New Tale of Zatoichi (1963)

New Tale of Zatoichi (Shin Zatôichi monogatari)
Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka
Written by Minoru Inuzuka and Kan Shimozawa
1963/Japan
Daiei Studios
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

“Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.” ― Helen Keller

The first color film in the Blind Ichi series maintains the high standards of the two previous films.

Series keystone Shintaro Katsu continues in the title role.  Our blind masseur/swordsman is minding his own business as usual and decides to visit his old village and the Master who taught him swordsmanship.  He is pursued by the brother of one of his former defeated attackers, who has vowed vengeance.

The Master wants his sister to marry a wealthy man she does not love.  She has fallen for Zatoichi and asks him to marry her.  He is reluctant saying he is a bad man – killer, gambler, etc.  But he loves her too and vows to turn over a new leaf.  At first things work out in his favor, but circumstances just will not leave Ichi alone.

This series is becoming like an anticipated mid-afternoon pick-me-up.  It’s something I put on knowing I will be entertained and impressed.  Two more to go in 1963!

Trailer for the Criterion 25-film box set

Dementia 13 (1963)

Dementia 13
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Francis Ford Coppola and Frank Hill
1963/USA
American International Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Justin Caleb: Consider your mind as a bird in your hand.

A talented newcomer gives a low-budget horror movie some class.

Each year the Haloran family holds a memorial service for a daughter who died in childhood.  Eldest brother John and his wife Louise are slated to attend.  He reminds her that she stands to inherit nothing if he pre-deceases her and then promptly drops dead of a heart attack.  She scrambles to conceal his death and shows up alone, saying that her husband has been called away on business.

The rest of the film covers a series of axe murders.  Each person in the family and the family doctor is a suspect.

Francis Ford Coppola was working as an assistant to Roger Corman on another film when this was made.  He was allowed to use the same cast if he could shoot around the other production.  Considering the circumstances, Coppola did a good job with a bare-bone budget.  There are many nice shots.  The story is nothing special, though.  I guessed the identity of the killer almost immediately.

 

 

Hands Over the City (1963)

Hands Over the City (Le mani sulla città)
Directed by Francesco Rosi
Written by Francesco Rosi, Raffaele La Capria, Enzo Provenzale and Enzo Forcella
1963/Italy
Galatea Film
First viewing/Netflix rental

“In the present case it is a little inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible to any public office of trust or profit in the Republic. But I do not repine, for I am a subject of it only by force of arms.” ― H.L. Mencken

Francesco Rosi makes a powerful and maddeningly relevant drama about the collusion between city government, in this case that of Naples, and real estate developers.

Italy is rebuilding after the devastation of WWII and the money has begun to flow in Naples.  City Council member Edoardo Nottola (Rod Steiger) is in private life a major developer.  As the film starts, an old building collapses next to a new building his firm is putting up.  People die and the opposition Socialists squawk so loudly that a token investigation is begun.  It is election season and the press must be satisfied.  Although the investigation uncovers many irregularities, it seems obvious from the start that nothing will be done.

However, there is enough controversy that the ruling Rightists feel compelled to ditch Nottola.  He fights back.

This is a compelling story and stunningly shot.  The shenanigans and shouting in the Naples City Council almost make the U.S. Congress look good.  Rod Steiger gives an outstanding performance though it was odd hearing him speak in a voice not his.  I found the music grating but some people like it a lot.  Recommended if you are in the mood to be outraged.

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The Organizer

The Organizer (Il compagni)
Directed by Mario Monicelli
Written by Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli and Mario Monicelli
1963/Italy/France/Yugoslavia
Lux Film/Vides Cinematografia/Mediterrannee Cinema Production/Avala Film
First viewing/FilmStruck

Raoul: [Referrinfg to Arro, a Sicilian] If that Ethipopian goes to work tomorrow, one by one they will go back with yours truly first in line.

A gem of a film with a very different performance from Marcello Mastroianni.

The setting is Turin, Italy at the end of the 19th Century.  The community mostly works at the local textile mill.  The shift is 14 hours long and conditions both in the homes and at the mill are squalid.  When one dog-tired employee loses his hand to a machine, the other workers vow to quit an hour early in protest.  But with no real organization, the walk-out fizzles.

Enter Professor Sinigaglia (Mastroianni), an ex-high school teacher turned union organizer who is a fugitive of justice resulting from his activities in another town.  Sigigaglia is an odd-ball kind of egghead that proves to be a surprisingly inspirational speaker.  He convinces the workers that they need a lot more than one extra hour off work and they go on strike.

The management is unshakeable and the strike stretches out beyond economic endurance.  Finally, unable to fob off the workers, the management turns on Sinigaglia. With Renato Salvatori, Fulco Lulli, and Bernard Blier on the strike committee and Annie Giradot as a prostitute.

I was preparing for a lot of violence and there was some but the ending holds out a ray of hope for the future.  There are also quite a few light-hearted moments.  Cinematographer Giuseppi Rotunno’s lighting evokes black-and-white photographs of the era.  Warmly recommended.

The Organizer was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

 

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment
Directed by Robert Drew (uncredited)
1963/USA
ABC News/Drew Associates
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

Robert F. Kennedy – Attorney General of the United States: I’m not very much in favor of picking the governor up and moving him out of the way. I think it’d be much better if we develop some system if we had enough people to just push him aside.

Robert Drew was granted special access to President John F. Kennedy’s administration. This is one of several documentaries he made showing the inner workings of the White House.  It centers in a confrontation Alabama Governor George Wallace provoked with the Federal Government over the admission of two African-American students to the University of Alabama.  Although the federal court had ordered their admission and the university had in fact admitted them, Wallace said he would simply physically bar the door to their entry.

The documentary contains several fascinating strategy sessions in the White House along with straight-forward news style coverage of the events of the day.  As it worked out the Alabama National Guard had to be nationalized before the governor backed down.

This is not a sectional issue…. Nor is this a partisan issue…. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. — John F. Kennedy, Civil Rights Address, June 11, 1963

This is a now heart-wrenching look at a time when idealism prevailed in the White House. My favorite part, though, is George Wallace’s pathetic attempts at justifying his position.  He explains that segregation benefits the Negro because otherwise how would he know which cafes were for him and which were for White people!  Recommended if you are interested in the subject matter.

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The Pink Panther (1963)

The Pink Panther
Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards
1963/USA
Mirisch-GE Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Inspector Jacques Clouseau: Simone! Where is my Surété-Scotland-Yard-type mackintosh?

Beautiful people, beautiful dresses, beautiful scenery … and Inspector Clouseau.

The story is set in various locations in France and Italy.  The bumbling Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) has devoted his life to finding the international jewel thief known as the Phantom.  We learn early on that this is Sir Charles Litton Lytton (David Niven) and that Clouseau’s beautiful duplicitous wife Simone (Cappucine) is in league with him.  Sir Charles, Clouseau and company are drawn to an Italian ski resort by the presence of The Pink Panther, a rare diamond owned by a Princess (Claudia Cardinale).

Clouseau’s inability to stay standing upright for many minutes at a time and the various amorous maneuverings of Lytton, Simone and Lytton’s nephew (Robert Wagner) keep things interesting.

My favorite parts of this movie are actually the sixties clothes, color and production values. The comedy fell kind of flat for me but that may have just been my mood.

Henry Mancini was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Substantially Original Score.

Judex (1963)

Judex
Directed by Georges Franju
Adapted by Jacques Champreux and Francis Lacassin from a 1916 screenplay by Arthur Bernede and Louis Feuillade
1963/France/Italy
Comtoir Francais du Film Production/Filmes Cinematografia
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

I admit I’m much more sensitive to the scenic than the dynamic. When I was tiny I saw a fire for the first time, and afterwards I saw the façade with nothing behind. I’ve kept the vision of something very artificial and strange- a façade with nothing behind. And what was in front of it? Space..now haunted. — Georges Franju

Pure magic.

This is a remake of Louis Feuillade’s Judex serial of 1916 and is set in that era.  It is full of cliff-hangers and surprises that I will try not to spoil!  Banker Favraux is a thoroughly unscrupulous man.  He made his millions through blackmail and is not above murder to solve his problems.  He is marrying his daughter (Edith Scobe), a young widow, off to a man she does not love.  He is in love with her daughter’s governess.

Before his daughter’s engagement party, he receives a letter from “Judex” (“Justice”) threatening him with dire consequences if he does not move to correct his evildoing before midnight.  Favraux hires a detective to investigate the identity of the letter writer.  Judex is true to his word and …

Every once in awhile I discover a film that makes my heart sing.  This was one.  It is a beautifully satisfying battle between good and evil.  Lavish use is made of art nouveau style and there is a wonderful Maurice Jarre score.  Franju captures the old style of melodrama without once going into camp.  The use of both “real” and cinematic magic is delightful.  I might even prefer this film to the director’s Eyes Without a Face (1960), which I also love.  Highly recommended.

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Captain Newman MD

Captain Newman MD
Directed by David Miller
Written by Richard L. Breen and Phoebe and Henry Ephron from a novel by Leo Rosten
1963/USA
Brentwood Productions/Reynard/Universal Pictures
First viewing/YouTube

Col. Norval Algate Bliss: Is Mr. Future *insane*?

This mixture of psychodrama and comedy did not work as well for me as it might have.

Captain Joe Newman is in charge of a base psychiatric ward.  He has six weeks to bring his men back to fighting trim or send them to a psychiatric hospital for long-term care.  He fights hard to get quality staff.  Two people he lures from other duties are Cpl. Jake Liebowicz (Tony Curtis), an orderly, and Lieut. Francie Corum (Angie Dickinson), a beautiful nurse.  Liebowicz specializes in wheeling and dealing and comic relief.

The story includes the treatment of three soldiers Cpl. Jim Tompkins (Bobby Darin), Col. Norval Algate Bliss (Eddie Albert) and Capt. Paul Winston (Robert Duvall).  All have mental problems stemming from some kind of guilt.  Liebowicz is around to keep things lively.  With James Gregory as the commander of the hospital and Jane Withers as a nurse.

I thought that both Darin and Eddie Albert overacted terribly, spoiling much of the story for me.  Duvall was good in a smaller role.

Captain Newman MD was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actor (Darin), Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and Best Sound.

Scum of the Earth (1963)

Scum of the Earth
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Written by Herschell Gordon Lewis
1963/USA
Box Office Spectaculars
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Lang: It’s time for straight talk, Kim. It’s not my fault you posed for Harmon. It’s not my fault you posed for Larry in the nude. You did it, its your problem, its pretty late to act prissy and prim. All you kids make me sick!

Herschell Gordon Lewis makes a film about porno without nudity and it’s more pervy than if it had some.

Sandy has been doing topless photo shoots with photographer Harmon for quite some time.  After she is assaulted by the evil Larry, she wants out.  Boss-man Lang will allow this only if she recruits fresh blood.  Sandy quickly rounds up prim and proper high-schooler Kim.

Harmon grooms Kim by starting with leg and swimsuit shots.  Eventually, he tempts her with hard cash for more.  She needs the money to go to college.  She finds that once she has gone topless she has sold her soul to the devil.

Lewis filmed this immediately after his gory classic Blood Feast (1963).  I left it feeling a little dirty though the nudity is carefully placed off camera.  The acting is horrendous, see clip below.

Trailer

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Written by William Rose and Tania Rose
1963/USA
Casey Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Lennie Pike: Then what happens next? I’ll tell you what happens: Then they all decide that I’m supposed to get a smaller share! That I’m somebody extra special stupid, or something! That they don’t even care if it’s a democracy! And in a democracy, it don’t matter how stupid you are, you still get an equal share!

I’ve laughed at and loved this movie from the time I saw it on original release as a pre-teen.  It stands up extremely well!

Just about every TV comedian of the 50’s and early 60’s shows up in this romp along with most of the other comics you could think of in cameos.  The framework is as follows. Various cars traveling through the desert stop at the scene of an accident.  The men go to see if they can help.  They find Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) about to kick the bucket – literally.  Before he does, he tells them that he has buried $350,000 under a “Big W” at Santa Rosa State Park.

The people discuss cooperating but when they cannot decide on shares, it is every man for himself!

So begins a cross-country race by car (and plane) to arrive first and claim the dough.  Just about everything that can go wrong does – hilariously – along the way.  The police, headed by Capt T. G. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy,) watch on in bemusement.  Among the claimants are:  Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Micky Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Phil Silvers, and Terry-Thomas.  Ethel Merman plays the mother-in-law from hell and Dick Shawn is her mama’s boy son.  Blink and you might miss Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, the Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, etc., etc., etc.

Oh my gosh.  It’s hard to single out the funniest parts of this.  See below for Winters and Silvers standing off.  There’s also a fabulous fist fight between Berle and Terry-Thomas. Really it’s one gag after another.  You don’t have time to breathe!  Highly recommended.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World won the Academy Award for Best Effects, Sound Effects.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Cinematography, Color; Best Sound; Best Film Editing; Best Music, Original Song (“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”); and Best Music, Score – Substantially Original.

Trailer

Montage of fantastic scenes! – this had me laughing all over again even though I just saw it yesterday