1950 Recap and 10 Favorite Films

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

I have now seen 64 films that were released in 1950. The complete list is here.  I decided to cut things a bit short and get on to the riches of 1951 since I don’t have long before I hit the road again.

This was a fantastic year for film on the high end.  The rankings of the first five films on my favorites list could be sorted in any number of ways on any given day.  There was only one new-to-me film on the list this time.  Several  of the films were reviewed here earlier as part of either Noir Month or the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die blog club.

10.  Winchester ’73 (Directed by Anthony Mann)

James Stewart (Lin McAdam) rides into Dodge City with his friend Millard Mitchell (High Spade Frankie Wilson)

9.  Young Man with a Horn (Directed by Michael Curtiz)

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8.  Panic in the Streets (Directed by Elia Kazan)

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7.  Harvey (Directed by Henry Koster)

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6.  Gun Crazy (Directed by Joseph H. Lewis)

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5.  The Asphalt Jungle (Directed by John Huston)

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4.  All About Eve (Directed by Joseph L. Mankowicz)

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3.  In a Lonely Place (Directed by Nicholas Ray)

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2.  Rashomon (Directed by Akira Kurosawa)

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1.  Sunset Blvd.  (Directed by Billy Wilder)

gloria swanson & william holden 1950 - sunset boulevard. from jane's film noir series.

The Woman in Question

The Woman in Question (AKA “Five Angles on Murder”)woman in question poster
Directed by Anthony Asquith
Written by John Cresswell
1950/UK
J. Arthur Rank Organization/Javelin Films/Vic Film Productions
First viewing/Hulu

 

In England when you make a movie, even the weather is against you. In Hollywood the weatherman gets a shooting schedule from all the major studios and then figures out where he can fit in a little rain without upsetting Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer too much. — Anthony Asquith

Here is another take on the Rashomon theme for 1950 with five versions of the character of a murder victim.  Not an entirely successful treatment, but interesting.

A small boy discovers the strangled body of his mother’s lodger Agnes AKA “Madame Astra” (Jean Kent) in her London flat.  Scotland Yard has very little to go on and begins by inquiring into the life and associates of the victim.  They begin with landlady Mrs. Finch (Hermoine Baddely) who tells the story of a “real lady” who, like her, is worrying about a chronically ill husband and is beset her horrible sister and an awful American caller.

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We then get the story as told by the sister and the American (Dirk Bogarde)d, both of which portray a malicious harridan.  Then we hear from a couple of very different admirers, middle-aged pet shop owner Mr. Pollard who did odd-jobs for her and Irish seaman Michael Murray who hoped to marry her.  Just about all of these people had reason to hate the woman and the different interviews also reveal clues to the murder mystery.

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This is actually more of a gimmick for telling a murder mystery story rather than anything more profound.  That being the case, one would hope that the mystery itself would be more intriguing.  I guessed the identity of the culprit fairly early on and didn’t care much who did it actually. Your mileage may vary.  Dirk Bogarde certainly could do a convincing American accent.

The Baron of Arizona (1950)

The Baron of Arizonabaron of arizona
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Written by Samuel Fuller
1950/USA
Deputy Corporation
First viewing/Hulu

[repeated line] James Addison ‘The Baron’ Reavis, aka Brother Anthony: I’ve known many women, but with you, I’m afraid.

Early in his career director Samuel Fuller was making nice low-budget Westerns like this one and was developing some of the style that would characterize him later.  As a bonus, we get Vincent Price as a scoundrel.

The film was based on the true story of James Addison Reavis, here played by Price, who attempted to gain title to most of the then-Territory of Arizona by forging Spanish land grant documents.  Reavis started his career as a humble government clerk who was appalled to see that the federal government recognized the validity of Spanish land grants. He made up his mind to profit from this.

Reavis’s elaborate plan spanned decades.  First, he befriends Pepito (Vladimir Sokoloff) and his little adopted daughter Sofia.  He tells them that Sofia’s parents were the descendents of the Peralta famiily who had been granted most of the current territory of Arizona by King Ferdinand of Spain back in the 18th Century.  This makes Sofia the Baroness of Arizona.  Reavis promises to make her claim a reality and sets to work.  Sofia falls in love with her benefactor when he gives her her first piece of candy.

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First, Reavis goes to Mexico and creates a grave and monument for the Peraltas.  Then he sets off for Spain where he gets himself accepted as a monk in the monastery at which land grants of the period were enscribed and preserved.  Through years of patient effort he finally becomes one of the scribes himself, enabling him to use the monastery’s ancient supplies of ink and paper to forge his document.  He then tells the monks he is not cut out for the life and flees.  It turns out another copy of the records was preserved at the home of an aristocrat, so he must enlist the help of some gypsies and seduce the aristocrat’s wife in order to steal these.

His documents secured, Reavis returns to Arizona and marries the patiently waiting Sofia (Ellen Drew).  He presents his proof that she is the Baroness of Arizona and proceeds to extort money from railroads and other entities wishing to do business on “his” land.  This goes pretty well for awhile.  What Reavis had not counted on was the violent reaction of the common settlers to anyone, legitimate or not, taking their farms away from them.  And then there’s that pesky forgery expert who works for the Department of Interior …

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I thought this was an interesting story and would like to learn more about the real Reavis.  You have to admire someone who would go to such lengths for long-term gain!  Some of Fuller’s flamboyance in staging is coming through here, as is shown by the huge Arizona map dominating Reavis’s office.  Price is deliciously hammy as always, though he doesn’t go too overboard here.  Worth seeing.

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Madeleine (1950)

Madeleinemadeleine-david-lean-1950-L-cBjJwP
Directed by David Lean
Written by Nicholas Phipps and Stanley Haynes
1950/UK
Cineguild
First viewing/Amazon Instant

I find dialogue a bore, for the most part. I think that if you look back on any film you’ve seen, you don’t remember lines of dialogue, you remember pictures. — David Lean

Another David Lean movie chock full of beautiful pictures and combining mystery and romance in a moderately intriguing way.

Madeleine (Ann Todd) is the daughter of a proper Victorian household headed by an iron-willed father, James Smith (Leslie Banks).  Madeleine has been resisting her family’s desire for her to marry nice, steady gentleman William Minoch in favor of carrying on a secret affair with penniless Frenchman Emile L’Angier.  She is reckless in her abandon, bringing Emile into her home after hours, having assignations with him in the maid’s room, and writing him letter after letter promising to marry him and declaring herself already his wife.

Madeleine just cannot bring herself to introduce Emile to her father.  Finally, he gives her an ultimatum.  Instead, she appears in his room and begs him to elope.  Marrying Madeleine without her money or social standing does not fit in with the Frenchman’s plans and he makes this clear.  Madeleine, alerted to his fortune-hunting, tells him the affair is over.

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Madeleine then softens toward Minoch and agrees to marry him.  The couple seem genuinely happy and her family is over the moon with excitement.  Now Emile reappears and tells Madeleine she is still his fiancée and he will reveal her letters if he does not introduce her to the family as such.  Madeleine agrees but asks for more time.  Emile gets very ill after this meeting.

Then Emile goes away for a short holiday.  Somehow he does not receive Madeleine’s letters inviting him to meet her family and does not show up at the specified times.  He finally returns.  He gets extremely ill and dies, of what is found to be arsenic poisoning.  Madeleine’s letters are found in his lodgings after his death.

The rest of the movie consists of Madeleine’s trial for Emile’s murder.  I will not reveal the many wrinkles of the murder case.

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According to the IMDb trivia, this was Lean’s least favorite film.  While I might agree, that does not mean that the film is without merit.  It’s worth seeing just for the below seduction scene and has many other pleasures.  I find Ann Todd to be slightly off in a lot of ways but the story is fairly interesting, if a bit confusing.

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Where Danger Lives (1950)

Where Danger Liveswhere_danger_lives
Directed by John Farrow
Written by Charles Bennett; story by Leo Rosten
1950/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First Viewing/Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4

Frederick Lannington: ‘Now’ can be a long time, Dr. Cameron, but time passes, and then there’s the end of the line!

This noir might have been better without Howard Hughes “protogee” Faith Domergue.

Jeff Cameron (Robert Mitchum) is the kind of doctor who tells his small patients bedtime stories about Elmer the Elephant.  He is having a romance with nurse Julie (Maureen O’Sullivan) and buys her a single white rose every day.  One night Margo Lannington (Domergue) is brought in, the victim of an attempted suicide.  The good doctor decides to help his patient get over her loneliness and before we know it Julie is completely out the window and the couple are talking wedding bells.  Margo is immensely wealthy and entertains Jeff at home while her “father” is out of town.

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Margo begs off one of their dates to tell pops about Jeff.  He decides to show up unexpectedly.  When he announces his good intentions to Frederick Lannington, the older man Margo lives with (Claude Rains), he learns he is her husband and not her father.  Jeff wants nothing more to do with this situation and starts to leave.  He is drawn back by Margo’s screams.  He goes to her rescue and decks Frederick.  Jeff receives a blow to the head in the process.  He goes to get something for his pain and when he returns Frederick is dead.

Jeff wants to call the police but Margo manages to scare him into taking it on the lam.  Jeff diagnoses his own concussion and predicts he will become blind and paralyzed within hours.  In the meantime, Margo is suspiciously eager to avoid listening to any news about the murder.

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This is OK if farfetched  but I didn’t care for Faith Domergue’s acting at all.  She is very shrill and poor at screaming, which the script requires her to do at regular intervals.  Mitchum can’t help being the perfect noir hero, though, so there’s that.

Howard Hughes became infatuated with Domergue when she was 17, even buying her adoptive parents off with a house, and immediately signed her to RKO, the studio he owned.  The romance was off by 1944 but Hughes promoted her career until 1950 when Vendetta, a vehicle created for her, and this film both bombed at the box office.

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Wedding Ring (1950)

Wedding Ring (Konyaku yubiwa)
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Keisuke Kinoshita
1950/Japan
Kinuyo Tanaka Productions/Shôchiku Eiga
First viewing/Hulu

“Oh! how many torments lie in the small circle of a wedding ring.” — Colley Cibber

There’s some good acting here but the story sort of overstayed its welcome.

Michio Kuki has been very ill with TB for some time.  He is cared for in his wealthy father’s home near the sea.    His wife Noriko (Kinuyo Tanaka) runs the family’s dress shop business in Tokyo and visits only on weekends.  One day, Michio’s doctor is replaced by the handsome young Dr.  Ema (Toshiro Mifune).  The doctor must make regular house calls to drain his patient’s lungs.

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Michio and his wife have not been intimate since he fell ill.  Noriko begins to have an overpowering physical attraction to Dr Ema and her passion is reciprocated.  The two spend the rest of the film trying to do the right thing despite themselves.

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With two great actors in the lead, this can’t help being interesting.  However, this kind of unconsummated love affair isn’t really enough to sustain a feature length film .  The couple face the same dilemma over and over again as they can’t seem to keep apart.  Tanaka spends most of the film crying and Mifune even succumbs at one point.  Brief Encounter this isn’t.

Destination Moon (1950)

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Directed by Irving Pichel
Written by Alford Van Ronkel, Robert A. Heinlein and James O’Hanlon from a novel by Heinlein
1950/USA
George Pal Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

General Thayer: The reason is quite simple. We are not the only ones who know that the Moon can be reached. We’re not the only ones who are planning to go there. The race is on – and we’d better win it, because there is absolutely no way to stop an attack from outer space. The first country that can use the Moon for the launching of missiles… will control the Earth. That, gentlemen, is the most important military fact of this century.

Turgid story but still an interesting insight on how space travel was envisioned about 20 years ahead of time.

General Thayer and Dr. Charles Cargraves set out to convince the titans of industry to invest in the space program since government will not do so in peace time.  The feasibility of a mission to the moon is illustrated by a Woody Woodpecker cartoon.  The audience is sold and work begins on an atomic-energy-powered  rocket to the moon.

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Sinister forces sabotage plans to test the rocket by spreading rumors of possible radiation leaks in the area.  So it is decided just to go directly to launch without any testing.  In addition, the radio man has to have an appendectomy at the last minute so the ship takes off with an untrained man aboard.

Our astronauts survive a couple of possible disasters, one by making an early space walk to fix a part, to land on the moon and arrive safely home.

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For sheer entertainment value, I would go with Rocketship X-M, which was actually a low-budget rip-off of this film.  The effects are much better here, though.  I actually learned something from the Woody Woodpecker cartoon!

Destination Moon won the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects.  It was nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color.

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Story of a Love Affair (1950)

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Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Daniele D’Anza et al
1950/Italy
Vilani Film
First viewing/Netflix Instant

 

I feel like a father towards my old films. You bring children into the world, then they grow up and go off on their own. From time to time you get together, and it’s always a pleasure to see them again. — Michelangelo Antonioni

Antonioni’s feature film debut looks beautiful.  Unfortunately, the soundtrack rendered it almost unwatchable for me.

Paola Fontana (lucia Bose) is incredibly beautiful and married to a much older and extremely wealthy man.  Before her marriage several years ago, she had an affair with Guido, who was engaged to another woman at the time.  The two let the woman fall to her death in an elevator shaft.  They could have saved her by giving her a warning.  A mysterious man is nosing around about the incident.

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Feeling guilty, the two had gone their separate ways after the fiancee’s death.  Now the investigation prompts Gulio to get in touch with Paola.  Their passion is still strong and they resume where things left off.  Now her husband is standing in their way.

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This is a good-looking if not profound story in The Postman Always Rings Twice vein.  The dissonant modern jazz score that accompanies the film had an effect on me similar to fingernails on a blackboard.  The other post-production sound and dialogue were jarring as well.  Never again.

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Trailer – featuring the music

 

 

Treasure Island (1950)

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Directed by Byron Haskin
Written by Lawrence Edwin Watkin from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson
1950/USA
Walt Disney Studios
First viewing/Netflix rental

Long John Silver: Arrrh!

Disney’s first live-action feature is quite OK.

This is a relatively faithful adaptation of Stevenson’s tale of pirates and buried treasure.   Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll) lives at a seaside inn owned by his invalid mother. Old Billy Bones turns up with a mysterious chest and hides out, terrified that an one-legged man will find him.  . Soon other unsavory characters turn up in search of Billy.  Before Billy’s untimely death, he entrusts a treasure map with Jim.  Gentlemen of the town hire a ship to search for the treasure. Before they know it, unscrupulous but loveable Long John Silver (Robert Newton) has signed on as cook and brought aboard his pirate cronies as crew. Long John and Jim become fast friends and the adventure begins.

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Long John is a master manipulator and uses Jim to get around the many strictures imposed by the all-business captain of the ship.  He can barely restrain the crew from mutinying before the ship arrives at the island.  Thereafter, it is the pirates against the greatly outnumbered gentlemen in a race to the treasure. Now Jim has become a valuable hostage for the pirates.  The gentlemen find an ally in Old Ben Gunn, who was marooned on the island several years earlier.

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This is a well-made film that should appeal to all adventurous-minded boys.  I couldn’t help comparing it to 1934 MGM version with Jackie Cooper and Wallace Beery.  The older movie is livelier somehow and Cooper far outshines Driscoll in the charisma department.

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Rocketship X-M (1950)

Rocketship X-Mrocketship-x-m-1950-everett
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Written by Kurt Neumann and Orville H. Hampton
1950/USA
Lippert Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Floyd: I’ve been wondering, how did a girl like you get mixed up in a thing like this in the first place?

Dr. Lisa Van Horn: I suppose you think that women should only cook and sew and bear children.

Floyd: Isn’t that enough?

The story makes absolutely no sense.  That’s one of the selling points of this fun but very bad movie.

The U.S. government is about to launch a top-secret manned mission to the moon in preparation for its ultimate goal of establishing an atomic space station there to “ensure world peace.” So of course reporters from all the major newspapers are invited to witness this historic event – and told they can reveal none of the details to their readers.

After some scientific mumbo jumbo explaining how the technology works, five astronauts board the rocket.  They are ex-fighter pilot Col. Floyd Graham (Lloyd Bridges); ex-gunner Bill Corrigan (Noah Beery Jr.); navigator Harry Chamberlin (Hugh O’Brien), physicist Dr. Karl Eckstrom and his beautiful assistant physicist Dr. Lisa Van Horn.  The physicists are apparently along mainly so they can make frantic calculations with pencil and paper any time the going gets tough.

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Somehow the rocket ship has a mind of its own.  The astronauts are knocked out and when they wake find themselves hurtling toward Mars.  Luckily, they took along twice the amount of fuel needed for a moon journey.  Because the atmospheric conditions on the red planet are so favorable, the astronauts are able to explore in the same street clothes they have worn since lift off.  I won’t spoil the ending but it is abrupt!

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There is nothing I like more that to sit around with someone similarly inclined (in this case my brother) and laugh at ludicrously bad movies.  This one contained all the bad special effects and nonsensical plot points necessary for such an endeavor.  And extra bonus was all the 50’s era misogyny directed at the female scientist.  Probably even the detour to Mars resulted from a slip of her pencil …  She comes to value “being a woman” and Lloyd Bridges’ advances when it is almost too late.

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