The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

The Tale of Zatoichi (Zatôichi monogatari)
Directed by Kenji Misumi
Written by Minoru Inuzuka from a short story by Kan Shimozawa
1962/Japan
Daiei Motion Picture Company
First viewing/FilmStruck

Tane: Why don’t you live a decent life?

Zatôichi: It’s like being stuck in a bog; it’s not easy to pull yourself out once you’ve fallen in.

I had been looking forward to starting this series and the first entry did not disappoint.

The hero Ichi is blind.  He used to work as a masseuse before self-studying sword fighting and becoming a gangster.  As the series begins, he arrives in a new town looking for a previous acquaintance and is insulted by the locals.  We soon learn that it is a grave error to get on the wrong side of Ichi.  When his acquaintance, the boss of the local gang, comes he orders that Ichi be treated with tender loving care.  Secretly, the boss wants to start a gang war with the gang in a neighboring town and hopes to use Ichi as his big guns.

In the meantime, Ichi meets the samurai that has been hired by the rival gang. The samurai is dying of consumption.  The two form a special bond though it appears that they must inevitably face off.  Ichi also forms a special bond with the sister of the no-good lackey of “his” boss.  The movie culminates in some awesome mayhem.

There are 26 films in the series and luckily it starts off with a bang.  The absurd hero actually works perfectly in context.  I was expecting lots of swordplay.  I wasn’t prepared for the sensitive story that leads up to it.  I’m looking forward to the next one. Recommended.

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Billy Budd (1962)

Billy Budd
Directed by Peter Ustinov
Written by Peter Ustinov and DeWitt Bodeen from the play by Louis O. Coxe and Robert H. Chapman based on the novel by Herman Melville
1962/UK
Allied Artists Pictures/Anglo Allied
First viewing/Netflix rental

Billy Budd: There are many ways to lie, Mr. Claggert, but there is only one way to tell the truth.

The acting is the thing in this symbolic maritime tragedy.

Angelic young Billy Budd (Terence Stamp) is everyone’s favorite among the crew on the merchant ship Rights of Man.  It is the Napoleonic Wars and impressment is a constant threat to merchant sailors.  Sure enough, the HMS Avenger commanded by Post Captain James Vere (Peter Ustinov) arrives and selects Billy as the likeliest fighting man from the ship.  Billy greets this turn of events will cheerful equanimity.  He soon becomes the favorite of almost everyone on the Avenger.

Everyone, that is, is except Master of Arms John Claggert (Robert Ryan).  Claggert is sadist that mercilessly works the men under him and is as widely hated as Billy is loved. The thing is that Claggert seems to have a need to be hated.  He begins to plot Billy’s destruction.  Captain Vere is eventually left with a dreadful dilemma.  With Melvyn Douglas as an ancient mariner and a host of British character actors.

The Christ symbolism is applied here with a trowel, just as it was in the play and, I imagine, the novel.  But the acting is so strong that it overcomes some pretty clunky dialogue. Director Ustinov made marvelous use of the sea setting and the services of cinematographer Robert Krasker (The Third Man).  Recommended.

The DVD I rented contained a terrific commentary in the form of a conversation between Steven Soderbergh and the erudite and amusing Terence Stamp.

Terence Stamp was Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his film debut (despite playing the lead).

Cape Fear (1962)

Cape Fear
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Written by James R. Webb from a novel by John D. MacDonald
1962/USA
Melville Productions/Talbot Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Max Cady: Go ahead. I just don’t give a damn.

Mitchum’s Max Cady is scarier than any monster.

Max Cady has just been released from eight years in person for assaulting a woman. Attorney Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) was the eye witness at his trial. Max looks him up and begins a subtle but effective campaign of terror which he soon escalates.

Bowden is not about to take this lying down, especially since the main threat is to his wife (Polly Bergen) and teenage daughter.  But everything he tries makes things worse until he feels compelled to take drastic action.  With Martin Balsam as a police chief.

Robert Mitchum seems to have been born to play a villain – that is until you see him play a hero.  This performance may even surpass his bravura turn in Night of the Hunter for sheer evil.  Director Thompson ratchets up the suspense to eleven.  The tension is heightened by the fantastic Bernard Herrmann score.  I do get a bit frustrated with all the wrong-headed moves Peck’s character makes.  Highly recommended.

 

The Magic Sword (1962)

The Magic Sword Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Written by Bernard C. Schoenfeld; story by Bert I. Gordon
1962/USA
Bert I. Gordon Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Lodac: [chuckling] You don’t like Sir Branton? Oh, come now. A damsel in distress can’t afford to pick and choose.

This fairy tale adventure from giant-creature specialist Bert I. Gordon came as a very pleasant surprise.

Sir George was left an orphan and raised practically since birth by Sybil (Estelle Winwood), a sorceress.  It is his 20th birthday.  A magic reflecting pool shows him that Princess Helene, his beloved, has been kidnapped.  Sybil refuses to let him ride to her assistance.  To cheer him up, she shows him all the magic items she will give to him when he turns 21. George tricks Sybil and locks her underground. He then departs for the castle with the magic sword, magic armor, and 6 knights resurrected from the dead.

Evil wizard  Lodac (Basil Rathbone) tells Helene’s father, the King, that he will feed his daughter to a dragon in seven days time.  Dastardly Sir Branton, who wants Helene for himself, promises the king he will rescue the girl in exchange for her hand in marriage.  George arrives in the knick of time and the king promises the princess to whomever rescues her.  The seven start out as a group.

Lodac has placed six curses between the palace and the dungeon where the princess is being kept.  High adventure ensues.

I wasn’t expecting much especially after learning that this was sent up on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  I don’t know why because I found it thoroughly enjoyable.  The effects are good for a movie of this vintage and budget.  The make-up is award-worthy.  It was great fun watching Basil Rathbone do his thing. This would make excellent family viewing with boys of a certain age.

If a Man Answers (1962)

If a Man Answers
Directed by Henry Levin
Written by Richard Morris from a novel by Winifred Wolfe
1962/USA
Ross Hunter Productions/Universal International Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rentals

 

Germaine Stacy: Husbands often leave home. Pets never do. There must be a reason.

This mildly risque sitcom shows how a new bride learns to manipulate her man.

Chantal Stacey (Sandra Dee) was born of a wealthy Bostonian father and French mother. As the film begins she is ripe for marriage.  She selects an unlikely candidate in confirmed bachelor Eugene Wright (Bobby Darrin).  It doesn’t take long before all his defenses are gone and they wed.

The newlyweds go through the normal growing pains.  Chantal’s mother advises Chantal on how to keep her man’s interest.  This includes a dog training manual and the jealousy maneuver.  With John Lund of Bulldog Drummond fame as Chantal’s father, Cesar Romero as a mystery man, and Stephanie Powers as Chantal’s rival.

With the addition of a laugh track this could have played on 60’s TV, minus a couple of slightly naughty bits.  The chemistry between Dee and Darrin carries the piece.

Montage of clips with Darrin’s rendition of the title tune

The Cabinet of Caligari (1962)

The Cabinet of Caligari
Directed by Roger Kay
Written by Robert Bloch
1962/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Associated Producers/Robert L. Lippert Productions
First viewing/YouTube

Caligari: How old were you when you first let a man make love to you? Next, who was he? Next, how did you feel at the time? Next, how did you feel afterwards? What did you feel? What did you think? Were you pleased, frightened, ecstatic, disgusted? What did he say? What words did you speak? That’s what I want to know. Now. Tell me. Now. Now. All of it, now. Tell me. YES!

While it does not measure up to its illustrious predecessor or even its own poster, this confusing little thriller did hold my interest.

The YouTube version available to me cut off the credits and probably a few of the first minutes of the film.  At any rate, Jane Lindstrom (Glenys Johns) has been plunked down into the middle of some kind of hotel or other lodging place and now is unable to leave. She is tormented by encounters with Caligari (Dan O’Herlihy).

Jane tries to enlist the help of her fellow guests without success.  I won’t spoil the ending.

I wasn’t expecting much from the title but it turns out the leads were A-list actors and its a competently made film.  The director even tries to get a little Expressionistic in places but without the effect of the film’s famous predecessor.

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My Life to Live (1962)

My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard and Marcel Sacotte from the book by Sacotte
1962/France
Les Films de la Pleiade/Pathe Consortium Cinema
First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Nana: The more one talks, the less the words mean.

Despite a luminous performance by Anna Karina, I have not overcome my aversion to Godard.

The story consists of twelve tableaux or vignettes outlining the descent of Nana (Karina) from shop girl and wanna-be actress to prostitute.  As the film begins, Nana is discussing their breakup with her ex-husband or ex-boyfriend.  Evidentally, there was a child involved, who is no longer in Nana’s life. Next we observe Nana’s attempts to cadge loans and her boring work-a-day existence.

She is ripe for a new trade and seems to have a knack for it.  Unfortunately, she soon turns to a pimp in hopes of higher rewards.

There’s nothing wrong with the story or the acting.  The initial conversation is shot with the actors’ backs to the camera and already I was pretty irritated with this movie.  The middle part is OK but the penultimate tableaux consists of an interminable pretentious conversation about philosophy and I was annoyed again.  Godard is just not for me.

 

Sanjuro (1962)

Sanjuro (Tsubaki Sanjuro)
Directed by Akira Kurasawa
Written by Ryuzo Kikushima, Hido Oguni, and Akira Kurasawa from a novel by Shugoro Yamamoto
1962/Japan
Toho Company/Akira Kurasawa Production Company
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Sanjûrô Tsubaki: Stupid friends are dangerous.

The crafty ronin Sanjuro returns – this time to teach life lessons to some clueless samurai.

The nameless ronin of Yojimbo (1961) (Toshiro Mifune) hides out in another town and overhears some young samurai discussing corruption.  He straightens them out on who is responsible.  Before they can take further action, the good Chamberlain and his family has been kidnapped by the evil Superintendent.  The group retrieves the Chamberlain’s wife and daughter (?).  The elderly wife impresses Sanjuro with her counsel that a good sword remains in its sheath.

Unfortunately, the young samurais’ impulsive behavior interferes with Sanjuro’s plan to conduct a campaign of wits to return the Chamberlain  to power.  Bloodletting ensues.

I give Yojimbo only a slight edge over this one.  Mifune is once again completely delightful.  The film also contains another great performance by Testuya Nakadai as a kindred spirit on the other side.  Underneath all the fun are some masterful compositions and camerawork and a wonderful Masaru Sato score.  Highly recommended.

The Criterion Blu-Ray looks beautiful and contains a good commentary by a film scholar.

David and Lisa (1962)

David and Lisa
Directed by Frank Perry
Written by Eleanor Perry from a book by Theodore Isaac Rubin, MD
1962/USA
Lisa and David Company/Vision Associates Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

David Clemens: What makes you think that I ever really talked to you at all? When people talk, it means they say what they really feel. All you ever do is toss words around.

Patients David and Lisa help each other recover from mental illness in this drama about a school for troubled youth.

David Clemens (Kier Dullea) lives in his head where he is an expert on psychology.  He crumbles into a sobbing mess if anyone, however accidentally, touches him.  Lisa Brandt (Janet Margolin) is a child-like schizophrenic who speaks only in rhyme.  Somehow the two patients connect on a deep level.  David uses his insight to communicate with her and they become friends.  In the meantime, David is resistant to any type of therapeutic interaction with the staff.

Eventually, David’s parents take him out of the school.  He runs away from home and back to the school where he finally begins to open up.

It is amazing how the nature vs. nurture debate has shifted in the last 55 years.  I think most professionals accept a biochemical and genetic model of mental illness these days. It sure is cheaper than talk therapy!  Back in 1962, the model was distinctly Freudian.  I tend to think that it is a mixture of both nature and nurture.  At any rate, this is a touching, if a bit simplistic, coming-of-age story

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Lolita (1962)

Lolita
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Vladimir Nabokov from his novel (Stanley Kubrick and James B. Harris uncredited)
1962/UK/USA
A.A. Productions Ltd./Anya/Harris-Kubrick Productions/Transworld Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Lolita Haze: ‘Fraid someone’s gonna steal your ideas and sell ’em to Hollywood, huh?

The novel is indeed unfilmable but Kubrick makes an excellent first foray into black comedy.

Suave erudite European Humbert Humbert (James Mason) has a thing about young girls for reasons unexplained in this movie.  He has come to America to teach at a college and plans to spend the preceding summer at a resort in Maine.  He is looking to rent a room when he meets up with vulgar pathetic landlady Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters).  He is ready to bow out when he catches a glimpse of her blonde 16-year-old daughter Lolita (Sue Lyons) in the garden.

Charlotte is smitten with Humbert and views Lolita as an impediment to alone time.  When she gets Lolita out of the way by sending her to camp, she declares her love.  Humbert, eager for a convenient step-daughter, marries her.

The rest of the film follows Humbert’s trials and tribulations with his “little girl”.  With Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty.

“We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep.” ― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Lolita is one of my very favorite novels and I have read it more times than I have seen the movie.  There is no way any film could capture it.  Not because of the subject matter, but because of the ineffable blend of black comedy with tragedy and because at heart it is a love letter to the English language.  For some reason, Nabokov’s screenplay was also gutted  The film weakens the pathos by making Lolita a teenager, rather than the 12-year-old of the novel.

That said, Kubrick made a superb comedy on his first attempt.  There are some really stunning shots here as well.  The performances are all wonderful.  I can’t imagine anyone else in the roles, though Jeremy Irons did well in the 1997 remake.

Nabokov was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.  I see that Nabokov’s actual screenplay is available on Amazon.  I look forward to reading it!

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