Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

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“Nathan Hertz” (alias for Nathan Juran)
Written by Mark Hanna
1958/USA
Woolner Brothers Pictures Inc.
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Delivery man: [inventorying the items he has just brought] Meat hooks, four lengths of chain, forty gallons of plasma, and an elephant syringe.

This is a shoe-in for the coveted Best Bad Film of 1958 award.

Nancy Archer is fabulously wealthy and the owner of the gigantic Star of India diamond. Nancy’s life has gone on the skids since her marriage to the nasty, money-grubbing, womanizing Harry.  But she loves him and calls for his help constantly.  For his part, Harry is torn between killing her and committing her to an insane asylum.

Harry is having an affair with a bimbo, Nancy catches him, and takes a drive into the desert to clear her head.  Instead, she runs into a satellite that looks suspiciously like a ping-pong ball and is attacked by a 30-foot giant who is after her diamond.

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Naturally, nobody believes Nancy at first.  Soon enough a couple of sightings confirm the story and Nancy’s rapid growth seals the deal, allowing her to get delicious revenge on her tormentors.

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The key to a successful B movie is a catchy title and a lurid poster both of which this film has in spades.  The movie itself, however, was so embarrassingly bad that its director (who worked several times with Ray Harryhausen) refused to allow his name to be used in the credits.  It is a trifecta of awfulness, featuring god-awful acting, wooden dialogue, and “special effects” that must be seen to be believed.  My favorite is the giant woman’s hand which at various times looks like it is made of papier mache and at others like it is made of canvas.  Needless to say, I had a good time watching this space-age soap opera.

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Touch of Evil (1958)

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Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Orson Welles based on a novel by Whit Masterson
1958/USA
Universal International Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#343 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Tanya: He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?

Orson Welles ends the film noir era with a bang.

As the film begins, we see the trajectory of a car bomb as a couple drives from a Mexican border town into the United States, where it explodes.  At the same time, Mexican police official Mike Vargas (Charleton Heston) is walking across that same border with his new American wife Susan (Janet Leigh).  The location of the explosion determines jurisdiction and Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) is in charge of the investigation.

Vargas takes an interest in the case and is allowed to observe Quinlan’s investigation as a courtesy, a decision Quinlan mightily resents.  Vargas is appalled at Quinlan’s tactics.  Quinlan is famous for his “hunches” and he manages proceedings so that his hunches are always proved right.

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In the meantime, Vargas is scheduled to testify against a drug lord in Mexico City.  The drug lord’s brother, “Uncle” Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) is determined to prevent him from doing so.  Knowing that Vargas himself is untouchable, he sends his numerous nephews to get to him through Susan.  With Joseph Calleia as Quinlan’s right-hand man, Marlene Dietrich as an old friend of Quinlan and Zsa Zsa Gabor as a strip club owner.

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This is a fantastic look at the underbelly of humanity.  It has not just a touch of evil, but is permeated with it.  The performances are all just wonderful, if you pretend that Heston isn’t supposed to be playing a Mexican.  This time I concentrated the richly human performance of Calleia.  I’d rank it as Welles’s second-best film and that puts it pretty high up the best pictures of all time list.  Very highly recommended.

Trailer

Clip – Orson Welles and Marlene Dietrich

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)

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Directed by Gene Fowler Jr.
Written by Louis Vittes
1958/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Bill Farrell: Eventually we’ll have children with you.

Marge Bradley Farrell: What kind of children?

Bill Farrell: Our kind.

This sort of wastes an above-average monster suit but is not too bad for all that.

The film opens at Bill Farrell’s (Tom Tryon) bachelor party at a local bar.  All the other guys are telling horror stories about married life.  Bill leaves early to visit fiancee Marge (Gloria Talbott).  But he is waylaid by a mysterious force and it turns out Marge will be the one with a horror story for a marriage.  In fact, her new husband seems like a stranger.  Soon, other men in town are acting pretty weird.

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I was expecting something like I Was a Teenage Wolfman but it turns out this is more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  It’s not as effective as the latter film but few films are.  This is a nice solid studio B picture.  Almost all of the monster shots are super-imposed, shadowy images.  I can’t figure out why as the stills of the beast are rather awesome.

Paramount distributed The Blob as the intended B feature on a double bill with this movie. The Blob, produced by a small church studio, was much more successful.  Paramount should have seen that coming as The Blob has color, Steve McQueen, and a much better alien.

Trailer

South Pacific (1958)

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Directed by Joshua Logan
Written by Paul Osborn based on the play by Oscar Hammerstein III and the novel by James Michener
1958/USA
Magna Carta Theatre Corporation/South Pacific Enterprises/Rodgers & Hammerstein Productions/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant

Most people live on a lonely island, / Lost in the middle of a foggy sea./ Most people long for another island,/ One where they know they will like to be. — “Bali Hai”, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein III

This would be a practically perfect musical if the color were not marred by the very odd use of filters.

The story takes place on an American-occupied island in the South Pacific while the outcome of WWIIr was still in doubt.  Marines and sailors seemingly spend all their time waiting for something to happen. Their main occupation is ogling the Navy nurses and running harmless scams.

Lt. Cable (John Kerr) has been assigned a dangerous mission to land on a Japanese-occupied island to provide intelligence.  He needs a man with local knowledge to guide him there.  This he hopes to find in French planter Emile de Becque (Rossano Brazzi).

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De Beque, however, is in the process of courting the irrepressible nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor).  While he is looking forward to a lifetime of happiness, the dangerous mission is out of the question.  But when Nellie gets a look at his half-Polynesian children, she has cold feet.  With Ray Walston as a wheeler-dealer and Juanita Hall as Bloody Mary.

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The musical has some of Rogers & Hammerstein’s most glorious tunes and is well cast.  I am surprised Mitzi Gaynor didn’t have more of a career.  She is perfect in her part.

The use of color has always been a major distraction to me.  It wavers from glowing Technicolor beaches to some oddly yellowed images.  I had always assumed this was due to an aging print.  But no, director Logan decided that filters would be a good way of getting around changes in weather, etc.  The effect was much less subtle than he had envisioned and he recognized his mistake after it was too late.

South Pacific won the Academy Award for Best Sound.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Cinematography, Color and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Trailer

Clip – “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy

The Quiet American (1958)

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Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a novel by Graham Greene
1958/USA
Figaro
First viewing/Netflix rental

Thomas Fowler: Shall we save the truth for dinner?

Ethics meets politics in this Graham Greene morality tale.

The story is shown in flashback as Thomas Fowler (Michael Redgrave) contemplates the events leading up to the murder of an American. Fowler (Michael Redgrave) is a thoroughly cynical journalist covering the Indochina War in Viet Nam.  He has been living with the beautiful, and much younger, Vietnamese Phuong for the last two years.  Fowler has a wife back in England who is a High Church Episcopalian and will never give him a divorce. Phuong seems completely content with the arrangement but has a sister who wants to see her married.

Quiet American, The (1958) | Pers: Audie Murphy, (Sir) Michael Redgrave | Dir: Joseph L. Mankiewicz | Ref: QUI005AA | Photo Credit: [ The Kobal Collection / United Artists ] | Editorial use only related to cinema, television and personalities. Not for cover use, advertising or fictional works without specific prior agreement

Into Fowler’s world arrives a young American (unnamed in the film), who takes an immediate interest in Phuong, both because of her beauty and her predicament.  This American is in the country to spread democracy and foreign aid.  He appears to be a completely straight arrow and forthrightly announces his intentions to marry Phuong to Fowler.

Fowler resorts to increasingly desperate measures to keep his prize.  He believes himself even more justified when he is shown evidence that the young man is not what he seems.

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I am still pondering about the thought-provoking story.  There is a lot that resonates with the beginning of anti-Americanism in the Third World and the impending War in Viet Nam.  At the same time, there are the ethical and religious implications common in Greene’s work.

Mostly, though, the movie made me want to read the book and see the 2001 version with Michael Caine.  Redgrave is fantastic in this but Audie Murphy, while ideal casting for his role, is too flat and the dialogue is unnecessarily wordy for the usually razor-sharp Manciewicz.  Still recommended to Graham Greene fans.

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King Creole (1958)

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Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Herbert Baker and Michael V. Gazzo from a novel by Harold Robbins
1958/USA
Wallis-Hazen
First viewing/Netflix rental

Ralph: You’re a pretty fancy performer, ain’t ya kid?

Elvis was still making A movies with this one.  The director, co-stars, and music are first class.

Danny Fisher (Elvis Presley) can’t catch a break.  His widower father (Dean Jagger) is incapable of holding a job or, worse in the Rebel Without a Cause era, standing up for himself.  Danny must work to support the family and this distraction plus his attitude has prevented him from graduating from high school for two consecutive years.  This is Elvis, though, and we know from the first frame he has a thoroughly good heart.

Another thing we know is that Danny is a talented singer.  He proves it when he rescues a moll (Carolyn Jones) from an evil night club owner, Maxie Fieilds (Walter Matthau).  He proves it again by distracting the staff and customers in a drug store while some gang members rob the place blind.  In the process, he falls for a pretty clerk (Dolores Hart).

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A rival night club owner hears Danny at the night club and hires him for his own place. Danny is a huge hit.  Maxie cannot tolerate this and uses every dirty trick in the book to steal Danny for his own joint.

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This moves right along between the better-than-average tunes.  The young Elvis is at his most gorgeous and sexy. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Clip – Elvis sings “Trouble”

It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)

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Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Written by Jerome Bixby
1958/USA
Robert E. Kent Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Col. Van Heusen: There’s only one kind of a monster that uses bullets.

This solid B horror/sci-fi flick was reportedly an inspiration for Alien.

A space ship is sent to collect Col. Edward Caruthers (Marshall Thomson), the only survivor of a nine-man mission to Mars.  When the new crew finds him, it seems obvious that he should be returned for court martial for murdering his men.  But the real culprit joins them on the journey …

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The monster is clearly a man in a rubber suit but is nonetheless scary and unstoppable.     The action moves along at a good clip and the obligatory romance with the nurse keeps the movie suitably cheesy.  Recommended to fans of the genre.  The complete film is currently available on YouTube.

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It Happened in Broad Daylight (1958)

It Happened in Broad Daylight (Es geschah am hellichten Tag)broad-daylight-poster
Directed by Ladislao Vajda
Written by Friedrich Durrenmatt, Hans Jacoby and Ladislao Vajda from Durrenmatt’s novel
1958/Switzerland/West Germany/Spain
Praesens Film/Central Film Company Film/Chamartin Producciones y Distribuciones
First viewing/Amazon Instant

“When the Fox hears the Rabbit scream he comes a-runnin’, but not to help.” ― Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs

Here is an excellent and creepy police procedural about child murder.

Jacquier (Michel Simon), an old peddler, stumbles upon the body of a young girl in the woods.  He reports this to the police but they doubt his story and end by pinning the murder on him.  The only person who believes him is Inspector Matthai but he is due to retire the next day and is ordered to stay away from the case.  A shocking development makes Matthai determined to hunt down the real killer by himself if necessary.

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Matthai follows a series of clues he gleans from the victim’s drawings to an Alpine village. There he hopes to attract his man with a little girl who resembles the victim.  He is almost too successful.  With Gert Frobe as a bad guy.

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Every “year” I look forward to discovering one or more hidden gems.  This one was delivered to me courtesy of scanning Amazon Instant, though it also appears to be currently available on YouTube.  The version I watched was dubbed but still absorbing. The director has developed a palpable sense of menace and the acting is uniformly excellent.  Reportedly, it was Gert Frobe’s performance in this film that drew the producers’ attention to cast him in Goldfinger.  Recommended.

Fan Trailer

The Ballad of Narayama (1958)

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Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Keisuke Kinoshita from stories by Shichiro Fukazawa
1958/Japan
Shochiku Company
First viewing/Hulu

 

“I am incapable of conceiving infinity, and yet I do not accept finity. I want this adventure that is the context of my life to go on without end.” ― Simone de Beauvoir, La Vieillesse

Kinoshita has been hit or miss for me.  This film was a big, big hit.

The story is presented in kabuki style – without the masks but with a sung narration.  It concerns a legendary mountain village where food shortages have resulted in a cruel tradition.  When a person turns 70, s/he is left to die in a mountain top domain of the gods called Narayama.

Orin (the fantastic Kinuyo Tanaka) is about to turn 70 and is happily looking forward to her journey to Narayama.  She cares tenderly for her whole household, arranging her widower son’s marriage to a recent widow and welcoming the arrival warmly into their home.  Her eldest grandson is a total ingrate, however, and openly sings songs mocking his grandmother and wishing for the day of her departure.

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We see other traditions of the village, all of which seem to revolve around food.  Reprisals against food thieves are swift and violent.  One old man refuses to go to Narayama and is denied food by his family.  Finally, the day comes when Orin’s son must reluctantly bear his mother to her final resting place.

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This story might be too much to take without the distancing effect of the kabuki device. The stylized production still is very moving, largely due to Tanaka’s genius acting at its heart.  Orin’s kindness balances out all the negativity of many of the other characters.  The painted sets and use of color are glorious.  Highly recommended.

Trailer – no subtitles

Houseboat (1958)

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Directed by Melville Shavelson
Written by Melville Shavelson and Jack Rose
1958/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Robert Winters: Who, Sir? Me, Sir?

Tom Winters: Yes, Sir. You, Sir.

I was pleasantly surprised by this 50’s rom-com.

Tom Winters’ (Cary Grant) ex-wife has just died leaving their three young children motherless.  The children’s maternal aunt is willing to take the boys but Tom is unwilling to see them be separated.  The children have seen him infrequently though and all are in various stages of mourning for their mother.  Tom tries taking them to his bachelor pad in Washington DC but this is clearly an unworkable situation.  He is in desperate need of a nanny.

Cinzia Zacarrdi (Sophia Loren) is the daughter of an Italian symphony conductor.  He wants to run every aspect of her life.    One night, Cinzia meets up with Robert, the youngest boy, who has run away and bonds with him.  Robert begs his father to hire Cinzia as the new maid.  She finally agrees.

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Through a series of misadventures, this menage ends up moving into a dilapidated houseboat in Virginia.  It turns out Cinzia has zero homemaking skills.  Fortunately, she is talented at making a happy family.  The two adults are drawn to each other but the children’s aunt (Martha Heyer) is in love with Tom and threatens to throw a spanner in the works.

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I thought this might be a bit too 50’s for my taste but I was entertained all the way through. Loren and Grant’s chemistry carries the movie.  Grant is more of his Mr. Blandings persona than the bon vivant in this.  We get to see Loren jitterbug !  The movie is light and frothy yet there is a bit of depth to the child psychology.

Houseboat was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen and Best Music, Original Song (“Almost in Your Arms” – Love Theme from Houseboat.

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