The Law (1959)

The Law (La legge)
Directed by Jules Dassin
Written by Jules Dassin and Francoise Geroud from a novel by Roger Vailland
Le Groupe des Quatre/Cite Films/Titanus/G.E.S.I. Cinematografica
First viewing/Filmstruck

A leader is admired, a boss is feared. Vicente del Bosque

I could not appreciate any merits the film may have had because of my antipathy to most of the characters and their behavior.  My husband found the story to be an amusing commentary on Italian machismo.  Take your pick.

The story is set in an Italian village near Naples where a kind of modern day feudalism is alive and well.  Don Cesare (Pierre Brasseur) is the acknowledged boss of the village.  He is an old man and remains holed up in his village with four comely servants.  Enrico Tosso (Marcello Mastroianni), an agronomist from the North has arrived to conduct some kind of crop experiments.  He is looking for a maid.  The Don’s women all want the fiery Marietta (Gina Lollabrigida) to take the job.  She isn’t interested in being anybody’s servant but determines to marry the handsome newcomer.

One of the nightly pastimes of the men of the village is a stupid and cruel drinking game called “The Law”.  Two of the drinkers are chosen to be the Boss and the Deputy Boss.  They determine whether the other drinkers at the table will be allowed to drink,  how much they drink, and the manner of consumption.  All of this is done for maximum humiliation value. Somehow Matteo Brigante (Yves Montand) always gets chosen Boss.  He fancies himself as the successor to the Don.

In the meantime Brigante’s son Francesco has fallen in love with a local judge’s wife (Melina Mercouri).  They plan to run away together.  Brigante manages to foil the plot at the last minute to the great chagrin and embarrassment of the lady.

Brigante also is set on conquering Marietta but she is not having any and he resorts to force.

The only character in this film without an ulterior motive is the one played by Mastroianni. The others are all cruel, vain, and selfish.  Lollabrigida’s is the kind of woman who will stop at nothing, including thievery, to get what she wants.  Admittedly, her physique in this alone would bring most men to their knees.  Anyway, for some reason she irritated me so much that I couldn’t really enjoy the film.  I might have reacted differently on another day.


I’m All Right Jack (1959)

I’m All Right Jack
Directed by John Boulting
Written by Frank Harvey, John Boulting and Alan Hackney from Hackney’s novel
Charter Film Productions/Boulting Brothers
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Fred Kite: We do not and cannot accept the principle that incompetence justifies dismissal. That is victimisation.

Here is an amusing comedy about labor relations in Britain.  And what a cast!

Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) comes from the poor relation side of an aristocratic family.  He has a talent for screwing up everything he touches and has not been able to find a job.  His army buddy Sidney Devere Cox (Richard Attenborough) convinces Stanley’s uncle Tracepurcel (Dennis Price) to give him a job at the uncle’s missile plant.  Stanley assumes he will be going into management but both men tell him the wages are better as a unionized worker.  Unbeknownst to Stanley the whole deal is part of an elaborate plot to enrich Tracepurcel and Cox, a plot that hinges on a general strike at the uncle’s factory.

True to form, Stanley cannot comprehend the ethos of the unionized workers and is almost instantly in trouble.  He is forgiven his initial lapse and ends up boarding in the home of shop steward Fred Kite (Peter Sellers).  The final straw comes when he shows a time and motion study man how he can comfortably move more goods in less time.  The plotters get their strike and a whole lot more than they bargained for.  With Terry-Thomas as a labor relations man and Margaret Rutherford as Stanley’s aunt.

This film skewers labor and management alike and is pretty darned funny.   I love all these actors but Sellers is the stand-out.  He has the character of a stuffy but slightly Bolshevik union official just nailed, complete with Northern England accent.  Recommended.

I‘m All Right Jack won the BAFTA Awards for Best British Actor (Sellers) and Best British Screenplay.


India: Matri Bhumi

India: Matri Bhumi
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Written by Roberto Rossellini, Sonali Senroy DasGupta, Feredoun Hoveyda and Vincenzo Talarico
Aniene Film/Union Generale Cinematographique
First viewing/FilmStruck

Narrator: When faced with death, the general belief is that when a man dies, his life doesn’t end, because he’s reincarnated in another. But no one knows in whom. Therefore, all men are brothers.

An opportunity to see Rossellini’s rosy vision of India in the late 50’s.

The film shows various aspects of India, from cities like Bombay and Benares to villages in the jungles to construction on a massive dam site.  The film contains both documentary-style narration and narration by various “characters” of vignettes from daily life.

In Rossellini’s India there is no dire poverty, the various religions and castes get along beautifully, and an economic miracle is about ready to happen.  Despite the naïveté, there are many very enjoyable sequences.  I especially liked the one about the tender loving care given to working elephants and the one about a masterless monkey at a religious festival.

Clip (subtitles available by clicking on cc)

Al Capone (1959)

Al Capone
Directed by Richard Wilson
Written by Malvin Wald and Henry F. Greenberg
Allied Artists Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant


You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone. — Al Capone

This is an OK and apparently fairly accurate bio-pic about the famous Chicago gangster.

The story follows Capone (Rod Steiger) from the time he arrives in Chicago from Brooklyn to work as a bouncer for gangster nightclub owner Johnny Torrio.  Torrio plans to make it big when Prohibition goes into affect with the assistance of his mentor, city political boss Big Jim Colosimo.  Colosimo and Capone share a taste for opera.  But when it comes time to turn booze running into big business, Capone sees that Colosimo no longer has a veto.  Torrio takes out “insurance” by making Capone his partner in running vice in the city’s South Side.

Capone also pursues and eventually wins the only woman he cannot buy.  She is the angry widow of a man she suspects Capone had murdered at the time of Colosimo’s killing.  The story is narrated by James Schaefler (James Gregory), the police officer who for many long years tries to defeat Capone and the Chicago mob.  With Martin Balsam as a corrupt newspaper reporter on Capone’s payroll.

This is quite a watchable film.  Steiger gives a powerful performance, mostly avoiding the hamminess that sometimes plagues his work.


Room at the Top (1959)

Room at the Top
Directed by Jack Clayton
Written by Neil Paterson from a novel by John Baine
Romulus Films/Remus
First viewing/FilmStruck


Susan Brown:  Darling, you’re crying! I believe you really are sentimental after all.

This is a beautifully shot film with perhaps Lawrence Harvey’s best performance and an Oscar-winning turn by Simone Signoret.

Joe Lampton (Harvey) has worked himself up from his depressing home town and working class origins through education and service in the RAF, which he mostly spent at a POW camp. He gets himself a position as an accountant with the Town Council of a less depressing factory town.  Joe has dreams of wealth and status.  He is well aware that he is a babe magnet and focusses his efforts on Susan Brown, the naive single daughter of the richest man in town.  Her family and friends have nothing but contempt for Joe and his origins and try hard to separate the two.

In the meantime, Joe begins an affair with an older married woman, Alice Aisgill (Signoret).  Poor Alice has one of the worst husbands in movies and what begins as a “loving friendship” with Joe becomes love for her and, more gradually, for him.  Joe’s inability to shed his dreams of a home at The Top ends in tragedy for both of the lovers.  With Hermione Baddeley as Alice’s friend.

This is a hard-hitted entry in the British Angry-Young-Man genre prevalent at the time.  Joe is less angry than deluded and confused however.  I generally find Harvey to be wooden but here he is fairly good and does well with a Northern working class accent.  Signoret is always magical and deserved her award in a very strong year for actresses.  She can say so much with her face and eyes.  The movie is also brilliantly lit and shot.  Recommended.

Room at the Top won Academy Awards for Best Actress (Signoret) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Harvey); Best Supporting Actress (Baddely) and Best Director.


Day of the Outlaw (1959)

Day of the Outlaw
Directed by Andre de Toth
Written by Phillip Yordan from a novel by Lee E. Wells
Security Pictures
First viewing/YouTube

Blaise Starrett: The trail ends in this town. There’s no place to go but back.

Jack Bruhn: The trail back is closed.

I love me some Robert Ryan but Burl Ives steals this movie out from under him.

Blaise Starrett (Ryan) is a cattleman who has lived in Montana for 20 years.  He spend much of that time chasing bad men out of the area.  Now homesteaders have moved in and bought chicken-wire fences to keep his cattle off their farms.  Starrett has murder on his mind.  His first victim is slated to be Hal Crane, whose wife (Tina Louise) just happens to be Starrett’s lover.  She begs him to spare her husband to no avail.

Fortuitously Jack Bruhn (Ives), a mean former Union army captain, arrives with his gang of even meaner hombres, and confiscates every gun.  Bruhn has suffered a wound.  The local vet tries to disguise the fact that he will very likely die from it from the men who are held back from rape and drunken revels only by Bruhn’s orders.  Will Starrett or Bruhn prevail and what will be the outcome for the town?  With David Nelson as the youngest of the outlaws.

This is a solid Western with some nice vistas of snowy landscapes.  Some of the dialog comes off as stilted but Ives is completely wonderful in it and Ryan isn’t bad himself.


The Mummy (1959)

The Mummy
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Jimmy Sangster
Hammer Films
First viewing/Netflix rental


John Banning: Seems I’ve spent the better part of my life amongst the dead.

This time Hammer tackles the Mummy franchise.

This contains some key elements of 1932’s Universal classic The Mummy, mainly the great love of the ancient priest Kharis (Christopher Lee) for the Princess Ananka and his punishment by burial alive.

The main setting is moved to 1920’s England.  An Egyptian devoted to the cult of Karnack, of which Ananka was spiritual leader, takes Kharis’s mummy on the road to avenge the desecration of the Princess’s tomb.  He is successful with the elder members of the team but the youngest member of the party, John Banning (Peter Cushing), is a tougher nut to crack.  Banning just happens to be married to a Princess Ananka lookalike.

This is not the strongest or most memorable entry in Hammer’s catalogue but it is atmospheric and entertaining nonetheless.


Good Morning (1959)

Good Morning (Ohayo)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Written by Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu
Shochiku Eiga
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Keitarô Hayashi: Someone said TV would produce 100 million idiots.

Ozu reaches back to his silent days to direct a pure comedy (with plenty of fart jokes!) in living color.

The setting is a contemporary Tokyo neighborhood.  We get a slice of the lives of various families and a glimpse at neighborhood dynamics, including plenty of backstabbing and gossip.

The story centers around little boys.  The sons of the Hayashi family (perhaps 10 and 5 years old) love nothing better than to go to a neighbor’s house to watch sumo wrestling on TV.  This is forbidden by their parents who want them to be studying.  Finally, the boys revolt.  They repeatedly demand that father (Chisu Ryu) buy them a TV set.  He refuses and tells them to shut up about it.  They respond by going on strike and refusing to speak at all.  Their weird silence does nothing to enhance the family’s standing in the neighborhood.

This funny and charming film is a kind of remake of Ozu’s 1932 silent film, I Was Born But …, with the boys substituting a silence strike for a hunger strike.  There is no marriage drama.  Ozu’s theme of generational divides is embodied in the struggle over the TV, however.  The director’s use of color and composition is as masterful as ever.  Warmly recommended.


Ballad of a Soldier (1959)

Ballad of a Soldier (Ballada o soldate)
Directed by Grigoriy Chukhray
Written by Grigoriy Chukhray and Valentin Ezhov
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental


“Every lover is a soldier.” ― Ovid, Amores

I love this sweet and beautiful tribute to the Soviet soldier.

It is a simple story.  Nineteen-year-old signalman Alyosha single handedly takes out two enemy tanks.  His general wants to give him a medal but Alyosha would rather have leave to visit his mother.  The family’s roof needs mending.  He asks for two days but the general gives him six.

His journey is eventful not least because he stops often to help others.  He also finds love in the form of a girl stowed away with him on a train.

The movie is filled with great Russian faces and striking photography.  The actor that plays the soldier is so darned likable that you don’t mind that the character is too good to be true.  Works on me like a tonic.  Warmly recommended.

Ballad of a Soldier was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.

Montage of clips

The Journey (1959)

The Journey
Directed by Anatole Litvak
Written by George Tabori
Alby Pictures
First viewing/YouTube

Paul Kedes: What does an honest man do in a dishonest situation?

This political/propaganda piece takes Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner’s The King and I screen chemistry to the next level.

The story is set in Hungary during the 1956 uprising.  Various foreigners are having a hard time leaving the place.  They are eventually transported by bus to a hotel near the border with Austria.  One of the travelers is Briton Lady Diana Ashmore (Kerr).  She is particularly concerned with the welfare of a mysterious man named Mr. Fleming (Jason Robards), who is suffering some kind of illness.  The other passengers come from many lands.

From practically the first frame we are aware that Fleming is actually a Hungarian dissenter and that he and Diana are no strangers.  When the party arrives at the hotel, they are greeted by a number of Soviet soldiers led by Major Surov (Brynner).  He is in charge of determining who will be allowed to exit the country and when.  The other travelers grow increasingly suspicious of “Fleming” and concerned that he is putting them in danger.  The only ace up Diana’s sleeve, is Surov’s evident attraction to her.   With Robert Morely, E.G. Marshall and Anne Jackson as travelers and Anouk Amie as a Hungarian.

First we have to believe that a man in Surov’s position could become so enamored of a woman in one day – even a woman as beautiful as Kerr – to do the things he does in this movie.  I never passed that threshold and there were other eye-rolling incidents that marred my enjoyment.  Brynner, as usual, gives a knock-out intense, lusty performance and speaks and sings lots of Russian to boot so there’s that going for it.

The Journey contains the screen debuts of Jason Robards Jr. and Ron Howard.