The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Directed by José Quintero
Written by Gavin Lambert and Jan Read from a novel by Tennessee Williams
1961/USA
Louis de Rochemont Associates
First viewing/Netflix rental

Paolo di Leo: Rome is a very old city. Three-thousand years. How old are you? Fifty?

Well, the scenery is gorgeous and we get a great scene-stealing performance by Lotte Lenya.

Stage actress Karen Stone (Vivien Leigh) is not making a big hit as Rosalind in a new production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. She still has the acting chops but is simply too old to play ingenues.  Karen abandons the play and decides she needs a real vacation.  Her doting much-older husband accompanies heron the plane trip to Rome.  He dies of a heart attack over the Atlantic.  Karen installs herself in a posh apartment and “drifts”, a lost and lonely soul.

Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales (Lenya and what a great character name!) is in the business of arranging meetings between beautiful young italian men and wealthy ladies too old to be able to attract them independently.  In exchange, she demands 50% of whatever her protege earns from the affair.  She is trying this ploy with a gorgeous young Italian named Paolo di Lio (Warren Beatty) and Mrs. Stone.  It takes an inordinate amount of time for him to get next to her but once he does she falls in love and begins throwing caution to the wind. Tragedy seems inevitable.

My biggest problem with this film was the performance of Warren Beatty.  His character is not supposed to be likable but he takes that to the next level with an arrogance that completely turned me off.  I did’t find him believably Italian either.

When Lenya took the screen I was mesmerized.  Her character has so many layers of humor, cynicism, and hatred of the human race that she sucks all the energy out of the rest of the room.  This is no mean feat when you are working with Vivian Leigh, who is also fine.

Lotte Lenya was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

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Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog (1961)

Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog
Directed by Don Chaffey
Written by Robert Westerby; story by Eleanor Atkinson
1961/USA
Walt Disney Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

“I heard of Bobby first early in the winter, from a Bible-reader at the Medical Mission in the Cowgate, who saw the little dog’s master buried. He sees many strange, sad things in his work, but nothing ever shocked him so as the lonely death of that pious old shepherd in such a picturesque den of vice and misery.” “Ay,” ― Eleanor Atkinson, Greyfriars Bobby

This wholesome story of a dog’s devotion is for the whole family.

As the story starts, Auld Jock is ending his 60 year’s working as a shepherd.  The Farmer (Gordon Jackson) says he is forced to let him go, despite his chronic cough and advanced years.  Jock gives his sheepdog Bobby, a Skye Terrier, to the little girl of the family.  The farmer and Jock depart for Edinburgh and Bobby manages to escape and keep up with them for the 20-mile journey.

The Farmer leaves the shepherd off with nary a penny to scrape together.  Fortunately, he has been coming to the same market for many years and people reach out to help him.  He accepts a free meal but adamantly refuses to go to the infirmary about his cough.  At night, he resorts to an inn of very low repute for a bed.  By morning he has died of pneumonia.

The pub owner that fed Jock finds out about this and buries the illiterate Jock in Greyfriars churchyard, where Edinburgh’s elite have been interred for centuries.  The rest of the story follows Bobby’s persistence in spending each night atop his Master’s grave for the next fourteen years, despite many efforts to remove him.  With Donald Crisp as the caretaker of the churchyard.

If you are looking for something sweet, funny, and sentimental, this could be just the ticket. It went down well with me.

What a career Donald Crisp had!  He appeared in his first film in 1908.  My earliest memory of him was his scary performance as Battlin’ Butler in D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms.  All these years later he is still rock solid.

 

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Angel Baby (1961)

Angel Baby
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Written by Orin Borsten, Paul Mason, and Samuel Roeca from a novel by Elsie Oakes Barber
1961/USA
Madera Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

When asked about this movie Burt Reynolds replied, “George Hamilton beat me up in this film. Does that tell you something?”

You know it’s a bad movie when you are embarrassed for the actors.

Jenny Angel (Salome Jens), known to her friends and family as “Angel Baby” has been mute since she was struck by her father while defending her mother at age 8.  As the movie begins she is making out with Hoke Adams (Burt Reynolds in his film debut).  Her mother drags her away to attend a revival meeting.  There she is miraculously cured by fundamentalist preacher Paul Strand (George Hamilton).  It is more or less love at first sight.  Unfortunately, Paul is married to the much older religious fanatic Sarah (Mercedes McCambridge).

In gratitude, Angel Baby volunteers to join the traveling company.  She is shown the ropes by preaching alcoholics Ben and Molly (Joan Blondell).  She rapidly becomes a major draw and Sarah’s main mission is to get rid of her.  After revealing her undying love to Paul, she, Ben and Molly part ways to continue to preach on their own.  Angel Baby is a hit wherever she goes, and not solely for her religious zeal.

Angel Baby acquires a promoter who secretly sets up some fake faith healings to improve business.  The revelation of the deceit threatens to destroy both Angel Baby and her faith in God.

Prior to the start of the movie we get a fairly long written introduction.  In essence, it explains that, although there are bad religious charlatans in the world, this is a movie about true believers.  It was then that I got a faint whiff from the past of eau de Dwain Esper, exploitation promoter extraordinaire, who was responsible for such classics as Sex Maniac and Reefer Madness.  This movie had a budget many thousands of times that of the old ones but a lot of the same vibe.

This movie is more or less built around displaying the body of Salome Jens to best advantage.  In between, we get a bunch of dreck and spectacle looking to capitalize on Elmer Gantry.  Let’s just say that George Hamilton is no Burt Lancaster.  I felt sorry for a number of the actors in this movie, none more so than Mercedes McCambridge and Joan Blondell.  They turn in good performances but cannot overcome the material.

There’s a campy fascination to this stuff that will appeal to some of my readers.  You know who you are.  I, of course, am one of you.

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Bonus: Rosie Hamlin of Rosie and the Originals sings “Angel Baby”, a hit in 1961,  many years later – this is far better than anything in the film

The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents
Directed by Jack Clayton
Written by William Archibald and Truman Capote; additional dialogue by John Mortimer; from the novel “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James
1961/UK
Achilles/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Miles: It was only the wind, my dear.

Here is a beautiful, scary, and ambiguous ghost story for adults.

Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) seeks employment as a governess, having just left the household of her father, a fundamentalist preacher.  “The Uncle” (Michael Redgrave) hires her to care for his two orphan wards despite her total lack of experience.  He admittedly has little to no interest in his charges, preferring to carouse in town.  Miss Giddens gets the job based on her earnestness and professed love of children.  Omninously, she is replacing a young governess who died on the job.  The Uncle gives her total control of the household.

“The Uncle’s” country estate seems like a dream come true to Miss Giddens.  She instantly warms to little Flora and the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins).  Flora’s brother Miles is away at school but Flora uncannily predicts his quick return.  Sure enough, a letter arrives announcing Miles’s expulsion due to his bad influence on the other boys.  The mystery of what exactly Miles did wrong will consume Miss Giddens for the rest of the film.

Miss Giddens begins seeing visions of people she identifies as Miss Jessel, the former governess, and Peter Quint, a former groundskeeper, also deceased.  As time goes on, she comes to believe these apparitions have possessed the children and that it is her duty to “save” them.  Is she going mad or could her visions be real?

I find twisted little children to be inherently scary and we get them here in spades.  Add in the ghosts and you have something special.  The cinematography and art direction combine to make the film a visual feast.  This was reportedly Deborah Kerr’s favorite of all her film performances which is really saying something.  Recommended.

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The Hustler (1961)

The Hustler
Directed by Robert Rossen
Written by Sidney Carroll and Robert Rossen from a novel by Walter Tevis
1961/USA
Rossen Films/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Fast Eddie: You sure don’t leave much when you miss, do you, Fats?

Minnesota Fats: That’s what the game’s all about

I like this film more every time I see it.  That hardly seems possible since I have always loved it.

“Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has the charm and skills to make an ace pool hustler. His giant ego drives him to prove he is the best at the game.  This will involve beating Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in an epic match-up.  Eddie starts out strong but does not have the stamina or character to close the deal.  Later, he is courted by gambler and “manager” Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) who offers him a 25% share of the profits for any games he arranges.  Eddie is insulted both by the low-ball offer and by Bert’s opinion that he is a born loser and refuses.

Eddie then falls on hard times and turns to small-time hustles to barely support himself.  It is then that he meets Sarah Packard, a lame world-weary alcoholic.  She is rightly leery at getting involved with a man almost as screwed-up as she is.  They fall in love any way.

After falling on even worse times, Eddie is ready to accept Bert’s help.  Suddenly, he thinks he is on the road back to the high life.  He is very much mistaken.

Just reading the cast list should give some idea of how powerful this film is.  This is probably my favorite Newman performance among many strong contenders. Scott, Gleason and Laurie also richly deserved their Oscar nominations.  On this viewing, the cinematography was the real revelation.  It is simply stunning in the Blu-Ray print. Rossen’s pool halls and their hangers-on are masterfully captured.

I love the fact that Scott’s character keeps lecturing Newman’s about his lack of character when he has the least of anyone in the story.  I feel enormous empathy and sympathy for Laurie’s.

The Hustler won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Black and White and Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actor (Scott); Best Supporting Actor (Gleason); Best Director; and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

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The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

The Day the Earth Caught Fire
Directed by Val Guest
Written by Wolf Mankowitz and Val Guest
1961/UK
Melina Productions/Pax Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Peter Stenning: So Man has sown the wind – and reaped the whirlwind. Perhaps in the next few hours, there will be no remembrance of the past, and no hope for the future that might have been. All the works of Man will be consumed in the great fire out of which he was created. But perhaps at the heart of the burning light into which he has thrust his world, there is a heart that cares more for him, than he has ever cared for himself. And if there is a future for Man – insensitive as he is, proud and defiant in his pursuit of power – let him resolve to live it lovingly; for he knows well how to do so. Then he may say once more: Truly the light is sweet; and what a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to see the Sun.

This interesting sci-fi film shows there is more than one way to achieve climate change.

The US and USSR acidentally engage in powerful H-bomb testing simultaneously.  Soon the newspapers are full of stories of bizarre weather around the world.  Reporter Peter Stennings (Edward Judd) is put on the story when a solar eclipse occurs several days earlier than predicted.  All scientific authorities on the subject refuse to talk.  Finally, it is revealed that the axis of the Earth was shifted by the bomb.

The remainder of the story follows London’s response as temperatures rise and water dwindles.  Stenning’s remaining time is also occupied with a sometimes strained new romance with secretary Jeannie (Janet Munro).  With Leo McKern as another reporter.

If this story was made today it would be filled with riots, explosions, and conflagrations. This film is much tamer but still very effective.  Its stiff upper lip attitude actually makes the dilemmas of the characters more compelling.  A lot of the conversations sound a lot like end-phase climate-change scenarios posited today.  Recommended to the curious.

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Come September (1961)

Come September
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Written by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin; story by Stanley Roberts and Robert Russell
1961/USA
Universal International Pictures/7 Pictures/Raoul Walsh Enterprises
First viewing/Netflix rental

Lisa Helena Fellini: Why be miserable with someone you don’t love? Better to be miserable with someone you do love!

This is a pleasant enough “sex comedy” of its era, with the added advantage of taking place on the Riviera.

Robert Talbot (Rock Hudson) is an American millionaire bachelor who apparently has only one month out of the year to spend with his main squeeze, the fiery Lisa Fellini (Gina Lollobrigida).  Usually this is September, but Robert can’t wait that long this year and arrives for his month-long holiday in Italy in July.

This throws various spanners in the works.  Lisa finds out about Robert’s arrival on her wedding day to a stuffy Englishman.  She realizes her error in the nick of time and agrees to join Robert at his villa.

When the couple arrives there, they find the place occupied by a large group of teenage girls and their chaperone.  It turns out that Robert’s major domo (Walter Slezak) has been running the villa as a hotel during the other eleven months of the year.  The girls are man-magnets and soon Robert has a squad of young men camped just outside his gate.  Young Tony (Bobby Darin) sets about seducing 18-year-old Sandy (Sandra Dee).  Robert is highly moral when it comes to the younger set and counsels Sandry to play hard to get.  Meanwhile, Robert is not having his long-awaited  “alone time” with Lisa.  And Lisa is getting ideas from Sandy.

This is basically a piece of fluff in a gorgeous setting.  All the actors do well with comedy and the film goes down easily.

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Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1961)

Rocket Attack U.S.A.  
Directed by Barry Mahon
1961/USA
Exploit Films
First viewing/YouTube

 

Tannah: Last month I became the mistress of the secretary of defense. When the pig gets drunk, he talks.

John Manston: What a setup!

How you make a movie about impending atomic devastation this boring is beyond me.

An American spy tries to find out what information has been developed from the Sputnik satellite.  It turns out the Soviets now have an intercontinental ballistic missile at their disposal and its launch date is imminent.

To be honest, this movie lost me from the first frame and the above plot summary is all I can really remember of it.  The film has no redeeming qualities.  Give it a miss.

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Divorce Italian Style (1961)

Divorce Italian Style (Divorzio all’italiana)
Directed by Pietro Germi
Written by Ennio De Concini, Pietro Germi, and Alfredo Giannetti
1961/Italy
Lux Film/Vides Cinematografica/Galatea Film
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Divorce: a resumption of diplomatic relations and rectification of boundaries. Ambrose Bierce

I have an unrequited love affair with Marcello Mastroianni and consider this to be the peak of his acting career.  I just love this movie!

Fernando Cefalú (Mastroianni) is the first son in an impoverished aristocratic family.  Things have gotten so bad that Fernando’s father has had to resort to housing his brother and family.  This puts temptation in Fernando’s way in the shape of his shapely 16-year-old first cousin Angela.  She reciprocates his affection in an infatuated teenager sort of way,

Fernando is burdened by the existence of his relentlessly cheerful and clinging wife, Rosalia (Daniela Rocca).  The domestic and attentive Rosalia might be the perfect wife if it were not for her little mustache and her constant pestering for demonstrations of love.  Fernando finds her unbearable and the audience can see why.

Then Fernando gets an idea.  Divorce is out at this time in Italy but crimes of honor are lightly punished in Sicily.  What he needs to do is find a chump foolish enough to fall for Rosalia and catch them en flagrante.  This is both easier and more difficult than it might seem.

This is a very funny film thanks largely to the spot-on performances by Mastroianni and Rocca.  Mastroianni manages to create a totally insufferable egocentric Latin lover and at the same time get you to hope he will succeed in his project.  He must have had fun sending up the press’s portrayal of himself.  There are also many pokes at the Italian character and customs to savor.  Highly recommended.

Divorce, Italian-Style won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Actor and Best Director.

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Mothra (1961)

Mothra (Mosura)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Written by Shinichi Sekizawa from a novel by Shinichiro Nakamura et al
1961/Japan
Toho Company
First viewing/Netflix rental

Shobijin, Shobijin: Mothra, she’ll rescue us, and return us to our island!

Here’s our first giant mutant hero.  A destructive hero to be sure, but his heart is in the right place.

A fishing ship runs aground on Infant Island, the supposedly uninhabited location of Rolisican atomic tests.  None of the sailors is suffering from radiation poisoning.  They attribute this to some juice prescribed by the local people.

A joint Japanese-Rolisican expedition sets out to explore the island.  The team includes two snoopy Japanese investigative reporters and the evil Rolisican who demands to be in charge of the entire mission.  It turns out this man is a notorious collector of ancient artifacts.  When the group discovers two one-foot high beauties living on the island, the villain promptly kidnaps them and puts them on display on the main land.  Their “act” mostly consists of a song in their own language begging “Mosura” to rescue them.

The girls’ plea does not go unanswered for long.  An egg undergoes its metamorphosis from caterpillar to pupa to moth in short order.  Mosura is single-minded in his quest.  No amount of persuasion will persuade the bad guy to release his captives.  He merely smuggles them out of Japan to Rolisican.  The moth changes course, but not before destroying the Tokyo Tower.

This is a fun film.  Even the obligatory comic relief is somehow endearing.  You need to accept it for what it is – a vehicle for the teen idol identical twin singing group who play the tiny beauties.

The DVD contained both the Japanese and American versions and a commentary.

American Trailer