Category Archives: 1960 Movie reviews

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Bernadette Lafont

60000531

Reviewed December 18, 2015

Grade: A

Les Bonnes Femmes is a French film by Claude Chabrol, a wonderful director that before watching this film, I was shamefully unfamiliar with, save for the recently viewed Les Biches, made in 1968. He has been labeled the French equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock and, by all accounts, that is an accurate statement. In the case of Les Bonnes Femmes, it is a brilliant film that came about during the experimental New Wave films of the 1960’s and simply cannot be forgotten upon viewing it. It has resonated with me on a profound level and I cannot stop thinking of it and analyzing it.

The film centers on four shopgirls, living in Paris, all of whom  happen to be young and beautiful and mysteriously  look similar to one other.  Their names are Jane, Jacqueline, Ginette, and Rita. They are rather bored with their lives and meander aimlessly through life and the doldrums of their job by looking forward to social occasions, which mainly include men.  The girls party (some more than others), date, go to the zoo, swim, and enjoy typical young lady festivities.

So far the film might sound like a typical, lighthearted, nice story- think a French Sex and the City. It is, by and large this way on the surface, but all throughout the film there is a calm sense of dread- like something bad might be lurking in the shadows or coming around the bend. As the girls are at the zoo one day, a mysterious individual begins following them, though the viewer has no idea why or who it is.

In fact, the film contains more than a sense of dread now that I ponder this point. Rather, a sense of chilling violence is in the air. A brooding, cold, ugly feeling transpires and it is due to superior direction and the overall mood. Paris, one of the worlds most gorgeous cities, looks bleak, dark, and gloomy throughout the film. The black and white cinematography undoubtedly adds to this as a greyness envelopes every shot.

Throughout  Les Bonnes Femmes there is plenty of foreshadowing as situations arise that give a sense of danger or something bad is imminent.  Early in the film, two of the girls are walking along the street when they are approached by two men in a car wanting to party with them. They accept and the viewer wonders what a bad decision they may have made. The men wine and dine the women, who are looking for love. One of the girls is quite a bit more reserved than the other, who ends up spending the night with the men. Later, the owner of the shop tells a story of how she once acquired a serial killers bloody handkerchief after he was guillotined and has kept it for years. Creepy? Yes.  The tigers snarling at the girls when they visit the zoo is laced with symbolism as is a, at first, fun game at the pool, as the men dunk the girls heads underwater until things escalate towards danger.

Jacqueline, the sweetest of the girls, meets a motorcycle man and they begin to spend time together. They are happy. The irony of this is that during these later scenes, in which an act of brutality occurs (one character is murdered), the tone of the film is suddenly sunny, warm, and bright. A lovely afternoon in the woods turns evil, and quickly. This was a shocking scene for me to experience as I was caught off guard. In fact, the ending of the film can be discussed in vast detail. During the murder it almost seems like the victim is welcoming the death. Could this be? Additionally, is one of the shop girls his next intended victim or is a new girl the killers next target? In the final shot we see him dancing with a girl, but it is unclear (at least to me) if it is one of the shopgirls.

Chabrol is clearly not a happily ever after kind of director. His films are known to be stormy with dread looming. But they are also laced with style, sophistication, and a dark appeal. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into more of his works.

The Virgin Spring-1960

The Virgin Spring-1960

Director-Ingmar Bergman

Starring-Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg

60011418

Reviewed May 15, 2015

Grade: A

The Virgin Spring is a quiet masterpiece by director Ingmar Bergman. A Swedish language film, it won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1960, surprising for such a dark film. I have heard about this film for years, but it had alluded me up until this point, and I am finally glad that I viewed it. It is breathtaking and mesmerizing. A unique film for many reasons, it inspired “revenge” films to follow, specifically The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, which are horror films, yes, while The Virgin Spring is interestingly an art film. The film also questions morals and the main characters religious beliefs and reflections of guilt.

Filming is in black and white and the first point that struck me about the film is its gorgeous cinematography and lighting. The brilliant deep contrast of black and white with the illumination of a characters face while the background is death black is very brazen and reminiscent of Citizen Kane. It gives the film a warmth and glow that contrasts perfectly with the bleak subject matter.

The story of The Virgin Spring is a tragedy, yet the filming is so magnificent that it was not until the film concluded and I pondered the actual story that I realized just how horrific it truly is. And that is was Bergman was going for-provoking thought. This is not a film to kick back and be entertained while munching a tub of popcorn. It is a film meant to make one think.

An affluent Swedish couple, who owns a farm, lives a peaceful, quiet existence. They are stellar members of their community and church. They are humble, but they can afford to have servants. They have a beautiful and pampered young daughter named Karin, who is sent to deliver candles to their church one sunny day. Karin is a trusting, virginal, and proper girl. She comes upon a trio of males- two adults and a young boy. At first gleefully sharing food with them and enjoying her new found friends, they soon turn on her and she is viciously raped, robbed, beaten, and murdered. The look of surprise, pain, and horror on Karin’s face is monumental. As this occurs, a pregnant and spiteful servant, Ingeri, watches in horror from a hiding place. A rival of Karin’s, Ingeri wanted misfortune thrust upon Karin, but as she watches in horror, the expressions on her face portray regret.

As the family hope and pray that they can find the missing Karin, the men and boy show up at the farmhouse in need of food and shelter. Unbeknownst to the family, they are Karin’s rapists and killers, and once the truth is known, the once sweet parents are out for brutal revenge. The young boy of the trio is guilt ridden and physically sick from the circumstances. Is the families revenge justified or should they (as good Christians) forgive? This is the moral point of the story.

The conclusion of the film is powerful as the father begs god for forgiveness. He questions his actions. But is he a changed man? Bergman uniquely and intelligently shoots these scenes with only the fathers back in view as he throws his hands to go. We, the viewer, become one with the father in these moments, which makes for powerful storytelling.

Influential to many subsequent films, The Virgin Spring is a powerful tale, reminiscent of a fairy tale, that makes the viewer think upon the ending. Subdued yet horrifying, it is meant to be viewed and analyzed.

Psycho-1960

Psycho-1960

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins

Top 100 Films-#1     Top 20 Horror Films- #1

879522

Reviewed October 24, 2015

Grade: A

Psycho is the film to end all films and not just within the horror genre- at the time of release it transcended the art of film to a new level and has influenced generations of films since, and still holds up incredibly well today. It is certainly one of the greatest Alfred Hitchcock films and one of the greatest films ever made,  in my opinion. Hitchcock took a huge risk and dove from the thriller genre to the horror genre with Psycho.

The story involves a young woman named Marion Crane, superbly played by Janet Leigh. Marion lives in Phoenix, Arizona and sees her boyfriend (the dashing John Gavin) for frequent afternoon rendezvous at cheap motels when he is in town, because they are both struggling financially. She is presented with an opportunity, via her job, to steal $40,000 and flee the state to start a new life with her beau. She seizes the opportunity. On the run, she stops at a run down Bates motel where she meets owner Norman Bates, hauntingly played by Anthony Perkins. Perkins and Leigh have an amazing chemistry together and the audience picks up on it- is it romantic? Is there mysteriousness to it? Something is clearly odd about Norman. They bond over a quiet meal of sandwiches at the motel while discussing life and his ailing mother.

The famous shower scene and the shocking twist at the conclusion of the film are now almost taken for granted since most people know about them already, but I can only imagine the shock when viewers were first treated to these two delights. To this day both are still suspenseful to watch. When I saw this film for the first time I fortunately did NOT know the ending and I am glad I didn’t because my breath was taken away. To kill off the star of the film halfway through was a novel idea and mind blowing at the time of release (1960). This act literally had audience’s mouths hanging open in disbelief and saying, “what now”? “How can this be followed”? This act would later influence the original Scream film and surprise audiences all over again. Per Hitchcock, no one could enter the film after it had started and viewers were persuaded not to reveal the ending- oh how I wish that occurred these days.

A very important aspect to the success and longevity of Psycho is the chemistry between Perkins and Leigh who got along famously while shooting Psycho, and more importantly, the likability of Norman Bates. There is a rooting value for him even though he is the villain. When Marion’s car is only halfway submerged in a lake containing her dead body, we root for the car to completely sink because Norman does and the concerned look on Norman’s face has a sincerity to it that affects the audience. Norman is troubled and wounded and the audience does not know why at this point in the story.

Let’s not forget the likability of Janet Leigh. The audience sympathizes with her predicament. She is hopelessly in love with her man, steals money, is conflicted, and at her core is a nice, decent, kind woman.

Halfway through the film Marion’s sister Lila, played by Vera Miles, is introduced as well as a detective and the film becomes more of a suspense/mystery as they search for Marion and investigate the Bates hotel and Norman Bates himself. Miles then takes center stage as the lead in the film, which is intriguing in itself.

The film then returns to horror at the terrific and terrifying conclusion, which will shock first time viewers. The musical score (especially the shrill strings) is incredibly effective and was a huge influence on horror films to come (Friday the 13th immediately comes to mind). Psycho is a film that can certainly be enjoyed and studied over and over again.

Peeping Tom-1960

Peeping Tom-1960

Director-Michael Powell

Starring-Nigel Davenport

Top 100 Films-#60     Top 20 Horror Films-#16

848669

Reviewed July 22, 2014

Grade: A

Peeping Tom is a brilliant horror film from 1960 directed by Michael Powell. It is a British film and was released the same year as Psycho and they sort of resemble each other as both have a more character driven villain than many other contemporary horror films. Both feature male killers with a sympathetic (to them) female. Set in London, it tells the story of an assistant cameraman who kills his victims by using a camera with a spike on the end of it as he is videotaping the fear in their eyes, which he later plays back for his own psychological needs. The killer is emotionally damaged himself and the film explores this aspect in depth; his father tormented him as child with weird, traumatic experiments used on the boy for research. I loved this aspect of the film as in contrast to most films of the genre, where the killer typically has no sympathetic aspects and whose motivations are usually explored minimally. The audience has sympathy for this killer, which, in a strange way, is absurd and shocking.

Way ahead of its time, viewers were initially turned off by the film at the time of release and director Michael Powell’s (ironically playing the terrible father in videotape scenes) career ruined. Anna Massey (later to appear in the Hitchcock masterpiece Frenzy) plays the sweet natured, girl next door who develops a crush on the killer. Her blind and boozy mother is a fascinating character as she suspects and strangely bonds with the killer. The film has an erotic and voyeuristic quality that has been unmatched in horror. Peeping Tom is now considered a masterpiece and I certainly agree with that assessment. It is one of the most interesting and unique horror films ever made.

The Apartment-1960

The Apartment-1960

Director-Billy Wilder

Starring-Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine

60011007

Reviewed April 22, 2014

Grade: A-

Another gem by Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, The Lost Weekend), this one is set in 1959 New York City, a setting and time period I just adore. The black and white is highly effective as it portrays a loneliness and bleakness of the characters that are all friendless, sad, and starved for love.

It questions social morality and getting ahead in the corporate world, but goes from drama to romantic comedy, but with no sappiness. Quite the contrary, as the film has dark moments of despair and angst.

The film clearly had a direct influence on “Mad Men”. As with most Billy Wilder films, there is a darkness of humanity, which is fascinating to watch.

Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are terrific, but knocked down a notch as I didn’t exactly see the chemistry between them, but an excellent film. This won the 1960 Best Picture Oscar.