Ten Favorite Films of 1955

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I’ve now seen 80 films that were released in 1955.  A complete list of the films I have seen is here A few were reviewed only here.  It was quite a deep year with 59 available films rated 7/10 or higher by IMDb users.  Lately, I have thought that it would never end!  That’s not to say that I didn’t watch many fantastic films – too many to fit all the films I rated 9/10 or over in this favorites list.  Also rans were: Richard III; The Desperate Hours; Night and Fog; All That Heaven Allows; Oklahoma!; Marty; and Rebel Without a Cause.

I had a really hard time choosing among the top three films.  I based my decision on the one I would want to watch again first.

10.  Diabolique – directed by Georges-Henri Clouzot

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9.  The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz – directed by Luis Buñuel

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8.  Rififi – directed by Jules Dassin

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7.  Bad Day at Black Rock – directed by John Sturges

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6.  The Big Combo – directed by Joseph Lewis

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5.  Night of the Hunter – directed by Charles Laughton

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4.  The Ladykillers – directed by Alexander Mackendrick

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3. Pather Panchali – directed by Satyajit Ray

pp62.  Ordet – directed by Carl Th. Dreyer

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  1.  Smiles of a Summer Night – directed by Ingmar Bergman

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Le Amiche (1955)

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Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Alba de Cespedes from a novel by Cesare Pavese
1955/Italy
Trionfalcine
First viewing/Netflix rental

One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood. — Lucius Annaeus Seneca

How refreshing to find a 1950’s movie in which the career woman is the most balanced and admirable character!  I liked this early Antonioni offering a lot.

Cleilia (Eleonora Rossi Drago) comes to Turin to prepare for the opening of a new studio of the Rome fashion house she works for.  She finds the project almost hopelessly behind schedule and must take charge of the lackadaisical workmen.  One morning, a maid runs into her room at the hotel announcing that the woman in the next room is dead.  It turns out that the woman, Rosetta, is not dead but nearly so due to a suicide attempt.  She recovers.  Gradually, Cleilia becomes part of Rosetta’s circle of friends.  She takes pity on the young socialite and gets her a job at the studio to distract her from her worries.

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All of Rosetta’s friends have one type of man trouble or another.  The principal story involves Lorenzo, a painter, and his wife Nene (Valentina Cortese), a potter.  Lorenzo shows a portrait he painted of Rosetta at a show.  The show is not a success.  In the meantime, Nene is invited to show her ceramics at a celebrated gallery in New York.  Part of Rosetta’s problem is that she fell in love with Lorenzo while he was painting her.  After her recovery, she instigates an affair.  We continue to follow the friendship and romantic lives of our protagonists.

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This has some of the familiar Antonioni themes of alienation and upper class ennui but there is also a sense of agency in these women that is very good to see for the period.  The men are really secondary.  For me the outstanding performance was that of Valentina Cortese who is being torn up by the conflict between her art and her love for her cheating husband.  I loved the ending as well.  Recommended.

Trailer (French subtitles)

The Rose Tattoo (1955)

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Directed by Daniel Mann
Written by Tennessee Williams and Hal Kanter from Williams’s play
1955/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant

“Everybody is nothing until you love them.” ― Tennessee Williams, The Rose Tattoo

The rest of the film is not as strong as Anna Magnani’s tour-de-force Academy Award winning performance.

Serefina delle Rose (Magnani) immigrated to the U.S. from Sicily and now lives somewhere in the South with her husband Rosario and fifteen-year-old daughter Rosa.  She is completely devoted and enthralled by Rosario, who wears a rose tattoo on his chest.  (Obviously, the rose symbolism is going to be taken to the limit in this movie.)  He is a truck driver and when caught hauling “something else” under his bananas gets into an accident and is killed.  Serefina is overcome with grief and spends her days in her nightgown and robe, embarrassing the hell out of Rosa.

Serefina continues with her business as a seamstress.  She becomes obsessed with preserving Rosa’s innocence.  She does not take it kindly when Rosa falls in love with a young sailor at a high school dance.

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One day, a woman comes into pick up a blouse she wants to wear to a convention in New Orleans.  The blouse is not ready, one thing leads to another, and a terrific argument ensues.  The woman blurts out that Rosario was having an affair.  This is shattering news to Serafina and she intially refuses to believe it.  She ends up trying to pry the information from Rosario’s confessor at church.  She is unsuccessful but so distraught that she needs a ride home.

Alvaro Mangiacavallo, whose sister had been trying to make a match for him with Serafina any way, comes to the rescue.  The rest of the movie follows the uneasy courtship between Alvaro, “who has the body of Rosario, the face of a clown and smells like a goat”, and Serafina.

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Burt Lancaster’s character is the big question mark in this film.  I’m uncertain as to whether the usually reliable actor was taking it way over the top or whether he is playing the character as written.  At any rate, his shenanigans add a comic tone to an otherwise dark story and seem incongruous.  Otherwise, there is nothing exactly wrong with the movie but it didn’t send me.

The Rose Tattoo won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress (Pavan); Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

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The End of the Affair (1955)

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Directed by Edward Dmytryck
Written by Lenore J. Coffee from a novel by Graham Greene
1955/UK
Coronado Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Sarah Miles: If there is a god, then he put the thought of that prayer in my mind, and I hate him for it.

This movie made me want to read the source novel and see the 1999 remake with Ralph Fiennes.  That’s another way of saying that I thought Van Johnson weakened this version of the story.

The setting is London during the tail end of WWII while V2 rockets are still flying.  Maurice Bendrix (Johnson) is an American war correspondent.  He is writing a novel about the British civiil service and gets friendly with Henry Miles (Peter Cushing) while looking for background.  At a party hosted by the Mileses, he looks in a mirror sees Henry’s wife Sarah (Deborah Kerr) kissing a man.  This leads him to invite her to lunch for more “background” and they begin a love affair.

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The affair is passionate on both sides but Maurice is filled with doubts and jealousy.  Finally, they are able to spend five days alone together while Henry is traveling.  The house is hit by a V2 while Maurice goes off by himself to investigate something.  When he returns after the explosion Sarah flees and thereafter refuses to answer his calls or see him.

It turns out that Sarah thought Maurice had been killed and in her prayer promised God that she would end the affair if he lived.  Sarah is not a churchgoer and the rest of the movie deals with her crisis of faith and Maurice’s bitterness and attempts at reconciliation.

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I was looking forward to this one for the subject matter.  I think Johnson was all wrong for his part.  I never got his attraction for Sarah or his anguish properly.  The movie was a bit more of a melodrama than I was ready for.  It needed some more bite or something.  I’m not sorry I saw it, however.

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Dreams (1955)

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Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman
1955/Sweden
Sandrews
First viewing/Hulu

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” ― Edgar Allan Poe

I enjoyed this lesser-known Bergman film but it is certainly not a must-see.

Suzanne (Eva Dahlbeck) is a fashion photographer and Doris (Harriet Andersson) is her model.  When they have to go to Gotheberg for work, Suzanne dreams of a meeting with her married lover and Doris is at loose ends, having just broken up with her boyfriend.

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The rest of the film is broken up into individual stories of the women.  Doris is picked up by an elderly man (Gunnar Bjornstrand) who proceeds to indulge her every expensive whim and Suzanne does have the longed-for reunion.  Both incidents turn out very different from what they could have expected.

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This is quite OK but fairly trivial.  There is one fantastic sequence when Bjornstrand and Andersson ride some scary attractions at an amusement park.  The stories start out looking comic but switch tone mid-way through.  The transitions are not all that smooth.

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Killer’s Kiss (1955)

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Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley Kubrick
1955/USA
Minotaur Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Gloria Price: It’s a mistake to confuse pity with love.

Stanley Kubrick’s second feature is strong on visuals but weak on plot and dialogue.

Davey Gordon is a boxer who has just lost his last chance at the championship.  He has decided to return to his uncle’s horse farm near Seattle.  One night before he leaves, he hears a woman, Gloria,  screaming in the apartment across the way.  He rescues her from a much older man’s unwanted advances.  The man, Vincent Rapallo, is the boss of the dime-a-dance joint where Gloria works.

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Davey and Gloria hit it off and she plans to accompany him back to Seattle.  Vincent refuses to give up his pursuit, however.

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This movie seems padded with filler at only 67 minutes.  It contains some of the corniest dialogue I’ve heard in awhile as well.  (The conversation between Davey and his uncle is priceless).  The acting is no great shakes.  The whole suffers from the post-production dubbing of the entire sound track.  The leading lady is not even voiced by the same actress.  Despite all this, you can clearly see a master craftsman in the making.  Some of the images are stunning and the staging of the action sequences is innovative.

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The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

The Quatermass Xperiment quatermass_xperiment_poster_02(AKA The Creeping Unknown)
Directed by Val Guest
Written by Richard H. Landau and Val Guest based on a BBC television play by Nigel Kneale
1955/UK
Exclusive Films/Hammer Films
First viewing/YouTube

Prof. Bernard Quatermass: There’s no room for personal feelings in science, Judith!

This movie ticks all the boxes for classic 50’s science fiction.

Megalomaniac scientist Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) has secretly launched an experimental space ship.  It startles the population when it returns to earth.  Quatermass is in turn startled when, after some to-and-froing, it is discovered that only one of the three astronauts is still alive.  The other two have simply disappeared.  Their spacesuits are now empty shells.  Quatermass cannot get any information from the survivor, Victor Carroon, who is mute, appears terrified and has an abnormal respiration rate and pulse.

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Quatermass takes Carroon to his laboratory for treatment over the objection of Carroon’s wife, who along with Quatermass’s own expert thinks the man belongs in a hospital.   Finally, the scientist is forced to relent and Carroon is taken to a clinic where he is to be kept in strict isolation.

I will not reveal everything that happens after Carroon is freed.  It’s nice and creepy, though.  Has a great ending as well.  With Jack Warner as the detective on the case.

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I really enjoyed this movie from the very first minutes.  You know how you can tell something is going to be good just from the energy it puts out? Donlevy is fantastic as an eccentric who knows everything and won’t listen to anybody.  I find most 50’s sci-fi more fanciful and amusing than scary.  This one, however, manages to have some genuine thrills.  Recommended.

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The Big Knife (1955)

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Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by James Poe from a play by Clifford Odets
1955/USA
The Associates & Aldrich Company
First viewing/Netflix rental

Smiley Coy: What do you think of women, kiddie?

Charlie Castle: Oh, there’s room in the world for ’em.

This is a Hollywood expose along the lines of Sunset Blvd. or The Bad and the Beautiful. Unfortunately, it lacks the former’s black humor or the latter’s production values and is an over-the-top mess.

Charlie Castle (Jack Palance) is a big movie star.  In his past life, he was a fiery idealist and theater actor.  His wife, Marion (Ida Lupino), is disgusted with him and wants him to leave the studio.  She is already living apart from him and threatens a divorce if he continues with his life style, which also includes numerous affairs.

Charlie has a problem though.  Ruthless studio head Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod Steiger) is pressuring him to sign up for another seven years.  He makes Charlie an offer he can’t refuse when he threatens to reveal that Charlie was the driver in a hit-and-run collision with a child, a deed for which another man took the rap.  Hoff also knows that Charlie was accompanied by starlet Dixie Evans (Shelley Winters) at the time, something that Marion is not yet aware of.

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I will not reveal all the twists and turns of the plot except to note that we get a couple of different women attempting seduction by means of blackmail and a murder conspiracy.  With Wendell Corey as Hoff’s right-hand man, Jean Hagen as a would-be adulteress, and Edward Everett Sloane as Charlie’s agent.

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The dialogue is overwritten in the way that characterizes many films based on plays by Odets.  The story is too full of incidents for the time allotted and the ending leapt out at me from left field.  Finally, Rod Steiger hams it up ludicrously.  His bleached hair and hearing aid do not help.  The title led me to expect a film noir but I got an overblown melodrama instead.

Trailer

A Generation (1955)

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Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Written by Bohan Czeszko from his novel
1955/Poland
Zespol Filmowy “Kadr”
First viewing/Hulu

When a film is created, it is created in a language, which is not only about words, but also the way that very language encodes our perception of the world, our understanding of it. — Andrzej Wajda

Despite some evident propaganda obligations, Wajda reveals his mastery of the medium in his first feature film.

The setting is occupied Warsaw.  Stach Mazur lives in a slum bordering on the Jewish Ghetto.  He has launched his personal resistance against the Nazis by stealing coal from boxcars headed for Germany.  One day, he is spotted.  His comrades are killed and he is wounded.  He flees to a workingman’s pub.  The denizens, impressed by his courage, offer to get him a job.

Stach reports to work at a company that makes bunkbeds for German barracks.  He is the low man on the totem poll and worked inhumanely.  A workmate lectures him on the teachings of Karl Marx and the duty of workers to fight for their rights.  He puts Stach in touch with Dorota, a young woman who organizes a Communist youth militia.

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The rest of the film follows the battles of the youth brigade with the Nazis.  Among other things, the young people support the uprising in the Ghetto.  Along the way, Stach falls in love with Dorota.  With a very young Roman Polanski as one of the partisans.

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Wadja manages to combine beautiful composition with a brisk pace.  The story is kind of predictable but I was engrossed the whole time.

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House of Bamboo (1955)

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Directed by Samuel Fuller
Written by Harry Kleiner and Samuel Fuller
1955/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Griff: But ever since you saved this guy’s neck, you’ve been acting funny, well I know what you’re trying to do, but you’re not going to get away with it, cuz I won’t let you.

This film offers Sam Fuller’s cockeyed worldview along with some beautiful color shots of post-War Tokyo.

As the film opens, a train guarded by Japanese police and U.S. soldiers is robbed and one of the soldiers is killed.  One of the robbers is wounded and gives the police some sketchy clues about an Eddie Spannier and the robber’s own secret wife before dying.  Next thing we know, Eddie (Robert Stack) appears in town, having been released from prison.  Eddie meets with the wife, Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi), who is apparently innocent of any knowledge of her husband’s criminal connections.  He then strong arms a couple of Japanese pachinko parlor bosses into paying him protection money.  This brings him to the attention of Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan), the gangster that runs the pachinko parlor racket in Tokyo and masterminds many other crimes.

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Sandy takes a liking to Eddie and soon he is muscling out Griff (Cameron Mitchell) as Sandy’s “ichiban man”.  Mariko assists Eddie by becoming his “kimona woman” and staying over at his place.  The rest of the movie follows the further criminal exploits of the gang and the joint police/US Army investigation.

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Although it all takes place in broad daylight, this is a solid film noir with several stunning shots and a cracking ending shootout at an amusement park.  Fuller gets in some digs at Ugly Americanism.  According to the commentary, Ryan was the only actor who picked up on Fuller’s homoerotic subtext.  It’s certainly pretty subtle.

Trailer

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