The Password Is Courage
Directed by Andrew L. Stone
Written by Andrew L. Stone based on a biography of Charles Coward by John Castle
Andrew L. Stone Productions
“I was mentally prepared to sustain serious injury or death, but before that day I never contemplated the reality of being captured by the enemy. I thought, “This is going to be hard on the folks,” only to realize that I actually verbalized my thought out loud. As the English-speaking officer and I walked side by side, he said, “War is terrible, isn’t it?” ― Oliver Omanson, Prisoner of War Number 21860: The World War II Memoirs of Oliver Omanson
Comparisons to other prisoner-of-war escape movies are inevitable. Unfortunately, despite the presence of my beloved Dirk Bogarde, this one doesn’t quite measure up.
The ironically-named Sergeant-Major Charles Coward (Bogarde) is a brave and audacious leader of men. He is subordinate to some of the officers at the prison camp but is key to escape plans via a tunnel. He can play the German prison guards like a violin.
To collect supplies, Coward blackmails a guard into letting him have an unescorted visit to town, where he will be shot on sight if found out. While there, he meets a lady optometrist. Naturally, they fall in love.
There is nothing exactly wrong with this picture but the light-hearted moments didn’t work quite the way they should. It feels like another version of The Great Escape (1963) without much of the suspense.
A View from the Bridge
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Norman Rosten from a play by Arthur Miller
Transcontinental Films/Produzione Intercontinale
“I only ask you one thing- don’t trust nobody” ― Arthur Miller, A View from the Bridge: A Play in Two Acts
The acting is first-rate but 2 hours of hyper-masculinity gets kind of old by the end.
Eddie Carbone (Raf Vallone) is an Italian immigrant who works on the docks. He lives with his kind-hearted wife Beatrice (Maureen Stapleton) and eighteen-year-old niece Catherine (Carol Lawrence). It is clear from the get-go that he has an unhealthy obsession with the niece disguised as parental “concern”. In the meantime, Catherine blithely showers him with hugs and kisses like a child.
Eddie’s life is turned upside down with the arrival of two illegal immigrants sponsored by Beatrice. They move in with the family. The younger of the two, Rodolpho, is Eddie’s polar opposite. He has a beautiful tenor voice and can cook and even sew. Naturally, Catherine and Rodolpho immediately fall in love. This drives Eddie straight over the edge and results in tragedy for all.
Eddie Carbone is not a nice guy to be around and this is his story. It is an interesting take on masculinity gone mad and probably the most operatic thing Arthur Miller ever wrote. Raf Vallone is fantastic in the part. It started to wear me down by the end, though.
Arthur Miller tells a story about a stage production of his play
An Autumn Afternoon
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Written by Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Shuhei Hirayama: [to himself, last lines] Alone, eh?
Sensei, why did you have to leave us so soon?
Ozu again explores his classic reluctant bride plot. Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) is a widower with a 24-year-old daughter who keeps house for him and a somewhat younger son. He is perfectly content with this arrangement but his friends think it is time for his daughter to marry. One of them has a prospect for her.
Daughter Michiko believes her father cannot get along without her and dad thinks she may be right. The example of his drunken former teacher and his long-suffering spinster daughter changes Shuhei’s mind.
This is often-cited as a remake of Late Spring but the tone is entirely different. The main difference is in the amount of humor. Shohei and his various cronies can be pretty hilarious.
As usual, the “plot” is not the thing with Ozu. Among the themes explored are loss, loneliness, the inevitability of change, the generation gap and transition in post-War Japan. The color cinematography and composition is exquisite. The film is a slow burn that left me in tears after all the chuckles. Highly recommended.
This was Ozu’s final film. He was only 60 when he died of a heart attack in 1963. He left us with 55 films, most of them excellent and many of them masterpieces. I will really miss my annual visit with the director as I continue my journey through the years.
Birdman of Alcatraz
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by Guy Trosper from a book by Thomas E. Gaddis
First viewing/Amazon Instant
Robert Stroud: I could use more room. For my birds.
This film asks the question: Can a psychopath by rehabilitated by birds? It fails to answer it.
When we first meet Robert Stroud (Burt Lancaster) he is a surly, defiant young punk doing life in Levenworth for one murder. He has a serious hang up about his mama (Thelma Ritter) and woe betide anyone who merely mentions her name. This obsession leads him to conflict with a guard, whom he murders. He is sentenced to death this time. Mama works tirelessly for a reprieve and at the last minute President Wilson commutes his death sentence to life. Warden Harven Shoemaker (Karl Malden) assures him he will wish he were dead as he is determined that Stroud will spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.
In the exercise yard one day Stroud finds a baby sparrow whose nest has been blown down in a wind storm. He nurses the infant to maturity.
Finally, a new warden takes over at Levenworth. This man is impressed with Stroud, who has actually trained the little bird brain, and allows him to keep his pet. Soon the other inmates are getting canaries from their relatives. As they tire of the birds, Stroud acquires a huge aviary from which he breeds even more birds. An epidemic among his charges causes Stroud to study bird diseases. Over the course of decades, he becomes a foremost expert in ornithology. He also acquires a bird-loving wife (Betty Field). She works for his release but clashes with mama.
Eventually, Stroud is transferred to Alcatraz where he meets up again with Warden Shoemaker and is forbidden to keep birds. With Telly Savalas as Stroud’s next-door cell-mate.
I adored all the acting and the bird-related portions of this movie. There is a wonderful scene showing a baby canary emerging from the egg. I was not so hot on the critique of the prison system parts which seemed cliched to me. It did not help that I had read before hand that Stroud was not only a murderer but a pedophile. I thought he deserved to remain in prison, a view not shared by the film. Worth seeing.
Birdman of Alcatraz was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor (Savalas); Best Supporting Actress (Ritter); and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.
The Given Word (O pagador de promessas)
Directed by Anselmo Duarte
Written Anselmo Duarte based on a play by Dias Gomes
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. — Robert Frost
This social commentary is sort of a Brazilian version of Ace in the Hole.
Ze do Burro (“Donkey”Jack) is a simple farmer. His beloved donkey is injured and will not stop bleeding. Ze goes to a candombe ritual and promises their version of Saint Barbara that he will donate part of his land to the poor and carry a heavy cross seven leagues to her church if she will restore his animal to health. The donkey survives and Ze tries to comply with his promises. The first part is easy.
When Ze and his wife Rosa arrive in the city, it is nighttime and the church is closed. Ze believes that he will have fulfilled his promise only if he carries the cross into the church. But when the church opens its priest, believing that candombe is Satanic and so is Ze, bars the doors to him. Ze refuses to budge. In the ensuing hours, Ze becomes the victim of a number of charletans and hack journalists, who eventually whip the crowd into a frenzy. Rosa succumbs to the temptations of a city slicker. Can Ze ever keep his promise?
“Christ” is thoroughly misunderstood by every facet of society from the Church to the revolutionaries this one. It is a good movie but I felt it lacked focus somehow. I really don’t have any more to say.
This is the only Brazilian film ever to have won the Palm d’Or at Cannes. It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language film.
Walk on the Wild Side
Written by John Fante and Edmund Morris from a novel by Nelson Algren
Famous Artists Productions/Famartists Productions; Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental
Dove Linkhorn: What are you doing here, Kit?
Kitty Twist: I run the candy concession.
The cast list and the subject matter reflect a generational change in Hollywood.
Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey) is a simple Texan with an undying love for artist Hallie (Capucine). He hops a train en route to New Orleans in search of her. Fellow tramp Kitty Twist (Jane Fonda) shares his freight car. She makes a big play for Dove but it is no dice. While hitchhiking to NOLA the two stop at a cafe run by Mexican-American Teresina Vidaverri (Ann Baxter). Kitty tries to rip the kindly proprietress off. Dove returns her stolen property and ends up working for Teresina, who clearly also falls for Dove.
When Dove finally locates Hallie she is working at a high-toned brothel run by Jo Courtney (Barbara Stanwyck). Jo shares Dove’s love for the beauty and has no intention of letting her go. As is the way of these things, Kitty becomes Jo’s next employee.
This is quite OK even if entirely predictable. I liked it mainly for the opportunity to see Stanwyck and Baxter again. By this time, the Hayes Code was just begging to be broken. Doesn’t quite happen here but almost.
Elmer Bernstein and Mack David were nominated for the Oscar for Best Music, Original Song for the title tune.
Clip – Music by Elmer Bernstein
Alternative title tune for a friend
Tales of Terror
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Richard Matheson from Stories by Edgar Allen Poe
Alta Vista Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant
Montresor Herringbone: Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.
The combination of Edgar Allen Poe, Roger Corman and Vincent Price nearly always ensures something enjoyable. Toss in Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone for triple the fun!
This is an omnibus film based on three short stories by Poe – “Morella”; “The Black Cat” (combined with “The Cask of Amontillado”) and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”. Price appears in all of them.
In “Morella”, Price plays a widower whose wife died in childbirth. His daughter comes to visit underestimating the staying power of her father’s resentment.
In “The Black Cat” Peter Lorre hates his wife and her cat. He invites the world’s foremost wine taster (Price) to a drinking contest. After getting the connoisseur drunk, he takes him home for fun and games.
In “The Facts of the Case of M. Valdemar”, Price plays Valdemar who is dying of a painful disease. He hires hypnotist Basil Rathbone to put him in a trance to dull the pain. In this state, his body dies but the hypnotist cruelly refuses to let his soul die. Revenge ensues.
This is a nice movie for a Monday or any other afternoon. All the actors are in top form.
The Counterfeit Traitor
Directed by George Seaton
Written by George Seaton based on the book by Alexander Klein
First viewing/Amazon Prime
Eric Erickson: Suddenly, he becomes your brother.
William Holden has played the cynic forced against his will to do good many times. This movie was not my favorite of these.
Erick Erickson is an American-born Swede who renounced his US citizenship when he moved permanently back to Sweden. In neutral Sweden, his business is brokering oil refined in Germany. He is “blacklisted” for this activity courtesy of some Allied spies who blackmail him into becoming an agent. His cover is arranging for Germany to build a refinery in Sweden. This requires him to travel back and forth frequently. In order to establish himself as a Nazi sympathizer, Erick alienates his wife and all of his friends.
Erick’s spy contact in Germany is Marianne Möllendorf (Lily Palmer). She is in the spy game as a committed Christian. Naturally the two fall in love. Erick eventually begins to see things her way. Things get more dangerous from here. With Hugh Griffith as Erick’s controller and Klaus Kinski as a dying Jew.
This movie is OK but didn’t wow me. I felt like I had seen it several times before. The IMDb rating is 7.6 out of 10 so your mileage may vary.
Days of Wine and Roses
Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by J.P. Miller
First viewing/Netflix rental
Joe Clay: Well, anything worth having is worth suffering for, isn’t it?
Love story meets horror story in this well-acted drama about alcoholism and its consequences.
Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) works as a Public Relations man. It is the age of Mad Men and business is conducted over plenty of martinis. Joe is fonder of the booze than he is of his job. One of his more distasteful duties is to line up “girls” to entertain clients. When he meets Kirsten he assumes she is one of these. She turns out to be the boss’s secretary and after a rocky start they fall in love. Kirsten is a teetotaler.
Joe keeps getting deeper and deeper into the sauce. As he grows more dependent and more frustrated with his life, he craves an at-home drinking buddy. Thus Kirsten becomes hooked herself. Things get worse and worse until they get better – at least for one of them. With Charles Bickford as Kirsten’s father.
We are in Lost Weekend territory – complete with violent DTs – here but with a romance at its core. Both leads are fantastic at every stage of their disease. We like these people while they are destroying family and each other. Recommended.
Director Blake Edwards did the commentary on the DVD I rented. One thing that made it particularly interesting was that he was watching it for the first time since it came out. He was pleased with his handiwork. We also hear about his own battle with the bottle.
Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s title tune won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song. Days of Wine and Roses was also nominated in the categories of Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; and Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.
Don’t Knock the Twist
Directed by Oscar Rudolph
Written by Robert E. Kent
Four Leaf Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
I compare the twist to the electric light, the twist is me, and I’m it. I’m the electric light. – Chubby Checker
The story is dopey but a lot of the music and dancing are pretty good.
The head of a TV network has noticed that its rival is getting the ratings with its twist shows. He challenges one of his executives to beat the rival by putting together a twist spectacular in only one month. Fortunately, the executive is a friend of Chubby Checker’s! We also get the obligatory love triangle between a money-hungry brunette fashion designer, a blonde teenage dancer (only dances to benefit an orphanage) and the executive.
I had low expectations going in but it turns out we get several sixties golden oldies and some good twisting, along with lots of rear views of ladies shaking their booties.
Clip – Gene Chandler sings “The Duke of Earl”
Still in great voice all these years later