Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thinglove splendor
Directed by Henry King
Written by John Patrick from a novel by Han Suyin
1955/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Dr. Han Suyin: Our gorgeous lie did not even last the night.

This romantic weeper exceeded my fairly low expectations.

The setting is Hong Kong in the closing days of the Chinese Revolution.  Dr. Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones) is a proud Eurasian.  She is a widow and lives for her work as a resident at a local hospital.  One of the board members convinces her to take a break and attend a cocktail party with him.  There she catches the eye of Mark Elliot (William Holden), an American correspondent.  He begins a dogged pursuit of her. She is almost immediately informed that he is married.  For some reason, she believes that she is immune from love and accepts his invitations on dates.  She is wrong.

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The remainder of the movie tells their love story.  Once Mark has broken her resistance,   Suyin becomes completely devoted to him.  Their affair has many ups and downs.

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The story is no great shakes but I thought the movie was well-made with some beautiful views of Hong Kong.  I can recommend it to folks who like this kind of thing.

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Costume Design, Color; Best Music, Original Song (for the title song); and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.  It was nominated for Best Picture; Best Actress; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color and Best Sound, Recording.

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The Violent Men (1955)

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Directed by Rudolph Maté
Written by Harry Kleiner from a novel by Donald Hamilton
1955/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Lee Wilkison: Here in Archer we don’t pay much attention to that hogwash about the meek inheriting the earth.

Edward G. Robinson and some outstanding action sequences add spice to an otherwise fairly routine Western.

John Parrish (Glenn Ford) is a valiant ex-Union officer who has retired to a cattle ranch to recover from his war wounds.  As the story begins, he receives a clean bill of health to get married and go on a long honeymoon.  His fiancee Caroline desperately wants to return East to civilization.  While in town, John witnesses the cold-blooded murder of the Sheriff by two thugs hired by Lew Wilkinson (Robinson), the crippled owner of the Archer Ranch.  Wilkinson has managed to snap up most of the land in the valley for a song through threats and intimidation.  Although John deplores these tactics, he is determined to sell out himself for whatever price and refuses to get involved.

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John goes out to the Archer Ranch for negotiations.  He meets Lew and the rest of the clan.  Lew’s brother Cole (Brian Keith) is a ruthless character.  Lew’s wife Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) is all sweetness and light.  We soon learn that under her cool exterior lies the most avaricious of the entire lot.  She is secretly in love with Cole.  The Wilkinson’s daughter Judith is on to her mother’s shenanigans.

Some thugs ride over to John’s place with efforts to encourage him to sell low but end up killing a couple of his ranch hands.  From here on out, it is war and John proves to be an equally ruthless adversary.

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This Western contains a horse stampede, a cattle stampede, several conflagrations, and plenty of gunplay.  These were the high points of the film to me along with Robinson’s nuanced performance.  He starts out being a pure villain but ends by revealing a human interior.  The film’s range-war/reluctant-hero themes have been done many times before and since.  On balance, I would say it is worth seeing by Western fans.

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Illegal (1955)

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Directed by Lewis Allen
Written by W.R. Burnett and James R. Webb from a story by Frank J. Collins
1955/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/My DVD collection

Victor Scott: Well, every time you go into a courtroom, it’s a gamble.

Frank Garland: I’m the house, Victor. I never gamble!

This film gives us another solid performance from Edward G. Robinson and the debut of Jayne Mansfield.  Otherwise, it is eye-rolling stuff.

As the film begins, Victor Scott (Robinson) is a District Attorney with a burning drive to win at all costs. His most recent success is convicting a man of murder on some pretty flimsy evidence and sending him to the chair.  At the last minute, Victor learns that a gangster has confessed to the crime and tries to call the execution off but it is too late.  Devastated, Victor quits his job and turns to the bottle.  His able assistant/ward Ellen Miles (Nina Foch) is unable to comfort him and he advises her to marry another lawyer from the DA’s office, Ray Borden (Hugh Marlowe).  Despite the fact that Ellen is actually in love with the much older Victor, she does.

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After his drunken bender lands him in court for disorderly behavior on a charge that should have been assault, Victor starts work as a defense attorney.  His drive to win is undiminished and he turns to ever more shady methods of achieving an acquittal. Eventually, an embezzler turns to him for help.  Victor manages to coerce the victim bank into accepting less than half the money in exchange for an agreement not to prosecute.  It turns out that the bank is actually a front for gangster Frank Garland (Albert Dekker) and Victor has himself a new client.  This serves his-new found greed nicely until another murder gives Victor the most important case of his life.  With Mansfield as Garland’s “protege”/secretary.

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The non-sequitors in this movie are mind-boggling.  One of the most egregious is when Victor sucker-punches a witness in court to “prove” that he could have been unconscious when a fight took place.  Instead of Victor being disbarred, the case is dismissed!  There are many more.  Still, I wouldn’t call any film with this cast a total loss.

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Creature with the Atom Brain (1955)

Creature with the Atom BrainCreature With The Atom Brain (Edward L. Cahn, 1955)
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Written by Curt Siodmak based on his story
1955/USA
Clover Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Frank Buchanan: Steigg, you may be a crackpot, but you’re also a genius.

This entry from schlock-meister “Jungle Sam” Katzman is actually fairly decent.

Gangster Frank Buchanan was sent up the river by a combo of traitors in his mob and lawyers from the DA’s office.  When he left for prison, he vowed that he would see them all dead, Now he is out of prison and has hooked up with a German neuro-scientist to carry out his fiendish plot.  In a secret lab, reached only by crawling through yards of filmy tunnel, the two use electrodes to animate corpses stolen from the morgue.  These they control with a television and microphone.  The zombified bodies start on a rampage.

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The police are baffled and Det. Dave Harris turns to his friend Dr. Chet Walker (Richard Denning) for help.  The rest of the movie follows the grisly story as Buchanan expands his focus to include the new enemies on his trail and Walker’s wholesome 50’s wife and daughter.

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This is somewhat repetitive but over all solid.  The zombies aren’t terrible and the acting is acceptable.  Short, sweet, and OK for a break from classier viewing.

Blackboard Jungle

Blackboard JungleBlackboard Jungle
Directed by Richard Brooks
Written by Richard Brooks from a novel by Evan Hunter
1955/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

Anne Dadier: I was like one of the bad kids in your class. Somebody told me a lie and I believed it. One’s as bad as the other.

A lot of it doesn’t quite ring true, but this film has nervous energy to burn.

Veteran Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) has a surprisingly easy time getting a job as an English teacher at North Manual High School.  He quickly discovers the reason.  The students in his class are totally out of control.  Most of them are members of one gang or another.  They don’t like their teacher.  His efforts to instill discipline are met with threats and actual violence.  His fellow teachers have given up completely.

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Dadier recognizes Gregory Miller (Sidney Portier) as a natural-born leader and attempts to befriend him but can’t seem to break through to him either.  Between his fears for his pregnant wife and repeated incidents of teacher harrassment, the brave ex-GI seriously considers quitting.  With Louis Cahern as the most blase of the teachers, Richard Kiley as a sensitive jazz-loving rookie, Vic Morrow as the worst of the bad boys , and Anne Francis as Dadier’s wife.

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This was the first juvenile delinquent high school movie and was both scandalous and highly profitable in its day.  It is full of talented young actors with plenty of raw power.  The ending was not adequately motivated, the kids are too old, and their behavior is not quite right either.  The movie works any way.

This was also the first film to feature a rock ‘n’ roll song.  According to the commentary, some theaters had to cut the opening credits, which play over “Rock Around the Clock”, because the audiences would dance in the aisles.  Understandable – the song still makes me feel like dancing.

Blackboard Jungle was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; and Best Film Editing.

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Floating Clouds (1955)

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Directed by Mikio Naruse
Written by Yôko Mizuki from a novel by Fumiko Hayashi
1955/Japan
Toho Company
First viewing/Hulu

No adultery is bloodless. — Natalia Ginzburg

This is an interesting if frustrating film with some excellent acting.

The film is set in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese defeat in WWII and thereafter. As the film begins, Yukiko Koda (Hideko Takamine) is returning, penniless, to war-torn Tokyo from Indochina where she had been working in happier times.  Her first stop is at the home of Kengo Tomioka (Masayuki Mori).  She is greeted by his mother and wife.  He goes with her outside and we flash back to the beginning of their love affair when she arrived, as a young girl, to Vietnam.  The bloom is definitely now off the rose as far as Tomioka is concerned, though he offers to help her financially.  She refuses and goes to shack up at the empty house of a “friend”.

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Yukiko survives by taking up with an American GI.  Soon enough, though, Tomioka is back in the picture.  He takes her to a mountain inn where he asks her to commit double suicide with him.  She declines and he starts flirting with the young wife of the owner and feels less like dying himself.  Back in Tokyo, the only way Yukiko can get by is by starting a relationship with the “friend”, who is now rich.  But Yukiko can’t seem to keep away from her unfaithful lover.
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This is a very well made film.  I especially liked Masayuki Mori as the rat fink lover.  He is different in every movie I have seen him in.  It was kind of frustrating to watch though.  You knew from the first frame that the guy was a louse — before they even started their affair he was kind of insulting to her.  If people could only learn to accept it when the one they love doesn’t love them, the world would be a better place.  It might not have as many melodramas however.

Compilation of clips from various Naruse films set to nice music

Death of a Cyclist (1955)

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Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem
Written by Juan Antonio Bardem and Luis Fernando de Igoa
1955/Spain/Italy
Guión Producciones Cinematográficas/Suevio Films-Cesáreo Gonzáles/Triumfal Cine
First viewing/Netflix rental

I am responsible only to God and history.  — Francisco Franco

This story of the destruction of couple by their selfishness and guilt is meant to be an allegory to Spain’s Franco regime.  I don’t know if I got many of the references but it sure is beautiful to look at.

A couple are driving down a lonely country road when their car accidentally hits an elderly bicyclist.  The man, Juan (Alberto Cosas), stops and determines that the rider is still breathing.  His companion, Maria José (Lucia Bosé), gets behind the wheel, beckons her companion to join her, and speeds off.

We learn that they were high school sweethearts and are now lovers.  Maria José is married to Miguel, a wealthy member of the elite.  Miguel is also Juan’s brother-in-law and used his influence to get Juan his position as an adjunct professor of mathematics at the university.

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Both of the lovers are totally distracted by their guilt and fear of discovery.  Juan is so distraught that he makes a major error at school.  Matters get even worse when Rafa, a jealous and obnoxious critic, reveals that he saw the couple driving together on the road and threatens to tell Miguel.  Rafa refuses to reveal anything else he may know and report.

The couple themselves make matters worse and worse.  By the end of the story, each partner sees a different way out of their dilemma.

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This is one of those film with a lot of long silences that would probably bear rewatching to fully understand.  If the viewer sticks with it, s/he will be rewarded with a very powerful, albeit a bit too pat, ending.  I can’t say I loved the film but I wouldn’t mind trying it again.  Both the cinematography and the actors are very beautiful.

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It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)

It’s Always Fair Weatherits-always-fair-weather-movie-poster-1955-1020459794
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
1955/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

Ted Riley: Look lady, if you’ll excuse, you don’t have to hang around with me all evening. I wish I didn’t have to hang around with myself.

I could not get too excited about this musical.  On the other hand, it may be the only place where you can watch Gene Kelly dance on roller skates!

Three GI buddies – Ted (Kelly), Doug (Dan Dailey), and Angie (Michael Kidd) – are celebrating their discharge from wartime service at a New York vow.  At just this time Ted opens a Dear John letter announcing his fiancee’s wedding.  The three vow to have a reunion on the same date at this bar.  They seal the deal by wagering on it with the bartender.

The day arrives and the three actually keep the date and, after some misteps, meet up.  They are all now very different people.  Ted is a shady fight promoter and playbody; Dan is an advertising executive in a troubled marriage; and Angie has followed his passion for fine dining to a hamburger joint business.  Ted and Dan in particular are unhappy with their lives.

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The boys run into beautiful Jackie Leighton (Cyd Charisse), the no-nonsense program director of a “This Is Your Life” type TV show that sells soap.  Ted starts trying to pick up Jackie. After initially rebuffing his advances, she decides to play along after she decides the trio would make great surprise guests for the show.

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The music didn’t grab me and is probably what failed to make the film work very well for me.  There’s nothing exactly wrong with it though.  I was very tired when I watched it.

It’s Always Fair Weather was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Writing, Story and Screenplay and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

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Lola Montés (1955)

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Directed by Max Ophüls
Written by Max Ophuls, Annette Wademant, and Jacques Natanson from a novel by Cecil Saint-Laurent
1955/France/West Germany
Gamma Films/Florida Films/Union-Film
First viewing/Hulu
#296 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

“To all men and women of every land, who are not afraid of themselves, who trust so much in their own souls that they dare to stand up in the might of their own individuality to meet the tidal currents of the world.” ― Lola Montez, The Arts of Beauty, or Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet, with Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascinating

Max Ophuls’ final film, and only film in color, goes to the big top to tell the sad life story of a notorious dancer.

The film begins under the lights as the ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) presents the scandalous Lola Montez (Martine Carol) to an eager audience.  He offers that she will answer the most intimate questions for fifty cents.  Before the show is over, she will leap head first from a high wire and exhibit herself for one dollar a piece while caged with the wild animals.

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Lola’s scandalous life is told in vignettes starting from her elopement and marriage to a cad at a young age.  The story progresses through an affair with Franz Liszt, a dalliance with a young student (Oscar Werner), and a relationship with Ludwig I of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook) which almost brings down the monarchy.  The circus frames these events as luridly as possible but it is clear that there has been precious little real happiness for Lola.

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I love many of Ophuls’ films and was looking forward to this one.  It left me disappointed. Despite the very lavish and beautiful production, I felt too distanced from the action.  The film was a failure and a scandal at the time of its release and was subsequently butchered by producers.  I watched a recreated version.  It may have been a bit too out there for me as well as for the 50’s audiences.

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The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz

The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Ensayo de un crimen)The_Criminal_Life_of_Archibaldo_de_la_Cruz-318327896-main
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Luis Buñuel and Eduardo Ugarte from a novel by Rudolfo Usigli
1955/Mexico
Alianza Cinematográfia Española
First viewing/YouTube

Give me two hours a day of activity, and I’ll take the other twenty-two in dreams. — Luis Buñuel

Here is another great satiric take on the theme of frustrated desire by Buñuel.  It appealed immediately to my perverse sense of humor.

As the film begins, Archibaldo de la Cruz is in a police station confessing to the murder of a nun.  The sister had been running in a panic and ended up at the bottom of an empty elevator shaft.  We segue into flashback and to the root of Archibaldo’s problem.

Archie is a bad, bad boy who was pampered by his mother and terrorized his governess. He is given a music box when he objects to his mother leaving for the theater.  His governess tells him the story of how a king used the magic box to slay his enemies.  This appeals to Archie’s criminal mind and he starts daydreaming.  That is when his governess takes a stray bullet from rebels in the streets.

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The music box goes missing for a number of years after the home is sacked by the rebel forces.  In adulthood, Archie reunites with it.  Thus begins Archie’s life of crime, wherein he can see his victims die but not take pleasure in the kill.

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I just loved this.  There are some great surrealist touches and some delicious pitch black comedy.  Part of the point seems to come from the Catholic teaching that being tempted is tantamount to committing the sinful act.  It sure has messed with a lot of people’s minds over the years.  Recommended to Buñuel fans.

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