Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

Ashes and Diamonds (Popiol i diament)Luchshie-filmyi-v-retsenziyah-Pepel-i-almaz-Popiol-i-diament-1958-694x1024
Directed by Andrezej Wajda
Written by Jerzy Andrezejewski and Andrezej
1958/Poland
Zespol Filmowy “Kadr”
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#348 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Krystyna: So often, are you as a blazing torch with flames/ of burning rags falling about you flaming, /you know not if flames bring freedom or death. /Consuming all that you must cherish /if ashes only will be left, and want Chaos and tempest…

Maciek Chelmicki: …Or will the ashes hold the glory of a starlike diamond… /The Morning Star of everlasting triumph.

The beauty and power of this film take my breath away.

The film takes place on the day the Germans surrender to the Allies at the end of WWII. The Polish Home Army continues to fight.  Maciek is now a soldier and hitman for the nationalists.  He takes orders from Andrezej.  Their mission is to assassinate a leader of the Communist side.  The first attempt goes badly wrong when they kill two innocent men who show up at the wrong place and time.

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The group proceed to town to take a second crack at the kindly old man.  They find themselves in a hotel where a banquet celebrating the Allied victory is taking place.  When Maciek falls for a beautiful barmaid, he has a crisis of conscience.

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The story is a simple one but the psychological depth and symbolic representation of warring strains within society are profound.  Each frame is composed for maximum impact.  The deep-focus photography is stunning.  Highly recommended.

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The Last Hurrah (1958)

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Directed by John Ford
Written by Frank S. Nugent from the novel by Edwin O’Connor
1958/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Mayor Frank Skeffington: One more regret at my age won’t make much difference.

For me, the best thing about this old-fashioned homage to all things Irish-American was the chance to see so many great character actors from the 30’s and 40’s.  Not that Spencer Tracy is bad.

Mayor Frank Skeffington (Tracy) is running for his fifth term as mayor.  He seems like a shoe-in.  The old fox knows how to play his largely Irish-American constituency like a violin.  Rabid opposition from a newspaper editor (John Carradine) and others who trace their ancestry to the Mayflower is only a minor thorn in his side.

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Skeffington’s nephew Adam Caufield (Jeffrey Hunter) works as a sports columnist for the opposition newspaper.  Skeffington invites Adam to tag along during the campaign.  Thus we see the politicking through an outsider’s eyes.  With many familiar faces including Donald Crisp, Jane Darwell, James Gleason, Pat O’Brien, and Basil Rathbone.

LAST HURRAH, THE, Spencer Tracy, 1958

If I had not read the credits, I would have sworn that this was directed by Frank Capra only with less bite than his films ordinarily had.  Instead, of course, it is John Ford in humorous mode. This is a very highly rated film but for some reason I was not impressed.  All the acting is excellent though.

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Home Before Dark (1958)

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Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Written by Eileen Bassing and Richard Bassing
1958/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Amazon Instant

What is the natural reaction when told you have a hopeless mental illness? That diagnosis does you in; that, and the humiliation of being there. I mean, the indignity you’re subjected to. My God. — Kate Millett

Jean Simmons shines as a woman who returns home from a mental institution only to find the same people that helped send her there waiting for her.

Arnold Bronn (Dan O’Herlihy) goes to fetch his wife Charlotte (Simmons) home from the state mental hospital.  He is clearly uncomfortable and very nervous.  She also is nervous and jittery, wanting so badly to get off on the right foot and reunite with Arnold.  She finds out right away that her step-mother and step-sister Joan (Rhonda Fleming) still share the house.  Bronn announces that he intends to continue to occupy a separate bedroom on the advice of Charlotte’s doctor (who said no such thing).  She wants to go into therapy but Arnold is not enthusiastic.

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The step-mother is super controlling, all for Charlotte’s own good of course.  Joan seems more sympathetic.  Arnold has remained a stuffy, slightly pedantic, academic who is absorbed in his professional advancement.  People stare at Charlotte in the street.  The only person that Charlotte can really relate to is Jake Diamond (Efrim Zimbalist Jr.) , the family’s boarder.  But Charlotte wants to concentrate on reestablishing intimacy with her husband.  This is much, much easier said than done.

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As we know from Gaslight, nothing is more crazy-making than being told one is imaging things.  This story shows that it is just as bad when the persons doing the telling mean well.  There were definite points when I thought this was straying into cliche territory but it never really did.  I loved the ending.  Recommended if the plot appeals.

Movie trivia from Robert Osborne

The Rickshaw Man (1958)

The Rickshaw Man (Muhomatsu no issho)RickshawMan_MPOTW
Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
Written by Hiroshi Inagaki and Mansako Itami; story by Shunsaku Iwashita
1958/Japan
Toho Company
First viewing/Hulu

I still ride horses and do a lot of laughing. But I was born this way. I can’t help it. When I was young, I played old men’s roles. But now I’m a little boy!- Toshiro Mifune

This story of the the impact of a simple man on a fatherless boy features Toshiro Mifune at his warmest and most lovable.

The film spans the period from 1898 to around 1920.  Matsugoro (Mifune) is a flamboyant rickshaw driver better known locally as “Wild Matsu”.  He delights in brawling and stirring up trouble when he isn’t carrying passengers in his rickshaw.  He is smart, big-hearted and honest despite his humble origins and lack of education.

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One day Matsu sees an accident involving a young boy and carries him home.  The boy’s father is grateful and invites him to share sake with the family.  He immediately admires Matsu’s spirit.  Shortly thereafter, the father dies and Matsu adopts the widowed mother (Hideko Takamine) and her son.  The rest of the film follows Matsu as he serves as the rather timid boy’s surrogate father, teaching him his own courage and resourcefulness.

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There are various moments of Mifune and children in other films – Seven Samurai comes immediately to mind – and he clearly had a way with them.  Here we get a whole film of his playful, humorous side.  We also get beautiful color views of traditional Japanese life.  I enjoyed this a lot.

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The Proud Rebel (1958)

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Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Joseph Petracca and Lillie Hayward from a story by James Edward Grant
1958/USA
Formosa Productions
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Jeb Burleigh: I’d like a little respect. I told you before I don’t like people I’m talkin’ to to walk away from me. Look at me! You look at me when I talk to you.

John Chandler: I’m lookin’, but I don’t see anything.

This is a solid, if predictable, family Western with some good performances and some mean hombres.

John Chandler (Alan Ladd) is a man of few words.  His son David (David Ladd) lost his speech when their Georgia plantation was destroyed and his mother killed during the Civil War.  John is now traveling through the North with David and their beloved sheepdog, Lance, desperately seeking a cure for his son’s muteness.  They are very short on cash.

Almost as soon they arrive in town, the Burleigh brothers attempt to steal Lance and then pick a fight.  John decks Jeb Burleigh and is arrested for assault.  The court is stacked against him and he is sentenced to $30 or 30 days.  This is money he does not have nor can he leave David alone while he serves time.  Fortunately, spinster Linnett Moore (Olivia de Havilland), who has had her own trouble with the Burleighs, pays the fine and he agrees to work off the loan on her farm.

The Burleighs are sheep ranchers and Linnett’s farm denies them open pasture that they covet.  Father Harry Burleigh (Dean Jagger) is smoother than his sons but they all would do anything to drive her from her farm.  With John by her side, Linnett is more stubborn than ever.  The two develop a warm friendship that could turn into something more.

John learns that there is a doctor at the Mayo Clinic who thinks he has a 50-50 chance of curing David.  It will cost $300.  John could earn the money by selling the amazing Lance but that would break David’s heart.

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I love sheepdogs and I would have watched this movie just to see that dog work those sheep.  Fortunately, the movie is solid all around and de Havilland is particularly impressive.   Of course, you don’t have to be a genius to anticipate virtually every one of the plot points.

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No Time for Sergeants (1958)

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Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Written by John Lee Mahin from a play by Ira Levin and a novel by Mac Hyman
1958/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Netflix rental

Sergeant King: Why ain’t you dead?

Will Stockdale: No excuse, sir!

Andy Griffith comes off a bit more like Gomer Pyle in this one.  There are some genuinely funny moments among some over-broad comedy.

Will Stockdale (Griffith) is a backwoods country bumpkin whose daddy has been tearing up all the letters directed to him by the draft board.  Finally, the local rep comes out to fetch him in person.  Stockdale has no objection to serving but he is taken away in handcuffs anyway.

He is sent to the Air Force for classification along with some real characters.  He adopts Ben Whitledge (Nick Adams) as his best buddy and sticks to him like glue.  The gung-ho but hapless Be, has always dreamed of being in the infantry and desperately wants a transfer.  Irving S. Blanchard, a blowhard who lords his year of ROTC over the other men, will be a major thorn in Will’s side.

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When they get to camp, Will unknowingly does everything possible to drive Sgt. Orville King crazy.  He finally thinks he has gotten rid of this buffoon by naming the proud Will Permanent Latrine Orderly – PLO.  His ruse backfires on him and he is finally given only a short time to get Will through all his various examinations in time to move on with the rest of his cohorts.

The Ben and Will are sent on to gunnery school.  The film then follows their misadventures in the Air Force.

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This film has a really strong first half through Will’s time as a raw recruit.  It’s all pretty funny and would probably be even funnier to anyone who had gone through the experience. This is not basic training and Sgt. King is not a drill sergeant but more a tired babysitter who would basically prefer to be left alone.  The bit that made me laugh out loud was Don Knotts as a manual dexterity examiner — hilarious.  I thought the time in the regular Air Force was too silly to be really funny and overstayed its welcome.

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The Blob (1958)

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Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.
Written by Theodore Simonson and Kay Linaker from an original idea by Irvine H. Millgate
1958/USA
Tonylyn Productions Inc./Valley Forge Films/Fairview Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Lieutenant Dave: Just because some kid smacks into your wife on the turnpike doesn’t make it a crime to be 17 years old.

A ton of campy fun featuring a star-making performance for the world’s oldest, and coolest, teenager – Steve McQueen.

During a make-out session with girlfriend Jane, earnest Steve Andrews (McQueen) spots a star falling close by.  They go to investigate but fail to find it.  An old hermit, does, however and is promptly attacked by the molten center of the rock.  The teenagers hear his screams and take him to the doctor.

Soon hermit, doctor, and nurse are no more.  It turns out the alien being feeds on warm-blooded creatures and grows exponentially.

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Beware of the blob, it creeps/ And leaps and glides and slides/ Across the floor/ Right through the door/ And all around the wall/ A splotch, a blotch/ Be careful of the blob — Lyrics by Mac David

Steve goes for the police, but they think this is a prank.  He does manage to convince his fellow teenagers though.  They try to protect their small town from certain destruction.

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This has everything one could possibly ask for in one of these things.  It is tame by today’s standards perhaps but I think this is one of its charms.

The production history is as interesting as the film itself.  The Criterion Collection DVD contains two commentaries, one by the producer and a film historian and the other by the director and one of the actors.  The producer was a local distributor of B films who believed he could do better.  He thought sci-fi and juvenile deliquent films did best and found a religious and educational film studio to help him realize his vision.  It succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams when Paramount picked it up as part of a double feature with I Married a Monster from Outer Space.  The theme song cracked the Billboard Top 40.

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Burt Bacharach theme song

Me and the Colonel (1958)

Me and the Colonelme and colonel poster
Directed by Peter Grenville
Written by S.N. Behrman and George Froeschel from a play by Franz Werfel
1958/USA
William Goetz Productions
First viewing/YouTube

“My faceless neighbor spoke up: “Don’t be deluded. Hitler has made it clear that he will annihilate all Jews before the clock strikes twelve.” I exploded: “What do you care what he said? Would you want us to consider him a prophet? His cold eyes stared at me. At last he said, wearily: “I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people.” ― Elie Wiesel, Night

Despite its grim subject matter, this is a charming film with my favorite performance yet by Danny Kaye.

S.L. Jacobowsky (Kaye) is a man without a country, having fled Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia in succession.  He finds himself in Paris just as the Nazis begin their occupation of France.  He lives in the same hotel as Colonel Prokoszny (Curd Jurgens), a proud, arrogant, and womanizing Polish Count.  Prokoszny has orders to deliver secret papers to the resistance in England.  He is to meet a submarine on the French coast.

Both men need to flee, only there are no available vehicles and no gasoline. The resourceful Jacobowsky rounds up both the car and the gas.  That kind of thing is beyond Prokoszny so the pair end up sharing transportation.  They prove to be a very odd couple, not least because of the Pole’s anti-Semitism.  First, Prokoszny insists on picking up his one true love in the opposite direction.  The rest of the film follows the party’s adventures en route to the border.  With Akim Tamiroff as the Colonel’s orderly.

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Plot summary aside, this is actually a comedy.  Kaye is wonderful, subtle and touching in his part and Jurgens reveals an unexpected comic flair.  It reminded me a little bit of how Lubitsch handled To Be or Not To Be.  Recommended.

Montage of stills set to music from the film

The Horse’s Mouth (1958)

The Horse’s Mouththe-horses-mouth-movie-poster-1959-1020431167
Directed by Ronald Neame
Written by Alec Guinness from a novel by Joyce Cary
1958/UK
Knightsbridge Films
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Gulley Jimson: I like it here: bricks and broken glass, and an old garbage can. It’s the story of my life.

Artistic genius isn’t too “pretty” in this comedy.

Gulley Jimson (Alec Guinness) has just been released from jail for making harrassing calls to his wealthy sometime benefactor Hickson (Ernest Thesiger).  He is met by Nosey, a young man who worships his art.  Gulley has nothing but bemused contempt for everyone.  He is immediately on the phone to Hickson to try to cadge money for paints.

He also hits up Dee Coker (Kay Walsh), a combative plain spinster.  She wants him to retrieve the paintings his ex-wife gave to Hickson to pay his debts and press-marches him in that direction.  Sir William Beeder, another wealthy art patron has been trying to get his hands on one of Gulley’s early works.

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Gulley manages to worm his way into the Beeders’ London flat while they are on vacation and proceeds to destroy it while painting a mural of the Raising of Lazarus.  After he is caught at that, he turns himself to the wall of a church that faces demolition.

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This is Guinness’s only screenwriting credit and it’s an antic somewhat messy farce that also manages to say something serious about the creative process.  He’s marvellous as the completely uninhibited painter.  Sometimes it’s all a bit much but mostly the film is very entertaining.

Alec Guinness was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

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Brink of Life (1958)

Brink of Life (Nära livet)brink of life 1958 poster
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ulla Isaksson
1958/Sweden
Inter-American Productions/Nordisk Tonefilm
First viewing/You Tube

 

Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one. — Gloria Steinem

Bergman looks at the emotions of three expectant mothers.

As the story begins, Cecilia (Ingrid Thulin) arrives at the obstetric ward bleeding heavily. She has already lost her baby, two months into the pregnancy and has a D&C.  The entire experience has convinced her that she is unworthy to be a wife or a mother and that her proper schoolteacher husband doesn’t love her or want the baby.  She is basically an emotional wreck.

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Cecilia joins two other women on the ward.  The first is teenaged unwed mother Hjordis Petterson (Bibi Andersson), who also had bleeding but did not miscarry – much to her dismay.  The second is Stina Andersson (Eva Dahlbeck) who is in labor with her first son and is positively radiant and ecstatic.  We follow the stories of these women and their interactions with each other.  With Max Von Sydow as Stina’s smiling, upbeat husband.

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It’s a real pleasure to see these three wonderful actresses play off each other.  Bergman, as usual, cuts to the heart of the matter.  There’s a lot of sadness but the film ends on a life-afirming note.