Category Archives: 1948 Movie reviews

The Bicycle Thief-1948

The Bicycle Thief-1948

Director-Vittorio De Sica

Starring-Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola

Scott’s Review #867

Reviewed February 16, 2019

Grade: A

The Bicycle Thief (1948), modified to the English title from the original Italian Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) is an important and cherished film containing a powerful message enshrined in a compelling story. The film is fraught with emotion and focuses on a powerful relationship between a father and his son and a determination to retrieve what is rightfully theirs. Made post World War II the film has a socialist theme and is made with a hallmark neorealist style centering around working class people. The film is an example of cinema being art and not merely entertainment.

The film deservedly was awarded a special Academy Award for “most outstanding foreign language film” before the historic Best Foreign Language Film award existed. This is a testament to the power and humanism the film envelopes as the sad and occasionally wonderful story unfolds. The inclusion of professional actors and non-actors make the film a strong and authentic watch in a quick one hour and twenty-nine minute running time.

In late 1940’s Rome Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) struggles to find decent work to support himself and his family. When an opportunity presents itself but requires the use of a bicycle, Antonio’s wife Maria (Lianella Carell) selflessly sells family heirlooms to acquire his pawned bicycle. Things are looking great for the family as Antonio begins his new job only to have his bicycle stolen by a thief on his first day as he sits atop a ladder helplessly witnessing the theft. Determined to track the thief down and retrieve his stolen bike he and son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) traverse the city in growing desperation.

The Bicycle Thief is a simple story but one which enraptures the viewer with many different emotions. Anger at the thief, empathy for Antonio and Bruno, inspiration by the humanity of some characters, and rage at the actions of others. Antonio strives to be a good role model for his son and a provider for Maria. By the end of the film he has become a more complicated character, resorting to dire means to solve his problems. Antonio is desperate, guilt-ridden, and ashamed, but is also a highly inspirational character.

Fans of the gorgeous and historic European city of Rome are in for a treat. The Bicycle Thief is peppered with enchanting shots of the famous city and focuses on the events of normal everyday people as they go to work and spend their days on a mission. The lighting used by director Vittorio de Sica is bright and sunny and portrays Rome as a hot and bustling epicenter. The atmosphere is foreboding as we known something dire will soon occur amid the warm and cheery metropolis.

The acting is at the center of The Bicycle Thief’s success with inspired performances by Maggiorani and Staiola as father and son. Staiola is masterful as a young boy who needs a father figure and hangs on his father’s every move with passion. His soulful and expressive eyes contain sadness and hope in many scenes as he yearns and prays for his father to be happy again and for himself to feel safe. In comparison, Maggiorani possesses an ability to portray strength and angst interchangeably. His finest scene is pivotal as he realizes he has become no better than the thief he despises early in the film and is buried in shame.

The Bicycle Thief (1948) is a film made powerful and memorable by its simplicity and humanistic sensibilities. The plot is basic and explores one man’s quest at justice and the right to live his life and care for his family. His journey is complex and fraught with tense moments only making the film palpable and heart racing as his adventure unfolds before us. Thanks to gorgeous cinematography and an ample dose of pathos those who watch this film will be in store for a treasure in powerful cinematic story telling.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein-1948

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein-1948

Director-Charles Barton

Starring-Bud Abbott, Lou Costello

Scott’s Review #865

Reviewed February 9, 2019

Grade: B+

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) was the first film of several to capitalize on the comedy duo’s popularity and merge them with several horror characters in a hybrid of the horror and comedy genres. The zany film was enormously popular with fans leading to other subsequent pairings, but this is the best of the bunch. The ingenious idea works well, and the bumbling pair presents an entertaining film fresh with good ideas and a harmless comedy romp. The inclusion of the villainous Dracula and the Wolf Man along with the title horror character only make the riches even loftier.

Working as baggage clerks at a Florida train station Chick Young (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello) border on incompetent and are tasked with delivering two crates to a local wax museum after damaging them at the station. Little do the pair realize that the crates house Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange). Once Chick and Wilbur arrive at the wax museum a comedy of errors occurs as the monsters reanimate and escape while the pair are arrested for supposed theft. Ultimately the film culminates with an exciting finale at a nearby island castle as a devious doctor (Lenore Aubert) is intent on removing Wilbur’s brain.

The film is wonderfully campy and over-the-top and a strong part of its appeal. The setup is delicious as the audience knows Chick and Wilbur will ultimately face the various creatures but know not how this will come about. The quick-witted comedy duo hardly needs coaching, but their banter and timing seem particularly palpable in this screen offering. This is impressive given the historical account of neither actor wanting to make the film and both being convinced the end result would be a bomb teetering on career suicide. Any accusations that their hearts were not in it can be dismissed.

A large part of the appeal is the inclusion of three individual monsters each with different motivations and offerings. Dracula is clearly the villain and in cahoots with the mad scientist while Frankenstein’s monster is the victim and the Wolf Man the suffering hero. Returning to roles that made them famous was crucial to the success of the film and Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi (Wolf Man and Count Dracula, respectively) deliver their lines with gusto, careful not to make themselves too menacing nor too foolish and both blur the horror and comedy lines with perfection.

The film-makers must be given credit for the progressive slant of casting the mad scientist as a female rather than the traditional male. Actress Aubert as Dr. Sandra Mornay is delicious in the role as she lustfully seduces Wilbur in comic form. She needs not his body but the brain of a simpleton to insert into the head of the monster. The pudgy young man and the gorgeous woman make an odd pairing made comedic by their physical differences. The blend is just right for physical and lightweight comedy.

The final scene is clever in that it leads into a potential follow-up for the film. As Chick and Wilbur sail away from the looming castle in relief of their adventure coming to a satisfying conclusion, Chick ensures Wilbur that all the monsters are gone. An uncredited voice appearance by Vincent Price and a dangling cigarette coming from no mouth introduces the next chapter that of the Invisible Man.

Hardly a masterpiece or cinematic genius Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) does serve an important purpose and that is to entertain. Each player is well-cast and the result is a culmination of good comedy infused with atmospheric horror elements done with the perfect light touch. The comic timing of all members ensures that all the pieces come together in just the right mix of fun and frights with a tongue-in-cheek approach. What could be a better choice for escapist fare on a lazy Saturday afternoon?

The Red Shoes-1948

The Red Shoes-1948

Director-Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring-Moira Shearer, Marius Goring

Scott’s Review #683

Reviewed September 19, 2017

Grade: A

Certainly the best of the bunch in the collection of cinematic ballet films, 1948’s The Red Shoes is a highly artistic and influential film undoubtedly studied in film schools everywhere. One cannot view The Red Shoes without amazement and the realization that this piece must have been dissected by legendary director Darren Aronofsky before he created his creepy 2010 psychological thriller, Black Swan, is evident.

The Red Shoes is a British film which gives it a clear element of grace, class, and sophistication, perfectly enveloping the themes of love, ambition, and jealousy- the Brits simply do it right and director, Michael Powell, later crafting the odd and controversial 1960 film, Peeping Tom, certain to have wholly ruined his career, brings his A game to this 1948 work. Decades later, Powell now is considered a genius director.

The film is laden with foreshadowing, at least a handful of times during its running time, as we meet our heroine, Vicky Page (Moira Shearer), a bright-eyed young woman with flowing red locks and aspirations of grandeur as she emerges as a fledgling ballerina in the Covent Garden area of London. Partially due to her aristocratic upbringing and her assertive and snooty aunt, she lands an audition for the ballet company, led by sophisticated Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). he is immediately enamored by her yet gives her the cold shoulder, making her question her talent. The incorporation of trains in multiple sequences is the key here.

As Lermontov and Vicky’s lives begin to intertwine, a young music student named Julian (Marius Goring) is perturbed by the plagiarism of his music by his own professor, having conducted Heart of Fire under the guise of it being his own work. When Julian expresses his displeasure to Lermontov, he is hired to perform with the orchestra. The addition of Julian to the plot kicks off a compelling triangle between the three characters- their lives overlapping in a mixture of young love, passion, and jealous rage.

The action takes off even further as the film moves to the gorgeous setting of Paris and Monte Carlo, a treat for any worldly or aspiring world traveler, as the photography and cinematic angles of the lush locales are simply breathtaking. As former prima ballerina, Irina Boronskaya, decides to leave the company to be married, Lermontov decides to create a new ballet, The Red Shoes, starring Vicky, with music composed by Julian. This creates enormous pressure for all involved as the film then takes a dark turn.

Dashes of influence surrounding the exquisite performance of the famous Swan Lake dance number heavily influenced 1950’s classic, An American in Paris. The long, colorful, and dramatic sequence is splendid, emitting lush, vivacious music and performance. This “time out” from the heavy drama encompassing the rest of the film is beautiful and peaceful and one of the sheer highlights of The Red Shoes.

The heart of the film really belongs to the dynamic between the three principal characters as the performance of each actor is spot on and rich with flare. Especially profound are the performances by Shearer and Walbrook, as each actor gives their respective character a perfect amount of fury, ambition, and tension, but Goring as Julian is equally worthy of mention and kudos.

I adore witnessing Moira Shearer dance as her talent and tenacity are astounding. An internationally renowned British ballet dancer and actress, the role of Vicky is perfectly carved out for her as the character must have been close to her heart.

Who can forget the most famous scene of all in The Red Shoes as a determined and crazed Vicky finishes her stage performance, Powell firmly holding the camera on her makeup stained face, her blue eyes wide and hair wild. Her look of triumph and insanity, lost in the moment, is a grand moment and unforgettable image seen time and time again in cinema reference books.

Equal parts dramatic, romantic, eerie, lustful, and wise, The Red Shoes is a classic film made way ahead of its time, with startling visuals and treasured art and set designs, to say nothing of powerful acting and a story that compels. No wonder this film easily influenced other masterpieces to come.

Rope-1948

Rope-1948

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Jimmy Stewart, Farley Granger, John Dall

Top 100 Films-#33

Scott’s Review #323

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Reviewed January 5, 2016

Grade: A

Rope is one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films and a film that rather flies under the radar amongst his catalogue of gems.  Made in 1948, the film- set as a play (and based on a 1929 play), using one set only- and appearing to be one long take- it is an understated film. All of the action takes place inside a luxurious Manhattan apartment, with a gorgeous panoramic skyline in view. Intelligent with subtle nuances that in current viewings are not as subtle, the tiny (nine) cast is fantastic at eliciting a fine story that never seems dated.

Starring Hitchcock stalwart, Jimmy Stewart, the film features Farley Granger (Strangers On A Train) and John Dall. Granger and Dall portray Phillip and Brandon, two college students who strangle a fellow student as an experiment to create the perfect murder. Immediately after the murder they host a dinner party for friends, including the father, aunt, and fiancée of the victim, all in attendance. Stewart plays Brandon and Phillip’s prep school housemaster,  Rupert Cadell, who is suspicious of the duo. To further the thrill, the dead body is hidden inside a large antique wooden chest, in the center of their living room, as their housekeeper unwittingly serves dinner atop the dead body.

The film is macabre and clever and quite experimental. The very first scene is of Phillip strangling the victim, David, with a piece of kitchen rope, which is an unusual way to start off a film. Typically, there would be more buildup and then the climax of a murder, but Hitchcock is far too intelligent to follow the rule book. Phillip is ironically the weak and submissive one, despite actually committing the crime. Brandon is dominant and keeps the whimpering Phillip in check by coaxing him to be calm and in control. The fact that many of the guests have a relationship with the deceased, munching on their dinner while wondering why David is not attending the party, is gleeful irony. Plenty of drinks are served and as Phillip gets drunker and drunker, he becomes more unhinged.

The film reminds me in some aspects of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, also based on a play and largely featuring one set- both dinner parties with alcoholic consumptions, secrets and accusations becoming more prevalent as the evening goes along.

The chilling way that the plot unfolds over the course of one evening as Rupert slowly figures out that what he had previously taught Brandon and Phillip in an intellectual, hypothetical classroom discussion, has been taken morbidly serious by the two.

The homosexual context is hard to miss in this day and age, but remarkably, went way over the heads of the 1948 Production Code censors, who had no idea of what they were witnessing. Clearly, Phillip and Brandon are a gay couple who live together and this Hitchcock has admitted to in later years. If watched closely, one will notice that in any shot where Brandon and Phillip are speaking to one another, their faces are dangerously close to each other, so that one can easily imagine them kissing. This is purely intentional by Hitchcock.

Rope is a daring achievement in innovative filmmaking and one that should be viewed by any aspiring filmmaker, or anyone into robust and clever camera angles, story, and seeking an extraordinary adventure in calm, subtle, great story, and more.

Oliver Twist-1948

Oliver Twist-1948

Director-David Lean

Starring-Alec Guiness

Scott’s Review #279

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Reviewed October 3, 2015

Grade: A-

Oliver Twist, the 1948 film version, is vastly different from the 1968 version, which turned the classic Charles Dickens novel into a musical, albeit a dark one, with colorful sets and brilliant art direction. This version, made in black and white, is a much closer telling of the novel and contains masterful direction and cinematography. Given the enormous length of the novel, some characters and details are inevitably trimmed or modified to fit a 1 hour and 48 minute film. The film is a gorgeous cinematic treat with glowing lighting and creative camera angles, thanks to the wonderful direction of legend David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia).

The film begins on a stormy night with the birth of poor little Oliver, his mother frightened and dying in childbirth, leaving him to live a life of hardship in a workhouse. His mother possesses a beautiful locket, which is stolen by an old crone, who assists in the birth. Now a young boy, Oliver draws the shortest straw, forcing him to utter the famous line “Please Sir, I want some more”, in reference to desiring more bland gruel that the orphans are forced to eat. From this point, Oliver is deemed troublesome and sold to an undertaker named Mr. Sowerberry. When this doesn’t work out, Oliver takes to the harsh streets of London to make his fortune among thieves such as Fagin, Bill Sykes, and The Artful Dodger, who become his friends, but also his enemies.

Since I have seen the musical version of Oliver so many times over, and have also read the novel, it is difficult to watch this film without comparing it to the others. Oliver Twist is a more dark, gritty experience than Oliver! and specifically and closely resembles the novel, with details surfacing such as the back story of the locket that takes on a more central role as when the old crone repents on her deathbed, revealing all to the equally crooked Mrs. Corney. Another example is the casting of less polished, or average looking actors, than Oliver! had. Fagin, for example, played by Alec Guinness, is heavily disguised, with stringy hair and a prosthetic nose, a close comparison to the illustration drawing of Fagin in the novel. Bill and Nancy have smaller, though crucial, roles to play, but are not as fleshed out as the other versions. The timing of particular events come into play- Nancy does not meet Oliver until later in the story, for instance.

The film does have light hearted moments, which balance the heavy drama perfectly. The comic shenanigans of beadle Mr. Bumble and matron Mrs. Corney, both sinister characters, but together a bickering, boorish couple who eventually marry each other, add humorous moments to the story as she becomes a domineering wife over the course of their many fights and schemes.

The fact that the group of young thieves (boys) all live with Fagin in close quarters, the suggestion of child molestation is certainly implied, but not pursued quite as much as in the novel. I do not think that film makers in 1948 would have dared to go there in a film that was arguably meant to have a wholesome feel to it in some way. The certainty that Nancy is a prostitute and primarily sleeps in the streets is also addressed, though she is still rather glamorous and clean looking. The class distinction is evident. The bleakness of the workhouse and Fagin’s quarters counterbalances the rich and lush home of Oliver’s savior, Mr. Brownlow. I love his estate and housekeeper, the kindly and sweet Mrs.Bedwin.

A close re-telling of the novel, Oliver Twist is a wonderful film that can be enjoyed by parents and children alike and can be appreciated through generations of families.