Category Archives: 1959 Movie reviews



Director-William Wyler

Starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet

Scott’s Review #1,265

Reviewed June 9, 2022

Grade: A

One of the many pleasures of watching Ben-Hur (1959) is to marvel at the extensive cinematic brilliance involved by the entire cast and crew.

To say it’s a spectacle is not enough and it’s a must-see.

It had the largest budget ($15.175 million), as well as the largest sets built, of any film produced at the time. That allowed for enormous spending to create one of the most lavish and grandiose films ever made.

I shudder to think of how powerful it was to see this film on the large screen in a movie theater and the sheer mesmerizing quality it had on audiences.

I’ve anticipated viewing the film for years and finally did. Why I waited so long is beyond me. It does not disappoint and the extravagance is immeasurable. I sat back in awe at the many aspects of the film, way before CGI was created, that makes it as impressive in 2022 as it was over sixty years ago.

Charlton Heston plays a Palestinian Jew named Judah who is battling the Roman empire at the time of Christ. He becomes involved in a vicious feud with his ambitious boyhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd).

Their hatred culminates in an exciting yet vicious chariot race.

Condemned to life as a slave, Judah swears vengeance against Messala and escapes, later crossing paths with a gentle prophet named Jesus who helps Judah save his family despite his own death.

The film made a household name out of Heston and besides its big budget is legendary for its use of homoeroticism and an unspoken love story between two men who are at first the best of friends and who later become bitter rivals.

The film had several screenwriters and if looked at closely there is some uneven storytelling that is largely overlooked by the enormous spectacle of the finished product. Gore Vidal who was openly gay insisted on a homosexual interlude, conspicuously of course, between Judah and Messala.

Giggle worthy to those in the know is that Boyd played his character as a spurned gay lover of Heston’s, with Heston unaware of the underlying romantic angle. This is rumored to be because Heston couldn’t handle it had he known.

This knowledge made me enjoy the subtext of the scenes between the two men even more than I should have.

As if to prove the above point, the written romance between Judah and Esther (Haya Harareet) hasn’t much chemistry and I viewed them more like brother and sister or good friends.

Other scenes of shimmering, muscular men sitting around in towels are further proof of Ben-Hur’s homoeroticism.

These tidbits of juicy intrigue provide tingles but the main draw is the famous chariot scene which is as exciting as an action scene gets in cinema. The outdoor arena, packed with thousands of onlookers, provides a perfect setup for the round and round racetrack as dozens of horses are whipped into a dizzying frenzy, going faster and faster.

The peril is prominent as numerous riders drop to their death, mangled into pieces from being stampeded by the horses.

Other sequences like the leper colony and the crucifixion of Jesus are beautiful and astounding.

Director, William Wyler, a heavy hitter at the time with gems like Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) easily usurps those excellent films with Ben-Hur.

It won eleven of its twelve Oscar nominations and employed ten thousand extras!

Ben-Hur (1959) is the definition of an epic film. Expensive and expansive, the breathtaking chariot scene is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a film.

Not feeling dated it’s a marvel in exquisiteness and magnificence.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-William Wyler (won), Best Actor in a Leading Role-Charlton Heston (won), Best Actor in a Supporting Role-Hugh Griffith (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Direction-Color (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design-Color (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound Recording (won), Best Music-Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Special Effects (won)

On the Beach-1959

On the Beach-1959

Director-Stanley Kramer

Starring-Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner

Scott’s Review #1,179

Reviewed September 19, 2021

Grade: A-

On the Beach (1959) is a film that showcases a grim subject matter but remains relevant considering the period in which it was made. The Cold War-era kept most people on edge with the threat of nuclear war as they rolled into the 1960s. The lavishness of the 1950s turned into a more distrustful time as countries gained modern technological advances making nuclear weapons a real possibility.

At the time the film was not met with much praise or popularity. Certainly, people were content in their cinematic bubbles of nice and comforting films that largely emerged during the 1950s but On the Beach is a fantastic discovery decades later.

I suppose people expected a sweeping epic romantic adventure but what they received was a harsher tale. But, it’s not nearly as dark as it could have been.

The black and white cinematography is highly effective at relaying a cold and stark world that is left for the film’s characters. Another success is that the film is set in the future, 1964 to be exact while the film was made in 1959.

The film is hardly a downer and while the subject matter of nuclear disaster and devastation sounds heavy there is as much romance as there is social storytelling. The said romance between Peck and Gardner is effective and the best part of the film experience.

As the story begins, we learn that World War III has already occurred, leaving Australia as the only remaining safe place for survivors. However, wind currents carrying lingering radiation are headed their way condemning those on the continent to certain death.

When the survivors receive a strange signal from San Diego, California, Commander Dwight Towers (Peck) must undertake a mission with Lieutenant Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins) to see if there is hope for humanity. They leave behind Moira (Gardner) and Mary (Donna Anderson), the women they love.

Director, Stanley Kramer knows his way around a message movie. He also directed the racially important Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in 1967.

The romances between Dwight, Moira, Peter, and Mary are my favorite aspects of the film. Dwight has lost his wife and two children so out of loneliness falls for Moira, who has never married and has no one. Their soon-to-be doomed romance is fraught with complications as they cling to each other ever so tenderly knowing their time is limited.

Peter and Mary, on the other hand, are married with an infant young daughter. A major conflict the couple deals with is whether to take suicide pills rather than get sick and die a slow and painful death.

There is enough chemistry between Peck and Gardner to keep the viewer engaged and it’s tough to watch Perkins, a known gay man, play a macho father figure with a newborn for some reason. It’s also hard not to see Norman Bates from Psycho (1960). I half-expected Peter to attack Mary in the shower with a butcher knife.

Still, the acting is very good.

On the Beach states a powerful message in its conclusion. Ultimately, within just a few days of the shifting winds bringing the toxins to Australia, the last pockets of humanity are dead. The empty, windblown streets of Melbourne are filled with dramatic, music over a single powerful image of a previously seen Salvation Army street banner that reads “There is still time .. Brother”.

Indeed, there is.

This leaves the viewer pondering his or her fate and the terrible dangers of nuclear war. Decades later, On the Beach (1959) still frightens and still teaches about the ravages of world conflict and the plea for a peaceful society.

Oscar Nominations: Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Film Editing

Imitation of Life-1959

Imitation of Life-1959

Director-Douglas Sirk

Starring-Lana Turner, Juanita Moore

Scott’s Review #918

Reviewed July 9, 2019

Grade: A-

Based on the original film production made in 1934, which was based on a 1933 novel by Fannie Hurst, Imitation of Life (1959) is a relevant dissection of race relations, class systems, and gender roles, all of which still feels timely decades later. The film is a fresh, progressive, and brazen effort that sometimes teeters too much into soap-opera land but is nonetheless an important story to be exposed to. The dynamics between the central characters in deliciously raw scenes are the greatest part of the film.

Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) is a widowed, stylish New York woman with dreams of becoming a Broadway star. One day she meets a lovely black woman, Annie Johnson (Moore), on the beach, and the women become fast friends, each having a daughter around the same age. The women decide to move in together for financial reasons and to further Lora’s chances for success in the entertainment industry. Lora begins a casual romance with handsome Steve Archer (John Gavin).

Eleven years pass, and Lora is now a big star, residing in a luxurious house in New York and flocking to film locales in Italy. Annie continues to live with her, serving as housekeeper and confidante. The girls are now teenagers with issues of their own. Susie (Sandra Dee) has developed feelings for her mother’s boyfriend while Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), of mixed-race ethnicity, is ashamed of her black heritage and frequently can pass for white. The trials and tribulations of all are played out throughout the film.

Imitation of Life has two key distinctions and focuses on each both separately. Since the timing of the story is said to be 1947 and the picture released in 1959, before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the racial story is very poignant and truthful and the main draw of the film. Sarah Jane is embarrassed to be black and her eventual abandonment of both her life in New York and of her mother can be deemed reprehensible if not for the times. Her regrets come too little too late but Kohner nonetheless infuses much sympathy into her complex role.

The second main aspect of Imitation of Life is more mainstream and dramatic, easily more accessible to the public than the former, and the main reason why the film was misunderstood or even dismissed by some as too melodramatic. Lora is glamorous and well-dressed, always stylish, and poised and soon Susie begins to grow jealous and resentful of Lora’s achievements and the attention she receives from men at every turn. This invokes a female rivalry that is pure 1950’s Hollywood glitz and seems manipulative and naughty, using bright colors, dazzling costumes, and flair to promote the excess drama.

As tremendous as Kohner is, Juanita Moore knocks it out of the park and does the best acting job out of all the principal performers. Her frequent dramatic scenes are filled with emotional bombast without the actress ever going over-the-top. Rather, she keeps her composure, earning her well-earned Best Actress Oscar nomination if for no other scene than the heartbreaking mother/daughter showdown in a California hotel room.

When Moore’s Annie is mistaken for Sarah Jane’s maid instead of her own mother, the pain and worry can plainly be seen on her face as she realizes she has lost what she knew of her daughter for good. She returns to New York an old woman with a broken heart and spirit, both defeated and deflated. The last sequence is tough to watch as tragic results and a coldness encompasses the film.

Interesting to note is the prevalence of more than one suitor for Lora, and the implication is that she could have up to three if including her agent Allen and playwright David, while Annie has none. This point is slightly irksome and a missed opportunity as a male companion for Annie, or at least the potential for one, might have changed her life forever. The film is true to the novel but how wonderful to imagine Annie being treated to a nicer life while finding true love.

Imitation of Life (1959) is a film treasure with subtle and not so subtle nuances and bold, powerful story-telling enveloping the entire experience. Suffering a bit from a sometimes too sudsy mass appeal approach, and too much focus on melodrama, the film nonetheless does not abandon its social issues theme especially given the harsh treatment of minorities during this period. No other film deals with the psychological turmoil of mixed-race like Imitation of Life does.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Susan Kohner, Juanita Moore

Pillow Talk-1959

Pillow Talk-1959

Director-Michael Gordon

Starring-Rock Hudson, Doris Day

Scott’s Review #907

Reviewed June 6, 2019

Grade: B+

Pillow Talk (1959) is the ultimate in romantic comedies from the age of innocence in cinema. In 1959 pictures were still largely wholesome and safe, providing happy stories and charming characters. The film is a lovely and enchanting experience with intelligent characters and wonderful chemistry among its leads. Combined with a good romance and comic elements it makes for a fun watch that still feels fresh and bright decades later.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson smolder with sensuality as singles living in Manhattan, New York City. Day plays Jan Morrow, a perky, independent interior decorator who dates frequently but has not yet found love. Hudson plays Brad Allen, a talented, creative Broadway composer and playboy who lives in a nearby apartment building. Jan is frustrated by a party-line that allows her to hear Brad’s endless phone conversations with the women in his life. He is equally annoyed by her prim and proper, holier than thou attitude. They bicker on the phone but have not met.

Through their mutual, yet unknown to them, acquaintance Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall), Brad realizes who Jan really is, which leads to hilarity as he fakes a Texan accent and invents a new persona: Rex Stetson, a wealthy Texas rancher. He succeeds in wooing Jan who falls madly in love with him while unaware of who he really is. Events culminate in the inevitable big reveal when the couple vacations at Jonathan’s cabin in nearby Connecticut.

Rock Hudson oozes masculinity and charisma in this film with nearly every woman he meets falling madly in love with him. With Hudson’s sexuality preferences hidden from the public but well known within the film industry, one wonders if a few comical situations were added as an inside joke. One can speculate if these additions were done with or without the star’s knowledge; rumors abound that Hudson reportedly carried on an affair with actor Nick Adams (Tony) during filming.

A recurring theme involves Brad mistakenly walking into an obstetrician’s office (twice!) and the doctor and nurse assuming he may be the first man to ever become pregnant as they attempt to locate Brad when he continues to disappear. Later, Brad attempts to trick Jan into believing Rex might be a homosexual because of his love for effeminate things.

The supporting players bring wit to Pillow Talk and is a key piece to the enjoyment of the film. Randall as Jonathan is not quite the nice guy but not entirely the foil either. As he has designs on Jan he warns Brad to keep away from her. His intention, which fails, is to woo her with money, but Jan seeks true love. Thelma Ritter as Alma, Jan’s boozy housekeeper, is delicious, adding necessary comic timing and sardonic humor. When she ultimately finds love with the elevator operator we crackle with delight.

The lavish set design is flawless and brightens the film while adding luxurious style and sophistication that only New York City apartment living can bring. The combined sets of both Brad’s and Jan’s apartments are gorgeous to witness. With bright colors and 1950’s style furniture one can easily fantasize how beautiful it would be to reside in an apartment of this brilliance- I know this viewer did!

A Doris Day film would not be complete without the addition of several songs that the singer/actress performs. “Pillow Talk” during the opening credits, “Roly Poly” in the piano bar with Blackwell and Hudson, and “Possess Me” on the drive up to Jonathan’s cabin.

Pillow Talk (1959) is an example of a rich romantic comedy with great elements. A bit fantasy, a bit silly, but containing style, sophistication, and humor. The film was an enormous success, understandably so, being deemed “the feel-good film of the year” in many circles. Hudson’s career was re-launched following the film after having hit a snag year’s earlier.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Doris Day, Best Supporting Actress-Thelma Ritter, Best Story, and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Art Direction, Color

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Director-Clyde Geronimi

Voices-Mary Costa, Bill Shirley

Scott’s Review #721

Reviewed January 30, 2018

Grade: B+

Sleeping Beauty is a 1959 musical fantasy film and the sixteenth animated production from Walt Disney.  By this point, Disney was a master at crafting wonderful and magical productions and Sleeping Beauty is a solid work. However, due to mixed reviews and poor box office performance, Disney films were retired for many years. The effort achieves a lighter tone than heavies like Dumbo and Bambi but is enjoyable nonetheless.

In a magical land of royalty, fairies, both good and evil, King Stefan and Queen Leah, the benevolent leaders of the land, are finally able to conceive their first child, named Princess Aurora. After proclaiming a special holiday and celebration, a festive scene turns dark when evil and powerful fairy, Maleficent, jealous with rage, puts a curse on the innocent baby. Thanks to a kindly fairy, the curse of death on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday is slightly blocked in favor of Aurora falling into a deep sleep- only to be awakened by true love’s kiss.

The characters in Sleeping Beauty are quite lovely and, by and large, sweet and kind. My favorite characters are the three fairies- Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.  Each has her own personality but wields special magical powers- all of them of good-natured variety. While Flora and Fauna possess song and beauty, which they bestow on Aurora, it is Merryweather who arguably saves the young girl’s life. The three women are also instrumental in being the unsung heroes of the film, while the handsome Prince Phillip getting star billing.

Compared to many other Disney films, Sleeping Beauty is quite the grandiose showing, and lush with colors bright as stars. The sparkles which drizzle from the fairies wands ooze with magic that will make children giggle with delight and adults marvel with adoration. In this regard, Sleeping Beauty is extravagant and the most expensive Disney production created up to this point.

Maleficent is a fantastic villain and when she finally turns into a lethal, fire breathing, dragon, this is sure to scare youngsters watching the film for the first time. Sure to mention, Maleficent’s web of thorns that she uses to surround Aurora’s castle is a spectacle in and of itself.

Upon watching the film I continue to draw comparisons to another of Walt Disney’s famous films, 1937’s beautiful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as both films resemble each other in a sheer mass of ways. The beautiful and innocent main female characters, both in peril from devious, older women, clearly jealous of the enriched goodness of Snow White and Aurora are the most obvious. Besides, both contain dashing princes to come to the rescue in just the nick of time and kindly little things who assist in the drama.

Perhaps it is Sleeping Beauty’s similarities to  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- in fact, the pair would be perfect to watch together on a rainy Saturday afternoon- that lead me to conclude that Snow White is the more charming and grabbing of the two films. Also, Sleeping Beauty does not triumph in the important humanistic lessons that the aforementioned Dumbo and Bambi (my favorites of all the Disney films) have.

Sleeping Beauty contains all of the elements of an empathetic, feel-good animated experience. A King, a Queen, a Prince, a vicious villain, giddy fairies, and a beautiful heroine are all represented in this fine and satisfying Disney venture- not the greatest in the pack, but assuredly a good time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Scoring of a Musical Picture

Black Orpheus-1959

Black Orpheus-1959

Director-Marcel Camus

Starring-Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn

Scott’s Review #689

Reviewed October 8, 2017

Grade: A

Black Orpheus is a 1959 French film, made in Brazil, honored with a win in the coveted Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award category in 1960, considered somewhat of a surprise to actually win. The film is adapted from the well-known Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, now set in Rio de Janeiro during the festive celebration of Carnaval. Containing a cast of almost all black actors and providing a look at life on the streets of Brazil, Black Orpheus is vivacious and filled with lively songs and dances.

The setting is key to the film as the beauty and merriment is mixed with loss and tragedy- loads of exterior shots of Rio de Janeiro flesh out the film with many shots high atop a hill in a quaint village where all of the characters live-and most in very close proximity to each other. Similar to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the film is romantic and lovely, but the story is also mired in jealousy and drama amid the dancing and many celebrations.

Many of the actors, certainly lead Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn, are non-actors, cast undoubtedly because of their gorgeous, authentic looks, but surprisingly both are phenomenal in their roles, perfectly cast.

Wholesome Eurydice (Dawn) arrives in the city of Rio de Janeiro by way of a trolley driven by Orpheus (Mello), intent on visiting her cousin, Serafina. There is an instant attraction between the young man and woman as he provides directions to her cousin’s village, which is also his. Orpheus, however, is engaged to be married to his possessive and demanding fiance, Mira, though he is less than enthused about the impending marriage and would rather fix his guitar than buy Mira an engagement ring.

As the Carnival festivities get underway, Orpheus and Eurydice give in to their mutual attraction and dance the night away while subsequently trying to avoid the wrath of Mira, and avoid a mysterious costumed man who has been stalking Eurydice since she escaped her village and fled to Rio.  Eurydice is terrified that the man may want to kill her and his motivations are unknown. His character is particularly frightening as he is known as “Death” and dons a tight, skeleton costume.

The tragic conclusion culminating in a wonderful chase scene in Orpheus’s trolley station is fantastic. The morbid ending is unsurprising based on the legendary Greek tale and the Romeo and Juliet comparisons but is still heartbreaking and difficult to experience, most notably the final scene atop a cliff. As the lovelorn couple topples down a hill together at the hands of another central character, the scene is shocking and difficult to watch. Intertwined in each other’s arms, the scene is also gorgeous and confirmation of true love and artistic beauty.

Some accusations of racial stereotypes within this film have abounded over the years, mainly the depiction of Brazil being inhabited by party-going, sex-crazed people, but I find the film a masterpiece and the type of cinematic experience to be enjoyed rather than over-analyzed. Particularly, the almost non-stop musical score created by Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim is to die for and an enormous part of what makes the film so engaging and entertaining.

Perfectly capturing the spirit of a jovial, cultural, environment, Black Orpheus spins an interesting, heartbreaking tale of love amid a musical. Tragedy, art, true love, romance, and death are all elements captured in this wonderful film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film (won)

Les Cousins-1959

Les Cousins-1959

Director- Claude Chabrol

Starring-Gerard Blain, Jean-Claude Braily

Scott’s Review #402


Reviewed May 5, 2016

Grade: A-

Les Cousins is a 1959 Claude Chabrol French-language film. Made in black and white and set in Paris, the focus is on metropolitan life as seen from the perspective of one of the main characters, who is from the country and far removed from the bustle and complexities of city life.

The focal point is contrasting traits- personality, background, and otherwise, as the film delves into psychological aspects that lend themselves to making the film a character-driven experience, and quite thought-provoking. Les Cousins is open to many interpretations. The film, therefore, has many nuances to ponder and sink one’s teeth into deep thought.

Hence the title, Les Cousins is about two male cousins, Charles and Paul. They appear to be similar in age and are both law students, but opposites in almost every other way. Paul is the alpha male- self-centered, quick-tempered, and forceful. Living an affluent life in the heart of Paris, he has many friends, is a social butterfly, and has no filter with his criticisms and judgments of others.

Charles, on the other hand, has a completely different set of qualities. Sent by his mother to live with Paul and study for the agonizing, impending law exam, Charles is meek, quiet, and insecure. When Charles meets Florence, a beautiful friend of Paul’s, who has a reputation for “sleeping around”, Charles falls madly in love with her, almost love at first sight, unaware of her reputation. What follows is a strange triangle between Paul, Florence, and Charles that is laced with jealousy, revenge, and ultimately violence.

Each of the three principal characters and their relationship with each other is interesting to ponder and is at the heart of the film. When Paul realizes that Charles is in love with Florence is he disturbed by this turn of events? Does he feel sorry for Charles or elicit some perverse joy in bedding Florence in front of Charles? If so, why does he resent Charles?

Is Florence in love with Charles or is it a guise? Does she even realize the extent of his love for her? Clearly a sexually expressive woman, she is not outlandish in her appearance and for all intents and purposes seems quite virginal to the outside viewer. Does she enjoy the fact that the unwitting Charles sees her as pure? Does she wish that she actually was virginal?

Finally, the complexity of Charles’ character is mysterious. We learn that he writes letters to his mother every day to give her updates on his studying habits and the exam. Does he harbor resentment towards his mother? Is he a “mama’s boy”? Is he overwhelmed in the city? Does he truly love Florence (tough to believe after one or two dates) or simply yearn for the freedom that she represents?

We see countless scenes of Paul and his good-looking friends engaging in various forms of merriment, usually in his modern apartment, overlooking the city. Clearly, he is affluent. Is this the main reason for his popularity? The party-goers are all well-dressed and very good-looking- sort of a fraternity party for the exceptionally tailored if you will. Interesting to note is a female couple- appearing to be a lesbian couple- featured numerous times at the parties. Is this meant to show Paul and Parisians in general as open-minded and progressive?

A revolver- with only one bullet in a six-chamber gun, prevalent throughout the film in a Russian roulette sequence, comes into play at the startling conclusion of the film. Without completely revealing the ending, someone is mortally wounded in the last sequence of the film and we are left to ponder what happens now. Are the survivors lives forever changed and ruined? A knock at the door just prior to the credits rolling leaves us wondering who is there.

My one complaint of Les Cousins is that it takes a long time to get deep into the complexities of the film and, in fact, I was left pondering the film after it ended more than I was completely engaged throughout the actual film. I also wondered if perhaps the pompous and over-indulgences were slightly overdone to elicit more audience reaction and contrasting elements between Paul and Charles.

A French new wave experience by one of France’s best directors, Les Cousins is a character study of three interesting characters that leave the audience thinking about their lives past, present, and future, comparing their idiosyncrasies, actions, and thoughts to delve deeper into their psyches.

Some Like It Hot-1959

Some Like It Hot-1959

Director-Billy Wilder

Starring-Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis

Scott’s Review #388


Reviewed March 26, 2016

Grade: A

Considered to be one of the best comedies ever made, Some Like It Hot is a funny, outlandish, yet controlled film, that never teeters too over the top or dives into outrageous camp, but rather is well written, well-acted, and contains great chemistry between the stars. In a nutshell, it is a film where all of the elements simply come together just right. In film comedy, this is a very rare event to happen. Rather, typically we are treated to formulas or retreads of past successes. Some Like It Hot feels refreshing and brilliant.

The film was also monumental in paving the way to the eventual elimination of the hated Hays Code, which put many restrictions on American films from 1930-1968. Some Like It Hot pushed the envelope in important ways, leading to a spike in creativity and art within the film industry that lasted mainly throughout the 1960s and 1970s. For that, it is a masterpiece.

Down on their luck, broke, and needing work, Jerry and Joe (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) are struggling jazz musicians who seek out a meager existence in snowy Chicago. Having witnessed the St. Valentine’s day massacre, they go on the run from the assailants, who have seen them, and pose as Josephine and Daphne, dressed in drag.

This leads to one humorous situation after another as they take the bus from Chicago to Miami with an all-girl musical band, a slumber party of sorts, led by boozy starlet Sugar Kane (played by Marilyn Monroe), who serves as the band’s vocalist and ukulele player. Once arrived in sunny Miami “the girls” both find romantic entanglements, with Sugar and rich millionaire, Osgood Fielding III, with obvious comic antics ensuing. Josephine poses as male Shell Oil Junior in an attempt to woo Sugar with his assumed riches in the oil business.

What makes Some Like It Hot work so well, for starters, is that it does not go too far over the edge to make it seem campy, nor does it play it too straight if you will. The balance is perfect and that makes the film rich with natural, fresh comedy. Director Billy Wilder chose wisely to film in black and white, thereby avoiding Lemmon and Curtis looking ridiculous with colorful, bright makeup. This was toned down and muted so that it allowed for more believability.

Additionally, the subtle edginess of the film impresses me with each passing watch.  Some Like It Hot got away with a lot for 1959, keeping in mind the restrictions of the day,  and with that knowledge gives it a groundbreaking quality. There is an air of homosexuality throughout and the final line of the film is my favorite allowing for thought-provoking interpretation. When Daphne reaches her breaking point with Osgood’s romancing and yanks off his wig professing in a state of exasperation, “I am a man!!” only to hear Osgood’s startling reply of “Well, nobody’s perfect”, that is clever dialogue. Did Osgood know all along that Daphne was male? Will he marry her anyway?

Who wouldn’t have blushed gazing at Monroe’s skin-colored and quite revealing outfit? It gave the impression that she was nude, and how funny is the physical comic timing of Lemmon and Curtis together. Bumbling around in stocking, heels, and dresses, attempting to be feminine, but never really succeeding, but somehow making all of the other characters think that they truly were women is great. Curtis was reportedly quite uncomfortable in drag and it shows on camera, but this works out well as it gives Josephine a natural awkwardness. Lemmon went all out in his costumes and his energy really comes across.

In my opinion not looking her best, slightly plump and tired looking, Marilyn Monroe still gives the film added life and charm, and who is not mesmerized viewing her on stage singing “I Wanna Be Loved By You”? To think that Monroe died only 3 short years later is sad and an appreciation of her career in the final stages.

A risqué, laugh out loud, funny treat, Some Like It Hot resonates with me and did so with audiences upon release in 1959. Comical, smart, and highly influential, the film is a must-see for fans of film comedy done honestly and free of standard cliché. A blueprint for all smart comedies to follow.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Billy Wilder, Best Actor-Jack Lemmon, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Art Direction, Black-and-White, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (won)

North by Northwest-1959

North by Northwest-1959

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint

Top 100 Films-#26

Scott’s Review #90


Reviewed July 3, 2014

Grade: A

North by Northwest is a 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film, released at the heyday of its famous director (1950’s and 1960’s). It is considered one of his most commercially successful films and is the mainstream fare that contains all the elements of a great Hitchcock film- adventure, intrigue, romance, and suspense. Unlike some of his other films, his characters are straight-forward and not psychologically wounded as are some of his others, and this is not a slight, but merely makes the film “for the masses”.

Charismatic Cary Grant plays successful advertising executive Roger Thornhill. He works in bustling New York City, has a secretary, and is well respected in his circle. While enjoying drinks at the club on the evening before a planned trip to the theater, he becomes a victim of mistaken identity- thought to be George Kaplan-and accosted by henchmen to a lavish mansion on Glen Cove Long Island.  After a botched attempt on his life, he is arrested and ultimately must race across the United States on the lam to find the real George Kaplan.

The wonderful locales go from New York City to Long Island to Indiana, to Chicago, to Mount Rushmore. The film is exciting from start to finish, never letting up, and features a common theme of Hitchcock’s- an “everyman” falsely accused of a crime attempts to prove his innocence. Slightly different from some Hitchcock films in that there is not as much psychological analysis of the characters, but rather a good, old-fashioned adventure story with many twists and turns along the way. In many ways, North by Northwest is a pre-cursor to the enormously popular James Bond films as Grant brought style, sexiness, and charisma to this sleek feature.

The set style and design look just perfect. The lush Long Island estate set is flawless with a grand staircase and a well-constructed library used- not to mention the exterior shot of the enormous house. The house in Mount Rushmore is sleek, quite trendy, and reeks of high sophistication. Propped on an incline and containing its own airplane runway, it is quite grand.

The chemistry between Grant and Eva Marie Saint is apparent and oozes from the screen from the moment they bump into each other on a train traveling from New York to Chicago. As they dine in the dining car-a a flirtatious scene-the landscape whizzing by in the background, the comforting train whistle and background noise really work well. Their relationship is established, and the characters are intrigued and slightly mistrustful of each other, which gives the scene edge and complexities that really work.

The film features a cutting edge graphic design in the opening credits as Vertigo also did around the same period. The green colors and the sophisticated advertising style of the graphics kick the film off in a creative, ultra-cool, modern way.

Interesting to note is the implied homosexuality of Martin Landau in the role of Leonard, henchman to the main villain Phillip Vandamm, and this is exactly how Landau played the role.  During Hitchcock’s time, homosexuality was strictly prohibited in the film but subtly shines through. Leonard’s fascination and jealousy towards Vandamm have levels of flirtation and vengefulness intertwined.

Scene after scene of North By Northwest is filled with suspense- the crop duster scene is my ultimate favorite. Shot without music, and on location in a dreary, clear, middle of nowhere field, somewhere in Indiana, it is layered with suspense that keeps going in this very long scene. Thornhill is scheduled to meet Kaplan at a designated spot. A lonely bus stop, random passing cars thought to be the intended, a deadly airplane, and an explosion all transpire. The scene is fraught with tension.

New fans of Hitchcock should begin with this one- mainstream and one of his finest, containing all the traditional Hitchcock elements where all the pieces come together perfectly. North By Northwest is a masterpiece.

Oscar Nominations: Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Art Direction, Color, Best Film Editing

The 400 Blows-1959

The 400 Blows-1959

Director-Francois Truffaut

Starring-Jean-Pierre Leaud

Scott’s Review #88


Reviewed July 2, 2014

Grade: A

The 400 Blows is a French New Wave masterpiece from 1959 that is heartbreaking yet beautiful in its storytelling. It tells the story of Antoine, a kindhearted yet hardened teen boy who is forced out on his own to live a tough life on the streets of Paris. It is autobiographical of sorts as director Francois Truffaut suffered a childhood similar to the boy.

Misunderstood and mistreated by his parents and schoolteachers, Antoine must survive and thrive as a teenage runaway who cannot get a break in life. Shot in Paris and featuring gorgeous shots of the city, the black and white filming add to the bleakness and coldness of this young boy’s life and Truffaut was the first to use the since common still-frame close-up of angst and the scenes of Antoine running from the city along the beach are some of the most beautiful in film history.

Truffaut influenced a generation of directors with his very personal brand of storytelling. The 400 Blows is not always a pleasant film, but an important and influential one in art cinema. Young actor Jean-Pierre Leaud gives an excellent performance.

Oscar Nominations: Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Anatomy of a Murder-1959

Anatomy of a Murder-1959

Director-Otto Preminger

Starring-James Stewart, Lee Remick

Scott’s Review #61


Reviewed June 24, 2014

Grade: B+

Anatomy of a Murder is a thought-provoking, courtroom/legal thriller that is not a black and white, good and bad story. It is deeper and more complex than that.

Starring James Stewart as an everyman defense attorney, the film, shot effectively in black and white, pushed barriers for its time (1959), by using certain words such as “rape” and “panties” that were never spoken in films before this time. Much of the action takes place inside the courtroom.

The film pushed the envelope and is still enjoyable today. Over the course of the film, which is admittedly slow at times, the audience finds itself unsure of the guilt of the defendant and is wary and suspicious of him from the start, which makes for great drama.

The rooting value is with Stewart, who is clearly the hero, and the interesting supporting cast provides deeper layers than similar type films that run the risk of being wordy or preachy. As each new fact or twist and turn arrives throughout the film, it becomes more and more engaging until it reaches a satisfying climax.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture, Best Actor-James Stewart, Best Supporting Actor-Arthur O’Connell, George C. Scott, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Film Editing