Tag Archives: 1964 Movie reviews

Strait-Jacket-1964

Strait-Jacket-1964

Director-William Castle

Starring-Joan Crawford, Diane Baker

Reviewed June 7, 2017

Grade: B

Strait-Jacket (1964) stars legendary Hollywood film star, Joan Crawford, on the heels of her successful “comeback” role in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, circa 1962. Following this film, older actresses achieved some semblance of success in camp-leaning B- horror films and Crawford led the pack. Strait-Jacket is a perfect example of this sub-genre and glamorous Crawford sinks her teeth into this film with gusto, playing an axe wielding former mental patient, now released to the outside world after a lengthy stay in an insane asylum.

William Castle, a popular director of the time, had the ability to churn out films quickly and for very little money, a talent marveled at by studios. Certainly in the cult vein, Castle created Strait-Jacket on a dime and with one of the biggest stars in the world- now slowly in decline. Clearly, in “real life”, Crawford felt the role was beneath her, yet one would never know it by the brilliant performance she gives, a performance that makes Strait-Jacket better than it ordinarily would be.

We first meet Crawford’s Lucy Harbin (twenty years prior to present times) as she returns home very late one night, to a remote area, , having spent the weekend out of town. Her husband is a philanderer and has picked up a cheap girl at a bar, making love to her while his young daughter, Carol, pretends to sleep. In a fit of rage, Lucy decapitates them both while a horrified Carol watches. Years later, Carol (Diane Baker), now a grown woman,  prepares to introduce a recently released Lucy to her intended, Michael, and his affluent parents.

Living on a remote farm with Lucy’s brother and his wife, strange occurrences begin to happen to both Lucy and Carol- a dastardly child’s song, cut out faces from a photo album, and “imagined” decapitated heads. Castle wisely gives Lucy a makeover, from her graying, matronly appearance, to a sexy, youthful appearance reminiscent of her days when the murders occurred. Soon, the film, short at one hour and thirty two minutes, reaches a climax when Lucy appears to begin chopping new victims to bits. But is all as it seems?

The appeal of Strait-Jacket, as a viewer, is watching Joan Crawford tackle the role. Talented beyond belief, and with expressive eyes and facial features, she owns the role and subsequently the entire film, though Diane Baker is no slouch either. Crawford, never one to phone in a performance, at this time in career was happy with any role she received. She gives Lucy both grit and vulnerability, so that the audience roots for her. As the film goes along, we slowly begin to wonder if Lucy is hallucinating, still unstable, or perhaps being set-up by someone else.

Strait-Jacket is laced with several good scares- as both a grizzled farm hand and a vacationing doctor meet their fates in grisly fashion, the build-up to the kills is quite well done. A slamming door, a figure in the shadows, these elements are all used to wonderful effect to elicit suspense. To Castle’s credit, he uses elements of fright to make the film better than the writing is.

The plot itself is fine, but certainly not high art, nor anything rather inventive. The “big reveal” at the end of the film is rather hokey and seemingly a play on the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho, but lacking the high intensity- the ending of the film is also a tad abrupt.

Strait-Jacket is a cool little horror film featuring one of the legendary actresses of Hollywood film history- and that is more than enough for me to recommend this film to both Crawford fans or horror film fans, or ideally both.

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte-1964

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte-1964

Director-Robert Aldrich

Starring-Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland

Reviewed April 8, 2017

Grade: B+

The follow up film, but not a direct sequel, to the surprise hit of 1962, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a psychological thriller again directed by Robert Aldrich. The film was intended to reunite Aldrich with stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and Crawford did in fact film several scenes, but the tension between the stars proved too much and Crawford dropped out. Olivia de Havilland took her place and reportedly the film makers had to scramble to re-shoot the film nearly from scratch.

Shot in black and white, just like What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, the film is very similar in style and tone and, rather than Los Angeles as the setting, the setting is now the sprawling southern landscape of the deep south- Louisiana to be exact, and a vast estate with a lavish mansion is the featured ominous setting.

The action begins in 1927 at a grand party taking place at the well-to-do Hollis family mansion. The night is fraught with tension and secrets are harbored- most notably southern belle Charlotte (Davis) and her married beau, John (Bruce Dern), plan to elope and steal away into the night together. When John is threatened by Charlotte’s father, Sam (Victor Buono), he regrettably breaks up with Charlotte, destroying her. Later, John is decapitated and his hand severed leaving all of the guests only to assume that Charlotte committed the murder after she appears wearing a blood soaked dress. Due to lack of evidence, Charlotte is set free.

The remainder of the film takes place during present times (1964) and in the same mansion- now rather decrepit and slated to be demolished by the town in favor of a highway. Charlotte, now old and haggard, has lived a life of seclusion, her father long since dead, and her only company her dedicated and faithful housekeeper, Velma (Agnes Moorehead). Frantic at the thought of leaving the safety of her estate, Charlotte asks her cousin Miriam (de Havilland) to visit. Events then become stranger and stranger as past secrets and jealousies are revealed.

Taking nothing away from the talents of Olivia de Havilland, I cannot help but imagine how much better Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte would have been if Joan Crawford had settled into the role as cousin Miriam. The real-life rivalry between Crawford and Davis is in large part what made What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? such a  compelling work, and the angry emotions were so fresh and real. Interestingly, the characters are reversed in this film- Davis playing the victimized Charlotte, Crawford would have played the villainous Miriam and the results would have been delicious.

The plot of the film is decent, but yet nothing spectacular, and not nearly as splendid all around as What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? was, although certain similarities abound between the two films: a giant mansion, black and white cinematography, a mentally unstable (or assumed to be) character, a character being either drugged or victimized, and two female characters who are related. To compare the two films, which is impossible not to, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? wins out in spades. It is the more compelling of the two films.

What does set Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte well above mediocrity (with lesser actors it may have been) is the casting of one of the greatest actress ever to grace the big screen.  Bette Davis’s portrayal of the victimized Charlotte is fantastic. She encompasses vulnerability, anger, fear, and energy. Her facial expressions and those passionate eyes give so much to the character of Charlotte.

The clever resolution to the film and the plot twist at the conclusion of the film is quite well-written and surprising given that the characters assumed to be involved in the murder are not as guilty as one might think, or at least not in the way one might think, and by the time the credits role, the story has a satisfying, hopeful ending.

Another success of the film is the use of two gruesome scenes- surprising since the film pre-dates the lifting of the film censorship rules. When a severed head comes tumbling down the grand staircase of the mansion, it is frightening and not in the least campy or over-the-top. As John is hacked to death in the opening sequence, his hand is severed from his arm and it tumbles to the floor in dramatic fashion. The scenes resonate because they were rarely done in mainstream film as early as 1964.

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a fantastic companion piece to the superior What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, but watched back to back, will make for a fantastic late night experience. Successful to the film are top notch talents such as de Havilland, Victor Buono, Bruce Dern, Agnes Moorehead, and the superior film queen herself, Bette Davis, which makes any film worth watching.

Goldfinger-1964

Goldfinger-1964

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Sean Connery, Gert Frobe

Top 100 Films-#72

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Reviewed February 16, 2017

Grade: A

By the time Goldfinger was released, the third in the James Bond franchise, the films were huge successes and the budget was not to be spared a dime. The lavish sets are proof of this and Goldfinger is one of the best of all the Bond films- containing all of the necessary elements to make it successful- interesting villains, Bond girls, gadgets, and locales. By 1964’s Goldfinger, Ian Fleming’s franchise had clearly hit its stride and was achieving runaway success.

The intriguing premise immediately sets the tone- 007 is assigned to investigate a massive gold smuggling scheme. The conspirator is Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), who hatches a plot to contaminate the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox.  His goal, naturally, is to control the world.! The adventure takes Bond from the United Kingdom, to Switzerland, and finally to the United States in  Kentucky and Florida. The main Bond girl, a villain, is the uniquely named, Pussy Galore. The film implies that the character is bisexual and she is very tough. Bond becomes intrigued by and smitten with her.

Goldfinger has the honor of containing one of the greatest Bond villains of all time- the title character of Goldfinger. Big and burly, he is menacing looking and actor Frobe is perfectly cast. We first meet the man, cheating at gin rummy, poolside at a lavish Miami Beach hotel, whilst Bond looks on from dozens of floors up, with the assistance of Goldfinger’s moll, Jill Masterson. In one of the greatest scenes in Bond history, a knocked out Bond awakens to find Jill dead- and completely covered in gold paint! The fact that this scene occurs early on sets up the Bond/Goldfinger rivalry in outstanding fashion.

Goldfinger’s henchman, Oddjob, is also a grand Bond villain- Asian, menacing, and wearing a trademark steel-rimmed hat, which he uses to kill his victims. Jill’s sister, Tilly, seeks revenge on Goldfinger only to find herself a victim of Oddjob’s infamous bowler hat as she flees for her life.

On the heels of an exceptional Bond film, 1962’s From Russia With Love, a stellar film itself with nary a flaw, Goldfinger excels slightly because it has got all the right ingredients for a perfect film, and was firing on all cylinders by this time in the franchise. Everything simply flows with precision.

Unforgettable is the climax of Goldfinger at the legendary Fort Knox itself. Goldfinger’s private army, an atomic device, a countdown to destruction, and Oddjob, all make for a satisfying and riveting conclusion to one exceptional Bond entry.

Marnie-1964

Marnie-1964

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren

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Reviewed October 3, 2014

Grade: A

 When evaluating a myriad of Alfred Hitchcock films,  Marnie certainly stands as one of the more complicated of his films, and in recent years has earned higher praise than at the time of release- a la Vertigo. It contains one of the most complex and psychological Hitchcock characters of all time and is as much a character study as a psychological thriller.

Tippi Hedren stars as Marnie Edgar, a troubled young woman who travels from one financial company to another using a false identity and her good looks to insinuate her way into a clerical job, without references- she then, over time, steals thousands from the companies when her trust is gained. Eventually, she is caught by Mark Rutland, a handsome, wealthy widower and a client of one of the firms, played by Sean Connery. Infatuated with Marnie, he strikes a deal with her- marry him and he will not turn her over to the police. Marnie sends most of her stolen money to her crippled mother, Bernice, in Baltimore- played by Louise Latham. Why Bernice is crippled, avoids affection with Marnie, why Marnie despises most men, and is terrified of the color red make up the film’s mysterious nature. Diane Baker is compelling as Lil, the snoop, sister-in-law to Mark and somewhat nemesis of Marnie.

The film features three scenes I am enamored with each time I watch- in one scene, Marnie hides and waits in the bathroom until all the employees have gone home for the night; she carefully steals money from her employer’s safe and prepares to leave- suddenly she notices an unaware cleaning woman with her back to Marnie yet blocking the exit. How will Marnie escape unnoticed? The surprise in this scene is wonderful. Hitchcock plays the scene with no music, which adds to the level of tension- brilliant. In an emotional scene later in the film, Marnie’s horse, Forio, is injured and a sobbing Marnie must choose between killing her beloved friend or let him suffer until a veterinarian can be summoned. It is a heart-wrenching scene. The third scene takes place at a racetrack as Marnie and Mark are enjoying one of their first dates together, before Mark learns the truth about Marnie- the date is ruined when a former victimized employer of Marnie’s recognizes and makes accusations towards her. Marnie turns from sweet girl to ice queen seamlessly.

A huge controversial aspect of the film is that, while not shown, it is heavily implied that Mark rapes Marnie on their honeymoon. The next morning Marnie attempts suicide, but is rescued by Mark. This scene had to have been filmed carefully as to not make Mark hated. Perhaps saving Marnie the next morning lessens what he did the night before in the eyes of the audience? This is open to debate. Hedren is fantastic at showing the complexities of the character of Marnie throughout the entire film and does a wonderful job in a difficult role. As excellent as Hedren is, I have difficulty buying her as a poor, icy criminal and this comes up each time I view the film. Could this be a result of having identified Hedren as the sophisticated, glamorous, socialite in The Birds made a year earlier so many times? This is quite possibly so.

During the filming of Marnie, the set was reportedly fraught with tension, mainly between Hedren and Hitchcock, who refused to speak with each other throughout filming. This may have added to the overall tension the film has and Hedren appears anxious throughout. Could this be art imitating life? As the ending nears, Marnie and Mark align together and form a team as they try to avoid the police altogether- Mark more or less becoming an accomplice. The final reveal seems rushed, takes place mostly in flashbacks, and wraps up quickly as Marnie has apparently blocked much of her childhood from her memory, which seems far-fetched. Still, Marnie is a complex, psychological classic Hitchcock film from his heyday.

A Hard Day’s Night-1964

A Hard Day’s Night-1964

Director-Richard Lester

Starring-The Beatles

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Reviewed August 18, 2014 

Grade: C

Why this rock documentary, day in the life style film is considered among the Top 100 films of all time completely escapes me. I’m a huge fan of the Beatles, but found the film a disappointment.

The segments consisting of musical numbers performed by the band are excellent and, humming along, I enjoyed the black and white filming of the “documentary” as well, but the film is not a documentary in the traditional sense and is very difficult to categorize.  Is it a rock opera?  Is it a comedy? Is it a documentary? Is it a musical? It is somewhat of a hybrid as the viewer journeys through a typical day in the life of a Beatle. But all else seems fluff to the point of silliness. Countless scenes of the band running through the streets with adoring fans screaming and chasing after them become irritating. There is little plot to the film. The Beatles were a huge band. We get it.

Paul, George, Ringo, and John do a capable job in the film, considering they are non-actors, but I’d much rather have been exposed to a straightforward documentary focusing on the background of some of the songs or of the band members themselves instead of a lightweight tale of a day in the life of The Beatles with silly attempts at humor thrown in.

A Hard Day’s Night reportedly influenced the 1960’s television comedy starring The Monkees.

2000 Maniacs-1964

2000 Maniacs-1964

Director-H.G.Lewis

Starring-William Kerwin, Connie Mason

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Reviewed June 28, 2014

Grade: B

Two Thousand Maniacs is a 1964 offering by gore director H.G. Lewis set in the south. The premise of the film is a southern town, ironically named Pleasant Valley, slaughtered and destroyed during the Civil War, is resurrected every 100 years to enact revenge on northerners who are unlucky enough to stumble upon their town. 5 nice looking, fashionable tourists, headed to Atlanta, are duped by local townspeople into making a wrong turn and given the hero’s welcome by the town folk for a festive centennial celebration. The welcome is, of course, a guise to a sinister plot to dismember and barbeque the tourists as part of the feast of the celebration.

The film takes a bit to get going, there is no killing until 30 minutes into it, but then kicks into high gear as some of the most graphic, brutal deaths ensue. A woman is tied to a platform as one towns person after another attempts to hit a bulls eye so that an enormous boulder falls, carnival dunk-tank style, stoning her to death. Another victim has each limb tied to a horse as they gallop in different directions, thus dismembering him. Still another is forced into a barrel laces with nails and sent rolling down a hill. Another has her thumb and arm chopped off and served for dinner. These are gruesome deaths.

Certainly, a film like this is done for fun, thus the term horror-comedy, but surely heavily  influenced other macabre films that followed- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Deliverance. The southern rednecks are played to the hilt by mostly real townspeople and the cheerful song “The South will rise again” sticks in the viewer’s mind long after the film ends. In fact, the entire tone of the film is bright, cheerful, and the town people, on the surface, seem happy-go-lucky and warm. They even kill with charm. Two Thousand Maniacs is a fun, splatter film from one of the genres most revered film makers.

Dead Ringer-1964

Dead Ringer-1964

Director-Paul Henreid

Starring-Bette Davis, Karl Malden

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Reviewed October 17, 2013

Grade: B+

Dead Ringer is a black and white thriller from 1964 starring Bette Davis in her final leading role before she took on character and supporting roles. It’s an interesting dual role for Davis, and being a huge fan of hers, two is better than one.

The story centers on a wealthy widow and her twin sister, a struggling bar owner. The two have not spoken in decades and renew their animosity at a funeral. One plots the others death, which results in an entertaining game of mistaken identity. Davis clearly carries this film and is dynamic in every scene she is in- those eyes, facial expressions, and throaty voice. Her characteristic sexy pose with cigarette is utilized often. She is simply dynamic.

The story and plot are carefully crafted and the angles showing both characters are impressive for the time (1964). The differing lifestyles of the characters also make for a more challenging performance by Davis. Karl Malden is a treat as a love interest of one of the sisters.