The Heart of the Matter (1953)

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Directed by George More O’Farrell
Written by Leslie Storm and Ian Dalrymple from a novel by Graham Greene
1953/UK
London Film Productions
First viewing/Amazon Prime

“Love isn’t just a feeling. It’s an art. And like any art, it takes not only inspiration but also a lot of work.” ― Paulo Coelho, Adultery

I really liked this thought-provoking drama and Trevor Howard’s fantastic performance.

The story takes place in Sierre Leone in 1942.  Harry Scobie (Howard) is a policeman.  As the story starts, he boards a ship and discovers an illicit letter written by the captain to his daughter in Germany.  The captain begs for mercy and Harry decides to destroy the letter.  This is the first time he strays from the straight and narrow and sets the stage for his gradual downfall.  Right after this, he finds out he has been passed over for promotion.

Harry is very unhappily married to Louise (Elizabeth Allen).  Louise is a devout Catholic and Scobie is a convert to the faith.  She looks to be almost impossible to live with.  Instead of saying what she thinks and feels she is constantly screaming at her husband with accusations about what he feels.  Her main problem, however, may simply be that she is beyond sick and tired of living in Sierra Leone, where she does not have a friend in the world.  She begs him to get her out of there but they don’t have the money.

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Harry goes to investigate the suicide of an inspector.  While there a Syrian black-marketeer tries to strike up a friendship and offers Harry a loan at low interest.  Harry rebuffs him but when he gets home to Louise and finds her in the same state, he gives in to get money for her to sail to South Africa.

Then Harry has to go away to supervise the landing of a bunch of passengers who had spent many days at sea in a life raft after their ship was torpedoed.  Among them is Helen, a young Austrian newlywed who lost her English husband in the incident.  Harry begins an affair with her.  When Harry’s wife comes back, a young friend tells her of his suspicions about Harry and Helen.  Louise wants Harry to go to mass with her and take communion. But Harry cannot make a full confession because he has no intention of giving up Helen.  So the tender-hearted Harry is stuck between hurting Louise, Helen, or his relationship with God.

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I thought this was one of the best performances ever from Trevor Howard.  You really felt for him throughout.  The story raises a host of ethical and moral questions and will leave viewers with plenty to think about.  I thought Harry “solved” his problem in the absolute worst possible way.  I will say no more.

It has come to pass that the name Graham Greene in the writing credits, either for the source material or the screenplay, almost guarantees I will like the resulting film.  Highly recommended.

 

 

Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)

Sawdust and Tinsel (Gycklarnas afton)220px-Sawdusttinsel
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman (uncredited)
1953/Sweden
Sandrews
First viewing/Netflix rental

Anne: I can crack nuts with my teeth too.

Frans: Now I’m scared.

This is a stunningly photographed film.  There is a little too much cruelty and humiliation for my taste but sometimes that’s just Bergman.

It is maybe 100 years ago in Sweden.  Albert Johanssen owns the traveling Alberti circus. The circus has fallen on hard times and was forced to leave half its costumes in the last town to pay off some debt.  Albert lives with the much-younger Anne (Harriet Andersson).

The film begins with one of the performers telling another about an incident that happened some years before.  This story is photographed in almost surreal, but very beautiful, blindingly bright light.  The wife of a clown, an aging beauty, goes swimming naked with a bunch of soldiers.  Her husband comes to get her.  When they emerge from the water a boy has stolen their clothes and the clown must carry his naked wife home over rocky ground in his bare feet.

When the circus arrives in the next town.  Albert and Anne go to try to borrow some costumes from the resident theater troupe.  One of the actors tries to seduce Anne but she refuses him in a humiliating way.

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Albert’s wife lives in the town and he dresses up to visit her and his sons over Anne’s strenuous objections.  In spite, she goes to the theater and looks up the actor.  He is more successful in seducing her this time, bribing her with a supposedly valuable necklace. Albert tells his wife he wants to return to her but she won’t take him back.  He spots Anne coming out of a goldsmith’s shop and immediately suspects she has been unfaithful.

Humiliation, cruelty, and despair follow but life goes on.

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This is a beautiful, interestingly shot, and well-acted film.  It simply was not enjoyable for me.  I think it’s a personal thing and that many Bergman fans might love it.

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The Adultress (1953)

The Adultress (Thérèse Raquin)therese poster
Directed by Marcel Carné
Written by Marcel Carné and Charles Spaak from the novel by Emile Zola
1953/France
Paris Film Productions/Lux Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

“They dared not peer down into their own natures, down into the feverish confusion that filled their minds with a kind of dense, acrid mist.” ― Émile Zola, Thérèse Raquin

I was not really looking forward to this, expecting it to be a melodrama like the source novel.  I was very pleased to find that Carné had changed the plot and given us an excellent and very dark film noir.

Therese Raquin (Simone Signoret) leads a dreary existence keeping house and helping out in the store of her mother-in-law.  She was an orphan who was brought up by her aunt and then married her cousin Camille.  Camille is a thorough mother’s boy and spends most of his time being coddled for various real or imagined illnesses.  One day, truckdriver Laurent (Raf Vallone) takes Camille home after a drinking session.  He falls in love at first sight with Therese.  It takes him awhile, but eventually they begin an affair.  He begs Therese to leave with him for Italy.  She refuses, not wanting to hurt Camille.

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So Laurent confronts Camille.  Camille is not about to let Therese go.  He finally persuades her to go to Paris with him for three days to visit his aunt.  He says that if it still doesn’t work out he will let her go.  In reality his plan is to lock Therese up at his aunt’s house.

Laurent finds out about the trip and gets on the same train.  Camille discovers his wife talking with Laurent and begins an argument.  Laurent impulsively throws Camille off the train.  The rest of the movie explores the sad consequences of the murder on the love affair and includes the appearance of a blackmailer.

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I don’t think Signoret ever gave a bad performance and she is just fantastic in this.  I like her clear-eyed calmness here.  The other acting, especially by the supporting players, is excellent.  The film has some of the feeling of Carné’s pre-war work such as Port of Shadows and Le jour se leve.  It won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Recommended.

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The Return of Don Camillo (1953)

The Return of Don Camillothe-return-of-don-camillo-1953
Directed by Julien Duvivier
Written by Julien Duvivier, René Barjavel, and Giuseppe Amato
1953/Italy/France
Les Films Ariane/Filmsonor/Francinex/Rizzoli Film/Amato Film
First viewing/Netflix rental

Even if a unity of faith is not possible, a unity of love is. — Hans Urs von Balthasar

If you are looking for something charming and gently amusing, this might be just your cup of tea.

At the end of the previous film, Pepponi Battazi (Gino Servi), the Communist mayor of a small Italian town complained to the bishop when Don Camillo, the parish priest, threw a table at him.  The bishop responded by sending Don Camillo to another parish.  It turns out that this parish is in a village high in the Alps that cannot be reached by road.  Don Camillo does not fare well there.  For one thing, the crucifix in the church does not speak to him.

Pepponi isn’t faring too well either.  The local people refuse to be born, get married or die without their favorite priest.  Pepponi also needs Camillo’s assistance to convince a stubborn landowner to allow a dam needed to protect the village to flood a portion of his property.

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So Don Camillo returns and the two resume their friendly war of wills.  The priest needs his bell tower repaired and withholds his assistance until he gets the money to do this.  Then we more or less get a humorous look at life in the village.  While ideology and religion continue to collide, in a clinch the people, not least the priest and the mayor, can be counted on to support one another.

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This is another entertaining slice of life in the series.  I think I preferred the first film but enjoyed this one as well.

Trailer (no subtitles)

The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (1953)

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Directed by Sidney Gilliat
Written by Sidney Gilliat based on The Gilbert and Sullivan book by Leslie Bailey
1953/UK
London Film Productions
First viewing/Amazon Prime

 

For he himself has said it,/ And it’s greatly to his credit,/ That he is an Englishman! – from HMS Pinafore, lyric by W.S. Gilbert

If you love Gilbert and Sullivan as much as I do, you will likely love this biopic.

This is the story of the sometimes uneasy collaboration of W.S. Gilbert (Robert Morely) and Arthur Sullivan (Maurice Evans) who created many beloved comic operettas during the second half of the 19th Century.  The film explores the tensions arising from Sullivan’s continuing ambition to write serious classical music.  The story is liberally interspersed with scenes from the operettas.

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This film is not as lavish nor as perceptive as Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy (1999), which I really loved.  Nonetheless I was thoroughly entertained and would recommend the film to fellow devotees of the protagonists.

Clip – from a performance of HMS Pinafore in the film

Dangerous Crossing (1953)

Dangerous Crossingdangerous poster
Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Written by Leo Townsend from a radio play by John Dixon Carr
1953/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last. — Oscar Wilde

This is basically The Lady Vanishes with a sex change on the high seas.  Sadly, Joseph M. Newman is no Alfred Hitchcock.  Not terrible though.

Ruth Stanton Bowman (Jeanne Crain) boards an ocean liner with her husband of a few hours for their honeymoon cruise to Europe.  They get settled in their cabin and then her husband asks her to wait in the bar while he sees the purser about something.  This is the last she sees of him.  After awhile she starts looking for him only to discover no one will admit to seeing him board and the cabin they were in is now bare, the contents now being in another room.

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After investigation fails to turn up any evidence of a husband, the captain assigns the ship’s doctor Paul Manning (Michael Rennie) to look after the now hysterical woman.  The search continues as Ruth begins to believe that her husband is on the boat and in terrible danger.

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This movie is basically on one note throughout.  Fortunately, it is only 75 minutes long and the production values and acting are pretty good.  A lot of the sets were left over from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Trailer

The Blue Gardenia (1953)

The Blue Gardenia
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Charles Hoffmann; story by Vera Caspery
1953/USA
Blue Gardenia Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Sally Ellis: I didn’t like Prebble when he was alive. But now that he’s been murdered,that always makes a man so romantic.

This certainly doesn’t measure up to Lang’s other noir for 1953, The Big Heat.  It’s not bad though.

Norah (Anne Baxter) works as a telephone operator and lives with a couple of her co-workers.  She is engaged to a fellow who is away fighting in Korea and plans to celebrate her birthday at home alone.  Then she gets a Dear Jane letter and falls to pieces.  Almost immediately the phone rings and it is Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr) trying to ask out one of her roommates.  Norah, who is now in no mood to be alone, stands in for the roommate who is out on a date.  Prebble doesn’t mind the switch and sets about getting Norah very drunk on cocktails at the Chinese restaurant he takes her to.  Then he takes her home to his bachelor pad.  She is so drunk she can barely stay awake.

THE BLUE GARDENIA, Anne Baxter, Raymond Burr, 1953

The next morning she wakes up back home with a terrible hangover.  That’s when she reads about Harry’s murder.  Every clue points directly to her.  She can’t remember a thing. She is so sure she will be apprehended that she decides to entrust her fate to a newspaper man (Richard Conte), who is out for an exclusive on the case.  With Ann Southern as one of the roommates.

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This doesn’t have brilliant pacing and is fairly predictable.  It’s entirely watchable, though. Burr is great as always.  Evidently he was one of the nicest guys in Hollywood but during this period he was just brilliant at playing a creep (as here) or a very scary heavy.

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The Band Wagon (1953)

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Directed by Vicente Minnelli
Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
1953/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Repeat viewing/from my DVD collection
#266 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Stagehand: You got more scenery in this show than there is in Yellowstone National Park!

I have loved this movie for decades.  Yesterday’s viewing did nothing to change my opinion.

Tony Martin (Fred Astaire) is an aging dancer who has been called back to New York from Hollywood by his friends Lester Martin (Oscar Levant) and his wife Lily (Nanette Fabray) who have written a musical for him to star in. Lester and Lily are thrilled that Jeffrey Kordova (Jack Buchanan) is interested in directing the play.  Jeffrey is an obvious take off on the Orson Wells type who is directing three shows on Broadway while starring in one of them.

Jeffrey envisions the simple plot of Lester and Lily’s play about a children’s book writer as a modern-day version of the Faust legend.  He decides to get prima ballerina Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) on board by engaging her boyfriend as choreographer.  Tony has grave misgivings about Jeffrey’s approach and thinks Gabrielle is too young and too tall to be his partner.  But Jeffrey has organized the money and Tony, Lester, and Lily are helpless to resist.

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The musical moves into production.  Rehearsals are full of tension.  Jeffrey has loaded up the show with so many gimmicks and so much scenery that the out-of-town tryouts are a disaster.  But the show must go on and, with Tony at the helm, Lester and Lily’s original version is resurrected.

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I have always thought the comedy in this film was almost equal to Singin’ in the Rain.  I just love Jack Buchanan who manages to play the egomaniac director to perfection while retaining the ability to do a mean soft shoe.  The fund-raising scene is hilarious.  You are going to get a lot of dancing in a musical with Fred Astaire and I think it is well-incorporated into the plot.  Recommended.

The Band Wagon was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of: Best Writing, Story and Screenplay; Best Costume Design, Color; and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Trailer

Fred Astaire and Jack Buchanan doing the soft shoe

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

How to Marry a Millionaireaffiche-Comment-epouser-un-millionnaire-How-to-Marry-a-Millionaire-1953-4
Directed by Jean Negulescou
Written by Nunally Johnson from a play by Zoe Akins, Dale Eunson, and Katherine Albert
1953/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Loco Dempsey: You don’t think he’s a little old?

Schatze Page: Wealthy men are never old.

I thought this was fun.

Three fashion models team up to share a fancy apartment (paid for by selling the owner’s furniture) with the single goal of marrying millionaires.  They are Schatze (Lauren Bacall), Pola (Marilyn Monroe) and Loco (Betty Grable).  Before we know it each is being squired by an almost suitable candidate.  Schatze sets her sights on a much-older widower J.D. Hanley (William Powell); Pola is dating a one-eyed oil mogul; and Loco decides to allow a married man to take her to his lodge.

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Somehow love intervenes with each one of their plans.  The fun is in seeing how they end up with Mr. Right after all.  With David Wayne, Rory Calhoun, and Cameron Mitchell as the men in question.

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This isn’t laugh out loud funny but is humorous throughout and a fine light entertainment. There has been a long gap since I saw William Powell in a movie and this made me realize I miss him.  This seems to have been a showcase for CinemaScope and the film begins rather oddly with Alfred Newman conducting the Twentieth Century Fox Orchestra in a full version of his “Street Scene” suite.

Trailer

Niagara (1953)

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Directed by Henry Hathaway
Written by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Richard Breen
1953/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant

Ray Cutler: Why don’t you ever get a dress like that?

Polly Cutler: Listen. For a dress like that, you’ve got to start laying plans when you’re about thirteen.

This entertaining film noir offers Marilyn Monroe a leading role at her most luscious.

A nice all-American young couple, Ray Cutler and his wife Polly (Jean Peters), are taking a belated honeymoon in Niagara Falls.  Ray is celebrating winning a contest for best publicity campaign at the cereal company he works for and hopes to meet the CEO, who lives nearby.  The Cutlers have been assigned to the best cabin at the motor court. However, they graciously cede it to George Loomis (Joseph Cotten) and his wife Rose (Marilyn Monroe).  The Loomises are extending their stay because George is suffering from some unspecified mental problem, obviously including severe depression.

The Cutlers soon discover that George has at least one reason to be depressed.  Rose is a man magnet who does not discourage those she attracts.  Furthermore, they catch her in a passionate embrace with a young man at the Falls.  One night, George snaps in front of all the guests when hearing a record playing Rose’s favorite song, “Kiss”.  Polly tends to the cut he got while breaking the record.

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Soon the audience finds out that Rose and her lover are plotting a way to rid themselves of old George.  Ray finally meets up with CEO and extends the couple’s stay to socialize.  Polly, who is the closest thing to a friend that George has, keeps being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  With Don Wilson as the CEO.

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While I don’t think this is the best noir ever made or anything, I enjoy this movie, mostly for the atmosphere and scenery.  It is nice and steamy when Monroe is on screen and the falls look magnificent.  If the pacing were better, the plot would make a good thriller but it falls a little flat in that department.  Somehow we are one step ahead of the plot all along the way taking the surprise out of a pretty neat twist.