Tag Archives: 1961 Movie reviews

Homicidal-1961

Homicidal-1961

Director-William Castle

Starring- Jean Arless, Patricia Bresling

Reviewed July 8, 2017

Grade: A-

Homicidal is a 1961 horror film, shot in black and white, that is a direct homage to the successful Psycho, made only a year earlier. In fact, while some would argue Homicidal is a direct rip off of Psycho, I see the film as containing elements of Psycho, but twisted around so that its own unique story is created.  Regardless, Homicidal is a fantastic, edge of your seat film, that never drags or slows down, and the film deserves recognition. The surprise ending is terrific.

The story gets off to an intriguing start as a tall, leggy, blonde woman confidently walks into a local California hotel to request a room-there is something mysterious about the woman. She appears to be a woman of some wealth and convinces a young bellboy to marry her for $2,000.  Hesitant, but also enamored by the woman, he accompanies her to the local justice of the peace, who marries them in the middle of the night. The woman (Emily) then savagely bludgeons the justice of the peace and flees the scene. Later, she brags about the murder to a mute and sickly old woman named Helga, who Emily is caring for.

From this point, other characters in the small town are introduced and we slowly learn more and more about the intriguing Emily (Jean Arless). Flower shop owner, Miriam (Patricia Bresling) and her brother Warren are central to the story as Warren will inherit a fortune on his twenty-first birthday, which is the next day. Miriam’s boyfriend, Karl, is the local pharmacist, who Emily appears to fancy. All of these characters come into play as the intriguing plot develops. Is Warren’s inheritance a motivating factor? Will he be killed? Why isn’t his sister, Miriam receiving any money? Could she be secretly plotting something?

The comparisons to Psycho are endless. The gender bending twist during the final act is the most obvious one- Arless deserves kudos for tackling both roles in wonderful, compelling fashion. The fact that Arless resembles Psycho actress Janet Leigh is another similarity. Otherwise, Miriam and Karl resemble characters from Psycho and Helga could be a dead ringer for Mother Bates. Even some of the sets, specifically a staircase, resembles the one in Psycho.

Director, William Castle, brilliantly adds a gimmick to Homicidal that works very well- as the film is about to reach its shocking climax, the action suddenly stops and the introduction of a “fright break” ensues. At this point, Castle gives the audience forty-five seconds to leave the room to avoid what is to come next-we see the clock countdown in real time. What a fantastic idea!

Throughout the film, I noticed some of the actors, most notably Jean Arless, playing their roles in a slight melodramatic way. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door, or a car drives up, and the character quickly turns their head in a fast movement, to look in an almost cartoonish way. Rather than see this as a negative, this style of acting works for me and adds a bit of humor to the film.

Another positive for me is the way the film is gruesome in several parts. As a character descends the staircase from a stairlift, the image of the body is shrouded in dark shadows. When the dismembered head topples down the staircase, it is macabre and effective. The justice of the peace death scene is also well done and will please horror fans in its hefty bloodletting. Surprisingly, only two murders occur.

Certainly not as crafty, and containing a smaller budget (though Psycho was also small), Homicidal is quite the solid effort in a B-movie way. Success is largely thanks to the fantastic direction of William Castle, who carves a similar story to Psycho, but in a  different way so that his film does not feel like a carbon copy. Homicidal is a film for fans of classic, solid, horror films.

The Innocents-1961

The Innocents-1961

Director-Jack Clayton

Starring-Deborah Kerr

Top 100 Films-#98        Top 20 Horror Films- #19

Reviewed April 29, 2017

Grade: A

The Innocents is a 1961 British, psychological horror film, that is a ghost story, of sorts, and based on the novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. The film, though clearly horror, contains few of the traditional horror elements, such as contrived frights, jumps, and blood. Rather, the film succeeds by using lighting and magnificent cinematography by Freddie Francis. And, of course, wonderful story-telling and direction from Jack Clayton.

Deborah Kerr gives a wonderful turn as a beleaguered governess hired by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave) to tend to his young niece and nephew- Flora and Miles. The setting is a lavish, yet creepy, mansion somewhere outside of London. As the Uncle goes away to India on business, Miss Giddens, with no previous experience, is left to tend to Flora and Miles, who both begin acting strangely. To complicate matters, Miss Giddens begins to see sinister ghosts lurking around the property. The ghosts are former servants of the household, who have died, in which Miss Giddens has never met before. Miss Giddens is assisted only by the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, who fills her in on the servants tragic deaths.

The Innocents, shot in black and white, a very wise decision in my book, uses sound to its advantage and combined with the interesting camera angles and focus shots- mostly of the ghosts Miss Giddens sees, makes the film unique and downright scary. As she begins by hearing strange voices, she becomes convinced that Miles and Flora are playing tricks on her, engaging in mischievous games. The sounds of the whispers are quite haunting and do wonders for the affects and chills it will undoubtedly give the viewer as the film moves along.

The question all throughout the film is whether Miss Giddens is imagining the voices and visions, or if this is true reality. Could the children be sinister and be playing a vicious prank on her? Could Mrs. Grose be evil? Certainly, nobody else within the household sees or hears anything amiss- or admits to it.

Kerr, a treasured actress, plays the part with emotional facial expressions and true fear, so much so that she will win the audience over, as we side and empathize with her character. Still, is she a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown? Does she have past mental problems? Like the uncle, we know nothing of her past, only that she claims to be a minister’s daughter. How then does she have stylish, expensive clothes? Could she only be pretending to be a governess? Has she run away from her past?

The Turn of the Screw is a true ghost story, but The Innocents is a bit different- it relies, successfully, as more of a character driven story. As Miss Giddens becomes convinced that both children have become possessed by the spirits of the servants, she makes it her mission to rescue the children from the spirits. We have an ominous feeling that events will not end well and they most certainly do not.

Several scenes will frighten the viewer- as Miss Giddens sees a haggard ghost (the female servant) quietly standing in the distance near a lake as Flora dances chirpily, the image of the faraway ghost figure is eerie and well-shot. In this way, the film draws comparisons to the classic Hitchcock film, Rebecca, as each are British, taking place in large mansions, and feature dead characters as complex villains. Also, in each film, the main characters sanity is in question.

With a compelling story and the nuts and bolts surrounding the story to add clever effects and a chilling conclusion to the film, the film succeeds as a wonderful and smart horror film. With great acting all around, including great performances by the child actors, The Innocents scares the daylights out of any horror fan, and uses exterior and interior scenes to make the film an all around marvel.

The Children’s Hour-1961

The Children’s Hour-1961

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner

Reviewed March 3, 2017

Grade: B+

The Children’s Hour is one of the earliest films to center around an LGBT theme and the subsequent scandals that the subject matter would provoke in the innocent year of 1961-pre Civil Rights and pre Sexual Revolution. However, since the film was made in the year that it was, homosexuality was presented as something that was dark and bad rather than something to be accepted or even embraced. Still, the film, and director William Wyler are brave enough to recognize the topic- with limitations to spin a compelling film rich with well written characters and some soap opera style drama. The Children’s Hour is based on a play from 1934 and written by Lillian Hellman.

The setting of the film appears to be somewhere in New England, perhaps Connecticut or Massachusetts, though the film never really says the exact area. College friends Karen (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha (Shirley MacLaine) open a private all girls boarding school, catering to the affluent community they reside in. They run the school along with Martha’s Aunt Lilly, a faded Broadway actress, who oftentimes hen-pecks the women. Karen has been dating handsome obstetrician, Joe (James Garner) for two years when he proposes marriage and she hesitantly accepts, which saddens Martha.

All the while, spoiled brat child, Mary, furious over being punished by her teachers, plots revenge against Martha and Karen and embellishes a heated discussion between the ladies into a scandalous lie that she whispers to her grandmother (Fay Bainter). The grandmother promptly tells the parents of the other students, who remove their children from the school en masse. The lie, of course, is that Karen and Martha are lovers and that Mary has witnessed the two women kissing. Meanwhile, Mary is blackmailing fellow student, Rosalie (Veronica Cartwright) over a stolen bracelet. Martha and Karen are then ostracized by the small town.

The Children’s Hour becomes even more compelling when one of the women begins to realize that she does indeed have homosexual feelings towards the other woman and has always harbored anger and resentment as well as feeling “different” from other women.

As well written as the film is, the fact that the audience does not get to hear what Mary whispers to her grandmother is rather telling and prevents the film from being even more powerful than it is. Also, the downbeat conclusion to the film sends a clear message that in 1961 audiences were not ready to accept lesbianism as anything to be normalized or to be proud about. In fact, the decision was made to make it abundantly clear that one of the central characters is clearly not a lesbian. Any uncertainty may have risked freaking out mainstream audiences at the time.

Since the traditional opposite sex romance between Karen and Joe is at the forefront of the film, I did not witness much chemistry between actors Hepburn and Garner, but might have this been the point in achieving a subliminal sexual complexity?

The Children’s Hour and William Wyler deserve heaps of praise for going as far as censorship in film in 1961 would allow them to and successfully offering nuggets of progressivism mixed into a brave film. Incidentally, Wyler had made another version of this film in 1936 named These Three. Because of the Hays Code any hint of lesbianism was forbidden causing Wyler to create a standard story of a love triangle between the three with both Martha and Karen pining after Joe. What a difference a couple of decades make!

MacLaine and Hepburn must be credited with carrying the film and eliciting nice chemistry between the women, though it is too subtle to be realized if the chemistry is really of a friendship level or of a sexual nature. And, I adored how Wyler decided to make both characters rather glamourous and avoid any stereotypical characteristics.

The Misfits-1961

The Misfits-1961

Director-John Huston

Starring-Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift

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Reviewed March 27, 2016

Grade: B+

A dark film about loneliness, insecurity, and the need for friendship, The Misfits stars several of the era’s great legends in a film that I found both sad and disturbing to watch. Tragically, two of the stars would soon be gone from this world shortly after the film was made- Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe.  This was the final film for each. The film, shot in black and white,  has a bleak feel and represents the onset of darker decades in film (the 1960’s and 1970’s). Mostly starring in light, feel good films, The Misfits is a complete departure for Monroe, in particular. The film is well-written and character driven, which appeals to me, but the cruelty to animals is a lot to take.

Set in Reno, Nevada, Roslyn has arrived from out of town for a quickie divorce. She is staying with Isabelle (Thelma Ritter), who frequently assists women needing divorces, lending as their witness in court. After the divorce is final, they go to a local watering hole to celebrate life, where they meet aging cowboy, Gay (Gable), and his tow-truck friend Guido. They all agree to go to Guido’s house in the desert to party. When they arrive, they learn that Guido’s wife has recently died. From this point, Gay and Roslyn become a couple and grow vegetables at Guido’s house, attempting to begin a normal life. Later, the group decides to round up mustangs and take on a rodeo hand named Perce (Montgomery Clift) to help. This leads to conflict as Gay’s intention is to sell the horses as dog-food. A sub-plot of a love triangle between Gay, Roslyn, and Perce, emerges.

The Misfits is a difficult watch. It is cynical from a story perspective and sometimes heartbreaking. Each of the principal characters is severely damaged and pained. We learn that Gay has two estranged children. When he runs into them at a bar, he excitedly wants to introduce them to Roslyn, but they have left before he is able to. In a drunken stupor (and a sad scene), he pathetically calls out for them to return, causing a stir. Perce’s father has died and his mother left a changed woman- his stepfather selfishly takes their ranch for himself, despite Perce’s father wanting it to go to Perce. Alcohol abuse is prevalent throughout the film- obviously the characters drown their sorrows in order to escape or avoid the pain that they feel.

The opening credits are unique and feature puzzle pieces- this clearly symbolizes the groups isolation as individuals and desire to  find each other and fit as one- they are all misfits and come together for some sense of companionship. This is a unique aspect of the film and director John Huston deserves the credit for immediately setting the tone for clever viewers.

The acting in The Misfits is outstanding and I would argue that the performances of Monroe and Gable are the best in their respective careers. They both chartered very dark territory in the lonely and damaged characters that they portray. Thelma Ritter adds sardonic humor, but inexplicably vanishes from the film about halfway through- never to return or be mentioned again. I would have liked to have seen much more from her and more depth to her character of Isabelle. Why was she a misfit? She mentions loving all cowboys so we might assume she has had her share of damaged relationships with men. More clarity might have been interesting.

The final portion of the film is difficult to sit through- an interminable scene involves Gay and Perce savagely rounding up the horses and roping them down overnight. The length of the scene combined with the horses struggles to escape will pull at one’s heart strings. Having the knowledge that animals, until quite recently, were not treated well on film sets, leaves me twice as unsettled. Dark stuff.

A film fraught with difficulties (Monroe and writer Arthur Miller’s marriage breakup, Monroe’s and Huston’s substance abuse issues), and a dark subject matter, make The Misfits an intriguing experience. Having watched the film twice, I am appreciating it more and more with each viewing and think that it contains memorable qualities that are worth exploring. As the years have passed The Misfits has become more appreciated, like a fine wine- I am realizing why.

101 Dalmatians-1961

101 Dalmatians-1961

Directors-Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi

205524

Reviewed March 5, 2015

Grade: A-

101 Dalmatians is a darling Walt Disney film that encompasses wholesomeness, love, and devotion. Set in London, which adds a level of sophistication to the film, it tells the story of lonely songwriter named Roger Radcliffe, who lives in a flat with his faithful and devoted Dalmatian, Pongo. Their’s is a happy existence, but something is missing. Pongo, voiced by Rod Taylor (of The Birds fame), is determined to find a mate for both himself and for Roger and sets about to do just that by watching lady’s and their dogs walk the streets in front of their home. He is successful in finding the perfect match for both (Anita for Roger, Perdita for him) and the four of them look forward to years of happiness together until a sinister friend of Anita’s, Cruella De Vil, enters the story. Cruella sees profit in the Dalmatians and attempts to steal and destroy them.

Cruella De Vil is a delicious villain, and certainly one of the most entertaining in animated film history, but more than that, she is comically devious. Her maniacal laugh and witty language make her a perfect foil for a wholesome couple and wonderful, cute little pups. Certainly, the audience does not root for her, but there is something wicked and fun about her over-the-top character.

The film, made in 1961, has wonderful artistic direction that animation today does not have- the scenes look like beautiful drawings and there is a Mad Men quality to the design. The “look” is very different from current animation in that it is sleek and constructed skillfully and not loud, fast, and bombastic.

I love how the film is from the point of view of the Dalmatians Pongo and Perdita and not from the perspective of the human beings simply telling the story about their dogs- this adds to the level of empathy felt for the animals since they are the central characters and we see their attempts at rescuing all of the stolen dogs. Also wonderful is how all of the dogs of London (and various other species of animals) band together in rescue. They work as a team to save and protect their own that are being mistreated and sent to their slaughter.

An enjoyable scene involves the climactic car chase between Cruella’s gaudy, luxury car and a furniture van. As the pups are using the van as a means to escape, a cat and mouse game ensues providing comedy and dramatic flair. As the vehicles wiz along dirt and back roads towards London, the scene is among the most suspenseful of the film. In addition to this riveting scene are others involving the dogs tiptoeing past their captives as we cross our fingers they will not be heard and subsequently caught, and an adorable scene showcasing the dogs cleverness at covering their spots with soot in order to escape.

A heartwarming, inspirational film for the entire family to enjoy many times over, 101 Dalmatians will leave you smiling and humming. It is a truthful, wonderful film about love for animals.

West Side Story-1961

West Side Story-1961

Director-Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins

Starring-Richard Beymer, Natalie Wood

Top 100 Films-#64

1111583

Reviewed November 1, 2014

Grade: A

West Side Story is a musical from 1961 (based on the Broadway stage production from the 1950’s), during a period in Hollywood where every other film released seemed to be a version of an enchanting musical. This particular film version is much darker than most  contemporaries within this genre. The dreary ending, fantastic and compelling in its dramatic elements, does not dour the rest of the musical and its hum-along tunes. West Side Story was crowned the 1961 Best Picture Oscar winner.

West Side Story is certainly based on the Shakespearean tragedy of Romeo and Juliet- the Capulets and Montagues becoming rival teen street gangs of the Puerto Rican “Sharks” and the Polish”Jets”, with the lovesick teens Tony and Maria serving as Romeo and Juliet. And yes, spoiler alert, the story does not end in a happily ever after fashion.

Loads of suspension of disbelief must be taken- How many gangs sing and dance to each other, snapping their fingers in unison to perfectly choreographed beats? Additionally, some of the gang  characters are not so authentic looking- either in clearly dyed hair, bronzed with tan, or some other phony looking get-up, but the film is a cherished friend and these can be overlooked for my enjoyment of the film.

The story, set in 1950’s New York City, pits the Sharks (a gang led by Bernardo) against the Jets (led by Riff), who have been bitter rivals for the turfs of the rough streets of Manhattan’s west side for many years. In tow are the gang’s girlfriends, along with one female, named “Anybodys”- who longs for the day when she will be allowed to join the Jets and fight alongside the boys. The other supporting characters largely include various policemen (Lieutenant Schrank and Officer Krupke) attempting to keep the gangs apart, as well as a local shopkeeper, Doc, who is the moral compass of the story, encouraging the gangs to get along with each other and questioning the logic of gang fights. After a scuffle, the gangs decide to have at it after an upcoming dance and the Jets elect Tony to square off against Bernardo.

The story is surprisingly dark- especially in the inevitable final act. Amid all this darkness, however, lies a musical with cheery and catchy numbers (I Feel Pretty, Jet Song) as well as love struck tunes (Maria and Somewhere). A musical about diversity and rivalry, the story centers on lovesick Maria and Tony, a la Romeo and Juliet and their struggle to be together despite adversity from their friends and family due to their extremely different backgrounds.

Throughout the film we get to know other characters well- Anita, girlfriend of Bernardo, for example, played by Rita Moreno, is the stubborn yet likable, best friend of Maria, who thinks that Maria and Tony are wrong for each other and that things just are not supposed to be that way when you mix cultural diversity.

The film moves along at a quick pace with standoffs, fights, plots to get the other gang, a failed attempt at a dance to co-mingle the two groups and girlfriends, and Tony and Maria sneaking off to meet together. The lack of chemistry between Natalie Wood (Maria) and Richard Beymer (Tony) is quite noticeable, especially upon multiple viewings, but all of these decades later it is also tough to imagine anyone else in either role- so ingrained are the duo in film culture.

The cultural diversity of much of the cast (Rita Moreno was the only Puerto Rican) is interesting, as is the fact that most of the singing was dubbed by other singers. Yet, the film still somehow works very well.