The Scapegoat (1959)

The Scapegoat
Directed by Robert Hamer
Written by Robert Hamer and Gore Vidal from a novel by Daphne Du Maurier
1959/UK/USA
Du Maurier-Guinness
First viewing/YouTube

John Barratt: Fate has made a beautiful mistake and we are together when we might have been apart.

I was looking forward to seeing Alec Guinness in a dual role, and he is great as usual, but the movie left me a bit cold.

Jack Barrett (Guinness) is a bored, lonely, depressed professor of French at a provincial English university.  While on his annual vacation to France, he meets his double Jacques de Gue (also Guinness) in a bar.  Other than physically, Count de Gue is the Englishman’s polar opposite.  He spends most of the night pumping Barrett with questions and plying him with liquor.  Barrett, who is not accustomed to drinking much, quickly gets very drunk.  De Gue takes him back to his hotel, where he drugs his nightcap.  In the morning, de Gue and all of Barrett’s possessions are gone.  De Gue’s chauffeur arrives and, believing a telegram stating that his master has developed schizophrenia, tricks Barrett to going to the count’s chateau.

Barrett can’t convince even de Gue’s own mother (Bette Davis) or wife that he is who he says he is.  After awhile, he begins to play along and to enjoy life in the highly dysfunctional household and with the Count’s mistress.  Turns out that the family and girlfriend actually like de Gue’s new “personality” far more than his usual one.  Barrett sets about trying to rectify some of de Gue’s bigger sins. Before he can settle in too far, however, the reason for the deception becomes evident and Barrett is in bigger trouble than he dreamed.

Guinness is fine in a rather serious dual role, giving his characters nuanced differences rather than painting with comedy’s broad brush.  The story, on the other hand, is a bit too gimmicky for my taste and drags through the set up to a rushed and unsatisfying ending.

Trailer – spoilers

Sapphire (1959)

Sapphire
Directed by Basil Dearden
Written by Janet Green and Lukas Heller
1959/UK
Artna Films/The Rank Organization
First viewing/FilmStruck

Superintendent Robert Hazard: We didn’t solve anything, Phil. We just picked up the pieces.

I enjoyed this both as a mystery and as a glimpse of race relations in late ’50’s Britain.

Before the credits roll, we see the body of a young woman dumped in a park.  Scotland Yard begins to work the case with hardly a shred of evidence.  When a student at the Royal Academy of Music turns up missing, they have their victim, Sapphire.  Classmates lead the investigators to her brother and her boyfriend.  The brother, a doctor, arrives from Birmingham.  It is then that they discover the brother is black and that Sapphire had been passing as white.  Soon after, an autopsy reveals that she was pregnant.

The boyfriend is white and discovered the truth about Sapphire’s heritage at about the time he learned she was pregnant.  He was the great hope of his bigoted working class family and will lose a scholarship to study architecture in Rome if he marries.  Nonetheless, the family claims they supported the marriage.  None of this rings true to the investigators. At the same time, they are following up leads to Sapphire’s former boyfriends in the black community.  With Bernard Miles as the boyfriend’s father.

This is a pretty good who-done-it.  I thought I had the perpetrator spotted for the entire film and was proved wrong – a plus in my book.  The movie does feel a bit stretched out by obvious red herrings but it works.  The more interesting aspect is the gamut of views on race portrayed in the film, including those of blacks.  One of the investigators finds it almost impossible to stay objective but there are plenty of other more tolerant folk, including the other investigator. It’s not a masterpiece or anything, but if the topic appeals I would say go for it.

Sapphire won the BAFTA award for Best British Film.

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The Mating Game (1959)

The Mating Game
Directed by George Marshall
Written by William Roberts from a novel by H.E. Bates
1959/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/YouTube rental

Sidney ‘Pop’ Larkin: A gentleman always feels better after a little outing!

The “gentleman” referred to in the above quote is a neighbor’s prize boar.  When a movie starts with a bunch of pig-mating gags, you know you are in trouble.  Bah, humbug.

Generations of the Larkin family has lived on a  Maryland farm for 150 years.  Pop Larkin (Paul Douglas) is a kindly old soul who makes his living by bartering.  He is so into doing unto others that he sees nothing wrong with “borrowing” his snooty neighbor’s animal as a stud for his lonely sow.  Naturally the neighbor does not see things the same way.  He uses his influence to start an Internal Revenue Service investigation on the family, which has never filed a tax return.

Rabid tax official Oliver Kelsey (Fred Clark) assigns ambitious accountant Lorenzo “Charlie” Charlton (Tony Randall) to the case.  Turns out Pop and Ma (Una Merkel) Larkin think the straight-laced young man would be an ideal mate for their sassy and rambunctious daughter Mariette (Debbie Reynolds) and she agrees.  They loosen him up by getting him roaring drunk.  Many hijinx ensue before the inevitable ending.

I found the jokes in this puerile and unfunny.  I like Paul Douglas but thought he was miscast as a hayseed.  You can’t win ’em all.

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Santa Claus (1959)

Santa Claus
Directed by Rene Cordona
Written by Adolfo Torres Portillo and Rene Cordona
1959/Mexico
Cinematografia Calderon
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Evil Doll: You want to be good, eh, you don’t want to be bad?

Lupita: No, you know stealing is bad, and I want to be good.

Evil Doll: Well then, you’ll never have a doll! HAHAHAHAH!

When the filmmakers came up with this one they weren’t smoking tobacco in their Christmas pipes …

Forget everything you ever learned about Santa Claus.  He lives with Merlin and a slew of stereotypical children of many lands in his workshop.  From Santa headquarters, he operates a bizarre set of eyes in the sky, listening devices and dream invaders.  Add to that his maniacal laugh and demeanor, in fact, and you have the stuff of nightmares.

But Santa is not the villain of this piece.  No, the devil Pitch has been sent to earth by Lucifer to destroy both Santa Claus and Christmas.  His campaign to tempt children to be naughty is mostly unsuccessful but Santa barely escapes a direct attack.

This movie is hilariously bad in every respect.  Only the most devoted connoisseurs will want to add it to their Christmas movie lists.  I might be one of them …

U.S. Trailer

Wishing all my readers every joy of the season and plenty of …

 

Generale della Rovere (1959)

Generale della Rovere
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Written by Sergio Amidei, Diego Fabbri, Indro Montenelli and Roberto Rossellini from Montenelli’s novel
1959/Italy/France
Zebra Film/Societe Nouvelle de Establissements Gaumont
First viewing/YouTube

Victorio Emanuele Bardone: Do you know what is the cause of all my troubles? Gambling! I always lose! What’s more, I always pay, and I’ve never cheated.

My YouTube experience with Rossellini’s film was such a disaster that I hesitated to review it.  Despite everything, it had so much merit that I can recommend it and am waiting for an opportunity to see it properly.

It is late in WWII as the Allies are marching northward into Italy.  They have not yet reached Genoa, where the movie takes place.  Victorio Bandone (Vittorio de Sica) is a compulsive gambler, womanizer, and fraud.  As the film begins, he owes a German officer 50,000 lira. He scammed 100,000 lira from a family on the promise that he could help a detained relative but promptly lost the whole amount gambling.  The debt to German is something he must pay and his successive schemes to get the money all fail spectacularly.

The courtly, affable Bardone is given one last chance – a choice between prison and a big pay off with a trip to Switzerland as a bonus.  The Germans have killed Generale della Rovere, the military leader of the resistance, rather than capturing him as intended.  They want to put Bardone in jail to impersonate the general and thus lure the political head of the organization, Fassio, and his comrades there to rescue their leader.  It is an offer Bardone cannot refuse.  When a group of rebels is arrested, the Germans still don’t know which one of them is Fassio, and Bardone must stealthily identify the man.

The free subtitled version of this film on YouTube was unsatisfactory.  There was an iris effect obscuring parts of the frame.  Then the sound went out of synch.  To add insult to injury the video cut off the last five climactic minutes of the film!  I was vaguely able to parse out what happened using my Spanish to decipher the Italian from the original language version.

Despite all that, this was among my favorite Rossellini films thus far.  It turns out De Sica is pretty wonderful on both sides of the camera.  He turns in a moving and nuanced performance.  The feel harkens back to Rome: Open City without all the harrowing torture of that film.  I can recommend it in some suitable format.

Generale Della Rovere was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.

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First Man Into Space (1959)

First Man Into Space
Directed by Robert Day
Written by John Croydon and Charles F. Vetter; story by Wyott Ordung
1957/UK
Amalgamated Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Doctor Paul von Essen: The conquest of new worlds always makes demands of human life. And there will always be men who will accept the risk.

The filmmakers beat Yuri Gagarin by a couple of years in this OK Sci-Fi monster flick.

A military facility in New Mexico is testing the limits of manned flight in a vehicle greatly resembling the Bell X-1 rocket with which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier.  Cmdr. Charles Prescott commands the mission and his brother Dan is the test pilot.  Dan is a hot shot and would rather push his machine to the max than follow protocol.  He barely survives an encounter with the “Controlability Barrier”.  Chuck blames Dan’s rebellion, in part, on his Italian girlfriend Tia (Marla Landi).

Despite Dan’s unpredictability, the authorities decide to send him up again right away for an even more ambitious mission.  Despite strict orders and briefings, Dan secretly decides he will be the First Man Into Space.  He accomplishes his mission and brings back invaluable information, but at what cost?

This is an odd mix of straight forward space travel adventure with plenty of scientific jargon that morphs into a monster movie.  It borrows heavily from The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) but is not quite as successful.  Nonetheless, it is a fine example of what serious filmmakers can do with a tiny budget.  As usual with Criterion’s Monsters and Madmen box set, the commentary by Tom Weaver and producer Richard Gordon is the highlight.

Trailer

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)

The Diary of Anne Frank
Directed by George Stevens
Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett from their play and the book by Anne Frank
1959/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/George Stevens Productions
Repeat viewing/Amazon Prime

Anne Frank: I know it’s terrible trying to have any faith when people are doing such horrible… But you know what I sometimes think? I think the world may be going through a phase, the way I was with mother. It’ll pass. Maybe not hundreds of years, but someday. – I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.

George Stevens makes a 3-hour movie about a bunch of people cooped up in an attic gripping and cinematic.  I have tears in my eyes from the first shots of the seagulls to the last.

This is a true story based on the diary of a adolescent Jewish girl who was in hiding with her family in Amsterdam between 1942 and 1944.  The Frank family are wealthy German Jews who fled to the Netherlands when the Nazis took power.  After the German occupation, some brave and righteous Gentile resistance workers take the family of four – Otto (Joseph Schildkraut, mother Edith, and daughters Margot (Diane Baker) and Anne (Millie Perkins) into hiding in a hidden garret above their offices in a spice warehouse.  The Van Daan family  – Hans, Petronella (Shelley Winters) and son Peter (Richard Beymer) join them.  The Van Daan parents whine and bicker while teenage Peter silently seethes.  Later, friction is hightened further when a panicky and prickly bachelor dentist by the name of Dussell (Ed Wynne) joins the group.

The story follows daily life in the cramped garret through the eyes of the sensitive, gifted Anne as she blossoms from girlhood to early womanhood.  Days are filled with monotony and petty drama interrupted by moments of pure terror.  I think everyone knows how the story ends. Recommended.

It’s been years since I’ve seen this but the very music over the opening credits starts my tear ducts working. Even the happiest moments hurt when one knows what all that hope would amount to.  Stevens was great with his actors and the entire cast shines here.  It’s a great coming of age story as well as a Holocaust drama.  Recommended.

The Diary of Anne Frank won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Winters); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White. It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor (Wynne); Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.  I think Schildkraut should also have been at least nominated.

Trailer

The Bridge (1959)

The Bridge (Die Brücke)
Directed by Bernhard Wicke
Written by Michael Mansfield and Karl-Wilhelm Vivier from a novel by Manfred Gregor
1959/West Germany
Fono Film
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

“My squad is my family, my gun is my provider, and protector, and my rule is to kill or be killed.” ― Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

It seems the losers make the most tragic of anti-war films.

It is late April 1945 in a small German town.  We are introduced to a class of high-school juniors and watch their romances, rivalries, and domestic strife.  The Allies are coming ever closer and they hear a bomb land out near a small local bridge.  They excitedly go to investigate.

Rumors are that draft notices will soon reach them and most of the boys are enthusiastic. Adults now believe the war is futile.  The father of one of the boys, the local Nazi party leader, has sent his wife out of Dodge and prepares to flee himself.

The draft notices come.  Anxious parents are reassured that the war will end before the boys are out of boot camp.  But the very next day the decision is made to send all available men to the front, now practically on top of the town.  A teacher intervenes and convinces the commander to send the untrained boys to guard the bridge, which has no strategic value and which is scheduled for demolition, rather than into combat.  A sympathetic sergeant goes with them.  Then everything goes to hell in a hand basket.

This has much of the feel and artistry of All Quiet on the Western Front.  The story is doubly tragic because these patriotic and eventually leaderless boys fight on with vigor at a time when their seniors have succumbed to cynicism.  The movie is well-acted and looks beautiful in its 2015 Criterion release.  Recommended.

The Bridge was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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On the Beach (1959)

On the Beachon-the-beach-movie-poster-1959-1020461082
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Written by John Paxton from a novel by Neville Shute
1959/USA
Stanley Kramer Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Moira Davidson: I love Americans. They’re so naive.

This is a well-made and touching story about post-apocalypse humanity waiting for the end.

The nuclear submarine USS Starfish commanded by Dwight Lionel Towers (Gregory Peck) tenetatively approaches the shore of Australia near Melbourne, takes a radiation reading, and surfaces.  Thanks to wind currents, Australia is perhaps the last place on earth fit for human habitation after a global nuclear war.  The streets of Melbourne are populated with horse-drawn carriages and people on bicycles due to a scarcity of petroleum.  Scientists estimate five months before the radiation begins to kill Austalians as well.

We move from the submarine to young Aussie naval officer Lt. Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins) and his wife and baby.  Holmes has been assigned as liaison to the Starfish, which is about to embark on an exploratory mission to find any other pockets of life and investigate mysterious telegraph messages emanating from San Diego.  He worries about leaving his family on its own.  His wife is not approaching events as well as he is.

on_the_beach

Two other important players in the story are good-time girl Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner) who is assigned to squire Towers around and eventually falls in love with him and hard-drinking scientist Julian Armstrong (Fred Astaire) who accompanies the Starfish on its mission.

We follow these characters and the city of Melbourne as they prepare for the worst.

beach8

I really enjoyed this movie.  Everyone was so very civilized!  In a modern movie, there would surely be pandemonium and far worse in this situation.  The performances are strong and the emotions are real, sad without straying into maudlin territory.    Recommended.

Now I want to watch the 2000 Australian made-for-TV movie based on the novel.  It’s in parts on YouTube.

On the Beach was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Film Editing and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer

Credits – such a moving instrumental version of “Waltzing Matilda”

 

The Horse Soldiers (1959)

The Horse Soldiers
Directed by John Ford
Written by John Lee Mahin and Martin Racklin from a novel by Harold Sinclair
1959/USA
The Mirisch Corporation/Mahin-Racklin

First viewing/Netflix rental

Major Kendall: Look here, colonel, I didn’t ask to be assigned to this mission…

This is an OK civil war flick with good performances from John Wayne and William Holden.  I expect something more special from John Ford, however.

Col. John Marlowe (Wayne) and his men are assigned to blow up a railroad and supply depot behind Confederate lines.  Physician Maj. Henry Kendall (Holden) accompanies them.  He and the Colonel have an instant antipathy, both because of their strong personalities and because Marlowe has a hatred of all doctors since his wife died after unnecessary surgery.

On the way to their destination, the officers are hosted at a plantation owned by Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers).  She spies while the men are discussing their strategy.  But she is spotted and taken along so she cannot report to the rebels.  She is feisty but eventually becomes a part of the team.  With Olympic tennis great Althea Gibson as Hannah’s servant and Hoot Gibson, Struther Martin, and Hank Martin doing their thing in character roles.

There are some some good set pieces in this, especially when young Confederate military cadets go off to battle as soldiers.  Overall, I found the film watchable, if not particularly memorable.

Trailer