Laughter in Paradise (1951)

Laughter in Paradiselaughter-in-paradise-414674l
Directed by Mario Zampi
Written by Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies
UK/1951
Associated British Picture Corporation/Mario Zampi Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Deniston Russell: With all this on my mind I just cannot face her tonight.

Simon Russell: Couldn’t face her any night.

I was in the mood for a good comedy and this one fit the bill perfectly.

Henry Russell is a millionaire and notorious practical joker.  His will contains his crowning achievement.  It leaves 50,000 pounds each to a number of relatives but only on conditions designed to challenge their greatest personal weaknesses.  Each relative must complete a task within 28 days.  The relatives will be disinherited if they reveal the will’s terms to any one before 28 days pass or if any of them contest the will.

Laughter In Paradise

Henry’s sister Agnes is a bitter spinster who has become nasty taskmaster to her staff.  She is required to get a job as a domestic and hold it without getting fired or quitting.  His nephew is a timid bank clerk.  His job is to hold up the bank with a toy pistol.  Brother (?) Denniston (Alistair Sim) is a retired military officer who writes pulp fiction under an assumed name on the sly.  His fiancee and her father would be scandalized if they knew.  Denniston must manage to get himself arrested and spend 28 days in jail.  Finally, chronically broke playboy Simon must marry the first woman he talks to after the will is read.

All these people have one difficulty after another completing their assignments and get themselves into thoroughly ridiculous situations in the process.  With Ernest Thesinger as the family solicitor and Audrey Hepburn in a tiny part as a cigarette girl.

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I came for my beloved Alistair Sim and ended up thoroughly enjoying myself.  I laughed out loud several times – something I have not done at some of the more famous Ealing Studio comedies of the period.  Recommended.

Clips

Don’t blink!

The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

The Red Badge of Courage red badge of courage poster
Directed by John Huston
Written by John Huston and adapted by Albert Band from the novel by Stephen Crane
1951/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant

He went slowly to his tent and stretched himself on a blanket by the side of the snoring tall soldier. In the darkness he saw visions of a thousand-tongued fear that would babble at his back and cause him to flee, while others were going coolly about their country’s business. He admitted that he would not be able to cope with this monster. He felt that every nerve in his body would be an ear to hear the voices, while other men would remain stolid and deaf. — Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage

This adaptation of the classic novel is the simple story of a raw young soldier’s coming of age.  We follow the soldier and his comrades as they move from wingeing unsure recruits to fighting men.

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Young Henry Fleming (Audie Murphy) sets out with dreams of glory only to find himself paralyzed by fear when he sees real combat.   After his brief desertion, he returns to the regiment and tries to cover up his flight.  Gradually he finds that he was not alone in his fears.  The regiment is once again tested and Henry and his fellows rise to the occasion.

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John Huston got some real life experience in combat during World War II.  It shows here in the convincing footage of the chaos of combat.  The cinematography looks like something out of an old Matthew Brady photograph.  The dialogue has an old-timey ring perfect to this story.  Despite its butchering at the hands of studio executives, I thought this was excellent.  Recommended.

According to the IMDb trivia, “John Huston considered this his best film. After a power struggle at the top of MGM management, the film was cut from a 2 hour epic to the 69 minute version released to theaters. It was never released as a A-list movie but was shown as a 2nd feature B-list movie. Both Houston and star Audie Murphy tried unsuccessfully to purchase the film so that it could be re-edited to its original length. The studio claiming that the cut footage was destroyed. Unless there is an undiscovered copy of the uncut version, this movie will never be viewed as John Huston intended.”

Trailer

Joe Dante talks about the film – Trailers from Hell – Dante’s comments  made me order Picture, Lillian Ross’s book about the making of the film

Miss Julie (1951)

Miss Julie (Fröken Julie)220px-Missjulie1951
Directed by Alf Shöberg
Adapted by Alf Shöberg from the play by August Strindberg
1951/Sweden
Sandrews
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

“Life is not so idiotically mathematical that only the big eat the small; it is just as common for a bee to kill a lion or at least to drive it mad.” ― August Strindberg, Miss Julie

I’m still processing this film.  It is undeniably beautiful to look at but I don’t know if I quite got the message.

The story takes place in the midst of Midsummer’s Day festivities while the servants are all frolicking and dancing in the fields and barn.  Miss Julie (Anita Björk) is the haughty daughter of the count who owns the estate.  On this particular day, she has set her sights on Jean (Ulf Palme), one of the house servants.  Jean is half-heartedly engaged to the cook.

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After several rounds of wrangling, Jean and Miss Julie make love.  After this, although the gender and class warfare continues unabated, Julie is in the subservient position.  She gradually reveals the story of her life.  Her mother was a commoner and feminist who initially refused her aristocrat father but ended up marrying him.  She spent the remainder of the marriage getting her revenge.  This included dressing young Julie as a boy and demanding that all the women’s work be done by men and vice versa.  By the end of the film, it seems that Miss Julie is just carrying out her mother’s evil plan.  Max von Sydow appeared in his second screen performance as a (mostly silent) stable hand.

Miss Julie

This is the adaptation of a classic of world literature and I’m sure the themes deserve deeper study.  Unfortunately, nothing about this movie inspires me to undertake the task.  The cinematography and staging is very beautiful, though.  Sjöberg won the Grand Prize at Cannes.

Trailer

 

No Highway in the Sky (1951)

No Highway in the SkyNo_Highway_in_the_Sky
Directed by Henry Koster
Written by R.C. Sherriff, Oscar Millard, and Alec Coppel from a novel by Nevil Shute
1951/UK
Twentieth Century Fox Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Theodore Honey: It’s about the condition of this airplane, I’m afraid we’re in very serious danger. I’m rather afraid that the tail may drop off at any moment. Now when that happens…

This one came out of nowhere to delight me.

Widower Theodore Honey (James Stewart) is the very picture of the eccentric absent-minded scientist.  He lives a quiet life with daughter Elspeth and is totally engrossed in his work.  Currently, he is working for an aviation company testing out its new aircraft, the Reindeer.  All Honey’s calculations tell him that certain structural forces will cause the tail section of the plane to suddenly fall off after 1440 hours of flight.  The actual test has gone on for less time due to complaints from the neighbors about the noise.

Then one of the Reindeers crashes.  The tail section is not found and the accident is blamed on pilot error.  New research head Dennis Scott (Jack Hawkins) orders the test speeded up and sends Honey to Labrador to inspect the wreckage from the crash.

1951:  James Stewart (1908 - 1997) stars with Jack Hawkins (1910 - 1973) in the film 'No Highway', adapted from the Nevil Shute novel. Released in the US as 'No Highway In The Sky', the film was directed by Henry Koster for 20th Century Fox.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Ironically, Honey has been booked to fly there on another Reindeer.  A chat with the pilot reveals that the plane is nearing its 1440th hour.  Honey reveals his fears to the pilot but must admit that his tests are not complete and his idea is only a theory at this point.  The pilot is concerned enough to ask for instructions but refuses to take action when he can’t get through to his superiors.

Meanwhile, Honey figures out that the men’s room on the plane will be the optimal location for survival in the event of the crash.  He decides to alert movie star Monica Teasdale (Marlene Dietrich) because her films meant a lot to his deceased wife.  Monica takes him pretty seriously after she gets to know him a little bit.  Honey also befriends stewardess Marjorie Corder (Glynis Johns).  Both women prove to be his biggest allies when the plane reaches its refueling destination without crashing.

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I knew almost zero about this film when I watched it and it came as a very pleasant surprise.  The plot probably does not bear much resemblance to reality but the story is tightly written and suspenseful, with a nice dollop of humor to lighten matters.  Jimmy Stewart is absolutely superb in this role.  It’s hard to think of a part more different than the hardbitten anti-heros he was playing around this time!  Recommended and currently available on YouTube.

Trailer

 

 

Show Boat (1951)

Show Boatshow boat poster
Directed by George Sidney
Written bu John Lee Mahin from the musical play by Oscar Hammerstein II and the novel by Edna Ferber
1951/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Fish got to swim and birds got to fly/ I got to love one man ’til I die/ Can’t help lovin’ dat man of mine — Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

I love the 1936 version of the musical but this is almost as good.

It is the deep South at about the turn of the last century.  Cap’n Andy Hawks (Joe E. Brown) and his wife Parthy (Agnes Moorehead) use their paddle wheeler to put on shows up and down the Mississippi River.  Their daughter Magnolia (Kathryn Greyson) dreams of playing a part but is discouraged by the strict Parthy.  One day Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel), a down-on-his-luck riverboat gambler, comes by the boat looking for work as an actor.  He and Magnolia fall in love at first sight.

Initially, there is no work for him.  But soon a spurned lover turns in leading lady Julie (Ava Gardner), who has been passing as white, on a miscegenation charge.  She and leading man Steve, her husband, are forced to leave the show.  Now Magnolia and Gay become lovers on stage and in real life.  They soon marry and Magnolia leaves for the high life of a successful gambler’s wife.

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Soon enough Gaylord’s luck turns and everything goes to hell.  He leaves her and she tries to make a go of it as a singer.  Though she does not know it, she receives help from her friend Julie, now a washed up alcoholic having been deserted by her husband.  There is a tearful reunion with Cap’n Andy and Magnolia returns to the Cotton Blossom where she raises Gaylord’s daughter.  With William Warfield as Joe and Marge and Gower Champion as the dance act.

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This is a less stagey rendition of the story than the 1936 version which is not to say that the direction is better.  In fact, James Whale’s staging of the earlier version is just about perfect in my book.  I prefer Howard Keel to Alan Jones and it’s hard to choose between Warfield and Paul Robeson.  Irene Dunne’s Magnolia and Helen Morgan’s Julie are definitive.

Comparisons aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this for the beautiful music, color, and acting. For some reason, “Ol’ Man River” gives me the chills every single time.

Show Boat received Oscar nominations in the categories of Best Cinematography, Color and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Trailer

Clip – William Warfield sings “Ol’ Man River”

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Alice in Wonderlandalice-in-wonderland-movie-poster-1951-1020198120
Directed by Clyde Geromini, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske 
Written by Winston Hibler, Ted Sears et al from the novel by Lewis Carroll
1951/USA
Walt Disney Studios
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

White Rabbit: [singing] I’m late / I’m late / For a very important date. / No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”. / I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.

This is perhaps lesser known than some of the other classic Disney cartoons but I like it because it is so silly, just like the Alice books.

Alice falls off to sleep while her governess is reading from a dull history book.  She dreams a white rabbit comes running by and follows him down his rabbit hole.  There she encounters the characters in both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

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Everything seems to be upside down in this world and Alice can’t seem to stay the same size for long.  None of the inhabitants have heard of such a creature as a “little girl”.  Finally, the Red Queen puts Alice on trial for talking back but Alice wakes up before she can be beheaded.  With Ed Wynne as the voice of the Mad Hatter, Richard Hayden as the voice of the Caterpillar, and Sterling Holloway as the voice of the Cheshire Cat.

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Well this is 75 minutes of pure fun.  The songs are pretty catchy too.  The Mad Tea Party (spinning teacups) has been a fixture at Disneyland since opening day and an Alice in Wonderland dark ride opened there in 1958.  Both were fixtures of my childhood.  We lived close enough to the park that we went there every time relatives visited.

Alice in Wonderland was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Clip – The Unbirthday Song

On Dangerous Ground (1951)

On Dangerous Groundon-dangerous-ground-movie-poster-1951-1020311572
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by A.I. Bezzerides and Nicholas Ray from the novel “Mad With Much Heart” by Gerald Butler
1951/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
Repeat viewing/Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 3

 

Jim Wilson: Why do you make me do it? You know you’re gonna talk! I’m gonna make you talk! I always make you punks talk! Why do you do it? Why?

Nicholas Ray combines gritty noir with tender romance and it all comes out quite well, thanks to Robert Ryan’s subtly effective performance.

Gung-ho detective Jim Wilson (Ryan) is being eaten up inside.  He spends his off-hours brooding in his seedy bachelor pad and his working shifts dealing with “garbage”, as he calls the people he runs into on his beat.  Wilson has a terrible temper and is quick to use his fists when his first requests for information are met with resistance.  Neither his colleagues nor his boss are able to get through the wall he has built around himself. Finally, his tactics land a suspect in the hospital and his superior sends him off to “Siberia” in the countryside to help with a murder investigation.

dangerous ground

The case involves the murder of a young girl.  The girl’s father Walter Brent (Ward Bond) has no time for cops or investigations and is tracking the killer with a rifle in his hands prepared to shoot first and ask questions later.  Now it is Wilson who must be the voice of restraint.  He accompanies Brent on his chase, which leads the men to a remote farmhouse.  They burst in on Marie (Ida Lupino), the suspect’s sister.  She is clearly not revealing everything she knowns about her brother’s whereabouts.  Brent gets very heavy handed with her before the men realize she is blind.

While Brent searches the grounds, Wilson talks to Marie.  She gradually decides she can trust him to capture her brother without hurting him and take him to an institution, where he should have been admitted long ago.  She also quicklly spots Jim’s loneliness.  The rest of the movie deals with blossoming relationship between Wilson and Marie and the men’s different efforts to capture the brother.  With Ed Begley as the police captain.

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This is one of Robert Ryan’s best roles.  He does more acting with his jaw and eyes than many stars do with their whole bodies and voices.  So naturally I love this film.  All the others are good and Ida Lupino gets a chance to be less tough than she usually is.  The cinematography and staging are first-rate.  Bernard Herrmann provided the beautiful score.

The Warner DVD has a good commentary track detailing the usual fraught production history that a film produced at RKO went through during the Howard Hughes years.

Trailer

People Will Talk (1951)

People Will TalkPoster - People Will Talk (1951)_01
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a play by Curt Goetz
1951/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Doctor Noah Praetorius: Professor Elwell, you are the only man I know who can say ‘malignant’ the way other people say ‘Bingo!’.

This is a delightful, if uncharacteristic, comedy from Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant) is a rich, famous and beloved OB/GYN who is currently teaching at a medical school.  His is an unorthodox approach which focuses on the whole patient and relies as much on psychology as medicine or surgery.  He is accompanied everywhere he goes by the hulking, silent Shunderson (Finlay Currie) who appears to be totally devoted to him.  As the movie begins, Prof. Rodney Elwell (Hume Cronyn) is frantically digging up dirt on Praetorius in an effort to discredit him.  Elwell drags in the doctor’s former housekeeper (Margaret Hamilton) and hires a private detective to investigate the myserious Shunderson.

One day, a student faints during Praetorius’s anatomy class.  She is Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain) and Praetarius soon informs her that she is pregnant.  This is a problem as Deborah is not married and furthermore believes that news of this would kill her father. She attempts suicide and while she is recovering from surgery for her wound, Praetorius tells her that there was a mix-up in the laboratory samples and she is not, in fact, pregnant.

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Praetorius then takes off with Shunderson to the farm where Deborah lives with her father and greedy tax-evading uncle.  The idea is to break the news of Deborah’s pregnancy to her father and pave the way for Deborah’s acceptance of her condition.  But Deborah’s father (Sidney Blackmer) has been so thoroughly ground down by life and his horrible brother that he believes himself to be a total failure.  He says the only bright spot in his life is Deborah and Noah does not have the heart to tell him anything.

I won’t go farther into the plot which has a number of remarkable twist and turns and culminates in the dramatic reveal of Shunderson’s past.  With Walter Slezak as Praetorius’s friend.

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After reading the plot synopsis of this one, I was really leery going in and wound up totally charmed by it.  Mankiewicz gets in numerous digs at the medical profession but the tone is more whimsical than satirical.  The fine cast handles the wonderful dialogue admirably. They are all great but I totally fell in love with Finlay Currie.  Recommended.

Trailer

The Mating Season (1951)

The Mating Seasonmating season poster
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Written by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Richard L. Breen from the play Maggie by Caesar Dunn
1951/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Maggie Carleton: I married a stranger!

Val McNulty: Everybody marries a stranger.

This pleasant, if predictable, comedy features an Oscar-nominated performance by the great Thelma Ritter.

This is one of those 50’s films beginning with a peppy theme song sung by a chorus over the credits.  Ellen McNulty (Ritter) runs a hamburger stand in New Jersey.  As the movie opens, she lets the bank repossess it as she has no chance of making any part of the back payments.  She’s not worried.  She will go to California to live with her successful son.

In the meantime,  son Val (John Lund) is working his way up the corporate ladder. Currently, he has a proposal in the works that he hope will make his future.  He seems oblivious to the adoring glances from his secretary, Betsy (Jan Sterling).  Unfortunately, he works for stinker/drunkard George Kalinger, Jr., son of the owner of the company.

Val goes to retrieve a car abandoned by George in a drunken stupor.  It turns out his girlfriend  Maggie Carleton (Gene Tierney) is still in the car which is perched precariously on top of a cliff.  The two meet cute while Val rescues her and before we know it wedding bells are ringing.  Maggie was brought up as an ambassador’s daughter and her snobbish mother (Miriam Hopkins) wastes no words in telling her she is marrying beneath her.

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Ellen turns up on the day of the wedding.  When she sees the style and class of the people involved she hightails it out of there without meeting Maggie.  After Ellen saves up enough money from odd jobs to buy herself an expensive dress and hat, she again presents herself at her son’s doorstep.  But Maggie mistakes her for hired help and Ellen starts pitching in in the kitchen.  She refuses to let Val reveal her real identity.  Shortly thereafter, Maggie’s mother moves in and makes everybody’s life miserable.

I won’t reveal anymore of the plot.  It is safe to say that if you have watched enough of these things every last detail of the plot’s resolution will have been telegraphed to you well before the end.

mating season

Ritter is just as good as usual in this movie and I can’t see how anyone would have thought she was supporting here.  She is definitely in more scenes than Tierney.  I appreciate Jan Sterling more every time I see her on the screen.  Here she has a tiny part but is very natural in it.  Otherwise I didn’t laugh out loud once and the lack of surprises kind of got to me.  My husband liked this more than I did.

Thelma Ritter was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Clip

Summer Interlude (1951)

Summer Interlude (Sommarlek)summer poster
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman and Herbert Grevenius
1951/USA
Svensk Filmindustri
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Marie: Let me mourn my youth alone.

I wonder how Bergman got to understand women so well.  This is the best of the early films of his I have seen so far.

Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson) is a 28-year-old prima ballerina.  One night as she is preparing to go on stage she receives an old diary by post.  The past comes flooding back in and she is now deeply sad.  Marie starts to reflect the summer thirteen years before when she first fell in love.  During the course of the movie she will also revisit the idyllic setting of her youthful romance.

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In flashback we follow an innocent summer love affair as the inexperienced Marie meets, flirts with, and comes to love Henrik, a boy of about her age.  We find out why Marie has not been able to open up to another love, including her current journalist boyfriend, since that time.  With memory comes a form of catharsis.

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This movie has a very simple but moving plot.  We are left a lot of space to enjoy the glorious photography of the ballet and a carefree, sunlit summer in Sweden.  It’s a visually gorgeous film and leaves the audience with a sense of hope for a change.

Trailer/montage of clips set to ballet music – SPOILER