Category Archives: 1951 Movie reviews

Strangers on a Train-1951

Strangers on a Train-1951

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Farley Granger, Robert Walker

Top 100 Films-#27

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Reviewed April 11, 2016

Grade: A

A thrill-ride per minute film, classic suspense story, filled with tension galore, Strangers On A Train is a great Alfred Hitchcock film from 1951, which began the onset of the “golden age of Hitchcock” lasting throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. Apparently a British version of the film exists somewhere, but I have yet to see it. The American version is a brilliant, fast-paced experience involving complex, interesting characters, including one of the greatest villains in screen history, and a plot that is riveting and heart-pounding. Who can forget the important ominous phrase “criss-cross”?

The film begins with a clever shot of two pairs of expensive shoes emerging from individual taxi cabs. Both are men, well-to-do, and stylish.  They board a train and sit across from each other, accidentally bumping feet. We are then introduced to the two main characters- tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and wealthy Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). They engage in conversation and immediately we are aware that Bruno is assertive, Guy the more passive individual. Ultimately, Bruno manipulates Guy into thinking they will exchange murders- Bruno will kill Guy’s unfaithful wife Miriam, while Guy will murder Bruno’s hated father.  While Bruno takes this dire “deal” seriously, Guy thinks that Bruno is joking.

An interesting psychological complexity of the film is the implied relationship between Guy and Bruno. Certainly there are sexual overtones as a flirtation and bonding immediately develops while they converse on the train. They are complete opposites, which makes the relationship compelling- the devil and the angel, if you will. The mysterious connection between these two men fascinates throughout the entire film.

Robert Walker makes Bruno a delicious villain- devious, clever, manipulative, and even comical at times. He is mesmerizing in his wickedness- so much so that the audience roots for him. The fact that Hitchcock wisely makes victim Miriam (wonderfully played by Laura Elliot) devious, only lends to the rooting value of Bruno during her death scene. His character, although dastardly and troubled, almost rivals Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter as a lovable, but evil, villain. Later in the film when Guy is playing tennis, he gazes into the stands to see the spectators turning left and turning right in tandem with the moving tennis ball, and the audience sees a staring straight ahead Bruno immersed in the sea of swaying heads. It is a highly effective, creepy scene.

The pairing of Guy and girlfriend Anne (a seemingly much older Ruth Roman and, interestingly despised by Hitchcock) does not really work. Could this be a result of the implied attraction between Bruno and Guy? Or is this a coincidence? The casting of Roman was forced upon Hitchcock by the studio, Warner Brothers.

Hitchcock reveals his “mommy complex”, a common theme in his films, as we learn that there is something off with Bruno’s mother, played by Marion Lorde, but the exact oddity is tough to pin down. She and Bruno comically joke about bombing the White House, which gives the scene a jarring, confusing edge. Is she the reason that Bruno is diabolical?

The theme of women’s glasses is used heavily in Strangers On A train. Miriam, an eyeglass wearer, is strangled while we, the audience, witnesses the murder through her dropped glasses. In black and white, the scene is gorgeous and cinematic and continues to be studied in film schools everywhere. Later, Anne’s younger sister Barbara (comically played by Hitchcock’s daughter Pat Hitchcock), who also wears glasses, becomes an important character as Bruno is mesmerized by her likeness to the deceased Miriam, as a mock strangulation game at a dinner party goes horribly wrong.

The concluding carnival scene is high intensity and contains impressive special effects for 1951. The spinning out of control carousel, panicked riders, combined  with the cat and mouse chase scene leading to a deadly climax is an amazing end to the film. Strangers On A Train lines up as one of Hitchcock’s best classic thrill films.

The Day the Earth Stood Still-1951

The Day the Earth Stood Still-1951

Director-Ray Wise

Starring-Michael Rennie

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Reviewed August 18, 2014

Grade: B+

The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the best, most credible, original, science fiction thrillers and certainly stands the test of time considering it is over 60 years old. Made in 1951, the film is a message movie that tells the tale of a spaceship that suddenly arrives on planet earth in the United States capitol of Washington D.C.

Michael Rennie is fantastic as Klaatu, the calm, poised, leader of the spaceship who, along with Gort, a 7 foot tall robot, intend to deliver a message of peace and humanity to the leaders of Earth. The arrival of the spaceship sets off a panic and Klaatu is captured, only to escape and meet local townspeople as he tries to pass himself off as human and deliver his message.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is clearly a liberal slanted, anti-war, pro tolerance and acceptance movie, but also a good, old fashioned black and white science fiction thriller rolled into one. It’s an important film. It is an edgy, questioning film that can easily still be viewed and appreciated today (sad that not much seems to have changed in the world after all of these years). It is political and the setting of Washington D.C. is wise and symbolic.

While a handful of humans are portrayed as intelligent and accepting, the majority of Earth’s human beings, especially politicians, are portrayed as war happy, foolish individuals and the viewer will question the world around him or herself, and hopefully begin to question political decisions and the horrors of war that go on and on and on.

An American in Paris-1951

An American in Paris-1951

Director-Vincente Minnelli

Starring-Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron

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Reviewed June 25, 2013

Grade: B+

A classic film directed by Vincente Minnelli, An American in Paris is a musical from 1951, set in marvelous Paris- though, to be fair, the entire film save for the opening scenes of Paris, is shot exclusively on a sound stage.

Gene Kelly stars as a struggling American artist named Jerry Mulligan, who lives in a quiet neighborhood, along with his best friend, Adam Cook. Jerry optimistically sings and tap dances his way through life, befriending neighbors and school kids and spending time in the local cafe, until he is finally noticed by wealthy art buyer Milo, played by Nina Foch. This sets off a quadrangle when Jerry falls for youthful Lise (Leslie Caron), who is already dating a suave French singer, Georges Guetary.  An American in Paris is a cheerful, fantasy film. It is bright, colorful, and filled with musical numbers and dancing. Highlights in this department are “’S Wonderful” and “I Got Rhythm”.

The brilliance of the film is the simply awesome 18 minute epic finale involving Gene Kelly’s ballet throughout Parisian sets of various artists. It is as innovative as anything in film history. The drawback of the film is the lack of chemistry between Kelly and Caron, an aspect of the film I notice more and more with each passing viewing. In fact, there is more chemistry between Kelly and Foch, who is clearly meant to be the odd woman out, and I still find myself rooting for the two of them instead of the intended couple. I do love how none of the four characters involved in the story is considered a villain, which adds to the merry feel of the film.

The predictable ending is wonderful and romantic. An American in Paris won the 1951 Best Picture Oscar, upsetting the heavily favored A Streetcar Named Desire.

The African Queen-1951

The African Queen-1951

Director-John Huston

Starring-Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn

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Reviewed September 26, 2013

Grade: B-

The African Queen is a difficult film to review. Revered and appearing on many greatest films of all time lists, overall this film is disappointing to me. Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn star as a couple  who despise each other, stranded  together on a tugboat in Africa on the eve of World war I.

Sure, the chemistry between Bogart and Hepburn (Hollywood royalty in their day) is there and the opposites attracting has a definite rooting value as the passion between them oozes off the screen. He is a grizzled alcoholic, American. She is a repressed, puritanical British woman. The locales of Africa as the couple traverse on a makeshift boat are gorgeous to view. That is it for me though- nothing else about the film is spectacular.

The plot is rather silly and unrealistic and the two are obviously thrown together purely for plot purposes. The adventure seems quite secondary to the love story at hand. How far-fetched that an “old maid” and a sailor could build torpedoes and blow up an enormous German warship.

The film is a decent, old fashioned romantic adventure film, but little more and that disappoints, because I was expecting much, much more due to the films accolades. Bogart won the 1951 Best Actor Oscar for this performance.