Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Most Dangerous Man Alive
Directed by Allen Dwan
Written by Phillip Rock and Michael Pate; story by Rock and Leicester
1961/USA
Benedict Bogeaus Production
First viewing/YouTube

[on his use of tracking shots throughout his 50-year career] There’s always a certain amount of camera improvisation. If a man is being pursued and the pursuers are more interesting than the pursued, I’ll track to include them. Things would occur on the set and sometimes ahead of time. They turn you loose on the set. — Allen Dwan

What a sad swan song for veteran director Dwan, whose 50 years in the business and 407 films culminated in this dud.

This is the old story of a gangster who escapes from prison bent on vengeance against the rivals who betrayed him.  There’s a love angle as well.  To spice it up, the filmmakers have their protagonist escape during an atomic test, which mutates his cells into steel.

The science fiction aspect of this film is an afterthought.  What you are really in for is a sub-par gangster flick.  I could not detect any redeeming features.

Clip – Credits and opening

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Last Year at Marienbad
Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Alain Robbe-Grillet
1961/France/Italy
Cocinor/Terra Film/etc
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

X: Empty salons. Corridors. Salons. Doors. Doors. Salons. Empty chairs, deep armchairs, thick carpets. Heavy hangings. Stairs, steps. Steps, one after the other. Glass objects, objects still intact, empty glasses. A glass that falls, three, two, one, zero. Glass partition, letters.

Possibly the most self-consciously arty film ever made.  Can’t beat the images though.

The movie is set at a baroque and sumptuous hotel that appears to be a converted palace or chateau of a bygone era.  The plot is the easy part.  A handsome man tries to convince a married beauty that they had an affair a year ago at the spa of Marienbad.  He would like to renew the relationship.  She denies the affair or ever having been in Marienbad.  None of the characters are ever given names.

There is not so much dialogue as long, poetic soliloquies. Nothing is resolved by the end.

The theme, as in all of Resnais work I have seen to date, is memory.  I think he tackled the subject better in his documentaries, particularly All the Memory in the World (1956).  The viewer is distracted here from the theme or the story by the stunning camerawork.  The shots are all composed within an inch of their lives and lit exquisitely.  The Blu-Ray looks phenomenal.  This was my second viewing.  I doubt whether there will be a third.

Last Year at Marienbad was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

Restoration Trailer

Something Wild (1961)

Something Wild
Directed by Jack Garfein
Written by Jack Garfein and Alex Karmel from a novel by Karmel
1961/USA
Prometheus Enterprises Inc.
First viewing/Netflix rental

Mary Ann Robinson: What’s happened has happened, Mother.

I would have enjoyed this indie story of a rape victim’s struggles even more if not for the last five minutes.

Mary Ann Robinson (Carroll Baker) is coming home from college when she is dragged into some bushes and raped.  She tells no one, not even her mother (Mildred Dunnock), takes a hot bath and attempts to go on with her life.  She finds she cannot stand to be around people, including her mother, and tries to disappear by getting a job as a clerk at a five and dime and renting a cheap room.  This doesn’t work so well at damping her pain and eventually she becomes suicidal.

Mechanic Mike (Ralph Meeker) stops her from jumping off a bridge.  He talks her into going back to his apartment until she calms down.  Her troubles continue when the lonely Mike refuses to let her leave.

Carroll Baker is silent for most of this unique little film.  She does not need words to perfectly convey her misery and hate.  Ralph Meeker is not the world’s greatest actor but he does well too.  I was basically loving the film until the ending which made me pretty mad.  Worth seeing any way.

Trailer

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Splendor in the Grass 
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by William Inge
1961/USA
Warner Bros./Newtown Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Wilma Dean: My pride? My pride? I don’t want my pride!

Elia Kazan makes both doomed young love and small-town Kansas look absolutely beautiful.

Deanie (Natalie Wood) and Bud (Warren Beatty) are high school seniors in the throes of first love.  He is the son of the richest man in town, who positively dotes on him.  She is of more modest parentage.

When they get within three feet of each other sparks fly and their make-out sessions are hard to stop.  Both have been taught that “good girls” wait until marriage.  Deanie is under the additional burden of her mother’s belief that “good girls” don’t even have the feelings she gets when she is with Bud.

Bud’s desire is so strong that he decides the only way to fight it is to stop seeing Deanie. This leaves Deanie with a broken heart and eventually drives her right over the edge.  With Pat Hingle as Bud’s father and Audrey Christie as Deanie’s mother.

What saves this from being a typical psychological drama of the era is Kazan’s skillful direction, Boris Kaufmann’s great cinematography and the acting.  Wood plays her part with great delicacy – it may be her best work.  I’m not always a fan of Beatty’s.  He’s fine here.  Worth seeing.

Splendor in the Grass won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.  Natalie Wood Was nominated for Best Actress.

Trailer

Murder She Said (1961)

Murder She Said
Directed by George Pollock
Written by David Pursall and Jack Seddon; adapted by David D. Osborn from the novel 4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie
1961/UK
George H. Brown Productions/Metro-Goldwyn Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Ackenthorpe: There is one thing I cannot tolerate, and that is impertinence.

Miss Marple: Well, we should get on admirably. Neither can I!

Margaret Rutherford could not be more different from the bird-like, dainty Miss Marple of Christie’s mysteries.  She is none the less absolutely perfect for the part!

Miss Marple (Rutherford) is traveling home by train when she happens to witness a murder in a train traveling in the other direction.  She alerts the authorities who conclude she is a dotty old maid when no trace of a body can be found.  Naturally, she launches her own investigation.

This leads her to an estate where she gets a job as a maid so she can snoop around.  This proves to be a treasure-trove of suspects, mainly consisting of the sons avidly waiting for their old man to die to get the inheritance.  It takes a couple of other murders before Miss Marple has her man.  With Arthur Kennedy as the ailing patriarch’s doctor.

There have been a few changes from the novel, mainly to make Miss Marple the center of attention.  (In the novel, she talks a friend into taking the job as a maid.)  Nonetheless, the story is clearly recognizable.  I will watch Margaret Rutherford in anything.  Her very appearance on screen starts me smiling.  I’m glad I have another three of these light, fun films in my future.

Trailer

Mysterious Island (1961)

Mysterious Island
Directed by Cy Endfield
Written by John Prebble, Daniel Ullman and Craig Wilbur from a novel by Jules Verne
1961/UK/USA
Ameran Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Gideon Spilitt: That’s the best crab I ever cooked. Captain Cyrus Harding: We’d be more impressed, Mr. Spilitt, if you’d put it in the pot by yourself.

Jules Verne adaptations were a continuing trend during the late fifties and early sixties. This one throws in another craze of the era – giant creatures.

The story is set during the American Civil War.  A group of Union soldiers escape in a rebel hot air observation balloon.  After they are airborne, they find they have a Confederate stow-away and a war correspondent (Gary Merrill) with them.  The Confederate is the only one with a clue on how to actually operate the contraction.  His help is sorely needed when the balloon goes adrift in a massive storm.

The men finally set down on a mysterious Pacific Island with almost no supplies or weapons. They are a resourceful lot though and make themselves comfortable as best they can seeing they are constantly under threat by giant creatures.  In fact, it is odd the way they miraculous escape every scrape they get into.  Eventually, the men are joined by a countess (Joan Greenwood) and her companion.  Toward the end Captain Nemo introduces himself and fills in some missing details.

This is an OK adventure but did not particularly grab me.  My favorite aspects were hearing Joan Greenwood’s velvet purr again and Herbert Lom as Nemo.  Unfortunately, Lom does not make an appearance until perhaps the final fifteen minutes of the movie.

Trailer

Blast of Silence (1961)

Blast of Silence 
Directed by Allen Baron
Written by Allen Baron and Waldo Salt
1961/USA
Magla Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Narrator: You get a feeling this is how it was meant to be. Like you are Troiano’s fate. Like you’re God.

 

This unique indie film noir was right up my street.

The story is told through liberal use of a second-person narrator who describes  the protagonist’s own thoughts, sensations, and past.  It is Christmastime in New York City where hit man Frankie Bono (played by the director) has been hired to assassinate a syndicate boss.  He spends lots of time wandering city streets killing time and tailing his target.

Frankie is a complete loner who was brought up in an orphanage.  Contact with others represents his danger zone.  His interaction with the hoodlum who arranges for his gun does not bode well.  The contract really goes to hell in a hand basket when he meets a childhood friend and renews his acquaintance with the friend’s sister.

Baron made great use of what was clearly a limited budget.  If nothing else, this would be a lovingly shot portrait of a New York City which is no more. In addition, the narration is gripping and tautly written, drawing you into the psyche of a ruthless but lonely criminal. The story is gritty and surprising.  Warmly recommended.

Trailer

Trailers from Hell

Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)

Gidget Goes Hawaiian
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Written by Ruth Brooks Flippen and Frederick Kohner
1961/USA
Jerry Bresler Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

“Umica ka hanu/ HOLD THE BREATH/ Be patient; don’t give up.” ― Toni Polancy, Hawaii in Love

Exactly what you are looking for in a movie with this title.

Gidget (Deborah Walley) has troubles a girl can only dream of.  She gets pinned by the love of her life, Jeff AKA Moondoggie (James Darren), who is visiting California for the summer.  Immediately thereafter, her parents announce a surprise Hawaiian vacation.  She cannot bear to be separated from her beloved and is heartbroken.  He encourages her to go, she blows up, and they break up.

Gidget continues to be despondent in Hawaii despite the fact every male within range is dying to be with her.  She finally gets over this and starts flirting when Jeff arrives, expenses paid by papa, in Hawaii.  Many misunderstandings and unseemingly innuendos about Gidget’s virginity ensue.

You don’t go to these things for surprises but for nostalgia.  These films play exactly like early sixties sitcoms, which indeed they spawned.  It’s a somewhat entertaining capsule from a much more innocent time.  Lots of fake surfing to be had.

Fan Tribute

Teen Kanya (1961)

Teen Kanya (AKA Three Daughters)
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Written by Satyajit Ray from stories by Rabindranath Tagore
1961/India
Satyajit Ray Productions
First viewing/FilmStruck

To a father growing old nothing is dearer than a daughter. — Euripides

I enjoyed this little-seen film by Satyajit Ray immensely.

This is an anthology film based on three short stories by Rabindranath Tagore, all centered on women.  The first, “Postmaster”, is about a cultured Calcutta man who takes up employment in a small Bengali village.  He is a fish out of water and forms a special bond with the servant he inherits, a little orphan girl.

The second story, “Monihara”, is a sort of modern Bengali version of Greed (1924), in which a wife is driven mad by her obsession with her jewelry.  It’s told as a ghost story narrated by its writer, a schoolmaster.

In the final story, “Samapti”, a student’s mother decides that it is time for him to marry.  He rejects her choice of a mild-mannered young teenager in favor of a wild child the locals call “Crazy Girl”.  She is forced to go through with the marriage against her will and fights back with all her might.  This has a neat resolution and was perhaps my favorite segment.

The entire film is almost three hours long but the stories are entirely unrelated and could easily be viewed in bite-sized chunks.  I watched it in one sitting and was not bored for a moment.  It was refreshing to watch such a humanist film after a series of arty French New Wave movies.  The characters are all very relatable.  Recommended.

Clip

Paris Belongs to Us (1961)

Paris Belongs to Us (Paris nous appartient)
Directed by Jacques Rivette
Written by Jacques Rivette and Jean Gruault
1961/France
Ajym Films/Les Films du Carrosse
First viewing/Netflix rental

“Everyone loves a conspiracy.” ― Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

This film mystified me – and not in a good way.

The plot is convoluted and I may not have caught all of it.  The story frequently touches on the death of Juan, who committed suicide before it began – or was it murder.? Our heroine, Anne, is a young student who really doesn’t feel like studying for her Shakespeare exam.

Anne meets Gerard who is attempting to stage a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, which is rarely performed and apparently with good reason.  Gerard has many difficulties with finding a space to rehearse and getting his actors to stay.  Eventually, the inexperienced Anne is given a role.  She and Gerard evidently share an attraction but he seems permanently tied to the “beautiful and hard” Terry.

Anne decides to help Gerard by finding a disappeared tape of the music that Juan wrote for the play.  In her investigation, she meets Philippe, who warns her that Gerard and all around him are in great danger.  As the story progresses, the mystery builds to a worldwide conspiracy – or not.

Tagline: You Either Dig This Film Or You Don’t

As I was watching, I kept remarking out loud “this is the weirdest movie I have ever seen”. And that is really saying something considering the many weird movies in my catalogue! It’s like one giant inside joke that I simply didn’t “get”.  Maybe I need to see it again.  I doubt I will bother.  This is considered to be a seminal film of the new wave and David Lynch fans may love it.

Clip with cameo by Jean-Luc Godard