The Killer Shrews (1959)

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Directed by Ray Kellogg
Written by Jay Simms
1959/USA
Hollywood Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Jerry Farrell: Looks like a rat, smells like a skunk – some call them bone-eaters.

The title and poster just ooze potential …

A boat captain and his sidekick take refuge from an impending hurricane on an isolated island.  They are surprised to find it is inhabited by a Swedish scientist (with a German accent) and his lovely daughter (with no accent).  Two other scientists, one a drunk, complete the laboratory team.  Their experiments have gone awry and now they are holed up in a house waiting for their creations to cannibalize each other to extinction.

The voracious creatures are mutant shrews.  Not only have the tiny animals grown to an enormous size but they now greatly resemble large dogs wearing wigs and false teeth.  To make matters worse, they have turned poisonous.  Our captives bravely battle the animals who really don’t want to eat each other until they finish off anything else with a heartbeat on the island.

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The plot is imminently forgettable, and it lacks the weirdness of genius B movie making, but the shrews more than make up for it.  Only for connoisseurs of this kind of thing.

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The Snow Flurry (1959)

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Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Keisuke Kinoshita
1959/Japan
Shochiku Eiga
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

“The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches.” ― E.E. Cummings

This was one of those convoluted flashback stories that tends to lose me.  The color made up for some of my confusion.

The story begins where it ends, with a young man watching a bridal procession and running in despair to a river.  A woman runs after him, possibly to prevent his suicide.

Flashback to earlier days, when a man and woman attempt double suicide in that same river.  The man, Hideo, dies but his lover Sachiko survives.  Hideo was the son of a proud land-owning family and Sachiko is of humbler origins.  The patriarch of the family is so infuriated with his son that he dumps the ashes in the river.  He would really be glad if Sachiko would make a more successful attempt.  But she is pregnant.  The grandfather adopts the child who he names Suteo (“abandoned”?) into the family but both mother and son are treated essentially as servants.

They are not the only miserable people in the household.  The daughter of the family is trapped there waiting for a suitable marriage while secretly in love with Suteo.  There is no snow involved.  The title refers to a phenomenon in which flower petals are blown around by the wind.

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I think I might enjoy this more on a second viewing when I had some idea of the general plot line.  I didn’t love it enough, however, that that is likely to happen any time soon.

 

Operation Petticoat (1959)

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Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin
1959/USA
Universal International Pictures/Granat Company
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Chief Mechanic’s Mate Sam Tostin: A woman just shouldn’t mess around with a man’s machinery.

This is a light-hearted WWII comedy a la Mr. Roberts, with a bit more naughtiness thrown in.

Lt. Commander Matt T. Sherman (Cary Grant) finds himself assigned to a decrepit submarine, The Tiger Sea, which is slated for the scrap heap.  In the nick of time, Pearl Harbor is attacked and Sherman convinces his superiors to let him try to rehabilitate the craft.  Among, Sherman’s many challenges is a shortage of almost everything allowing the sub to sail, including toilet paper.  He is also saddled with LT. JG Nicholas Holden (Tony Curtis) who seems to have spent his entire career in the navy wining and dining bigshots.  Fortunately, Holden is a man of many talents and proves to be a successful and unscrupulous scavenger.

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On its voyage to the Philipines, the Tiger Sea is forced to stop at an island for repairs.  There Holden comes across five nurses who were left stranded there and eagerly offers them a lift. Needless to say, the close quarters of the sub provide many opportunities for humor.  Holden begins to woo the most buxom of the bunch, played by Dina Merrill.

More excitement ensues when the sub needs repainting.  The scavengers could find white primer and red primer but not enough of either color to cover the vessel.  Thus, Capt. Sherman finds himself in enemy waters with a pink submarine that is suspicious to both the Japanese and the Americans alike.  With Arthur O’Connell as a machinist’s mate.

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This is a fun bit of fluff.  Tony Curtis plays a scoundrel but is at the absolute height of his sex appeal and is irresistible.

Operation Petticoat was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Material Written Directly for the Screen.

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Look Back in Anger (1959)

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Directed by Tony Richardson
Written by Nigel Kneale and John Osborne from Osborne’s play
1959/UK
Orion/Woodfall Film Productions
Repeat viewing/FilmStruck

Alison Porter: [on bears and squirrels] Its sort of a silly symphony for people who can’t bear the pain of being human any longer.

Jimmy Porter was the first of Britain’s Angry Young Men.  In Richard Burton’s hands, he comes off less as a rebel and more as an abusive jerk.

Jimmy Porter is a university graduate but runs a sweets stall in the local open market.  The only person in the world he does not look down upon is ‘Ma’ Tanner (Edith Evans), the caring elderly Cockney who set him up in business.  He has nothing but contempt for authority, the upper middle classes, the middle classes, conventional morality, and most especially for his upper-crust wife Alison (Mary Ure) and her friends and family.  He lives in squalor with Alison and his buddy Cliff.  He spends most of his time there raging at Alison for her origins, though sometimes his abuse grows more physical.  In rare moments, we can see how sexually passionate the couple is.  Jimmy plays the trumpet, loudly, anytime he feels particularly angry or sexy.

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The gentle Alison is at the end of her rope and then discovers she is pregnant.  She invites Helena (Claire Bloom), a stage actress and old friend to stay so she will have someone to talk to.  Jimmy and Helena hate each other.  Helena convinces Alison to go home to her parents to await the baby.  On the other hand, Helena has no intention of leaving the flat.  With Donald Pleasence as a really unpleasant market inspector.

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This story only really works if the viewer can find some kind of sympathy for Jimmy as a kind of confused lost youth trying to make his way through a world rotten with hypocrisy.  Unfortunately, the 35-year-old Burton seems to be so inflexible that you can’t even believe he could play the jazz trumpet.  He is in such command he comes off as just a bully and the many fights are just painful to watch.

The film does have some high spots.  One of them is the touching, pitch-perfect performance of Edith Evans.  Another is Tony Richardson’s use of the camera.  The scenes in the market in particular reveal a New-Wave style freedom that is pretty great.

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Corridors of Blood (1958)

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Directed by Robert Day
Written by Jean Scott Rogers
1959/UK
Amalgamated Productions/Producers Associates
First viewing/Netflix rental

Resurrection Joe: He died peaceful, governor.

Boris Karloff brings class to a late role.  This is also notable for co-starring two famous Frankenstein monsters, Karloff and Christopher Lee.

It is 1840 and London is mired in Dickensian squalor.  Dr. Bolton (Karloff) is a famous surgeon, altruist, and researchers.  His most valued asset is the speed with which he can finish his operations.  This is because his patients must be strapped down and held by several strong men due to the excruciating pain involved.  In the evenings, Bolton experiments with various gases he believes may become useful as anesthetics.  Unfortunately, all of his experiments are performed on himself.

Bolton also spends one day a week attending to charity patients.  He gets called out to a bawdy house called Seven Inns and tricked into signing a death certificate.  Resurrection Joe (Lee) had previously dispatched the patient and does a thriving business selling corpses for dissection.

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Bolton finally thinks he is ready to demonstrate a pain-free procedure using nitrous oxide. His patient goes berserk in the operating theater and his reputation is badly damaged. Undeterred, Bolton starts experimenting with stronger and stronger mixtures, now containing opiates,  His concoctions send him into dreamlike states that always seem to lead him back to the Seven Inns.  Worse, he becomes an addict and his hands aren’t as steady as they once were.

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This has a little bit of everything – gruesome surgeries, mad scientists, body snatchers, and Jeckyll and Hyde.  It was filmed on the MGM lot and the production values are quite good.  Lee is interesting as the affable, soft-spoken villain.  Karloff had this well-intentioned but ultimately doomed scientist nailed by his 69th year.

IMDb had this listed as 1959 when i put it on my list.  Now it is shown by most sources as being a 1959 film.  The Criterion Collection DVD has an interesting commentary by the producer and a horror film expert.

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Sleeping Beauty (1959)

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Directed by Clyde Geronimi
Written by Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler et al from the story by Charles Perrault
1959/USA
Walt Disney Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Merryweather: Sweet princess, if through this wicked witch’s trick, a spindle should your finger prick… a ray of hope there still may be in this, the gift I give to thee. Not in death, but just in sleep, the fateful prophecy you’ll keep. And from this slumber you shall wake, when true love’s kiss, the spell shall break.

Chorus: [singing] For true love conquers all!

This might have been the first Disney cartoon I saw on its initial run in the theater.  Mostly I remember Maleficent and the scary, scary dragon.

A king and queen’s wish for a child has finally been granted with the birth of the baby they name Aurora.  The parents host a huge feast in celebration of the blessed event.  At the same time, they announce the betrothal of their baby daughter to Prince Phillip the son of the neighboring royalty.

One person not included on the guest list was Malificent, the personification of all evil.  After two kindly fairy godmothers give Aurora beauty and the gift of song, Malificent makes her own offering.  It is a curse that provides that on the day Aurora turns 16, she will prick her finger with a spindle and die.  A third kindly fairy commutes the sentence to a deep sleep, to be broken by true love’s kiss.

23-sleeping-beauty-1959-fallenTo protect their child, the king and queen destroy every spinning wheel in the kingdom.  Aurora is sent off to be raised as a peasant by her godmothers, who call her Briar Rose.  Unfortunately, neither fate nor Malificent is put off for long.

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This is a faithful adaptation of the fairy tale. It is a bit lacking in the catchy tune and humor departments.  The artwork uses a lot of jewel colors reminiscent of Medieval art from the period in which the story is sent.

Sleeping Beauty was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (the adaptation of music from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Ballet).

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Verboten!


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Directed by Samuel Fuller
Written by Samuel Fuller
1959/USA
Globe Enterprises
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Helmuth Strasser: Polystyrene Verboten!

Here we have a gonzo vision of the American Occupation in Germany as only Samuel Fuller could have imagined it.

In the closing days of WWII, American Sgt. David Brent is wounded and trapped in some rubble.  He is rescued and nursed back to health by pretty Helga Schiller.  After the surrender, fraternization and many other things are “verboten” to the American occupying forces.  So David gets a discharge and is employed as a civilian by the American Military Government.  He and Helga marry.

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It turns out that this part of Germany is infested by unrepentant Nazis.  Helga’s friend Bruno leads a guerrilla movement called the Werewolves that is bent on creating hatred and chaos and forcing the exit of the Americans.  David is eventually uncertain of where the now-pregnant Helga’s loyalties lie.

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This is Fuller at his most lurid.  It is by far the most anti-German of the post-War films I have seen.  Studio Hollywood was mostly on a mission of reconstruction at the time.  The acting is not great but it is not boring for one instant!

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Floating Weeds (1959)

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Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Written by Yasujiro Ozu and Kogo Noda
1959/Japan
Daiei Studios
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#366 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

If a farmer fills his barn with grain, he gets mice. If he leaves it empty, he gets actors. Walter Scott

I could have picked 100 stills for my blog and I still would have images left to choose from.   I love Ozu and this film.

A cut-rate troupe of Kabuki actors arrive in a small Japanese town.  Komajuro, the manager and leading man, hopes the show will run for a year there.  His principal reason is to get reacquainted with the son, Kiyoshi, he left behind after an affair when he played there about 20 years before.  Kiyoshi knows Komajuro only as his uncle.  Things begin promisingly.

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Then Komajuro’s mistress and fellow actor Sumiko (Machiko Kyo) becomes suspicious of all the visits her man is making to his “patron”.  When she finds out the truth, she hatches a plot to disgrace the son in the eyes of his father.  Her idea is to send out a young actress to seduce Kiyoshi.  Between the failure of the plan and the failure of the show, relations are strained as the troupe leaves town.

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All of Ozu’s films center on the Japanese family and its dissolution.  In this case, we have two “families”, the father and son and the kabuki troupe.  The film is richly atmospheric, redolent of the seaside in summer and the smell of the greasepaint.  There is much humor and bigger emotions than in many of Ozu’s other films.  The use of color and composition is exquisite.  This is a remake of Ozu’s 1934 silent film A Story of Floating Weeds which is also well worth seeing.  Highly recommended.

Why I love Ozu and this movie in a nutshell – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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Imitation of Life (1959)

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Directed by Douglas Sirk
Written by Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott from a novel by Fannie Hurst
1959/USA
Universal International Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Sarah Jane: I’m someone else. I’m white… white… WHITE!

For 50’s Technicolor eye-candy and glamor, this can’t be beat.  For substance, I’ll take the 1934 version.

Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) is a single-mother and struggling aspiring actress.  One day at the beach she loses track of her young daughter, Susie.  She is found playing with another little girl, Sarah Jane, under the boardwalk.  Lora and Sarah Jane’s mother, Annie (Juanita Moore) strike up a conversation.  Annie, also a single mother, is in desperate straights. Lora offers her what she has – food and a place to stay for mother and daughter.  In turn, she has a life-long friend and servant in Annie.  The day at the beach will be significant for Lora in another way.  She meets aspiring photographer Steve Archer (John Gavin).  He will be a constant in her life for years to come.

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Lora’s ambition proves to be all-consuming and soon she is headed straight to the top. Her career takes precedence over her daughter, who grows up to be Sandra Dee, and romance.  Sarah Jane, who grows up to be Susan Kohner, enjoys the privilege she experiences in Lora’s household.  She finds she easily passes as white.  Annie is clearly black and repeatedly blows Sarah Jane’s cover, causing a rift and heartbreak for poor Annie.

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Producer Ross Hunter and director Douglas Sirk pulled out all the stops in terms of lavish decor and stunning costumes and jewels for this film.  I was engrossed all the way though.

But I couldn’t help comparing the story to the 1934 version with Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers.  In that film, Annie is more of a full partner in the household, having invented the pancake recipe that makes them all rich.  Sarah Jane is played by a light-skinned black actress and she wants a chance to utilize her intelligence rather than display her body.  The Lora-Susie-Steve triangle is also more nuanced and interesting.  If you have to choose only one of these films, I’d recommend the original.

Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore were nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscars.

Trailer – color is pretty faded compared to DVD

 

John Paul Jones (1959)


John Paul Jones

Directed by John Farrow
Written by John Farrow and Jesse Lasky Jr. from a story by Clements Ripley
1959/Spain
Samuel Bronston Productions/Suevia Films P.C. S.A.
First viewing/YouTube

Captain Richard Pearson: Captain, are you surrendering? Do you ask for quarter?

John Paul Jones: No sir! I have no yet begun to fight!

Well, this proved to be an entirely forgettable biopic.

The film tells the story of Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones (Robert Stack) from his humble origins in Scotland to his command at key battles and sojourns at the courts of Louis XV and Catherine the Great (Bette Davis).  There are a couple of frustrated romances thrown in for good measure.  We see Jones struggle as he is passed over constantly for more influential captains with better pedigrees.  With Charles Coburn as Benjamin Franklin and McDonald Carey as Patrick Henry.

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Robert Stack just isn’t my idea of the heroic type and the picture sinks or swims on his stolid shoulders.

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