Sons and Lovers (1960)

Sons and Lovers
Directed by Jack Cardiff
Written by Gavin Lambert and T.E.B. Clarke from the novel by D.H. Lawrence
1960/UK
The Company of Artists
First viewing/YouTube rental

“That’s how women are with me ” said Paul. “They want me like mad but they don’t want to belong to me.” ― D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers

This handsome film is a well-acted adaptation of Lawrence’s classic novel of desire, both repressed and unleashed.

Paul Morel (Dean Stockwell) is a rebellious artist living in an impoverished English mining town.  His mother (Wendy Hiller) dotes on him and his drunken miner father (Trevor Howard) fails to understand him.  Paul has had a long-term relationship with Miriam.  She loves him deeply, but religion as preached by her mother forbids her from letting him get physical.  Paul’s mother disapproves of the friendship and seems likely to frown on any girl Paul gets serious about.  This is not a real problem since he has vowed never to get married while she is alive.

Paul’s filial devotion prevents him from accepting an offer to study painting in London. Instead, he goes to work at a corset factory.  There he meets Clara Dawes (Mary Ure), a suffragette who has separated from her husband due to his infidelity.  Clara is open to “free love” and she and Paul begin an affair.  But Paul’s heart really belongs to mother.

All the acting is of a very high standard but I thought that Hiller, who failed to snag a nomination, was the best thing about this movie.  The story is interesting and the visuals are simply gorgeous.  Recommended.

Freddie Francis won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White. Sons and Lovers was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Howard); Best Supporting Actress (Ure); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.

Trailer

L’Avventura (1960)

L’Avventura
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, and Tonio Guerra
1960/Italy/France
Cino del Duca/Produzione Cinematografiche Europee/Societe Cinematographique Lyre
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Sandro: Why should we be here talking, arguing? Believe me Anna, words are becoming less and less necessary; they create misunderstandings.

The adventure in this hauntingly beautiful film is a young woman’s journey of self-discovery.

Anna (Lea Massari) is young, beautiful and rich.  She is also bored, dissatisfied, and conflicted about her engagement to Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti).  Sandro works as some kind of building consultant, having abandoned actual architecture.  The two have meaningless sex in lieu of communicating.  It’s hard to communicate with Sandro, who is seemingly a very simple sort of guy.

Anna’s friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) will accompany the couple on a yacht trip.  Along for the ride are two other couples, both of whom also have deeply conflicted relationships. Claudia is the witness to all this emptiness and despair.  She will be the only authentic human being we will meet in the course of the film.

The party visits a deserted rocky island where they continue to play out their psychodramas.  Suddenly, Anna has disappeared  Everyone looks for her with varying degrees of intensity.  Claudia is the most frantic.  But Anna is nowhere to be found.

Sandro comes on to Claudia before the yacht has even departed the island.  She flees to continue the search on the mainland.  He follows her.  Then they start searching together. Claudia eventually reciprocates his attentions but loving Sandro will not be easy.

This was my third viewing of L’Avventura.  The first time through I was just puzzled.  After a couple more tries at Antonioni’s films, I concluded that he made boring films about boredom.  The second time something clicked in me and I found the film fascinating and meaningful.  On this viewing, I was somewhere in between my two reactions.  The film seemed to drag on and on, yet every image was captivating and moving.  I love the ending when two characters seem able to grieve their losses.

I don’t know how fair it is to let a commentary influence one’s opinion about a film.  The one on the Criterion version is fantastic and explains so much.  It turns out that you have to pay attention to just about every detail in every frame to get the most out of this.  Nothing is there by accident.  When I watch the movie through this film historian’s eyes, it turns into a masterpiece.

Re-release trailer

BUtterfield 8 (1960)

BUtterfield 8
Directed by Daniel Mann
Written by Charles Schnee and John Michael Hayes
1960/USA
Afton-Linebrook
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Tom, the Bartender: Without her this place is dead. She’s like catnip to every cat in town.

 

Elizabeth Taylor is not bad here but was better in other, better, films.

The Hayes Code is still in force.  Gloria Wandrous (Taylor) works as a “model” but sleeps around and drinks heavily.  Her latest conquest is wealthy married cad Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey).  Liggett has the audacity to leave her $250 after a night of passion.  She retaliates by stealing his wife’s mink coat.

The next day, Liggett pursues Gloria.  He chases her until she catches him and they begin a rapturous week of true love.  She forgets all about the mink, which he still does not know is missing.

Love has made Gloria a new woman.  When Liggett’s wife returns to their city apartment she finds the mink missing.  Gloria is the only person who could have taken it and Liggett now confronts her in a fury.  Many complications ensue.  With Dina Merrill as the long-suffering wife, Mildred Dunnock as Gloria’s mother, Bettie Field as a catty neighbor and Eddie Fisher as Gloria’s best friend.

I watched this with my husband and brother.  My brother liked it more than I did and my husband liked it less.  Both my husband and I correctly predicted the ending, driving my brother crazy in the process.  A good time was had by all.

Anyway, Taylor did remarkably well for someone who refused to speak to the director (she was forced to make the film to complete her MGM contract) and looks absolutely scrumptuous.  The script veers from witty and catty repartee to all-out melodrama by the end.  The movie was better than I expected from its low IMDb rating.

Elizabeth Taylor won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in BUtterfield 8.  The film was nominated for Best Cinematography, Color.

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I have to go back to Nevada for a few days.  May not be able to post until March 19.

 

Breathless (1960)

Breathless (À bout de souffle)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard; story by Francois Truffaut
1960/France
Les Films Imperia/Les Productions Georges de Beauregard; Societe Nouvelle de Cinematographie
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Patricia Franchini: We look at each other in the eye, and it’s no use.

I’m not a big Godard fan but I remember liking this one.  Sadly, it did not survive a repeat viewing.

Even Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Bemondo) himself realizes he is an a-hole.  He starts off the movie by stealing a car and killing a police officer.  For the rest of it, nearly every action is some kind of crime or callousness.  He fancies himself to be a Humphrey Bogart kind of guy but he doesn’t even come close.  He claims to be in love with young American student/newspaper vendor Patricia Franchini.  Clearly, this is only because she is undecided about him.

The story mainly concerns Michel’s efforts to get some money he is owed, bed Patricia, and drag her into his life of crime.  With director Jean-Pierre Melville as a famous writer.

This, like every other Godard film I have seen, is almost purely an exercise in style.  Since I find the style to be pretentious navel-gazing and winking at the audience, this movie left me cold except for the times I was yelling at Belmondo through the TV screen.  I think Michel is easily one of the most unlikeable protagonists in the history of cinema.

Village of the Damned (1960)

Village of the Damned
Directed by Wolf Rilla
Written by Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla and Ronald Kinnoch from the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
1960/UK
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios
First viewing/Netflix rental

David Zellaby: You have to be taught to leave us alone.

Before Rosemary’s Baby, we had Village of the Damned.

It is 11 AM in a typical small English village.  Professor Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) is trying to reach his brother-in-law Major Alan Bernard, who is coming to visit the Zellaby manor for the weekend.  Suddenly Zellaby falls, motionless, to the floor.  Gradually we see others fallen.  Bernard goes to investigate the sudden interruption of the phone call and finds that people and animals have gone down in a 5-km radius around the town.

He goes for military reinforcements and it soon becomes clear that all is well outside a certain boundary but anyone who crosses the line will be stricken.  Before too long, all is abruptly back to “normal”.  No one can discover a reason for the temporary paralysis.

Two months later, every woman of child-bearing years in the village is pregnant.  This includes Zellaby’s much-younger wife Althea.  The fetuses are perfect and of an advanced stage of development for their term.  They are all unusually large newborns with dark eyes. Their mental development is ahead of normal by months and years as they grow.  All the  children, including Zellaby’s son David, are curiously emotionless and prefer to keep company only with each other.

Many believe these children must be destroyed.  Zellaby sees them as potentially a boon to mankind and talks the authorities into giving him a year to instruct them.  It will be a difficult year …

This film has a pretty brilliant premise and many effective scenes. Sanders is great in perhaps the least cynical role he ever played.  Martin Stephens (The Innocents) who plays David Zellaby is also really good.  The film is best at first when nothing is explained and goes slightly downhill thereafter but is still eerie and entertaining.  Recommended.

Trailer (spoilers)

North to Alaska (1960)

North to Alaska
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Written by John Lee Mahin, Martin Rakin and Claude Binyon from a play by Ladislas Fodor and an idea by John H. Kafka
1960/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Sam McCord: Ahh, women! I never met one yet that was half as reliable as a horse!

This is the first of the series of entertaining two-fisted rom-coms John Wayne would make in the 60’s.

Sam McCord (Wayne) and George Pratt (Stewart Granger) are partners in an Alaskan mine that has just hit pay-dirt.  George has been engaged for several years to a woman who lives in Seattle and can now afford to marry her.  He has been pining for her the entire time.  The men need to buy some heavy equipment in Seattle and, since Sam is the better businessman, he goes to both do the deal and fetch the fiancee home.

When Sam arrives, loaded with presents, only to find that the fiancee has married another man.  That night he goes to a bordello called the Hen House and gets roaring drunk.  He meets beautiful bad girl Michelle AKA “Angel” (Capucine).  In his inebriated state, he decides it would be a fine idea to take her back to Alaska for George.  She goes for the promise of riches but rapidly falls for Sam.  He is pig-headedly oblivious.

The rest of the film covers Angel and Sam’s comically fiery relationship on the ship and in Alaska, punctuated by a number of brawls between the menfolk.  With Ernie Kovacs as the villain of the piece and Fabian as Granger’s horny kid brother.

This is entertaining but I doubt it will stay in my memory for very long.

Trailer

Late Autumn (1960)

Late Autumn (Akibiyori)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Written by Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu from a novel by Ton Satomi
1960/Japan
Shochiku Eiga
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Mamiya: You know, it’s people that complicate life. Life itself is surprisingly simple.

In the late autumn of his career, Ozu made this comic twist on his eternal marriage plot.  I smiled throughout.

As the film begins, friends get together after a memorial service for Akiko’s (Setsuko Hara) late husband.  They are three businessmen, one widowed and two married, who were friends of the widow and her husband in college, Akiko and Akiko’s daughter Ayako.  The men all had crushes on Akiko in school and are half in love with her still.  They privately decide to take on the job of finding a mate for Ayako.  Ayako herself is not interested in marriage, mostly because she does not want to leave her mother alone.

The men bumble their way through the whole affair.  One of their most outrageous maneuvers is to convince Ayako that her mother would marry the widower but for her. Somehow, almost despite themselves, everything works out perfectly in the end.

This is kind of a remake of Late Spring with Hara as the parent instead of the child and Chisu Ryu in a cameo as Hara’s brother.  I find the three male matchmakers to be utterly charming and hilarious.  It’s a tender film that examines the generation gap and the inevitable flux of life with a light touch.  Recommended.

Trailer (which fails to capture the tone of the film)

The Lost World (1960)

The Lost World
Directed by Irwin Allen
Written by Irwin Allen and Charles Bennett from the book by Arthur Conan Doyle
1960/USA
Irwin Allen Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Professor George Edward Challenger: [to the people at the Zoological Institute] Live dinosaurs!

Lizards in dinosaur suits just don’t cut it.

The irascible Professor Challenger (Claude Rains) arrives in London to assault reporters and report to the Zoological Society.  He claims he glimpsed a world evolution passed by high atop a plateau in the Amazon.  Challenger needs money to return and prove his sighting was real.  Thus he collects a party including an adventurer (Michael Rennie), his admirer (Jill St. John) and her younger brother, and even the reporter he hit at the airport.

When he arrives in the Amazon, he collects a helicopter pilot (Fernando Lamas) who is investigating the death of his brother on a previous expedition and an offensively stereotypical greedy and cowardly Hispanic guide.  The party has adventure after adventure with dinosaurs and cannibal natives.  This being Irwin Allen, the whole thing is capped off with a fiery disaster.

Willis O’Brien was hired to do stop-motion animation for this film but budget woes meant none of his work made the screen.  As it is, we have some lizards, flicking their tongues helplessly, standing in for the dinosaurs.  The cast, a mixture of the great and some TV regulars, was burdened with some equally lame dialogue and could not save the movie.  There are some pretty nice shots of Iguazu Falls.

Trailer

Shoot the Piano Player

Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le pianiste)
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Written by Francois Truffaut and Marcel Moussy from a novel by David Goodis
1960/France
Les Films de la Pleiade
Repeat viewing/Netflix Rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

“Over the piano was printed a notice: Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.” – Oscar Wilde, Impressions of America 

Truffaut goes meta for his second picture, with shots taken from film noir and text that could be from Woody Allen.  It’s enjoyable if superficial.

Since the death of his wife, concert pianist Edouard Saroyan (Charles Aznavour) has worked in a dance hall under the name Charlie Kohler.  Despite his shy manner and slight stature, he is quite a favorite with the ladies.  He is raising his youngest brother Fido.

As the film begins, brother Chico runs into the bar fleeing a couple of gunmen.  He explains that he and brother Richard participated in a heist with the gangsters and made off with all the loot.  Chico runs out of the club one step ahead of his pursuers.  These now begin to follow Charlie to find out the location of their family home.  They kidnap Fido for the same purpose.

In the meantime, Charlie is forming a tentative new relationship with waitress Lena.  He does as much as possible to remain uninvolved but the gangsters are unrelenting.  We continue to follow the chase.

The film’s look borrows heavily from American film noir of the 40s and 50’s.  It has more in common stylistically with Godard’s Breathless than it does with The 400 Blows.  Truffaut clearly had a good time experimenting throughout.  All the characters are far more concerned with their relationships, or lack thereof, with women than they are with the crime plot.  Except when they are on the business end of their guns, these are some of the most laid back gangsters you will ever see.

Trailer

Spartacus (1960)

Spartacus
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Dalton Trumbo from a novel by Howard Fast
1960/USA
Bryna Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Spartacus: [to Crassus, about the slain Antoninus] Here’s your victory. He’ll come back. He’ll come back, and he’ll be millions!

I am not big on 3 1/2 hour sword-and-sandal epics.  This one is so grand, however, that it keeps my interest.

Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) was sold away from his slave mother when he was 13.  He now is sentenced to a lifetime of brutal hard labor.  He rebels and is sentenced to death by starvation.  Luckily, Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov) spots him and think he will make an ideal trainee at his gladiator school.

The school is equally brutal and Spartacus shows talent as a scrapper.  While there, he falls in love with slave-prostitute Varinia (Jean Simmons).  One day, the aristocratic Senator Crassus (Laurence Olivier) shows up with his daughter and new son-in-law (John Dall) and pays Batiatus big money to entertain their party with a death match.  The event sparks a slave revolt that destroys Batiatus’s premises.  The gladiators, lead by Spartacus, march through the country to the sea, collecting recruits as they go.

In the meantime, there is a political feud between Crassus and the democratically-minded Senator Gracchus (Charles Laughton).  In addition, Crassus fell in lust with Varinia during his stop and the school and attempted to buy her.  He is not one to be frustrated for long.

The remainder of the film is devoted to all these complications plus the efforts of the Romans to put down the slave revolt. With Tony Curtis as Crassus’s house slave and John Gavin as Julius Caesar.

This is probably the least Kubrickian film that Kubrick directed, but his talent shows through in every frame.  The many crowd and battle scenes are magnificent.  It’s an interesting and not too melodramatic story about freedom fighters as well.  Just reading the cast list should give you an idea about the acting.  Recommended.

Spartacus won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actor (Ustinov); Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; and Best Costume Design, Color. It was nominated in the categories of Best Film Editing and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer