Category Archives: 1955 Movie reviews

Picnic-1955

Picnic-1955

Director-Joshua Logan

Starring-William Holden, Kim Novak

Reviewed December 9, 2010

Grade: A-

Picnic is a dear, classic film, from 1955 that is just wonderful to watch over the Labor day weekend holiday, or anytime throughout the humid summer season. The film perfectly depicts summertime in a very small town. Set in Kansas, it is a slice of life story that tells what life was like in middle america during the 1950’s, trials and tribulations notwithstanding.

William Holden stars as a “wrong side of the tracks” type guy who arrives in a quiet Kansas town on Labor Day weekend, disrupting the town events and causing scandals for the townspeople. he is a hunky former college football player and exudes sexuality. He then falls in love with his best friends girlfriend, Madge Owens, played by Kim Novak. The chemistry between the two stars is readily apparent and the main appeal of the film.

The supporting cast really makes this film special (Arthur O’Connell and Rosalind Russell stars as townspeople, who are in a relationship of their own). Picnic also contains a gorgeous and lovely musical score, specifically “Theme from Picnic” and “Moonglow”.

Beautifully shot on location in Kansas, mostly in and around Hutchinson, and is considered classic summer enjoyment. Based on the Pulitzer-award winning play.

To Catch A Thief-1955

To Catch A Thief-1955

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Cary Grant, Grace Kelly

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Reviewed July 24, 2016

Grade: A-

Cary Grant starred in a resounding five Alfred Hitchcock films in his day and 1955’s To Catch A Thief is smack in the middle of Hitchcock’s prime period of masterful pictures. Grace Kelly (her third and final Hitchcock film) co-stars making this film a marquee treat as both actors were top notch in their heyday and had much chemistry in this film. While not my all time favorite of Hitchcock films, To Catch a Thief has mystery, a whodunit, and some of the most gorgeous cinematography of the French Riviera. In fact, the breathtaking surroundings are my favorite part of this film.

Grant plays John Robie, aka. “The Cat”, an infamous jewel thief who has now gone clean. He currently spends his days quietly atop the French Riviera growing grapes and flowers and keeping out of trouble. When a new jewel thief begins to strike wealthy tourists, Robie is immediately under suspicion by the police. He is forced to prove his innocence by catching the real thief in the act as the thief uses the same style to steal as Robie once did. In the midst of this drama, Robie meets the beautiful heiress Frances (Kelly) and her interfering mother Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis), leading to romance.

Despite the fact that Grant could be old enough to be Kelly’s father, we immediately accept Robie and Frances as the perfect couple- she sophisticated, stylish, and rich, he equally sophisticated and cool, with a bad boy edge. In this way, To Catch A Thief has a strong romantic element, and a glamorous and wealthy tone. After all, the subject matter at hand- jewels- equates to lavish set decorations, women dripping in expensive jewelry, and a posh resort among the gorgeous French waters.

The supporting characters are interesting too. A triangle of sorts emerges as Frances plays catty with a young girl, Danielle, eager for Robie’s affections. Danielle, much plainer looking than Frances, though no shrinking violet, holds her own in a match of wits with Frances as they bathe in the water one afternoon. Frances’s mother Jessie, is wonderful comic relief as she attempts to push Robie and Frances together- always searching for a handsome suitor for her daughter. Finally, insurance man H.H. Hughson also contributes to the comic relief as he begrudgingly provides Robie with a list of wealthy visitors with jewels. In their playfully awkward lunch- delicious quiche is the meal of the day- at Robie’s place, Robie proves how Hughson himself is a thief of sorts in order to accomplish what he needs to get from Hughson.

Despite all of the positive notes, there is something about To Catch A Thief that prevents it from being among my all-time favorite Hitchcock films. Perhaps it is because I never had a doubt as to Robie’s innocence and the caper- if dissected- is a bit silly. I get the sense that the audience is supposed to question all along whether Robie is truly reformed or playing a game and is really back to his dirty deeds, but I wasn’t fooled. This is a very small gripe and To Catch A Thief is a wonderful film.

The way the film is shot is almost like being in the French Riviera. Countless coastal shots of the skyline will amaze the viewer with breathtaking awe of how gorgeous the French country is and how romantic and wonderful it is. This is my favorite part of To Catch A Thief. In fact, the visuals of the film rival the story as the costumes created by costume designer and Hitchcock mainstay, Edith Head, are simply lovely. And who can forget the costume ball at the films near conclusion?

Though the story might be the weakest and lightest elements of the story,  who cares? The visuals more than make up for any of that as To Catch A Thief will please loyal fans of Hitchcock’s vast catalog.

 

Kiss Me Deadly-1955

Kiss Me Deadly-1955

Director-Robert Aldrich

Starring-Ralph Meeker

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Reviewed April 2, 2016

Grade: A-

Kiss Me Deadly is a 1955 film noir drama which heavily influenced many films that followed it. On my “to see” list for years, I finally got around to viewing this influential gem and now realize the power of the film. At times confusing and perplexing, and certainly requiring additional watches, I rate it a grade of A-, however, can see its grade rising to a solid A upon subsequent viewings. Still, Kiss Me Deadly has much respect from me as a lover and appreciator of good film.

The mysterious plot goes something like this- Mike Hammer (played by Ralph Meeker) is a tough Los Angeles private eye. One evening, driving along a lonely country road, he picks up a hitchhiker named Christina (the film debut of Cloris Leachman) clad only in a trench coat. He quickly realizes she has escaped from a mental institution, but is compelled by her desperation.  When thugs catch up to them, this sets off the crux of the film as Mike spends his days investigating the strange turn of events. The plot twists and turns in innumerable ways and becomes quite complex, but always fascinates. A peculiar glowing box, which everybody seems to want, comes into play as the film progresses.

Wonderfully directed by Robert Aldrich, Kiss Me Deadly features unique and creative uses of lighting, camera angles, and moody shadows to great effect, and is one of the first aspects that I noticed. Shot in highly effective black and white, it allows Kiss Me Deadly a murky, suspicious look- as if danger and doom might be around every corner.

Meeker and Maxine Cooper as Velda, Mike’s secretary/lover make a nice pair, as they are a good-looking, but a rather B-movie type couple, in contrast to say, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, two gorgeous upper echelon Hollywood stars of the day. Casting those stars might have changed the tone of the film.  Meeker and Cooper bring, perhaps, a blue-collar look to the film. Nevertheless, the chemistry works.

An interpretive film, Kiss Me Deadly undoubtedly influenced such later film noir classics as Chinatown, L.A. Confidential,  and Pulp Fiction, not to mention science-fiction films and, arguably even Raiders of the Lost Ark. The list could go on and on as Kiss Me Deadly really crosses into numerous genres.

The ending of the film is highly complex, spooky, and downright weird. It is one of the craziest endings I have ever experienced.  Once the mysterious box is opened, the film transforms into a strange Twilight Zone episode, containing screeching sounds, and the explosion is open to complete interpretation, and changes the dynamic of the film. I had the enormous good fortune to be able to view the alternate ending, not released in theaters.  Needless to say, Mike and Velda’s fates were vastly different from one ending to another. My preference was the alternate ending. Sometimes the studios play things too safe.

What does it all mean? Nuclear weapons, the apocalypse,  the Cold War, glowing boxes, detectives- so many elements in one film. A conversation about Kiss Me Deadly could certainly be enjoyed and, in the end, that speaks volumes for the high quality of the film. I look forward to seeing this revolutionary film again for further appreciation.

The Night of the Hunter-1955

The Night of the Hunter-1955

Director-Charles Laughton

Starring-Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters

Top 100 Films-#66

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Reviewed November 13, 2016

Grade: A

The way that I would classify The Night of the Hunter is by describing it as a fairy tale for adults. In fact, I categorized it as a thriller, but it certainly teeters on the edge of being a horror film. In addition to being a well-written film, it also contains breathtaking cinematography. Made in 1955, it is shot in black and white, and tells the tale of good versus evil in a small town. The film is a masterpiece and one of my all time favorites.

The film is creepy, but in a highly intelligent way, and director Charles Laughton is responsible for the immeasurable success of the film, though the film was not a success upon release. It has only been as the years passed that is has finally received its due admiration. The film is way ahead of its time. It is based on the 1953 novel by Davis Grubb.

The time is the 1930’s in rural West Virginia, and the action takes place along the Ohio river. Ben Harper, a local family man, robs a bank and hides the stolen money inside his daughter’s doll. His son and daughter (John and Pearl) are central characters in the story. Caught, Ben is out of the picture leaving his wife, Wilma (Winters), vulnerable and alone. A serial killer, Reverend Harry Powell (Mitchum), a misogynist, is on the loose disguised as a preacher. In prison with Ben, he knows the money is hidden and is determined to find out where. He has designs on wooing Wilma. When dire events occur, John and Pearl are left on the run along the river to seek refuge with a kindly older woman, Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish).

The film is a combination of majestic, haunting, and artistic. Each scene seemingly glows as the dark black and the white colors mix in a gorgeous way, making the film tranquil, despite the dark tone of the films subject matter.

The Night of the Hunter also has a visual dream-like quality. During one pivotal scene, we see a dead body, submerged at the bottom of the river. Obviously, it is horrific with the bulging eyes and the bloating beginning to set in, but the scene is so creatively beautiful as well. The flowing hair of the victim, the posture, is a mesmerizing scene and sticks with you for some time.

Poetic, and a sense of good versus evil, clearly laid out as Powell has two words imprinted on the knuckles of each hand- “L-O-V-E” and “H-A-T-E”.  These words create the basis of the film as both words can be applied to the actions of the characters.

My personal favorite scene is when John and Pearl travel along the Ohio river in flight from their rival. The shapes of the trees mirrored with the flowing river is just incredible to see and I can watch this scene over and over again.

A thriller, written intelligently well, with creativity for miles, is a recipe for pure delight. Director, Laughton, only directed this one film, and encouraged creative collaboration and participation from his actors, and it shows in the resulting masterpiece. The Night of the Hunter has influenced countless directors.

The Seven Year Itch-1955

The Seven Year Itch-1955

Director-Billy Wilder

Starring-Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell

60004542

Reviewed December 17, 2015

Grade: B

Following a string of successful hits by director Billy Wilder (mostly famous for films in the 1940’s and 1950’s), The Seven Year Itch features Marilyn Monroe in her prime and at her finest. It is a cute film made charming by the likable legend. While certainly not high art, it is fun and an entertaining experience in classic romantic comedy cinema and it has an innocence certainly lost in today’s genre. Playing a familiar character to what she was known for (sexy, flirty, sweet blondes), it is arguably Monroe’s best role (though Some Like it Hot still wins out for me as her best film role).

Richard Sherman, a successful New York publisher, finds himself alone for the summer when his wife and son leave for a vacation  in the country. Middle-aged and bored, he immediately is enamored with his gorgeous new upstairs neighbor, simply known as The Girl, played by Marilyn Monroe. The Girl is a commercial actress and former model and quite friendly and bubbly. She is conveniently staying in New York City while filming a new television ad for toothpaste. Richard finds himself awkwardly tempted by the curvaceous Girl in one situation after another.

The Seven Year Itch is pure innocence and fantasy. The Girl has no designs on Richard, whatsoever, and his flirtation with her is harmless and juvenile. Richard is nerdy and socially awkward, not to mention fearful of his wife’s stern nature, should she find out that he is even spending a moment with The Girl. Much of the film includes scenes where Richard imagines conversations with his wife or imagines her with another man, justifying his attraction for The Girl. These scenes are done in a hilarious manner as he imagines conversations with his wife and much of his thoughts are exaggerated.

Humorous scenes transpire such as the “champagne scene” in which The Girl and Richard attempt to open a champagne bottle while cooling off with Richard’s new state of the art air conditioner.  The Girl keeps her underpants in a freezer to cool off. The Girl appearing in her toothpaste commercial, in comic fashion, is also a treat. And who can forget Marilyn Monroe’s famous scene in which she appears standing over a subway grate, clad in a sexy white dress and high heels, the wind from the subway blowing her dress in the air is one of the most memorable in film history and timeless.

Some would argue that The Seven Year Itch is nothing but fluff and they in large part are correct, but in an age of crude and obnoxious films disguised as romantic comedy, with cheesy jokes and canned humor, it is refreshing to revel back to 1950’s culture, largely an innocent era, and enjoy a fun film romp with one of cinema’s forever stars.

All That Heaven Allows-1955

All That Heaven Allows-1955

Director-Douglas Sirk

Starring-Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman

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Reviewed August 22, 2014

Grade: B+

All That Heaven Allows is a perfect looking film as Director Douglas Sirk famously dressed his films in a contemporary, stylish fashion. Traditionally, his films contain a social aspect to them as evidenced by the story at hand in this film.

Affluent socialite Cary falls in love with handsome young gardener Ron and they face the discrimination of a town where status is everything and gossip is rampant. I loved the chemistry between Jane Wyman (Cary) and Rock Hudson (Ron) and the small town in New England is so perfect looking- sets, cinematography, that it fits the subject matter perfectly- most of the townspeople live these seemingly perfect lives and look down on anyone with a different outlook or way of living. There is a stifling feeling oozing from these people that contrasts perfectly with the open-mindedness and freedom of Ron and the confliction faced by Cary. On the one hand, she is passionate about Ron and wants a life with him; on the other, she is unsure if she wants to toss away a comfortable, affluent life with perks like the social club and a beautiful house.

The aforementioned chemistry between the leads is really what makes this film special. All That Heaven Allows was heavily influential to one of my favorite films, the masterpiece Far from Heaven, which substituted the age factor for race.

Oklahoma!-1955

Oklahoma!-1955

Director-Fred Zinneman

Starring-Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones

820796

Reviewed November 27, 2013

Grade: A-

Oklahoma is one of a slew of memorable Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals to emerge from the 1950’s and 1960’s Hollywood and to be based from a popular stage version.  The film has an old west, homespun, comfortable appeal to it. and is best watched during the summer months. While seeming a bit too hokey and not my favorite musical as compared to  other more sophisticated stalwarts such as My Fair Lady, An American in Paris, or The Sound of Music, Oklahoma does emit a flavor and tasteful appeal of the west.

The plot  focuses on a love triangle between good old boy, Curly,  good girl, Laurey Williams, and brooding Jud, though the real rooting couple is Curly and Laurey.  The trio is  supported by a large array of townspeople both gossiping about and helping  Curly and Laurey admit their true feelings and come together as a couple. Of course, Jud is the villain and conflicts come into play all throughout the production. There is also a lesser couple , Will Parker and Ado Annie, who find their way into each others arms amid the traditional small town events such as a lively, summer fair.

Stars Gordon MacRae (Curly) and Shirley Jones (Laurey) are both very handsome and likable in the lead roles making for a nice paring.  Gloria Grahame is very appealing and comical as Ado Annie, especially in her rousing turn bellowing out “I Can’t Say No”, and Charlotte Greenwood is the moral voice of reason as Aunt Eller.

What works best in the film are the settings of Oklahoma, as the viewer experiences such a feel for life in the heartland long ago (though the exteriors were actually shot in Arizona). It’s pure fantasy enjoyment and there is a magical Wizard of Oz feel to it- though no cyclone  nor munchkins are anywhere in site. The film version closely follows the original stage version.

The musical numbers are quite catchy (“Oh What a Beautiful Morning”, “I Can’t Say No”, and “Oklahoma” are my favorites). The controversial mid number “Dream Ballet” is quite provocative and artistically enjoyable and jarringly different from the rest of the traditional tale.  This jaw-dropping number most certainly is on par with a similar spectacle in An American in Paris. Perhaps Oklahoma is not quite on par with other musicals of its day, but pretty close.