1951 Recap and 10 Favorites

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I’ve now seen 57 films that were released in 1951.  A complete list can be found here.  A very few films were reviewed only here.  It was a good year on the high end but lacking somewhat in depth below that.

Any way,  I have fourteen 1951 films that I would call favorites.   I reluctantly left out The ProwlerThe RiverThe Man in the White Suit and The African Queen.  Another day I would probably slice and dice another way.  The ranking is fairly arbitrary as well.  Bottom line: These are all films I would watch again any time.

10.  A Christmas Carol – directed by Brian Desmond-Hurst

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9.  An American in Paris – directed by Vicente Minnelli

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8. A Place in the Sun – directed by George Stevens

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7.  Death of a Salesman – directed by Laslo Benedeck

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6.  A Streetcar Named Desire – directed by Elia Kazan

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5.  Ace in the Hole – directed by Billy Wilder

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4.  Strangers on a Train – directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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3.  The Browning Version – directed by Anthony Asquith

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2.  Early Summer – directed by Yasujiro Ozu

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1. The Day the Earth Stood Still – directed by Robert Wise

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Encore (1951)

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Directed by Harold French, Pat Jackson, and Anthony Pelisser
Written by Eric Ambler, T.E.B. Clarke, and Arthur Macrae from stories by W. Somerset Maugham
UK/1951
Two Cities Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Doctor: That nonsense about Englishwomen being icebergs is a mere fallacy made up by the French.

I’m coming to the tail end of my 1951 viewing.  I was so pleased to still have this good film to cap off the year with.

Encore is an anthology of three of Somerset Maugham’s short stories, each with a different director and writer.  The first two are in a comic vein.  “The Ant and the Grasshopper” is about a wastrel’s (Nigel Patrick) series of successful con jobs to get money from his stuffy elder bother. My favorite, “Winter Cruise”, is about a prim shopkeeper (Kay Walsh) who drives everybody on board crazy with her incessant chatter.  On the return voyage, she is the only passenger and the crew decides that only a shipboard romance will shut her up.  The final story is a drama incongruously called “Gigolo and Gigolette”.  A high-wire artist (Glynis Johns) and her husband have struck it rich with a very dangerous act in which she dives into a flaming pool of water only five feet deep.  The story explores what happens when she suddenly loses her nerve.

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An unrecognizable Kay Walsh

I thought all the stories were clever and well-acted.  I laughed out loud more than a couple of times at the one with Kay Walsh.  My husband liked the movie very much too.  Recommended.

Clip – SPOILER

Royal Wedding (1951)

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Directed by Stanley Donen
Written by Alan Jay Lerner
1951/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

How could I ever close the door/ And be the same as I was before?/ Darling, no, no I can’t anymore/ It’s too late now — lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

This has a couple of Fred Astaire’s most famous dance numbers and a couple of good songs.  The story sort of lets the whole thing down.

The brother and sister team of Tom (Astaire) and Ellen (Jane Powell) Bowen are just closing their hit Broadway show.  They get an offer to perform in London while the town is abuzz with the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth with Prince Philip.  Ellen is quite the flirt and has about a dozen guys on a string.  This all changes when she meets playboy Lord John Brindale on their Atlantic crossing.

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Tom tries to be a strict task master but Ellen wants to spend all her time with John.  He meets cute with Anne Ashmond (Sarah Churchill) on the street and their relationship picks up when she tries out for the show.  She turns out to be engaged to an American she hasn’t heard from in awhile.  With Keenan Wynne in a dual role as the Bowen’s American manager and his own English twin brother.

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This is the one with Astaire’s iconic dancing with a coatrack and dancing on the ceiling numbers.  It also has a couple of standards by Burton Lane and Allen Jay Lerner. Unfortunately, the parts in between the numbers is so much dead weight.  The John-Ellen relationship has zero conflict and Sara Churchill is so bland I just couldn’t care less about the Tom-Anne romance.  Keenan Wynne makes a pretty pathetic upper-crust Englishman.

Judy Garland had been slated for the role of Ellen but was fired from the film for “personal problems”.  Her contract with MGM ened shortly thereafter.

Royal Wedding was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for “Too Late Now.”

Clip – “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life” – longest song title in Hollywood history

Bonus track: Judy Garland singing “Too Late Now” on her TV show

When Worlds Collide (1951)

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Directed by Rudolph Maté
Written by Sydney Boehm from a novel by Edwin Balmer and Philip wylie
1951/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Banner hanging over the Space Ark camp: Waste anything except TIME. Time is our shortest material.

I was looking forward to this for the special effects.  Unfortunately I did not find them convincing even for the period.

As the film opens, a group of scientists has made a terrifying discovery.  Within a year, the planet Zyra will come so close to the earth as to cause massive destruction.  Two weeks later a star will actually impact, obliterating the few survivors on earth.  Playboy David Randall (Richard Derr) is selected to take the astronomers’ top secret data to a university where a mainframe computer will be used confirm the findings.  The findings are confirmed.  The scientists conduct a special briefing for the UN but are not believed.

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The scientists start fund raising for a Space Ark that will take forty hand-picked humans to Zyra to establish a space colony,  They get the final funding from an evil industrialist in a wheelchair.  Head scientist Dr. Hendron resists his demands to select the passengers.

Work begins on the Space Ark.  David Randall morphs from errand boy to critical employee/rocket ship pilot.  He has caught the eye of Dr. Hendron’s daughter Joyce (Barbara Rush) and she starts to reassess her engagement to square M.D. Tony Drake. Will the mission to Zyra survive the chaos that breaks out as disappointed prospective passengers arm themselves to storm the Ark?

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I thought the use of miniatures and matte paintings was excruciatingly obvious in this one. The effects were more of a distraction than an asset as far as I was concerned.  I think maybe the same effects would have worked far better in black and white.  The story and acting don’t have much to recommend them.  The film ends with dawn on the planet Zyra.  I think there was an interesting movie to be made starting there.

When Worlds Collide won the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects.  It was nominated for Best Cinematography, Color.

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Angels in the Outfield (1951)

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Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by Dorothy Kingsley and George Wells; story by Richard Conlin
1951/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Aloysius X. ‘Guffy’ McGovern: Dogs have fleas, managers have reporters.

This started out really promisingly.

“Guffy” McGovern (Paul Douglas) is the manager of the Pittsburg Pirates. He swears a blue streak, is inclined to fisticuffs, and regularly gets thrown out of games.  The Priates are having a losing season.  The local paper sends out its household hints columnist Jennifer Page (Janet Leigh) out to get the “women’s angle” on the team.  She concludes the players are disheartened by the tongue lashings they receive from their manager.

Then a miracle happens.  Guffy is visited by an angel whom he can hear but not see.  The angel promises heavenly assistance if Guffy can learn to control his temper.

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Then the cute little orphans and nuns show up.  One of the girls, Bridget, can see angels standing behind each of the players.  This hits the press and causes quite a stir.  Guffy’s angel has told him that they played together and his curiosity takes him out to the orphanage to see if he Bridget can tell him who the angel was.

Guffy, Jennifer, and Bridget all become really chummy.  In the meantime, Guffy’s archenemy (Keenan Wynne), a sports announcer, tries to get Guffy banned from the game due to insanity.  There is a hearing.  If you don’t know everything that happens in the last act of this movie, you have not been paying attention.  With Spring Byington and Ellen Corby as nuns, Lewis Stone as the baseball commissioner, and Donald Crisp in a cameo as a priest.  We also hear from Bing Crosby and Harry Ruby, playing themselves, on the subject of angels.

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This is crisply written and pretty amusing at points.  Halfway in I began thinking I had seen the movie before.  I had.  It was called “Miracle on 34th Street.” All the best stuff in this one seemed much fresher in that film.  You could definitely find worse ways to spend your time, however.

Trailer

Death of a Salesman (1951)

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Directed by Laslo Benedek
Written by Stanley Roberts from the play by Arthur Miller
1951/USA
Stanley Kramer Productions
First viewing/YouTube

 

This is a great and devastating story and Fredric March is great in it.

Willie Loman (March) is 63 years old and nearing the end of his 30-year career as a traveling salesman. He has read and absorbed the Dale Carnegie course but finds he no longer wins friends and influences people, if he ever did.  The voices from his past are becoming more real and insistent and he appears to be one bad decision away from suicide.  The hallucinations are so bad he is almost unable to drive a car.  Willie’s incredibly loyal and supportive wife Linda (Mildred Dunnock) is very worried.

Matters all come to head when Willie’s older son Biff (Kevin McCarthy) comes home for a visit.  Biff was a football player and father and son formed a kind of mutual admiration society when Biff was a high school football star.  Since then, Biff has become a drifter and a great disappointment to his father.  Almost anything they say to one another is the beginning of an argument.  To make matters worse, Biff’s playboy younger brother Happy decides to room with Biff at home during this visit.  Happy is a natural peacemaker but has little success with Biff and his father and has somehow gotten on the wrong side of his mother.

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All the members of this family suffer from one delusion or another.  As the story progresses, Willie’s illusions are destroyed one by one.  Biff’s are stripped away as well.  The tragic ending is tempered slightly by a glimmer of hope that Biff may be able to escape his father’s fate.

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This play hits me where I live and it always leaves me exhausted.  The number of lies these people tell themselves is staggering but not more so than the sadness of the reality they cover.  Fredric March’s performance as Willie Loman may be the one he was born for and absolutely should be seen.  The last few times I looked for this film I could not find it.  If you have any interest, you can catch it right now on YouTube.  Highly recommended.

Death of a Salesman received Academy Award nominations in the categories of Best Actor (March); Best Supporting Actor (McCarthy); Best Supporting Actress (Dunnock); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

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The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951)

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Directed by George Cukor
Written by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Richard L. Breen
1951/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

 

Kitty Bennett: Oh, I didn’t realize – you’ve got people in there, haven’t you?

Mae Swasey: About 50-50.

1951 was Thelma Ritter’s year it seems.

Mae Swasey is a marriage broker who introduces lonely hearts to other lonely hearts for a fee.   Sometimes one half of the couple does not know it has been set up as is the case of radiologist Matt Hornbeck (Scott Brady).  But the mother of the fiancee refuses to pay up and Matt gets cold feet at the last moment.

One day, Mae picks up the handbag of department store  model Kitty Bennett (Jeanne Crain) by mistake. In it, she reads a love letter from a married man.  When Kitty comes to return Mae’s bag and retrieve her own, Mae gives her some strong motherly advice to dump him.  Then Mae decides to do a little pro bono marriage brokering and bring Matt and Kitty together.

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She keeps her involvement secret from the two and her scheme works swimmingly until Kitty discovers Mae’s profession.  Initially Kitty is  furious but eventually she decides the best revenge is to do a little secret marriage brokering of her own.  With Zero Mostel as one of Mae’s clients.model 2

This was pleasant, if not great.  Ritter is always good and she is undoubtedly the lead here.  I am beginning to like Crain more and more, too.  There is some snappy dialogue but mostly it’s a fairly predictable but solid romantic comedy.

The Model and the Marriage Broker was Oscar-nominated for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.

Trailer

Susana (1951)

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Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Luis Buñuel and Rodolfo Usigli from the novel by Manuel Reachi and Jaime Salvador
1951/Mexico
Internacional Cinematográfica
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Sex without religion is like cooking an egg without salt. Sin gives more chances to desire. – Luis Buñuel

This is an OK melodrama with a few signature Buñuel touches.  I would have liked more of them.

Susana (Rosita Quintana) has been locked up in a girl’s reformatory for unspecified crimes.   She apparently goes wild on a regular basis and is once again locked up in solitary.  Her prayers are answered when the bars of her cell window come loose and she escapes into the pouring rain.

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Susana finds herself on the farm of a very happy family, headed by Don Guadalupe (Francisco Soler).  They take her in and everyone loves the “innocent” lass.  This is not enough for Susana, however, and she proceeds to seduce and enslave the father, the son and the overseer.

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I don’t have much to say about this one.  The seduction scenes are the best and most Buñuelean.  The director seems still to be on a fairly short leash here.

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Ginza Cosmetics (1951)

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Directed by Mikio Naruse
Written by Matsuo Kishi from a novel by Tomoichirô Inoue
1951/Japan
Ito Productions
First viewing/Hulu

 

“I earnestly wish to point out in what true dignity and human happiness consists. I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness, and that those beings are only the objects of pity, and that kind of love which has been termed its sister, will soon become objects of contempt.” ― Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

This quiet film got under my skin.

Yukiku Tsuji is a single mother who supports herself and her son by working as a hostess at a bar in the Ginza district of Tokyo.  Her work primarily consists of flattering the losers that come in so that they continue to buy overpriced drinks while she talks with them.  Some of the other girls are tempted to earn more money by accepting invitations to go out with the men after the bar closes for the night, but not Yukiko.  The beginning of the film illustrates the hazards of the bar hostess trade from non-paying customers to old admirers who stick around to borrow money.  The business is doing so badly that the owner is thinking of selling.  Yukiko has almost no time with her young son.

Yukiko tries help out the owner by borrowing 200,000 yen from a horrible old admirer and is practically raped in the process.  Then a friend asks her to show a visitor from the countryside whom the friend is interested in around Tokyo.  The decency of this young man begins to make Yukiko think a better life might be possible but she is called away when her son goes missing.

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This is a small film without much in the way of plot. It has some humor, mostly derived at the expense of Yukiko’s clients.  I found it kind of depressing though.  I really can’t think of anything worse that relying on cajoling men you don’t like to stay afloat.  The prospects just get worse as the women begin to age.  Naruse is famous for his compassion for women and their situation in post-war Japan and it is fully in evidence here.

An American in Paris(1951)

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Directed by Vicente Minelli
Written by Alan Jay Lerner
1951/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
#246 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

In time the Rockies may tumble, Gibraltar may crumble/ They’re only made of clay/ But our love is here to stay — “Love Is Here to Stay”, lyrics by Ira Gershwin

A couple of previous viewings had me thinking that An American in Paris had not held up well.  Then I caught it yesterday and it had regained all its magic for me.

Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is an ex-GI who is starting out as a painter in Paris.  He’s still having a problem selling his work even on the sidewalk.  In his building lives Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) a struggling composer and concert pianist.  Adam has written some songs for his friend Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary), a famous music hall composter.  Henri reveals early on that he has fallen in love with his ward Lise (Leslie Caron).

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Milo Roberts, an American sophisticate, stops by to admire Jerry’s paintings and soon starts admiring Jerry himself.  She promises to promote him and get him an exhibition but it is clear she expects more from him that gratitude.  But this is not to be.  Jerry falls more or less in love at first sight with Lise when he sees her dining with friends at a restaurant.

Soon Jerry and Lise are arranging rendevous.  But when Henri asks Lise to marry him her gratitude for his help during the war threatens to override her love for Jerry.

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This viewing moved the film back from “flawed” to the practically perfect category. I will admit that the concluding ballet kind of stops the film it its tracks, but it is so splendid in conception and execution that I cut it a lot of  slack.  It’s enough for me just to soak in the beautiful colors, Paris, and the glorious George Gershwin score.  Kelly does some pretty fantastic dancing as well.

An American in Paris won Oscars in the following categories:  Best Picture; Best Writing, Story and Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated for Best Director and Best Film Editing.

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