Category Archives: 1959 Movie reviews

Les Cousins-1959

Les Cousins-1959

Director- Claude Chabrol

Starring-Gerard Blain, Jean-Claude Braily

70200457

Reviewed May 5, 2016

Grade: A-

Les Cousins is a 1959 Claude Chabrol French language film. Made in black and white and set in Paris, the focus is on metropolitan life as seen from the perspective of one of the main characters, who is from the country and far removed from the bustle and complexities of city life. The focal point is contrasting traits- personality, background, and otherwise, as the film delves into psychological aspects that lend themselves to making the film a character driven experience, and quite thought provoking. Les Cousins is open to many interpretations. The film, therefore, has many nuances to ponder and sink ones teeth into deep thought.

Hence the title, Les Cousins is about two male cousins, Charles and Paul. They appear to be similar in age and are both law students, but opposites in almost every other way. Paul is the alpha male- self centered, quick-tempered, and forceful. Living an affluent life in the heart of Paris, he has many friends, is a social butterfly, and has no filter with his criticisms and judgments of others.

Charles, on the other hand has a completely different set of qualities. Sent by his mother to live with Paul and study for the agonizing, impending law exam, Charles is meek, quiet, and insecure. When Charles meets Florence, a beautiful friend of Paul’s, who has a reputation for “sleeping around”, Charles falls madly in love with her, almost love at first sight, unaware of her reputation. What follows is a strange triangle between Paul, Florence, and Charles that is laced with jealousy, revenge, and ultimately violence.

Each of the three principal characters and their relationship with each other is interesting to ponder and is at the heart of the film. When Paul realizes that Charles is in love with Florence is he disturbed by this turn of events? Does he feel sorry for Charles or elicit some perverse joy in bedding Florence in front of Charles? If so, why does he resent Charles?

Is Florence in love with Charles or is it a guise? Does she even realize the extent of his love for her? Clearly a sexually expressive woman, she is not outlandish in her appearance and for all intents and purposes seems quite virginal to the outside viewer. Doe she enjoy the fact that the unwitting Charles sees her as pure? Does she wish that she actually were virginal?

Finally, the complexity of Charles’ character is mysterious. We learn that he writes letters to his mother every day to give her updates on his studying habits and the exam. Does he harbor resentment towards his mother? Is he a “mama’s boy”? Is he overwhelmed in the city? Does he truly love Florence (tough to believe after one or two dates) or simply yearn for the freedom that she represents?

We see countless scenes of Paul and his good-looking friends engaging in various forms of merriment, usually in his modern apartment, overlooking the city. Clearly he is affluent. Is this the main reason for his popularity? The party-goers are all well-dressed and very good-looking- sort of a fraternity party for the exceptionally tailored, if you will. Interesting to note is a female couple- appearing to be a lesbian couple- featured numerous times at the parties. Is this meant to show Paul and Parisians in general as open minded and progressive?

A revolver- with only one bullet in a six chamber gun, prevalent throughout the film in a Russian roulette sequence, comes into play at the startling conclusion of the film. Without completely revealing the ending, someone is mortally wounded in the last sequence of the film and we are left to ponder what happens now. Are the survivors lives forever changed and ruined? A knock at the door just prior to the credits rolling leave us wondering who is there.

My one complaint of Les Cousins is that it takes a long time to get deep into the complexities of the film and, in fact, I was left pondering the film after it ended more than I was completely engaged throughout the actual film. I also wondered if perhaps the pompous and over-indulgences were slightly overdone to elicit more audience reaction and contrasting elements between Paul and Charles.

A French new wave experience by one of France’s best directors, Les Cousins is a character study of three interesting characters that leave the audience thinking about their lives past, present, and future, comparing their idiosyncrasies, actions, and thoughts to delve deeper into their psyches.

Some Like It Hot-1959

Some Like It Hot-1959

Director-Billy Wilder

Starring-Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis

60010910

Reviewed March 26, 2016

Grade: A

Considered to be one of the best comedies ever made, Some Like It Hot is a funny, outlandish, yet controlled film, that never teeters too over the top or dives into outrageous camp, but rather is well written, well acted, and contains great chemistry between the stars. In a nutshell, it is a film where all of the elements simply come together just right. In film comedy, this is a very rare event to happen. Rather, typically we are treated to formulas or retreads of past successes. Some Like It Hot feels refreshing and brilliant.

The film was also monumental in paving the way to the eventual elimination of the hated Hays Code, which put many restrictions on American films from 1930-1968. Some Like It Hot pushed the envelope in important ways, leading to a spike in creativity and art within the film industry that lasted mainly throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. For that it is a masterpiece.

Down on their luck, broke, and needing work, Jerry and Joe (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) are struggling  jazz musicians who eek out a meager existence in snowy Chicago. Having witnessed the St. Valentine’s day massacre, they go on the run from the assailants, who have seen them, and pose as Josephine and Daphne, dressed in drag. This leads to one humorous situation after another as they take the bus from Chicago to Miami with an all-girl musical band, a slumber party of sorts, led by boozy starlet Sugar Kane (played by Marilyn Monroe), who serves as the bands vocalist and ukulele player. Once arrived in sunny Miami “the girls” both find romantic entanglements, with Sugar and rich millionaire, Osgood Fielding III, with obvious comic antics ensuing. Josephine poses as male Shell Oil Junior in an attempt to woo Sugar with his assumed riches in the oil business.

What makes Some Like It Hot work so well, for starters, is that it does not go too far over the edge to make it seem campy, nor does it play it too straight, if you will. The balance is perfect and that makes the film rich with natural, fresh comedy. Director Billy Wilder chose wisely to film in black and white, thereby avoiding Lemmon and Curtis looking ridiculous with colorful, bright makeup. This was toned down and muted so that it allowed for more believability.

Additionally, the subtle edginess of the film impresses me with each passing watch.  Some Like It Hot got away with a lot for 1959, keeping in mind the restrictions of the day,  and with that knowledge gives it a groundbreaking quality. There is an air of homosexuality throughout and the final line of the film is my favorite allowing for thought provoking interpretation. When Daphne reaches her breaking point with Osgood’s romancing and yanks off his wig professing in a state of exasperation, “I am a man!!” only to hear Osgood’s startling reply of “Well, nobody’s perfect”, that is clever dialogue. Did Osgood know all along that Daphne was male? Will he marry her anyway?

Who wouldn’t have blushed gazing at Monroe’s skin colored and quite revealing outfit? It gave the impression that she was nude, and how funny is the physical comic timing of Lemmon and Curtis together. Bumbling around in stocking, heels, and dresses, attempting to be feminine, but never really succeeding, but somehow making all of the other characters think that they truly were women is great. Curtis was reportedly quite uncomfortable in drag and it shows on camera, but this works out well as it gives Josephine an awkwardness that is natural. Lemmon went all out in his costumes and his energy really comes across.

In my opinion not looking her best, slightly plump and tired looking, Marilyn Monroe still gives the film added life and charm and who is not mesmerized viewing her on stage singing “I Wanna Be Loved By You”? To think that Monroe died only 3 short years later is sad and an appreciation of her career in the final stages.

A risqué, laugh out loud, funny treat, Some Like It Hot resonates with me and did so with audiences upon release in 1959. Comical, smart, and highly influential, the film is a must see for fans of film comedy done honestly and free of standard cliché. A blueprint for all smart comedies to follow.

North by Northwest-1959

North by Northwest-1959

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint

Top 100 Films-#26

60000544

Reviewed July 3, 2014

Grade: A

North by Northwest is a 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film, released at the heyday of its famous director (1950’s and 1960’s). It is considered one of his most commercially successful films and is mainstream fare that contains all  the elements of a great Hitchcock film- adventure, intrigue, romance, and suspense. Unlike some of his other films, his characters are straight-forward and not psychologically wounded as are some of his others, and this is not a slight, but merely makes the film “for the masses”.

Charismatic Cary Grant plays successful advertising executive Roger Thornhill. He works in bustling New York City, has a secretary, and is well respected in his circle. While enjoying drinks at the club on evening before a planned trip to the theater, he becomes a victim of mistaken identity- thought to be George Kaplan-and accosted by henchmen to a lavish mansion on Glen Cove Long Island.  After a botched attempt on his life, he is arrested and ultimately must race across the United States on the lam to find the real George Kaplan.

The wonderful locales go from New York City to Long Island to Indiana, to Chicago, to Mount Rushmore. The film is exciting from start to finish, never letting up, and features a common theme of Hitchcock’s- an “every man” falsely accused of a crime attempts to prove his innocence. Slightly different from some Hitchcock films in that there is not as much psychological analysis of the characters, but rather a good, old fashioned adventure story with many twists and turns along the way. In many ways North by Northwest is a pre-cursor to the enormously popular James Bond films as Grant brought style, sexiness, and charisma to this sleek feature.

The set style and design look just perfect. The lush Long Island estate set is flawless with a grand stair case and a well constructed library used- not to mention the exterior shot of the enormous house. The house in Mount Rushmore is sleek, quite trendy, and reeks of high sophistication. Propped on an incline and containing its own airplane runway, it is quite grand.

The chemistry between Grant and Eva Marie Saint is apparent and oozes from the screen from the moment they bump into each other on a train traveling from New York to Chicago. As they dine in the dining car-a flirtatious scene-the landscape whizzing by in the background, the comforting train whistle and background noise really works well. Their relationship is established, and the characters are intrigued and slightly mistrustful of each other, which gives the scene edge and complexities that really work.

The film features a cutting edge graphic design in the opening credits as Vertigo also did around the same period. The green colors and the sophisticated advertising style of the graphics kick the film off in a creative, ultra-cool, modern way.

Interesting to note is the implied homosexuality of Martin Landau in the role of Leonard, henchman to the main villain Phillip Vandamm, and this is exactly how Landau played the role.  During Hitchcock’s time, homosexuality was strictly prohibited in film, but his sublty shines through. Leonard’s fascination and jealousy towards Vandamm has levels of flirtation and vengefulness intertwined.

Scene after scene of North By Northwest is filled with suspense- the crop duster scene is my ultimate favorite. Shot without music, and on location in a dreary, clear, middle of nowhere field, somewhere in Indiana, it is layered with suspense that keeps going in this very long scene. Thornhill is scheduled to meet Kaplan at a designated spot. A lonely bus stop, random passing cars thought to be the intended, a deadly airplane, and an explosion all transpire. The scene is fraught with tension.

New fans of Hitchcock should begin with this one- mainstream and one of his finest, containing all the traditional Hitchcock elements where all the pieces come together perfectly. North By Northwest is a masterpiece.

The 400 Blows-1959

The 400 Blows-1959

Director-Francois Truffaut

Starring-Jean-Pierre Leaud

70048120

Reviewed August 15, 2013

Grade: A

The 400 Blows is a French New Wave masterpiece from 1959 that is heartbreaking yet beautiful in its storytelling. It tells the story of Antoine, a kindhearted yet hardened teen boy who is forced out on his own to live a tough life on the streets of Paris. It is autobiographical of sorts as director Francois Truffaut suffered a childhood similar to the boy.

Misunderstood and mistreated by his parents and schoolteachers, Antoine must survive and thrive as a teenage runaway who cannot get a break in life. Shot in Paris and featuring gorgeous shots of the city, the black and white filming add to the bleakness and coldness of this young boy’s life and Truffaut was the first to use the since common still-frame close-up of angst and the scenes of Antoine running from the city along the beach are some of the most beautiful in film history.

Truffaut influenced a generation of directors with his very personal brand of storytelling. The 400 Blows is not always a pleasant film, but an important and influential one in art cinema. Young actor Jean-Pierre Leaud gives an excellent performance.

Anatomy of a Murder-1959

Anatomy of a Murder-1959

Director-Otto Preminger

Starring-James Stewart, Lee Remick

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Reviewed November 2, 2013

Grade: B+

Anatomy of a Murder is a thought provoking, courtroom/legal thriller that is not a black and white, good and bad story. It is deeper and more complex than that.

Starring James Stewart as an everyman defense attorney, the film, shot effectively in black and white, pushed barriers for its time (1959), by using certain words such as “rape” and “panties” that were never spoken in films before this time. Much of the action takes place inside the courtroom.

The film pushed the envelope and is still enjoyable today. Over the course of the film, which is admittedly slow at times, the audience finds itself unsure of the guilt of the defendant and is wary and suspicious of him from the star, which makes for great drama.

The rooting value is with Stewart, who is clearly the hero, and the interesting supporting cast provides deeper layers than similar type film that run the risk of being wordy or preachy. As each new fact or twist and turn arrives throughout the film, it becomes more and more engaging until it reaches a satisfying climax.