Somewhere Under the Broad Sky (1954)

Somewhere Under the Broad Sky (Kono hiroi sora no dokoka ni)wide sky criterion
Directed by Masaki Kobayashi
Written by Yoshiko Kusuda
Japan/1954
Sochiku Ofuna
First viewing/Hulu

“Happiness [is] only real when shared” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild quoted from Tolstoy

This is a story tracing the growth and change of a family.  I liked it but Kobayashi would not come into his own until he started filming more powerful material.

Our family, the Moritas, has a liquor store business and lives above the shop.  The story begins with Mother Morita chatting with a customer.  Both ladies are complaining about their daughters-in-law.  They think one big problem is that both their sons married for love. As time progresses, we see that the Morita daughter-in-law Hiroko and the son Ryoichi are deeply in love and that Hiroko in fact makes a lot of mistakes when she is left in charge of the business and does not do her share of the housework.  For Hiroko’s part, she feels excluded from the family and can feel her mother-in-law’s animosity.  The plot follows Hiroko’s trajectory as she becomes a full-fledged member of the family.

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Another plot line follows the Morita daughter Yasuko’s story.  She is 28 years-old, was left lame by an air raid and was dumped by her fiance thereafter.  Her handicap is as much a psychological handicap as a physical one.  She is quite certain that she will never marry, is very jealous of Hiroko, and spends most of her time brooding.  With the help of her younger brother, she learns to live and love again.

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This movie has some wonderful moments as when various characters talk about or interact with the sky.  It is well acted and shot.  Kobayashi reveals himself to be a competent director but not the master he would later become.  The film does drag somewhat.  I kept thinking it would end and then it would go on to pick up another sub-plot.

This complete film with English sub-titles is currently available on YouTube.

 

Suddenly (1954)

Suddenlysuddenly poster
Directed by Lewis Allen
Written by Richard Sales
1954/USA
Libra Productions Inc.
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Ellen Benson: Don’t you have any feelings?

John Baron: No, they were taken outta me by experts.

How can something be a film noir if it takes place in broad daylight?  This is more a cross between a thriller and an apologetic for the National Rifle Association.  Frank Sinatra keeps it interesting though.

The setting is Suddenly, a small town in the USA where everybody knows everybody else. The sheriff, Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden), is sweet on a war widow, Ellen Benson.  She is still grieving her dead husband and isn’t having any.  The widow’s son “Pidge” is longing for a cap pistol but his mother refuses to let him have toy guns or watch war movies.  The sheriff thinks the boy should learn that guns are not so bad and buys it for him.

The sheriff gets a cable saying that a train carrying the President of the United States will make an unscheduled stop in the town and be driven to a nearby lodge.  He mobilizes the state police.  Shortly thereafter, a group of Secret Service agents arrive.  They are going to check every building on the President’s route.  The widow’s home is on a hill overlooking the train station and must be checked as well.  It turns out that her father (James Gleason) is an ex-Secret Service agent.

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Before they can do this, three men arrive at the Benson home, claiming to be FBI agents. They are doing pretty well  until the sheriff and one of the Secret Service men arrive.  After they shoot the agent dead and wound the sheriff, they admit to being there to assassinate the President.  The leader of the paid assassins is John Baron (Frank Sinatra) who says he got his taste for killing in the war and was awarded with the Silver Star.  As time goes on, it becomes clear that he was eventually discharged from the service on a Section 8 for mental problems.  What is the plucky band of hostages to do?  You can be sure that somewhere along the way everyone will learn the value of firearms.

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Do not be fooled by any lists claiming that this is a film noir.  It actually has the feel of a 50’s or 60’s TV drama.  It gets fairly patriotic in addition to the not-so-subtle firearms message.  But Sinatra is pretty good in a role way outside his comfort zone and it keeps moving at a good pace.  On balance, I liked it.

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Journey to Italy (1954)

Journey to Italy (Viaggio en Italia)viaggio poster
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Written by Vitelanio Brancati and Roberto Rossellini from a novel by Colette
1954/Italy/France
Italia Films/Les Films Ariane etc.
First viewing/Hulu
#275 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Katherine Joyce: I wanted you to take a rest. It didn’t occur to me that it’d be so boring for you to be alone with me.

Alexander ‘Alex’ Joyce: What’s that got to do with it? I’m just bored because I’ve got nothing to do.

Rossellini uses vivid imagery to evoke the death of a marriage.  Somehow his script let him down.

Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) and Alex Joyce (George Sanders) have been married for eight years.  They live in England and are visiting Naples in order to sell an estate she inherited from her uncle.  They are socialites and have not been alone together like this since their marriage.  They go to the beautiful estate and instead of being able to relax are very restless.  He wants to spend his time with some of the society types he has found there and she wants to go sightseeing.

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They explore their interests separately, bickering on the occasions they meet again.  They discover they are strangers.

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For me the best parts of this film were the scenes of Bergman exploring Italy.  Everywhere she goes she finds death in the ancient ruins and statues.  Vesuvius and Pompeii in particular are unforgettable. Unfortunately, the ending undercuts the rest of the film.  The dubbing doesn’t help either.  Although Bergman and Sanders evidently dubbed their own voices, it made their acting seem hollow to me.

Carmen Jones (1954)

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Directed by Otto Preminger
Witten by Oscar Hammerstein II and Harry Kleiner
1954/USA
Carlyle Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
#291 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Joe: Thanks, but I don’t drink.

Carmen Jones: Boy, if the army was made up of nothin’ but soldiers like you, war wouldn’t do nobody no good.

I love the opera.  I enjoyed the movie.

Basically, the Carmen story is moved to the American South during WWII.  Joe (Harry Belafonte) is an Air Force corporal who has been selected for flight school.  It is his last day on base.  His fiancee Cindy Lou comes to visit him.  Joe wants to get married that same day.  Before he can get the permission to do so, Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge), who already has set her sights on Joe, gets into a brawl with another factory worker on base.  Joe is ordered to take her to jail in another town.

Carmen uses every trick of seduction in the book while they are on the road to escape.  Joe stays strong until she cooks him a meal at her grandmother’s house.  While he is not looking, she slips away.  Joe gets the stockade for letting her go.

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But Carmen seems really to have fallen in love with the soldier.  She is now spending her evenings at a nightclub where she catches the eye of Huskey Miller, a prize fighter.  He orders his manager to get her to join him in Chicago.  But Carmen prefers to wait for Joe. He finally shows up.  All has been forgiven and he has once again been slated for flight school.  Instead, he gets into a fight with a sergeant over Carmen and must flee with her to escape another, longer stint in the stockade.

The pair go to Chicago.  Joe cannot show his face because the military police are on his tail.  Now that Joe is completely in her spell, Carmen becomes restless in the shabby room they share.  Soon she pays a visit to Huskey Miller.  The climax plays out the same as in the opera.  With Pearl Bailey as a friend of Carmen.  Marilyn Horne dubbed Dandridge’s singing voice.

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I know the opera very well having listened to it over and over when I was young.  The English lyrics seemed totally incongruous to me.  Others may not have any problem with them.  The performances are all strong.  I think Dandridge deserved her Oscar nod.  The music is, of course, glorious.

Dorothy Dandridge was nominated for Best Actress and Herschel Burke Gilbert was nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Trailer

Salt of the Earth (1954)

Salt of the Earthsalt-of-the-earth-movie-poster-1954-1020243906
Directed by Herbert J. Biberman
Written by Michael Wilson
1954/USA
Independent Production Company/Intl Union of Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers
Repeat viewing?/Amazon Instant
#293 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Esperanza Quintero: Whose neck shall I stand on to make me feel superior, and what will I have out of it? I don’t want anything lower than I am. I am low enough already. I want to rise and to push everything up with me as I go.

This blacklisted movie is far ahead of its time in terms of its feminism.

The plot is based on an actual strike and takes place in contemporary New Mexico.  The film is narrated by Esperanza Quintera (Rosaura Revueltas), who lives with her husband and two children in quarters provided by the zinc mine where her husband works as a miner.  There is another baby on the way.  Her husband Ramon divides his time between union meetings and the beer hall.  The family does not have hot running water or an indoor toilet.    At times, she wishes that the baby will not be born.

After one accident too many, the miners are deciding whether to go on strike over safety issues in the mine and for equality between the Mexican-American and white workers. The women want the strike to include better sanitation for the company housing.  The men reject this suggestion but vote to go on strike.

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The strike is brutally suppressed but the picket line cannot be broken.  Finally, the company invokes the Taft-Hartley Act to ban picketing by striking miners.  The women then volunteer to maintain the picket line themselves.  None of the men, in particular Ramon, is in favor of this idea but the women prove themselves to be steadfast and brave “sisters” despite imprisonment and harassment.  With Will Geer as the sheriff.

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This film was made in the neo-realist style with many non-professional actors.  Sometimes it comes off as overly didactic but I liked it.  Revueltas really makes you sympathize with her plight.  It kept me engaged throughout.

This film was not shown in U.S. theaters until 1965 because the director, producer, writer and composer were all blacklisted.

Trailer

Robinson Crusoe (1954)

Robinson Crusoe220px-RobinsonCrusoe1954
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Hugo Butler and Luis Buñuel from the novel by Daniel Defoe
1954/Mexico
Producciones Tepeyac/Oscar Dancingers Production
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Robinson Crusoe: If anyone in England met such an odd creature as I was in my 18th year of solitude, it must either have frightened them or caused a great deal of laughter.

This is an entertaining retelling of the classic adventure story.  Director Buñuel keeps his surrealistic tendencies in check for the most part but there are some delicious traces here and there.

Robinson Crusoe (Dan O’Herlihy) has set to sea against the advice of his father.  On a voyage to collect slave from Africa a violent storm drives his ship westward and sinks it. Crusoe manages to swim to shore.  This turns out to be a desert island.  Fortunately, the wreck of the ship has washed up on some rocks and he is able to retrieve a number of supplies.  He discovers a couple of more survivors, a cat and a dog named Rex.

Crusoe’s days are busy with making a home for himself despite the fact that he was born a gentleman that never picked up a tool in his life.  He becomes quite skilled and clever at contriving ways to be comfortable.  The only thing he cannot conquer is his profound loneliness.

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The death of Rex makes matters even worse.  Shortly thereafter, Crusoe discovers he has company.  These are cannibals from a nearby island who apparently have transferred a tribal war to Crusoe’s island.  Crusoe saves the life of a man who is being hunted down and names him Friday (Jaime Fernández).  He tells Friday his name is “Master”.  Trust is gradually built between the two until Crusoe finally has a friend (and servant).  Will
Crusoe survive to see England again?

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Buñuel reveals himself to be quite capable at directing action.  More interesting is his very ironic treatment of the many religious references in the novel.  There’s also quite a commentary on the class system.  I enjoyed this.  I thought the English version I watched might have been dubbed but discovered that the script was written and spoken by the actors in English.  Fans of the book could do far worse.

Dan O’Hirlihy was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor.

English-language trailer

Late Chrysanthemums (1954)

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Directed by Mikio Naruse
Written by Sumie Tanaka and Toshirô Ide from stories by Fumiko Hayashi
1954/Japan
Toho Company
First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

“You can be young without money, but you can’t be old without it.” ― Tennessee Williams

This is a sympathetic look at a group of retired geishas and the role money plays in their lives.

The story is very episodic and meandering.  Kin (Haruku Sugimura, the selfish daughter in Tokyo Story) saved her money wisely while she was a geisha.  Now she has become a moneylender and slumlord.  Some of her clients are former geishas themselves.  One is doing some type of menial labor and is gambling and hitting the sake too hard.  She has a sharp, modern daughter who is getting ready to marry an older man and is not a soft touch for money.  She lives with another ex-geisha who is working as a hotel maid and worrying about her unemployed son and the affair he is having with the mistress of another man.  Kin makes regular visits to the two to hound them about their unpaid debts and rent.

The other geishas know that as a young woman, Kin was romantic.  She attempted double-suicide with her lover Seki.  When the suicide failed, Seki was convicted of attempted murder.  After leaving prison, he made his way to Manchuria to do hard labor.

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Seki is now back in town and Kin refuses to have anything to do with him.  Kin next gets a letter from another former lover who wants to visit her.  The remainder of the story moves from one woman to the next as they deal with their children and ex-lovers and try to make ends meet.

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I liked this movie a lot.  I’m still not sure what the message was, if any.  Kin is shown to be grasping and disliked by all, yet she is the only one that seems to have her life in order.  But the poorer women are not necessarily any better.  They are constantly scrounging for money, in one case just to buy sake and gamble.  They have children but these relationships are strained.  So what was a geisha to do?  The acting is excellent and the film is beautifully shot.  I also liked the score a lot.

It Should Happen to You (1954)

It Should Happen to Youit-should-happen-to-you-movie-poster-1954-1020292763
Directed by George Cukor
Written by Garson Kanin
1954/USA
Columbia Pictures Corportation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Gladys Glover: The way it looks to me, Mr. Adams… there are two kinds of people. The ones who would do anything to make a name for themselves and the ones who would do almost anything.

This OK comedy gave us our first look at Jack Lemmon.  Judy Holliday isn’t bad either.

Gladys Glover (Holliday) has just lost her modeling job and is feeding the pigeons in Central Park and contemplating her future.  Documentary film maker Pete Sheppard (Lemon) finds her there and is quickly charmed.  She tells him she came to New York because she wanted to make a name for herself.  After he leaves, she spots an empty billboard and gets a brainstorm.  Gladys proceeds to use most of her savings to have her name advertised in giant letters on Columbus Circle for a month.

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It turns out that the space had been traditionally been used by a big soap company that accidentally failed to renew its contract.  Playboy Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford) tries to pay Gladys to give up the space but no dice.  In the meantime, Pete has moved into Gladys’s apartment building and is trying to woo her.  He is dismayed by her lust for fame however.  Then Evan trades Gladys six other spaces for the one she has.  Gladys has finally made a name for herself.  Will she live to regret it?

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I would have liked this better if the dialogue had been more realistic.  It feels very over-written.  Holliday is always charming though and Lemmon is appealing as a romantic lead and shows a budding talent for comedy.

It Should Happen to You was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.

Trailer

The Glen Miller Story (1954)

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Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Valentine Davis and Oscar Brodney
1954/USA
Universal International Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Sy’s Assistant: He’s trying five saxes with a trumpet lead.

Si Schribman: Maybe it’s good and maybe it ain’t, but it’s radical!

This is a very pleasant biopic with outstanding swing music provided by Glenn Miller and his orchestra.

Glenn Miller (James Stewart) keeps his trombone in the pawn shop between gigs.  He is more interested in arranging music than the trumpet, however.  Finally, his arrangements are noticed and he is hired by a band.  That is his signal to begin his brief courtship of Helen Burger (June Allyson), a girl he dated in college but hasn’t talked to in years. Although she is engaged to someone else, before we know it they are married.

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Helen encourages him to form his own band.  The rest of the movie follows the orchestra from its shaky beginnings to great success.  All of this is accompanied by Glenn Miller’s biggest hits.  With Harry Morgan as a pianist and George Tobias as a backer.

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This is quite outside director Mann’s normal range of genre pictures and he shows himself to be a competent director of “A” movies as well.  The whole thing is very solid if not particularly remarkable.  I enjoy big band music and liked it a lot.

Trailer

Clip with Louis Armstrong

 

Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

Sansho the Bailiff (Sansho Dayu)sansho-the-bailiff
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Written by Fuji Yahiro and Yoshikata Yoda from a short story by Ogai Mori
1954/Japan
Daiei Studios
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#290 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Masauji Taira: [Speaking to his son Zushio on the verge of being exiled and separated from his family] Zushio, I wonder if you’ll become a stubborn man like me. You may be too young to understand, but hear me out anyway. Without mercy, man is like a beast. Even if you are hard on yourself, be merciful to others. Men are created equal. Everyone is entitled to their happiness.

 

Mizoguchi’s tale of misery and mercy is truly a classic.

In medieval Japan, a Governor who sides with the peasants against a tax collector is sent into exile.  Before he goes, he impresses the virtue of mercy on his young son Zushio.  He gives the boy a small statue of the Goddess of Mercy as a reminder.

His wife Tamaki (Kinuyo Tanaka) and two children try to follow.  They are making the journey on foot with a single servant.  The way is rife with bandits and slave traders.  One night, they cannot find a lodging and camp in the woods.  A woman who says she is a priestess offers them warm food and leads them to a boat that will supposedly take them out of harm’s way.  They are pounced on by traffickers.  Tamaki is taken onto one boat and the two children and servant set out in another.

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The children end up being purchased by the cruel Sansho, a petty official.  They disguise their identity. Sansho works his slaves mercilessly and brutally punishes any who try to escape.  Ten years pass.  Zoshiro looks to be working his way into Sansho’s favor with his willingness to punish escapees himself.  His sister Anju is appalled.

Then Anju hears a new slave singing a sad song mourning Zoshiro and Anju and thinks she has worked out where their mother is located.  When Zoshiro is ordered to take their old servant up into the mountains to die, Anju thinks she sees an escape route.

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I remember this movie as being almost unbearably cruel and sad.  Somehow I didn’t remember that mercy is the theme that runs throughout.  It is not often in evidence but triumphs in the end.  I liked the film far more this time that on previous viewings.  I always appreciated the stunning imagery.

Clip – a lesson on mercy