The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents
Directed by Jack Clayton
Written by William Archibald and Truman Capote; additional dialogue by John Mortimer; from the novel “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James
1961/UK
Achilles/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Miles: It was only the wind, my dear.

Here is a beautiful, scary, and ambiguous ghost story for adults.

Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) seeks employment as a governess, having just left the household of her father, a fundamentalist preacher.  “The Uncle” (Michael Redgrave) hires her to care for his two orphan wards despite her total lack of experience.  He admittedly has little to no interest in his charges, preferring to carouse in town.  Miss Giddens gets the job based on her earnestness and professed love of children.  Omninously, she is replacing a young governess who died on the job.  The Uncle gives her total control of the household.

“The Uncle’s” country estate seems like a dream come true to Miss Giddens.  She instantly warms to little Flora and the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins).  Flora’s brother Miles is away at school but Flora uncannily predicts his quick return.  Sure enough, a letter arrives announcing Miles’s expulsion due to his bad influence on the other boys.  The mystery of what exactly Miles did wrong will consume Miss Giddens for the rest of the film.

Miss Giddens begins seeing visions of people she identifies as Miss Jessel, the former governess, and Peter Quint, a former groundskeeper, also deceased.  As time goes on, she comes to believe these apparitions have possessed the children and that it is her duty to “save” them.  Is she going mad or could her visions be real?

I find twisted little children to be inherently scary and we get them here in spades.  Add in the ghosts and you have something special.  The cinematography and art direction combine to make the film a visual feast.  This was reportedly Deborah Kerr’s favorite of all her film performances which is really saying something.  Recommended.

Trailer

The Hustler (1961)

The Hustler
Directed by Robert Rossen
Written by Sidney Carroll and Robert Rossen from a novel by Walter Tevis
1961/USA
Rossen Films/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Fast Eddie: You sure don’t leave much when you miss, do you, Fats?

Minnesota Fats: That’s what the game’s all about

I like this film more every time I see it.  That hardly seems possible since I have always loved it.

“Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has the charm and skills to make an ace pool hustler. His giant ego drives him to prove he is the best at the game.  This will involve beating Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in an epic match-up.  Eddie starts out strong but does not have the stamina or character to close the deal.  Later, he is courted by gambler and “manager” Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) who offers him a 25% share of the profits for any games he arranges.  Eddie is insulted both by the low-ball offer and by Bert’s opinion that he is a born loser and refuses.

Eddie then falls on hard times and turns to small-time hustles to barely support himself.  It is then that he meets Sarah Packard, a lame world-weary alcoholic.  She is rightly leery at getting involved with a man almost as screwed-up as she is.  They fall in love any way.

After falling on even worse times, Eddie is ready to accept Bert’s help.  Suddenly, he thinks he is on the road back to the high life.  He is very much mistaken.

Just reading the cast list should give some idea of how powerful this film is.  This is probably my favorite Newman performance among many strong contenders. Scott, Gleason and Laurie also richly deserved their Oscar nominations.  On this viewing, the cinematography was the real revelation.  It is simply stunning in the Blu-Ray print. Rossen’s pool halls and their hangers-on are masterfully captured.

I love the fact that Scott’s character keeps lecturing Newman’s about his lack of character when he has the least of anyone in the story.  I feel enormous empathy and sympathy for Laurie’s.

The Hustler won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Black and White and Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actor (Scott); Best Supporting Actor (Gleason); Best Director; and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Trailer

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

The Day the Earth Caught Fire
Directed by Val Guest
Written by Wolf Mankowitz and Val Guest
1961/UK
Melina Productions/Pax Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Peter Stenning: So Man has sown the wind – and reaped the whirlwind. Perhaps in the next few hours, there will be no remembrance of the past, and no hope for the future that might have been. All the works of Man will be consumed in the great fire out of which he was created. But perhaps at the heart of the burning light into which he has thrust his world, there is a heart that cares more for him, than he has ever cared for himself. And if there is a future for Man – insensitive as he is, proud and defiant in his pursuit of power – let him resolve to live it lovingly; for he knows well how to do so. Then he may say once more: Truly the light is sweet; and what a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to see the Sun.

This interesting sci-fi film shows there is more than one way to achieve climate change.

The US and USSR acidentally engage in powerful H-bomb testing simultaneously.  Soon the newspapers are full of stories of bizarre weather around the world.  Reporter Peter Stennings (Edward Judd) is put on the story when a solar eclipse occurs several days earlier than predicted.  All scientific authorities on the subject refuse to talk.  Finally, it is revealed that the axis of the Earth was shifted by the bomb.

The remainder of the story follows London’s response as temperatures rise and water dwindles.  Stenning’s remaining time is also occupied with a sometimes strained new romance with secretary Jeannie (Janet Munro).  With Leo McKern as another reporter.

If this story was made today it would be filled with riots, explosions, and conflagrations. This film is much tamer but still very effective.  Its stiff upper lip attitude actually makes the dilemmas of the characters more compelling.  A lot of the conversations sound a lot like end-phase climate-change scenarios posited today.  Recommended to the curious.

Trailer

Come September (1961)

Come September
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Written by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin; story by Stanley Roberts and Robert Russell
1961/USA
Universal International Pictures/7 Pictures/Raoul Walsh Enterprises
First viewing/Netflix rental

Lisa Helena Fellini: Why be miserable with someone you don’t love? Better to be miserable with someone you do love!

This is a pleasant enough “sex comedy” of its era, with the added advantage of taking place on the Riviera.

Robert Talbot (Rock Hudson) is an American millionaire bachelor who apparently has only one month out of the year to spend with his main squeeze, the fiery Lisa Fellini (Gina Lollobrigida).  Usually this is September, but Robert can’t wait that long this year and arrives for his month-long holiday in Italy in July.

This throws various spanners in the works.  Lisa finds out about Robert’s arrival on her wedding day to a stuffy Englishman.  She realizes her error in the nick of time and agrees to join Robert at his villa.

When the couple arrives there, they find the place occupied by a large group of teenage girls and their chaperone.  It turns out that Robert’s major domo (Walter Slezak) has been running the villa as a hotel during the other eleven months of the year.  The girls are man-magnets and soon Robert has a squad of young men camped just outside his gate.  Young Tony (Bobby Darin) sets about seducing 18-year-old Sandy (Sandra Dee).  Robert is highly moral when it comes to the younger set and counsels Sandry to play hard to get.  Meanwhile, Robert is not having his long-awaited  “alone time” with Lisa.  And Lisa is getting ideas from Sandy.

This is basically a piece of fluff in a gorgeous setting.  All the actors do well with comedy and the film goes down easily.

Trailer

Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1961)

Rocket Attack U.S.A.  
Directed by Barry Mahon
1961/USA
Exploit Films
First viewing/YouTube

 

Tannah: Last month I became the mistress of the secretary of defense. When the pig gets drunk, he talks.

John Manston: What a setup!

How you make a movie about impending atomic devastation this boring is beyond me.

An American spy tries to find out what information has been developed from the Sputnik satellite.  It turns out the Soviets now have an intercontinental ballistic missile at their disposal and its launch date is imminent.

To be honest, this movie lost me from the first frame and the above plot summary is all I can really remember of it.  The film has no redeeming qualities.  Give it a miss.

Trailer

 

 

Divorce Italian Style (1961)

Divorce Italian Style (Divorzio all’italiana)
Directed by Pietro Germi
Written by Ennio De Concini, Pietro Germi, and Alfredo Giannetti
1961/Italy
Lux Film/Vides Cinematografica/Galatea Film
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Divorce: a resumption of diplomatic relations and rectification of boundaries. Ambrose Bierce

I have an unrequited love affair with Marcello Mastroianni and consider this to be the peak of his acting career.  I just love this movie!

Fernando Cefalú (Mastroianni) is the first son in an impoverished aristocratic family.  Things have gotten so bad that Fernando’s father has had to resort to housing his brother and family.  This puts temptation in Fernando’s way in the shape of his shapely 16-year-old first cousin Angela.  She reciprocates his affection in an infatuated teenager sort of way,

Fernando is burdened by the existence of his relentlessly cheerful and clinging wife, Rosalia (Daniela Rocca).  The domestic and attentive Rosalia might be the perfect wife if it were not for her little mustache and her constant pestering for demonstrations of love.  Fernando finds her unbearable and the audience can see why.

Then Fernando gets an idea.  Divorce is out at this time in Italy but crimes of honor are lightly punished in Sicily.  What he needs to do is find a chump foolish enough to fall for Rosalia and catch them en flagrante.  This is both easier and more difficult than it might seem.

This is a very funny film thanks largely to the spot-on performances by Mastroianni and Rocca.  Mastroianni manages to create a totally insufferable egocentric Latin lover and at the same time get you to hope he will succeed in his project.  He must have had fun sending up the press’s portrayal of himself.  There are also many pokes at the Italian character and customs to savor.  Highly recommended.

Divorce, Italian-Style won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Actor and Best Director.

Clip

Mothra (1961)

Mothra (Mosura)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Written by Shinichi Sekizawa from a novel by Shinichiro Nakamura et al
1961/Japan
Toho Company
First viewing/Netflix rental

Shobijin, Shobijin: Mothra, she’ll rescue us, and return us to our island!

Here’s our first giant mutant hero.  A destructive hero to be sure, but his heart is in the right place.

A fishing ship runs aground on Infant Island, the supposedly uninhabited location of Rolisican atomic tests.  None of the sailors is suffering from radiation poisoning.  They attribute this to some juice prescribed by the local people.

A joint Japanese-Rolisican expedition sets out to explore the island.  The team includes two snoopy Japanese investigative reporters and the evil Rolisican who demands to be in charge of the entire mission.  It turns out this man is a notorious collector of ancient artifacts.  When the group discovers two one-foot high beauties living on the island, the villain promptly kidnaps them and puts them on display on the main land.  Their “act” mostly consists of a song in their own language begging “Mosura” to rescue them.

The girls’ plea does not go unanswered for long.  An egg undergoes its metamorphosis from caterpillar to pupa to moth in short order.  Mosura is single-minded in his quest.  No amount of persuasion will persuade the bad guy to release his captives.  He merely smuggles them out of Japan to Rolisican.  The moth changes course, but not before destroying the Tokyo Tower.

This is a fun film.  Even the obligatory comic relief is somehow endearing.  You need to accept it for what it is – a vehicle for the teen idol identical twin singing group who play the tiny beauties.

The DVD contained both the Japanese and American versions and a commentary.

American Trailer

Flower Drum Song (1961)

Flower Drum Song
Directed by Henry Koster
Written by Joseph Fields from a musical play by Fields and Oscar Hammerstein III and a novel by C.Y. Lee
1961/USA
Universal International Pictures/Fields Productions/Hunter-Fields
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Madame ‘Auntie’ Liang: Chop Suey. Chop Suey. / Living here is very much like Chop Suey. / Hula-hoops and nucelar war, Doctor Salk and Zsa Zsa Gabor, / Bobby Darin, Sandra Dee and Dewey, Chop Suey.

This stood up well to fond memories from my musical-besotted youth.

Mei Li (Myoshi Umeki) and her father arrive in San Francisco, having stowed away on a cargo ship.  They have jumped the immigration queue so that Mei Li will be young enough to still qualify as the photo bride of her intended, Sammy Fong (Jack Soo).  Sammy, a nightclub owner, is in a long-term relationship with dancer-singer Linda Low (Nancy Kwan), is a bit of a rake, and is utterly unsuited to Mei Li.

Mei Li and her father end up boarding with Wang Chi-Yang (Benson Fong) who has been looking for a wife for his son Wang Ta (James Shigeta).  Wang Ta, on the other hand, is infatuated with Linda.  A dressmaker, Helen, is in love with him.  Upon their first meeting, so is Mei Li.  It is all very complicated.

The rest of the story traces the myriad of misunderstandings and mishaps that lead to the correct pairing of the various young characters.  At the same time, it humorously deals with the immigrant experience and the generation gap.  With Juanita Hall as “Auntie”, a citizenship scholar and fan of the New World.

I think I actually saw this in the theater in my childhood when it came out.  I know we had the soundtrack at home.  Anyway, that’s enough to almost guarantee I would still love it and I did.  It’s impossible to add any objective criticism.

This was the first Hollywood production with an all-Asian cast, if you count Nancy Kwan and Juanita Hall who were both mixed race.  The DVD includes a nice commentary with the still delightful Nancy Kwan and a film historian.

Flower Drum Song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color.

Trailer

Clip – Jack Soo and Myoshi Umeki

King of Kings (1961)

King of Kings
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by Philip Yordan
1961/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Samuel Bronston Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Narrator: And when the tomb was found empty, some days passed, and Christ was seen at Emmaus, and in Jerusalem, and those who saw Him knew He was the Lord God. And then a final time He came among His disciples by the shore of Galilee…

Apparently my bias against long Biblical epics extends to those directed by Nicholas Ray.

The story of Jesus of Nazareth is well-known and does not need repeating.  This film plays up the portions dealing with the oppression of the Jews by the Romans and the rebellion headed by Barrabas, leading to more than usual amounts of violence by the standards of these things.

Jeffrey Hunter makes a bland Jesus and Robert Ryan is a strange choice for the role of John the Baptist.  My Biblical studies are decades in the past but I couldn’t recall some of the incidents portrayed being included in the Good Book.  Ray is a master of color and the widescreen but the movie lacks the passion that could have made the movie work.

Interesting how my randomized list just happened to stop on this one for Easter Sunday!

 

Trailer

Chronicle of a Summer (1961)

Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’un été)
Directed by Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch
1961/France
Argos Films
First viewing/FilmStruck
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

This film gave the term cinema verite to the lexicon while at the same time foreshadowing such exercises as David Holzman’s Diary.

The filmmakers set out to make a film about a particular time and place – Paris in the summer of 1960 – and gathered a “cast” of non-actors to help them do so.  The main concern is how people live their lives.  This is approached by asking people whether they are happy. As the film begins one of the main subjects, Marcelline, takes to the streets with a colleague to stop random strangers with just this question.  She finds very few that will even give her the time of day.

Then we start focusing on the subjects who have agreed to participate in the project. They answer at length, sometimes with gut-wrenching honesty.  At the same time, the film explores the immigrant experience and feelings about the upheaval in the Congo and the war in Algeria.  The film concludes with a reflection on whether the camera has made the reactions filmed “false”.

There’s a lot to think about here.  The filmmakers picked their subjects with a lot of care – it’s not clear whether the people were all previously acquainted – and their stories and emotional and intellectual lives are all fascinating.  The film is beautifully done and I highly recommend it.

Clips with commentary by Jean Rouch