Sayonara (1957)

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Directed by Joshua Logan
Written by Paul Osborn based on a novel by James A. Michener
1957/USA
Pennebaker Productions/William Goetz Productions
Repeat viewing/YouTube

Hana-ogi: I’m so frightened and confused. I cannot think. I cannot even understand your thinking.

I last saw this film on a black-and-white TV.  It was even better than I remembered.

Major Lloyd Gruver (Marlon Brando) is a famous flying ace and the son of a four-star general.  He is ordered to leave his combat mission in Korea for light duties in Kobe, Japan.  The transfer was organized by a friend of his father, a three-star general, in hopes that propinquity will finally motivate Gruver to marry his daughter and Gruver’s childhood sweetheart, Eileen.  Gruver is glad to see Eileen but even Eileen realizes there is little passion about the relationship.

Joe Kelly (Red Buttons), a man in Gruver’s unit, is determined to marry Katsumi (Miyoshi Umeki) a mild, sweet Japanese girl who speaks almost no English.  Such marriages are vigorously discouraged by the military and Japanese wives are not allowed to accompany their husbands to the U.S.  Gruver counsels Kelly against it but he is adamant and Gruver agrees to be best man at the wedding. Eileen’s father and mother are aghast.

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Eileen cautions Gruver not to marry her unless he is completely sure and gives him time to think about it.  With this time on his hands, he accompanies his friend Captain Bailey (James Garner) to the theater where he becomes infatuated with the leading actress Hana-Ogi.  Her father and brother were killed by American bombs and the theater prohibits dating so she ignores him.  But the strong physical attraction eventually results in a passionate affair.

Both the interracial relationships in the story will be severley tested.  Gruver’s test will prove to be a coming of age for the pilot.  With Martha Scott as Eileen’s mother and Kent Smith as her father.

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I remembered the story pretty well but was too young to focus on Brando’s performance I suppose.  I thought he was outstanding.  He is required to adopt a good ol’ boy Southern accent yet be thoughtful throughout and was totally believable to me.  The story is both touching and infuriating.  The supporting performances are very strong.  There is perhaps some unnecessary exoticism but I wasn’t offended.  Recommended.

For some reason, the female roles are played by Japanese women but the only major Japanese male role is played by Ricardo Montalban.  There is a mild suggestion of his amorous interest in Eileen. I suppose the studio was ready for white men with Asian women but not the reverse at the time.

Sayonara won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Buttons), Best Supporting Actress (Umeki), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Best Sound, Recording.  It was nominated in the categories of: Best Picture; Best Actor (Brando); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium; Best Cinematography; and Best Film Editing.

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An Affair to Remember (1957)

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Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by Delmer Daves, Leo McCarey Mildred Cram, and Donald Ogden Stewart
1957/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corportation/Jerry Wald Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#331 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Terry McKay: What makes life so difficult?

Nickie Ferrante: People?

This movie could have been improved with less singing and orphans.

Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant) is a celebrity playboy. The newspapers are full of his recent engagement to an heiress and he is sailing home to meet her.  Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) is a former singer who is being kept in a New York penthouse apartment and designer clothes by an indulgent boyfriend.  She is sailing home following a European vacation.  The two strike up a flirtatious friendship on board.  Terry in particular is careful to keep the relationship within strictly defined limits.

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When Nickie introduces Terry to his grandmother during a port stop, Terry has a spiritual awakening.  After this, the two are madly in love though they stay even farther apart on board so as not to stir up gossip.  They agree to spend the next six months tying up loose ends and seeing if they can adjust to a less prosperous life style.  If all goes well, they will meet at the Empire State Building at the end of that time.  All my readers must know what happens next, but far be it from me to reveal it.

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This is a remake of McCarey’s 1939 Love Affair, starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, which I much prefer.  The earlier film, while still full of singing orphans, has a lighter touch. Much of this is due to the delightful performance of Irene Dunne.  Kerr is excellent of course but there is just a much less improvisational feel overall.  This film is staid enough that all the incongruities stand out, starting with the inspirational visit with grandma and continuing throughout the third act.  Sorry to be a party pooper.

An Affair to Remember was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of: Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Music, Original Song; and Best Music, Scoring.

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The Snow Queen (1957)

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Directed by Lev Atamanov
Written by Lev Atamanov et al from the story by Hans Christian Andersen
1957/USSR
All-Union Animated Cartoon Studios/Soyuzmultifilm
First viewing/YouTube

“I can give her no greater power than she has already, said the woman; don’t you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has, which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart. If she cannot herself obtain access to the Snow Queen, and remove the glass fragments from little Kay, we can do nothing to help her.” ― Hans Christian Andersen, The Snow Queen

This is a beautifully animated retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.

Gerda and Kai are such close friends they call themselves “sworn brothers”.  One wintry night Gerda’s grandmother tells them the story of the Snow Queen.  The next day the two friends play Snow Queen games and Kai draws her attention by boasting how he could defeat her.  The Snow Queen descends and hardens Kai’s heart with ice crystals.  She then kidnaps the boy to her icy kingdom.  Little Gerda spends the rest of the story undergoing many adventures to save him and bring him home.

This is a touching testament to true friendship.  It is currently on YouTube in both subbed and dubbed versions.

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Funny Face (1957)

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Directed by Stanley Donen
Written by Leonard Gershe
1957/USA
Paramount Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Jo Stockton: Take the picture, take the picture!

A musical with Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Paris, Givenchy, and George Gershwin tunes can’t be all bad.

Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) is the flamboyant editor of a Vogue-type magazine called Quality.  She is always looking for a gimmick.  Her latest one is to choose a model to be the “Quality Woman”.  The model will be featured in a special issue and introduce the season’s fashions of a famous Paris designer (based on Givenchy who did the high fashion gowns).

Photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) – clearly based on Richard Avedon, who was the special visual consultant – is doing the photoshoot.  He takes an airhead fashion model to a bookstore because the Quality Woman is supposed to be intellectual.  There he spots truly intellectual shop clerk Jo Stockton (Hepburn).  Obviously, this woman is photogenic to the max!  She will sell out her lofty principals to get a free trip to Paris to visit the philosopher she idolizes.

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Jo quickly falls head over heels for her photographer.  She is equally passionately devoted to the philosopher, but in a strictly platonic way.  In Paris, her search for her idol interferes comically with her modeling duties.

Why does it seem that Hepburn’s love interest is always about 30 years older than she is?

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I like the clothes and the music in this. My favorite parts are Hepburn singing “How Long Has This Been Going On” and the fashion shoot in Paris.  The very broad cartoony late 50’s style of the thing, especially when Thompson is on the screen, doesn’t work for me, however.  There are large stretches of time where I just don’t care.

Funny Face was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen; Best Cinematography; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; and Best Costume Design.

The Cyclops (1957)

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Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Written by Bert I. Gordon
1957/USA
B&H Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

The first monster you have to scare the audience with is yourself. — Wes Craven

Bert I. Gordon specialized in giant creatures.  This fun movie features several.

The story is set in Mexico.  Susan Winter (Gloria Talbott) is searching for her fiance, whose plane crashed in an inaccessible valley three years ago.  The Mexican government denies her permission to land her own plane there, partially due to the somewhat shady group of men that accompany of her.  One of them is Marty Melville (Lon Chaney Jr.), who has taken his “scintillator” along to explore for uranium.

The party evades the government and makes an emergency landing in the valley.  Marty immediately discovers that the place hides a massive radioactive deposit.  He does everything possible to sabotage the rest of the mission so he can return to the city and file a mining claim.  Susan and the others have bigger troubles, however.  The radioactivity has caused all the fauna to grow uncontrollably.

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This is an entertaining lark for fans of the genre.  We get a giant eagle and mouse and a battle between giant lizards, along with the title creature.

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Trailers from Hell – spoilers from Dante

The Joker Is Wild (1957)

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Directed by Charles Vidor
Written by Oscar Saul from a book by Art Cohn
1957/USA
AMBL Productions
First viewing/Amazon Prime

A fella came up to me the other day with a nice story. He was in a bar somewhere and it was the quiet time of the night. Everybody’s staring down at the sauce and one of my saloon songs comes on the jukebox, “One for My Baby”, or something like that. After a while, a drunk at the end of the bar looks up and says, jerking his thumb toward the jukebox, “I wonder who he listens to?” — Frank Sinatra

This OK biopic features Sinatra at the top of his game.

The movie begins in 1920’s Chicago where Joe E. Lewis (Sinatra) is a popular singer in a speakeasy run by the mob.  He gets an offer from a rival saloon and accepts it.  This does not sit well with his current boss who makes an overt death threat if Lewis defects.  His faithful accompanist Austin Mack (Eddie Albert) counsels against the move.  But Lewis is stubborn and insists on opening at the other club.  Soon he is beaten within an inch of his life and his vocal cords are slashed.  He disappears from view.  His friends Austin and Swifty Morgan (Jackie Coogan) go off to search for him in New York, where Austin gets work with Sophie Tucker.

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After a long search, they find Lewis working as a second banana in a burlesque house. He is not pleased to be found.  But when Austin gets Sophie to embarrass Lewis into performing, the audience responds well to his improvised stand-up comedy routine.  He also can sing, though not as well as before.  He still refuses to be persuaded to take up the offer of an agent until he finds a supporter and love interest in the form of socialite Lettie Page.

The rest of the film follows the ups and downs of the romance as well as Austin’s progressive drinking problem.  With Mitzi Gaynor as a dancer who is crazy about the comic.

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This is entertaining enough for what it is but the real reason to watch is to listen to Sinatra belt out “All the Way” several times, as well as a number of other tunes.  He is also convincing as a comedian.

The Joker Is Wild won an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song for “All the Way”.

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Men in War (1957)

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Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Ben Maddow and Philip Yordan from a novel by Van Van Praag
1957/USA
Security Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Lt. Benson: Battalion doesn’t exist. Regiment doesn’t exist. Command HQ doesn’t exist. The U.S.A. doesn’t exist… We’re the only ones left to fight this war.

Here is a really excellent, if unsung, Korean War drama.

It is 1950 somewhere in Korea.   Lt. Benson Robert Ryan) leads a troop of less than 20 men.  All of them are dead tired.  The communicator is unable to contact the battalion. Their truck has broken down. They keep on plugging but are more or less preparing to die.

A jeep approaches.  It is driven by Sgt. Montana (Aldo Ray).  His passenger is a colonel (Robert Keith).  The colonel seems to be profoundly shell-shocked, is unable to speak and requires assistance to walk or even stay erect.  But Montana will take orders only from him. Benson commandeers the jeep and fills it with the hardware his men are too weak to carry, a wounded man, and the colonel.  The group presses on.

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Things don’t get any better.  Montana continues to be insubordinate.  He really cares only about the welfare of the colonel, whom he sees as a father figure.  The enemy is all around them.  We watch the unit battle various forms of adversity.

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This is a gritty and powerful tribute to the foot soldier.  As by now is well-known, I love Robert Ryan and he is superb here.  Aldo Ray can be something of a lightweight but he is also first-rate in this.  Both actors are helped by the spare but pungent script and Mann’s striking direction.  Recommended.

 

All at Sea (1957)

All at Sea (AKA Barnacle Bill)Barnacle Bill poster
Directed by Charles Frend
Written by T.E.B. Clarke
1957/UK
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Ealing Studios
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

The Royal Navy of England hath ever been its greatest defense and ornament; it is its ancient and natural strength; the floating bulwark of the island. — William Blackstone

I would have watched this just to see Alec Guinness jitterbug but it’s not a bad light comedy either.

As the film begins, Capt. William Horatio Ambrose (Guinness) is receiving an award from Lloyds of London for rescuing his sinking vessel and saving its contents.  He repairs with a reporter to a bar where he tells his unlikely story.

Ambrose came from a long line of navy men.  Unfortunately, he himself was cursed with sea sickness and spent the entire war testing remedies, none of which worked on him.

After retirement from the navy, Ambrose spends all his money purchasing a ramshackle amusement pier in the seaside resort of Sandcastle.  He proceeds to run it on strictly naval principles.  He needs to make money though and pursues the idea of opening a dance hall (this is where the jitterbugging comes in) and a pub on the premises.  The strictly moral City Council blocks his every move.  Secretly, they plot to condemn the pier and build a seaside promenade profiting mightily in the process.  Ambrose gets the best of them by cutting the pier from its moorings and drifting off to sea.

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This is a pleasant light comedy.  There is quite a bit of physical humor, at which Guinness excels as he does at everything else.

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Raintree County (1957)

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Directed by Edward Dmytryck
Written by Millard Kaufman from a novel by Ross Lockridge Jr.
1957/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Susanna Drake: Johnny, I had to come back. I’m going to have a baby.

Epic-length melodramas aren’t my thing. This one is just tedious despite Liz Taylor’s Oscar-nominated performance as a crazy lady.

It is the 1850’s in Raintree County, Indiana.  As the film begins, a high school class is graduating.  The professor makes a speech about a magical rain tree that has the answers to all the questions of life. Idealistic John Shawnessy (Montgomery Clift) decides he will go off and find it.  His sweetheart Nell (Eva Marie Saint) is a kindred spirit.  But John meets Southern belle Susanna Drake (Taylor) by chance and is overcome by her beauty.  They have a tryst by the river.  She goes back home and John takes up with Nell once again.  Susannah returns to announce she is pregnant and John marries her.

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The twists and turns of this plot are too many to relate.  Suffice it to say that Susannah proves to be not a little insane, with a deep dark secret.  She doesn’t mesh well with John’s abolitionist views either.  Her initial pregnancy turns out to be a lie but John sticks with her and they eventually have a son he dotes on.  Meanwhile, Nell remains a spinster and becomes a journalist.  When Susannah returns South several years into the Civil War, John joins the Union army.  With Lee Marvin as John’s friend and rival.

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Taylor is at her most lovely and her performance isn’t bad.  For me, though, Lee Marvin was by far the best thing about this movie.  The plot, while full of incident, got old before it ever really took off and the big reveal of the secret was an anti-climax.

Montgomery Clift suffered his disfiguring automobile accident early in the shooting of this movie.  His appearance varies throughout.  While he was still presentable his lost beauty in his only Technicolor outing is sad to see.

Raintree County was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of: Best Actress; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design; and Best Music, Scoring.

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Tammy and the Bachelor (1957)

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Directed by Joseph Pevney
Written by Oscar Brodney from a novel by Cid Ricketts Sumner
1957/USA
Universal International Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Tambey ‘Tammy’ Tyree: Just think, Miss Renie, that same moon that’s shinin’ down on me this very moment, is shinin’ down on Pete’s tomatoes!

“Cute” is a good one-word review for this romantic comedy.

Tammy Tyree (Debbie Reynolds) is a seventeen-year-old backwoods girl who associates mostly with her moonshiner Grandpa (Walter Brennan) and pet goat.  One day, the two learn of a plane crash in the area and go out with hopes of salvaging some valuables. They find a survivor as well, Peter Brent (Leslie Nielsen) and nurse him back to health.  He goes back to his family in ten days, but not before Tammy has fallen in love with him.  He thinks of her as a child, however.

When Grandpa is put in jail for his illegal manufacturing, he sends Tammy to the Brents. There she discovers that Pete comes from a swanky Southern family that lives in an Ante-Bellum plantation mansion.  Appearances are deceiving though, and the Brents are land poor.  Pete has hopes of making the place pay by developing a superior type of tomato. Progress in this effort is slow.

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All the Brents except Pete and eccentric Miss Rennie (Mildred Natwick), look down on Tammy and on Pete’s desire to be a farmer.  They want him to marry Barbara and join her family’s advertising business.  Three guesses as to how this all plays out.  You will only need one of them.

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This is a well-made trifle that goes down easily.  Reynolds is charming as a hayseed.  It has some of the sit-com feel that befits a movie that spawned several sequels and a TV series.

The title song was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original song.

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