Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Year Was 1961

A bit less than a year after completing 1960, I managed to move ahead in a decade that is successfully showing signs of advancement from 1950s-style filmmaking in terms of frank storytelling and committed acting. This is made clear by the offerings of international cinema that continue to match the artistry and impact of American films. There are several examples throughout the year of great directors using their talents to tell unique stories with actors perfectly displaying rich, emotional depth. Impressive moviemaking was clearly at work in many films from 1961.

There are some films from 1961 that can be labeled as epic, such as Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Grandiose and grotesque, La Dolce Vita is a hypnotic journey through the rough edges and false riches of Rome. Fellini creates a startlingly unique world and Marcello Mastroianni is a perfect protagonist for the dream-like exploration of fame and sophisticated excess. Images, such as Anita Ekberg's luscious walk through the Trevi Fountain or a statue of Jesus flying over sunbathing Italians, became imprinted in the minds of American audiences.

I was fortunate enough to catch La Dolce Vita at Film Forum in New York City for its 50th anniversary revival. I can't imagine how audiences must have reacted, though I suspect, whether good or bad, it was emphatic. The film itself could easily have just as many detractors as supporters. Up until the time of its release, audiences had never seen Fellini so debaucherous.

Similarly epic and iconic is the colorful musical West Side Story, brought to life by the seamless collaboration of filmmaker Robert Wise and choreographer Jerome Robbins. The fusion of color, widescreen, and sound, not to mention the talents of Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris, all create unforgettable entertainment. The songs by Stephen Sondheim are timeless and may be the film's most effective ingredient for today's audiences.

Epic on a different scale is Stanley Kramer's emotional, cathartic Judgment at Nuremberg. So many performances of such talent and nuance do not often lie in one feature film. Abby Mann's screenplay offers words as truthfully written as they are spoken by actors like Spencer Tracy and Burt Lancaster (and nearly a half dozen others) adding up to one grand piece of stirring cinema.

My vote for best is the nail-biting action-adventure The Guns of Navarone. Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn each command the screen in their own superstar ways, leading an ensemble action epic. Excitement and tension are built into the plot of an expert team plotting to destroy German warguns.  In many ways, it's the interaction between the characters that is most thrilling of all.

1961 assured moviegoers that American films have no trouble taking on challenging, adult subjects. Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Hustler are fine examples of great films with intense performances and entertaining stories. Audrey Hepburn and Paul Newman each convey characters in their respective films that possess deeply complicated emotions expressed through thoughtful, tender lines from insightful scripts. Each film benefits from a memorable music score and expert cinematography and editing. 

American audiences who saw La Dolce Vita may or may not have been tempted to check out films like Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, Vittorio de Sica's Two Women, or Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte. Actors like Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, Toshiro Mifune, and, particularly, Sophia Loren easily became influential to American audiences as superstars in their own right. The cinema from around the world is often the inspiration for many of the film techniques used in the United States, but in films like Yojimbo, you can also see how American culture influences foreign directors as well.

Check out my list of films, including ratings and a top 10 at my other site Adventures Through Movies - http://cinemadventurer.blogspot.com/2010/10/1961.html

So now we head to 1962. Looking over my list, I see some immediate classic titles that I'm looking forward to seeing again (Lawrence of Arabia) or for the first time (Jules and Jim). Might take a few months to a year, but you can expect a full report.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Hustler (1961)

Notes: 8/11/11
Directed by Robert Rossen.
Jazzy music by Kenyon Hopkins.
Paul Newman is convincing, particularly in the picnic scene with Piper Laurie.
You're not a loser, Eddie. You're a winner. Best scene.
Piper Laurie and George C. Scott are a potent pair. She calls him “Bastard!”
Jackie Gleason is all body language.
Characters are very real and portayed realistically.

Review: A-
Hotshot pool player 'Fast Eddie' Felson (an arrogantly charming Paul Newman) is an ambitious punk who thinks he can hustle a win over renowned champion Minnesota Fats (a larger-than-life Jackie Gleason). Eddie eventually hits rock bottom until he meets Sarah (a tough, bruised Piper Laurie), who could be his soul mate, and Bert Gordon (startling work by George C. Scott), who could be his biggest gamble. Honest performances and a sharp screenplay evoke a highly realistic story of ambition.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)

Notes: 8/9/11
Star-studded cast directed by Stanley Kramer.
Literate and powerful screenplay by Abby Mann.
Ernest Laszlo has a very active camera. Lots of rapid zooms.
Great German music during overture and credits.
Powerhouse performances all around.
Actual footage from concentration camps is devastating.
Never feels stage-bound. Constant excitement.

Review: A
Powerhouse account of Nazi war crime trials in Nuremberg featuring staggering performances by a star-studded cast. Stanley Kramer expertly directs an exciting and literate script by Abby Mann and is aided by Ernest Laszlo's constantly active camerawork. Spencer Tracy is an American judge chosen to preside over the case of four German judges accused of aiding the Nazi party. Maximilian Schell is ferocious as the defense attorney representing defendant Burt Lancaster's repentant judge. Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift offer brief, emotionally-charged performances as victims of Nazi atrocities. Clocking in at just over three hours, this is a constantly entertaining and stirring film experience that is not to be missed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Mark (1961)

Notes: 8/7/11
Guy Green directs a terrific international cast.
Stuart Whitman is a perfect everyman.
Rod Steiger with an Irish accent.
Maria Schell is icy and attractive.
Brenda de Banzie is his landlady. Marvelous.
Serious story told very well. Great drama.
Whitman is just fine in Oscar nominated role.
Fine performances and very dramatic and honest.
Great mix of British and American filmmaking.

Review: B
Fine performances throughout this film including Stuart Whitman as a man attempting to build a normal life after serving time for kidnapping a young girl. Rod Steiger is memorable as Whitman's patient therapist and Maria Schell is heartbreaking as the woman who loves Whitman while avoiding the truth of his past. Guy Green fuses British and American sensibilities to create an honest and dramatic telling of a complicated man searching for a new life.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

Notes: 8/6/11
Marlon Brando directs!
Brando is slimy and still manages to be fairly hot.
Brando and Karl Malden. Two powerhouse actors.
Ben Johnson had striking eyes.
Katy Jurado has a classy presence. Gorgeous.
Slim Pickens shows up with his twangy voice.
Overlong portrait of men behaving badly.
Strong leading performances.
Top-notch supporting cast.

Review: B-
Overlong portrait of men behaving badly in Mexico. Helped by strong leading performances from Marlon Brando and Karl Malden and a top-notch supporting cast, lead by Ben Johnson and Katy Jurado. Not as great as it should have been. Brando directed this sporadically compelling cat-and-mouse Western.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

Notes: 8/4/11
Vivien Leigh is a classy, talented actress.
Scheming Lotte Lenya is very good.
Warren Beatty's accent is just no good. But he's adorable.
Interesting narration to move the exposition along.
Who is this guy stalking Mrs. Stone?!
Jill St. John is a cute American actress.
Lenya is so devious in her role.
Leigh is OK but offers mostly the same stare.

Review: B-
Unusual soaper involves Vivien Leigh as a widowed actress who escapes to Rome finding loneliness to be a harsh lifestyle. As Leigh's friend, the marvelous Lotte Lenya introduces her to handsome gigolo Warren Beatty. Leigh and Beatty are fine, despite having little chemistry, while it's Lenya who delivers the sparks. Great Rome locations and a fine cast. Well made, but a little bit underwhelming.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Viridiana (1961)

Notes: 7/28/11
Fun music during opening.
Luis Bunuel directs Silvia Pinal and Fernando Rey.
Learning to milk the cow. Sexual in a non-sexy way.
Strange erotic relationship between uncle and niece.
The Last Supper scene is memorable. Hallelujah.
A bit slow-moving. Fails to get to a clear point.
Themes are clearly religious and sexual.
Great cinematography and images.
Not very surreal considering Bunuel's reputation.

Review: B-
The imagery of Luis Bunuel is impressively on display in an arguably slow-moving tale. Silvia Pinal plays Viridiana, an attractive young woman about to take her vows as a nun. After being forced to visit her bizarre uncle, played by Fernando Rey, Viridiana becomes involved in a series of strange encounters and corrupt behavior. Bunuel is more subtle here than expected, save for one marvelous set piece involving the Last Supper. This Spanish surrealism might take multiple viewings to sink in.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

One, Two, Three (1961)

Notes: 7/23/11
James Cagney is perfect. Full of energy.
Arlene Francis has some genuinely funny lines.
Cagney and his secretary are very funny
Love the German language peppered about.
Great location shots. Brandenberg Gate.
Pamela Tiffin is hysterical.
Horst Buchholz is fun. Speaks German!
Rapid fire line delivery.
Marvelous 'Sabre Dance' music.
Very clever final scene. Less than four Cokes.

Review: B+
Rapid fire Billy Wilder script is performed with equal pomp by an excellent cast. James Cagney is perfection as Coca Cola's man in Germany. When faced with a hairy challenge concerning his boss's daughter and her new Communist boyfriend, Cagney must do everything he can to clean up the mess. Fun use of the the 'Sabre Dance' music throughout keep the energy high. Hilarious perfomances from Pamela Tiffin as the boss's clueless daughter, and Arlene Francis as Cagney's dry, patient wife. Certainly a lot of fun, particularly for Cold War enthusiasts.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

West Side Story (1961)

Notes: 7/21/11
Buoyant energy. Eye-popping choreography by Jerome Robbins.
George Chakiris, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn – all powerhouse.
The dance: Tony and Maria across the room. Others blurred out.
Outstanding collaboration between directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.
George gets the best outfits. Love the reds and purples.
Terrific end credits with graffiti and street signs.
Review: A
Buoyantly entertaining musical updates the Romeo and Juliet story to 1950s New York City. Opposing street gangs threaten to rumble when Tony (Richard Beymer), a former Jet, falls in love with Maria (Natalie Wood), whose brother is leader of the Sharks. Unforgettable songs and eye-popping choreography make this a classic film. Wood and Beymer are fine, but the best performances come from Russ Tamblyn as Riff, George Chakiris as Bernardo, and, especially. Rita Moreno as Anita. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins share directing duties, blending filmmaking artistry with tremendous dance numbers.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Woman is a Woman (1961)

Notes: 7/16/11
Music cues scattered about to set the mood.
Lots of breaking the fourth wall.
Cool to see the streets of France in 1961.
Anna Karina is quite alluring.
Jean-Paul Belmondo is so cool.
Silly bits are rather charming.
Jean-Luc Godard clearly loves to experiment.
Lots of 180 degree camera pans.
Je suis une femme. Wink.

Review: B
Charming, experiemental little romantic comedy from Jean-Luc Godard. The alluring Anna Karina wants a baby, but her boyfriend Jean-Claude Brialy won't hear it. Karina then decides to ask Brialy's best friend Jean-Paul Belmondo. Godard plays with music and camerawork in a most playful way creating a frothy film that showcases Karina as a French beauty for the ages.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Return to Peyton Place (1961)

Notes: 7/11/11
Directed by Jose Ferrer. Not entirely sure why.
Carol Lynley is Allison trying to get her book published in NYC.
Tuesday Weld is almost as bright and pretty as Sandra Dee.
Everything in this movie seems a bit dull.
Mary Astor is the only part of the movie that stands out.
I sort of wish Lynley and Weld had switched roles.
Weld is so magnetic and not used effectively.

Review: C-
Dull follow-up to Peyton Place lacks anything truly scandalous or daring. The cast is easily overshadowed by Mary Astor as a local ghoul who causes trouble for everyone in town. Eleanor Parker does a fair job of filling in for Lana Turner, but her part is seriously underwritten. Carol Lynley is a bit of a bore, while Tuesday Weld is a rather pretty alternative. Fluffy and boring and lacks everything that made the first film so dramatic and fun.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Two Women (1961)

Notes: 7/6/11
Sophia Loren as Cesira. Shopkeeper, mother, lover.
Nice, involving, romantic film set in war-time.
Jean-Paul Belmondo has a great character introduction at the dinner table.
Immediate sparks with Belmondo and Sophia.
Sudden, almost unexpected switch to war tragedy.
Sophia is commanding and heartbreaking.
Mother-daughter version of Bicycle Thieves. A bit more brutally tragic.

Review: B+
Shattering account of a mother and her young daughter attempting to flee from the violence erupting in Italy during World War II. As Cesira, Sophia Loren erupts with fiery moments of realism that maintain her unmatched beauty. Vittorio de Sica carefully directs a harsh depiction of the savagery of war from a civilian perspective. Jean-Paul Belmondo lends a strong performance as a scholarly activist that befriends Cesira and her daughter.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Misfits (1961)

Notes: 7/3/11
Opening credits. Puzzle pieces not fitting.
Marilyn. Oh, Marilyn. Such a huge presence.
Clark Gable is a masculine hero.
Screenplay is full of good bits. Lots of thoughtful dialogue.
Montgomery Clift!! Rugged and handsome.
Exciting lasso scene. Murder of the horses.
Quiet performances. Nothing flashy or over the top.  
Poignant final scene. Stars will take us right home.

Review: B
A divorcee (Marilyn Monroe) and an ex-cowboy (Clark Gable), both struggling with the unfairness of life, meet in Reno and find comfort in each other's company. Together they are joined by a rodeo rider (Montgomery Clift) who has inner conflicts of his own. Gable, Monroe, and Clift each deliver strong, complicated performances that carry the film through some unfocused bits of an otherwise thoughtful and pointed screenplay by Arthur Miller. John Huston directs Gable and Monroe in what became the final film for each legendary actor. Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter lend expert support and comic relief to this somber and delicate film, helped quite well by the great score by Alex North. Notable for the impeccable talent involved, but lacks a stronger level of emotional impact.

The Last Sunset (1961)

Notes: 7/3/11
Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson seriously at odds with each other.
Dorothy Malone had pretty eyes.
Joseph Cotten is always a welcome presence.
Robert Aldrich directs.
Jack Elam! Neville Brand! True tough guys.
Carol Lynley looks very young.
Stars didn't seem to have much to do but bicker.
Douglas is such a party boy. He sings!

Review: C+
Curious Western drama finds a starry cast dueling it out near the Mexican border. Kirk Douglas is an outlaw running just ahead of sheriff Rock Hudson. Dorothy Malone is Douglas' former lover, now the wife of Joseph Cotten and mother of Carol Lynley. Romance ensues and tension builds as Hudson closes in on Douglas. Robert Aldrich assembles a perfect supporting cast (Jack Elam! Neville Brand!) but puts little concern into the storytelling. Scenes drag along and the cast doesn't possess the energy one should expect from such reliable performers. Interesting story could have been told with a bit more enthusiasm.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Notes: 6/24/11
Four character chamber play. Fascinating character interactions.
Daughter suffered an illness and was hospitalized.
Ingmar Bergman's quiet moments are on display.
Harriet Andersson plays the mentally ill daughter.
Sven Nykvist does the cinematography – great lighting.
A bit uninvolving, unfortunately.
Not the most entertaining but still thought-provoking.

Review: B-
Quiet, experimental chamber piece from Swedish visionary Ingmar Bergman. Sven Nykvist photographs the film beautifully, capturing the contrasts in indoor and outdoor scenes. Harriet Andersson, a favorite of Bergman's, portrays Karin, a young girl falling deeper into mental illness while vacationing with her husband, father, and brother. The cast does well with their characters and Bergman's screenplay doesn't overdo it with the religious overtones. Despite Bergman's skills, this ranks as one of his least involving efforts.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Children's Hour (1961)

Notes: 6/16/11
Two women are accused of 'unnatural behavior'.
The situation that the three leads are in is tragic and frustrating.
Fay Bainter has a few good scenes. Makes it clear she's the HBIC.
Karen Balkin has a bullying physical presence, but is an embarrassing actress.
Miriam Hopkins is memorable as MacLaine's aunt.
Wyler gets some solid performances and doesn't let things get too maudlin.

Review: B
Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine are close friends who run a school for young girls. When one of the girls decides to spread a false rumor about them, a frustrating and tragic series of events unfolds. Effective performances and a controversial subject are well-handled by director William Wyler. Audrey and Shirley are ideally matched in the lead roles, while Bainter and Hopkins are most entertaining in support.

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

Notes: 6/16/11
Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands – all excellent.
Daniel Petrie directs while Lorraine Hansberry adapted her own play.
Louis Gossett Jr. and his 'faggotty white shoes'.
John Fiedler says 'you people' a lot.
Great set design. Subtle music.
Claudia McNeil does great work as the family matriarch.
Great glimpse of African American life.

Review: B
Sidney Poitier stars as Walter Lee Younger in this film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's play about a black family getting by in their tiny Chicago apartment. The ensemble cast is quite talented with Poitier portraying the right levels of maturity and immaturity in Walter. Claudia McNeil is the standout as Walter's mother, while Ruby Dee and Diana Sands as Poitier's wife and sister, respectively, each deliver sparks. No signs of static or stagy elements keep the play's impact intact.

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Notes: 6/16/11
Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty. Both young and beautiful.
Elia Kazan directs a William Inge script.
The music and cinematography are perfect for the time and place.
Bath tub scene! Fabulous. Electric. Natalie Wood is terrific.
Thoughtful, adult, well-written, and well-directed.
Kazan's direction, particularly in scenes with the parents, is vivid and superb.

Review: B+
The hopes of youth and the sacrifices of adulthood are bittersweetly conveyed by director Elia Kazan in this thoughtful film. Warren Beatty is Bud, a handsome upper class high school football star who is loved unconditionally by Natalie Wood's Deanie in simple 1920s Kansas town. Bud's oppressive father has greater things in mind, and Deanie's love for Bud turns unrequited. Beatty shows an early confidence in a complicated role, while Wood is marvelous as a young girl struggling through emotions far beyond her experience. Fine screenplay by William Inge, brought to life by a strong cast and expert direction.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lover Come Back (1961)

Notes: 6/9/11
Ann B. Davis plays Doris Day's secretary.
'Just a touch' of more bourbon. Jack Oakie as Southern Mr. Miller.
Edie Adams has a a lot of fun as a wannabe actress.
The hats are ridiculous. At the beach Doris wears what looks like a party hat.
Great chemistry between Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
Tony Randall is very funny in support. Drunk on Vip.
If only everyone was as cute as Doris and Rock.

Review: B
Rock Hudson-Doris Day sex comedy sparkles with fun dialogue and cute 60s set pieces. Rock and Doris are advertising agents competing for a product that doesn't actually exist. Colorful and energetic with a fine supporting cast, including Tony Randall in a very funny performance. Best parts are the hilarious ways the screenplay touches upon taboo subjects like homosexuality and drug use.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

La Dolce Vita (1961)

Notes: 6/8/11
Grotesque fun house of people.
Fellini offers little innocence in his vision of Rome.
One of those movies that you can't take your eyes off of.
Hypnotic and slightly nauseating visuals and characters.
Marcello Mastroianni is perfect.
Anita Ekberg is the best part of the film as Sylvia.
Anouk Aimee is beautiful as Maddalena..
Paparazzi. Like swarming vultures.

Review: A-
Decadently grotesque film from Italian maestro Federico Fellini offers us a hynotic and slightly nauseating view of Rome through the eyes of Marcelo, a journalist played by the magnetic Marcello Mastroianni. Fellini paints Rome in a lurid, passionate light, peppering it with strangely ponderous characters searching for fulfillment. Mastroianni's episodic encounters take him from a helicopter carrying a statue of Christ, to the Trevi Fountain with a buxom, brilliant Anita Ekberg, to a beach house of depravity, to who knows where else. Marcelo appears to be looking for a sense of purpose; perhaps something sweet as the title suggests. Unforgettable images, philosophical dialogue, and the dizzying style of Fellini make this a film to admire.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

Notes: 6/7/11
William Castle introduces this chiller. References Homicidal, his other 1961 film.
Oscar Homolka (with stitched-up eye) plays Krull.
Creepy black-and-white photography.
Castle is lit like a grinning skull.
Baron Sardonicus. He wears a mask?! What's up with his face?
Punishment Poll. Audience can decide the fate of Sardonicus.
Has Mr. Sardonicus been punished enough?

Review: B-
Creepy black-and-white chiller from William Castle owes many elements to 1930s horror films. An English doctor is called to the home of Baron Sardonicus, an unusual masked gentleman, for an equally unusual favor. Castle's brand of audience interaction is clever this time around asking audiences to vote in a Punishment Poll to decide a character's fate. Oscar Homolka provides a memorable character role as Krull, the manservant to Sardonicus. Overall, the film is relatively on par with Castle's previous efforts, offering enough shocks to keep an audience amused.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer and Smoke (1961)

Notes: 6/2/11
Based on a Tennessee Williams play.
Eternity. It goes on and on.
Lots of Southern flavor. “I do declare!”
Geraldine Page plays Alma. Alma means 'soul'.
Laurence Harvey is the epitome of Southern hotness.
Una Merkel plays Alma's mother. It appears she is a nutjob.
Typically tragic, ironic, yearning Tennessee Williams drama.
Geraldine Page wears all of her emotion on her face.

Review: B
Well-acted Tennessee Williams drama focuses on Alma who is on the verge of a spinster's life while caring for her disturbed mother. Alma is in love with a young doctor who prefers a life of decadence to Alma's simpler ways. Geraldine Page wears every emotion on her face for her portrayal of Alma. Supporting cast is quite good, especially Una Merkel who makes her mother character sympathetic and believable in a handful of scenes. Not the most fascinating of all Williams adaptations but still entertaining.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Goodbye Again (1961)

Notes: 6/1/11
Ingrid Bergman is beautiful. Characters keep asking her when she was born. She looks quite lovely.
Yves Montand are Anthony Perkins are competing for her.
Directed by Anatole Litvak.
Cougar alert! Bergman and Perkins spark a romance.
Only Bergman could play this role successfully.
Diahann Carroll shows up as a songtress. Sings title song.
Ending in front of the mirror. Perfect Bergman.

Review: B-
Ingrid Bergman plays Paula, still attractive in her forties, who pines for classy, handsome Yves Montand, a ladies man with commitment issues. To complicate matters, suave young lawyer Anthony Perkins meets and falls in love with Bergman, who insists she is too old for him. Soap opera story is elevated by talented actors and the stunning beauty of Ingrid, who is marvelous.

The Deadly Companions (1961)

Notes: 6/1/11
Much different roles for Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara after The Parent Trap.
Steve Cochran, Chill Wills, and Strother Martin have supporting roles.
First feature of director Sam Peckinpah.
O'Hara is a bit miscast. She's a bit old and doesn't deliver believable emotion.
A bit too much happening when the central story is the most interesting.

Review: C
Keith accidentally kills O'Hara's young son in a shoot-out and makes amends by escorting her through Indian territory to give the boy a proper burial. Dramatic Western veers away from the main plot a bit too much and misses an opporunity for true dramatic fireworks between the two leads. While Keith possesses just enough grit for his role, O'Hara is miscast and lacks the proper range for her complicated character. First feature by director Sam Peckinpah is OK and nothing more.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Hoodlum Priest (1961)

Notes: 5/31/11
Irvin Kirshner directs. One of his first features.
Not much else of interest in this plodding crime drama.
Don Murray is charismatic and also wrote the screenplay.
Overblown, unfocused, and not entirely involving.
Kirshner delivers with directorial touches. Realism is achieved.
Downbeat conclusion is the film's highlight.
Keir Dullea is the whole show. So much sweat and fear.

Review: C
Don Murray co-wrote and stars in this slightly overblown tale of a city priest who ends up devoting his life to reforming young delinquents. Young Keir Dullea steals the film as a sensitive young 'hood' who is helped along by Murray's guidance. Irvin Kirshner directs with fine realism and a few gritty flourishes. Dullea manages to make the film's downbeat conclusion a must-see. Unfortunately, as entertainment, the film lacks focus and plods along aimlessly.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Devil at 4 O'Clock

Notes: 5/30/11
Spencer Tracy is a priest and Frank Sinatra is a convict
Lots of serious issues and not enough humor.
Spencer just seems angry all the time.
Sinatra is too serious and doesn't get to flex his charm.
“I just felt the devil pass under my feet.”
Kerwin Matthews is a young priest. Sort of boring.
Turns into a volcano disaster film.
Still proves to be a bit dull.
Lots of religious talk. Tracy is, of course, a priest.

Review: C
Heavy religious themes and not enough humor make this film rather dull. Spencer Tracy is an aging priest who employs convict Frank Sinatra to rescue children from a leper colony when a volcano violently erupts. Too serious and self-important to capture viewer's attention and the stars are not given a proper showcase for their talents.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Second Time Around (1961)

Notes: 5/18/11
Silly Western romance.
Debbie Reynolds is full of energy.
Thelma Ritter is fun in support.
Andy Griffith and Steve Forrest are dueling lovers of Debbie.
Everything works out fine in the end. Well made.
Director Vincent Sherman moved the action along swiftly.

Review: C
Debbie Reynolds exudes energy in this silly Western romance. Debbie is chased by two suitors while raising children from a previous marriage. Andy Griffith and Steve Forrest are the dueling lovers. Vincent Sherman moves the action along quickly as director and showcases the great Thelma Ritter as (who else?) Debbie's sly no-nonsense friend. Pretty well-made but pretty forgettable just the same.

Master of the World (1961)

Notes: 5/18/11
A bit campy, perhaps because of the cast.
Vincent Price as a nutjob. Of course.
Charles Bronson strangely cast.

Review: C
Vincent Price does what he does best, this time as a mad genius (aka nutjob) bent on using weapons to create world peace. Jules Verne story is a bit campy, but also colorful and fun. Charles Bronson seems a bit out of place in the hero role.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Something Wild (1961)

Notes: 5/17/11
Eye-catching Saul Bass credits.
Carroll Baker owns the early scenes of the film. Spare dialogue.
Ralph Meeker shows up and probably doesn't mean to do any harm. He's lonely and bruised too.
Dreary and drab, but offers surreal scenes like the museum dream sequence that stand out.
NYC location scenes do add a little to the enjoyment.

Review: C
Dreary, rather depressing tale of New York girl Carroll Baker who bears emotional damaged following a street assault. Soon after, Baker meets lonely drifter Ralph Meeker and the two unleash their emotions in brutal, often violent, ways. Too dark to really enjoy despite some fairly good performances. Depsite the promising premise, the film offers the viewer few challenges.

The Naked Edge (1961)

Notes: 5/17/11
Flashy opening credits.
Written by Joseph Stefano.
Gary Cooper's last movie.
Nice cinematography.
Lots of quiet toward the end. Only sound is the music on television.
Adds to suspense.
Typically stalwart British cast.
Uninteresting. Nothing really exciting.

Review: C
British suspense film traps Gary Cooper and Deborah Kerr in a rather uninteresting story of Kerr suspecting Cooper of murder. Director Michael Anderson creates a thrilling atmosphere, but can't hide a mundane script. Kerr's fright and suspicion were put to greater use in The Innocents. Cooper's last film is a pretty forgettable entry in his career.

The Outsider (1961)

Notes: 5/17/11
Tony Curtis in Native American make-up
Delbert Mann directs
Sorenson and Hayes holding each other on the battlefield. Touching.
Definitely one of Tony's best performances.
Memorian dedication scene is great.
Kind of a downer ending.

Review: C+
Tony Curtis gives an emotional performance as Ira Hayes, the Native-American soldier who takes part in the flag-raising at Iwo Jima and spirals into alcoholism upon returning from the war. A bit of a downer, but worth seeing for Curtis in an atypical role.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Paris Blues (1961)

Notes: 5/4/11
Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward! Mega-stars.
Louis Armstrong appears in a character role.
Diahann Carroll plays Joanne's friend.
American jazz-lovers enjoying the jazz flavor in Paris.
Romance quickly blossoms between each couple.
Despite the cast, the music by Duke Ellington is the real star.
Terrific direction of the music scenes. Such great music.

Review: B
Americans Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier are struggling blues musicians in 60s Paris who meet vacationing fellow Americans Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll. Sparks fly like jazz beats when the four pair up and fall in love. Moody, authentic, and unglamourous black-and-white depiction of Paris is a great showcase for real-life couple Newman and Woodward. The performances and romance are swell, but its the terrifically directed sequences featuring Louis Armstrong and the scoring of Duke Ellington that make the movie special.

The Ladies Man (1961)

Notes: 5/4/11
Jerry Lewis lunacy. Seriously absurd.
Elaborate opening scene on a busy street.
Kathleen Freeman was an imposing figure.
Lots of girls! Big elaborate sets.
George Raft plays a gangster.
Strange set pieces. Jerry has a slight French style to his direction.
Rather strange and kooky atmosphere.
Lots of howling and chasing and assorted slapstick.

Review: C-
Jerry Lewis lunacy raised to the kookiest level. Lots of elaborate sets filled with girls, chase scenes, and assorted slapstick. Moves quickly despite not having a story or anything to really recommend, aside from the marvelous Kathleen Freeman. A Lewis misfire.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Parrish (1961)

Notes: 5/3/11
Glossy production. Delmer Daves directs. Max Steiner does the score.
Lots of connections to Susan Slade – Donahue, Stevens, Daves, Steiner, et al.
Claudette Colbert! Living legend on screen again.
Diane McBain and Colbert have a bitch-off.
Way too long and a bit too over-dramatic.
Colbert deserves much better and Malden is overheated.
Troy and his young actress co-stars are rather boring.

Review: C-
Yet another glossy soaper from the creative team behind A Summer Place. Unfortunately, this empty melodrama lacks the necessary spark to make a viewer care about any of these characters for over two hours. The presence of legendary Claudette Colbert, as well as seasoned actors Karl Malden and Dean Jagger, lifts the film above mediocrity, but the characters are poorly developed. Troy Donahue and the ladies that surround him are all pretty robots. Even the Max Steiner music is forgettable! A waste of time and talent.

Wild in the Country (1961)

Notes: 5/3/11
Elvis movies usually rely on great music or a seasoned cast to be watchable.
Lots of ladies! Hope Lange, Tuesday Weld, and Millie Perkins.
Elvis offers a good performance. He was a good actor, as well as singer.
Certainly a good showcase for Tuesday Weld. Hope Lange was very pretty.
The ladies and Elvis each get a curtain call at the end.

Review: C+
Elvis gets to show off his fine dramatic acting as a troubled man who must undergo counseling as a parole requirement. Hope Lange plays the counselor who encourages Elvis to explore his literary talents. Tuesday Weld and Millie Perkins are local girls who attract (and distract) his attention. The cast is memorable, but the movie is not, despite a saucy showcase for Weld and a surprisingly complicated role for Elvis.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)

Notes: 4/27/11
Seriously, a title song? Sung by Frankie Avalon.
Curious cast! Joan Fontaine and Walter Pidgeon with Barbara Eden and Frankie Avalon.
Irwin Allen directs. Eventually made Lost in Space and disaster films.
Fontaine reminds me a bit of Patricia Neal in this.
Peter Lorre shark-walking. Much amusement.
Pidgeon was a good actor without ever truly hamming it up.
Great supporting cast. Mostly silly antics.

Review: C+
Mostly silly Irwin Allen adventure tale in the tradition of Jules Verne's underwater adventures. Walter Pidgeon leads a submarine crew to prevent the Earth's radiation belt from exploding. A bit too far-fetched, but not without general good humor and escapist adventure. Appearances by a fine supporting cast, including Joan Fontaine and Peter Lorre, make the film sparkle well enough.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Yojimbo (1961)

Notes: 4/26/11
Artful, chic music lends itself to the culture and the era the film was made.
Opening credits. Following Sanjuro from below.
Great set design. The window shutters.
Awesome swordfights with severed limbs!
Widescreen framing is impressively cinematic.
The bad guy has a gun! Very creative for a samurai film.
Mifune has probably his best role here. “So long.”

Review: A-
Legendary Akira Kurosawa directs Toshiro Mifune as a samurai who comes upon a small town in the midst of a violent feud. Mifune plays Sanjuro, who takes it upon himself to end the feud by turning the two rival families against each other. Many colorful characters inhabit the town, but it is Unosuke, son of one of the rivals, who, along with his shiny revolver, creates the biggest challenge for Sanjuro. Artfully cinematic, powered by a chic fusion of Japanese-American music, and the tough, iconic presence of Mifune in the role he was born to play. Classic samurai and peerless filmmaking.

Francis of Assisi (1961)

Notes: 4/26/11
Finlay Currie plays the Pope. This guy was always an old man.
Dolores Hart plays a nun and became a nun in real life.
Lacks the dramatic power needed to maintain my interest.
Doesn't really offer much.

Review: C
Biopic of renowned Saint is mostly nice to look at, under steady direction from Michael Curtiz. Cast includes young Bradford Dillman in the title role and memorable appearances by Finlay Currie and Cecil Kellaway. Ultimately, the film lacks the dramatic power to be a definitive telling of the life of St. Francis.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Comancheros (1961)

Notes: 4/13/11
Amusing opening duel. Stuart Whitman is fun.
Exciting music by Elmer Bernstein.
Last film of the great Michael Curtiz.
Not sure what to make of Ina Balin. Pretty, but boring.
Nehemiah Persoff is memorable. Great voice.
John Wayne sure had a warm presence.
Not really following the plot.
Film gets by on music, cinematography, and charming cast.

Review: B-
Exciting John Wayne western owes quite a bit to its Elmer Bernstein music score, as well as a charming cast. Stuart Whitman stands out alongside Wayne and Nehemiah Persoff proves to be a memorable villain. What is lacking in plot is made up for in technical achievements. A worthy swan song for legendary director Michael Curtiz.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Salvatore Giuliano (1961)

Notes: 4/7/11
The opening examination of Giuliano's body is memorable.
Hard to follow. It seems to jump back and forth in time.
I'm probably just an idiot, but I'm not sure what's going on.
The shrieking mother of the dead soldier is annoying!
The music is moody and strange.
Would probably be more enjoyable if I knew the history and understood the politics.

Review: C+
Italian docu-drama about the real-life murder of criminal Salvatore Giuliano and the specifics surrounding who killed him and why. Told mainly in flashbacks, the film requires the full attention of the viewer, as well as some grasp on the history and politics involved. Could have been more effective with a stronger narrative device and, perhaps, some narration.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Twist Around the Clock (1961)

Notes: 4/6/11
One of those snapshots of the world of rock & roll.
Not as amateurish or dumb as others of its kind.
Title song is catchy. Can't imagine the twist ever being popular.
The Wanderer and Runaround Sue are such good songs.
Dion is probably the film's highlight.
The film's plot is silly, but not entirely stupid.
Checker perform the songs and dances they originated.

Review: C
Yet another snapshot of Americana, this time depicting the rise in popularity of the dance craze 'the twist'. Not as amateurish or dumb as previous films of its kind. The opportunity to see Dion perform The Wanderer and Runaround Sue is reason enough to check this out. Chubby Checker also appears to perform his hit songs.

Fanny (1961)

Notes: 4/6/11
Charles Boyer, Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, and Horst Buchholz light up the screen.
Love the actress who plays Fanny's mother (Georgette Anys).
Charles Boyer is great in the scene with Marius's letter.
Nice movie. Sweet story. Charming in parts.
If Boyer got an Oscar nomination, then Chevalier should have gotten one too.
Beautiful cinematography by Jack Cardiff.

Review: B
Charming love story set in France about a pair of star-crossed lovers and the years of complications that prevent them from spending their lives together. Leslie Caron is lovely as Fanny, a young girl who transfixes the hearts of everyone in town. Despite the title, the film is just as much about Fanny's childhood love, Marius, played by handsome Horst Buchholz. Marius's yearning for a seafaring life dashes all plans for marriage to Fanny, causing Fanny's mother and Marius's father (a delightful Charles Boyer) to take charge of the situation, with the help of a very rich, and much older, Maurice Chevalier. The ensemble works very well together and the cinematography by Jack Cardiff is truly marvelous to behold. The film runs a bit too long, but is certainly a fine example of how to portray chest-ripping romance onscreen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

El Cid (1961)

Notes: 4/5/11
Overture score is quite sweeping. Preparing for battle. Something grand.
Miklos Rosza does the music. Genius.
Memorable shots throughout. Carrying the cross, Raf Vallone riding through town.
Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. Maximum starpower.
Feels and looks very Italian, or am I imagining things?
Awesome swordfight. Lasted almost 10 minutes!
Sophia Loren = gorgeous all the time.

Review: B
Sweeping epic powered by a grand Miklos Rosza score and some superb action sequences. Story wavers in the mid-section deflating the grandeur from this otherwise expertly-made production. Sophia Loren is given little to do but look gorgeous and she handles that beautifully. Charlton Heston is reliably macho as the film's noble hero. Anthony Mann successfully directs, despite the uncharacteristic genre, particularly in the film's best scene: a nearly ten-minute swordfight between Heston and Loren's father!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Young Savages (1961)

Notes: 4/3/11
Flashy opening credits. Talented director John Frankenheimer.
Burt Lancaster and Shelley Winters make this movie a must-see.
Shelley Winters as Mary diPace. Love it!
Murder of young boy, shot very tastefully, is still shocking.
Heavy subject matter. Racism, death penalty, gangs, juvenile delinquency.
Dina Merrill is pretty, but her role is a bit limited.
Well-made but not entirely effective courtroom drama.

Review: C+
Courtroom drama starring Burt Lancaster as a district attorney prosecuting three teenaged delinquents charged with the murder of a young Latin boy. Shelley Winters does well as the mother of one of the boys on trial. Film touches on heavy subject matter, like racism, death penalty, gangs, and juvenile delinquency, but fails to draw any satisfying conclusions.

Mysterious Island (1961)

Notes: 4/3/11
Opening credits are very exciting. Bernard Herrman does the music!
First half hour is a slow blend of Civil War, seafaring, and a slight British feel.
Suddenly – giant crab monster!
Awfully talky. The effects really do stand out to some degree.
Interesting female characters. British femmes.
The giant bumblebee attack in the honeycomb. Exciting stuff.
Review: C+
Good Ray Harryhausen effects can't compensate for a slow-moving, rather talky production. Giant crab monsters and killer bees make up the highlights in this Jules Verne adventure tale about castaways on an island inhabited by very strange creatures. Herbert Lom shows up as Captain Nemo, but none of that plot thread proves all that interesting. Viewers will likely find themselves growing impatient when the special effects are not the focus.