The Absent Minded Professor (1961)

The Absent Minded Professor
Directed by Robert Steveson
Written by Bill Walsh; story by Samuel W. Taylor
1961/USA
Walt Disney Productions
Repeat viewing?/Netflix rental

 

If you are looking for pleasant, amusing family viewing, this could be it.

Science-professor Ned Brainard’s brain  (Fred MacMurray) has room for only one thing — his work on anti-gravity energy.  As the story begins he is so engrossed in his experiment that he forgets his wedding for the third time.  Despite his groundbreaking discovery, things aren’t looking so good for the professor. His fiancee Betsy is furious and may be succumbing to the attentions of another man.  Brainard flunked the star player (Tommy Corchran) on the basketball team on the eve of the big game with their main rival.  And the star player’s father Alonzo P. Hawk (Keenan Wynne) is an alumni with a long outstanding loan with the school.  The ruthless father would like nothing better than to raze the college and put up a housing development.

Brainard is determined to win his fiancee back by proving the many wonderful properties of his discovery, which he calls Flubber.  The primary feature is that if dropped the substance keeps bouncing higher and higher without slowing down.  This enables Brainard to save the day at the basketball game and fly around the country in his old model T.  After some comic struggles the military becomes interested in the subject.  With Ed Wynn in a cameo as a fire chief.

I don’t remember much about this movie but it certainly would have the kind of thing the family would see in the theater when I was a child.  It’s amazing how down-right nice MacMurray could be when he wasn’t playing total rats for Billy Wilder.  There’s no moral in this, just pure fun.  I expect the laughs in reverse relation to the age of the viewer.

The film had a sequel The Son of Flubber in 1963 and was remade with the same title in 1997, starring Robin Williams

Bridge to the Sun (1961)

Bridge to the Sun
Directed by Etienne Perier
Written by Charles Kaufman from the autobiography by Gwendolen Terasaki
1961/France/USA
Cite Films/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant

I know how men in exile feed on dreams. Aeschylus

Carroll Baker surely had a wide range as an actor.  Here she plays a flighty Southern-belle type with a temper.

This is based on Gwendolen Terasaki’s autobiography.  It is 1935 and Gwen (Baker) is spending a short vacation in Washington DC visiting her aunt and one of her many beaus, a government official.   The official wangles the three an invitation to a reception at the Japanese Embassy.  It is there she meets diplomat “Terry” Terasaki (James Shigeta).  There is an immediate attraction and he asks her out.  They fall in love.  Both her relatives and the Japanese Ambassador oppose their marriage but their passion overcomes all obstacles.

Before too long, Terry is reassigned to Japan.  Gwen has a terrible time adapting to Japanese customs and the growing nationalism surrounding her but the marriage is strong enough to survive it.

By the time the couple returns to Washington, war clouds are on the horizon and they have a daughter in tow.  Terry surreptitiously works for peace.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, all Japanese diplomats are immediately deported.  Gwen refuses to be left behind. Between the deprivation of war and Terry’s continued anti-war activities, Gwen struggles to hold her family together.

This is an interesting and well-made picture.  I enjoyed it and my husband liked it even more than I did.

Trailer

The Steamroller and the Violin (1961)

The Steamroller and the Violin (Katok i skripka)
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by Andrei Tarkovsky and Andrey Konchalovskiy; story by S. Bakhmetyeva
1961/USSR
Mosfilm Children’s Film Unit
First viewing/Filmstruck

One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood. Agatha Christie

Tarkovsky’s debut solo film is both sweet and accomplished.

Seven-year-old Sasha is gifted.  He spends most of every day practicing the violin but neither his mother nor his instructor is ever satisfied.  The kids in his apartment block tease and torment him.  He is a very lonely child.

Sasha has his one day of happy childhood when Sergei, a steamroller driver, takes pity on him.  He lets the boy drive the steamroller and then takes him to get food for a shared lunch.  Sasha basks in the attention.

Tarkovsky tells the tale with great delicacy and charm.  It was the quiet moments surrounding the more arty camera effects that completely won me over, though the latter did build to a very satisfying ending.  Highly recommended.

Video essay on Tarkovsky and his solo debut

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Directed by Irwin Allen
Written by Irwin Allen and Charles Bennett
1961/USA
Irwin Allen Productions
First viewing/Netflix Instant

Admiral Nelson: If God ordains that Man should die without a fight, then why does He give us the will to live?

This apocalyptic submarine adventure provided few thrills to me.

Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) is also a genius submarine innovator.  His latest sub is being criticized in Congress and a team arrives to investigate.  This includes nit-wit psychiatrist Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine).

After awhile, the Earth experiences some extreme climate change thanks to the Van Allen Belt.  Certain scientists believe that the climate will somehow burn itself out in a few weeks.  Admiral Harriman knows that he can save the Earth by shooting off a sea-to-air missile at a precise place and time before the other theory can be proved.  If he is wrong, he may provoke the Apocalypse himself.

En route, the sub picks up a nut-job mariner who believes that Harriman should not interfere with God’s plan to destroy the planet.  The sub loses contact with Washington, so Harriman is on his own.  Furthermore, the UN has sent a team of subs to stop him.  The crew’s morale is rock bottom.  Ultimately, Harriman’s sanity is questioned.  I will take bets on whether the world comes to an end.

The silly story culminates in a way that made no sense to me.  Other than a few impressive shots of the sub and a couple of camp sub v. giant squid encounters I can think of no reason to watch this movie.  With Barbara Eden as the Admiral’s comely secretary, Peter Lorre as the Admiral’s right-hand man and Frankie Avalon as a crew member.  Avalon also sang the inane title tune.

 

Lola (1961)

Lola
Directed by Jacques Demy
Written by Jacques Demy
1961/Italy/France
Rome Paris Films

First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Life is a cabaret old chum … — “Cabaret”, lyrics by Fred Ebb

Refreshing proof that the French New Wave didn’t need to take itself so deadly seriously.

The plot is about first love and cycles through many examples, making it somewhat convoluted to summarize but not too hard to understand.

Roland Cassard is bored and chronically late for work.  He thinks he needs to see the world and when he is fired, he seeks employment with a shady hairdresser who needs someone to travel for him.  In the meantime, Roland meets a 14-year-old named Celine and her mother and, more importantly, another Celine, who was a childhood sweetheart. She is now a cabaret dancer who calls herself Lola (Anouk Aimee).  He falls in love with her but she is still in love with her first love, the father of her child.

The main clientele of the cabaret is American sailors.  One is infatuated with Lola.  He befriends the young Celine who falls in love with him.  Events continue to spiral.

This movie is a lot of fun.  It is stylish without being in any way meta or pretentious. The restoration looks stunning.  I had not expected the Michel LeGrande score, the theme of which became a hit – “Watch What Happens”.

Restoration trailer

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