Category Archives: 1956 Movie reviews

Bus Stop-1956

Bus Stop-1956

Director-Joshua Logan

Starring-Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray

60004539

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

60020329

Reviewed September 25, 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

220px-Red_balloon

Reviewed September 14, 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

70048803

Reviewed April 18, 2013

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

60011684

Reviewed October 14, 2013

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

671936

Reviewed March 7, 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.