Les tricheurs (1958)

Les tricheurs (“The Cheaters”; “Youthful Sinners”)tricheurs-poster
Directed by Marcel Carné
Written by Marcel Carné and Jacques Sigurd
1958/France/Italy
Les Films Corona/Silver Films/Cinetel/Zebra Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

In order to exist, man must rebel, but rebellion must respect the limits that it discovers in itself – limits where minds meet, and in meeting, begin to exist.  — Albert Camus

Marcel Carné reinvents himself for the beat generation and doesn’t do half badly.

Most of the story is told in flashback in the memories of Bob Letellier who has decided to return to his studies  and his bourgeois roots.  By chance, he had hooked up with Alain, whom he bails out when Alain has no money to pay the rental fee on a booth where he had been listening to a record.  It turns out Alain stole the record as well.  Something about the reckless, carefree former existentialist appeals to the more sober Bob and he goes to party with Alain’s friends that night.

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Alain’s crowd seems to be more nihilist that existentialist.  They believe in nothing except good times and free love.  Alain hooks up with the hostess but is really more attracted by her friend, Mic.  Mic craves the good life and has no intention of working to get it.  She gets Bob involved in a dangerous swindle to earn some easy money.  At the same time, something in the souls of both of them yearns for genuine love.  Can this ever be?  With Jean-Paul Belmondo in an early small role as one of the young people.

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When I saw that the Amazon Instant version of this film, which I had already paid for, was billed as a “juvenile delinquent” movie, dubbed, and in a poor print, I had very low expectations.  While I can’t claim to have properly seen it, I was surprised at how well it kept my attention.  Carné keeps things moving at a fairly good pace, the acting is fine, and there are some good shots.  There is also a nice soundtrack of American rock and roll and jazz hits of the era to enjoy.

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The Sign of Zorro (1958)

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Directed by Lewis R. Foster and Norman Foster
Written by Norman Foster, Louis F. Hawley et al
1958/USA
Walt Disney Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

“Do you truly believe that life is fair, Senor de la Vega?

-No, maestro, but I plan to do everything in my power to make it so.” ― Isabel Allende, Zorro

This was a fun trip down memory lane.

The evil and greedy Capitan Monastario has Spanish colonial Los Angeles in his grip and is reeking havoc on the aristocracy.  Don Alejandro de la Vega calls his son Diego (Guy Williams) home from Spain where he has been studying. Diego, an expert swordsman, wants to fight Monastario without involving his father and adopts an alter ego, Zorro.  The masked man, with his faithful mute servant Bernardo, has many adventures before saving the day.

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The Disney TV series is associated with some of my very early memories.  This film is actually eight episodes from the series that have been edited together pretty well.  It was fun being reintroduced to the characters, especially Bernardo and the incompetent Sgt. Garcia, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  If you are looking for the perfect Zorro film, however, I would go with The Mark of Zorro (1940) with Tyrone Power.

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Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958)

Big Deal on Madonna Street (I soliti ignolti)madonna-street-poster
Directed by Mario Monicelli
Written by Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli et al
1958/Italy
Cinecittá, Lux Film, Vides Cinematografica
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Tiberio: Stealing is a serious profession. You need serious people, not people like you. All you can do at your best is work.

Some of Italy’s stars of the 1950’s get together for this spoof of the era’s heist movies.

Cosimo is in prison for the umpteenth time.  Inside, he hears of a fool-proof plan for robbing a pawn shop and is desperate to get out.  He sends his lawyer to hire a scapegoat who will confess to his crime.  The lawyers try out all his old cronies from the neighborhood but all have previous commitments.  Finally, a boxer (Vittorio Gassman) who has no criminal record agrees.  In the first of many set-backs in the movie, all three men – Cosimo, the boxer, and the lawyer – are thrown in the clink.  Cosimo reveals his plan to the boxer and the boxer steals it from him when he is released on probation.

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An old master (Toto), who seems to spend most of his time in a bathrobe, trains the motley gang of losers that the boxer puts together in the art of safe-cracking.  The rest of the movie covers the meticulous planning for and disastrous execution of the job.  With Renato Salvatori, Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale in her film debut.

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This film was inspired by Rififí and follows the heist formula perfected in that film to comedic effect.  At the same time, it spoofs neo-realism and makes fun of some familiar Italian stereotypes.  For some reason, I didn’t find it as funny this time as on the first go round.  Still, it is worth seeing.

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The Space Children (1958)

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Directed by Jack Arnold
Written by Bernard C. Schoenfeld; story by Tom Filer
1958/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant

If you go on with this nuclear arms race, all you are going to do is make the rubble bounce. — Winston Churchill

Not every B-picture directed by Jack Arnold can be The Incredible Shrinking Man.  That said, I thought this was much better than its IMDb rating.

The Brewster family is moving to the seaside so that Dad can work on a not-so-secret satellite capable of dropping an H-bomb from space.  Somehow the beach seems sinister to Mom and she has good instincts.  The two young sons see a blinding flash from the sky but no one will pay attention to them.  On their first outing with the neighbor children, they explore a cave where they discover a glowing brain-like object.  This promptly hypnotizes the kids into doing its bidding.

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The film suffers from a miniscule special effects budget.  This means that we have no alien action and, indeed, only a few glimpses of the creature.  So Arnold has to create suspense where none really exists and is only partially successful.  I though it was well-made for what it was.

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Yoru no tsuzumi (1958)

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Directed by Tadashi Imai
Written by Shinobu Hashimoto and Kaneto Shindô from a play by Monzaemon Chikamatsu
1958/Japan
Shôchiku Eiga
First viewing/Hulu

No adultery is bloodless. — Natalia Ginzburg

This tragedy recounts several points of view on the conduct of a samurai wife suspected of adultery.

A samurai spends weeks and months at a time on business for his lord.  He is finally returning home to his beloved wife. Rumors are flying around that the wife has had an affair with a lowly drumming instructor.  The wife denies this and the samurai is the only one who believes her.  But the rumors persist and we see events given from the perspective of several different people.

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I thought this was pretty good.  I especially liked Masayuki Mori as the drumming instructor.  It’s a Rashomon-style tale without the lingering doubt.

The Square Peg (1958)

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Directed by John Paddy Carstairs
Written by Jack Davies, Henry Blyth, Norman Wisdom, and Eddie Leslie
1958/UK
The Rank Organization
First viewing/YouTube

I can never tell a joke, I’ve always found it easier to just fall over. — Norman Wisdom

For me, this was watchable but not hilariously funny.

The world of Norman Pittman (Norman Wisdom) revolves around his work as a road repairman and his boss Mr. Grimsdale.  He thinks that this is far more important than WWII and refuses to back down to officers.  Eventually, it becomes apparent that the only way to beat Norman is to make him join up.  A series of misadventures takes Norman and Grimsdale to France, where Norman’s resemblance to a German general leads to danger and hijinx. With Honor Blackman as a pretty spy.

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I find Wisdom more irritating than endearing, unfortunately.  Most of the gags are built around cheekiness and he takes it just that bit too far each time.  The humor does not seem to have translated well across time and culture.

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Gigi (1958)

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Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Written by Allen J. Lerner based on a novella by Colette
1958/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#344 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Aunt Alicia: Marriage is not forbidden to us, but instead of getting married at once, it sometimes happens we get married at last.

This movie makes me feel happy and I love it unapologetically.

Gigi (Leslie Caron) is a rambunctious young girl who is being trained by her aunt and grandmother (Hermoine Gingold) to carry on in the family tradition.  Unfortunately for Gigi, this is to become a courtesan to the rich and famous.  But Gigi is a very backward student.

Gastone (Louis Jourdan) is just the sort of man that Gigi is being groomed for.  His uncle Honoré is that sort of man personified.  Gastone is bored to tears by the life of a bon vivant, however.  He gravitates to the simple life of Gigi’s grandmother’s household and to the fun offered by young Gigi.

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The day comes when Gigi begins to look the part her family has envisioned for her.  By that time, Gigi is already a woman who knows exactly what she wants for her self.

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I can’t remember when I first saw this but it was when everything about it seemed innocent, romantic, and funny.   Those are the eyes with which I still see it.  To me it is a cinderella story in which virtue triumphs in the end.  It helps that the production is lavish and gorgeous and the songs are memorable.  I can’t imagine anyone else in any of the parts.

The Blu-Ray DVD contains a commentary by film historian Jeanine Basinger who talks about the movie with obvious affection.  She has done the commentaries on several classic “women’s” pictures and is becoming one of my favorites.

Gigi won 9 Academy Awards in all – every award for which it was nominated – in the categories of: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Writing – Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction – Set Decoration; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing; Best Original Song (“Gigi”); and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  Maurice Chevalier won an honorary Oscar “for his contributions to the world of entertainment for over half a century”.

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The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

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Directed by Nathan Juran
Written by Ken Kolb
1958/USA
Morningside Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Sinbad: Allah has many ways of dealing with hungry men.

This fun fantasy features some of Ray Harryhausen’s best work and a stirring score from Bernard Herman.

Captain Sinbad’s entire crew has been starving and stranded at sea for several days. Finally they spy land – the island of Colossa.  While there is plenty of food, it is protected by a Cyclops.  The Cyclops has been unusually cranky lately and has begun to interfere with the resident evil magician as well.  The magician helps Sinbad and crew to escape to the ship but must leave his magic lamp behind.  Despite the magician’s continuous pleas, the ship continues on to Baghdad for Sinbad’s marriage to his beloved princess.

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The magician is unable to intimidate Sinbad into returning to the island to pick up the lamp until he manages to shrink the princess.  The only way to return her to normal size is with a potion.  The key ingredient, shell from a Roc’s egg, is only available on the island.  So Sinbad sails back with a crew made up mostly of convicts.  Many fantastic adventures ensue.

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Harryhausen creates the cyclops, a dragon, baby and adult rocs, and a sword-fighting skeleton.  These are still awe-inspiring and must have been doubly so to children in the 50’s.  The splendid Bernard Hermann score is another highlight.  The Blu-Ray 50th anniversary DVD contains both a beautiful print and a commentary by Harryhausen, a couple of visual effects artists, and a Bernard Hermann scholar.

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Weddings and Babies (1958)

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Directed by Morris Engel
Written by Morris Engel, Blanche Hanalis et al
1958/USA
Morris Engel Associates
First viewing/Amazon Prime

I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury. — Groucho Marx

Love is a messy thing as Engel’s docu-drama illustrates so well.

Al is a professional photographer who specializes in wedding and babies but aspires to something more creative.  He has been going with Bea for the past three years.  She is more than ready to get married.  He says he will marry her “soon”, when he has saved up enough money.  “Soon” does not seem to imply anything in the immediate future.

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Al spends his savings on an expensive camera and Bea starts crying more than previously.  When Al is unwilling to really care for his senile mother, Bea may have finally had it.

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I would rank this right behind Little Fugitive among Engel’s films.  The evocative camerawork brilliantly captures the time, place and people of a slice of 1950’s New York City.  Sure, some of the sequences run on too long and the amateur acting is spotty.  The total effect is so raw and real that I was moved in the end.

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A Tale of Two Cities (1958)

A Tale of Two Citiesa-tale-of-two-cities-movie-poster-1956-1020198606
Directed by Ralph Thomas
Written by T.E.B Clarke from the novel by Charles Dickens
1958/UK
The Rank Organization
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

“‎And yet I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire.” ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

My love for Dirk Bogarde is well known and I thoroughly enjoyed his Sidney Carton as well as the rest of the acting in this faithful adaptation of the Dickens classic.

The two cities are Paris and London and the story takes place immediately before and during the French Revolution.  Dr. Manet has been imprisoned 18 years in the Bastille for treating some peasants that had been cruelly used by the Marquis St. Evremond (Christopher Lee).  He is finally released.  His daughter Lucy journeys to France to take him home.  During a coach  ride, she meets Charles Darnay and instantly falls in love.

Darnay is framed by the evil Barsad (Donald Pleasance) on a treason charge.  He is acquitted after his resemblance to the dissolute young lawyer Sidney Carton (Bogarde) is used to discredit eyewitness testimony.  Lucy Manet is called as a witness in the trial and it is undying love at first sight for Carton.  Her heart goes out to him but permanently belongs to Darnay.

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I will dare to spoil a 150 year old classic and reveal that Darnay is actually the nephew of the evil Marquis and heir to the title.  When the Revolution comes, someone is waiting to take revenge on the Marquis and all his descendants, guilty or not.   With Cecil Parker as the banker Lorry and Leo McKern as a prosecutor.

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Bogarde is perfection as the soulful rake Carton.  The rest of the production is of a very high standard.  The plot is chock full of all the usual improbable Dickens coincidences but they never bother me in the least.  Recommended.

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