The Robe (1953)

The RobeThe-Robe-1953
Directed by Henry Koster
Written by Philip Dunne, Gina Kaus and Albert Malz (uncredited) from a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas
1953/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Jesus Christ: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

The restored version of this, the first Cinemascope film, looks stunning.  Other than the visuals though, everything about its erzatz Christianity left me cold.

Marcellus (Richard Burton) is a tribune in ancient Rome.  He gets on the wrong side of Caligula, the heir to the throne, when he gets in a bidding war with him for a couple of hot twin slaves.  Following his defeat, he purchases the defiant Greek slave Demetrius (Victor Mature), who had been slated for gladiatorial combat. On the same occasion, he becomes reacquainted with childhood sweetheart Diana (Jean Simmons), who is the ward of the Emperor Tiberius.

Tiberius orders Marcelllus to serve in the hell-hole of Palestine as punishment for fighting with his son.  Demetrius becomes fascinated with the preacher Jesus Christ early on. Marcellus redeems himself and is eventually ordered back to Rome, but not before one final duty.  Marcellus is assigned to the crucifixion of Christ and becomes the soldier that wins Christ’s robe in a gambling game.

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There is a terrible storm after Christ dies and Marcellus orders Demetrius to cover him with the robe.  Mere skin contact drives Marcellus insane.  When he gets back to Rome, the Emperor decides that the way to restore his sanity is to destroy the robe.  So he sends Marcellus back to Palestine with that order along with instructions to wipe out as many of Christ’s followers as he can lay his hands on.

To find the robe he disguises himself as a wine merchant and ends up in the village of Cana.  There, he eventually meets up with the apostle Peter (Michael Rennie) and Demetrius, who is now a devout Christian.  Marcellus converts and all the predictable consequences ensue.

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I suspected I would dislike this film, as with all sword and sandal films, going in but I wanted to see it because it was a Best Picture nominee.  I was not wrong.  The acting is wooden and the script is hackneyed.  However, I was very pleased with the visual aspects of the production.  Many of the scenes look like Renaissance paintings.  The music is suitably grand as well.

The Robe won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color and Best Costume Design, Color.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Burton); and Best Cinematography, Color.

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Wife (1953)

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Directed by Mikio Naruse
Written by Toshirô Ide from a novel by Fumiko Hayashi
1953/Japan
Toho Company
First viewing/Hulu

 

By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher. – Socrates

It is a unique movie about infidelity that has me rooting 100% for the husband.

Toichi and Mieko Takamine have been married for ten years and have no children.  Any spark they ever had with each other is long gone.  Mieko, the wife, has given up entirely. She puts together disgusting meals, has no table manners, and is stingy in every way. The couple don’t talk to each other much.  Then Sagara, a widow at work, asks Toichi to join her for a visit to an art exhibition.  Before long they are seeing each other frequently. Finally, they admit their love to each other just before Sagara has to move to Osaka.

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After awhile, Toichi has to go to Osaka on business and looks Sagara up.  They spend a whole weekend together.  Then Sagara comes up to Tokyo.  The Takamine’s border had previously seen Toichi and Sagara together and now tips off Mieko.  The rest of the movie follows Mieko’s desperate attempts to break up the relationship.

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I thought this was only OK, though it gets much better in the last half hour.  It was surprised by the non-Hollywood ending.  I was rooting for something even more surprising,however.

Mogambo (1953)

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Directed by John Ford
Written by John Lee Mahin from a play by Wilson Collison
1953/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Eloise Kelly: Look, Buster, don’t you get overstimulated with me!

I wasn’t expecting much and wasn’t crazy about the love-triangle plot.  Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this movie.

Victor Marswell (Clark Gable) is a Great White Hunter who makes a living guiding safaris and capturing animals for zoos around the world.  One day, Eloise Kelly (Ava Gardner) shows up to join a maharaja friend on a safari.  The two immediately start trading barbs. The maharaja has already left for India and the boat that would take Eloise back to civilization will require lengthy repairs.  Victor then decides Kelly is alright and they begin an affair.

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Later, a young couple, the Nordleys, show up to be guided on a safari to gorilla country. He is an anthropologist and his wife Linda (Grace Kelly) is a very upper-crust beauty, the polar opposite of the earthy Kelly.  So Victor starts an affair with her under her husband’s nose.  She and Kelly start feuding.  All is solved by the end courtesy of the Hayes Code.

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I’ve never thought much of Ava Gardner as an actress but she is excellent in this movie.  I think she should have had a chance to do more cynical parts like this and maybe some comedy.  I don’t know why I didn’t realize that this was directed by John Ford.  He couldn’t do much with the script but he makes Africa look really beautiful.  It’s all soapy stuff but somehow I was very entertained throughout.

This is a re-make of Red Dust (1932) with Gable in the same part, Jean Harlow, and Mary Astor.  I still have not had a chance to see that one.

Ava Gardner was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar and Grace Kelly got a nod for Best Supporting Actress.

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The Wild One (1953)

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Directed by Laslo Benedek
Written by John Paxton based on a story by Frank Rooney
1953/USA
Stanley Kramer Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix Rental

 

Mildred: Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?

Johnny: Whadda you got?

This would greatly resemble your average B biker movie were it not for the magnetism of Marlon Brando.

Johnny (Brando) is a leader of a motorcycle club known as The Black Rebels.  One day they crash a motorcycle race and steal the second place trophy for Johnny.  They then move on to a small town where they proceed to generally act up and scare the local citizenry.  Johnny is attracted to Kathie who works at the bar/cafe but backs off when he finds out that her father is the local sheriff.  Johnny hates cops.

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Then a rival gang, The Beetles, shows up led by Chino (Lee Marvin).  He challenges Johnny and they have a fist fight.  Later, Johnny has to rescue Kathy from some gang members who have surrounded her and are scaring her to death.  Things get out of control and some of the locals decide to take matters into their own hands.  Johnny wants to pull out of the town but the gang isn’t cooperating.  Then a fatal accident gets him in even deeper.

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Imagine the Dead End Kids speaking in beatnik lingo (Daddy-o, etc.).  You will picture this motorcycle gang to a T.  That is all except Brando.  He is stuck with the same dialogue but just can’t help being a complete human character.  Anything with Brando from this period is worth seeing but I would seek out several other films before this one.

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The Long, Long Trailer (1953)

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Directed by Vicente Minnelli
Written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich from a novel by Clinton Twiss
1953/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

Mechanic: Think of it as a train behind you. Forty feet of train.

There are a couple of things that seem naturally funny so long as it is not you who are doing them.  One is restoring an old house.  The other is driving or living in a huge RV.

Nicky Collini (Desi Arnaz) and Tacy Bolton (Lucille Ball) are engaged to be married.  Nicky’s job will require them to move to Colorado and he will travel a lot from there.  The domestic Tacy decides that buying a trailer would be ideal because then she can make Nicky a home wherever he goes.  She has a trailer all picked out that will cost only a hundred dollars more than their annual budget.  Nicky is skeptical and wants to save for the down payment on a house.  Tacy is persistent and talks him into going to a motor home show.

Of course, the trailer she had picked out is impossibly small. She promptly falls in love with a 40-foot behemoth.  The couple start acquiring a mountain of debt, including a new, heavier car and modifications for the trailer hitch.  In the funniest scene in the movie, the man from the shop teaches Nicky how to haul the trailer.

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The rest of the movie follows the Collinis on their honeymoon drive from the East Coast to Colorado.  It is one mishap after another.  Their adventures are both amusing and believable.  With Marjorie Main as the couple’s first neighbor and Keenan Wynne as a policeman.

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I have thought of Desi Arnaz as basically a straight man but here he gets a lot of the gags and physical humor.  He does pretty well at it but the movie could possibly have used more from Lucy.  The film is an entertaining romp which I enjoyed.

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Man on a Tightrope (1953)

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Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Robert E. Sherwood; story by Neil Paterson
1953/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Rudolph: [to Cernik] The curse of my life is that I’m a handsome man.

Here’s one of the scarcer Elia Kazan films.  This story of oppression and flight from Communist Czechoslovakia fell out of fashion post-McCarthy era.  It’s actually mostly well done.

The Chernik family owned and operated a traveling circus for generations.  Now the circus belongs to the People but Karol Chernik (Fredrik Marsh) still manages the business and acts as a clown.  He is married to much-younger bad girl Zarna (Gloria Grahame) and has a beloved daughter from his former marriage, Tereza (Terry Moore).  Chernik is in trouble with the State for such things as not changing his act with an unfunny propaganda bit and for harboring an aged performer who fancies herself a French duchess.

Chernik is also worried that he is harboring a spy.  He suspects this may be Joe (Cameron Mitchell), a crew member that Terry is sweet on.

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One day, he is visited by the operator of a rival circus.  The two managers have long been enemies but they are both circus people and understand each other.  The man tells Chernik that the authorities suspect he has escape plans.  Chernik decides to put his plan into action immediately (this development was pretty abrupt I thought),  Once things get rolling, his true friends and enemies reveal themselves in short order.  The audacious plan involves simply marching over the border with elephants in tow.  With Adolphe Menjou as a secret service man.

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This may be a unique chance to see March play the clown!  Not surprisingly, he’s good at it.  The performances and filmmaking are strong.  The script is riddled with holes and takes every opportunity to throw in a little mild propaganda.  I enjoyed it, though, more than I had expected to.

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Kiss Me Kate (1953)

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Directed by George Sidney
Written by Dorothy Kingsley after the Broadway musical by Sam and Bella Spewak and the play The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
1953/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

First viewing/My DVD collection

There’s an oil man known as Tex/ Who is keen to give me checks/ And his checks, I fear, means that Tex is here to stay

But I’m always true to you, Darlin’, in my fashion/ Yes, I’m always true to you, Darlin’, in my way — “Always True to You”, lyrics by Cole Porter

This is a pleasant musical with some good dancing thanks to Ann Miller, Bob Fosse, et al.

Cole Porter has written a new musical based on The Taming of the Shrew and has hired Fred Graham (Howard Keel) to direct and portray Petruchio.  Both are eager to cast Fred’s ex-wife Lilli (Katherine Grayson) as Katherine.  The divorced couple did not part on good terms.  She is planning to marry a cattle baron.  Nevertheless, she agrees to do the part when Fred talks about offering it to Lois Lane (Ann Miller) instead.  Lois, who is making a big play for Fred, is eventually cast as Bianca.

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Lois’s secret boyfriend is the ne’er-do-well who is playing Lucentio.  He has racked up a big gambling debt and signed Fred’s name to the marker.  A couple of thugs (James Whitmore and Keenan Wynne) come to collect on opening night.  Fred and Lilli look about ready to mend fences when she discovers a note written to Lois tucked into a bouquet mistakenly delivered to her.  She takes out her anger very physically on stage and he spanks her for real.  Still, it doesn’t take a genius to know where this is going.

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I am amazed that it took me this long to get around to this.  It was basically worth waiting for.  The songs are good and the singing and dancing is excellent.  There is a certain lack of pizazz to the story, though.  I enjoyed it.

Kiss Me Kate was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

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Carol Haney and Bob Fosse dancing

Escape from Fort Bravo (1953)

Escape from Fort Bravoescape-from-fort-bravo-movie-poster-1953-1020192770
Directed by John Sturges
Written by Frank Fenton; story by Philip Rock and Michael Pate
1953/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

Capt. Roper: When you’re in the grave, Beecher, it doesn’t matter too much how you got there.

I couldn’t get too excited about this one but my husband, who is the Western fan in our family, liked it.

The story is set during the Civil War at a Union POW camp in the Arizona desert.  The rebel prisoners outnumber the union troops but escape is futile.  Captain Roper (William Holden) always drags his man back to the fort.  Even if he didn’t, the desert is vast and inhabited by fierce Mescalero Indians.

One day, Carla Forester (Eleanor Parker), comes to visit her friend, the colonel’s daughter, who is about to get married.  We quickly learn that her actual purpose is to help her fiance Capt. John March (John Forsythe) escape.  To better do this, she cozies up (in the most brazen 20th century way) to Capt. Roper and he is soon in love with her.

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We follow the planning and execution of the escape.  Carla joins the escape party, mostly because she finds herself falling for Roper.  Roper and a few troops go out to intercept the Confederates.  They do this but then the entire outfit is attacked by Indians and must work together.  With William Demerest as an old Confederate.

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I found this pretty cliched.  Holden and Parker seem to be acting in the wrong century. Actually the Demerest character is the most effectively old-timey.  It doesn’t move too fast either, mostly because we know exactly where it is going at all times.

Trailer

Houdini (1953)

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Directed by George Marshall
Written by Philip Yordan from a book by Harold Kellok
1953/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Harry Houdini: I hadn’t prepared anything for tonight, but perhaps I have something that will amuse you. So if you’ll get a couple of broomsticks, I’ll get my wife – and we’ll see what we can do.

This is a pretty good biopic, enhanced by the charisma and chemistry of then-married Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

The story takes some dramatic license with the facts.  Young Bess (Leigh) goes to a carnival with her girlfriend’s and stands up for the “Wild Man” who is being beaten by its keeper.  It turns out Harry Houdini (Curtis) does double duty as both Wild Man and magician at the carnival.  He asks Bess out at the conclusion of his magic act but she refuses.  Later, she sees Houdini’s act at a supper club and succumbs to his charms.  They are married shortly thereafter.

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Bess wants some stability and security and Houdini finally agrees to take a job at a company that makes safes.  His penchant for practicing his escape act on the job gets him fired.  Bess and Harry go to a magic show and Harry wins a prize when he succeeds in freeing himself from a strait jacket.  The prize is a round trip to Europe which the couple cashes in for two one-way tickets.

Houdini makes his name in Europe, at one time escaping from a British jail on a dare.  On returning home, he wants to generate interest through increasingly dangerous tricks.  Bess never ceases to worry about him, not without cause.

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I enjoyed watching this.  Evidently Curtis was a talented amateur magician and performed a lot of the tricks himself.  He certainly has the native showmanship to convince his audience.

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The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

The Beast from 20,000 FathomsThe-beast-from-20000-fathoms-poster
Directed by Eugene Lourie
Written by Lou Morheim and Fred Freiberger from a story by Ray Bradbury
1953/USA
Jack Dietz Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Cpl. Stone: If you can load it, I can fire it.

A prehistoric monster devours New York City.  Could this have been the inspiration for Godzilla?

A group of scientists conducts an atom bomb test somewhere in the Arctic.  When a pair of them investigate the site they are attacked by the monster that has been awakened by the blast.  Prof. Tom Nesbitt survives but can get no one to believe his story.  Then ships begin mysteriously and suddenly sinking in the North Atlantic.

Nesbitt is moved to consult world-reknowned paleontologist Prof. Thurgood Ellison (Cecil Kellaway).  Ellison is finally convinced when both Nesbitt and a survivor of a sinking independently identify the same drawing as their monster.

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The monster appears to be moving underwater to New York where it was spawned back at the dawn of time.  Ellison investigates in a diving bell.  Before confronting the monster, he witnesses a gratuitous shark v. octopus battle.  But nothing can stop the inexorable progress of the monster to New York.  Furthermore, the beast seems to be carrying an incurable fatal virus from the past.  With Lee Van Cleef as a sharp shooter.

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This looks mighty like a low-budget version of Godzilla and is almost as much fun.  A key difference is that this version of the creature is animated with stop-motion and Godzilla is played by a man in a rubber suit.  Both are about equally effective.  This was Ray Harryhausen’s first solo effort as a special effects man.  He would go on to bigger and better things.

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