Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Written by Leonard Spigelglass based on the stage play book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Steven Sondheim and the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee
Mervyn LeRoy Productions Inc.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
Rose Hovick: [singing] You’ll be swell, you’ll be great. Gonna have the whole world on a plate! Starting here, starting now. Honey, everything’s coming up roses.
I enjoyed watching this long-time favorite so much that I watched the video of a West End production immediately thereafter.
This was based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s fictionalized version of her own life. Mama Rose (Rosalind Russell) is the stage mother supreme. She has all her considerable hopes pinned on her youngest girl, billed as Baby June. She keeps hoping that the elder daughter Louise will reveal a well-hidden talent. Early on, Rose acquires management and a boyfriend in the form of Herbie (Karl Malden), who sincerely loves Rose and her family. At first things go well.
But as the little girls age vaudeville is also breathing its last gasps. When the act is mistakenly booked at a burlesque house, Rose may finally be ready to give up. It is then Louise (Natalie Wood) reveals her special talent.
I love everything about this. Rosalind Russell is the perfect actress for her part – pushy yet lovable. The only flaw in the production is that her singing voice could be better. The Imelda Staunton version I watched next showed what a powerhouse singer could do with the part. I just discovered that my all-time favorite version – Bette Midler’s – is available on YouTube. I just might watch that today instead of Dog Star Man.
Heaven and Earth Magic
Directed by Harry Smith
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
If you have only 1001 slots on a list, why waste one on this thing?
This is “art” and there is no discernible story and no dialogue. It looks like Smith cut images out of very old publications and animated them with a stop motion technique. The film is fairly repetitive. Themes are fluids dripping, eggs cracking and giving birth to new images, and mallets destroying the images.
Well, I gave myself permission to fall asleep and actually stayed awake for the whole thing so that’s something. There is no way I would have watched at all if it had not been for the List. Admittedly, it’s like nothing I have ever seen before. There is a way to make a beautiful film out of paper cut-outs. It is called The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926).
Trailer for “expanded” version with live accompaniment
Directed by Peter Graham Scott
Written by Anthony Hinds and Barbara S. Harper
Hammer Films/Major Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental
Imogene – serving wench: Well if you’ve all done staring.
1st Sailor Jack Pott: If it’s all the same to you miss i’d like a few minutes more.
This was a different movie from what the poster promised. Still quite OK though.
As a prologue to the story, we get the incident of a mariner who murders the wife of a pirate captain. He is captured, has his tongue cut out, and is stranded on an island with no food or drink.
In 18th Century England, a coastal town is plagued by “marsh phantoms” that can make locals die of fright. This does not stop the populace from going out into those same marshes to conduct a flourishing smuggling operation. The pirate captain from the earlier incident is buried there. Rev. Dr. Blys (Peter Cushing) provides spiritual guidance by day and an iron rule by night. His ward is in love with the local Squire’s son (Oliver Reed)
Things get exciting when a gang of men from the King’s revenuers comes to arrest the smugglers. Many adventures and much violence ensue.
While there are “night creatures” at a few points, this is basically a period piece and pirate film. Oliver Reed certainly was a handsome young man at the time. I thought this was one of Cushing’s better performances. He switches back and forth between kindly old parson and vengeful leader of men at will.
Directed by Terence Young
Written by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkeley Mather from the novel by Ian Fleming
First viewing/My DVD collection
[James Bond’s first scene, winning a game of chemin-de-fer] James Bond: I admire your courage, Miss…?
Sylvia Trench: Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr…?
James Bond: Bond. James Bond.
A ton of fun right out of the starting gate!
James Bond (Sean Connery) is a “00” agent for the British M16 with a license to kill. He’s also quite a lady killer when he isn’t dodging the henchmen of Dr. No, the leader of SPECTRE. Dr. No has plans to disrupt a U.S. space launch and he will kill as many of his foes as necessary to accomplish his mission. Bond’s mission is to coordinate with the CIA’s Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) to stop him.
Dr. No’s headquarters are located in mysterious Crab Island off the coast of Jamaica. After successfully defeating many assassination attempts, Bond makes it to the island where he meets Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) collecting shells on the shore. The two are easily captured by Dr. No. Fortunately, like all Bond villains, when it comes to Mr. Bond himself, No would rather talk awhile before getting rid of his adversary. With Bernard Lee as M, Anthony Dawson as a bad guy, and numerous beautiful women
This low-budget effort started the series with all the wit and action that characterized the Sean Connery Bond years. I have never been able to truly get behind anyone else in the part. The only things missing are Q and his awesome gadgets. The DVD came with a very interesting commentary track featuring many of the participants, excepting Connery. Recommended.
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Written by Satyajit Ray
[on whether or not he is a humanist] Not really. I can’t think of being anything else but what is represented by my films. I am not conscious of being a humanist. It’s simply that I am interested in human beings. I would imagine that everyone who makes a film is to some extent interested in human beings… I’m slightly irritated (laughs) by this constant reference to humanism in my work – I feel that there are other elements also. It’s not just about human beings. It’s also a structure, a form, a rhythm, a face, a temple, a feeling for light and shade, composition, and a way of telling a story. — Satyajit Ray
I can’t imagine not liking a film by Satyajit Ray. I liked his first color film but doubt that I will remember it long.
Wealthy Bengalis vacation in the hill town of Darjeeling in Kashmir. It is a romantic location and the story concerns three potential romances. The central story concerns Monisha. Her wealthy father is trying to arrange her marriage with a business man. Her mother is worried and wants Monisha to decide for herself. It is clear fairly early on that the self-absorbed and boring intended fiance is not the proper match for the beautiful, sensitive English major. She strikes up a friendship with an unemployed man of about her age.
There is a side story about the attempts of an unfaithful actress to reconcile with her husband. My favorite part, naturally, was a minor character who spends his time bird watching and his explanation of his love of birds.
This is quite OK. If it had focused on just one story it probably would have had more impact. The color on the YouTube video had lost much of its saturation.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Directed by Tony Richardson
Written by Alan Sillitoe based on his short story
Woodfall Film Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
Colin Smith: Look, I’m nobody’s favorite.
This was the era of Angry Young Men films in Britain. So far, I have mostly found the alienated youth to be more infuriating than angry. Tony Richardson and Tom Courtney make this protagonist totally understandable.
As the film begins teenager Colin Smith (Courtney) is being taken by van to a juvenile detention facility or “Borstal”. Throughout the film we will get glimpses of his life before incarceration via episodic flashbacks. The old-school governor of this institution (Michael Redgrave) believes that athletics can channel the boys’ anger into a constructive outlet and give the athletes a sense of pride. Newer staff, with a bent toward psychology, think that life might be more complicated than that. At any rate, the governor has finally gotten a local public (read private) school to agree to participate in a Sports Day with his boys. He is determined that they will take the Challenge Cup in cross-country running.
Witnessing Colin’s performance in a friendly soccer game convinces the governor that he has found his runner. Soon Colin is the governor’s blue-eyed boy and has many special privileges. In his short life, Colin as never been in such a position. In fact, the whole thing seems surreal to him as do all his encounters with authority figures and glimpses of middle and upper class life.
Colin comes from a chaotic working class home ruled by a stubborn father and a venal mother. The father dies a painful death, made more painful by his refusal to go to the hospital or take pain medicine. The minute the body is cold the mother collects 500 pounds insurance money and throws it away on small luxury items and her new boyfriend. Colin, already a petty thief, teams up with a friend to “borrow a car” from which they pick up girls. Later, they take the till from an unattended bakery, landing Colin in his current predicament. Will Colin take a chance to improve himself or stay true to his origins?
This film works so well because Richardson makes us share Colin’s frustration. The staff of the Borstal, presenters on television, etc. are so disconnected from the problems of someone like Colin as to seem almost like folks from another planet. It also helps that Courtney has the sensitivity to show us Colin’s humanity and struggle to find his way in a hard world. He knows something is wrong somewhere but has no idea how to fix it. The photography has a semi-documentary quality while remaining beautiful and the music supports the story well. Very highly recommended,
This was Courtney’s first film.
Directed by Abe Levitow
Written by Chuck and Dorothy Jones
United Productions of America/Warner Bros.
First viewing/Netflix Rental
Meowrice: [singing] When teacher can’t teach you, and preacher can’t preach you, when agents can’t reach you… the money cat can! The money cat knows where the money tree grows!
When I put together my list I was surprised never to have heard of this Disney animated feature. Might be because it’s not Disney.
Mewsette (voiced by Judy Garland) lives on a farm with her ardent admirer Jaune-Tom (voiced by Robert Goulet) and wise-guy kitten Robespierre (voiced by Red Buttons). She overhears a friend of the farm owner talking about the high life in Paris and soon starts putting on airs. She stows away on the friend’s carriage. Jaune-Tom and Robespierre go off in search of her.
The first cat Mewsette meets is the evil Meow-rice (voiced by Paul Frees). He puts her into courtesan training with Mme. Rubens-Chatte (voiced by Hermoine Guingold) after which he plans to sell her as the “wife” to a rich, fat old American cat. Meow-rice also promptly captures Jaune-Tom and Robespierre on their arrival and sells them as ships’ cats. How will good triumph? This was Goulet’s first film.
From the cast list and the Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg score you would think this would be great. I’m in the minority here, perhaps, but I thought it was pretty terrible. The dialogue and songs just didn’t appeal. The animation recalls a mish-mash of French painters in the backgrounds. Your mileage may vary.
Requiem for a Heavyweight
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Written by Rod Sterling from his teleplay
Columbia Pictures Corporation
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
Louis ‘Mountain’ Rivera: Mountain Rivera was no punk. Mountain Rivera was almost the Heavyweight Champion of the World!
Why are all boxing movies so darned sad?
Mountain Rivera (Anthony Quinn) is coming to the end of his seventeen-year career. He’s still strong enough to last seven rounds against Cassius Clay/Mohammed Ali (who has a cameo). The trouble is that his long-time manager Maish (Jackie Gleason) had bet the farm that he would not last four and, worse, convinced a gangster to make the same bet. Also, the beating has left Mountain unfit to fight due to an eye that will probably be blinded with the next blow.
Mountain has never done anything else but fight. He’s too big to fit into a movie usher’s uniform. He meets Grace (Julie Harris), a social worker who has worked with disabled vets, and she gets him an interview for a camp counselor job. They also look to be starting a tentative romance.
This does not suit Maish in the least. He is desperate to get the money to get the gangster off his back and figures Mountain owes him. The idea is to get Mountain to sign a contract to wrestle. It will be a major blow to Mountain’s dignity. With Mickey Rooney as a trainer.
This is a solid, if predictable, tale of corruption and cynicism in the boxing world. All the acting is good, with Gleason being the standout. Quinn plays his part with a delivery that we should see as punch-drunk but somehow seems slightly off. It takes some getting used to.
Carnival of Souls
Directed by Herk Harvey
Written by John Clifford
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
Mary Henry: [yelling into the void] WHY CAN’T ANYBODY HEAR ME?
An educational and industrial film maker wanted to achieve the “look of a Bergman” and the “feel of a Cocteau” on a budget of $17,000 and shooting time of three weeks. He didn’t do too badly.
As the film begins, a group of boys is drag racing with a group of girls. Both cars occupy a bridge at the same time and the girls’ car goes over the side and into the water. After awhile, Mary Henry surfaces looking completely dazed.
Previously, she had been hired as a church organist and goes off to take her job in Lawrence, Kansas. On her way, she drives by an abandoned carnival site that haunts her for the rest of the film. She finds a room in a house. The only other boarder is a randy young alcoholic who simply will not leave her alone. She keeps seeing terrifying visions of a man (played by the director) whom no one else can see.
As Mary goes about her daily business, it seems people are ignoring her completely. I’ll stop here.
This movie looks beautiful but a horror film without a monster was not going to be a blockbuster in 1962. Amateur acting betrays its small budget and a lot of what was happening does not make complete sense, even in the context of the fantasy. It’s an interesting film, though, and worth seeing once. There are several full versions available on YouTube – be sure to find one that has not been colorized.
The Manchurian Candidate
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by George Axelrod from a novel by Richard Conden
Repeat viewing/My DVD collection
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Bennett Marco: Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.
I consider this the best conspiracy movie ever made. Pity about Janet Leigh’s character, though.
As the movie begins a unit headed by Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) is on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines in North Korea. Marco credits Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) with saving the lives of the survivors of the action and Shaw receives the Medal of Honor for his heroism. After returning to the U.S., Marco suffers from weird recurring nightmares in which Shaw commits unspeakable acts during a gardening club meeting. These are so distressing that his commanding officer orders him to take it easy. Marco believes he is losing his mind until he is approached by one of his comrades who is having similar nightmares. He becomes determined to ferret out the truth.
In the meantime, Raymond’s mother (Angela Lansbury) and step-father Senator Johnny Iselin (James Gregory) are basking in Raymond’s glory. The Iselins are rabid Red-baiters and have ambitions to take the White House. Raymond hates his mother for breaking up the great romance of his life and despises Johnny and his politics. Anyone who has not had the story spoiled previously will be glad that I stop here.
One aspect of the movie that cannot be spoiled is Marco’s bizarre encounter with Rosie (Janet Leigh) on a train. It is love at first sight on her part featuring dialogue that can only be described as surreal. The Rosie-Marco romance is the one weak spot in an otherwise excellent and chilling movie.
All of the principal players are at the top of their game and Lansbury’s performance is unforgettable. It’s unfortunate that she was competing for the Oscar that year with Patty Duke, who could not have been denied. Every technical aspect is practically perfect as well. Highly recommended.
The Manchurian Candidate was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Lansbury) and Best Film Editing.