The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)

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Directed by Russell Rouse
Written by Frank D. Gilroy and Russell Rouse from a story by Gilroy
1956/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Clint Fallon: Mr. I don’t want to fight! But don’t push it!

There are several reasons I did not like this Western, which attempts to have a broader significance a la High Noon or The Gunfighter.

As the story starts, Vinnie Harold (Broderick Crawford) and his gang of outlaws ride into town.  Vinnie is there to challenge the local champion, who has a reputation as “The Fastest Gun Alive” to a quickdraw shoot out.  Vinnie wins the contest.  The gang then rides out to rob a bank.

We then move to Cross Creek and meet George Temple (Glenn Ford) and his wife Dora (Jeanne Crain).  They have lived in town for four years and run a general store.  But George is tormented by a secret past, which is hidden from us for an aggravatingly long time.  Anyway, Dora is pregnant and is really worried about her man.  He looks about ready to snap and she is tired of moving from town to town when he blows.

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It is not too much to reveal that George is, or believes himself to be, the The Fastest Gun Alive.  He has to keep one step ahead of all challengers.  Things come to a head when Vinnie and his gang ride into town to get fresh horses.

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I like all the actors in this one but the script dragged it out to the point where it seemed like they were all over-emoting.  George’s secret adds up to a whole lot of nothing.  Jeanne Crain is made up to look like Mrs. 1956.  The whole thing just felt kind of phony to me.

Trailer

The Werewolf (1956)

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Directed by Fred F. Sears
Written by Robert E. Kent and James B. Gordon
1956/USA
Clover Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Dr. Emery Forrest: You’re not going to kill him!

Dr. Morgan Chambers: You think he still wants to live after what he’s become? It would be an act of charity.

This is not half bad for a cheesy Sam-Katzman produced horror flick.

A stranger walks into a bar in a small mountain town.  He doesn’t know his name or where he is and is acting mighty strange.  His carelessness about money tempts one of the other customers to follow him into a dark alley.  The other customer never emerges, having had his throat ripped out by animal claws.

Eventually we find out that the man was involved in a minor car accident.  Some evil doctors got hold of him and injected an experimental serum designed to allow them to survive the coming nuclear holocaust.  Our friend, who has a wife and child worried about his disappearance, is a werewolf.  Things proceed as might be expected.

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I got everything I could possibly hope for from this movie.  That is to say it was mildly entertaining.  Love the torch-wielding townspeople at the end!  The transformation technique left something to be desired but we can’t quibble about the details in these things.

Trailer

Seven Men from Now (1956)

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Directed by Budd Boetticher
Written by Burt Kennedy
1956/USA
Batjac Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Ben Stride: [about Greer] A man oughta be able to take care of his woman.

This movie shows that a familiar plot done well can still make an excellent movie.

Ben Stride (Randolph Scott)  used to be the sheriff of a town called Silver Spring until he was voted out of office.  He was too proud to take the job of deputy and couldn’t find any other work.  His beloved wife therefore took a job at the Wells Fargo office.  She was killed during a robbery of the office.  Now Ben is chasing down the seven men responsible. Early on he has success with two of them.  He then heads toward Flora Vista where he believes the others are in hiding.

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On the way there, Ben runs into a couple of Easterners named Greer whose wagon is stuck in the mud. The man seems to be completely hopeless at any type of manual labor or decision-making.  His wife Annie (Gail Russell) is a different story.  Ben helps them.  They then find they are heading in the same direction.  The attraction between Annie and Ben is palpable but unacted on.

The party then runs into Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) or rather he runs into them.  He is after the $20,000 robbed from the Wells Fargo office and figures Ben will lead him to it when he finds the targets of his revenge.  Ben locked up Bill twice in the past and there is no love lost between them.  The rest of the movie follows the dynamic of the little group and Ben’s progress toward revenge.

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We have seen this same revenge story in several Westerns.  What sets this apart is the excellence of all its elements.  The acting is first rate (I never thought I would say that about Randolph Scott based on his work in the 30’s) and the proceedings are kept moving at a good pace and shot in an interesting way.  Recommended.

Trailer

The Killer Is Loose (1956)

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Directed by Budd Boetticher
Written by Harold Medford from a story by John and Ward Hawkins
1956/USA
Crown Productions
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant

“Revenge, the sweetest morsel to the mouth that ever was cooked in hell.” ― Walter Scott, The Heart of Mid-Lothian

I love this unsung little film noir.  You have never seen Wendell Corey like this.

Leon Poole (Corey) is a meek bank teller who is having a particularly bad day.  His sergeant from his days in the military shows up as a customer.  The man starts calling Leon “Foggy”and reminds him of the general incompetence that earned him his nickname. Then the bank is robbed.  In pretty short order, Detective Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten) figures out this was an inside job and Leon was the culprit.  The cops go to visit Leon at his apartment, Leon resists, and his beloved wife accidentally is shot by Sam in the scuffle.  Leon vows revenge.

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Leon is convicted of the robbery and sentenced to ten years in prison.  He is a model prisoner in every way and is finally sent to the honor work farm.  When he gets an opportunity, he makes a violent escape and sets out to carry out his revenge on Lila (Rhonda Fleming), Sam’s pregnant wife.

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The movie is only 73 minutes long and Boetticher makes every minute count.  The screenplay rises up to meet his level.  Corey is simply a revelation, making his character pitiable and horrifying at the same time.  Recommended.

The complete film is currently available on YouTube.

Clip – SPOILER

Plucking the Daisy (1956)

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Directed by Marc Allegret
Written by Roger Vadim and Marc Allegret from a story by William Benjamin
1956/France
Films EGE/Hoch Productions
First viewing/Hulu

[observation, 1987] I gave my youth and beauty to men. Now I’m giving my wisdom and my experience, the better part of me, to animals. — Brigitte Bardot

This Bardot vehicle is a fairly tame and silly farce.

Agnes Dumont (Bardot) is the eighteen-year-old daughter of a general.  She has written an anonymous and scandalous best-seller about her local Vichy society called Plucking the Daisy.  She is about to reveal her identity in a press conference in Paris.  She also plans to meet her brother whom she believes is a successful painter.  On the train there, she finds herself without a ticket and seeks the help of a reporter and photographer, both of whom lust after her.  Eventually, she will fall for the reporter.

It turns out her brother is merely a security guard at the Balzac museum.  Not knowing this, she goes to the museum, which the brother has used as is address, and makes herself at home.  Still out of cash, she grabs one of the rare books and sells it, using the money to buy a wardrobe and repay her friends for the ticket.  When she finds out the truth, she needs cash fast to buy the book back and resorts to competing in an amateur striptease contest.  She performs in a mask and the film moves into a comedy of mistaken identities.

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Not in the film

The material does not glow like Mlle Bardot and the film seemed to go on and on.

Clip – PG rated

Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)

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Directed by Ishiro Honda and Terry Morse
English version by Al C. Ward
1956/Japan/USA
Jewell Enterprises, Inc.
Repeat viewing/Amazon Prime

 

Steve Martin: I’m afraid my Japanese is a little rusty.

The American release of Gojira (1954) loses a lot of the apocalyptic poetry of the original.  Still good fun.

The movie opens on reporter Steve Martin (Raymond Burr) laying in the rubble after the devastation of Tokyo.  He is taken to the hospital where Dr. Yamane’s daughter Emiko visits him.  He then ponders the events leading up to this day and we move into flashback.  Martin is on a layover in Tokyo where he plans to meet his friend Dr. Serizawa.  The authorities call him in for questioning on what he observed from his plane.  Once they find out he is a reporter, he is given access to all their secret information!

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The story of the monster and its destruction is basically the same as outlined in my review of Gojira with much less emphasis on the H-bomb test angle, which makes sense considering this version’s intended audience.

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This may be the first good-guy role of this era I have seen Burr in.  He makes a better villain I think.  The way they meld the Japanese actors into the scenes with Burr is often amusing.  If given the choice, I’d recommend viewers seek out the original.  If not, this is still a ton of fun.

Trailer

… And God Created Woman (1956)

… And God Created Woman (Et Dieu… créa la femme)225px-Et_Dieu
Directed by Roger Vadim
Written by Roger Vadim and Raoul Levy
1956/France
Cocinor/Iena Productions/Union Cinematographique Lyonnaise
First viewing/Hulu

Juliete Hardy: That’s my favorite song!

Antoine Tardieu: It’s the first time I ever heard it.

Juliete Hardy: Me too.

This film made Brigitte Bardot a star and international sex symbol.  It exceeded my very low expectations.

Juliete (Bardot) is an eighteen-year-old orphan who has been taken in by a family in San Tropez.  She is a “wild child” who does and says exactly what she wants at all times.  Her family is threatening to send her back to the orphanage because of her bad attitude, particularly toward work.  Juliete has attracted the attention of Eric Carradine (Curd Jurgens), a much-older shipping tycoon.  She flirts with him but is in love with Antoine (Christian Marquand), the eldest son of a family that owns a shipping business that Carradine wants to acquire.  His plan is to “have” her then drop her flat and marry somebody else.  She overhears him talking about this in the uni-sex restroom and drops him first.

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Finally, push comes to shove and Juliete’s family calls Social Services on her, she gives lip to the welfare lady, and is now due to be shipped back to the orphanage until she is 21. Marriage or adoption is the only out.   Carradine tries to get Antoine to marry her but it’s no go.  But Antoine’s younger brother Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant) has been pining for Juliet and is more than willing to take her on despite the vehement opposition of his mother.  Juliete decides she likes him and the marriage is successful at first.

The rest of the movie follows Juliete’s adventures with all the men in her life.

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This movie is not great or anything but the Riviera and Bardot both look wonderful.  I love Trintignant and he is good in one of his very first feature films.  Bardot herself is actually not a bad actress and is an expert at the mambo.

Clip (no subtitles necessary!)

A Kiss Before Dying (1956)

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Directed by Gerd Oswald
Written by Lawrence Roman from a novel by Ira Levin
1956/USA
Crown Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Bud Corliss: Haven’t you heard? Love conquers all.

This movie is OK but not nearly as good as I remember the novel being.

Bud Corliss (Robert Wagner) is a 25-year-old college student.  He has been dating Dori Kingship (Joanne Woodward), the daughter of a mining tycoon.  They have kept the relationship secret from her very controlling father.  Now she is pregnant.  She breaks the news to Bud, who is not pleased to say the least.  He had been looking forward to marrying the mining fortune and knows that Dori will be thrown out of the family if her father learns of her indiscretion.  Dori doesn’t care about the money or anything really except Bud.  He puts off their wedding in hopes “there will be some change”.  There is none and he starts making other plans.

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It is not fair to go farther into the plot which relies on a couple of surprises. With Mary Astor as Bud’s mother and George Macready as Dori’s father.

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I don’t think much of Robert Wagner as an actor but I must say he is perfect for his character.  Joanne Woodward is always great.  I felt like a fool because I kept looking at her thinking “that looks exactly like Joanne Woodward”!  Then of course it was. I thought she was going to show up in a different part. There’s a lot of Hitchcockian touches and jump cuts in this.  To me it illustrated what a difference the finesse of a master’s hand made in Hitchcock films.  The same tricks came off as slightly clunky in this one.

 

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The Spanish Gardener (1956)

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Directed by Philip Leacock
Written by Lesley Storm and John Bryan from a novel by A.J. Cronin
1956/UK
The Rank Organization
First viewing/Amazon Prime

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. Marcus Tullius Cicero

This psychological drama sounded like it might be right up my street.  Unfortunately, a child actor is in the lead and when that performance didn’t work it took the film with it.

Harrington Brande (Michael Hornden) is a British diplomat with a list of grievances against the world.  His wife left him and he isn’t advancing in the foreign service at the rate he thinks he deserves.  Once you get to know him, you understand exactly why.  He is rigid, self-important and cold.  He has more or less taken his young son hostage.  He refuses to send Nicholas to school and doesn’t let him do much of anything else on grounds that the boy is “delicate”.

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After Brande is again passed over for promotion, he and Nicholas are sent from Madrid to a Spanish port town to take over from the man who got the job.  Brande is full of resentment, made worse by the popularity of his predecessor.  Nicholas, however, is rescued by a warm relationship with Juan (Dirk Bogarde), a young gardener he adores.  Brande’s jealousy almost destroys them all.  With Cyril Cusak as a butler.

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I have a fairly high tolerance for child actors but this one really missed the boat.  He is artificially sweet and twee.  The other acting is fine.  The script is OK.  And I was so looking forward to another Bogarde movie!  He is good but miscast as what should be a hearty Spanish pelota hero.

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Flowing (1956)

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Directed by Mikio Naruse
Written by Toshirô Ide and Sumie Tanaka from a novel by Aya Kôda
1956/Japan
Toho Company
First viewing/Hulu

 

“The river is everywhere.” ― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Japan’s greatest actresses gather in Naruse’s gentler story of aging geishas in a changing world.

Otsuta (Isuzu Yamada, Throne of Blood) runs a geisha house in Tokyo.  Her daughter Katsuyo (Hideko Takamine, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs) has no intention of becoming a geisha or taking over the business but helps out by keeping the books.  This is a painful task as the business is deeply in debt.  The geishas working at the house include Someko (Haruko Sugimura, Tokyo Story).  As the story begins, Otsuta hires the widowed Rika Yamanaka (Kinuyo Tanaka, Ugetsu etc. etc. etc.) as a maid.  The gentle Rika proves to be an ideal, loyal employee and becomes the confidant of many of the other women.

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The story is episodic but centers on Otsuta’s efforts to stay afloat.  She seeks help from both her disapproving sister and from a female restaurant owner who hires geishas.  Even so, men will have to be the ultimate source of her financing.  By the end, it is clear she is no longer able to depend on their favors.  But life quietly goes on for Otsuta and her colleagues.

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For me the highlight of this film was Tanaka’s performance in a role quite unlike anything I had ever seen her in.  She is the soul of the story.  The film is beautiful to look at as well.  It was interesting to see Naruse’s look at basically the same subject matter as covered by Mizoguchi in this year’s Street of Shame with much heightened drama.

Clip – no subtitles