Category Archives: 1951 Movie reviews

A Streetcar Named Desire-1951

A Streetcar Named Desire-1951

Director-Elia Kazan

Starring-Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh

Scott’s Review #872

Reviewed March 2, 2019

Grade: A

An adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s dark and dreary Broadway play, the stellar cast features three of the four original members of the stage version who bring the film to the big screen. Tremendous acting and a southern, morbid setting will leave the viewer transfixed and wondering what chaos and drama will next unfold. The story is sad and pitiful and quite the heavy as each character suffers from guilt, resentment, rage, or regret, but the elements make the film a pure classic.

Aging southern belle Blanche DuBois has lost her valuable southern plantation and flees her aristocratic livelihood to New Orleans to live with her working-class sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). Unhappy, Blanche immediately begins acting snobbish which is in stark contrast to regular folks and offends many with her prim and proper ways. Stanley feels slighted by Blanche also convinced that she is keeping inheritance from Stella resulting in conflict. She meets Mitch (Karl Malden) and it appears she may have a shot at happiness after all.

The most painful and well-dissected character is Blanche. A fun fact is that Leigh is the only actor among the principle four to not appear in the original stage version, the role played by Jessica Tandy. Leigh, undoubtedly cast because of her star power at that time dives full-steam ahead into the role and gives the perfect blend of pathos and courage adding the most complexity. Reduced to a life among the poor and struggling, reality is tough for the once wealthy heiress who has lost all her money through no fault of her own, her estate taken by creditors after her husband’s tragic death assumed to be suicide.

Almost as complex is Stanley, played stunningly by Brando, an actor who with this film was just beginning to embark on Hollywood success that would surround him throughout most of the 1950’s. The most prominent film cover art features a tee-shirt clad Brando, his muscular arms and torso on display and his smoldering bad-boy pose. The sexual tension between Stanley and Blanche is undeniable as their love/hate relationship is filled with unbridled passion. Their carnal attraction is largely due to the brutish masculinity that Brando exudes on-camera.

The combined supporting performances by both Kim Hunter and Malden almost match with the leads as far as complexity and are just as important to recognize. In the former’s case, Hunter plays Stella as wounded and put-upon, but not weak. She has strength but is unsure who to trust or whether to leave her husband. Malden plays Mitch as benevolent and trusting, enamored with Blanche until her secrets are finally revealed. Heartbroken, even he, the kindest character in the group is left unhappy. Malden is great at adding an every-man and graceful quality to Mitch.

Who can ever forget the poignant and melancholy wails of “Stella! Stella! Stella!” emitted by the tragic Stanley a moment forever remembered in cinematic history? He longingly begs for Stella’s forgiveness as he looks towards the sky in desperation. The suggested rape, although not shown, is a powerful and brazen tidbit and controversial in film for 1951. The audience not seeing the act is arguably as intense as having seen it as imaginations can oftentimes be more prominent.

The black and white cinematography adds emotional treasures as the bleak New Orleans life is captured and the struggle and hardship of the characters wonderfully portrayed. The run-down tenement that most of the film takes place in is dour, suffocating, and dingy, perfectly enveloping the character’s lives. Hopelessness and depression are commonalities as director Elia Kazan creates a film that grasps his audience and never let’s go.

A Streetcar Named Desire is about conflict, pain, and the human desire for love and feeling thwarted by realism and dire circumstances. Each of the four characters is capable of being dissected and sympathized with as well as worthy of discussion. This only proves the complexities of each. I challenge a good comparison to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and A Streetcar Named Desire as both have similar qualities.

The film set an Oscar record when it became the first film to win in three acting categories (a feat only since matched by Network in 1976). The awards it won were for Actress in a Leading Role (Leigh), Actor in a Supporting Role (Malden), Actress in a Supporting Role (Hunter), and Art Direction. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is not an easy watch but assuredly is a feast in excellent acting and a bevy of heartbreaking and wounded characters.

A Christmas Carol-1951

A Christmas Carol-1951

Director-Brian Desmond Hurst

Starring-Alastair Sim

Scott’s Review #871

Reviewed February 26, 2019

Grade: A

A Christmas Carol (1951), released as the American title, or Scrooge in Great Britain, is yet another film incarnation of the world famous 1843 novel by Charles Dickens. This version seems to be the winning popular favorite, historically shown on television around the holidays. Alastair Sim is perfectly cast as the curmudgeonly Scrooge with the eventual endearing qualities in this earnest and wonderful seasonal effort.

Set in bustling London, a fabulous setting for any Christmas film, the story gets off to a resounding start with Dickens’ words being narrated subsequently presenting a faithful tribute to the book. The brooding Ebenezer Scrooge (Sim) angrily leaves the London Exchange on Christmas Eve eager for a quiet night at home. He begrudgingly gives his clerk Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns) the day off to spend with his poor family and bemoans the holidays as humbug to fellow wealthy businessmen that he encounters.

Scrooge embarks on a strange journey during the night as he is visited by his deceased business partner Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern), shackled in chains and doomed to walk the earth clad in chains to represent his greed during his living years. He warns Scrooge to repent or suffer the same fate as he is visited by three ghosts representing chapters of his life: The Spirit of Christmas Past, the Spirit of Christmas Present, and the Spirit of Christmas Yet to come. The first two ghosts more benevolent, the third ghost is mysterious and frightening and takes Scrooge down a dim journey of what will be after he dies.

The centerpiece that makes A Christmas Carol work so well is its star, Alastair Sims. Hardly handsome, the actor is perfect in the role offering relish with his irritated facial expressions and untamed white locks. As he dismisses a waiter at the realization that he will be charged extra for more bread the penny-pinching Scrooge is in fine form as only Sims can be. Later, his cleaning lady assumes Scrooge has lost his marbles as he frolics about gleefully in his bed clothes raising her salary beyond comprehension, clearly a changed and jolly man. Sims plays this range of emotions with relish and truthfulness.

The cinematographers work wonders creating a magical London set drizzling with celebratory facets. With eons of pure white falling snow and streets filled with young Christmas carolers and city people, the film offers a great feel. With the Cratchit household modest yet filled with holiday cheer, the film doses the audience with the right blend of sentimentality and spirit never turning into schmaltz. The result is a richly produced film with a small budget proving that a robust budget does not equal greatness.

Rated G, the film has a few dark moments but is largely tailor made for an all ages audience. This undoubtedly is testament to its success and staying power. Neither a musical nor too heavy in the drama field, the pacing is perfect, and the story builds throughout the running time. After many decades most viewers will be familiar with the conclusion, an enchanting character turn that is always wonderful to witness with joyful glee.

A Christmas Carol (1951) is a legendary film with crackle and spark and an effective atmosphere leaving adoring fans to look forward to more each season. For an interesting contrast, a suggested companion piece is the aptly titled Scrooge (1970) starring Albert Finney, a musical version of the same story. Watched in tandem or even traded off, these two similar yet different creations offer interesting perspectives both enchanting and celebrating the human spirit.

Strangers on a Train-1951

Strangers on a Train-1951

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Farley Granger, Robert Walker

Top 100 Films-#27

Scott’s Review #318

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Reviewed January 2, 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

Scott’s Review #155

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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

Scott’s Review #120

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Reviewed July 19, 2014

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

Scott’s Review #76

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Reviewed June 28, 2014

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.