed by Henry King
Written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron based on the musical play by Oscar Hammerstein III and the play “Liliom” by Ferenc Molnar
1956/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix Instant

Nettie: [singing] When you walk through a storm / Hold your head up high / And don’t be afraid of the dark.

The story is a somewhat irritating downer and there’s too much extraneous dancing.  I love the music so much that I enjoy it anyway.

As the film begins, we meet Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) whose current employment is polishing stars on a way station to heaven, a la Here Comes Mr. Jordan.  He is told his folks are having trouble down below.  Ordinarily he would have the right to 24-hours back on earth to help them out but he waived that right after he died 15 years ago.  He is given the opportunity to convince the Starkeeper (Gene Lockhart) to reinstate his privileges.  He starts to tell his story and we segue into flashback.

Billy was the barker on a carousel in New England, a blowhard, and a ladies man.  Young Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones) goes to the carnival with her friend and is entranced by Billy. She catches his eye as well and before we know it she has been fired from her job at the mill for staying out late and the carousel owner fires him out of jealousy.  They run off together and get married.

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Billy is not cut out for marriage.  He can’t find a job and hits Julie.  She has the patience of a saint.  When she announces she is pregnant, he is tempted to participate in an armed robbery with tragic consequences. Return back to the present.  The couple’s daughter Louise is now fifteen and very unhappy because she is constantly reminded that her father was a thief.  With Cameron Mitchell as Billy’s partner in crime.

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OK, this movie has a dream ballet plus a couple of other dance number that interrupt the flow of the story.  Domestic violence seems to get a free pass in a most annoying way.  But the music may be the most glorious that Rogers and Hammerstein ever composed.  My favorites are The Carousel Waltz, “If I Loved You” (below), and Billy’s Soliloquy.  This is also where “You’ll Never Walk Alone” comes from.  Shirley Jones is still batting 1000 with me.

Clip – McCrea and Jones sing “If I Loved You”

The Rainmaker (1956)

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Directed by Joseph Anthony
Written by N. Richard Nash from his play
1956/USA
Hal Wallis Productions/Paramount Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Noah Curry: We don’t believe in rainmakers.

Bill Starbuck: What DO you believe in mistah? Dyin’ cattle?

For me, this starts with Katharine Hepburn cast as a forty-year-old virgin and goes downhill from there.

Lizzie Curry (Hepburn) is smart, capable, and one heck of a good cook.  However, she is “plain” (?!) and speaks her mind so naturally she can’t catch a man.  This is her one aim in life.  She has a close family that loves her but her brother Noah (Lloyd Bridges) is getting fed up with her spinsterhood.  Her father is trying to set her up with the sheriff (Wendell Corey) but he is commitment-phobic and won’t even come over to taste Lizzie’s homemade limeade.

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In the meantime, Bill Starbuck (Burt Lancaster) a conman who claims he can relieve the current drought for one hundred dollars shows up to shake things up.  He gives both Lizzie and her younger brother (the “stupid one”) the courage to stand up for themselves and makes Lizzie feel beautiful at last.

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This movie is not actually too bad though Lancaster cuts the line between flamboyance and ham acting perilously close.  It rubs me wrong on a whole lot of different levels, though.  Hepburn is forced to play both below apparent age and grievously against type.  Hepburn may not be conventionally beautiful but there is no way in the world anybody could perceive her as plain.  The story is the epitome of 50’s sexual politics.  Lots of people love it for its romance however.

The Rainmaker was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

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1984 (1956)

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Directed by Michael Anderson
Written by William Templeton and Ralph Bettison from the novel by George Orwell
1956/UK/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Holiday Film Productions Ltd.
First viewing/YouTube

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” ― George Orwell, 1984

True horror is not being able to trust anyone.

This is a fairly faithful adaptation of Orwell’s dystopian novel.  Following a nuclear war in the 1960’s, the atom bomb has been outlawed but war has not.  The powers that be find that continual war is the best way of controlling the masses.  London is now the capital of its province of Oceania.  Oceania is at war with Eurasia and is ruled by Big Brother.  Telescreens are everywhere, monitoring the behavior of citizens.  Children spy on their parents.  Marriage and everything else is arranged by the state and love has been outlawed.

Winston Smith (Edmond O’Brian) works in the Ministry of Truth rewriting history.  As the story begins, he thinks he is being followed by a woman from the ministry.  Winston has a rebellious streak and is justifiably paranoid.  It turns out that the woman, Julia (Jan Sterling), has actually been awaiting a discreet opportunity to talk to him.  She finally tells him she loves him and they arrange to meet.

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After trying a couple of other spots, the couple start a form of domestic life on Sundays in the apartment of an antique dealer who befriends them.  The relationship is emboldening Winston, who decides to make contact with the underground.  He believes that O’Connor (Michael Redgrave) of the Inner Party has been sending him signals.  But hope is in short supply in 1984 …  With Donald Pleasance as Winston’s friend.

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I read the novel at a fairly young age and it terrified me.  For one thing, I have a hatred of rats that rivals the hero’s.  I thought this film did the novel justice. The art direction looked interesting but the YouTube print was a bit too fuzzy to really appreciate it. I can think of several actors that might have made a better Winston than O’Brien but he didn’t do too badly.  Recommended.

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Jubal (1956)

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Directed by Delmer Daves
Written by Russell S. Hughes and Delmer Daves from a novel by Paul Wellman
1956/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Sam, Horgan Rider: You know, sometimes I think it’s givin’ the good Lord the worst of it to say He invented people.

There are at least two love triangles too many in this Western.  Possibly three.

Kindly rancher Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) finds Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford) passed out and freezing to death in the mountains and takes him back to the ranch.  Evil ranch hand “Pinky” Pinkum (Rod Steiger) takes an instant dislike to Jubal, who “smells of sheep dip”.  But Shep likes him and offers him a job.  Soon Pinky has an additional reason to dislike the stranger when Shep’s wife Mae, whom Pinky has had an affair with, takes a liking to him.  Jubal is extremely loyal to Shep and isn’t interested in Mae.

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Pinky becomes further enraged when Shep makes Jubal foreman and continues to try to stir up trouble between the men.  Jubal comes across a religious group that is crossing Texas.  He falls in love at first sight with the daughter of the leader Naomi (Felicia Farr).  However, Naomi has been promised to another, extremely jealous man.  But Naomi prefers Jubal.  With all this emotion roiling around, you can be sure of a lot of additional drama before the end of the story.  With Charles Bronson as another ranch hand.

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This movie is nothing special.  The excessive love triangles pretty well insured that I would not like it much.

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The Red Balloon (1956)

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Directed by Albert Lamorisse
1956/France
Films Montsouris
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

 

Pascal – le petit garçon: Could you hold my balloon while I’m in school?

This may just be the perfect short film for any age.

There is almost no dialogue.  A young boy spots a red balloon practically as big as he is and makes it his own.  The balloon accompanies him on his adventures Paris, waiting faithfully when he has chores like going to school.  Drama intrudes toward the end and is resolved in the most delightful way.

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Paris never looked more beautiful and childhood never seemed more magical.  The score is fantastic as well. This film should be seen by everyone.  I can’t understand why it is not in the Book.

The Red Balloon won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Best Screenplay – Original.  It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

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New York Times review (spoiler)

Street of Shame (1956)

Street of Shame (Akasen chitai)Street_of_Shame_poster_207151
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Written by Masashige Narusawa from a novel by Yoshiko Shibake
1956/Japan
Daiei Studios
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Every man wants a woman to appeal to his better side, his nobler instincts and his higher nature-and another woman to help him forget them. — Helen Rowland

Mizoguchi’s swan song is one of his best efforts.

The story takes place against the background of the Japanese Diet’s consideration of a bill outlawing prostitution.  The “mother” and “father” of a brothel are mighty worried.  They needn’t be because the girls are in such desperate circumstances that they have nowhere else to turn.  Every woman except the youngest and most popular is deeply in debt.  The one with the money has turned loan shark and is also conning her patron into supplying her with further money in the belief that she will marry him when she gets out of debt.

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The women’s troubles do not end with their money woes.  We have one with an unemployed husband and baby who is barely scraping by; another who has been working to support her son; and one who finally leaves to marry a man in her village.  Finally, we are introduced to a new girl, the ultra-modern Westernized Mickie (Machiko Kyô).  None escapes additional tragedy as the story progresses.

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This is a powerful and moving film.  It has a very modern feel and is told more-or-less as a series of vignettes.  I like that Mizoguchi gives none of his whores hearts of gold.  They are more human and poignant for that.  Recommended.

This movie reportedly led to the final outlawing of prostitution in Japan the following year.  The sex trade lingers on as only actual intercourse for hire is subject to the ban.  Mizoguchi died in 1956 of leukemia at the age of 58.

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Swamp Women (1956)

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Directed by Roger Corman
Written by David Stern
1956/USA
Bernard Woolner Productions
First viewing/YouTube

Billie: [digging for diamonds] Ouch! I busted the only nail I had left!

If you are interested in a very bad movie, women in short-shorts, cat fights, and a few smiles, this one is for you.

After what seems like five or ten minutes of stock footage of the New Orleans mardi gras, we are introduced to an oil man (Treat (AKA Mike) Connors) and the gold digger who is after his money.  The couple decide to to off to the swamp where he wants to check out an oil prospect.  Then we get to the main story.  A police woman is on the trail of a fortune in diamonds.  She is convinced that some female convicts know where the loot is stashed and gets herself locked up with them.  She helps them escape and they lead her to that self same swamp.  The girls capture the oil man and his girlfriend as hostages.  They spend the rest of the film fussing, fighting, coming on to the stud muffin, and confronting the elements.  With poor Marie Windsor and Beverly Garland as swamp women.

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This has the advantage of being only 67 minutes long and does not overstay its welcome. Mainly interesting for an early look at Roger Corman’s money saving film techniques.  The acting is not as bad as it could have been thanks largely to Windsor.  What in the hell was she thinking?  Probably about the pay check.

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Crazed Fruit (1956)

Crazed Fruit (Kurutta kajitsu)Crazed_Fruit_poster_2
Directed by Kô Nakahira
Written by Shintarô Ishihara
1956/Japan
Nikkatsu Film Company
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

“Don’t let two men fall in love with you, girls. It’s not the sort of thing that ends well.” — Ally Carter, Uncommon Criminals

If this movie did not predate the movement, it could have been the inspiration for the French New Wave.  It surely inspired the next generation of Japanese filmmakers.

Natsuhisa and Haruji Takishima are brothers.  They are members of the “taiyouzoku” (Sun Tribe), affluent twenty-something slackers that spend most of their time at beach resorts, playing in the water, catching a few rays, and chasing women.  The older brother Natsuhisa is a playboy.  Haruji is still an idealist and a virgin.  Haruji spots a young woman, Eki, at the train station and is immediately taken with her beauty and body.

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When the two brothers run into her again, Haruji and Eki begin dating.  Haruji takes her to a party where he wins a contest to bring the most beautiful three girls with just one woman.  Natsuhisa finds out that Eki is married to a foreigner and, discovering that she actually cares for Haruji, blackmails her into sex.  The rest of the film takes the sibling rivalry to its natural conclusion.

Crazed-Fruit 2This movie seems very modern and almost European.  It looks stunning.  The scene at the end with the speed boat circling a sail boat is unforgettable.  The commentary said it was like Blackboard Jungle for the Japanese, in that it appealed to the aspirations of teenagers.  The score is fantastic.  I liked this a lot.  Recommended.

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The Man Who Never Was (1956)

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Directed by Ronald Neame
Written by Nigel Balchin from a book by Ewen Montagu
1956/UK
Sumar Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Adm. Cross: It’s the most outrageous, disgusting, preposterous, not to say barbaric idea I’ve ever heard, but work out full details and get back to me in the morning!

Here’s an OK true-life WWII thriller.

The Allies have defeated Germany in North Africa.  Everyone expects that the army will advance through Sicily.  This is the correct assumption but the British are seeking a way to divert Nazi troops to defend a false location.  Lt. Comdr. Ewen Montagu (Clifton Webb) is tasked with coming up with a plan.  He decides on planting a dead body near the coast of Spain carrying “top secret” documents saying the attack will be in Greece.

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The rest of the film focuses on the elaborate execution of this plan. With Gloria Grahame cast against type as the deadman’s “fiancee” and Stephen Boyd as a German spy.

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I found this a bit plodding but generally enjoyable.  Always nice to see Webb in a serious role.  He is acerbic but not a bit fey.  Grahame is good too.

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