The Music Man (1962)

The Music Man
Directed by Morton Da Costa
Written by Marion Hargrove and Franklin Lacey based on the musical comedy by Meredith Wilson
1962/USA
Warner Bros.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Harold Hill: I always think there’s a band, kid.

Revisiting this long-time favorite was a joy from the first minute to the last.

Traveling salesman “Professor” Harold Hill (Robert Preston) has left ahead of the tar-and-feather brigade so often that he become the bane of others in the profession.  His gimmick is selling the items to outfit a boys’ band – instruments and uniforms – on the basis that he will teach the kids how to play.  Hill cannot read a note of music and relies on something called the “think system” until the uniforms arrive and he can quickly skip town.

Both the mayor (Paul Ford) of his latest target – River City, Iowa – and the local piano teacher and librarian Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones) are skeptical.  Hill successfully dodges their efforts to make him present his credentials.

Hill is quite a gifted salesman and brings River City excitement that it has never known.  He gets more than he bargained for from his attempts to sweet talk the frosty Marian.  With Hermoine Guingold as the mayor’s wife, Buddy Hackett as Hill’s buddy, Pert Kelton as Marian’s mother and Ronny Howard as her little brother.

I had seen the movie several times before I was in the play in junior college.  The soundtrack was also in frequent rotation at home.  The musical was a huge hit on Broadway and the filmmakers didn’t mess with success, resulting in a certain staginess. Whatever – it makes me completely happy.  Most of the players expertly repeat their Broadway roles.  Preston is amazing.  Warmly recommended to musical lovers.

The Music Man won the Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated for Best Picture; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Film Editing; and Best Sound.

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I am going to Las Vegas for a wedding.  Will return August 4.

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Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)

Requiem for a Heavyweight
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Written by Rod Sterling from his teleplay
1962/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant

Louis ‘Mountain’ Rivera: Mountain Rivera was no punk. Mountain Rivera was almost the Heavyweight Champion of the World!

Why are all boxing movies so darned sad?

Mountain Rivera (Anthony Quinn) is coming to the end of his seventeen-year career.  He’s still strong enough to last seven rounds against Cassius Clay/Mohammed Ali (who has a cameo).  The trouble is that his long-time manager Maish (Jackie Gleason) had bet the farm that he would not last four and, worse, convinced a gangster to make the same bet. Also, the beating has left Mountain unfit to fight due to an eye that will probably be blinded with the next blow.

Mountain has never done anything else but fight.  He’s too big to fit into a movie usher’s uniform.  He meets Grace (Julie Harris), a social worker who has worked with disabled vets, and she gets him an interview for a camp counselor job.  They also look to be starting a tentative romance.

This does not suit Maish in the least.  He is desperate to get the money to get the gangster off his back and figures Mountain owes him.  The idea is to get Mountain to sign a contract to wrestle.  It will be a major blow to Mountain’s dignity.  With Mickey Rooney as a trainer.

This is a solid, if predictable, tale of corruption and cynicism in the boxing world.  All the acting is good, with Gleason being the standout.  Quinn plays his part with a delivery that we should see as punch-drunk but somehow seems slightly off.  It takes some getting used to.

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls
Directed by Herk Harvey
Written by John Clifford
1962/USA
Harcourt Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Mary Henry: [yelling into the void] WHY CAN’T ANYBODY HEAR ME?

An educational and industrial film maker wanted to achieve the “look of a Bergman” and the “feel of a Cocteau” on a budget of $17,000 and shooting time of three weeks.  He didn’t do too badly.

As the film begins, a group of boys is drag racing with a group of girls.  Both cars occupy a bridge at the same time and the girls’ car goes over the side and into the water.  After awhile, Mary Henry surfaces looking completely dazed.

Previously, she had been hired as a church organist and goes off to take her job in Lawrence, Kansas.  On her way, she drives by an abandoned carnival site that haunts her for the rest of the film.  She finds a room in a house.  The only other boarder is a randy young alcoholic who simply will not leave her alone.  She keeps seeing terrifying visions of a man (played by the director) whom no one else can see.

As Mary goes about her daily business, it seems people are ignoring her completely.  I’ll stop here.

This movie looks beautiful but a horror film without a monster was not going to be a blockbuster in 1962.  Amateur acting betrays its small budget and a lot of what was happening does not make complete sense, even in the context of the fantasy.  It’s an interesting film, though, and worth seeing once.  There are several full versions available on YouTube – be sure to find one that has not been colorized.

The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by George Axelrod from a novel by Richard Conden
1962/USA
M.C. Productions
Repeat viewing/My DVD collection
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Bennett Marco: Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

I consider this the best conspiracy movie ever made.  Pity about Janet Leigh’s character, though.

As the movie begins a unit headed by Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) is on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines in North Korea.  Marco credits Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) with saving the lives of the survivors of the action and Shaw receives the Medal of Honor for his heroism.  After returning to the U.S., Marco suffers from weird recurring nightmares in which Shaw commits unspeakable acts during a gardening club meeting.  These are so distressing that his commanding officer orders him to take it easy.  Marco believes he is losing his mind until he is approached by one of his comrades who is having similar nightmares.  He becomes determined to ferret out the truth.

In the meantime, Raymond’s mother (Angela Lansbury) and step-father Senator Johnny Iselin (James Gregory) are basking in Raymond’s glory.  The Iselins are rabid Red-baiters and have ambitions to take the White House.  Raymond hates his mother for breaking up the great romance of his life and despises Johnny and his politics.  Anyone who has not had the story spoiled previously will be glad that I stop here.

One aspect of the movie that cannot be spoiled is Marco’s bizarre encounter with Rosie (Janet Leigh) on a train.  It is love at first sight on her part featuring dialogue that can only be described as surreal.  The Rosie-Marco romance is the one weak spot in an otherwise excellent and chilling movie.

All of the principal players are at the top of their game and Lansbury’s performance is unforgettable.  It’s unfortunate that she was competing for the Oscar that year with Patty Duke, who could not have been denied.  Every technical aspect is practically perfect as well.  Highly recommended.

The Manchurian Candidate was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Lansbury) and Best Film Editing.

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The Miracle Worker (1962)

The Miracle Worker
Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by William Gibson based on his play and the book by Helen Keller
1962/USA
Playfilm Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix

Annie Sullivan: I wanted to teach her what language is. I know without it to do nothing but obey is no gift. Obedience without understanding is a blindness too. Is that all I’ve wished on her?

Spectacular acting meets a powerful, inspirational story.

This is based on the true story of Helen Keller (Patty Duke), who, at nineteen months, was stricken by an illness that left her deaf and blind.  Her doting family responded by letting her do what ever she wanted to, eventually resulting in an out-of-control “wild child”.  The violence of Helen’s outbursts could no longer be tolerated.  After much hesitation, the family sent for a teacher and Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) came into their lives.  Since Sullivan also had a visual impairment she could relate somewhat to Helen’s challenges.

Annie sensed an innate intelligence in her pupil and was determined that Helen would learn to behave, obey, and communicate.  The early days of Helen’s education were accompanied by Helen’s violent physical attempts to resist obedience but Annie was persistent.  The real miracle however came when Helen finally learned the relationship between objects and the words that label them.  With Victor Jory as Helen’s father and Inga Swenson as her mother.

This movie is exhausting but so worth it!  The acting is nothing short of mind-blowing.  You will believe every second that Helen can neither see nor hear.  The story is a real testament to the human spirit.  Highly recommended.

Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke won the Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.  The Miracle Worker was nominated in the categories of Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; and Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.

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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by Lucas Heller from the novel by Henry Farrell
1962/USA
The Associates and Aldrich Company
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Jane: Blanche, you aren’t ever gonna sell this house… and you aren’t ever gonna leave it… either.

It’s as if Billy Wilder took Sunset Blvd. that one extra step over into horror territory.

As the movie begins, it is 1917 and vaudeville is in full flower.  Cute little Baby Jane Hudson is a popular headliner with her song and dance routine.  Her less-cute sister Blanche waits in the wings in some jealousy and resentment.  Off-stage Baby Jane is a demanding brat.

Baby Jane and Blanche grow up to be Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.  By 1935, Blanche is a beloved movie star.  Alcoholism and continued brattiness make Baby Jane persona-non-grata in Hollywood.  She works only because Blanche refuses to make films unless Jane does.  At the height of her popularity, Blanche is run down by a car and left paraplegic.  She becomes totally dependent on Jane for care, just as Jane is on Blanche for money.

By the time the story proper begins, both sisters are well into middle age.  Jane’s alcoholism and mental illness have only progressed.  She begins a war of terror on poor Blanche.  Now that Jane is able to duplicate Blanche’s voice and signature, the time appears to be coming when Jane will be able to dispense with Blanche altogether and launch her comeback.

I hadn’t seen this for decades, possibly since its theatrical release,  It improved greatly from my memory.  Davis is completely fabulous in this movie!  She has found the ideal part that allows her to pull out all the stops and chew the scenery with relish.  And I love it. Crawford resented Davis for her Oscar nomination but she deserved it. I believe Crawford’s part could have been played by any middle-aged movie star.  This movie is a hell of a lot of fun and warmly recommended.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Actress (Davis); Best Supporting Actor (Victor Buono); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Sound.

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To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

To Kill a Mockingbird
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Written by Horton Foote from the novel by Harper Lee
1962/USA
Universal International Pictures/Paluka-Mulligan Productions/Brentwood Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Rev. Sykes: Miss Jean Louise. Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.

Robert Mulligan made a practically perfect novel into a practically perfect movie.

It is 1930’s small-town Alabama and most everybody is poor but making do.  This includes country lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), a widower, and his children 10-year-old Jem and 6-year-old Scout.  The Depression is not depressing the kids any and they spend much of their time daring each other to conquer their fears.  The prime target is the Radley House, where a mystery man named Boo lives.  He is allegedly a horrible sight who must be chained in the basement.  Scout spends much of her time fighting to be included in the boys’ pranks.

Life changes for the Finch family when Atticus is hired to defend a black sharecropper accused of raping a white woman.  The majority of the townspeople think that lynching is too good for the man.  Complicating matters is the drunkenness and downright evil of the woman’s father, Bob Ewell.  Atticus’s strategy must be to accuse both Ewell’s of lying.  He loses the trial but not the animosity of the Ewells.  Probably all my readers know how this ends but I will go no further.

I read the novel when I was quite young, maybe twelve, and it really made an impression on me.  In previous viewings of the film, Peck seemed far too pompous in his delivery for the image of Atticus I had in my head.  I softened considerably to his performance on this re-watch.  All the other characters came off exactly as I had imagined them. The courtroom scenes are stirring but my favorite parts are the kids acting like kids.  The casting director did a hell of a job finding the child actors.

To Kill a Mockingbird won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actor; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; and Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress (Badham); Best Director; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Music, Score – Substantially original.

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Knife in the Water (1962)

Knife in the Water (Nóz w wodzie)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Jakub Goldberg, Roman Polanski, and Jerzy Skolimowski
1962/Poland
Zespol Filmowy “Kamera”
First viewing/Netflix rental

Krystyna: You’re just like him… only half his age, and twice as dumb.

Polanski proves himself to be a very talented beginner.

From the outset Andrzej and Kristina seem to have a rocky relationship.  He is decades older than she is and, more importantly, is a complete jerk.  When a young hitchhiker tries to catch a ride by standing in the middle of the road, Andrzej brakes at the last possible second.  (The young hitchhiker is never named in the film and will be referred to here as the Young Man. His dialogue was post-dubbed by Polanski.)

Then to prove a some kind of point to Kristina, he gives the Young Man a lift.  The couple are going as far as the nearby marina, where they plan a day’s sailing on their boat.  Andrzej invites the Young Man to join them, apparently to torture both him and Kristina.

Andrzej then begins a sort of Alpha Male competition with the Young Man.  He belatedly finds out the Young Man can more than hold his own …

There is an underlying theme of class struggle going on here as it would be a rare couple in 1962 Poland who would privately own both a Mercedes and a boat.  On the other hand, the Young Man is almost as obnoxious as Andrzej.

It’s an interesting watch that amounts to less than what it promises.  The shooting, on the other hand, is brilliant – the kind where almost every frame makes a beautiful still.  Polanski does fall victim to self-conscious artiness at times here.  He would improve.

Knife in the Water was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign-Language Film.

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The Creation of the Humanoids (1962)

The Creation of the Humanoids
Directed by Wesley Barry
Written by Jay Simms from a novel by Jack Williamson
1962/USA
Genie Productions Inc.
First viewing/Netflix rental

Capt. Kenneth Cragis: How do you apologize to someone for killing them?

From the poster and title I was expecting no more than a potentially fun cheesefest. Instead, I got a solid and intriguing little B flick.

Sometime in the past, an atomic war wiped out 98% of humanity.  Many of the survivors were sterile.  So man got busy and created robots to fill in the gaps.  Mostly, man and robot live in harmony but there are bigots in every society.  This one has The Order of Flesh and Blood to contend with.  The order is dedicated to keeping robots in their place and is known to resort to terrorism.

One of the highest officials in the order is The Cragis.  Unfortunately, his sister has formed “Rapport” with her robot – i.e., they are in love.  The Leader sends him to give her a talking to.  In the background, the robots continue to evolve.  I will say no more.

I was very pleasantly surprised by this movie.  Sure, it’s no FX marvel but what is there is not ludicrous.  The film kept my interest all the way through and was even kind of thought provoking.  Recommended to sci-fi fans.

Clip – evolution of the humanoids

Pitfall (1962)

Pitfall (Otoshiana) 
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
Written by Kobo Abe
1962/Japan
Teshigahara Productions/Toho Company
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

I have never yet heard of a murderer who was not afraid of a ghost. John Philpot Curran

There’s some effective filmmaking here but I failed to get the point if there was one.

A miner and his young son are wandering around looking for work.  They are told they can find some in a certain town.  When they arrive they discover it is a ghost town.  The only living soul they can find is the woman who operates the candy store.

Before very long, the miner is murdered by a mystery man in white.  The mystery man pays the candy store lady to deny he was ever in town.  The miner’s ghost observes the investigation.  A bunch of other stuff happens, somehow involving two rival miners unions and other ghosts.

I’m a big fan of Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964) but I found his feature film debut underwhelming.  The staging and photography have some of the eerie feel of Woman but the story lacks the focus or power of that film.  It’s basically a loosely connected series of unpunished bad acts.  Not a favorite.

Trailer – no subtitles