Category Archives: 1956 Movie reviews

The Wrong Man-1956

The Wrong Man-1956

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Henry Fonda, Vera Miles

Scott’s Review #902

Reviewed May 24, 2019

Grade: A-

The Wrong Man (1956) is not an Alfred Hitchcock film typically mentioned when lists of the greatest of all the director’s works are in conversation. Flying completely under the radar, and a conspicuous emission from most “Best of” collections, the film is a nice gem ready to be dusted off and appreciated for its worth. It features the legendary Henry Fonda, perfectly cast in a story point frequently used in Hitchcock films; that of the wrongly accused man.

Set in New York City, Manny Balestrero (Fonda) is a struggling musician who requires three-hundred dollars for dental work that his wife Rose (Vera Miles) needs. Determined not to let his wife suffer he decides to obtain the money by borrowing against her insurance policy. The life insurance employees mistake Manny for another man who has recently twice held them up. He is arrested and forced to perform a test for the police, which he fails, leading them to assume he is their man.

Attorney Frank O’Connor (Anthony Quayle) sets out to prove that Manny could not possibly be guilty since he has perfect alibis for the nights of both holdups. Complications erupt during his trial as proper witnesses either cannot be found or have died, leaving Manny in dire straits. Meanwhile, Rose teeters towards the brink of insanity as she suffers from severe depression.

The Wrong Man differs from many Hitchcock films in that the story is based upon a real-life quandary one man faced. As such, any viewer can immensely relate to the story and put themselves in Manny’s shoes. I often found myself wondering, “what would I do if this were me?” and as certainly as one could find the story implausible one could just as easily find it plausible. Mistaken identity can happen and proving one’s innocence is not as easy as it may seem.

Set largely on location is another tidbit unique to many Hitchcock productions as the man cringed at the thought of any scene that could not be manipulated by studio luxuries. The New York City locales are splendid and provide an artistic and genuine element. Many scenes were filmed in Jackson Heights, the neighborhood where Manny lived when he was accused. Most of the prison scenes were filmed among the convicts in a New York City prison in Queens. The courthouse was located at the corner of Catalpa Avenue and 64th Street in Ridgewood.

Careful not to be too dissimilar to standard Hitchcock fare, the use of the every man being falsely accused, common in some of his films, is the main story line. Other films like North by Northwest (1958) and The 39 Steps (1935) delivered the same elements with a man being mistakenly accused of murder. While the others were more of “chase stories” involving flight, The Wrong Man stays firmly planted in one city.

The film is composed with some jazz elements, here primarily to represent Fonda’s appearance as a musician in the nightclub scenes. This gives sophistication to the overall tone of the film especially as we see Manny as worldly yet kind. He is a performer but comes home to his wife and adores her, doing anything he needs to for her comfort. The music and the black and white cinematography exude harshness and coldness but also good style.

Fans of either the police force or the justice system may be in for a tough ride watching The Wrong Man as neither group is written very sympathetically. The police are the worst offenders as they go to unethical methods to accuse a man of a crime seeming not to care who is convicted only that someone is.

The one detraction to The Wrong Man is the chemistry between Fonda and Miles. The passion is underwhelming, but not terrible either. Rather, the main point of the film is the false accusations instead of the romance. A bit more of the latter might have made the film more special.

Containing suspenseful and dramatic elements and a charismatic leading man, The Wrong Man (1956) perhaps lacks the flair of other more well-known Hitchcock films but is a solid achievement and one that deserves more acclaim than traditionally given. Sullen yes, but also poignant and frightening and a terrific effort. Henry Fonda carries the film and provides compassion and realism.

Giant-1956

Giant-1956

Director-George Stevens

Starring-Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean

Scott’s Review #898

Reviewed May 14, 2019

Grade: A

Giant (1956) is a sweeping epic firmly ensconced in both the western genre and the dramatic field of play. The film is a flawless Hollywood production featuring three of the most recognizable stars of the time, as well as a slew of powerful supporting actors offering rich performances and good characterizations. The thunderous melodrama plays out over the span of decades with the dry and dusty locale and the superb cinematography one of the finest aspects of the grandiose film experience.

Dashing and wealthy Texas rancher Jordan Bick Benedict Jr. (Rock Hudson), falls in love with and marries socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor) after a whirlwind romance in Maryland. The pair begin their married life on Bick’s immaculate Texas ranch but not before two central figures thwart their happiness. Jett Rink (James Dean) falls obsessively in love with Leslie while Bick’s sister, Luz Benedict (Mercedes McCambridge) despises Leslie, taking out her vengeance on Leslie’s horse. The trials and tribulations continue as the characters age through the years.

The trifecta of talents Taylor, Hudson, and Dean make Giant the ultimate in treats as one fawns over the good looks of each (or all!) of them over the lengthy three hour and eleven minutes of illustrious screen-time. Making for more powerful poignancy is that the film is Dean’s final appearance on-screen before his tragic death by car accident, his death occurring before the film was even released to the public.

Dean plays Jett to the hilt as a surly ranch hand jealous of the riches that Bick possesses and wanting to take Bick’s woman for himself. Jett is an unsympathetic character and the one I find the most interesting. Rivals for decades, Jett and Bick’s lives overlap continuously as Jett finally becomes rich and dates Bick and Leslie’s daughter much to their chagrin. The character of Jett is a racist- common in the early to mid-1900’s, especially in southwestern Texas. Sadly, the character never finds happiness, which is a main part of his depth.

The screenplay is peppered with important and relevant social issues that provide a sophistication and humanistic approach. The film inches towards a liberal slant as the plot progresses, the most famous example occurring in the final act as the Benedict’s stop at a roadside diner with a racist sign, implying the restaurant will not serve Mexican’s. Bick takes a dramatic stance and shows heart as his family, now multi-racial, needs his help. Culminating in a fight, the scene reveals the enduring love that Bick and Leslie share for one another.

Criticisms of the films enormous length and scope are wrong as these aspects deepen the film and components I find the most appealing. Director, George Stevens never rushes through a scene or makes superfluous edits to limit running-time. Rather, he allows each scene to marinate and graze, just like real-life would. Lengthy scenes play out with real conversations and slow build-ups allowing character’s opinions and motivations to take shape slowly.

On the surface a drama and western, the film can be peeled back like an onion to reveal deeper nuances. The racism, love story, and class structure ideals are mesmerizing especially given the true to life humanitarian that Taylor was. One can sit back and revel in the knowledge that she must have been enjoying the rich character.

Along with great epics like Gone with the Wind (1939), Lawrence of Arabia (1963), and The Godfather (1972) sits a film that is rarely mentioned with the other stalwart films and that is a shame. With magnificent shot after shot of the vast Texas land and with enough gorgeous stars to rival the landscape, Giant (1956) is a must-see. A western soap-opera with terrific writing, rife with racism, prosperity and fortitude, the film deserves more praise than it’s given.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers-1956

Invasion of the Body Snatchers-1956

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter

Scott’s Review #895

Reviewed May 8, 2019

Grade: B+

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), released during the mid-1950’s, a time of post War World II unity and prosperity in America where neighborhoods snuggled cheerily by the fireplaces with nary a care in the world, sought to make the public paranoid and it worked. Thanks to a foreboding premise audiences got to ponder the possibilities of pod people cloning human beings and invading the planet, scaring the daylights out of the masses and resonating with critics.

Playing like an extended episode of the Twilight Zone, and to the film’s credit it preceded the television series, at a brief one hour and twenty-minute running time the film is successful at achieving thought-provoking post film dialogue and has been crowned with cult-classic status along with similar creepy themed genre films that blossomed during the 1950’s.

Set in the fictional sunny California town of Santa Mira, the film gets off to an exciting start as we witness a screaming man in an emergency room attempting to be calmed by staff. The harried man claims to be a doctor and recounts, via flashbacks, the events leading up to present day. Our main character, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) and his ex-girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) team up after several of his patients report relatives acting robotic and downright strange.

When half created bodies in pods are soon discovered, Miles and Becky know there is something amiss in their town and race to figure out the mystery of the “pod people” while most of the town turns into emotionless human-like beings. The big revelation is that the epidemic is caused by an extraterrestrial life form. Their intention they explain, is for humanity to lose all emotions and sense of individuality, creating a simplistic, stress-free world.

An interesting facet of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is how time has changed the reaction to the film. In 1956 the thought of aliens taking over the world seemed plausible and frightening since man had not yet walked on the moon and astronomy was a just new venture. The peaceful tranquility of the United States of America was in danger of being overtaken, the film exclaimed, and viewers fell for the scare tactics. Clearly the film was created to be a political allegory and boy did this sure work.

Decades later, the vibe of the United States is more integrated and flourished with more diversity and acceptance for other cultures and beings. The country is also more chaotic, so the invasion of the “pod people” is less scary and perhaps even more embraced to those living in malcontent. Invasion of the Body Snatchers therefore suffers from some poor aging and a message rethink and teeters on feeling dated.

The acting is marginally good if not spectacular, but it does not need to be Oscar-worthy to have the desired effect. The actors deliver their lines with a dramatic gusto successful in providing the troubled paranoia of the suburban American to audiences sure to be on the edge of their seats as the drama unfolds. The characters never think outside the box; only in straightforward terms so the motivations are earnest.

The black and white cinematography is palpable yet subdued, the lack of colors providing mystique that was ample for the times. The 1950’s while a wonderful time for film was also a less edgy time for cinema. The 1960’s brought less restrictions and therefore more shocking elements but Invasion of the Body Snatchers is compartmentalized, feeling more like a long episodic television thriller.

Double-billed with the equally frightening The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) would make for delicious 1950’s science-fiction viewing. I remain partial to the stunning vibrantly colored 1978 remake, superior film-making and more layered production values, but the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers holds its own and is a recommended watch.

Bus Stop-1956

Bus Stop-1956

Director-Joshua Logan

Starring-Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray

Scott’s Review #400

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Reviewed April 30, 2016

Grade: C

Bus Stop is a 1956 film starring Marilyn Monroe that, while surprisingly ranking as one of her best roles, is one of her worst films in my opinion and, at present times, feels dated, chauvinistic,  and diminishing to women. Perhaps perceived as romantic and cute in 1956, times have changed and the film no longer has the charm that it undoubtedly must have had decades ago.

The film is based on a play by William Inge, and, remarkably is Monroe’s first full-fledged dramatic performance. She plays a nightclub performer named Cherie, or mispronounced “cherry” by her love interest, Beau, an immature, naïve, socially inept cowboy, unfamiliar with women and looking for his “angel”. His is accompanied by his friend and father-figure, Virgil. Together they travel by bus from Montana to Phoenix, Arizona for a rodeo. Once Beau meets Cherie, he is intent on conquering her and marrying her despite her resistance to his pursuits.

As a fan of Monroe’s more familiar works- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How To Marry A Millionaire, it is nice to see her in a dramatic role, which gives her some nice range and meatier material to tackle. In 1956 she was still looking marvelous and the sexy nightclub outfit the film had her prancing around in works well. While Monroe will never be accused of being the greatest actress in the world, her turn in this film is to be praised, and she lets out some nice emotions. Unfortunately, the character is poorly written, but Monroe gives it the old college try.

Another positive I found with the film is in that of the supporting cast. Bus stop owner Grace (Betty Field), who has a suggested tryst with the bus driver (Robert Bray) is a delight and nearly steals the show! In fact, I found their limited screen time and limited romance more interesting and fraught with more potential than the main couple (Beau and Cherie). Eileen Heckert is fine in the role of Vera, a waitress and confidante of Cherie, though she is given little to do.

My favorite scene takes place at Grace’s Bus Stop as the group are stranded during a sudden winter storm. Beau and the bus driver engage in a bare-knuckles fight outdoors in the driving snow while the rest look on. The bus driver is tired of Beau’s obnoxiousness and intends to teach him a lesson. Despite being on a sound stage the scene is authentic and the snow and gusts add to the animal like, masculine scene.

Otherwise, the film is not kind to women and in some parts is downright sexist. When Cherie, clearly rebuffing Beau’s advances, attempts to board a bus out of town (and alone), Beau decides to lasso her in order to prevent her from leaving. The next scene we see Cherie obediently sitting next to Beau on another bus to Phoenix to presumably marry him.  It is suggested that she finally gives in, temporarily, to his advances. This film would never be made today.

The character of Beau is not well crafted. Dumb, lower class, and bordering on abusive to Cherie, I am perplexed as to why the intent is for the audience to root for this character to obtain Cherie and ride off happily into the sunset- I certainly did not. I would have much preferred a pairing of Cherie and Virgil, who is older, sensible, and kind.

Dated, sexist, with poorly written characters, Bus Stop is not Monroe’s best film, but it does allow an audience to see her in a dramatic role and that is worth a viewing.

The Man Who Knew Too Much-1956

The Man Who Knew Too Much-1956

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-James Stewart, Doris Day

Top 100 Films-#38

Scott’s Review #176

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Reviewed September 26, 2014

Grade: A

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a classic Alfred Hitchcock film from 1956 starring James Stewart and Doris Day, who share tremendous chemistry. They play a successful married couple- Ben and Jo McKenna, he a Doctor, she a well-known singer, who travels on a lovely trip to Morocco, with their young son Hank in tow. They are a traditional American family on vacation abroad that the viewer trusts and believes in from the on-set of the film. Suddenly, they are approached by a Frenchman named Louis Bernard, who seems a bit too curious about Ben and his work. Jo is immediately suspicious of the mysterious man and this begins a series of events involving mistaken identity, an assassination attempt on England’s Prime Minister, and the couple traversing to London in an attempt to locate Hank, who has been kidnapped by criminals.

As with other Hitchcock films- think North by Northwest, the motivations of the assassins are unclear and one might argue, unnecessary. Why are they attempting to assassinate a political figure? Is there money to gain? Is there power to be obtained? These questions are never answered- the film is really not about that, but rather about Ben and Jo’s predicaments. The villains- primarily an innocent seeming English couple and a sneering, rat-like assassin, are one-dimensional characters as their motivations are not revealed. A remake of a 1934 version with the same title, but far superior, the film is a suspense/ political thriller. Some interesting comparisons to other Hitchcock films released around the same time that I continue to notice with each passing viewing; North by Northwest– the ordinary man falling into international intrigue and Vertigo– Jo is dressed in almost identical fashion to Madeleine/Judy- a classic, sophisticated grey suit with a pulled up bun hairstyle; the musical scores are extremely similar- almost identical in instances; Vertigo’s bell tower is reminiscent of Ambrose Chappel in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Stewart’s Ben climbs up the bell tower in The Man Who Knew Too Much whereas in Vertigo is terrified of heights, let alone climbing. These are fascinating tidbits to note for any Hitchcock fan. Impressive to me is Doris Day’s performance, which is her greatest. Known for lightweight, romantic comedy, fluff roles, she turns in a wonderfully emotional and dramatic role and is quite effective in her own right.

The six minute climactic final sequence, set at a musical concert at Royal Albert Hall, is among the best in film history and uses no dialogue. This technique is jaw-dropping as one realizes just how much transpires within the six minutes, solely on physical action and facial expressions alone- the entire plot of the film reaches a searing crescendo- quite literally. Day is particularly strong in this sequence. James Stewart, in his fourth turn in a Hitchcock film, is charismatic as always playing the every man tangled in a web of deceit and espionage.  He takes charge, but is identifying to the audience- he can be your friend or neighbor and we trust his character- he is a successful doctor after all. The now legendary song from the film “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” is an important part of the finale and remains with the audience in a happy yet terrifying way long after the curtain closes on the film. The Man Who Knew Too Much is exciting, suspenseful, interesting, and fun- just what a Hitchcock film should be.

The Red Balloon-1956

The Red Balloon-1956

Director-Albert Lamorisse

Starring-Pascal Lamorisse

Scott’s Review #170

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Reviewed September 15, 2014

Grade: A

The Red Balloon is a poignant short film (34 minute running time) in its innocence and creativity. The film is directed by acclaimed French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse. It tells the story of a young Parisian boy named Pascal who befriends a special red balloon that arrives out of thin air and greets him one day. Amazingly, the balloon follows him everywhere and they become inseparable friends. The balloon has a mind of its own and acts as a protector of Pascal from schoolyard bullies and others who do not understand nor care about his bond with the balloon. The balloon does not leave his side and during school hours and sleeping hours faithfully waits outside for Pascal. Director Lamorisse’s children play Pascal and a little girl with a similar blue balloon.

The entire film is shot in Paris so many beautiful glimpses of the city are featured. The neighborhood (Belleville) where most of the adventure involving little Pascal and his balloon meandering through the streets to and from school, sadly no longer exists and was destroyed in the 1960’s due to decay. It is a bleak, melancholy neighborhood which perfectly contrasts the extreme brightness of the balloon. The Red Balloon is a thought provoking short film and effectively contains almost no dialogue. None is needed as a powerful message of friendship, heartbreak, and loyalty is portrayed. The climax of the film is heartbreaking yet uplifting. The Red Balloon is a film for all ages to enjoy and fall in love with and, in fact, for many years the film was shown to children by educators.  The Red Balloon is the only short film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

The Searchers-1956

The Searchers-1956

Director-John Ford

Starring-John Wayne, Natalie Wood

Scott’s Review #148

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Reviewed August 5, 2014

Grade: B+

The Searchers is an example of a classic film, considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, that took me a few viewings to appreciate and that I now admire more and more with each subsequent viewing. I now understand why it is on many Best films of all time lists. To be clear, I do not think it’s quite that great, but understand the outstanding qualities that it possesses. And while admittedly, I am neither a fan of the western genre nor of John Wayne, both are top notch in The Searchers. It tells the story of a Civil war veteran (Wayne) named Ethan Edwards, whose brother and his sister-in-law, whom Ethan is in love with, are brutally murdered by a Comanche Indian tribe. Ethan’s two nieces are kidnapped and for the remainder of the film, Ethan, along with his best friend, searches for the missing girls.

Two aspects that initially bothered me about the film were the overt racism involved in this film towards any Indians- the treatment of one Indian woman is cruel, and my disdain for the character of Ethan. The fact that I am not a fan of John Wayne- way overrated in the acting department in my opinion, may have something to do with this. But the character of Ethan is clearly racist and it is tough to root for a character like that. One could make the argument that he is also self-loathing due to the lusting after his sister-in-law. Over time, though, I have come to appreciate this western drama more and more, mainly due to the direction of John Ford and the sweeping cinematography of the old west and the, now understood, complexity of the character of Ethan. He is confident, masculine, even mean, but wounded and, in some way, sympathetic to viewers. The Searchers also captures what the real west was probably once like. An epic western that I have grown to admire.

Anastasia-1956

Anastasia-1956

Director-Anatole Litvak

Starring-Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner

Scott’s Review #68

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Reviewed June 24, 2014

Grade: B+

Anastasia is an exquisitely shot historical drama set in Paris and Denmark circa 1928. The film tells the true story of a discovered surviving member of the Romonov Dynasty from early 20th century Russia, but is she an imposter or the real heir? This is the main question that encompasses the film.

The set and art direction are gorgeous. Ingrid Bergman is flawless as a tortured, lost, amnesiac woman attempting to discover who she is and what she feels- no surprise she took home the Best Actress Oscar this year (1956).

How wonderful to see Helen Hayes (typically a stage actress) as the Dowager Empress. How interesting to see Natalie Schaffer (Lovey Howell of Gilligan’s Island fame) in the film.

My only slight knock is I didn’t sense any chemistry between Bergman and Yul Brynner, but the romantic element is certainly secondary to the interesting period drama. Each and every scene is first rate in production and style and it is a gorgeous film to watch. Every frame looks like a painting.

The King and I-1956

The King and I-1956

Director-Walter Lang

Starring-Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr

Scott’s Review #26

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Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: B

The King and I is another countless Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that dominated the 1950’s and 1960’s film era. Having seen the stage version, the film contained 2 gigantic stars of the period (Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr), Brynner having made this role his legacy.

The story is similar to The Sound of Music as teacher takes on children of the King, but not quite as gripping and the chemistry among the leads is there, but not quite completely there. The Bangkok palace set and the costumes are stylish and fantastic in design.

As a whole the songs are not as memorable as some other similar musicals, but that is comparing to magnificence. Interesting how much of the cast is not Asian, a characteristic of the stage version too, that is often overlooked and accepted. This is not a criticism, merely a notice. It’s a nice musical, but not as enjoyable as others, but is still worth watching.