Winter Light (1963)

Winter Light (Nattvardsgästerna)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman
1963/Sweden
Svensk Filmindustri
First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Märta Lundberg, Schoolteacher: God, why have you created me so eternally dissatisfied? So frightened, so bitter? Why must I realize how wretched I am? Why must I suffer so hellishly for my insignificance? If there is a purpose to my suffering, then tell me, so I can bear my pain without complaint. I’m strong. You made me so very strong in both body and soul, but you never give me a task worthy of my strength. Give my life meaning, and I’ll be your obedient slave.

This is almost too hopeless to bear despite its beauty.

Pastor Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is plagued by both a bad cold and a crisis of faith on the same Sunday.  His church services are almost empty.  Among the faithful are Jonas Persson (Max von Sydow) and his wife Karin (Gunnel Lindblom).  Jonas is suicidally depressed by his fear of nuclear war.  Instead of comfort, Tomas provides him with a long monologue on his own religious doubts.

Simultaneously, Tomas’s atheist girlfriend Marta (Ingrid Thulin) tries to comfort him.  She badly wants to marry him.  On this Sunday she brings matters to a head and will regret it.

I expected to feel pity for the preacher’s crisis of faith. Instead, I found him to be perfectly selfish.  His lack of piety seemed like a lack of humanity.  This is a bleak but beautiful film.  These depressing 1963 films are beginning to get on my nerves.

The Old Dark House (1963)

The Old Dark House
Directed by William Castle
Written by Robert Dillon from the book by J.B. Priestley
1963/UK/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation/William Castle Productions/Hammer Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

Agatha Femm: [Knitting] I capture time and space in my stitches. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I stopped.

Tom Penderel: Happen? To you?

Agatha Femm: No, no. To the world.

This lackluster horror spoof bears no comparison to James Whale’s great 1932 original.

American Tom Penderel must deliver a luxury car personally to eccentric Roderick Femm (Robert Morley) in England.  He accepts an invitation to visit the old dark house where his even more eccentric family lives.  Many mildly funny and/or scary hijinx ensue.  With Peter Bull as twins; Janette Scott as the “sane” one; and Joyce Grenfell as a knitter.

Despite the presence of some of my favorite British comic actors, this just didn’t work for me.  Watch the original and have a potato!

Muriel ou le temps d’un retour (1963)

Muriel ou le temps d’un retour
Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Jean Cayrol
1963/France/Italy
Argos Films/Alpha Productions/Les Films de la Pleiade/etc.
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

“A clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory.” ― Mark Twain

A potentially haunting film about memory was marred for me by the dissonant music and constant cutting.

All of the principals are trying and failing to cope with painful past.  Helene Aughain (Delphine Seyrig) invites Alphonse Noyard to visit her in the seaside town of Boulogne.  He arrives with his beautiful young “niece” in tow.  Helene and Alphone were lovers during the War.  Their affair was tumultuous and both suffered from wartime trauma.  Helene lives with her stepson Bernard, who has been home for eight months after service in Algeria.  He may never recover from his involvement in the torture of a woman named Muriel.

Things don’t go well for anyone involved.

Just when you think you might be understanding the plot, Resnais starts frenetically cutting between random incidents in the day of the various characters.  This movie also features a lot of very irritating dissonant soprano opera singing.  I can understand why a lot of people like this film more than I do but I was more annoyed than anything else.

 

The Raven (1963)

The Raven
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Richard Matheson from a poem by Edgar Allen Poe
1963/USA
Alta Vista Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Dr. Craven: Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, / Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. / While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, / As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door./ “‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door. / Only this and nothing more.”

This Poe-inspired comedy can be pretty corny.  But it’s also really enjoyable to watch three classic horror actors ham it up to the max.

The movie begins with Vincent Price’s somber voice-over reading of Poe’s poem.  As soon as we move into the story, though, it becomes obvious we are in for a comedy.  The bird tapping at the chamber door is Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (Peter Lorre) who has been transformed into a raven by magician Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff).  He has come to Dr. Erasmus Craven (Price) to be changed back into his original form.  Scarabus was the arch enemy of Craven’s father.

A bunch of stuff happens that leads Craven to believe he must pay a call on Dr. Scarabus. He is accompanied by his own beautiful daughter Estelle, Bedlo, and Bedlo’s son Rexford (Jack Nicholson).  When he gets there he discovers his lost love Lenore has actually been lured away by Scarabus.  The raven gambit was actually Scarabus’s way of luring Craven to his mansion and learning the secrets of his powerful magic.  The film ends with a comic “duel to the death” between the two magicians.

Everything is played strictly for laughs.  All the actors turn in good performances but perhaps the most memorable is Lorre’s.  It’s not a bad way to spend 90 minutes.

Bandini (1963)

Bandini
Directed by Bimal Roy
Written by Jarasahnda, Nabendu Ghosh, and Paul Mahendra
1963/India
Bimal Roy Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India, I come as a pilgrim. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bollywood also made musical dramas like this pretty good one.

Kalyani is confined to women’s prison.  She bravely volunteers to nurse an inmate with TB. The prison doctor falls in love with her but she turns him down due to her terrible past. She is due to be released from prison, though, and the jailer convinces her to write her story.  We then segue into flashback and learn how Kalyani’s ill-fated romance with a freedom fighter led her to commit murder.  We return to the present and learn how Kalyani’s romance with the doctor turns out.

This 2 1/2 hour film could have used at least half an hour of strategic cutting.  Nevertheless, it held my interest throughout.  The leading lady is the best thing about the movie and fortunately she is on screen most of the time.  The songs are OK.  There is no dancing.

Clip – no subtitles – a freedom fighter goes singing to his execution

Youth of the Beast (1963)

Youth of the Beast
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Written by Ichiro Ikeda and Tadaki Yamakazi from a novel by Haruhiko Obayu
1963/Japan
Nikkatsu Film Company
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

I make movies that make no sense and make no money. – Seijun Suzuki

Was Seijun Suzuki the Sam Fuller of Japan?  Possibly.

The plot is almost too complicated to follow.  The movie begins with a newspaper story about the double-suicide of a police officer and a call girl.  From there we move to the mysterious, gun-crazy Jo Mizuno who offers himself as a yakuza hitman in what proves to be a Yojimbo like fashion.  Eventually, we learn that Mizuno’s real mission is to solve the case of the police officer, which he believes to be a murder.  It’s hard to pay attention to plot details, though, among the heaping helpings of ultra-violence.

Suzuki had an outsider’s vision of the world that makes his gangster films particularly fascinating to watch.  There are some stunning scenes including backgrounds from other films, stripteases, etc. In the end it’s just too violent for my taste, however.

No subtitles but a lot of dialogue-free action

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Jason and the Argonauts
Directed by Don Chaffey
Written by Jan Read, Beverley Cross, and Apollonios Rhodios
1963/UK/USA
The Great Company/Morningside Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Hera: [asked why the gods set temptations and traps for mortals] So that the gods may know them, and men may know themselves.

Who needs CGI when you can have Ray Harryhausen?

Pelias usurps the throne of Thessaly by killing King Aristo.  However, there is a prophesy that he will eventually be defeated by a child of the King.  He makes the mistake of slaying a daughter of the King who has sought Hera’s protection.  Thereafter, Hera becomes the benecfactrix of the daughter’s son Jason.

The baby Jason grows up and is ready to punish the man who murdered his father and take up the throne.  Before he can do so, he must retrieve the fabled Golden Fleece from the island of Colchis.  He obtains a vessel, the Argos, and brave crew that includes the demi-God Hercules.  On the way to the fleece, Jason and his men undergo many fantastic adventures.

The genre makes it likely that this would not be a favorite.  The stop-motion animation, however, makes it a joy to watch throughout. Ray Harryhausen reached the top of his game with this one.  It is just mind-blowing the amount of skill that went into making an entire army of individual skeletons move so realistically.  Recommended to fans of this kind of thing.

Trailer

Clip (The version on Amazon Instant has been restored to pristine condition, making the effects that much more impressive.)

Shock Corridor (1963)

Shock Corridor
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Written by Samuel Fuller
1963/USA
Allied Artists Pictures/Leon Fromkess-Sam Firks Productions/F&F Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Pagliacci: Life is a messy weapon.

Courage and talent mix with an outsider’s view of reality to make a truly weird and wonderful experience of life in a mad house.

Investigative reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) wants nothing, not even stripper girlfriend Cathy (Constance Powers), more than the Pulitzer Prize.  Oddly, he decides the best way of getting it is having himself admitted to an insane asylum where he hopes to solve a patient’s murder.  He studies for a year to impersonate a man with an insatiable yen for his sister, to be played by Cathy.  Cathy gets very cold feet as the time for admission approaches but Johnny coerces her into keeping her promise to play along.

Johnny starts out well by getting clues from a number of the inmates.  These all suffer delusions.  One thinks he is an opera singer.  A man who turned traitor in the Korean war thinks he is a Confederate general.  A nuclear scientist’s guilt causes him to retreat into childhood.  Perhaps the most striking case is that of a black student who integrated a white university and now masquerades as a white supremacist.  Time in the institution takes it’s toll on Johnny’s own sanity.  His experiences in the “nympho ward” and with electric shock therapy do not help.

This movie is great!  It’s as if somebody like Ed Wood actually had talent and a budget. Fuller gave full vent to his most lurid impulses and it all works surprisingly well.  My favorite bit might be Cathy’s strip-tease.  The camera opens on her face which is totally wrapped in a feather boa making her appear a bit like Big Bird singing a torch song.  And the dance just gets odder and odder.  Stanley Cortez’s (The Magnificent Ambersons) cinematography gives the film stunning lights and shadows.  Recommended.

Lilies of the Field (1963)

Lilies of the Field
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Written by James Poe from a novel by William E. Barret
1963/USA
Rainbow Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Mother Maria: [upon first meeting Homer] God is good. He has sent me a big strong man.

Here’s another one I saw in my youth.  I still love the humor and Sidney Portier’s performance.

Homer Smith (Portier) is driving through the desert when his car overheats.  The nearest civilization is a small convent run with an iron hand by Mother Maria (Lilia Scala).  The nuns escaped East Germany in order to reach America and this dry property that had been left to them.  Mother Maria’s dream has been to build a chapel – the parish is currently served by a priest who conducts mass from the back of a trailer.  She sees Homer as the answer to her prayers.  He wants to keep moving on, then agrees to work for hire for a few days.  Mother Maria has no money to pay him but is not about to get let him get away.

Bit by bit the Baptist Homer is lured into building the chapel and a community of workers forms around him.  His affability wins him friends with everyone except Mother Maria.  She insists on seeing everything he does as the will of God.

This is a simple story, full of heart  If you are looking for a feel good movie look no farther.

Sidney Portier won the Oscar for Best Actor.  The film was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actress (Lilia Scala); Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.

Daisan no kagemusha (1963)

Daisan no kagemusha (The Third Shadow Warrior)
Directed by Umetsugo Inoue
Written by Seiji Hoshikawa and Norio Nanjo
1963/Japan
Daiei Kyoto
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

Nobukado Takeda: The shadow of a man can never stand up and walk on its own. (From Kagemusha (1980) directed by Akira Kurosawa)

A bloodier take on the Kagemusha source story also made by Akira Kurosawa in 1980.

A humble farmer longs to be a samurai.  A warlord’s retainers promise him a job but it turns out to be to serve as a double and decoy for the warlord.  Much bloody fighting and maiming ensues.

This was well-made but too gruesome for my taste.

Clip