Category Archives: 1958 Movie reviews

Horror of Dracula-1958

Horror of Dracula-1958

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring-Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee

Scott’s Review #1,083

Reviewed November 17, 2020

Grade: B+

The first colorized retelling of the classic vampire film starring Bela Lugosi from 1931, Horror of Dracula (1958) infuses style and a modern feel into the production making it a formidable entry as compared to the original. The film launched the popular and delightful British Hammer Horror film series, which included eight Dracula sequels.

British horror films nearly always add macabre elements and a British sophistication that merge class with gothic, and the film is a perfect late-night watch during the Halloween season for maximum effect. The atmospheric tone is key and will leave horror fans in bliss. The addition of horror stalwarts Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee only increase the pleasures.

On a gloomy night in 1885, a librarian named Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arrives at Count Dracula’s castle in Romania to begin his new assignment. Secretly a vampire hunter, he is bitten by a desperate woman, really a vampire, begging for help. Jonathan manages to kill the woman but is then killed by Dracula (Lee). Doctor Van Helsing (Cushing) arrives at the castle to investigate, but Dracula already has designs on Jonathan’s fiancée, Lucy (Carol Marsh). A battle of good versus evil ensues.

Lee brings sexuality to Dracula that Lugosi lacks, though Lugosi is the creepier of the two. I love the close-up scenes where Dracula bears his enormous fangs and his eyes turn red in good close-up style. The casting of Lee is perfect as he becomes identifiable even in the first installment. I also love how Lee is a tall man, giving the character a menacing, foreboding, distinguished look. Many might secretly welcome him nibbling on their necks!

Cushing, later to be cast as villains, is wonderful as the empathetic Van Helsing. Lee and Cushing play well against each other. Van Helsing is stoic and confident as he smoothly leads the charge against Dracula and guides Jonathan’s loved ones into unchartered and unimaginable territory. It’s almost as if he has been through this before. A great scene occurs when Van Helsing arrives in town for a brandy and a drink at the local pub, its inhabitants suspicious and frightened, draping garlic over the entryway and hoping he will leave soon.

The best part of House of Dracula is the atmosphere that we are treated to and the color really razzles dazzles. The story is very good, but the texture powerfully shines through. Careful not to be too showy, director Terence Fisher, soon to be a Hammer horror main fixture, uses his limited budget to his advantage in clever form.

Fisher realized his project was a colorized version and created a polished looking, colorful, stained glass window, prevalent in several scenes. Dracula’s castle, and especially the bedroom where Jonathan stayed, is part cozy and homespun, part gothic and chilling. The cellar crypt is equally vast yet confining, as the open coffins provide wonders of who lies in them. The plethora of books elicits a cerebral feeling.

The finale is well done, but not as spectacular as expected. Other parts are better. Van Helsing chases Dracula in a race against the sunrise, ripping curtains down to provide harsh light, and turning Dracula to dust. I was expecting a little more gusto and more blood or a good stake through the heart. Fortunately, that entertainment was provided earlier in the film.

Shamefully, having never read the 1897 Gothic horror novel written by Bram Stroker (it’s on my list!), my understanding is that the film is pretty on target. The film bestows creepy elements and sexuality with great color, lighting, and set design. The lesson learned is that a hefty budget and CGI can’t replicate the creative design and good effects.

Touch of Evil-1958

Touch of Evil-1958

Director-Orson Welles

Starring-Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh

Scott’s Review #914

Reviewed July 2, 2019

Grade: A

Touch of Evil (1958) is a film noir directed by the legendary influential Hollywood director, Orson Welles. The film contains suspense, drama, and mystery, but is to be praised largely for its use of visual treats to enhance the cinematic experience. The dark and foreboding thriller was revolutionary for the time of release and influenced many films of similar ilk in the years to come. Robust and fraught with tension, the experience is marvelous and worthy of study for its many nuances.

Welles not only directs the work but also stars in and writes the screenplay, so his entire being is invested in the production and execution. Known mostly for the legendary Citizen Kane (1940), a film that arguably changed the course of cinema with its direction and cinematography, Touch of Evil explores a different genre entirely but keeps the superlative aspects of Welles’s loftier film, including black and white, intact, resulting in a grand and dangerous crime infused classic. The screenplay was loosely based on the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson.

The tension is ample from the onset as the humidity-drenched Mexico-United States border is the focal point. A car driven by a young couple is laced with a bomb and detonates as soon as they cross into U.S. territory. In a hint of irony, Newlyweds Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Charlton Heston), a drug enforcement official in the Mexican government, and his wife Susie (Janet Leigh) pass the car several times on foot before the explosion.

An investigation ensues with the introduction of other characters, including Police Chief Pete Gould (Harry Shannon), District Attorney Adair (Ray Collins), and police captain Hank Quinlan (Welles), with a prime suspect being Sanchez, a young Mexican secretly married to the victim’s daughter.

Typical in the film noir genre, events are not what they seem like layers of the plot slowly unravel. The heavyset and disheveled Captain nostalgically visits a brothel run by Tanya (Marlene Dietrich), who barely recognizes him because he’s gained so much weight since their last meeting.  Vargas forsakes his bride to spearhead the investigation, but soon locks horns with corpulent Quinlan and the duo begin to feud. Could Quinlan or Vargas have something to do with the car bombing, or could other supporting characters be either behind or involved in the shenanigans. This is a great part of Touch of Evil as the film leaves the viewer guessing.

Heston and Leigh smolder as the lead couple and their chemistry is apparent from the first scene in which they appear together. Sexy and mysterious, she hunkers down in a dump fraught with peril, while he attempts to solve the crime and keep his girl safe. Outside factors play heavy roles in keeping the lovers apart and although Heston playing a Mexican man is quite the stretch, the audience will nestle comfortably into the events as they reveal deeper layers.

Wells, once a handsome man, is not afraid to let it all hang out as the fat and racist Quinlan becoming one of the great and most complicated screen villains as his true colors emerge. As the film’s title boldly suggests does his character contain complexities that make him evil and keep some sympathies or does he wreak havoc on all he touches with his devious nature only the tip of the iceberg? Viewers will need to await the final act to have several questions answered as motivations are finally revealed.

Touch of Evil (1958) gave delicious and pulsating material to filmmakers clever enough to study its intricacies, most notably Roman Polanski for Chinatown (1974). Nuggets were also thrown the way of Alfred Hitchcock who got the idea for Leigh to appear in Psycho (1960) two years later, catapulting her character’s alone in a hotel peril, mixing in a weird hotel clerk. The power the film had to hatch other great films from its ingenuity is the most fun part of watching it again and again.

South Pacific-1958

South Pacific-1958

Director-Joshua Logan

Starring-Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor

Scott’s Review #903

Reviewed May 29, 2019

Grade: A-

South Pacific (1958) contains a magical and romantic aura that will entrance the dreamy viewer seeking exotic paradise and cinematic escapism. Marveling at the use of distinctive and experimental color hues to shift from sequence to sequence, usually from romantic to ordinary scenes, the film has otherworldly appeal and lavish locale sequences, some real, others studio manipulations.

The surrounding war story is relevant, the interracial relationship more progressive than the times were, and the two leads share tremendous chemistry. All these qualities combine with catchy songs to make the film a darling watch, providing tremendous enjoyment and an impassioned payoff. The film may not be the very best of all musicals but there is very little to criticize.

Attractive Navy nurse Nellie (Mitzy Gaynor) falls head over heels for suave French plantation officer Emile (Rosanno Brazzi) as the pair enjoy a wonderful date amidst the gorgeous beach landscape. The feeling, of course, is mutual and Nellie and Emile seem destined for happiness. He confides to her that he once killed a man in his native France causing him to flee his country, never to return. The Navy requests Nellie spy on Emile in hopes of utilizing him against their hated Japanese enemy.

In a separate story, but just as romantic, Tonkinese trader Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) is determined to marry her beautiful dark-skinned daughter Liat (France Nuyen) to handsome Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr). He throws away a chance at lasting happiness by refusing to marry her due to prejudicial feelings. Despite best efforts, he cannot get her out of his mind and the couple reunites briefly before tragedy strikes.

The World War II backdrop plays heavily into the story and the atmospheric elements make the film ooze with sensuality and sunny desire so that the result is good, escapist fun with brazen musical numbers added to set the perfect tone. Contrasting the beauty of the island where most of the events take place, foreboding military airplanes fly overhead, some manned by the main characters, dangerously with just a hint of foreshadowing.

South Pacific has much to be treasured for especially with its songs. For one thing, all of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s immortal songs from the stage production, “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bali Hai,” “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy,” “Younger Than Springtime” is retained, and, as a bonus, a song cut from the original stage production, “My Girl Back Home,” is revived herein. The songs are integral to the plot also holding up well on their own, especially the robust “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” possessing a naughtiness as Nellie sings it from the shower.

After a successful release of the film version of Oklahoma! (1955) Rodgers & Hammerstein decided to tackle South Pacific as their next big project. The stakes were high due to the success achieved by the former but critically the latter did not measure up. Some thought Gaynor was miscast though I personally like her just fine.

Nonetheless, the production is gorgeous and quite on par with Oklahoma! With the knowledge of the same producers and proximity in the release, many similarities can be ascertained from each film. The south pacific may be a far cry from mid-western USA but both films have an outdoorsy feel. Numerous scenes take advantage of luscious natural landscapes to add beauty to the big screen.

A key point to keep in mind is that South Pacific is far from fluff despite the tendency for comic scenes or light sounding numbers. The film distinguishes itself quite well with a strong anti-war slant as Emile decries killing and promotes harmony in more than one scene almost as though the film encourages us to learn from a French man rather than an American.  To this end, the important subject of racism is brought up not only in the Liat/Cable story but also when Nellie struggles with the notion of raising two children of a different race.

Perhaps not revisited as often as such unforgettable genre contemporaries as West Side Story (1960) or The Sound of Music (1965) and perhaps justifiably not as dynamic, South Pacific (1958) is a lovely film with impressive key production values, a worthy story, and enough sing-along tunes to keep one humming for days. The picture never feels dated and exists as a timeless member of the stage productions magically brought to the big screen club.

Oscar Nominations: Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, Best Sound (won), Best Cinematography, Color

Vertigo-1958

Vertigo-1958

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-James Stewart, Kim Novak

Top 100 Films-#6

Scott’s Review #151

1089727

Reviewed August 7, 2014

Grade: A

Over the years Vertigo has easily become one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films and I learn, appreciate, or see something new with each repeated viewing. It is an absolute masterpiece. The primary appeal to Vertigo is its mystique and dream-like quality and provides a beautiful cinematic experience. It is ominous, psychological, and gloriously complex, even confusing at times, but that makes it wonderful. The colorful opening visuals are dynamic and groundbreaking.

The story involves a retired detective, Scottie, played by Hitchcock stalwart Jimmy Stewart. Scottie suffers from vertigo, which hinders his daily life. After an incident in which a police officer is killed and Scottie blames himself and his vertigo for causing the death, he whiles away the days brooding and keeping companionship with Midge- a college friend whom he was once engaged to.

One day he is hired by another college friend to follow his wife, played tremendously by Kim Novak, who is acting strangely and periodically disappearing, having an obsession with a painting of a woman from years past. From this point, the plot twists and turns in a great mysterious fashion and mixed in is a romantic, bizarre, obsessive, love story. Is Scottie in his right mind? Will his vertigo continue to haunt him? What is the secret to Madeleine and Judy? Is Midge as sweet as she appears?

The score to Vertigo is haunting and unforgettable and adds so much mood and ambiance to the film. Set in San Francisco, several location shots are featured- Golden Gate Bridge, downhill streets, the Mission, Red Wood forest.

As with all Hitchcock films, all sets and details in the film are perfect from paintbrushes, coffee mugs, and curtains and furniture, to the gorgeous bright red décor of the restaurant heavily featured in the film. How exquisite does Kim Novak look in the film??

Originally critically panned upon its release it is now considered one of the greatest films of all time, deservedly so, and has influenced countless other films with its unique camera angles and slow, methodical pacing. The film is not always an easy watch as it is complex, to be fair, but like a fine wine, it gets better and better.

Vertigo is a layered psychological thriller that is appreciated more and more with each viewing.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound, Best Art Direction