Northward Bound

My husband and I left today for a combined driving/cruise vacation.  We are renting a car in Fresno then visiting friends in the San Joaquin Valley.  We will then drive from Sacramento to Vancouver, Washington on the Pacific Coast.  I’m pretty excited since I have never seen the coast above Mendocino.

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Bluffs at Fort Bragg, California

After that, we will cruise on the Columbia and Snake Rivers from Vancouver, WA to Clarkson, WA.  Haven’t been there either!  We will return on July 18 and I will pick up where I left off with 1957.

Columbia River George, Washington

Columbia River George, Washington

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

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Directed by David Lean
Written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson (both uncredited) from a novel by Pierre Boulle
1957/UK/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Horizon Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#340 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Colonel Saito: Do not speak to me of rules. This is war! This is not a game of cricket!

David Lean makes the epic personal in this practically perfect classic.

A ragtag band of British POWs are marched to a Japanese camp deep in the Burmese jungle for the sole purpose of constructing the title railway bridge which is to provide a vital supply line.  They join the starving prisoners already accustomed to the harsh ways of Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa).  The cynical American Shears (William Holden) tries to explain conditions to British commanding officer Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness), a veteran of Indian colonial service, to no avail.  Nicholson promptly engages in a battle of wills with his Japanese counterpart by refusing to allow officers to do manual labor on the bridge.  He is gets thrown in the “oven” for his trouble and the rest of the officers go to a punishment stockade.

But the Japanese are getting nowhere with the British enlisted men and the bridge is badly behind schedule.  Saito is under enormous pressure to complete the project.  He eventually must give in.  Nicholson decides that for the sake of morale and to show up Saito the British officers will supervise the project and build a magnificent bridge.
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In the meantime, Shields does the impossible and escapes through the impenetrable jungle.  But Major Warden (Jack Warden) blackmails him into escorting him and one other officer back through the jungle on a mission to blow up what the prisoners have worked so hard to construct.

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I have nothing to add to the thousands of adulatory words written about this movie.  Lean by this time had reached the peak of his craft and was ably aided by some outstanding actors and craftspeople.  Guinness was never better.  If you haven’t seen it, you must.  If you have seen it, it bears innumerable repeat viewings.

The Bridge on the River Kwai won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Guinness); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring.  Sessue Hayakawa was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

 

The Enemy Below (1957)

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Directed by Dick Powell
Written by Wendell Mayes from a novel by D.A. Rayner
1957/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Captain Murrell: I have no idea what he is, what he thinks. I don’t want to know the man I’m… trying to destroy.

A cat and mouse game between two expert mariners makes an entertaining combat film.

The action takes place in 1943, somewhere in the South Atlantic.  The USS Haynes has a new commander, Capt. Murrell (Robert Mitchum).  The men think he must be a “feather merchant”, since he takes a long time to emerge from his quarters.  Murrell is a veteran of the merchant marine and quickly disabuses them of this idea when a blip appears on the radar.  He determines it to be a U-boat and sets about trying to destroy the enemy while not allowing the U-boat to discover his destroyer before reinforcements arrive.

The Enemy Below (1957)2The U-boat is commanded by hardened veteran Captain Van Stolberg (Curd Jürgens).  The two match wits and develop a respect for their unseen rivals over a 24 hour period.  Each appears to be one step ahead of the other.  Can either prevail?

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This features two good performances by the leads, a tight script and some nice battle sequences.  The German commander is made disillusioned and human.  Worth watching for fans of the genre.

The Enemy Below won the Oscar for Best Effects, Special Effects.

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The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

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Directed by Jack Arnold
Written by Richard Matheson
1957/USA
Universal International Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental
#335 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Scott Carey: A strange calm possessed me. I thought more clearly than I had ever thought before – as if my mind were bathed in a brilliant light. I recognized that part of my illness was rooted in hunger, and I remembered the food on the shelf, the cake thredded with spider web. I no longer felt hatred for the spider. Like myself it struggled blindly for the means to live.

In a year filled with giant creatures, a poetic horror story features a tiny man.

Scott and Louise Carey are enjoying a blissful vacation on a sail boat.  They are both catching some rays when Scott gets thirsty.  He makes Louise go fetch him one from the galley.  As punishment, while she is gone a strange mist envelopes the boat.

On returning home, Scott gradually starts noticing that his clothes seem too big.  At first, the couple think he is just losing a little weight.  But when the problem worsens, Scott goes to the doctor.  He’s not worried but after several visits it is clear that Scott is losing height as well as weight.  The doctor sends him to a research institute that finally discovers the cause of the problem (which I’m still kind of fuzzy on – it involves insecticide and radiation) but cannot cure it.

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Scott continues to shrink.  Eventually he loses his job as a salesman and the couple is forced to sell his story to the media.  He starts to write a book.  The smaller Richard gets, the more domineering he becomes.  Finally, Scott becomes so small that cats and spiders become his enemies.

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Somehow, I had missed this film all these years.  It was worth waiting for.  There are the inventive special effects and an interesting story with subtexts about the media, sexual politics, and psychology.  But I especially loved the ending, when the infinitesimal becomes infinite.  Recommended.

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Black River (1957)

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Directed by Masaki Kobayashi
Written by Zenzô Matsuyama; story by Takeo Tomishima
1957/Japan
Shochiku Eiga
First viewing/Hulu

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. –Heraclitus

Kobayashi attacks post-War degeneration.

Nishida, a student, moves into a squalid tenement to save money.  The landlady (Isuzu Yamada) is a grasping crone who constantly harasses the tenants for the rent.  Most of these are involved in prostitution and other criminal pursuits connected to the nearby U.S. naval base.

Nishida is decent and normal.  He attracts the attention of sweet Shizuko.  Unfortunately, she has already caught the eye of Jo (Tatsuya Nakadai), the thoroughly heartless leader of all the area’s criminal activities.  He plots to have her by sending a gang of his thugs to attack and rob her.  He then “rescues” her and while she is barely conscious has his way with her.  Rather than going to the police, Shizuko begs him to marry her the next day.  He thinks this is hilarious and roughs her up.  So naturally she becomes his “woman”.

Isuzu Yamada, cameleon

Isuzu Yamada, chameleon

Jo and the landlady start conspiring with some corrupt businessmen and government officials to tear down the tenement in order to put up a love hotel.  This requires the consents from all the tenants but those that cannot be obtained are forged.

Meanwhile, Shizuko is miserable and keeps trying, and failing, to meet with her true love Nishida.  Finally, she is tempted to take drastic action to extricate herself from her relationship with Jo.

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This is a savage film featuring characters, other than the two young lovers, that represent the absolute dregs of humanity.  Nakadai is fabulous as the personification of evil.  I wasn’t crazy about the dissonant modern jazz score but otherwise I liked Black River, though it’s not something I need to see again.

Curse of the Demon (1957)

Curse of the Demon (AKA Night of the Demon)14BMB170_Curse-of-the-Demon-Poster
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Charles Bennett and Charles E. Chester from the story “Casting the Runes” by M.R. James
1957/UK
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Sabre Film Productions
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant

Dr. John Holden: Well, after this afternoon, I must confess there are a few things I don’t know.

This scary movie would have been even scarier without the demon.  Nonetheless, it is pretty darn scary.

As the movie opens, Professor Harrington pays a call on Julian Karswell (Niall MacGuiness) to tell him he was absolutely right.  But it is too late.  As he leaves, he sees a flash of light, followed by the apparation of a huge demon which slays him.  His death is chalked up to electrocution by a falling power pole.

Segue to the arrival of Dr.  John Holden (Dana Andrews) in London.  Holden is a famous skeptic about paranormal activities and was invited to present a paper at a conference hosted by Harrington.  He goes to the British Museum to do some research in a rare book on witchcraft.  He is informed that the book is missing and was the only one of its kind.  But Karswell appears in the reading room to tell Holden that he has a copy and, by the way, he will die on Oct. 28.  Holden remains a skeptic.  He meets Harrington’s niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins) at the funeral. Joanna is a believer and they team up to visit Karswell.

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On arrival at Karswell’s country estate, the couple finds him performing magic tricks for children as the world’s creepiest clown.  The rest of the movie follows the many horrifying events that eventually persuade Holden of the error of his ways.

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Tourneur didn’t want to show the demon but he was vetoed by the studio.  The studio was wrong.  The demon isn’t half bad but is obviously mechanical.  Tourneur could have done much more with his lights and shadows.  Nonetheless, Curse of the Demon delivers several genuine thrills. It is my second favorite of the director’s films after Cat People.  Highly recommended.

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Bitter Victory (1957)

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Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by Rene Hardy, Nicholas Ray, and Gavin Lambert from Hardy’s novel
1957/France/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Transcontinental Films/Robert Laffont Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Capt. Leith: You’re afraid to go in and kill with your bare hands. That’s what makes a soldier and destroys you as a man.

I wasn’t crazy about this one.

The setting is WWII Cairo.  A general must decide which of two men will head a highly dangerous mission to Bengazi to steal Nazi secrets.  Major Brand (Curd Jürgens) is a career soldier and doesn’t speak Arabic.  Captain Leith (Richard Burton) is a recruit and spent years in the Middle East as an archaeologist.  Early on we discover that Leith had an affair with Brand’s wife Jane (Ruth Roman) before the war and her marriage.  She is still in love with him.  Their reunion was pretty public so the whole base knows.  In the end, the general decides to send both men on the mission, with Brand in command.

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On the mission, several Nazi guards must be knifed and Brand proves himself to be incapable of killing at close range.  Leith needles him about his cowardice for the rest of the movie.  Brand finds numerous ways to retaliate.

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I felt that this movie didn’t have enough story to fit the running time.  We get the same situation and even approximately the same dialogue over and over again.  Curd Jurgens casting did not help.  He just can’t help coming off as darned macho and stolid, probably more so than Burton.  He doesn’t make you believe in his cowardice or his treachery.

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Paths of Glory (1957)

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Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, and Jim Thompson from a novel by Humphrey Cobb
1957/USA
Bryna Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#330 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

[the condemned men are awaiting execution] Corporal Paris: See that cockroach? Tomorrow morning, we’ll be dead and it’ll be alive. It’ll have more contact with my wife and child than I will. I’ll be nothing, and it’ll be alive.

[Ferol smashes the roach] Private Ferol: Now you got the edge on him.

My rating of this film has moved from excellent to awesome.

The story is set in 1916 when the Germans and French have settled into agonizing months of trench warfare.  Victories are small and brief.  The French General Staff has decided that the public needs another victory.  General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) orders his subordinate General Mireau (George McCready) to take a minor German position called the Ant Hill.  Mireau initally protests that this is impossible but Broulard hints at a promotion and he becomes enthusiastic.  Mireau passes the order on to the 701st Regiment commanded by Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas).  Dax protests even more vigorously but Mireau expects that the objective can be taken and held with the loss of only 55% of the men and Dax obeys orders in the end.

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The action proves even more impossible than anticipated.  The French drop like flies.  One part of the trenches is under such intense fire that about a third of the men never get a chance to move out.  Mireau, a martinet, starts raging about cowardice and orders French guns to fire on their own men.

After the fight is lost, Mireau wants to set an example by trying and executing random men for cowardice.  Dax and Broulard manage to argue Mireau down to only three men.  Their selection will be corrupt and arbitrary. Dax asks to defend his men but it is basically a show trial.  We watch the men face their fate.

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This is one of the most powerful anti-war films ever made.  The generals basically see soldiers as numbers in a kind of perverted calculus.  They are cannon fodder and must be punished if they do not “do their duty” and behave as such.  The movie has one of the all-time great endings.  I always forget about the final scene with the German girl singing in the cafe and it never fails to move me enormously.

The acting by all is marvelous.  What a career Menjou had!  He has been with me for the entirety of this journey through the years and still seems in his prime.  It is the images that steal the show though.  The stills are all so stunning that I had a hard time picking only two.  Kubrick certainly started out at the top.  Highly recommended.

 

Time Without Pity (1957)

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Directed by Joseph Losey
Written by Ben Barzman from a play by Emlyn Williams
1957/UK
Harlequin Productions Ltd.
First viewing/Hulu

Brian Stanford: I got the impression you were about to write the greatest novel ever written. Did you?

David Graham: In common with quite a lot of other writers… I had been about to write it for a very long time.

I loved the acting and direction but thought the story let the film down.

As the movie starts, we witness Robert Stanford (Leo McKern) go into a rage and murder a dancer.  We segue to the present.  Novelist David Graham (Michael Redgrave) returns to England.  He is met at the airport by his son’s lawyer Jeremy Clayton (Peter Cushing). David’s son Alec is to be executed the next day.  David rushes to the prison.  Alec is not happy to see him.  David had been in a sanitarium recovering from his chronic alcoholism and had not written to the boy since before the murder.  Alec is resigned to his fate and does not want his father to rock the boat now.

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David, however, cannot resist trying to prove his son’s innocence in the few hours remaining to him.  The investigation centers on the Stanford family, with whom Alec lived. Obviously, Robert is not anxious to help David but his wife Honor (Ann Todd) loves Alec and defies her husband.  The investigation does not start well and at each setback David starts drinking again.  Can he stay sober long enough to clear his son before the hangman gets to him?

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This movie looks good and this cast is a strong one.  The problem is the plot.  It is far too complicated for something that is supposed to span only a few hours.  When all the drinking is added in as a challenge, it becomes completely implausible.  I thought the ending was a cheat as well.  Pity as I was looking forward to this.

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Mister Rock and Roll (1957)

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Directed by Charles S. Dubin
Written by James Blumgarten
1957/USA
Aurora Productions LLC
First viewing/Amazon Prime

It’s natural that kids should look for excitement and thrills. Well I’d rather that they find it in the theater than in street gangs. I say that if kids have any interest in any kind of music, thank God for it. Because if they have the interest, they can find themselves in it. And as they grow up, they broaden out and come to enjoy all kinds of music. – Alan Freed

Let’s just say that Alan Freed had a pretty square definition of rock and roll.

The music is woven around the standard plot.  An evil newspaper editor condemns rock and roll as Satan’s music and Alan Freed proves it is wholesome.  In this case, he calls on all teenagers to donate to the Heart Fund in support of their favorite music.  There is also a romance.

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To start out with the positive, we do get to see Little Richard and Chuck Berry perform “Lucille” and “Baby Doll”, respectively.  Aside from that, it’s pretty dire.  There are way too many drippy ballads and too much dippy comic relief.  Some of it comes from boxer Rocky Graziano, who is more likable than the actual comedians.

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