Tag Archives: 1960 Movie reviews

Spartacus-1960

Spartacus-1960

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons

Scott’s Review #1,250

Reviewed April 30, 2022

Grade: A

Typically, when influential director Stanley Kubrick’s name is uttered, films such as The Shining (1980), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Barry Lyndon (1975) are immediately thought of, and for obvious reasons.

The haunting, moody musical score, the long camera shots, the dark humor, and the clever camera tricks are easy to pinpoint.

Rewinding to 1960, the director was brought in to grab the reigns and direct the gorgeous epic, Spartacus, after Hollywood star Kirk Russell had unceremoniously fired the first director.

None of the previously mentioned elements are easy for me to notice and are more or less absent, but a grand battle scene in a luscious green field is very reminiscent of Barry Lyndon. This is likely because Spartacus was not Kubrick’s film entirely instead belonging to others with more clout.

Throwing out the director issues, Spartacus is a brilliant film for many reasons. Some epics suffer from a hokey, cliched feel and can be overwrought, predictable, and tired.

The rebellious Thracian Spartacus (Russell), born and raised a slave, is sold to Gladiator trainer Batiatus (Ustinov). After training to kill for the arena, Spartacus turns on his owners and leads the other slaves in rebellion.

As the rebels move from town to town, their numbers increase as escaped slaves join their ranks. Under the leadership of Spartacus, they make their way to southern Italy, where they intend to cross the sea and return to their homes.

Spartacus is grand, sweeping, cinematically great, and everything else you’d expect from a 1960s Hollywood epic with enormous stars of its day. Looking beneath the surface, the film is riddled with interesting tidbits like bisexuality, homoeroticism, and violence more in tune with an art film or modern war film than the safety of a film made during this time.

Particularly noteworthy is that Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay. One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of alleged Communist influences in the motion picture industry.

After the release of Spartacus, it marked the beginning of the end of the Hollywood Blacklist for Trumbo and other affected screenwriters.

Thank goodness.

In a famous scene, recaptured slaves are asked to identify Spartacus in exchange for leniency; instead, each slave proclaims himself to be Spartacus, thus sharing his fate.

The suggestion is that this scene was meant to dramatize the solidarity of those accused of being Communist sympathizers during the McCarthy era.

Besides the political importance, Spartacus also showcases a beautiful romance between Spartacus (Russell) and Varinia (Jean Simmons), a gorgeous slave girl. The tenderness and authenticity are palpable as many of their early scenes involve no dialogue but only longing and expression through both actors’ eyes.

I celebrated the connection between the actors who are at the forefront of much romance. Russell carries the film with a calm, masculinity that easily makes him heroic and likable.

He is the charismatic good guy who has been wronged and ill-fated.

A sequence oozing with machismo and homoeroticism occurs when evil Crassus (Olivier) is bathed by his slave boy Antoninus (Tony Curtis). He seductively explains that while sometimes he prefers snails, he also likes oysters too. The implication is that he is bisexual, brazenly so, and expects the youngster to become his sex slave.

The warmth of the bathtub and the luxurious atmosphere is juxtapositioned against the proximity and touch of both male characters.

In 1960, this scene was way ahead of its time.

The conclusion of Spartacus is melancholy and surprising. The expectation might have been to happily see Spartacus and Varinia ride off into the sunset having bested the cruelty of Rome.

This doesn’t happen and the film is all the richer for it. There is pain and despair as there were in real-life. Wisely sparing complete doom and gloom, the ending is satisfying as one major character is allowed to escape a deadly demise and conjure ahead with their life.

Spartacus (1960) is one of the greats. It has muscle, texture, and many below-the-surface nuances ripe for discussion. It’s a must-see for many reasons.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Peter Ustinov (won), Best Art Direction-Color (won), Best Cinematography-Color (won), Best Costume Design-Color (won), Best Film Editing, Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture

The Brides of Dracula-1960

The Brides of Dracula-1960

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring-Peter Cushing, Yvonne Monlaur

Scott’s Review #1,218

Reviewed January 9, 2022

Grade: B+

It’s always impressive to me what Hammer Film Productions do with such a limited budget mostly from a set and art direction perspective. With small funds, they can create gloomy yet beautiful set structures that are highly creative and appear extremely lavish.

To the savvy viewer, this tidbit can make each film a treasure trove of enjoyment if only to look beyond the central activity taking place and notice the style.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) is no exception.

The film is a sequel to the 1958 film Dracula (also known as Horror of Dracula), though the character of Count Dracula does not appear in the film, and is instead mentioned only twice. As fans of these films know Christopher Lee portrays Dracula. Instead, the vicious vampire at the center of the film is Baron Meinster, a disciple of Dracula’s and played by David Peel.

The fiendish villain even bites his own mother played by Martita Hunt making her undead and terrifying to the residents of a Spanish village.

Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is the hero of the story and must drive a stake through the heart of the vampire baron before he deviously makes innocent Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) his bride.

Cushing is a familiar part of Hammer horror film lore and leads the charge as the film’s hero. I love the character because he is heroic and unflinching, always calm, cool, and collected in the face of sheer horror.

The aforementioned sets are gothic and brilliant, especially the gloomy castle owned by Baronness and her son. When she invites Marianne to spend the night the girl is treated to a stylish room and a ravishing dinner served by a threatening servant named Greta.

The exteriors are as good as the interiors and portray the village within Transylvania as cozy and homespun. Outside the prominent inn run by the locals is inviting as much as it feels forbidden and haunted.

When Marianne is abandoned in the village by her terrified coach driver we know that secrets or living creatures are waiting to be unearthed.

These atmospheric additions will compel audiences to tune in and enjoy the horrific moments.

Speaking of the horror, The Brides of Dracula feels enough like camp to not be too scary, and comic elements exist throughout. No better example of this is the bumbling and boozy Doctor Toblerplayed by character actor Miles Malleson.

While many moments are over the top especially when a vampire character bares their fangs in the best hammy way, the film never feels foolish or amateurish.

A huge misstep is naming the film The Brides of Dracula when no Dracula is ever to be found. I incorrectly assumed that the Baron was Dracula until after the final credits had rolled. It’s a sneaky way to capitalize on the name recognition of Dracula.

There are too many fun moments in the film though to harbor much resentment. Of the brides, my favorite is Gina, played by Andree Melly who looks the most frightening.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) is an entertaining and pleasing chapter in the Hammer horror catalog. All the expected elements are contained within including a crucifix and a healthy dose of holy water.

L’Avventura-1960

L’Avventura-1960

Director-Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring-Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti

Scott’s Review #1,167

Reviewed July 30, 2021

Grade: A

L’Avventura (1960) has a lot in common with the horror masterpiece Psycho (1960), released the same year, although they couldn’t be more opposite on the surface. One is an American horror film by an esteemed British director and the other an Italian art film. What could they possibly have in common?

Forgetting that the former is not at all a horror film, L’Avventura first introduces a character that the audience is certain to be the main character only to pull a switcheroo midstream and make other characters the central protagonists. Think what Janet Leighs Marion Crane was in Psycho to John Garvin and Vera Miles, Sam Loomis and Lila Crane.

Be that as it may, as an interesting if not completely odd comparison, L’Avventura is a brilliant film and not just for the story alone. Black and white cinematography of the grandest kind transplants the film viewer to a fabulous yet haunting island where a good portion of the events occur. Frequent shots of the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea and its roaring waves pepper the action.

In Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic of Italian cinema, two beautiful young women, Claudia (Monica Vitti) and Anna (Léa Massari) join Anna’s lover, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), on a boat trip to a remote volcanic island. They plan to spend their time cruising, resting, and relaxing on the Mediterranean. The trio is all good-looking and resides on the outskirts of Rome. They join two wealthy couples and depart on their excursion,

When Anna suddenly goes missing on an island stop, an extensive search is launched. In the meantime, Sandro and Claudia become involved in a romance despite Anna’s disappearance, though the relationship suffers from the guilt and tension brought about by the looming mystery. Their relationship is intriguing based on the roller coaster emotions they face. Their burgeoning romance and Anna’s disappearance overlap.

Assumed to be the focal point of the film Anna eventually serves as more of a ghost character and quickly disappears from the screen. This though me for a loop.

Events do not remain on the island but return to the Italian mainland where Sandro and Claudia continue with their guilt finally becoming convinced Anna might have actually returned!

The brilliant and ambitious thing about L’Avventura is that the film changes course many times. On the surface, it appears a film about a missing girl and friends attempts to locate her. But Antonioni delves into a film about emotions and the meaning of life making the audience go deeper along with the characters.

Eventually, Sandro and Claudia chase a ghost of their own design and plod along unhappy and unfulfilled suffering paranoia.

L’Avventura is all about the characters and the cinematography and each immerses well with the other. Many characters exchange glances with each other that the audience can read into. What was the relationship between Sandro and Claudia before the cruise, if any? What is the back story of Anna and Sandro? And what’s become of Anna? Did she run off and drown or was she murdered?

The camerawork is just stunning, each shot a lovely escapade into another world. Particularly, the yacht cruise and the island sequences are astounding. I love how the characters explore different sections of the island instead of dully standing on the shore or otherwise similar types of shots.

As the title says the point of the film is of adventure and both physical and cerebral adventure.

L’Avventura (1960) is a film that will make you think, ponder, escape, and discuss the true meaning of the film. Isn’t that what great art cinema does? Antonioni also made me consider comparisons to another great art film creator- the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.

Exodus-1960

Exodus-1960

Director-Otto Preminger

Starring-Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint

Scott’s Review #1,005

Reviewed March 30, 2020

Grade: A-

Creating a monumental epic about the modern state of Israel, director Otto Preminger’s vast project Exodus (1960) is a bold adaptation of the Leon Uris novel from 1958. Starring stars of the day for added Hollywood spice and a romantic element, the result is a sprawling war drama with robust proportions and a hefty running time. At times the film lags or even drags, but the enormous importance of the message and the influence of stimulating Zionism should never be forgotten.

With the treacherous World War II barely in the rear-view mirror, Israeli resistance fighter, Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman), attempts to bring six-hundred European Jewish Holocaust survivors from British-blockaded Cyprus into newly developed Palestine. He meets Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint), an American volunteer nurse, at the camp. The pair team-up, along with others, to attempt to liberate the survivors.

The action eventually switches to Palestine where other characters and motives come into play in a complex story. During this time, opposition to the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states is heating up, leading to tension, bombs, and death among similar types of people. Central to the main plot is a young love-story involving spirited Dov Landau (Sal Mineo), a radical Zionist resistance group member, and Karen Hansen Clement (Jill Haworth), a young Danish-Jewish girl searching for the father from whom she was separated during the war.

Exodus has so much story going on and multiple plots to follow. The main draw, besides the tense story, is the two love stories told amid the political turmoil. Newman and Saint have marginal chemistry, he is an eye-candy who electrifies the screen, she seems too old for him and does not photograph well. Kitty, a widow, hedges on her romantic feelings for Ari, but they do ultimately unite. A gorgeous sequence occurs when the two share a delicious meal of fish and martinis amid a rooftop restaurant overlooking the dazzling landscape. She later dines with his parents, his mother a classic Jewish mother who in stereotypical fashion, cooks, and fusses.

The fresh-faced pairing of Dov and Karen is reminiscent of Tony and Maria from West Side Story. Doomed from the start, the youngsters are opposites in many ways, he hot-headed, sensible, and resilient. He is bronze and swarthy, she is blonde and blue-eyed. I fell in love with the couple, more than Ari and Kitty, and rooted for their happily-ever-after moment, which sadly never occurred.

At nearly four hours in length, the film is best watched in segments, perhaps even four, to let the action marinate overnight. The complex drama is aided by the sweeping cinematic photography and the lush exterior sequences. A drawback was not getting to see the film on the big screen, almost a must in hindsight, and limited by the DVD quality over Blu-Ray. Nonetheless, the film is delicious in nearly every way. Just when tedium is about to occur, an event happens that snaps the viewer back to immediate attention.

A notable fun fact is that Preminger boldly hired blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, on the dreaded Hollywood blacklist for over a decade for communist leanings, to write the script Together with Spartacus (1960), made the same year, Exodus is credited with ending the practice of Blacklisting in the motion picture industry. The importance of what is written on the blank page is arguably surpassed by the man who wrote those pages.

Exodus (1960) nearly rivals the epic of all epics, Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in its cinematography of exotic and sacred landscapes in daring and forbidding lands. Perhaps twenty minutes or so could be carved out when the action loses momentum, but with great direction, a top tier cast, and a history lesson in the harshness of war and generations of conflict, makes the film resonate with the realism of the subject matter.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Sal Mineo, Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Cinematography, Color

The Magnificent Seven-1960

The Magnificent Seven-1960

Director-John Sturges

Starring-Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen

Scott’s Review #961

Reviewed November 22, 2019

Grade: B-

The Magnificent Seven (1960) is a western in the classic sense that will satisfy fans of the genre. It features Hollywood stars of the day in heroic roles that give an aura of nationalism and conservative Americana. Other than a wonderful musical score, a pleasant romance, and some male bonding, the film feels quite dated with racial overtones that probably were not as irksome in the 1960s as they are now. The film is a remake of the 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai.

The bullied residents of a small Mexican village decide to hire seven American gunslingers to defeat a gang of bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach), who terrorizes the villager regularly. The gunslingers are led by Chris Adams (Yul Brynner) and feature Vin (Steve McQueen), Bernardo (Charles Bronson), Lee (Robert Vaughn), Harry (Brad Dexter), Britt (James Coburn), and Chico (Horst Buchholz). Each is distinctive in some way- Lee is a veteran while Vin is a drifter, and so on.

The musical score is to be praised for its high energy and adventurous timing, especially during key scenes. The introduction of the seven gunslingers is fun and popular for the western genre, especially in television series of the time. Considering most of the cast were handsome leading men this is a treat for audiences. The music also infuses the film with some pizzazz and is perfect for the genre that it is.

A romance between the hot-blooded Chico and gorgeous Mexican girl, Petra also works. An unlikely pairing, the couple has resounding chemistry and a West Side Story style connection. Not supposed to be attracted to one another, or hardly soul mates, the two blessedly share a happily-ever-after roll-up as the entire film does. Westerns in the 1960s were meant to be crowd-pleasing and not especially daring. Chico and Petra are a nice addition and provide a bit of diversity.

The swagger of Brynner and McQueen is filled with machismo that in a different film might be annoying, but in The Magnificent Seven, works. They both look great, are clearly in their prime, and are well suited for a feature meant to satisfy the tastes of men and make the women swoon. They prance around on their horses looking serious, cool, and confident. But the film’s target demographic is clearly men and not teenage girls.

The over-arching story is irritating. The viewer is supposed to believe that the Mexican men are so incompetent that they do not even know how to shoot a gun or how to defend themselves. This seems to be a gimmick and a pro-American stance more than a reality. The gunslingers swoop in and take complete control showing the Mexicans how real men fight. It’s silly and trite and an obvious plot device. Contrived and offensive but common for the genre.

During the middle of the film, the story meanders and the thirst for the inevitable, climactic finale makes the viewer a bit restless. Finally, we are treated to the battle between good and bad where much blood is spilled and even a few of the gunslingers are slain. Laughable is how the characters die on cue but still look great while dying. The finale is marginally satisfying but predictable in its outcome.

Made during a time when the western was a popular genre and a box office success, decades later the film feels dated and rather unnecessary. Featuring big stars of the day this is not surprising and better genre films with more grit were soon to be on the way, think The Wild Bunch (1967), and are superior to The Magnificent Seven (1960).

Oscar Nominations: Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Director-Georges Franju

Starring-Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli

Scott’s Review #922

Reviewed July 23, 2019

Grade: A

Eyes Without a Face (1960) is a macabre and twisted French-Italian horror film co-written and directed by Georges Franju based on a novel of the same name by Jean Redon. The film cover art (see above) is flawless and terrifying, inducing the creeps by only giving it a glimpse causing the recipient curiosity, attempting to analyze what the meaning behind it could be.

The film is nestled into a short one hour and thirty-minute package but that is more than enough time to scare the audience to death with many fantastic and gruesome elements, severely limiting the gore, which only adds to the horrific nature.

The film was highly controversial when released in 1960 because of the subject matter at hand and was subsequently either loved or reviled among its audiences. What makes Eyes Without a Face, so riveting is the empathy for the characters and the measures gone to right wrongs, despite the main character being undeniably crazy. The complex emotions of guilt and obsession are commonalities making it a layered and complex horror film appearing on many Top Ten genre lists. The film is not for the faint of heart.

Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brassier) is a brilliant and successful physician who specializes in plastic surgery. After a vicious car accident that he is to blame for he attempts to repair the ruined face of his daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), a victim of the wreck. But his plan to give his daughter her looks back involves kidnapping young girls and removing their faces. He is aided in his machinations by his assistant, Louise (Alida Valli), who kidnaps the young women and helps him in the laboratory acting as a surrogate mother to Christiane. Louise aids Génessier partly because of his help in restoring her damaged face in events that happened before the film begins.

Scob is the stand-out character, containing an innocent and quietly melancholy existence as she is the clear victim of the story. Her defeated posture while resiliently hopeful and demure is complex for an actress to carry and she defines grace and poise. Brasseur and Valli, the villains of the film, each deliver the goods in different ways. Valli, haunting in her best horror effort, Suspiria (1977), is mesmerized by her doctor and savior so that the relationship is almost cult-like. Brasseur, while devious, is strangely heroic too, as he steals lives to save other lives, so his character is extraordinarily complex.

The surgery scenes are chilling featuring white, starchy uniforms worn by a doctor, assistant, and victim. The scenes could almost be mechanical tutorials offered to first-rate medical students with scholarly intentions if this were not a horror film, the look is so documentary style. Genessier calmly cuts an entire circular length of his victim as a hint of blood slowly oozes down the sides of her face in an almost tender fashion. The film is not the 1980’s slasher film image that encompasses non-horror film-goer’s preconceptions and, made in 1960, contains a somber yet gorgeous texture.

The best scene occurs when one of Genessier’s victims, lying on a gurney, comes to and gazes at a figure leaning close to her. The camera turns to the figure revealing a blurry but recognizable image of Christiane, sans the face-like mask she usually wears throughout the film. As the victim shrieks in horror, Christiane slowly backs away from her amid a sunken feeling of pain and heartbreak, remembering how much of a freak she must appear to others. The scene is sad and grotesque at the same time.

Horror films often get bad raps, but poetic and stylized horror films are a diamond in the rough. Eyes Without a Face (1960) achieves its place in the cinematic archives with brilliant black and white cinematography entrenched in a Gothic, chilling story with characters whose motivations can be dissected and studied long after the film ends. This is a type of film that keeps the viewer thinking and deserves repeated viewings to fully capture all the plentiful gems that it offers.

Midnight Lace-1960

Midnight Lace-1960

Director-David Miller

Starring-Doris Day, Rex Harrison

Scott’s Review #909

Reviewed June 13, 2019

Grade: B+

Midnight Lace (1960) is a straightforward psychological thriller made during a period in cinematic history when the genre was beginning to garner more popularity. The film was clearly influenced by the Alfred Hitchcock craze which was front and center at this time, and a robust departure for its lead, Doris Day, who until this time was mostly nestled securely in the romantic comedy domain. The film is a good watch and a challenging role for Day, who proves she has the acting chops to carry the film.

Day portrays Kit, an American heiress, newly married to British financier Tony (Rex Harrison), residing together in London. When she is terrorized by an odd voice in a London park one misty night, her panic is dismissed as rubbish and pranksters having their way with her. When the threats return and escalate by way of telephone calls, Tony alerts the authorities who question whether Kit may be imagining things or creating a panic to gain the attention of her husband. Tony, in turn, begins to ask the same questions.

Day, an American sweetheart and forever good girl, was brave to tackle a role that was left of center for her. Despite her fine acting and impressive range during scenes of peril though, Doris Day is still Doris Day, and it is tough to shake the image of her playing herself. Attractive, Day is not the sexpot type, so a few scenes of her being flirty by attempting to seduce Tony with sexy nighties do not work so well. To be fair, Day has never looked lovelier than she does in this picture.

The plot rolls along at a quick pace with wonderful glossy production values and I never found myself tuning out or wondering when the film would end. The drama heightens minute by minute turning into a whodunit while the film wisely never disqualifies the question of whether Kit could be staging the shenanigans herself.

Did she fall into a bus or was she pushed? Why did she hire someone to call her? Is the menacing voice disguised? The questions become more frequent as the film progresses which is what good thrillers should do. I was able to figure out only half of the big reveal, but the other half caught me off guard so that the finale was climactic and satisfying.

The film belongs to Day, but the additions of Harrison and the legendary Myrna Loy add class and flavor to a film that could have been dismissed as only cliched in lesser hands. Harrison is effective as the concerned but stoic husband and the audience is made to wonder if Tony has something to do with Kit’s stalking or if he is a caring man. Does the subplot of a discovered embezzler in Tony’s company have anything to do with it? If so, how are the stories connected?

Handsome John Gavin, a Rock Hudson type who was made famous for Psycho (1960) is a handsome addition as contractor Brian, the man showing up at the right time to save Kit making him a prime suspect. Loy plays Kit’s Aunt Bea, who comes to town for a visit; the part is nothing special but it’s lovely to see the actress in whatever role she tackles. Finally, Malcolm Stanley (Roddy McDowell) adds drama as a money-hungry man and son of Kit’s maid. Characters are added to the story as potential suspects.

The viewer is treated to their share of exterior shots of London which provides the film with enough British flavor to almost forget that Day is American. With the additions of Scotland Yard and an Inspector, the British culture is firmly placed, adding a wonderful British element. Tony and Kit are rich, so their lavish home and exclusive neighborhood are finely placed on display.

The title of the film, represented during a cute scene when Kit seductively holds up a sexy outfit she has purchased for Tony, seems straight out of the 1980’s slick television movie thriller genre and primed for the Lifetime television network. This is not a criticism because the title works well and holds tantalizing darkness.

Midnight Lace (1960) is a nearly forgotten piece of film that is a fine watch and a nice tribute to the talents of Doris Day, who makes the film her own and is the main reason to watch. Though she does not sing or play the girl next door, she does turn in an above-average performance, showing her range as an actress. The rest of the film’s trimmings, especially the locale and the supporting actors are additions beneficial to the viewing pleasure the film possesses.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design, Color

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger-1960

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger-1960

Director-Cyril Frankel

Starring-Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford

Scott’s Review #900

Reviewed May 17, 2019

Grade: A

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (modified to Never Take Candy from a Stranger in the US for marketing purposes) is a 1960 British film, directed by Cyril Frankel and released by Hammer Film Productions. The film contains brilliant cinematography, a cerebral quality, and is quite daring for the time made. It combines a story of pedophilia with manipulations of the legal system allowing those to get away with this most heinous crime because of their status. Despite the production company name and marketed as horror the film is more left of center than the traditional genre film.

The locale is a small, sleepy lakefront Canadian town, seemingly like an everyday US town. The Carter family (Peter, Sally, and 9-year-old daughter Jean) have just moved to allow Peter a fantastic job opportunity as the school principal. Jean confides to her parents that while playing in the woods, she and her friend, Lucille, went into the house of an elderly man who asked them to remove their clothes and dance naked for him in return for some candy, which they did.  Peter and Sally are appalled and decide to file a complaint. The elderly man is one of the wealthiest and most influential in the town, the respected Clarence Olderberry, Sr.

Surprisingly, Jean’s experience is downplayed, and the Carter family largely shunned by the town. As a trial against Olderberry commences, Jean is ridiculed on the stand and her story ripped to shreds by attorneys. After Olderberry is acquitted he pursues Jean and Lucille in the woods eventually catching the girls during a harrowing lakefront chase and murders Lucille. Jean escapes and the truth is revealed to the shocked and devastated town.

The cast of Never Take Sweets from a Stranger are not household names, but each gives a fine performance. Patrick Allen and Gwen Watford as the parents are well-cast and believable. They are upstanding people but strangers in the town, wanting to protect their daughter without smothering. Felix Aylmer as old-man Olderberry plays the role not as dastardly or menacing but providing glimpses of pain and sympathy. The audience is unclear whether the man suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps not even knowing what he has done.

The black and white cinematography is gorgeous, surreal and tremendously effective. With ghostly tones, the film gets off to a mysterious and prominent start as we see Jean and Lucille casually playing in the woods, startled to glance up at a menacing mansion (perfect for a Hammer production) to see elderly Olderberry leering at them with binoculars. The lakefront sequences and the chase through the woods are among the best at providing superior camera angles.

As it’s Lucille who talks Jean into entering Oldberry’s house we presume she has done this type of thing before. She knows Oldberry will provide the girls with candy, but does she understand this comes at a price? Immediately there is a shred of doubt placed on the children’s innocence- ever so quickly. This decision by the film along with the representation of Oldberry is pivotal to casting even the slightest doubt on the motivations or decisions of the main characters.

Comparisons to the brilliant The Night of the Hunter (1955) must be made. Themes of child abuse, young children in front and center roles, a creepy lake with a prominent boat, and macabre adults are prevalent, at least to some degree, in both films. Additionally, both films were shunned at the time of release, misunderstood, and later rediscovered, subsequently seen as treasures of brilliant film making.  Measuring both films as tragedies is also obvious; each results in pain and sadness for the children involved.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) is a film released decades ahead of its time that has taken years for its brilliance to be recognized and appreciated, adding nuances that are admirable and thought-provoking to the viewer. The subtle qualities make this film in a world of its own.

Sadly, the very best of films are often overlooked, marinating the flavorful juices rather than a sudden bombastic reaction. In 1960 the world was not ready for this film but is now poised to be remembered as a brave, disturbing, and relevant film offering.

Village of the Damned-1960

Village of the Damned-1960

Director-Wolf Rilla

Starring-George Sanders, Barbara Shelley

Scott’s Review #701

Reviewed November 30, 2017

Grade: B

Village of the Damned is a 1960 black and white horror film, released during a spectacular year for the film genre- and specifically for the horror genre. With legendary films such as Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s British Peeping Tom making their debuts at the same time, what a coincidence that Village of the Damned (also British) shares the same year. The film is a satisfying treat- certainly not on par with the aforementioned duo of masterpieces, but on its own terms is a fine film, with just enough suspense and intrigue to make it a memorable affair.

Anything in movie horror involving children is downright creepy, so German director Wolf Rilla is wise to adopt a film based on a 1957 novel entitled The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham. The title is one that I simply adore and wish Rilla had kept for the film. Alas, he did not, but the story is well written and almost like a long episode of The Twilight Zone or a similar television chapter from the 1960s.- it just seems like more of an episodic experience. No disrespect, of course, but the film simply does not contain the bombast expected from a feature film, but rather a compartmentalized, small tale.

In the sleepy little town of Midwich, England, a polarizing force suddenly, and without warning, overtakes the town, causing all of the inhabitants to fall unconscious and into a state of inactivity. Attempts by the military to enter the town fail, even as an airplane crashes to the ground after attempting to cross into Midwich. As quickly as these events occur, the townspeople “wake up” and resume normalcy. When two months later all women of childbearing years suddenly become pregnant, gossip and intrigue ensue. As the years go by all of the children look similar, with platinum blonde hair, piercing eyes, and rapid growth spurts. Furthermore, they all are telepathic and communicate with each other in this manner.

The central characters include a prominent professor, Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders), and his wife Anthea (Barbara Shelley), are the parents of one of the children, named David, who appears to be the leader of the other children. As the children become increasingly menacing and intelligent as they grow older, sometimes hurting or killing other townspeople by somehow “possessing” their thoughts, Gordon must race to find a way to trap and stop the children from more dastardly deeds.

The use of black and white cinematography and the small-town setting successfully give Village of the Damned an eerie and mysterious vibe, yet it is little or no bloodshed nor the traditional horror-themed elements- hence the above Twilight Zone reference. The film does not need these to succeed as the psychological mystique is effective enough. We wonder to ourselves, “What is wrong with these kids?” and “Why do they act so strangely?” “Are they possessed?” and  “Is this some kind of weird experiment?” The answers are never really explained in detail.

Slight negatives to the film are the only limited character development among any of the prominent characters such as Gordon or Anthea, and in this way these roles are one-dimensional- the children are the stars of the show. Sanders and Shelley are adequately cast, but I can think of numerous other actors who could have played these parts well or even better.

The conclusion to Village of the Damned is unspectacular and I was left with an unsatisfied feeling, especially as related to other more satisfying aspects of the film as a whole. I felt like a bit of potential was not reached.  Gordon merely orchestrates a big event, thereby sacrificing himself to destroy the children, and the film ends.

Village of the Damned was followed by a 1963 sequel entitled, Children of the Damned, which was not deemed a critical nor a commercial success. Years later, in 1995, the film was remade and directed by John Carpenter and was also met with poor reviews.

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Bernadette Lafont

Scott’s Review #303

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Reviewed December 19, 2015

Grade: A

Les Bonnes Femmes is a French film by Claude Chabrol, a wonderful director that before watching this film, I was shamefully unfamiliar with, save for the recently viewed Les Biches, made in 1968. He has been labeled the French equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock and, by all accounts, that is an accurate statement. In the case of Les Bonnes Femmes, it is a brilliant film that came about during the experimental New Wave films of the 1960s and simply cannot be forgotten upon viewing it. It has resonated with me on a profound level and I cannot stop thinking of it and analyzing it.

The film centers on four shopgirls, living in Paris, all of whom happen to be young and beautiful and mysteriously look similar to one other.  Their names are Jane, Jacqueline, Ginette, and Rita. They are rather bored with their lives and meander aimlessly through life and the doldrums of their job by looking forward to social occasions, which mainly include men.  The girl’s party (some more than others), date, go to the zoo, swim, and enjoy typical young lady festivities.

So far the film might sound like a typical, lighthearted, nice story- think a French Sex and the City. It is, by and large, this way on the surface, but throughout the film, there is a calm sense of dread- like something bad might be lurking in the shadows of coming around the bend. As the girls are at the zoo one day, a mysterious individual begins following them, though the viewer has no idea why or who it is.

In fact, the film contains more than a sense of dread now that I ponder this point. Rather, a sense of chilling violence is in the air. A brooding, cold, ugly feeling transpires and it is due to superior direction and the overall mood. Paris, one of the world’s most gorgeous cities, looks bleak, dark, and gloomy throughout the film. The black and white cinematography undoubtedly adds to this as greyness envelopes every shot.

Throughout  Les Bonnes Femmes there is plenty of foreshadowing as situations arise that give a sense of danger or something bad is imminent.  Early in the film, two of the girls are walking along the street when they are approached by two men in a car wanting to party with them. They accept and the viewer wonders what a bad decision they may have made. The men wine and dine the women, who are looking for love.

One of the girls is quite a bit more reserved than the other, who ends up spending the night with the men. Later, the owner of the shop tells a story of how she once acquired a serial killer’s bloody handkerchief after he was guillotined and has kept it for years. Creepy? Yes.  The tigers snarling at the girls when they visit the zoo is laced with symbolism as is a, at first, fun game at the pool, as the men dunk the girl’s heads underwater until things escalate towards danger.

Jacqueline, the sweetest of the girls, meets a motorcycle man and they begin to spend time together. They are happy. The irony of this is that during these later scenes, in which an act of brutality occurs (one character is murdered), the tone of the film is suddenly sunny, warm, and bright. A lovely afternoon in the woods turns evil, and quickly.

This was a shocking scene for me to experience as I was caught off guard. In fact, the ending of the film can be discussed in vast detail. During the murder, it almost seems like the victim is welcoming the death. Could this be? Additionally, is one of the shop girls his next intended victim or is a new girl the killer’s next target? In the final shot, we see him dancing with a girl, but it is unclear (at least to me) if it is one of the shopgirls.

Chabrol is clearly not a happily ever after kind of director. His films are known to be stormy with dread looming. But they are also laced with style, sophistication, and a dark appeal. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into more of his works.

The Virgin Spring-1960

The Virgin Spring-1960

Director-Ingmar Bergman

Starring-Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg

Scott’s Review #243

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Reviewed May 15, 2015

Grade: A

The Virgin Spring is a quiet masterpiece by director Ingmar Bergman.

A Swedish language film, it won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1960, surprising for such a dark film.

I have heard about this film for years, but it had alluded me up until this point, and I am finally glad that I viewed it. It is breathtaking and mesmerizing.

A unique film for many reasons, it inspired “revenge” films to follow, specifically The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, which is a horror films, yes, while The Virgin Spring is interestingly an art film.

The film also questions morals and the main character’s religious beliefs and reflections of guilt.

The filming is in black and white and the first point that struck me about the film is its gorgeous cinematography and lighting. The brilliant deep contrast of black and white with the illumination of a character’s face while the background is death black is very brazen and reminiscent of Citizen Kane.

It gives the film a warmth and glows that contrasts perfectly with the bleak subject matter.

The story of The Virgin Spring is a tragedy, yet the filming is so magnificent that it was not until the film concluded and I pondered the actual story that I realized just how horrific it truly is. And that is what Bergman was going for-provoking a thought.

This is not a film to kick back and be entertained while munching a tub of popcorn. It is a film meant to make one think.

An affluent Swedish couple, who owns a farm, lives a peaceful, quiet existence. They are stellar members of their community and church. They are humble, but they can afford to have servants.

They have a beautiful and pampered young daughter named Karin, who is sent to deliver candles to their church one sunny day. Karin is a trusting, virginal, and proper girl. She comes upon a trio of males- two adults and a young boy.

At first, gleefully sharing food with them and enjoying her newfound friends, they soon turn on her and she is viciously raped, robbed, beaten, and murdered.

The look of surprise, pain and horror on Karin’s face is monumental. As this occurs, a pregnant and spiteful servant, Ingeri, watches in horror from a hiding place. A rival of Karin’s, Ingeri wanted misfortune thrust upon Karin, but as she watches in horror, the expressions on her face portray regret.

As the family hopes and prays that they can find the missing Karin, the men and boy show up at the farmhouse in need of food and shelter.

Unbeknownst to the family, they are Karin’s rapists and killers, and once the truth is known, the once sweet parents are out for brutal revenge. The young boy of the trio is guilt-ridden and physically sick from the circumstances.

Is the family’s revenge justified or should they (as good Christians) forgive? This is the moral point of the story.

The conclusion of the film is powerful as the father begs God for forgiveness. He questions his actions. But is he a changed man?

Bergman uniquely and intelligently shoots these scenes with only the father’s back in view as he throws his hands to go. We, the viewer, become one with the father in these moments, which makes for powerful storytelling.

Influential to many subsequent films, The Virgin Spring is a powerful tale, reminiscent of a fairy tale, that makes the viewer think about the ending. Subdued yet horrifying, it is meant to be viewed and analyzed.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

Psycho-1960

Psycho-1960

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins

Top 100 Films-#1     Top 20 Horror Films- #1

Scott’s Review #165

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Reviewed September 6, 2015

Grade: A

Psycho is the film to end all films and not just within the horror genre- at the time of release it transcended the art of film to a new level and has influenced generations of films since, and still holds up incredibly well today. It is certainly one of the greatest Alfred Hitchcock films and one of the greatest films ever made,  in my opinion. Hitchcock took a huge risk and dove from the thriller genre to the horror genre with Psycho.

The story involves a young woman named Marion Crane, superbly played by Janet Leigh. Marion lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and sees her boyfriend (the dashing John Gavin) for frequent afternoon rendezvous at cheap motels when he is in town because they are both struggling financially. She is presented with an opportunity, via her job, to steal $40,000 and flee the state to start a new life with her beau. She seizes the opportunity.

On the run, she stops at a run down Bates motel where she meets owner Norman Bates, hauntingly played by Anthony Perkins. Perkins and Leigh have amazing chemistry together and the audience picks up on it- is it romantic? Is there mysteriousness to it? Something is clearly odd about Norman. They bond over a quiet meal of sandwiches at the motel while discussing life and his ailing mother.

The famous shower scene and the shocking twist after the film are now almost taken for granted since most people know about them already, but I can only imagine the shock when viewers were first treated to these two delights. To this day both are still suspenseful to watch. When I saw this film for the first time I, fortunately, did NOT know the ending and I am glad I didn’t because my breath was taken away.

To kill off the main actor at the start of the film halfway through was a novel idea and mind-blowing at the time of release (1960). This act literally had the audience’s mouths hanging open in disbelief and saying, “what now”? “How can this be followed”? This act would later influence the original Scream film and surprise audiences all over again. Per Hitchcock, no one could enter the film after it had started and viewers were persuaded not to reveal the ending- oh how I wish that occurred these days.

A very important aspect of the success and longevity of Psycho is the chemistry between Perkins and Leigh who got along famously while shooting Psycho, and more importantly, the likability of Norman Bates. There is a rooting value for him even though he is the villain. When Marion’s car is only half-submerged in a lake containing her dead body, we root for the car to completely sink because Norman does and the concerned look on Norman’s face has a sincerity to it that affects the audience. Norman is troubled and wounded and the audience does not know why at this point in the story.

Let’s not forget the likability of Janet Leigh. The audience sympathizes with her predicament. She is hopelessly in love with her man, steals money, is conflicted, and at her core is a nice, decent, kind woman.

Halfway through the film Marion’s sister Lila, played by Vera Miles, is introduced as well as a detective and the film becomes more of a suspense/mystery as they search for Marion and investigate the Bates hotel and Norman Bates himself. Miles then takes center stage as the lead in the film, which is intriguing in itself.

The film then returns to horror at the terrific and terrifying conclusion, which will shock first-time viewers. The musical score (especially the shrill strings) is incredibly effective and was a huge influence on horror films to come (Friday the 13th immediately comes to mind). Psycho is a film that can certainly be enjoyed and studied over and over again.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Alfred Hitchcock, Best Supporting Actress-Janet Leigh, Best Art Direction, Black-and-White, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White

Peeping Tom-1960

Peeping Tom-1960

Director-Michael Powell

Starring-Nigel Davenport

Top 100 Films-#60     Top 20 Horror Films-#16

Scott’s Review #127

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Reviewed July 22, 2014

Grade: A

Peeping Tom is a brilliant horror film from 1960 directed by Michael Powell. It is a British film and was released the same year as Psycho and they sort of resemble each other as both have a more character-driven villain than many other contemporary horror films. Both feature male killers with a sympathetic (to them) female.

Set in London, it tells the story of an assistant cameraman who kills his victims by using a camera with a spike on the end of it as he is videotaping the fear in their eyes, which he later plays back for his own psychological needs. The killer has emotionally damaged himself and the film explores this aspect in depth; his father tormented him as a child with weird, traumatic experiments used on the boy for research. I loved this aspect of the film as in contrast to most films of the genre, where the killer typically has no sympathetic aspects and whose motivations are usually explored minimally. The audience has sympathy for this killer, which, strangely, is absurd and shocking.

Way ahead of its time, viewers were initially turned off by the film at the time of release and director Michael Powell’s (ironically playing the terrible father in videotape scenes) career ruined. Anna Massey (later to appear in the Hitchcock masterpiece Frenzy) plays the sweet-natured, girl next door who develops a crush on the killer. Her blind and boozy mother is a fascinating character as she suspects and strangely bonds with the killer.

The film has an erotic and voyeuristic quality that has been unmatched in horror. Peeping Tom is now considered a masterpiece and I certainly agree with that assessment. It is one of the most interesting and unique horror films ever made.

The Apartment-1960

The Apartment-1960

Director-Billy Wilder

Starring-Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine

Scott’s Review #7

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Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: A-

Another gem by Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, The Lost Weekend), this one is set in 1959 New York City, a setting and time period I just adore. The black and white are highly effective as it portrays loneliness and bleakness of the characters that are all friendless, sad, and starved for love.

It questions social morality and getting ahead in the corporate world, but goes from drama to romantic comedy, but with no sappiness. Quite the contrary, as the film has dark moments of despair and angst.

The film clearly had a direct influence on “Mad Men”. As with most Billy Wilder films, there is a darkness of humanity, which is fascinating to watch.

Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are terrific but knocked down a notch as I didn’t exactly see the chemistry between them, but an excellent film. This won the 1960 Best Picture Oscar.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture (won), Best Director-Billy Wilder (won), Best Actor-Jack Lemmon, Best Actress-Shirley MacLaine, Best Supporting Actor-Jack Kruschen, Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Film Editing (won)