Category Archives: 1961 Movie reviews

Splendor in the Grass-1961

Splendor in the Grass-1961

Director-Elia Kazan

Starring-Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty, Pat Hingle

Scott’s Review #1,231

Reviewed February 20, 2022

Grade: A-

Splendor in the Grass (1961) is mainly a film about teenage angst but the angst spills over to the adults as pressures are heaved on many characters. Fortunes are gained and lost following the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that handicapped some characters obsessed with money while the teenage characters battle emotions.

It offers poetic relics and references from English poet, William Wordsworth about life and longing for love that can be thought about.

The film is written by William Inge, who also wrote 1955’s Picnic, and is directed by Elia Kazan, famous for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On The Waterfront (1954). Splendor in the Grass is an uneasy watch but provides slices of the brilliance that those other films have.

Isn’t the point of the superior film to make us think and ponder?

At the risk of feeling a tad dated some sixty years later how powerful a film it must have been in 1961 and sending inevitable shock waves to those audiences expecting a more wholesome show.

It’s also legendary Hollywood actor Warren Beatty’s film debut and showcases an emotionally superb performance from Natalie Wood.

Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) and his high school sweetheart, Deanie Loomis (Natalie Wood) have an innocently blossoming relationship but if only they could be left alone. It is weighed down by their parents’ mutual oppressiveness.

Bud’s father, Ace (a terrific Pat Hingle), is hell-bent on Bud attending Yale University in the fall and is afraid of Deanie becoming pregnant and ruining the bright future expected from the affluent young man.

Deanie’s mother (Audrey Christie) cautions her daughter from engaging in sexual relations and remaining a ‘good girl’ because she is frightened of Bud not marrying a girl with questionable morals.

The meddling by both parents causes the teens emotional pressure and threatens not just to ruin their relationship but perhaps ruin their futures. Bud’s mother is complacent and Deanie’s father offers proper support to his daughter.

There is a lot of story going on in Splendor in the Grass and all of it is juicy and relevant from whomever’s perspective the viewer takes. This is part of the beauty of the film- told through the eyes of Bud and Deanie and the fragile feelings teenagers possess, their parents can be dissected as well and wanting the very best for their kids.

The romance is not just about Bud and Deanie. Other players and potential love interests are introduced and we begin to wonder if Bud and Deanie will ride off into the sunset together.

Inge and Kazan make us pose several questions. Do people who belong together make it? Do some people settle for different lives based on sacrifice? Can heartbreak lead to madness and a different perspective for some?

The terrific screenplay written by Inge is the film’s sweet spot. It’s complex and fraught with emotion and questions. The setting of remote Kansas in the late 1920s gave me a feeling of stifling predictability and one’s lives already planned for them rather than encouragement to reach for the stars.

This is dangerous territory in itself.

Bud is expected to get an education but all he really wants is to live on a simple ranch and be a family man. Deanie is trained to be sweet and kind and to resist the pleasures of the flesh like her mother did but is that enough for Deanie?

The great writing is brought to life by Kazan, a master at offering brutal yet realistic films. Based on knowledge of his other films I knew I was not in for a cheery experience but the rather harsh reality. That sits well with me as films that make one think are celebrated by me.

Splendor in the Grass (1961) is similar to Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and also stars Wood. The film teaches me that although generations come and go the feelings and emotions felt by young people in the moments that they are young never change.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Natalie Wood, Best Original Screenplay (won)

The Curse of the Werewolf-1961

The Curse of the Werewolf-1961

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring-Oliver Reed, Clifford Evans

Scott’s Review #1,219

Reviewed January 15, 2022

Grade: B

Oliver Reed, later famous for films like Oliver! (1968) and Women in Love (1969) makes his first starring role in the low-budget Hammer Horror film, The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). He carries the latter third of the film simply because it takes that long for his character to appear.

The film is sectioned into parts and though only a little over one hour and thirty minutes feels quite long. The finale is the best chapter and the others, while good, move too slowly considering the brief running time.

This is the first werewolf film to be colorized and the film was heavily censored upon release.

Hammer horror regular director Terence Fisher is at the helm so there is a soothing and secure feeling for the viewer. We know the quality will persevere and I adored the setting of Spain with its gothic steeples and flavorful culture.

The Curse of the Werewolf is above average but not one of the best in the Hammer series.

Reed plays Leon Corledo, a man with brutal and macabre origins. He is adopted and raised in the home of a kind and respectable Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans). When he leaves Don Alfredo to find work, Leon discovers that he has increasingly violent urges. Although these fits are somewhat calmed by Leon’s love for the beautiful Cristina (Catherine Feller), he regularly transforms into a werewolf, terrorizing the Spanish countryside.

Before the central part of the story, Leon’s mother is imprisoned and raped by a homeless beggar gone mad. Unfortunately for her, she gives birth on Christmas where the werewolf curse is started. She soon dies and little Leon is taken in by Don and his motherly housekeeper, Teresa.

The middle sequence explains how Leon as a little boy escapes out his bedroom window to kill animals thinking it’s all just a dream. Don and others try to hide Leon’s secret.

The curse doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why does the Christmas holiday make an unwanted newborn “unlucky” and a vicious werewolf? Why is Leon the only werewolf around? Surely, others are born on Christmas day.

Reed is the main draw as the handsome Leon and he makes a lovely mate for Cristina though too few scenes of them exist. It’s not explained why they fall in love other than they are both beautiful and Cristina’s current intended mate is boorish.

But, then again, The Curse of the Werewolf is not a love story so we accept some details with a grain of salt.

Any fan of Hammer horror films wants blood and mayhem and there is a good smattering of each. The dastardly Marquis Siniestro who humiliates the beggar and nearly rapes the servant girl (Leon’s mother) gets it in the back from her with a jagged mirror and the death is bloody and satisfying.

Later, a slutty girl with designs on Leon is ravaged to death by him after he turns into a werewolf on a night with a full moon.

The finale is bittersweet and almost tender when Don must make a horrible decision to kill his son with a silver bullet made with a crucifix to prevent the tortured Leon from killing anymore and suffering a life of misery and regret.

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) is not as satisfying as the Hammer horror films featuring Dracula or containing Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. Nobody will ever usurp Lon Chainey Jr.’s frightening portrayal of the wolfman decades earlier but it’s fun seeing Reed take center stage in the film.

There’s also enough to keep Hammer fans entertained.

Taste of Fear-1961

Taste of Fear-1961

Director-Seth Holt

Starring-Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis

Scott’s Review #901

Reviewed May 21, 2019

Grade: A-

Though Taste of Fear (1961) is a Hammer Production, a British film company known for hefty offerings in the horror genre, the film plays more like an intense and chilling thriller with a Gothic, ghostly feel rather than a full-throttled horror display. The title was changed for US marketing purposes to Scream of Fear and neither the US nor the UK title quite works, both lacking the appropriate pizzazz that the film warrants. The result is a razor edge spellbinder with marvelous cinematography and more than a few surprise twists.

The action gets off to an exciting start as a female body is suddenly discovered in the waters of coastal Italy; a young woman has taken her own life by drowning. Soon after a wheelchair-bound heiress, Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) arrives at her father’s estate in the lavish French Riviera to bond with her new stepmother, Jane (Ann Todd), and await her father’s return from vacation. It is explained that the deceased woman was a close friend of Penny’s.

Penny distrusts her stepmother immensely but is not sure why since the woman is more than accommodating during her stay. Immediately, strange events begin to occur at a rapid rate, most notably seeing her father’s corpse in odd places around the house and the grounds. The body disappears when Penny calls for help leaving the members of the household questioning her sanity and Penny starting to agree. She befriends the handsome family chauffeur, Robert (Ronald Lewis) and the pair become determined to figure out what is going on.

Cleverly, the audience knows that something is amiss but not what the entire puzzle will add up to, which is a great part of the viewing pleasure. Director Seth Holt enjoys toying with his viewers, keeping them guessing at every dark turn. The biggest questions are these: If Penny’s father is dead where is the body being hidden? Who is responsible and why? Why does Jane leave the house for drives every night? What does the family doctor (Christopher Lee) have to do with the story?

The best visual aspect of Taste of Fear is the black and white cinematography.  This quality adds foreboding and brooding elements during the entire short running time of eighty minutes. The grand estate with its creepy nooks and crannies provides plenty of prop potential. A grand piano that seems to play by itself is pivotal to the story as is a murky pool, shockingly deep and unkempt for such a residence. Finally, the mansion boathouse that may or may not contain lit candles takes center stage during the film.

The storytelling is quick-paced and robust, never dragging. Layers unfold as the story progresses, but instead of overkill, the developments are necessary as the conclusion comes into view. Assumptions as to which character’s motivations are devious begin to unravel. The illustrious dialogue crackles with spunk so that by the time we figure out what is going on we scratch our heads in disbelief finally surrendering to the film’s manipulations.

Where Taste of Fear falters slightly is only when an attempt to make the story completely add up is pondered. Liberties must be taken, happily so, as what could be deemed silly or superfluous instead results in thrilling fun. Only once or twice I thought the setup was too contrived, but just as quickly tabled the inquisition instead of choosing to revel in the story.

The more than adequate cast performs their roles with professionalism and energy, always careful to make the unbelievable believable. Any film starring the legendary Christopher Lee is worthy of praise despite the actor only has a supporting role. Justice is eventually served though as his character becomes central to the plot. A fun fact is that Lee was quoted as saying: “Taste of Fear was the best film that I was in that Hammer ever made. It had the best director, the best cast, and the best story.” This is not to be easily dismissed given the actor’s catalog of treasures.

A forgotten delight, Taste of Fear (1961) is a prime example of a film that does everything correctly. An excellent story, Gothic gloominess, and a foray for Hammer Production company into the then-new genre of the psychological thriller. The piece is never over-the-top and is a production sure to make Hitchcock himself quite impressed.

Homicidal-1961

Homicidal-1961

Director-William Castle

Starring- Jean Arless, Patricia Bresling

Scott’s Review #661

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 of 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 Breslin) 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 a 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 slightly 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 a 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

Scott’s Review #639

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 servant’s tragic deaths.

The Innocents, shot in black and white, a very wise decision in my book, use 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 effects and chill it will undoubtedly give the viewer as the film moves along.

The question throughout the film is whether Miss Giddens is imagining the voices and visions, or if this is a 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 upon, 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 is British, taking place in large mansions, and feature dead characters as complex villains. Also, in each film, the sanity of the main character 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

Scott’s Review #620

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 students, 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 of. 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 glamorous and avoid any stereotypical characteristics.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Fay Bainter, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Black-and-White, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

The Misfits-1961

The Misfits-1961

Director-John Huston

Starring-Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift

Scott’s Review #389

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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 the 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 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 an 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 group’s 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 heartstrings. 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

Scott’s Review #226

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Reviewed March 8, 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, tells the story of a lonely songwriter named Roger Radcliffe, who lives in a flat with his faithful and devoted Dalmatian, Pongo. Theirs 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 ladies 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 a 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 with 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 dog’s cleverness at covering their spots with soot 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

Scott’s Review #188

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Reviewed November 3, 2014

Grade: A

West Side Story is a musical from 1961 (based on the Broadway stage production from the 1950s), 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 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, the 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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture (won), Best Director-Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (won), Best Supporting Actor-George Chakiris (won), Best Supporting Actress-Rita Moreno (won), Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Scoring of a Musical Picture (won), Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction, Color (won), Best Cinematography, Color (won), Best Costume Design, Color (won), Best Film Editing (won)