Archive for category The 50’s

The Night Of The Hunter [1955]


In this terrifying tale of Good vs Evil, Robert Mitchum plays a “preacher” who roams the countryside, spreading the gospel, and leaving murdered women in the wake. His knuckles eerily tattooed with “love” and “hate”, he strongly believes that the work of God has more to do with condemning souls than saving them. Now his eyes are set on $10,000, and the only ones who know where the money’s hidden are two little children! “Chill…dren”! the preacher yells for the terrified boy and girl hiding in the cold, scary cellar. If this sounds too dark, then perhaps it is. Afterall, this movie was way ahead of its time in its depiction of a society where a charlatan preacher exists. Keep in mind that the idea of a serial killer disguised as a man of God was out of the question in the 1950’s. But there it was, a fairy tale story of Good vs. Evil, Innocence vs. Corruption as personified by the children against the evil preacher. His pursuit of the children is so frightening and menacing, that it becomes impossible to believe that they can escape. One of the most haunting scenes finds one of Mitchum’s victims lying at the bottom of a river, her throat slit, looking peaceful and troubled at the same time. Film buffs are in for a treat. What’s more, Black in White is used superbly here to create an atmosphere of brooding terror (which definitely worked for the benefit of the picture).

“The Night Of The Hunter” is an extraordinary film noir, and definitely one of the most fascinating American films ever made.

Rating: 3.5/4

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The Ten Commandments [1956]


What can you say in a few words about a four hour movie that depicts the life of Moses, the Egyptian prince who learned of his true heritage as a Hebrew and who became the deliverer of his people? Let’s try “perfection”, which is what director Cecil B. DeMille achieved in this epic film. Apply “magnificient” to the tour de force Charlton Heston delivers as Moses, and who was picked for the role because of his striking resemblance to Michelangelo’s sculpture, in particular his facial expression. But it was not only Heston who made this movie a huge success, but all the elements that came together: the special effects (they look dazzling even after all these years), the costumes, the sets, and best of all the amazing parting of the Red Sea. Today, this would probably be a piece of cake for the effects department, but in pre-CGI days, it was something special (the special effects deservedly won an oscar that year).

A lot of people critisized this movie for being campy, and there a loads of foul-ups, both technical and scriptural (why kill the first born pharaoh?), but the visuals are superb, the acting unforgettable, and the film itself is a treat to watch. And you don’t have to be a religious fanatic in order to enjoy this truly outsdanding movie. It definitely stood the test of time. Thou Shalt not want to miss it.

Rating: 3.5/4

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Abbott And Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde [1953]


While not quite in the same league as “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (possibly the duo’s best movie), “A&C meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (what a long title) is still a fine vehicle for the boys, and shows that they were still in excellent form even after all these years at Universal. Thankfully, the movie offers an added treat by starring legendary horror icon Boris Karloff in the role of Dr. Jekyll (and not Mr. Hyde since it was stuntman Eddie Parker who did every scene as Jekyll’s alter ego). The story takes us to London, where Budd and Lou are inexplicably working for the London police. When they wind up in jail, it’s Dr. Jekyll who bails them out. Little do they know that this “polite” scientist is also Mr. Hyde, the monster who’s been terrorizing the city. Eventually, the boys spend the rest of the movie trying to solve the case in order for them to get back on the force. The comedy of Abbott and Costello this time around relies more on slapstick gags than their trademark routines. No worries, it works perfectly fine. Budd and Lou carry off their roles well, and the romantic subplot here doesn’t seem to intrude as much as in their earlier wartime comedies (“One Night In The Tropics” and “Ride’ Em Cowboy” come to mind). The story flows well and doesn’t waste our time with unecessary details. So basically, this is straighforward stuff, which makes the movie as a comedy a highly effective and successful one. It’s definitely one of their better films of the 50’s. Oh and you gotta love those vintage posters!

Rating: 3/4

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Abbott And Costello Meet The Invisible Man [1951]


So here I am again, drawn into yet another Abbott and Costello movie. After meeting up with Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolfman, the boys finally got to hang out with the Invisible man this time around. All of these films were among their best work-solid entertainment and a nice break from the usual formula. Speaking of which, since this movie was made later in their careers, the original formula (which included songs and dance numbers) was abandoned and the film was pure comedy (clever decision). Lou and Budd play recent detective school graduates who just got their first case, and what a case it turned out to be. It’s Tommy Nelson, a famous boxer wrongly accused of murder. The boys’s job is to help him clear his name before it’s too late. How? by using an invisibilty formula developed by a scientist. The boys make Tommy disappear in order to hide him  from the police while they catch the real killer. What I liked the most about this A&C vehicle is how cleverly the material is handled. The boys are in fine form and they are handed some great gags to work with, both verbal and visual. Many have said that their later films weren’t as good or original as their older ones. I beg to differ. Their encounter with The Invisible Man is certainly no disappointment by any means. It’s funny, clever and a solid entry in the series (36 films in total). But perhaps best of all are the special effects; some might look corny today, but many are very ingenious indeed. Good stuff!

Rating: 3/4

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Sunset Blvd. [1950]


The opening scene in “Sunset Blvd.” became one of the most iconic sequences in cinema history. We meet Joe Gillis, an unemployed screenwriter, in a very unusual way. He’s floating dead in a swimming pool, recounting his doomed personal and professional involvment with megalomaniac silent movie star Norma Desmond (a wonderful Gloria Swanson). Norma lives in an eerie mansion on Sunset Boulevard with a sinister butler who used to be her favored director and, incidentally, her first husband. When we first meet her, she is holding a midnight funeral for her pet monkey. We learn that she hasn’t been in a movie for a long time, and she’s getting ready for an impossible comeback (“I hate that world! This will be a return!”).

“Sunset Blvd.”, from director Billy Wilder, is a bitter and tragic tale that exposes Hollywood at its worst. It’s a very cynical view of Hollywood that still rings true today. How many actors became stars, then got dumped coldly when they were no longer needed? Norma is indeed insane, but it’s Hollywood that made her this way. She runs from melancholy, to unbridled joy, to complete mental breakdown. One cannot help but feel sympathy for her. In the end, Joe pays the price for enduring her madness. As she descends that staircase in the final scene, we can see that she is completely lost in her own world. A world where she is forever young, and where she remains the greatest star of all. Afterall, “Stars never age”.

Rating: 4/4

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Vertigo [1958]


One of the most interesting things about this movie is the fact that it was a flop at the time of its release. Hitchcock instantly blamed James Stewart, saying he was “too old to attract audiences anymore”. The two never worked together again, eventhough Stewart was the original choice for the role of Roger Thornhill in “North By Northwest”. Cary Grant was cast instead, who incendentally was four years older than Stewart! 50 years later, “Vertigo” is now considered as one of the best movies ever made and is often labeled as “Hitchcock’s Masterpiece”. The story, which has been endlessly imitated and reworked, is about a San Franciso cop who quits the force after his fear of heights prevented him from saving the life of a colleague. Working as a private eye, he is hired by an old friend to tail his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) who is apparently obsessed with a look-alike ancestress who drowned in the 19th century. Stewart becomes dangerously obsessed with her, and spends most of the first half of the film tracking her every move. The second half takes a much more serious tone, but to reveal more about the story would be unthinkable! In all, “Vertigo” is a wonderful, disturbing, and romantic film, with an unforgettable score by Bernard Hermann. It’s easy to see that it was very risky for its time (afterall it wasn’t a succes back then), but it’s a movie that has aged perfectly well, and because of that, it’s considered by many as one of the master’s greatest work.

Rating: 4/4

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12 Angry Men [1957]


Completely absorbing movie starring Henry Fonda as a juror who is convinced that a boy who is accused of murdering his father is completely innocent. But how will he  convince the rest of the jury, when they have no doubt in mind  that the defendant is guilty of all charges? Rarely a movie manages to keep you interested right through the closing credits, but “12 Angry Men” does exactly that; it’s a tense and powerful film (Sydnet Lumet’s directorial debut) with an unforgettable cast.  Lumet is an expert in filmmaking, but this is by far his greatest contibution to the movie business. He managed to create a masterpiece (that’s right!) and I strongly believe that it will easily stand the test of time (afterall its been 53 years since its release and it’s still a fascinating movie to watch). Some consider it as one of the all time greats; I couldn’t agree more.

Fun fact: Ranked #2 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Courtroom Drama”.

 

Rating: 4/4

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