The Young One (1960)

The Young One (La Joven)
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Hugo Butler and Luis Buñuel from the story “Travellin’ Man by Peter Matthieson
1960/Mexico/USA
Producciones Olmeca
First viewing/Netflix Rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Tagline: “Don’t be frightened Evvie….”

This is a good movie about race relations in the United States.  Since Buñuel was at the helm, it also contains heaping helpings of sexual hanky panky.

The jazz musician Traver (Bernie Hamilton) lands on an island in his boat.  He is escaping the groundless charge of raping a White woman in town on the mainland.

The island is a hunting reserve with two cabins on it.  One belongs to the game warden Miller (Zachary Scott).  Since her grandfather died, the other is occupied by Evvie.  Miller begins by basically treating Evvie like his servant.  Unfortunately for her, he notices that she has blossomed into young womanhood and his attitude radically changes.

While Miller is on a brief trip in town, Traver and Evvie strike up a rapport.  She gives him Miller’s food, a rifle and ammunition.  When he accidentally shoots a hole in his boat, she gives him supplies to repair it.

Miller returns and spends much of his time thereafter hunting for Traver and seducing Evvie.  When Miller finally catches up to Traver, they too strike up a tentative understanding.  Then a minister and a redneck arrive.  The redneck is ready to kill Traver on sight.  The minister believes in his innocence.  The minister’s main agenda, however, is to protect Evvie from her abuser.

This English-language film at first did not seem to me like classic Buñuel.  Upon further reflection, the black humor and perverse sexuality are characteristic.  For one thing, we get shot after shot of legs and feet.  The race relations part is refreshingly complex.  Miller is deeper than your average bigot and eventually recognizes the many things the men have in common.  The sex part is pretty cringe-worthy but also complex.  We are left wondering whether Evvie is a woman or a child and even about the future of the “relationship”.  It makes one feel slightly dirty.

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The City of the Dead (1960)

The City of the Dead (AKA “Horror Hotel”)
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by George Baxt; Story by Milton Subotsky
1960/UK
Vulcan Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Prof. Alan Driscoll: The basis of fairy tale is in reality. The basis of reality is fairy tales

This is a mixture of great cinematography and direction in the horror scenes and some fairly pedestrian 1960 teen drama.

As the film opens, we are in 17th century Whitewood, Massachusetts where a witch, Elizabeth Selwyn, is about to be burned at the stake.  It is clear she really is a witch as her associate’s prayers to Lucifer are answered by a thunderstorm.  This is short-lived however and as the flames climb higher, she puts a curse on the town.

Segue to the present day.  Nan Barlow is fascinated by Professor Alan Driscoll’s (Christopher Lee) class in witchcraft and the occult.  Her boyfriend thinks the whole thing is daft.  Nan decides she needs to do some hands on research for her thesis and Driscoll recommends that she visit Whitewood.  He even recommends an inn.

On arrival, Nan finds things are pretty darn weird in Whitewood.  She is the only occupant of the creepy inn and the innkeeper looks at her with inappropriate interest.  Her visits to the church and to a bookshop only add to her apprehension.  All Nan’s fears are fully justified.

Her boyfriend and brother become concerned after two weeks when she still has not returned.  They travel to Whitewood and more Satanic adventures ensue.

This film was recently restored and you can tell why the effort was made.  The high-key lighting of the horror sequences is drop-dead gorgeous.  The director also has a knack with faces and staging that makes everything in Whitewood pretty interesting.  The modern sequences at college are oddly boring.  The plot is predictable but there are some mild scares.

Restoration Trailer

Murder, Inc. (1960)

Murder, Inc.
Directed by Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg
Written by Irve Tunick and Mel Barr based on a book by Burton Turkus and Sid Feder
1960/USA
Princess Production Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Abe “Kid Twist” Reles: [shouting angrily] Take, you see, what you can get your hands on, you take! Don’t ask questions! Take! What you want, take! What I want, I take! Nothing means nothing unless I got it! What do you got hands for! Huh? TAKE!

Peter Falk received a Supporting Actor Oscar nod for his performance in this, the film in which he was “introduced”.  Since he is utterly fantastic and has more screen time than anyone else, the movie is more enjoyable than it has a right to be.

It is mid-1930’s America.  Prohibition has been repealed.  The film is based on the true story of the rise of the organized crime Syndicate, its activities, and efforts to wipe it out. The plot focuses on Lepke Buchhalter (David Stewart), the crime boss in Brooklyn) and the gang of paid assassins that became known as Murder, Inc.  This is led by Abe Reles (Falk).  Reles is a cold-blooded killer but can be explosive if crossed even slightly.

Reles needs the assistance of small-time singer Joey Collins (Stuart Whitman) to lure one of his first contract hits out into the street.  Thereafter, he unwillingly becomes one of his right hand men and Reles makes the lives of Joey and his wife Eadie (May Britt) a misery for several years.

We follow a series of hits and then the long efforts of Assistant D.A. Burton Turkus to bring them to an end.

All the good acting is within the crime family, making the first half of the movie the most entertaining.  When we start focusing on the good guys and enforcement, things get a bit dull.  May Britt is frankly bad and Whitman is just bland.  But whenever Falk appeared on the screen it lit up, and I emerged from the experience feeling thoroughly entertained. Recommended for the curious.

Clip from early in the film

Pollyanna (1960)

Pollyanna
Directed by David Swift
Written by David Swift from a novel by Eleanor H. Porter
1960/USA
Walt Disney Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Angelica: Glad this, glad that. Do you have to be glad about everything? What’s the matter with you, anyway?

“Pollyanna” is synonymous with saccharine sweetness.  Haley Mills’s wonderful performance gives her a lot of spunk and provides for a good time.

It is sometime in late 19th Century America.  Pollyanna (Mills) has been recently orphaned. Her father was a poor minister and she got her clothes and toys from the missionary boxes.  Pollyanna was taught all her life to be glad for what she had and absorbed this lesson completely.

She arrives in the small town of Harrington to live with her rich spinster Aunt Polly Harrington (Jane Wyman).  Aunt Polly cares only about appearances and her family honor. She has no room in her heart for love.

Pollyanna should be miserable.  Instead her relentless gratitude changes the lives of everyone around her, including a fire-and-brimstone minister (Karl Malden), a child-hating old recluse (Adolphe Menjou), a bedridden hypochondriac (Agnes Moorehead) – and of course Aunt Polly.  With Nancy Olson as a well-adjusted maid.

This isn’t a movie that I should like, but I loved it.  There is enough humor and good acting to make the medicine go down nicely.  It’s also nice to be reminded of the transformative power of gratitude.  Recommended if this appeals even slightly.

Haley Mills won an Academy Award for the most outstanding juvenile performance of 1960.

Clip – That’s Adolphe Menjou in his final performance

The Fugitive Kind (1960)

The Fugitive Kind
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Tennessee Williams and Meade Roberts based on the  play “Orpheus Descending”by Williams
1960/USA
Pennebaker Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Carol Cutrere: Juking? Oh! Well, that’s when you get in a car, which is preferably open in any kind of weather. And then you drink a little bit and you drive a little bit, and then you stop and you dance a little bit with a jukebox. And then you drink a little bit more and you drive a little bit more, you stop and you dance a little bit more to another juke box! And then you stop dancing and you just drink and you drive. And then, you stop driving.

With this cast, there is a lot to like.

As the movie begins, Valentine “Snakeskin” Xavier (Marlon Brando) tells a New Orleans judge about the events leading up to his arrest.  These start with hocking his beloved guitar.  He then gets a job at a “party” which does not require his guitar playing prowess. Evidently, Val has worked many such “parties”.  He has become disgusted with his life and ends up busting up the place.  The judge lets him off on the condition that he leave town.

He arrives in a red-neck Mississippi town which is definitely not ready for him.  A kindly soul (Maureen Stapleton) tells him of work that can be had at the local general store.  The owner (Victory Jory) has just been released from hospital, probably never to recover, and his wife Lady (Anna Magnani) could use a hand.

Val goes to the store to ask for work and promptly meets up with Carol Cutrere (Joanne Woodward), a hard-drinking haunted soul who has also been instructed to stay out of town.  She falls for Val in a big way.  But Val, who gets his job, develops an emotional relationship with Lady that turns into a love affair.  Lady’s husband may be down but he’s not out, paving the way for a spectacular climax.

The acting in this is wonderful and there is some beautiful poetic dialogue.  It’s second-rate Williams, though.  The themes all been better explored elsewhere.

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Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli) 
Directed by Luschino Visconti
Written by Luschino Visconti, Suso Cecchi d’Amico et al
1960/Italy/France
Titanus/Les Films Marceau
Repeat viewing/my DVD collection
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Mom loves the both of them/ You see it’s in the blood/ Both kids are good to Mom/ “Blood’s thicker than mud” – “Family Affair”, Sly and the Family Stone

Three hours of sadness and beauty are almost overwhelming in this retelling of the Cain and Abel story.

After the death of her husband, Rosaria Parandi (Katina Paxinou) leaves the rural South of Italy with four of her boys to join her eldest son in Milan.  She finds that son at a party celebrating his engagement to Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale).  None of the celebrants are happy to learn that Vincenzo now has a family of six to support, find work for, and house.

They learn of a scheme by which they can hire an apartment, stop paying rent, get evicted and become eligible for public housing.  It is then that the prostitute Nadia (Annie Giradout) comes into their lives.  She is just looking for a warm place to hide out from her father. Almost immediately, brother Simone (Renato Salvatore) falls for her and she exploits the situation.

Jobs are scarce in Milan and boxing promises a way out of poverty for the talented few. Simone is spotted at a gym and taken on by a promoter.  He wins his first fight and the prize money and acclaim immediately go to his head.  He gets in even deeper with Nadia. Unfortunately, Simone is basically lazy, hard-drinking, and  a coward in the ring.  His gentle brother Rocco (Alain Delon) is enlisted to keep an eye on him during training.

Rocco eventually is called up to military service.  More than a year passes and he runs into Nadia by chance.  She has just been released from jail.  He sees past her hard exterior and gives her hope.  When Rocco is discharged from the army, they meet again and fall in love.  Rocco has toughened up in the service and is now, by far, a better fighter than Simone.

Rocco’s relationship with Nadia drives Simone mad and threatens to destroy the entire Parandi family.

There are a couple of themes running through the film.  The first is the alienation and dislocation of a generation of migrants from rural to urban Italy and the toll this takes on traditional values.  Only the youngest of the Parandi brothers are left with any chance of truly assimilating.  The second is the Cain and Abel tragedy.  The matriarch has trained the boys well that the family is everything.  Rocco absorbs this lesson most completely and winds up sticking to Simone despite his degeneration and the truly horrifying series of crimes he commits against both the law and his family.

I was dreading the length of this film but it kept my interest all the way through.  Visconti breaks the story into episodes featuring each brother and that helps.  Although this is in the neo-realist style it also has the sweep and majesty of Visconti’s more operatic films.  I would give anything to see this in the restored version.  The acting is great.  Highly recommended.

Restoration trailer

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Directed by Jim Sharman
Written by Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien from O’Brien’s original musical play
1975/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Michael White Productions
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Lips: [singing] Science fiction… double feature/Dr. X… will build a creature/See androids fighting… Brad and Janet… Anne Francis stars in…”Forbidden Planet”/Whoa-oh-oh-ohh/At the late-night double feature picture show

This movie loses a lot when not viewed at a midnight showing with a lot of similarly loaded fans.

Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (a nubile Susan Sarandon) are stereotypical young sweethearts from middle America.  After she accepts his marriage proposal, they set off in search of the professor whose class brought them together.  On a dark and stormy night, their car breaks down on a deserted road.  They see a light in the window of a castle in the distance and decide to walk there in search of a phone.

On arrival, they find a party in progress.  Weird guests are joining tranvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) to celebrate the animation of his creature, Rocky.  Brad and Janet’s sexual initiations and assorted mayhem follows.  With Meat Loaf as an “ex-delivery boy”.

I had an almost shot-for-shot memory of every detail of this movie.  Most of it is quite stupid and out of control.  However, the songs are still wonderful and it was a fun blast from the past.  Tim Curry is amazing!

Trailer

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Little Shop of Horrors
Directed by Frank Oz
Written by Howard Ashman based on his musical play and the film “The Little Shop of Horrors” by Roger Corman and Charles D. Griffith
1986/USA
The Geffen Company
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant

Audrey II: [singing] Feed me, Seymour / Feed me all night long – That’s right, boy! – You can do it! Feed me, Seymour / Feed me all night long / Ha ha ha ha ha! / Cause if you feed me, Seymour / I can grow up big and strong.

Corman’s original was made in 2 1/2 days for a budget of $22,500.  Multiply the budget by 1,000, add color and music you get even more fun!

The film is framed by a “Greek Chorus” consisting of a 60’s style girl group that comments on the action.  The plot of the original has been considerably fleshed out to include an origin story and new relationships.  Seymour (Rick Moranis) discovers the plant at a Chinese herbalist’s shop after a total eclipse of the sun.  He names it Audrey II after his crush, Audrey, the clerk at Skid Row florist shop where we works.

In this version, Audrey is dating the sadistic dentist played here by a fantastic Steve Martin. Bill Murray takes over from Jack Nicholson as the masochistic patient and Vincent Gardenia plays Mushnik.  John Candy, James Belushi and Christopher Guest have cameos.  For me the highlight of the film is the voice of the great Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops as Audrey II.

Life has been rearing its ugly head recently and I needed some cheering up before immersing myself in further dark foreign films from 1960.  This did the trick!  I have seen the musical on stage and loved this on its theatrical release.  It was just as good yesterday. Frank Oz of Muppets fame did a brilliant job with the various growth stages of the Audrey II puppet and the songs are all quite catchy.  Warmly recommended.

Little Shop of Horrors was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Effects, Visual Effects and Best Music, Original Song (“Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”).

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When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan wo agaru toki)
Directed by Mikio Naruse
Written by Ryuzo Kikushima
1960/Japan
Toho Company
Repeat viewing/FilmStruck

 

Keiko Yashiro: [Narrating] Women in the Ginza fought desperately for survival. It was a battle I couldn’t afford to lose.

I love this beautiful, heartbreaking and infuriating film.

Keiko (Hideo Takamine) is a widow and the manager of a bar in the Ginza.   It is the kind of club where hostesses drink with businessmen after a long working day.  The other girls call her Mama.

She dreads her climb up the stairs to the bar but is beautiful and fairly good at her work. She does not date customers after hours and cannot bring herself to be nice to certain particularly distasteful clients.  Her business manager (Tetsuyo Nakadai) warns her that she cannot afford to lose the business and should seek to please them all.  He secretly admires her integrity.

Keiko is thirty-something – at the age when she should either open her own bar or marry. An elderly client offers to set her up in business in exchange for an “arrangement”.  She shuns this and seeks loans from subscribers.  She watches a former employee’s dreams of her own club go horribly sour.  Her mother and brother-in-law are parasites.  She must keep an expensive apartment and wardrobe to keep up appearances.  Love seems a remote possibility and she isn’t getting any younger.  With Masayuki Mori as the banker she is most attracted to.

I’ve seen this movie several times and am more impressed with it and saddened by it on each viewing.  Naruse’s compositions are exquisite and he makes Keiko complex and human.  Takamine is perfect in the part.  The story ends with Keiko’s determination to carry on and survive but it’s hard to imagine a really happy future for her.  Highly recommended.

Trailer

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

The Little Shop of Horrors
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Charles B. Griffith
1960/USA
The Film Group
Repeat viewing/Amazon Prime

[repeated line] Audrey Jr.: Feed me!

This Roger Corman comedy is a kick in the butt!  Topped only by the 1986 musical version of the story.

Gravis Mushnik runs a florist shop on Skid Row.  Needless to say business is bad but he offers employment to two people – sales girl Audrey and hapless delivery boy Seymour Krelboyne.  Seymour is under constant threat of termination.  He tries to redeem himself with a plant he has developed in the apartment he shares with his hilariously drunken hypocondriac mother.

Seymour is in love with Audrey and names his plant Audrey Jr.  The plant is sickly and unimpressive until Seymour accidentally discovers that it thrives on fresh human blood … With Jack Nicholson in a cameo as a masochistic dental patient.

The jokes are most lame but they come so fast and the plant is so awesome that you don’t mind in the least.  This held up really well to a second viewing and could probably withstand several more.  Recommended to fans of this type of thing.

Trailer

Bonus trailer