Teen Kanya (1961)

Teen Kanya (AKA Three Daughters)
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Written by Satyajit Ray from stories by Rabindranath Tagore
1961/India
Satyajit Ray Productions
First viewing/FilmStruck

To a father growing old nothing is dearer than a daughter. — Euripides

I enjoyed this little-seen film by Satyajit Ray immensely.

This is an anthology film based on three short stories by Rabindranath Tagore, all centered on women.  The first, “Postmaster”, is about a cultured Calcutta man who takes up employment in a small Bengali village.  He is a fish out of water and forms a special bond with the servant he inherits, a little orphan girl.

The second story, “Monihara”, is a sort of modern Bengali version of Greed (1924), in which a wife is driven mad by her obsession with her jewelry.  It’s told as a ghost story narrated by its writer, a schoolmaster.

In the final story, “Samapti”, a student’s mother decides that it is time for him to marry.  He rejects her choice of a mild-mannered young teenager in favor of a wild child the locals call “Crazy Girl”.  She is forced to go through with the marriage against her will and fights back with all her might.  This has a neat resolution and was perhaps my favorite segment.

The entire film is almost three hours long but the stories are entirely unrelated and could easily be viewed in bite-sized chunks.  I watched it in one sitting and was not bored for a moment.  It was refreshing to watch such a humanist film after a series of arty French New Wave movies.  The characters are all very relatable.  Recommended.

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Paris Belongs to Us (1961)

Paris Belongs to Us (Paris nous appartient)
Directed by Jacques Rivette
Written by Jacques Rivette and Jean Gruault
1961/France
Ajym Films/Les Films du Carrosse
First viewing/Netflix rental

“Everyone loves a conspiracy.” ― Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

This film mystified me – and not in a good way.

The plot is convoluted and I may not have caught all of it.  The story frequently touches on the death of Juan, who committed suicide before it began – or was it murder.? Our heroine, Anne, is a young student who really doesn’t feel like studying for her Shakespeare exam.

Anne meets Gerard who is attempting to stage a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, which is rarely performed and apparently with good reason.  Gerard has many difficulties with finding a space to rehearse and getting his actors to stay.  Eventually, the inexperienced Anne is given a role.  She and Gerard evidently share an attraction but he seems permanently tied to the “beautiful and hard” Terry.

Anne decides to help Gerard by finding a disappeared tape of the music that Juan wrote for the play.  In her investigation, she meets Philippe, who warns her that Gerard and all around him are in great danger.  As the story progresses, the mystery builds to a worldwide conspiracy – or not.

Tagline: You Either Dig This Film Or You Don’t

As I was watching, I kept remarking out loud “this is the weirdest movie I have ever seen”. And that is really saying something considering the many weird movies in my catalogue! It’s like one giant inside joke that I simply didn’t “get”.  Maybe I need to see it again.  I doubt I will bother.  This is considered to be a seminal film of the new wave and David Lynch fans may love it.

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The Exiles (1961)

The Exiles
Directed by Kent McKenzie
Written by Kent McKenzie
1961/USA
Pathe Contemporary Films
First viewing/Netfix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

“Like a man who has been dying for many days, a man in your city is numb to the stench.” ― Chief Seattle

This is an interesting, if depressing, semi-documentary look at the alienation of Native Americans adrift in the big city.

The action takes place from late afternoon to early morning of a single day in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles.  We first meet the profoundly lonely Yvonne who is expecting a longed for baby, fathered by a man whose primary interest in her appears to be getting fed and cadging loans.  We then meet the men, who long for nighttime when the real drinking can begin.  Yvonne is dumped at a movie theater.

The men proceed to get as drunk as possible and start to pick up women.  Fistfights and run-ins with the law ensue.  When everybody is loose enough they proceed to Hill X where, after the bars close, the Native Americans drum and dance with abandon.

This was made on a low budget and the sound was post-dubbed which can be a little disconcerting.  It didn’t mar the experience too much for me.  I thought McKenzie did quite well at capturing a way of life and bringing the best out of his amateur actors.  The aimless, hopeless existence portrayed is both heart-wrenching and depressing.

I grew up in Greater Los Angeles and enjoyed the images of a lost time.

Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory (1961)

Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory (Lycanthropus)
Directed by Paolo Heusch
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi
1961/Italy/Austria
Royal Film
First viewing/Amazon Instant

“What would a racist call werewolves? Wargs? She kind of liked that one, but suspected that racist bastards didn’t read Tolkien.” ― Patricia Briggs, Fair Game

This Italian/Austrian production doesn’t live up to its awesome American title and poster.

The story is set in a reformatory for wayward girls.  Some of the girls are still up to their old tricks, including blackmail and prostitution.  The girls and staff start to be savagely attacked.  These are at first attributed to a wolf but it soon becomes evident that it is a wolf man.  There are several likely suspects.

AKA – though there’s not a wedding in sight

This is more a mystery than a thriller.  The werewolf does not reveal himself until near the end and his transformations are less than inspiring.  More for those interested in some pretty girls (the heroine) than in gore.

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Blue Hawaii (1961)

Blue Hawaii
Directed by Norman Taurog
Written by Hal Kanter; story by Allan Weiss
1961/USA
Hal Wallis Productions
First viewing?/Netflix rental

Fred Gates: Sarah Lee, how many times do I have to tell you, he was not in a war.

Sarah Lee Gates: I know you’re right, Daddy, but if I don’t tell myself there was a war, I have a most depressive feeling Chadwick’s just wasted two years.

This is all you would expect from a movie starring Elvis and set in Hawaii.

Chad (Elvis) is discharged from the army and returns home to Hawaii.  His faithful half-Polynesian girlfriend Maile (Joan Blackman) s waiting for him.  Chad’s first priority and fondest wish is to return to his former life as a beach bum.  His mother (Angela Landsbury) is dead set on him entering the family’s pineapple business.  Chad refuses.

He gets a job as a tourist guide.  His first assignment is to squire four teenage girls and their teacher around Hawaii.  Naturally, this provides many opportunities for misunderstandings with Maile, beautiful scenery, and occasions at which the singer can perform – some times with a Hawaiian band.

The mother of one of my childhood friends was a huge Elvis fan and the soundtrack to this movie was on constant rotation at her house.  This has left me with a residual fondness for all the songs, most of which are admittedly pretty bland.  If you know what you are in for, it’s a perfectly pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

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The Choppers (1961)

The Choppers
Directed by Leigh Jason
Written by Arch Hall Sr.
1961/USA
Rushmore Productions
First viewing/YouTube

Mr. Lester: [drunkenly, into microphone] I wanna tell the whole world something. Those cops, they ain’t gonna take my boy Torch. There ain’t enough cops in the whole world to take my boy Torch. You hear me? They ain’t gonna take my boy Torch!

The title refers to stolen auto parts, not motorcycles, in this low-budget JD movie.

A gang of teenagers has a thriving business in stripping stalled cars and selling them to a corrupt auto repair shop.  They target their victims by siphoning just enough gas to strand the drivers in the middle of nowhere with a long walk ahead of them.  Needless to say, all the kids are having a crummy childhood.  A police man and an insurance man team up to find the culprits.

There were a couple of characters that made me smile – a gun-toting old-timer and Arch Hall Jr. and his guitar.  I can actually still hum the tune of “Monkey in My Hatband”.  These moments were not enough to move the film into bad movie gold.

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The Comancheros (1961)

The Comancheros
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by James Edward Grant and Clair Huffaker from a novel by Paul Wellman
1961/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Circuit Court Judge Thaddeus Jackson Breen: Most say, except for them who are unfair minded, that I have the finest legal mind in the entire southwest. So you can have faith in your lawyer, son. How much money you got?

This is your average late John Wayne film in his avuncular  mode.  It does boast a partially scalped Lee Marvin!

As the film begins, Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), a New Orleans gambler, kills his opponent in a duel.  The opponent was a prominent person and Louisiana decides to enforce its anti-duelling legislation.  Regret flees into Texas.  He resumes gambling on a river boat and falls in love at first sight with Pilar Graile (Ina Balin).  Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (Wayne) apprehends him but he manages to escape.

When Jake returns to his command, he is assigned to intercept 76 rifles intended for the Comancheros, a band of outlaws in alliance with the Comanches.  During this mission, he retakes Regret.  The two end up battling the Comancheros together.  You may be sure Pilar makes a reappearance.

This is entertaining enough for those who enjoy John Wayne bantering with some fairly snappy dialogue.  I’m one of them.  It’s nothing special though and I have never understood the appeal of either Whitman or Balin.

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Pigs and Battleships (1961)

Pigs and Battleships
Directed by Shohei Imamura
Written by Hisashi Yamanouchi and Gisashi Yamouchi from a novel by Kazu Otsuka
1961/Japan
Nikkatsu
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

“Mac, Phase: everyone here is of the we-don’t-use-real-names-here mentality, so most of the time I feel like a really pilled up Snow White rolling around in the hood with seven drug-dealing dwarves—which, I don’t know… these things are never really as fun as they sound like they’d be.” ― Kris Kidd

In Imamura’s vision of Post-War Japan, the people are pigs feeding on the U.S. military.

Japanese low life living in the vicinity of a U.S. naval base have figured out a way to make it pay.  A Chinese entrepreneur has started a pig farm based on refuse from the base that he corruptly procures for a pittance.  Others live off a thriving prostitution racket.

Kinta is a young hoodlum who is working his way up from the bottom as a flunky on the pig farm.  He and girlfriend Haruko are expecting their first child.  She wants him to leave with her to get a factory job in another town.  He resists.

The movie basically depicts the depraved existence of the gangsters.  When Haruko can’t get Kinta to change his ways, she gets revenge by a tentative move into the prostitution racket.  This doesn’t work out so well.  Kinta eventually discovers that his number one use to the gang is as a fall guy.

This is a strikingly-shot, savage social commentary.  I can see the reasons why it is highly rated.  Imamura may not be for me.  I don’t have a lot of time for misanthropes.

Scream of Fear (1961)

Scream of Fear
Directed by Seth Holt
Written by Jimmy Sangster
1961/UK
Hammer Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

Penny Appleby: [to Dr. Gerrard] You say my mind is affecting my legs. You’re wrong. It’s my legs that are affecting my mind.

Hammer Picture goes into Hitchcock and Clouzot territory with this psychological thriller.  The film does not near the level of the masters but is interesting and worth seeing.

Paraplegic Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) has not seen her father since his divorce from her mother nine years earlier.   He now invites her to his estate in France.  But on arrival, she is informed that he has gone away on business.  His new wife (Ann Todd) is very friendly and wants Penny to have a good time.  The visit will hardly be that.

Almost immediately, Penny begins seeing her father – dead – in the strangest places.  The father’s psychiatrist friend (Christopher Lee) questions her sanity and even suggests that her paralysis is psychosomatic.  The only person willing to help her is Robert, the chauffeur.  It would be criminal to delve further into the plot.

The plot may seem a tad predictable to viewers with a lot of thrillers under their belts but there are some surprises and actual thrills for everyone.  The film also boasts an awesome creepy atmosphere.  I’m glad I was able to see it.

West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story
Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
Written by Ernest Lehman from the musical play by Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
1961/USA
The Mirisch Corporation/Seven Arts Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Action: When *you* was my age? When my old man was my age, when my brother was my age… You was never my age, none of ya! And the sooner you creeps get hip to that, the sooner you’ll dig us!

This movie was made for musical comedy/ballet/opera geeks like me and I love it.

This is famously Romeo and Juliet updated to reflect gang life in New York City.  The Montagues and Capulets are replaced by the Jets, a gang of working class “white” teenagers, and the Sharks, a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants.  Tony (Richard Behmer), who is trying to go straight after having been leader of the Jets, falls in love with Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris) the leader of the Sharks.  The Jets and the Sharks are already locked in gang warfare and the attentions of Tony to Maria only escalate matters.

The feud leads to tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.  With Rita Moreno as Bernardo’s girlfriend and Russ Tamblyn as Riff, Tony’s friend and new leader of the Jets.

I assisted the director of my high school production of West Side Story and it has a special place in my heart.  But besides nostalgia, I continue to think that the music is some of the best ever written for the stage. Bernstein’s score gives me chills in places.  I can see how some might find all the pointy toed dancing by gang members and their girls ludicrous but I just sit back and enjoy it.  Rita Moreno absolutely deserved her Academy Award even if George Chakiris remains a puzzlement.  Highly recommended to others like me.

The Blu-Ray that came in the mail contained a song-specific commentary by Stephen Sondheim that I ate up.

West Side Story won ten Academy Awards – Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor; Best Supporting Actress; Best Director; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Sound; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

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