Category Archives: 1954 Films

Dial M for Murder-1954

Dial M for Murder-1954

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly

Scott’s Review #995

Reviewed February 28, 2020

Grade: A

A fabulous offering by stylistic director Alfred Hitchcock, Dial M for Murder (1954) arrived on the scene when the cinematic genius was hitting his stride in the United States after finding success in England.

The late 1950s and early 1960s revealed his best offerings, but this is no slouch. The film mixes thrills, double-cross, and murder in a way only Hitchcock can- perfectly.

It is fast-paced and shot almost like a play, using primarily one set only. Based on the Broadway hit, which came first.

An English former tennis champion, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) hatches a scheme to kill his wealthy but unfaithful wife Margot (Grace Kelly), who’s embroiled in a liaison with handsome writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings).

When Tony’s plans go awry, he attempts the second act of deceit, but events spin out of control when Margot, Mark, and a sly Scotland Yard inspector (John Williams) begin putting the pieces together.

The film is a popular one by way of the story because it is very conventional and pure Hitchcock. The viewer immediately knows who the killer is and his motivations- the hunger for wealth and the jealousy of another man.

The most fun is when hiccups begin to form, and Tony must fly by the seat of his pants to cover his tracks and think of another way to seal Margot’s fate. If he cannot murder her why can’t he send her to prison?

Milland is perfect in the role with eye shifts and head turns.

Set pieces like a key and a handbag come into play giving the film zest. When it is revealed that there are multiple keys the plot gets juicier and juicier. The flat where Tony and Margot reside is beautifully designed with state-of-the-art furniture and decorations making the set a character.

Lavish curtains and French doors are utilized during the late-night attempted murder scene, which is thrilling to witness, leaving the viewer with heart palpitations.

The brilliance is that the viewer does not intend to hate Tony, at least this viewer didn’t. While he is not likable his motivations can be somewhat understood. On the flip side, Margot and Mark are not the heroes and their shenanigans bite them.

I dare say that Grace Kelly has had better roles in Hitchcock films. To Catch a Thief (1955) immediately comes to mind. Margot is not a particularly strong character and is quite weak.

Dial M for Murder has commonalities with two other Hitchcock gems. As with Strangers on a Train (1951), a tennis star is utilized as a major character and twisted strangulation is the game. Also, a tit-for-tat technique is used.

Like the underappreciated Rope (1948), the one-take sequence style and a film that could be a stage play are traits that are noticed. Those films are good ones to be in the same company with.

The final thirty minutes travel by at break-neck speed as we wonder what will happen next. The cat-and-mouse activities are delightful and remind us that the film is quite basic and stripped down compared to his later films.

One set, good actors, and a full-throttle story do wonders to satisfy a fan. The camera movements and techniques are key to the entire film as a shot here or there is timed with flawless precision. Hitchcock used 3-D filming, inventive for this time.

Perhaps not as famous as Hitchcock delights like Psycho (1960), Vertigo (1958), or North by Northwest (1959), Dial M for Murder (1954) serves as much more than a warm-up act to those classics.

With a fast pace, twists and turns, and good British sensibilities, the setting of a stylish London flat and good sophistication make this film one to remember.

On the Waterfront-1954

On the Waterfront-1954

Director Elia Kazan

Starring Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint

Scott’s Review #876

Reviewed March 9, 2019

Grade: A

Led by one of the best acting performances of all time, On the Waterfront (1954) was an important and relevant film when made and is still powerful in the modern era.

Director Elia Kazan and newly minted Hollywood star Marlon Brando join forces for a film spectacle that is as much a character study as a tale of morality and social injustice.

The musical soundtrack score composed by Leonard Bernstein only enhances an already astounding picture that is deservedly referenced as a masterpiece.

Terry Malloy (Brando) is a washed-up former local boxer who now spends his days slaving away as a dockworker on the dingy waterfronts of Hoboken, New Jersey. Terry’s brother Charley (Rod Steiger) works for a vicious mob boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) who has complete control over the area.

The police are aware of the ongoing corruption but are limited by the lack of evidence and witnesses to regular crimes. When a fellow dockworker is killed, Terry falls for the victim’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), leading him to rethink his priorities.

The positive aspects of On the Waterfront are enumerable. Enshrined in the rich story and flawless acting are marvelous cinematography and location sequences. The film was shot almost entirely on location in New York and New Jersey using real docks and outdoor sequences that give the film authenticity.

The dingy and water-soaked locales are riddled with secrets and dark violence that reach new levels using realism and grittiness.

Never looking more masculine or more handsome, though his portrayal of Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is a close second, Marlon Brando achieves riches in the world of stellar acting.

He is rugged and compassionate, macho yet tender, and pours his heart into the role of Terry, and one cannot help wondering if the self-professed method actor became Terry during filming.

With both vulnerability and strength, Brando embodies the character so well that he has become my favorite of all the film roles he has undertaken.

The supporting players dutifully flesh out the resounding cast with gusto. Special mentions go to Karl Malden as Father Barry and Steiger as Charley. Like Barry, Malden brings warmth, patience, and benevolence in a world of crime and deceit. He attempts to console and mentor the folks in his world and is eventually beaten for his honesty and earnestness.

Charley is a different story, selling his soul to the devil and accepting the cards he has been handed, choosing to join with Friendly. At a crucial moment, he makes another devastating choice that changes his life forever.

Few films can proudly boast a scene or dialogue that remains timeless and imprinted on cinematic history, but On the Waterfront contains a scene of this caliber.

During a tremendously important moment in the film, Terry has a conversation with Charley and makes an impassioned statement-“I coulda’ been somebody. I coulda been a contender”, laments Terry to his brother, “Instead of a bum, which is what I am – let’s face it.”

This line is a historic piece of writing and is true to the character.

The film reaches further in its power and truth because it is representative of Elia Kazan’s real-life plight. During the early 1950’s the director famously informed on suspected Communists before a government committee while many of his colleagues chose to go to prison rather than name names.

Many Hollywood actors, directors, and screenwriters were blacklisted for decades to come. On the Waterfront is frequently deemed an allegory to the director’s plight and is a personal story.

On the Waterfront (1954) is sometimes violent and all-times realistic, painting a portrait of one man’s struggle to overcome the lousy life given to him to do the right thing.

Thanks to gorgeous direction, an explosive lead performance by Brando, and all the pieces fitting perfectly in unison, the film is one of the greats and will remain one that generations will discover.

Oscar Nominations: 8 wins-Best Motion Picture (won), Best Director-Elia Kazan (won), Best Actor-Marlon Brando (won), Best Supporting Actor-Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Best Supporting Actress-Eva Marie Saint (won), Best Story and Screenplay (won), Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (won), Best Film Editing (won)

Carmen Jones-1954

Carmen Jones-1954

Director Otto Preminger

Starring Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte

Scott’s Review #736

Reviewed April 3, 2018

Grade: B+

Quite taboo at the time of release (1954) because it featured an all-black cast with not a single white cast member, Carmen Jones is to be celebrated for their contribution to film history for this groundbreaking feat alone.

Directed by Otto Preminger (who ironically is Caucasian),  the film features legendary actress Dorothy Dandridge in a Marilyn Monroe-style performance worthy of the talents of the stars.

The film is a musical with an inevitable tragedy at the conclusion.

The 1954 feature is based on a 1943 stage production of the same name, based on the music of the famous 1875 Georges Bizet production of Carmen. These facets add to the richness of the film as it is layered with good history, and the well-known tragic elements make the conclusion unsurprising.

Brazen and beautiful, Carmen is a seductress who works in a parachute factory in North Carolina during World War II. After trading fists with a co-worker, Carmen is jailed and assigned handsome Corporal Joe (Harry Belafonte) to escort her to the authorities.

While Carmen is not shy about setting her sights on the young man, his fiancee, virginal Cindy Lou, fumes and schemes to keep her man.

The result is a triangle, as Carmen and Joe eventually fall madly in love, leaving poor Cindy Lou by the wayside, but their love faces hurdles.

The rather lighthearted first portion of the film, with coquettish humor mixed in, is offset by a much darker path the film takes. As Carmen and Joe finally profess their love and share a night of passion, she leaves him in the middle of the night, unable to endure prison time.

This results in Joe being imprisoned as the couple ultimately cannot stay away from one another despite repeated obstacles to their happiness. An additional character, a boxer named Husky, with designs on Carmen, is introduced, complicating matters.

In sad form, much like the opera Carmen, the final scene is devastating and startling, as Joe treads down a dark and gloomy path of destruction. The character of Joe is nuanced- at first a “nice guy”, the character is an example of complexity, and what a man will do for love.

The viewer is left to wonder what will become of Joe and how he could throw his life away performing an act in the heat of passion.

In 1954, what a profound and wonderful role for a female, let alone a black female. Typically cast in roles such as maids, waitresses, or even less glamorous parts, how wonderful for Dandridge to capture a challenging role of this caliber.

As she sinks her teeth into the meaty and flirtatious Carmen, she is a vixen. Her pizzazz, flare, and singing and dancing performances made Dandridge a star, forever known as a groundbreaking talent.

There cannot be enough said about the importance of casting all-black actors in Carmen Jones.  Monumental, of course, given the time, the result is a film of importance to the black culture, showing they no longer needed to appear in “white films” as supporting players, but could carry a film on their own.

How profound and remarkable this was!

My only criticism of the film is undoubtedly a result of the progress made for both black actors and black characters- though there is still plenty more work to do.

At times it feels a shade on the dated side (presently there are more great roles for black actors) with a slightly grainy look to the filming.

Some of the acting from the supporting characters is also not the strongest, but liberties must be taken as Carmen Jones is a historical film.

Thanks to the genius and the funding of Preminger, who needed to produce the film independently due to lack of interest, the result is a film that has gone down in history as worthy, edgy, and open-minded.

Wisely casting talented stars with great pipes, the film is a solid success.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Dorothy Dandridge, Best Scoring of a Musical Picture

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers-1954

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers-1954

Director Stanley Donen

Starring Howard Keel, Jane Powell

Scott’s Review #711

Reviewed January 7, 2018

Grade: B-

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) is a musical and another in a string of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer productions, ever so present during the “Golden Age of Hollywood”.

The songs are not quite as memorable as similar musicals of the day, and the film has a sexist slant that is jarring by today’s gender-equal standards. Given the time that the film was made and the timed setting of the mid-nineteenth century, however, things were very different, and the film does contain one semi-strong female character.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a nice film, but in present times quite dated and irrelevant- little more than an ode to yesteryear.

Adam Pompitee (Howard Keel), is a dashing, rugged man, living in the Oregon Territory in 1850. He struts into town and proclaims his desire for a wife- presumably to cook and clean for him and his six younger brothers, all living together in a cabin in the rural mountains.

When he falls head over heels for tavern worker Milly (Jane Powell), they impulsively marry, but she is disappointed to learn she will be caring for seven men- not one. Milly then plots to marry off the unruly bunch to local girls.

Throughout the film, characters partake in song and merriment as the hi-jinks play out.

At its core, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is meant to be a lighthearted romp, and it succeeds at that. Contains a strong romantic angle and the message of finding one’s soulmate is palpable- Milly is the sensible female counterpart to erratic Adam, and there is chemistry between the actors.

Milly is strong-willed and eventually puts her foot down, but still accepts her role as the domestic and the caretaker.

Fun is how each of the brothers finds the one girl in town meant for him as the duo pairs off in unison. This is a cute aspect of the film- and perhaps a film such as this one is not entirely meant to be over-analyzed.

Humorous, if not slightly overdone,  is the luscious red hair that each Pontipee brother has- dyed hair or wigs were used as needed.

The film succeeds when it sticks to the song and dancing numbers, which are far more entertaining than the storyline. MGM used actors who were classically trained singers or dancers, giving the film a more authentic choreography.

Given the fourteen principal characters in the production, this must have been a beast to achieve without things looking ridiculous. Keel, as the main character Adam, was a professional singer, having appeared in several musicals such as Kiss Me Kate and Showboat. Powell, as Milly, holds her own with a gorgeous singing voice and appears in other musicals.

Still, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers contains a bothersome sexist story, and women are treated more as objects for men to conquer rather than real people with feelings or emotions. The overall implication within the film is that women are desperate to get married and should be flattered to be chosen by any man.

This is readily apparent when the brothers accost the girls from their homes and take them unwillingly to the cabin where, predictably, the women succumb to the men’s desires and fall in love with them.

A film to be taken with a grain of salt and a trip back to olden times, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a dated picture, but a fun one containing grand production numbers such as “Lonesome Polecat”, “When You’re In Love”, and “June Bride”.

These songs are light and airy and a high point of the film.

For those seeking a liberal-minded affair, this film will disappoint, as the film is very conservative with traditional male/female roles and expectations, as much as one could imagine.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Motion Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Scoring of a Musical Picture (won), Best Cinematography, Color, Best Film Editing

Johnny Guitar-1954

Johnny Guitar-1954

Director Nicholas Ray

Starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden

Scott’s Review #655

Reviewed June 15, 2017

Grade: B-

Johnny Guitar (1954) is an interesting film to review for a few reasons, but most distinct is for its challenging of the traditional mold of the classic western- front and center is an aggressive and strong-willed woman, and a saloon owner no less, who is engaged in an antagonistic feud with another woman-with a similar disposition.

Of course, since the film stars legendary screen actress, Joan Crawford, she is a strong character.

The writing is not brilliant and other Western stereotypes abound, but Johnny Guitar is a decent watch for Crawford.

In the middle of an Arizona cattle town, circa the Wild West days, Vienna (Crawford) is a gorgeous woman, who owns the local watering hole, frequented by less-than-savory men.

Vienna welcomes the men mostly because one of them is a former boyfriend. The rest of the town, led by Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), despises Vienna and her support of the incoming railroad, to make Vienna rich.

After a bank robbery, Vienna is pursued by Emma and the town into a standoff, in which lynchings, shootings, and fires encompass the rest of the film.

Mixed in with the drama is a romance between Vienna and handsome guitarist, Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), and some musical numbers, but mostly the film is a shoot ’em up led by women.

Let’s take the good with the bad surrounding the film- any picture starring Joan Crawford gets some credit in my book and the role of Vienna is certainly unchartered territory for the glamorous star.

Tough-talking, gun-slinging, and with a short hairdo, rumors abounded that the character of Vienna was gay and in love with her arch-enemy Emma.

Perhaps, decades later, this might have transpired, but this was 1950s Hollywood, after all. No, Crawford still dazzles with heavy makeup and bright red lips and is feminine despite the masculine outfit.

Clever, especially for 1954 westerns, is a tough female character in the central role, and this bolsters Johnny Guitar above middling. Typically a genre that sticks to the tried and true, the main female rivalry between Vienna and Emma is the best part, but sadly the back story is never fully explored.

Why do they hate each other? Were they in love with the same man? Is their hatred simply because they are the only women in the town?

The chase scene and the climax of the film are also quite good. How delightful to see Crawford prancing around in peril, riding a horse, and swimming in a creek.

The film turns into a good, old-fashioned adventure, and the cinematography and exterior sets are not bad.

Two aspects of Johnny Guitar stood out to me as negatives. The romance between Vienna and Johnny Guitar does not work. For starters, Crawford seems much too old for Hayden as Johnny and I never felt any chemistry between the characters- the back story scene with the reveal that they were once an “item” is weak.

Besides Emma, there are no other female characters (a coincidence?), which is a strange aspect of the film. Does one wonder if this was Crawford’s demand? (but I digress).

The romance between the duo is lackluster, though admittedly, I did feel a rooting factor for them as the final chapter commenced and the pair was in danger.

The storytelling is mediocre as I never felt invested in the writing and the entire script feels silly and cheap. The story is laid out in a basic way- Vienna is told by (arguably) the leader of the town, Ward Bond, to close up shop and leave town within twenty-four hours or else there will be hell to pay.

When some of the men rob a bank and plan to depart for California, Vienna is blamed for a sloppy contrived plot device and is set to be hanged.

The script is not the high point of the film.

For a gender-bending experience and the fabulous addition of Ms. Crawford, Johnny Guitar is worth watching, but do not expect a masterpiece in storytelling or to be dazzled by character development.

Fans of the classic Western may be disappointed.

River of No Return-1954

River of No Return-1954

Director Otto Preminger

Starring Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe

Scott’s Review #385


Reviewed March 15, 2016

Grade: B-

A departure in genre and character from the iconic Marilyn Monroe, most notable for playing “bubble gum” roles, in the 1954 film River of No Return she plays a dance hall singer living in 1875 northwestern United States.

The film is of the Western genre with gorgeous scenery, some authentic and some staged, but the look of the film is a great selling point for me, as well as the performance and appeal of Monroe.

However, the story has major negatives, mainly that it is not very compelling nor interesting, not to mention existing plot holes throughout.

The crux of the story is as follows- A widower, Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum), arrives in a tent city in pursuit of his ten-year-old son, Mark, left in the care of Kay (Monroe), while the man who delivered the boy to the town has taken off for the hills.

What follows is a mishmash of the storyline involving Matt, Mark, and Kay being chased by Indians, a love triangle between Kay, Matt, and Kay’s fiancé Harry, and the father/son reconciliation between Matt and Mark.

The story is not the strong point of the film, nevertheless, it is certainly where the high drama exists.  Despite being characterized as a Western, a stark contrast to most Marilyn Monroe films, it appears a soft Western with a romantic slant.

There are some kills, to be sure, with vicious wild animals, guns, and knives prevalent, giving it an outdoorsy, naturalistic feel.

The film lacks a streamlined direction and does not know where it’s headed. Is it intended to be an all-out Western, a romance, or some hybrid? Why does the story ultimately not work?

I sensed a snippet of chemistry between Mitchum and Monroe, though they were hardly Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh. One could argue that Matt does not treat Kay very well and it is surprising that Matt is portrayed as the hero in River of No Return.

Close to the middle of the film, while camping along the river, he attempts to rape Kay, where she struggles and ultimately submits. Then, almost as quickly, this fact is forgotten and the story forages forward as a love story. Huh?

The film almost seems spliced together from a story perspective and is not compelling or memorable.

As an aside, and upon some research, River of No Return was riddled with problems and setbacks amid shooting, most notably drama existing with Monroe’s needed on-set acting coach who conflicted with director Otto Preminger, and star Robert Mitchum’s heavy drinking.

Then there was Monroe’s broken ankle and numerous weather issues. Publicly, Monroe later stated that River of No Return was her least favorite film that she appeared in. Let’s say that the gods were not with this film.

River of No Return is certainly an uneven film with a lackluster story and odd chemistry among the characters containing a marginal appeal to me, mainly due to the talents of Monroe, who carries the weight of an otherwise lackluster and forgettable film.

Rear Window-1954

Rear Window-1954

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly

Top 100 Films #50

Scott’s Review #317


Reviewed January 2, 2016

Grade: A

I love several Alfred Hitchcock films dearly, and Rear Window (1954) is very high on that list.

The film is a unique experience in that much of the filming is through the point of view of the main character L.B. Jeffries, played with conviction by James Stewart who is a fixture in several of Hitchcock’s great films.

Wheelchair-bound and confined to his Manhattan apartment, he has nothing more to do than spy on an apartment full of neighbors across the street.

He witnesses a crime and a cat-and-mouse game ensues.

What is great about this film is the viewer gets to know the series of neighbors L.B. watches and glimpses into their lives, some happy lives, some sad.

Rear Window is shot sort of like a play. The chemistry between Stewart and Grace Kelly is nice but secondary to the great main story.

Rear Window (1954) can be watched repeatedly and enjoyed with each subsequent viewing.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Alfred Hitchcock, Best Screenplay, Best Sound Recording, Best Cinematography, Color

A Star Is Born-1954

A Star is Born-1954

Director George Cukor

Starring Judy Garland, James Mason

Scott’s Review #175


Reviewed September 25, 2014

Grade: B+

A Star Is Born (1954) was considered Judy Garland’s much-touted comeback film and was very expensive for Warner Bros. to produce.

Garland delivers her finest career performance, even better than her portrayal of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939). The performance is multi-faceted, complex, comical, silly, poised, emotional, dramatic, and heartfelt.

Playing Esther Blodgett- later changed to Vicki Lester for more Hollywood potential, she is a struggling lounge singer who meets a successful actor, named Norman Maine, played wonderfully by James Mason.

Esther saves Norman from public humiliation at a function where he attempts to take the stage while inebriated.  They strike up a friendship and he convinces her to pursue films and, through a series of misunderstandings, she assumes he has ditched her.

Determined to become a star anyway, Esther forges her path to success. Norman and Esther reconnect and Norman recognizes her talent and pursues her professionally and romantically. They marry and she becomes a star while his career hits the skids, largely due to his alcoholism.

The talented Mason and Garland are at the forefront of the film and are the reasons for its success.

A few key scenes stand out to me as powerful or important- The scene involving a musical number over a dinner of sandwiches in their posh living room is wonderfully merry and light; a delivery boy who does not know who Norman is ruins the mood and causes jealousy to come to a head in his marriage to Esther.

Garland’s emotional scenes are excellent- especially in her dressing room where she crumbles, realizing that Mason has hit rock bottom.

And the best scene of all is the Academy Awards scene where a drunken Norman causes a public spectacle as Esther receives her top honor, spoiling her night, and accidentally hitting her in the face in front of millions.

What a forgiving woman Esther is for staying with him and ultimately choosing him at the risk of ruining her career.

An interesting aspect of the story is that Garland’s character is not some ugly duckling that is transformed into Hollywood royalty- she has the talent already, she needs a break, but is not down on her luck or starving- she makes a decent living with a touring band and she is torn about leaving them.

The musical numbers are inspiring and one is reminded why Garland is such a star as she belts them out of the park like nobody’s business, however, they do little to further the plot.

At times, more often the case in the first half, the film drags a bit, but the second half (post-intermission) is brilliant, and the ending is tragic yet heartwarming.

Will Esther’s career continue to flourish?

A major flaw with the film is the usage of still frames with dialogue overlapping due to lost footage. This makes following the story very tough and the continuity is affected. It also looks ridiculous and for the viewer to be captured by the story only to view a discolored still shot with audio is disappointing.

Surely, this can be corrected.

A Star Is Born (1954) is the perfect vehicle for Garland to return to her grand position among the Hollywood treasures.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-James Mason, Best Actress-Judy Garland, Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, Best Song-“The Man That Got Away”, Best Art Direction, Color, Best Costume Design, Color

Animal Farm-1954

Animal Farm-1954

Director Joy Batchelor, John Halas

Voices Gordon Heath, Maurice Denhall

Scott’s Review #45


Reviewed June 18, 2014

Grade: B+

The animated film is based on the classic fable written by George Orwell.

This film is quite different from the typically wholesome Disney animated film of the time and reportedly many parents were shocked by the subject matter (didn’t they read the book??).

Animation-wise, this film does resemble a Disney film as the colors and animals are meticulously drawn and composed.

The tale, as anyone who has read the book knows, is quite dark and satirical/political, and sadly, is relatable today as class systems, power, and greed are still quite prevalent in today’s society.

The ending is changed and is more hopeful than the book ending, presumably to appeal to a larger audience.

The written fable is far superior to the film, though the film is well done and effective and gets the message across.

Made in the 1950s, Animal Farm (1954) still holds up well and a look at the dark side of humanity.