1954 Recap and 10 Favorites List

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I have now seen 55 films that were released in 1954.  The complete list can be found here.  The year is known as one of the best in film history and is very strong on the top end.  Oddly enough, however, I had to dip down into the films I rated 8/10 to complete my list of favorites and there were less films than usual available for me to view.  I could not find Becker’s Touche pas au Grisbi for a rewatch.  If I had it likely would have made my favorites list.  On to 1955!

10.  Sabrina – directed by Billy Wilder

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9.,  The Caine Mutiny – directed by Edward Dmytryk

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8.  Twenty-Four Eyes – directed by Keisuke Kinoshita

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7.  Gojira – directed by Ishirô Honda

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6. French Cancan – directed by Jean Renoir

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5.  Hobson’s Choice – directed by David Lean

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4.  La Strada – directed by Federico Fellini

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3. Rear Window – directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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2.  On the Waterfront – directed by Elia Kazan

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  1.   Seven Samurai – directed by Akira Kurosawa

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Pushover (1954)

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Directed by Richard Quine
Written by Roy Huggins from novels by Thomas Rafferty and Bill S. Ballinger
1954/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 2

Paul Sheridan: Your place or mine?

Lona McLane: Surprise me.

This solid film noir features Kim Novak’s first screen appearance in a leading role.  Fred MacMurray and Dorothy Malone also shine.

As the story begins, Paul Sheridan (MacMurray) successfully picks up blonde bombshell Lona McLane (Novak).  It is apparently lust at first site for her.  We soon learn that Paul is actually a detective conducting surveillance on Lona, who is being kept by a gangster who recently absconded with a couple of hundred thousand dollars in a bank heist.  Paul’s partner is slowly falling in love with Lona’s next door neighbor Ann Stewart (Malone), a hard-working nurse.

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Paul is in way over his head and an easy mark for Lona, who suggests that the couple make off with the loot themselves.  As time goes on, he gets himself deeper and deeper in trouble.  With E.G. Marshall as the surveillance team’s boss.

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This is pretty good.  MacMurray is very good in a part not too far from the one he played in Double Indemnity.  I don’t generally think too much Novak as an actress, but she is certainly very beautiful and convincing as a femme fatale here.

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Silver Lode (1954)

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Directed by Allan Dwan
Written by Karen de Wolf
1954/USA
Benedict Bogeaus Productions
First viewing/YouTube
#267 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

“Distrust is like a vicious fire that keeps going and going, even put out, it will reignite itself, devouring the good with the bad, and still feeding on empty.” ― Anthony Liccione

I think this so-so Western is one of the more baffling entries on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die List.

Ned McCarty (Dan Duryea) rides into the town of Silver Lode looking for Dan Ballard (John Payne).  McCarty says Ballard shot his brother in the back and stole $20,000 from him and is wanted dead or alive.  McCarty has made it his mission as U.S. Marshall over the last two years to apprehend or kill his brother’s murderer.

McCarty’s first run-in with Ballard is at the latter’s wedding to Rose Evans (Lizbeth Scott). All the wedding guests are on Ballard’s side.  The town lawyer goes to the judge to get a writ of habeus corpus for Ballard but the judge says McCarty’s papers are in order and there is nothing he can do.  Ballard pleads for a couple of hours to get in touch with the authorities in the town where the alleged murder took place.  It turns out that the telegraph wires have been cut.

Silver-Lode-1954McCarty is a master manipulator and sees that the townspeople become more and more suspicious of Ballard.  By the end, the only person on his side is his steadfast finacee.

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This is OK as far as it goes but nothing special.  It does not help that the hero is a fairly weak actor and the heroine is completely miscast. I can see the possible analogy to McCarthyism but we’ve had that story infinitely better told in High Noon.  I could have died without seeing this one.

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Tobor the Great (1954)

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Directed by Lee Sholem
Written by Philip MacDonald; story by Carl Dudley
1954/USA
Dudley Pictures Corporation
First viewing/YouTube

Brian ‘Gadge’ Robertson: Gee, Tobor, you’re wonderful!

If it weren’t for the boy genius, this would be ideal cheesy fun.  As it is, it could appeal to your inner 10-year-old.

In the contemporary “near future”, scientists are at work on sending a man into space.  Dr. Ralph Harrison is sickened by experiments on human volunteers that have resulted in injury or death.  After he gives his boss a piece of his mind to no avail, he resigns.  As he is packing to move house, genius professor Arnold Nordstrom comes to visit, tells him he feels exactly the same, and invites him to come and work on his project to allow unmanned space exploration.

We arrive at the professor’s home where we meet his grandson “Gadge” and his conveniently widowed young daughter, the boy’s mother.  The men set to work on a robot the professor names Tobor (get it?).  The robot is to receive its orders in outer space via mental telepathy.  When improvements have been made, the doctor invites journalists to a press conference at his home.  An uninvited Soviet spy also attends and plans to steal the secrets for evil purposes.

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Gadge figures out how to operate the robot on his own, causing a lot of destruction in the process.  Mother scolds but the professor beams with pride.  Finally, the Soviets kidnap the professor and Gadge.

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The kid is just insufferable and has phony dialogue like the above quote throughout. There’s quite a flavor of 50’s TV to the whole.  However, the pace is good and the romance is kept to a bare minimum.  Tobor is also one of the most convincing robots of the year, his fanciful operating system aside.

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Target Earth (1954)

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Directed by Sherman A. Rose
Written by William Raynor, James H. Nicholson, and Wyott Ordung from a story by Paul W. Fairman
1954/USA
Abtcon Pictures/Herman Cohen Productions
First viewing/YouTube

Nora King: You don’t need a reason to die, Frank. Just one to live.

This has a very promising start.  Then the actors start to talk and we are introduced to the alien.

A woman, Nora, is laying in her bed, a bottle of sleeping pills at her side.  She wakes up from her unsuccessful suicide attempt and tries to find a neighbor.  None are in and when she goes out into the town the streets are eerily empty.  She starts to be pursued by a stranger, Frank, and runs.

The two gradually establish that neither has a reason to fear the other and that they are apparently the only two people in town.  They speculate that the city was evacuated during the night.  They begin to search for a radio or any news of what has happened.  Before very long, the shadow of a gigantic robot begins to tell the story.  They manage to escape its clutches.

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One of their expeditions takes them into a hotel bar where they discover Vicki (Virginia Grey) and Jim, a couple who are partaking of all the free champagne available on the premises.  The four join forces.  Eventually, an escaped convict shows up to make the party complete.  Romance and danger ensue.

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The first ten minutes or so of this movie are dialogue-free and reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode.  If the story had continued on that track this could have been something really interesting.  Unfortunately, the alien turns out to be a comically flimsy robot that looks as if it might be made out of cardboard and would blow over in a stiff breeze.  Then we start to concentrate on the group dynamics of the survivors with the predictable romances and melodrama.

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Vera Cruz (1954)

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Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by Roland Kibbee and James R. Webb; story by Borden Chase
1954/USA
Hecht-Lancaster Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Joe Erin: Next time you draw near me, better say what you’re aimin’ to shoot at.

Benjamin Trane: If I have the time, I will.

This OK Western benefits from its star power.

The story takes place during the Mexican Revolution against the rule of Emperor Maximillian.  Benjamin Trane (Gary Cooper) is a courtly ex-Confederate colonel.  He has come to Mexico to sell his services to the highest bidder in an attempt to earn money to rehabilitate his plantation.  He soon runs into flamboyant outlaw Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster). They trade barbs and Joe begins to respect Ben for his fire power if nothing else.  Joe is also in the market to sell his services.  These prove too expensive for the rebel forces so the men throw in with the Imperial army.

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They discover that a coach they have been hired to guard on the way to Vera Cruz contains $3 million in gold and that a Countess is planning to steal the money.  They make an agreement with her but the  journey to Vera Cruz is filled with double crosses.  With George Macready as Maximillian, Cesar Romero as a marquis, and Jack Elam, Charles Bronson and Ernest Borgnine as mercenaries.

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It looks like all the actors, particularly Lancaster, are having a lot of fun with the material. The fun is fairly infectious.

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A Lesson in Love

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Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman
1954/Sweden
Svensk Filmindustri
First viewing/Hulu

 

“Like some wines our love could neither mature nor travel.”― Graham Greene, The Comedians

This Bergman comedy is an entertaining warm-up to Smiles of a Summer Night.

Much of the film takes place in flashbacks.  David Erneman (Gunnar Björnstrand) is a gynecologist.  The story begins with his farewell to the mistress he has been seeing for the last year.  We then get a bit of their history via flashback.

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Next David takes the train to Copenhagen on which he “happens” to share a compartment with Marianne (Eva Dahlbeck) his wife.  He is trying to win her back following her discovery of his affair.  We flashback to their first confession of love, a happy birthday celebration with her father, and Marianne’s discovery of the infidelity.  With Harriet Andersson as the couple’s teenage daughter.

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I could watch the two principals in anything I think.  They both have the perfect light touch for comedy and deliver Bergman’s dialogue very well.  I would describe the film as slight but charming.  Just what the doctor ordered on some days.

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Gog (1954)

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Directed by Herbert L. Strock
Written by Tom Taggart and Richard G. Taylor; story by Ivan Tors
1954/USA
Ivan Tors Productions
First viewing/Amazon Prime

 

“The Three Laws of Robotics: 1: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;

2: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law;

3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.” ― Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

An OK science fiction film in which the robots have not read the rule book.

The setting is a top-secret laboratory buried deep beneath the desert floor.  One of the lab’s main missions is to put a space station up, after which for some reason mankind will not have to worry about nuclear weapons.  The story begins in a lab doing a monkey experiment on cryogenics in hopes that it can be use on humans during long space voyages.  Unseen hands disrupt the experiment and the scientists.

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This signals the arrival of Dr. David Sheppard (Richard Egan), a security expert.  Joanna Merritt (Constance Dowling), secretly his main squeeze, shows him around the various labs where we explore the 1954 vision of high tech.  Equipment and robots continue to run amok.  With Herbert Marshall (!) as the head of the lab.

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This one started out stronger than it ended.  I thought the stuff in the cyrogenics lab was the best part.  The film makers obviously were trying to make a good move and it’s really not too bad if you don’t mind a little cheese.

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Twenty-Four Eyes (1954)

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Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Keisuke Kinoshita from a novel by Sakae Tsuboi
1954/Japn
Shôchiku Eiga
First viewing/Hulu

 

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. ~Henry Brooks Adams

In one of Japan’s most beloved films, Kinoshita traces Japanese history for the previous two decades through the life of a school teacher.

The story begins in 1934 as Sensei Oishi (Hideko Takamine) takes her first assignment as a first grade teacher  on a rural island.  The school is some distance from her home so she rides her bicycle to get there.  The villagers are aghast at both the bike and the teacher’s Western clothes.  It is clear that she is talented, though, and her students love her.  One day, she falls and injures her ankle due to a prank they pull.  She can no longer go to school so her little pupils make a long journey on foot to visit her.  She intercepts them half way and treats the whole class to lunch.  This breaks the ice with the parents who learn to appreciate her as well.  But she is soon transferred to a middle school close to her home on the main island and must say goodbye to her students.

She meets up with them four years later in middle school.  By this time the Great Depression is on and her students and their families struggle to get by.  Some of the students are forced to drop out.  The compassionate teacher feels each loss deeply and stays in touch with the drop-outs.

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As Japan begins the war in Manchuria it becomes very unsafe for teachers to speak their real feelings.  The boys are starting to dream of being soldiers, which our teacher discourages.  She is counseled against this and quits her job, starting a sweet shop.  By this time she has a husband and three children.  Her husband eventually goes to war.  We follow her loss and hardship during the war and the lean post-war years.  With Chishû Ryû as another teacher.

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This is a beautiful film.  I especially enjoyed the rural scenery.  The leading lady does a good job in role in which she ages considerably.  The children are adorable. There are buckets of tears shed but somehow it’s not too melodramatic.  The score is very nice as well. Recommended.

 

Young at Heart (1954)

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Directed by Gordon Douglas
Written by Julius J. Epstein, Lenore J. Coffee, and Liam O’Brien from a story by Fannie Hurst
1954/USA
Arwin Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Barney Sloan: Bustin’ things up, thats my speed, but one thing’s a saving grace: I always end up at the bottom of the pile.

I was very pleasantly surprised by this musical remake of Four Daughters (1938), not least because we get Frank Sinatra in the John Garfield part singing a whole bunch of standards at his absolute prime.

The Tuttle family consists of three musical daughters, their composer/conductor father, and their aunt Jessie (Ethel Barrymore).  The family is a close one and lives in small town U.S.A.  All the girls are at marriageable age.  As the story opens Fran (Dorothy Malone) announces her engagement to wealthy Bob Neary (Alan Hale, Jr.).  Next we see Amy, the eldest daughter who fears she is doomed to spinsterhood, and Laurie (Doris Day) make a vow that they will have a double wedding or not marry at all.

Into this milieu moves affable Broadway composer Alex Burke (Gig Young).  All the girls are half in love with him but he sets his sights on Laurie who quickly reciprocates his affection. Shortly afterwards arranger Barney Sloane (Sinatra) arrives.  He is clearly uber-talented but unable to finish his own compositions.  He spends all of his time bemoaning his fate. Laurie makes it her mission to cheer him up and make him work again.  Laurie is almost too successful as she also causes him to fall in love with her.

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Alex proposes to Laurie and she happily accepts him.  On the very day of the wedding Barney confesses his love for her and lets her know that the wedding is breaking Amy’s heart.  The plot then follows Four Daughters with a switch in the ending more appropriate for a musical.

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If there was nothing else of merit in the movie, I still would have been rapt at Sinatra crooning the following:  “Just One of Those Things”; “Someone to Watch Over Me”; “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)”; and the title tune.  But in addition to that, I think this is one of his best acting roles and Day is very good as well.  In fact, I can’t really think of anything I would criticize.  It’s probably not for musical haters though.

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