Peyton Place (1957)

Peyton Placepeyton-place-movie-poster-1957-1020259553
Directed by Mark Robson
Written by John Michael Hayes from the novel by Grace Metalios
1957/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Jerry Wald Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix

Rodney Harrington: We were just playing a game called Photography. You turn off the lights and see what develops.

This glossy melodrama practically introduced U.S. audiences to rape, incest, illegitimacy, and plenty of sex talk.  Old stuff nowadays but it still looks good.

Gossip seems to be the staple industry of Peyton Place.  Everybody has a secret.  Some hide them more successfully than others.  We are plunged immediately into the trials and tribulations of the high school set.  Free-thinking class valedictorian Allison McKenzie (Diane Varsi) wants to be a writer.  She is curious about sex but seems too sensible to do anything really foolish.  Her widowed mother Constance (Lana Turner) is repressed and thinks any kissing should wait until after marriage.  Allison fights with her every step of the way.

The other young people are Rodney Harrington as the rich boy in lust with “fast” Betty Anderson (Terry Moore).  Norman Page (Russ Tamblyn) is a shy boy with mother problems of his own and Selena Cross (Hope Lange) is a sweet girl from the other side of tracks. To complete our cast we have new school principal Michael Rossi (Lee Phillips) who tries to court Constance, Selena’s drunken stepfather Lucas (Arthur Kennedy), and Dr. Swain, the town’s voice of reason.

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The plot is convoluted and I won’t go into details.  It takes us through the elements I discuss in the intro by means of now-standard soap opera plot devices.  With Mildred Dunnock as a teacher and Leon Ames as Rodney’s father.

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There is no way a movie like this would be up for so many Oscars now.  In 1957, though, the film screamed “important” for its willingness to take on the Code.  It kept my interest and the color photography is beautiful.

My introduction to Peyton Place came through the TV series when I was in junior high school.  Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neill, who played Allison and Rodney, became familiar faces there before they were movie stars.  I had always assumed Peyton Place was in New England for some reason.  Given the Southern accents that some of the actors try to adopt in the movie, it seems I was wrong. Or maybe I was right and the accents are pretty bad …

Peyton Place was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actress (Turner); Best Supporting Actor (Kennedy); Best Supporting Actor (Tamblyn); Best Supporting Actress (Lang); Best Supporting Actress (Varsi); Best Director; Best Writing, Screeplay Based on Material from Another Medium; and Best Cinematography.

Trailer

 

I Am Waiting (1957)

I Am Waiting (Ore wa matteru ze)I_Am_Waiting-674394616-large
Directed by Koreyoshi Kurohara
Written by Shintarô Ishihara
1957/Japan
Nikkatsu
First viewing/Hulu

I’m a gangster, and gangsters don’t ask questions. Lil Wayne

This fairly stylish Japanese film noir is hampered by its slow pace.

Jôji Shimaki spots Saeko staring bleakly into the water.  She doesn’t respond to his questions but finally goes back to his restaurant with him.  We gradually find out their stories.

Jôji is an ex-boxer who killed a man in a bar brawl.  His last dream is to join his brother in Brazil where they are to acquire farm land but he has not received any response to his many letters.  Saeko believes she may have killed a man who tried to rape her.  She is a “canary that has forgotten how to sing”, having left her job at a nightclub owned by gangsters.  Jôji feeds and shelters Saeko and she falls in love with him.  He, however, is so obsessed with his brother’s disappearance that he cannot really reciprocate her affection.

The remainder of the film follows Jôji’s search for his brother.  Naturally, the thugs Saeko worked for are involved and he must have vengeance.

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This was the very definition of “forgettable” for me.  It dragged to the point where I really did not care what happened.  There’s a lot of two-fisted action toward the end for those that like it.  The cinematography was the highlight of the film for me.

Donzoko (1957)

Donzoko (aka The Lower Depths)donzoko poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Akira Kurosawa and Hideo Oguni from a play by Maxim Gorky
1957/Japan
Toho Company
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Everybody lives for something better to come. That’s why we want to be considerate of every man— Who knows what’s in him, why he was born and what he can do? Maxim Gorky, The Lower Depths

Kurosawa turns Gorky’s tragedy about illusion among the dregs of society into a comedy and produces his best ensemble piece since Seven Samurai.

When people in late 19th-century Japan hit rock bottom, they might have landed in a lodging like the one in this film.  It is basically a flop house where an assortment of the poor share a single room and sleep on the floor.  The owners are grasping and conniving, one rung up the ladder from their pitiful guests .  Landlady Osugi (Isuzu Yamada) runs a tight ship while keeping her eye on her beloved Sutekichi (Toshiro Mifune), a thief.  Sutekichi, however, has tired of her and has his eye on her sister Okayo, whom the landlords treat as little better than a slave.  Other tenants include an alcoholic actor, a tinker and his dying wife, a prostitute, a gambler, a self-styled ex-samurai and their ilk.  All nurture some kind of illusion about a more noble past and dream of a better life, or after life as the case may be.

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The tenants all see the lies told by the others but not their own.  Into their midst, comes a Buddhist priest (Bokuzen Hidari, Yohei in Seven Samurai) who sees the comfort provided by the lies and dreams and encourages his fellows to hold on to them.  Meanwhile, there is a raging lovers triangle between the thief and the two sisters that constantly threatens violence.

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Mifune and Yamada get top billing but do not have parts much bigger than any of the others.  If there is a central character who ties the piece together, it is the priest.  The action is confined basically to one set but Kurosawa makes the film richly cinematic with his moving camera and masterful editing.  The dialogue is pretty wonderful and the theme is thought-provoking.  Highly recommended.

I reviewed Jean Renoir’s 1936 version of the same play here.

Bizarre clip montage set to “music” – the actual little song and dance the card players do in the movie is one of its highlights

Albert Schweitzer (1957)

Albert Schweitzeritunes_albertschweitzer
Directed by Jerome Hill
Narration written by Thomas Bruce Morgan
1957/USA
Hill and Anderson Productions
First viewing/YouTube

Do something wonderful, people may imitate it. –Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer’s life is an inspiration.  This is a solid documentary about it.

Schweitzer was born in Alsace-Lorraine in 1875 at a time when the province was part of Germany, though he considered himself to be French.  His father was a Lutheran minister.  He decided at a young age to devote himself to music – he was a fine organist -, teaching and preaching until he was 30 and the rest of his life to the service of others.  Unlike many with dreams, he did exactly that.  At age 30, he started medical school and after he graduated went to French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon) where he built a hospital.  He spent the rest of his life – with a significant interruption when the French authorities interred “Germans” in WWI – tending to the needs of the Africans.   Schweitzer received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.  The film is narrated by Burgess Meredith; Fredric March is the voice of Schweitzer.

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This is nothing exceptional cinematically but is a wonderful summary of Schweitzer’s life and work.  The final half shows a day in the life of his hospital.  Schweitzer had a little of The White Man’s Burden common to his time but was basically a generous soul and a renaissance man.

Albert Schweitzer won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Feature.

Paradise Lagoon (1957)

Paradise Lagoon (AKA The Admirable Chrichton)paradise lagoon poster
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Written by Vernon Harris and Lewis Gilbert from the play by J.M. Barry
1957/UK
Modern Screen Play
First viewing/YouTube

Lady Brocklehurst:  Listen when anyone begins to answer with “The fact is… ”  Because that is, usually, the beginning of a lie.

This is a pleasant, old-fashioned comedy of manners.

Lord Loam (Cecil Parker) claims to believe in the complete equality of man.  His butler Crichton (Kenneth Moore) does not.  The Lord tries to prove his magnanimity by inviting the entire staff to tea with his wealthy friends.  He only succeeds in making everyone uncomfortable.  The party is such a disaster that Chrichton suggests taking a long sea voyage until it is forgotten.  Loam agrees and invites his three daughters and their fiances to accompany him.

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The yacht founders and Lord Loam, his family, Crichton and a between stairs maid end up stranded on a desert island.  The masters expect the servants to continue to wait on them.  But Chrichton is the natural leader and things work out as might be expected. After two long years all the people have changed a lot.  What will happen back in London once they are rescued?  With Sally Anne Howe as the Lord’s eldest daughter, Martita Hunt as an imperious grand dame, and Diane Cliento as the maid.

The Admirable Crichton (1957)

The film does not move much beyond the confines of the stage play.  I was familiar with the story without actually having seen it before and enjoyed the film very much.

 

The Brain from Planet Arous

The Brain from Planet Arousbrain poster
Directed by Nathan Juran
Written by Ray Buffum
1957/USA
Marquette Productions Ltd.
First viewing/Netflix rental

Steve March: Now this is my plan: I want all of your uranium, plutonium, all your atomic resources. I want your factories, railroad shipping, all your industrial facilities. Your workers will labour around the clock day and night, following my blueprints to build a most powerful invasion force ever gathered in the universe.

Just what I am looking for from an giant brain/interplanetary possession flick.

Steve March (John Agar) is a nuclear scientist living in the desert.  He and his assistant Dan pick up unusual flickering signals on their geiger counter.  They trace the source to “Mystery Mountain”.  They head off to the mountain where they find a cave that wasn’t there before and have a frightening encounter.  When Steve returns, he has a strange gleam in his eye.  Dan does not return at all.

Steve’s fiance Sally (Joyce Meadows) notices immediately that Steve’s kisses do not feel the same.  They are unusually lustful and aggressive.  We quickly find out that Steve’s body has been taken over by Gor, a criminal fugitive from Arous.  Gor is obsessed with possessing Sally’s body (carnally) and becoming master of the universe.  He plans a big announcement at an upcoming H bomb test. The movie resolves down to a duel of space brains, with Sally allied with the forces of good. There is a super-cool ending involving an axe.

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I thought this was great fun.  After his divorce from Shirley Temple, John Agar starred in dozens of these cheesy sci-fi/horror movies.  He gets to act wicked in this one and is better than usual.  This movie provided 71 minutes of non-stop entertainment.

Trailer

Il Grido (1957)

Il Grido 220px-Il_Grido_Poster(“Outcry”)
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, and Ennio de Concini
1957/Italy/USA
SpA Cinematografica/Robert Alexander Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?” ― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

Antonioni makes a bleak film about pain.  I like it more every time I see it.

As the movie opens, Irma (Alida Valli) is sitting in a lawyer’s office.  He tells her her husband died in Sidney, Australia.  She doesn’t seem particularly upset by the news.  She returns back to the village where she lives with Aldo (Steve Cochran), the father of her seven-year-old daughter and lets him know.  His reaction is “Great! Now we can get married.” Then Irma drops her bombshell.  She says she should have told him long ago there is someone else and they are through.

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Nothing Aldo can say will persuade her to change her mind.  He angrily grabs their daughter and takes off.  He drifts aimlessly in a haze of grief and numbness as his material situation deteriorates.  Along the way, he has one empty relationship after another.  With Betsy Blair as Aldo’s ex-girlfriend.

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This is a sad one but the stark, beautiful images help a lot.  So does the career topping performance by Cochran.  I find this very moving and am engrossed throughout. Recommended.

Trailer (no subtitles)

Le notti bianche (1957)

Le notti bianche (White Nights)16 Le notti bianche (1957)
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Written by Suso Cecchi D’Amico and Luchino Visconti from a novel by Fyodor Dostoyevski
1957/Italy/France
Cinematografica Associati/Rank Film/Vides Cinematografica
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Mario: Now at last I can say I have been happy.

This story about the inexplicability of love sees Marcello Mastroianni in one of his first major roles.

Mario (Mastroianni) has just moved to this town and is lonely.  After a day out with new friends, he doesn’t feeling like sleeping so takes a stroll.  He spots Natalia (Maria Schell) standing on a bridge and weeping.  He wonders what her next move is and goes to talk with her.  He eventually talks her into letting him walk her home but it is a hard sell.  She reluctantly agrees to go out with him the next night but creeps out of her flat again when the coast is clear to return to the bridge.

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Mario is excited and asks his landlady to get his suit cleaned the next day.  But Natalia stands him up and hides when he sees her again.  Eventually, they talk and she reveals that she has been waiting for a man (Jean Marais) who went away without much explanation one year before and promised to meet her on the bridge.  A few brief encounters left the naive girl deeply in love with him.

Mario keeps trying to convince Natalia that she is crazy for believing that the man will ever show up.  They grow closer and she begins to care for her new friend.

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If I had a choice between Jean Marais and Marcello Mastroianni, Marcello would win every time and without hesitation!   In this movie, Mastroianni is not the Latin lover (though still devastatingly attractive) but rather a lonely and vulnerable soul.  Visconti, too, is subdued here.  The sets are simple but effective and the nighttime lighting is gorgeous. I like the romantic score as well.  Recommended.

Trailer

Nine Lives (1957)

Nine Lives (Ni liv)ni liv poster
Directed by Arne Skouen
Written by Arne Skouen from a book by David Howarth
1957/Norway
Nordsjofilm
First viewing/YouTube

Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face. Dave Barry

This is a suspenseful true story about a resistance fighter’s escape from occupied Norway and the people who helped him.

Jan Baalsrud arrives in Norway by boat with a number of comrades to deliver supplies to resistance fighters in the north of the country.  The Nazis are waiting for them and Jan becomes the only survivor.  He flees with nothing save the clothes on his back and his gun.

Jan cannot survive without help but must make difficult decisions about who to trust.  He survives brutal winter storms, gangrene and snow blindness, earning him the reputation of a man with nine lives.

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This is quite a solid example of its genre.  There are awesome shots of Saami (Lapps) herding reindeer through a blizzard!

Nine Lives was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Moby Dick (1956)

Moby Dickmoby dick cartel
Directed by John Huston
Written by Ray Bradbury and John Huston from the novel by Herman Melville
1956/USA
Moulin Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Captain Ahab: From hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Ye damned whale.

In a time before the Save the Whale movement, John Huston captured the grandeur and deeper meaning of the Herman Melville classic novel.  Better yet, in the end it is the Whale, or make that Nature or an Omnipotent God, that triumphs.

The film is remarkably faithful to the novel in plot, setting and dialogue.  In 1841 a man (Richard Basehart) who asks us to call him Ishmael arrives in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  He is tired of life on shore and wants to find out what whaling is like.  At the inn, he is told he will have to share a bed.  Thus he meets Queequeg, a cannibal harpooner, and the two become fast friends.  They vow to ship out together and are hired for a three-year voyage on the Pequod.  Before the ship sails, a stranger called Elijah predicts disaster for the ship and its Captain.

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Pip: That ain’t no whale; that a great white god.

Early in the voyage, we see the camaraderie among the sailors and watch them work.  Eventually, Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck) emerges from his cabin and announces a reward for the first man that spots the white whale named Moby Dick that cost him his leg.  Moby Dick is a renowned behemoth that has maimed more than one man and sank more than one ship.  The men are game but Starbuck (Leo Gann), the Chief Mate, is troubled.

He becomes more troubled when Ahab insists going after Moby Dick before concentrating on filling the ship’s hold and returning home.  But Starbucks idea of mutiny is not shared by the other men and Ahab carries on until Elijah’s prophecy is fulfilled.  With Orson Welles as a preacher who delivers a sermon on the story of Jonah.

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I didn’t have high hopes for this film as I love the novel but thought it would be impossible for any film to convey what makes it great.  Huston managed admirably however.  This is largely accomplished by skillful lifting of the actual language of the text and a production design that looks to be taken from 19th Century illustrations.  I’m not a huge Gregory Peck fan but he is ferocious and a perfect Ahab here.

Like the novel, this film is more about Ahab’s blasphemy in trying to get vengeance on Fate, Nature, or God than it is a simple whaling adventure.  Huston captures the biblical underpinnings of the novel brilliantly while keeping the action engaging as well.  The whale hunts were not too graphic for me.  Recommended.

This post is part of The Animals in Film Blogathon being hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  Other excellent posts on this theme can be found here.

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