Terminus (1961)

Terminus
Directed by John Schlesinger
Written by John Schlesinger
1961/UK
British Transport Films
First viewing/YouTube

 

Millions of people swarming like flies ’round Waterloo underground/ But Terry and Julie cross over the river where they feel safe and sound / And they don’t need no friends/ As long as they gaze on Waterloo Sunset they are in paradise – “Waterloo Sunset”, lyrics by Ray Davies

I really enjoyed this documentary account of 24 hours in London’s busy Waterloo Station.

There is no plot but various vignettes including train side meetings and departures, different kinds of business travelers, the arrival of a large Jamaican contingent and the saga of a lost child.

The film has no narration and is supported mostly by its jaunty score.  There is some incidental recording of station announcements, bits of conversatiion, etc.  Schlesinger obviously had enormous affection for Londoners and eccentrics and this shines through. Recommended.

Clip

Bonus – early live Kinks performance of “Waterloo Sunset”.

The Misfits (1961)

The Misfits
Directed by John Huston
Written by Arthur Miller
1961/USA
Seven Arts Pictures/Seven Arts Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Roslyn: If I’m going to be alone, I want to be by myself.

This isn’t Arthur Miller’s best work but it’s excellent to look at and you can’t beat the cast.

Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) is in Reno to get a divorce.  There she is befriended by worldly-wise Isabelle (Thelma Ritter).  They hit the bars together and meet up with pilot Guido (Eli Wallach) and his friend aging cowboy Gay (Clark Gable).  Obviously, Roslyn is a man-magnet and Gay and Guido are immediately vying for her attentions.  Gay tells her she should stick around and see the real West and Guido offers to put her up in his house in the desert.  Having nothing better to do, Roslyn agrees.

It is Gay and Roslyn that start up a romance.  They spend an idyllic time together in the house but we also see a developing friction between the ultra-sensitive woman and her lover, a man’s man if ever there was one.  Then Guido returns with the news that there is a herd of mustangs in the mountains that they can round up.  They hit a rodeo to find a third man to help.  This is reckless, sensitive Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift).  Soon he is also in the explosive mix of lusters after Rosalind.  Matters come to a head during the mustanging expedition.

This movie is famous for being the last on-screen work of Gable and Monroe.  It’s more than a curiosity however.  The leads and supporting players also do some of their best work.  If I had to choose among them, I would say Gable’s performance is the stand-out.  On the other hand, a lot of the dialogue didn’t ring exactly true to me and the ending didn’t really follow from the rest of the film.  I did think the theme of the changing West and changing male roles was very interesting.  The film is beautifully shot.

Trailer

Konga (1961)

Konga
Directed by John Lamont
Written by Kaben Kandel and Herman Cohen
1960/UK/USA
Merton Park Studios
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Dr. Charles Decker: Margaret, I can’t stand hysterics. Especially in the morning.

Every person’s comfort viewing is different.  Mine is apparently bad movies featuring men in ape suits.

The movie begins with an airplane exploding in a ball of flames as it hits an African jungle. The accident appears unsurvivable but one year later the passenger, botanist Dr. Charles Dekker (Michael Gough), makes his way back to London.  His year in the Heart of Darkness and study of carnivorous plants has given him the key to the link between plants and humans.  He also has Konga, a cute baby chimp, in tow.

Dekker begins growing specimens in his greenhouse with the assistance of his faithful housekeeper and frustrated girlfriend Margaret.  He is quickly able to distill the serum and test his theory on Konga, who grows up to be a man in a gorilla suit.  He hypnotizes Konga and then “tests his obedience” by sending the ape out to kill his enemies.  Margaret is rapidly wise to the doctor’s scheme but keeps quiet in exchange for a proposal of marriage.  But Dekker is mad in every sense of the word and soon is making a fool of himself over blonde co-ed Sandra.

This movie is thoroughly bad but has plenty of goofy charm.  It is kind of a bargain basement combination of Frankenstein, King Kong, and The Murders on the Rue Morgue. The cross-eyed ape is irresistibly silly.  The special effect miniatures are endearingly terrible. And Gough’s overacting is the icing on the cake.  Only for fans of this kind of thing.

I also enjoyed all the stock footage of Papua New Guinea tribes, here standing in for exotic Africans!

Trailer

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Little Shop of Horrors
Directed by Frank Oz
Written by Howard Ashman based on his musical play and the film “The Little Shop of Horrors” by Roger Corman and Charles D. Griffith
1986/USA
The Geffen Company
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant

Audrey II: [singing] Feed me, Seymour / Feed me all night long – That’s right, boy! – You can do it! Feed me, Seymour / Feed me all night long / Ha ha ha ha ha! / Cause if you feed me, Seymour / I can grow up big and strong.

Corman’s original was made in 2 1/2 days for a budget of $22,500.  Multiply the budget by 1,000, add color and music you get even more fun!

The film is framed by a “Greek Chorus” consisting of a 60’s style girl group that comments on the action.  The plot of the original has been considerably fleshed out to include an origin story and new relationships.  Seymour (Rick Moranis) discovers the plant at a Chinese herbalist’s shop after a total eclipse of the sun.  He names it Audrey II after his crush, Audrey, the clerk at Skid Row florist shop where we works.

In this version, Audrey is dating the sadistic dentist played here by a fantastic Steve Martin. Bill Murray takes over from Jack Nicholson as the masochistic patient and Vincent Gardenia plays Mushnik.  John Candy, James Belushi and Christopher Guest have cameos.  For me the highlight of the film is the voice of the great Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops as Audrey II.

Life has been rearing its ugly head recently and I needed some cheering up before immersing myself in further dark foreign films from 1960.  This did the trick!  I have seen the musical on stage and loved this on its theatrical release.  It was just as good yesterday. Frank Oz of Muppets fame did a brilliant job with the various growth stages of the Audrey II puppet and the songs are all quite catchy.  Warmly recommended.

Little Shop of Horrors was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Effects, Visual Effects and Best Music, Original Song (“Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”).

Clip

The Sun’s Burial (1960)

The Sun’s Burial (Taiyô no hakaba)
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Written by Toshiro Ishido and Nagisa Oshima
1960/Japan
Shochiku Eiga
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

“Teenagers. Everything is so apocalyptic.” ― Kami Garcia, Beautiful Creatures

I could admire the production values even if I could not entirely figure out the plot.

We are introduced to the dregs of post-War Osaka youth and gang culture.  Mostly we follow the story of Hanako, a tough young woman who is in the blood business but is open to do just about anything in the way of illicit commerce.  (The blood is used to manufacture cosmetics).  The various gangs also deal in prostitution and forgery.  A lot of sex and violence is involved.

The “sun” in the title undoubtedly symbolizes Japan and the film takes a bleak view of both the country’s future and human nature.  The main thing that struck me was how modern the film looked.  It could have been a color film made maybe 30 years later in its lighting and composition.  The score is fantastic.  You could see that Oshima was on his way to being an auteur.  Judging from most of his output (In the Realm of the Senses, etc.), I somehow doubt that I will become a fan.

Clip (no subtitles)

Sergeant Rutledge (1960)

Sergeant Rutledge
Directed by John Ford
Written by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck
1960/USA
John Ford Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

1st Sgt. Braxton Rutledge: Soldier can never think by his heart, ma’am. He got to think by the book.

Two years before To Kill a Mockingbird, John Ford gave us this courtroom drama/Western about a Buffalo solider accused of raping and killing a white woman.

The story is told in a mixture of scenes from the trial of Sgt. Rutledge (Woody Strode) and flashbacks based on witness testimony.  When reshuffled into chronological order, it begins with the discovery of the bodies of a young woman, who had been raped, and her father, the commander of a frontier outpost, who was killed with a service revolver.

Then Lt. Tom Cantrell (Jeffrey Hunter) meets Mary Beecher (Constance Towers) on a train that is taking her home after twelve years in the East and Tom to the fort where he is stationed.  After falling in love, the pair part at the station closest to Mary’s father’s ranch. There, Mary discovers that the station attendant has been killed by an Apache’s arrow.  Her father has not shown up to meet her.  She meets Sgt. Rutledge who is very nervous to be in the company of a white woman but protects her valiently.

It turns out Rutledge has been wounded and Mary tends him.  Tom and some Buffalo soldiers arrive to the station to arrest Rutledge, who had been seen fleeing the scene of the crime.   When the men learn of the Apache threat, the entire group including Rutledge, now handcuffed, and Mary sets off in pursuit.  After Rutledge shows great bravery in the fight with the Indians, Tom brings him in only to defend him in his court martial.  With Billie Burke, in her last screen appearance, as the judge’s flibberty-jibbet wife.

Woody Strode and the Monument Valley scenery are by far the best things about this movie.  Strode has a natural dignity and presence that are mesmerizing.  The other acting isn’t up to much and I wasn’t particularly fond of the screenplay either.   The shouting at the trial is really overdone and seems false.

Lest anyone think John Wayne could not act, this movie is proof of his abilities.  Jeffrey Hunter falls flat on his face when he attempts to deliver lines clearly written for the Duke in his hard-hitting blustery manner.  I can’t think of another actor who could do better, really.

1960

In 1960:

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho became the first American film ever to show a toilet flushing on screen. The first of the 5-pointed pink stars in the sidewalk on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame” was unveiled.  It was awarded to actress Joanne Woodward. Billy Wilder’s The Apartment was the last black-and-white film to win the Best Picture Academy Award Oscar until Schindler’s List (1993).

Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten, received full credit for writing the screenplays for Preminger’s Exodus and Kubrick’s Spartacus, thus becoming the first blacklisted writer to receive screen credit. In 1960, Trumbo was also finally reinstated in the Writers Guild of America. This official recognition effectively brought an end to the HUAC ‘blacklist era’.

Clark Gable died of a heart attack (and coronary thrombosis) at the age of 59. Gable was buried at Forest Lawn next to his deceased actress/wife Carole Lombard, who died in an airplane crash in 1942. Art director Cedric Gibbons, who during his long career had won 11 Oscars for Art Direction (from 1929 to 1957) (from a total of 39 nominations), died at the age of 67. Actress Margaret Sullavan, died at the age of 50 of an accidental overdose of barbiturates.

 

Jack Kennedy (L) & Dick Nixon exchanging smiles, standing under glaring lights prior to beginning their 1st TV debate.

John F. Kennedy won the U.S. Presidential election by the narrowest margin in history following the first-ever televised presidential debates. At age 43, he became the second youngest man to serve as President and the youngest man elected to the office.

In Greensboro, North Carolina, four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter. The event triggered many similar non-violent protests throughout the Southern United States, and six months later the original four protesters were served lunch at the same counter. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1960 into law.

Xerox introduced the first photocopier.  Aluminum cans were used for the first time. “The Twist” dance craze swept the nation.  The FDA approved the first oral contraceptive pill.  President Eisenhower sent 3,500 soldiers into Vietnam.

Advise and Consent by Alan Drury won the Pulizter Prize for fiction.  Fiorello!, book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbot; music by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, won for Drama.    U.S. Scientists were named Time Magazine’s Men of the Year.    “The Theme from a Summer Place”, an instrumental by Percy Faith and His Orchestra, spent nine weeks atop the Billboard charts.

Still from the Eichmann trial

Seventeen African nations gained independence.  A Soviet missile shot down the US U2 spy plane. Fidel Castro nationalized American oil, sugar and other US interests in Cuba. OPEC ( Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries ) was formed.  Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was captured by Israeli agents in Argentina.

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The list of films I will select from for 1960 is here.  I have previously reviewed Le Trou on this site.  There’s lots to look forward to!


Montage of stills from Oscar Winners


Montage of stills from nominees in major Oscar categories

The World of Apu (1959)

The World of Apu (Apur Sansar)
Directed by Sayajit Ray
Written by Sayajit Ray from a story by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
Sayajit Ray Productions
Repeat viewing/FilmStruck
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Apurba Roy: I’m invited to a wedding and I come home with the bride!

Ray saved the best in his Apu Trilogy for last.  The film combines great beauty with a sense of real intimacy.

Following the death of his older sister, father and mother in the previous films, Apu must quit college part way through due to lack of funds.  He has shown a considerable talent for writing while still in school and continues to write short stories and a first novel through the film.  He moves to Calcutta to try to find work but it is not easy to find a steady job to supplement the income he earns as a tutor.  Finally he must settle for a factory job totally outside his interests or talents.

Nonetheless, Apu enjoys his life and the new ideas and sights that surround him.  Poverty is not so bad while there is no responsibility that goes with it.

Then Apu’s best friend invites him to attend a relative’s wedding in his home village.  After the men get there, the family discovers the groom selected is “mad”.  Mother refuses to let the marriage go through.  Yet if the daughter is not married that very day, she will become unmarriageable (reason never really explained). The family prevails on a very reluctant Apu to take over groom duties.  He complies and must take his bride, a relative stranger, back to his sordid student quarters in the city.  In spite of everything, love grows fast and marriage is everything Apu could have dreamed it to be.  I think I’ll stop the plot summary right here

I love this movie.  My favorite aspects are the exquisite cinematography and the intimate details of daily existence that Ray manages to capture.  It all seems quite real.  The standard of acting goes up a notch when compared to the first two films.  The story continues to be sad but ends on a note of hope.  Highly recommended.

Clip – print quality on restored version is superb, much better than clip

Arrival

I’m home from an outstanding break birdwatching and catching up with my friend.  This year was especially awesome as there had just been a rainstorm with plenty of flooded fields for the birds to enjoy.  Here are a couple of feeble pictures I took with my iPhone.

Great Egret with Snow Geese, country road, Placer County, California

Peregrine Falcon, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

While I was at it, I actually saw two movies in the theater!  I can recommend Arrival (2016) for sci-fi buffs.  It’s about a linguist (Amy Adams) whose mission is to communicate with aliens that have popped up all over the planet and figure out why they came.  It has something to do with a message about the non-linearity of time.  Some of it went over my head but the movie is so eerily beautiful that I didn’t care.

The other was Manchester by the Sea (2016).  The acting, by Casey Affleck, Melissa Williams and others, is fantastic and the film is beautiful to look at.  Be prepared for what seems like hours and hours of unrelieved despair, however.  I was just not up for anything quite that depressing.

I’m looking forward to getting back to 1959 where I belong!