Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Written by Abby Mann based on his original story
Roxlom Films Inc.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental


Hans Rolfe: My Country, right or wrong.

This multi-star production examines changing attitudes to Germany post-WWII.

The film is set in 1948 towards the end of the many Nazi war crimes trials.  The court now reaches the trial of a group of judges that applied Nazi race laws.  The head of the panel of Allied judges is Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy), a middle American district attorney, who, with the film’s audience will be educated in the legal system under Hitler.  The judges are defended by attorney Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell) and prosecuted by JAG Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark).  The most prominent of the German jurists on trial is Dr. Ernst Jannings (Burt Lancaster) a widely published and respected legal scholar.

Rolfe’s defense hinges on depicting his clients as patriots and as judges whose duty was to apply the law of the land.  But the prosecution shows that the judges succumbed political pressure to rule contrary to the established facts.  With Marlene Dietrich as the widow of an executed war criminal, Montgomery Clift as a man sterilized as a “mental defective”; and Judy Garland as a Gentile whose innocent friendship with an elderly Jew led to the man’s execution.

The film is three hours and six minutes long and probably would have been even more powerful with at least half an hour worth of cuts and a tighter screenplay.  That said, it kept my attention throughout and is always thought-provoking.  In the background of the trial lurks the Cold War, in which the U.S. needs the support of West Germany.  Gradually, we see suggestions that Nazi misconduct should be relegated to the history books.  The film comes down squarely on the side of holding individuals responsible for the consequences of their actions.  There’s quite a bit of speechifying but it is of a high standard and goes down fairly easily.

Maximilian Schell won the Oscar for Best Actor and Abby Man for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.  Judgement at Nuremberg was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Clift); Best Supporting Actress (Garland); Best Director; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; and Best Film Editing.


The End of Summer (1961)

The End of Summer
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Written by Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu
Toho Company/Takarazaka Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental


“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” ― Abraham Lincoln

Near the end of his own life, Ozu makes a reflective film about what’s really important at the end of the day.

Widower Manbei Kohayagawa is enjoying his golden years.  He owns a sake brewery but is growing more and more hands-off in its operations.  He has three daughters – the eldest, Fumiko, is married to a company employee.  Next comes Akiko (Setsuko Hara), a widow with a young son.  Youngest is the single Noriko.  This being Ozu, one of the threads of the story is attempts to find husbands for Akiko and Noriko.

More important is the family’s upheaval over Manbei’s reunion with a former mistress and her child who may or may not be his daughter.  Spies are sent out and when suspicions are confirmed Fumiko berates her father harshly.  Manbei’s illness causes a reassessment of the situation and in the end several characters choose between personal happiness and familial obligations.

I always gush about Ozu films and why should this be any exception?  There’s a lot of comedy here and well as true poignancy.  He captures that feeling between exasperation and love for family members that should be familiar to many viewers.

The film is exquisitely shot as usual.  One sequence that both my husband and I remarked on was the arrival of a train.  It begins with a conversation between a man and a woman with unstated undercurrents.  Then you think the man is looking away and the woman looking at him.  It turns out both are looking at an arriving train.  This is indicated simply by sound.  It doesn’t sound like much but the perfection of the composition and the unison of the actors’ movements make it very special.  Highly recommended.

Enjoy this beautiful montage of clips from Ozu’s final six films

Bloodlust! (1961)

Directed by Ralph Brooke
Written by Ralph Brooke based on the story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Dean Gerrard: I can’t go on forever pretending to be a useless drunk.

Do yourself a big favor and watch the original 1932 The Most Dangerous Game instead of this low-budget rip-off.

It is 1961 and therefore the heroes and heroines of this tale must be teenagers (played by actors in their twenties).  They are out on a yachting trip and spot a mysterious island. When the captain of the vessel passes out, they decide to take the boat in and explore. They meet crazy island owner Dr. Albert Balleau.  His hobby is hunting … humans.

The best thing about this movie is that it is only 68 minutes long.  It’s not campy enough to tickle my fancy.  Also, it does not feature Joel McCrea with his shirt off like the original version.


The Parent Trap (1961)

The Parent Trap
Directed by David Swift
Written by David Swift from a book by Erich Kastner
Walt Disney Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Sharon McKendrick:  Watch out for snakes!

I hadn’t seen this since childhood and had forgotten a lot.  Haley Mills is fantastic as usual.

Identical twins Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick (both played by Mills) have been separated since infancy when their parents divorced.  Susan has lived in California with her father Mitch (Brian Keith) and Sharon in Boston with mother Maggie (Maureen O’Hara).

They meet at summer camp and get off to a very rocky start.  When they discover they are sisters, however, their greatest desire is to meet the parents they have been denied and to reunite the family.  They decide the easiest way to get their first wish is to switch places when they go home.

Susan and Sharon are surprisingly convincing at imitating each other.  Maggie even seems amenable to their plan.  The great sticking point is Mitch who is about to marry a gold-digging young blonde bimbo named Vicky (Joanna Barnes).   Sharon, Susan and Maggie all hate the two-faced Vicky.

The entire family eventually assembles at Mitch’s house, where wedding plans are underway.  The rest of the story deals with the the ladies’ plot to oust Vicky.  With Charles Ruggles as the girls’ grandfather, Catherine Nesbitt as their grandmother, Una Merkle as Mitch’s housekeeper and Leo G. Carroll as a sympathetic preacher.

This was a pleasant trip down memory lane.  With this cast it was almost bound to be enjoyable.  My favorite parts were the scenes with Vicky.  These Disney films are also good for catching beloved character actors from the 30’s and 40’s.

When did Hollywood decide that Bostonians speak with British accents?  It was a tradition that lasted since the first talkies.  Mills does pretty well with her American accent as Susan.

The Parent Trap was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Film Editing.

Mills and Mills sing “Let’s Get Together”

Homicidal (1961)

Directed by William Castle
Written by Robb White
William Castle Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Emily: [to Helga] If it wasn’t for me you would’ve been dead by now.

William Castle was no Alfred Hitchcock.  That does not prevent his thrillers from being a lot of campy fun.

Something is seriously wrong with Emily.  She has a thing about knives for one thing.  One of her first acts is to pay a bellboy $2,000 to marry her.  She then proceeds to savagely stab the justice of the peace that performs the ceremony.  Leaving two live witnesses, she proceeds home where she has fun threatening Helga, the wheelchair-bound old lady she cares for.

Helga was the nanny (?) to Warren, who stands to inherit $10 million dollars on his upcoming 21st birthday.  He and his sister Miriam are frequent visitors.  All are involved in the weird goings on that follow.  This is a thriller with a twist ending and I won’t reveal more.

The Castle gimmick in this film was a pulse rate monitor near the end.  Audience members whose heartbeat was too fast were advised to leave the theater and claim a refund.  The plot capitalizes on the success of Psycho, among other contemporary sensations.  I guessed the twist way too early but this is so bizarre that it is truly enjoyable.


Placido (1961)

Directed by Luis Garcia Berlanga
Written by Rafael Azcona, Luis Garcia Berlanga, Jose Luis Colina, Jose Luis Font
Jet Films
First viewing/Film Struck

“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

This black comedy is a savage indictment of false charity and the state of the Spanish population in the Franco era.

A cookware company is mounting a “have a poor person to dinner” campaign on Christmas Eve.  Wealthy Spaniards are, at least superficially, enthusiastically cooperating.  When they are in private it is clear the exercise is a giant pain in the neck.  The event includes a beauty queen and a raffle of gift baskets with second-rate movie stars as “prize” dinner guests.  Elderly “poor persons” are kept out in the freezing cold for hours to welcome the movie stars.

Placido’s prized possession is his truck which he uses as a taxi and delivery van.  The family is barely making ends meet – his wife works as a restroom attendant.  Placido must make payment on his truck on this particular day or he will lose it.  All his efforts to scrape together the money or go to actually make the payment are derailed by the organizer’s demands that he drive various people around.  None of the organizer’s promises to help Placido with his dilemma will be kept.

In the meantime, the campaign is a comedy of errors capped off by a poor old person’s heart attack and forced marriage to his common law wife.

I might need to see this again to fully appreciate it.  I found myself getting irritated on Placido’s behalf rather than laughing.  The comedy might not translate well.  At any rate, it is of a very black stripe.

Placido was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Trailer (no subtitles)

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

Mr. Sardonicus
Directed by William Castle
Written by Ray Russell from his novel
William Castle Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental


Baron Sardonicus: [leading Sir Robert to the torture chamber] This castle is very old, Sir Robert. It was built in a dim age of fearful barbarity.

William Castle’s films never live up to their trailers.  They are a lot of fun anyway.

The story takes place late in the 19th Century.  Sir Robert Cargrave is a genius researcher into treatments to relax muscles stiffened in cases of tetanus.  One day he receives a letter from Maude Sardonicus begging him to come to her in the Eastern European country in which she lives.  Maude was Robert’s sweetheart when she was forced by her father to marry the Baron Sardonicus and he has never loved another.

On arrival, Robert is met the baron’s creepy one-eyed “man of all trades” Krull (Oskar Homolka).  He observes fearful experiments being done on the maid using leeches. Eventually, Robert meets the Baron who constantly wears a mask.  He learns that Sardonicus was once a simple peasant.  His face was frozen into the grotesque permanent grin of his dead father when he opened the grave in search of a winning lottery ticket.

Sardonicus is a terrible sadist and he threatens Maude with unspeakable torture if Robert does not fix his face.  I will stop here.

This movie could have been much scarier but not much more fun.  Castle himself opens the proceedings to provide the audience with a definition of the word “ghoul” and closes them by running a rigged audience poll on whether Sardonicus deserves further punishment.  The best thing about the movie is Homolka’s delicious hamming.  What a long career he had!  The DVD print is outstanding.


101 Dalmatians (1961)

101 Dalmatians
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by Bill Peet from a novel by Dodie Smith
Walt Disney Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Anita: How are you?

Cruella De Vil: Miserable, darling, as usual, perfectly wretched.

The artwork is charming and who could resist all those adorable puppies!

The Dalmatian Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor) and his “pet” Roger, a songwriter, are lonely bachelors – except that Roger doesn’t know it yet.  Pongo plots to find a woman for him and finds one, Anita, along with a mate for himself named Perdita.  The pairings are blissful and before long Perdita gives birth to a litter of 15 puppies!

Somehow, the gentle Anita ended up tolerating her old classmate Cruella De Vil.  Cruella is a chain-smoking, fur-wearing nightmare with some of the mannerisms of Tallulah Bankhead.  She is determined to have a Dalmatian-skin coat or six and has been buying up all the Dalmatian puppies she can find.  When Anita refuses to sell her litter, Cruella resorts to dognapping with the assistance of evil but bumbling henchmen Horace and Jasper.  The police have no luck, so it is up to Pongo, Perdita and assorted animal friends to rescue their babies.

Well, this is just a ton of fun.  Unlike other Disney animated features, this has only one song.  The animal behavior is amusingly captured and the animation style is quite a departure for Disney.  I really enjoyed it.


A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

A Raisin in the Sun
Directed by Daniel Petrie
Written by Lorraine Hansberry
Columbia Pictures Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental


What happens to a dream deferred?// Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?/ Or fester like a sore—/ And then run?/ Does it stink like rotten meat?/ Or crust and sugar over—/ like a syrupy sweet?// Maybe it just sags’ like a heavy load.// Or does it explode?  – “Harlem” by Langston Hughes

This film was made at a critical moment in the course of the civil rights movement in America.  More than a time capsule, however, it is an excellent and powerful film with an extraordinary cast.

Five members of the  Younger family live in a dilapidated two-bedroom apartment.  The young son of Ruth (Ruby Dee) and Walter Younger (Sidney Portier) sleeps on the sofa. The family shares a bathroom with the other tenants on their floor.

Walter works as a chauffeur and his mother and wife work as domestics.  Walter is angry.  He wants a lot more than this.  His dream is to open a liquor store with some friends. Walter’s intelligent sister Beneatha (Diana Sands) is in college and hoping to enter medical school.  Currently she is obsessed with all things African. Walter’s mother Lena (Claudia McNiel) is clearly the head of the household.  She is a strong, God-fearing woman who doesn’t take much nonsense from anyone in her home.

Walter’s father died recently and the family is due to receive a $10,000 insurance payout. The  windfalll sends the family into a tailspin.  Walter wants it all to himself to buy the liquor store.  There is no way his Mama is going to invest in such a venture.  So Walter sulks and begins to drink heavily.  Mama has a plan for the money that is going to suit every other member of the family down to the ground.  Will the Youngers be allowed to fulfill her dream?  With Louis Gossett Jr. as Beneatha’s sometime rich and snobbish boyfriend.

This came from a stage play and feels it but the play is so strong I don’t mind.  The acting is uniformly wonderful.  The story is basically about Portier’s coming to manhood.  He is fantastic during every stage of his development from drunkard to head of the family.  McNeil is very powerful.  I love this movie.  Highly recommended.

Fan Trailer

Zero Focus (1961)

Zero Focus (Zero no shôten)
Directed by Yoshitaro Nomura
Written by Shinobu Hashimoto and Yoji Yamada from a novel by Seicho Matsumoto
Shochiku Company
First viewing/Netflix rental


“As a rule, the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

After starting out strong, the mystery got steadily less intriguing.  It’s not a bad movie though.

Teiko’s family is thrilled with her arranged marriage to Kenichi Uhara, an up-and-coming business executive.  He has just been promoted to a new position in Tokyo so Teiko will not have to move.  Kenichi needs to say his goodbyes to clients at his old post in Kanazawa. They are married one week when he departs, promising to return on December 12.

Kenichi fails to return and Teiko travels to Kanazawa to search for him with the new branch manager.  She finds out she knows almost nothing about him.  This is a mystery and I will refrain from giving away any more of the plot.

This movie uses the voice-over narration of the wife as she becomes her own best detective.  I was getting ready for a really surprising pay-off.  I guess you couldn’t have expected the solution very far ahead but when it came it was just too drawn out and convoluted for my taste.  It’s a well made movie though and many may like it better than I did.  There many beautiful shots of Japan covered in snow – scenes that we don’t see often in Japanese movies.