Archive for the ‘1950s films’ Tag

Elephant Walk vs. The Naked Jungle: Who’d Win in a Bar Fight?   4 comments

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Paramount released ELEPHANT WALK and THE NAKED JUNGLE within a month of one another in 1954.  They often appeared in theatres on a double bill.  If you see them both, you might think you’ve seen the same film twice.  Both center around a rich plantation owner living in a foreign country with a beautiful wife and major psychological issues.  Both leads have flawed marriages.  Both battle wild animals on rampages.  In ELEPHANT WALK, the creatures in questions are, you guessed it, groundhogs.  OK.  I can’t get anything past you.  They’re elephants.  In THE NAKED JUNGLE, the enemies are ants.  Naked ants.  They’re referred to as the Marabunta, which, as you know, mean friendsh…no.  It means naked army ant.  Paramount made both films partially on location.  ELEPHANT WALK takes place in British Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.  They filmed in both Ceylon and Hollywood.  THE NAKED JUNGLE is set in Brazil, but Florida served as a stand-in for the Amazon jungle.  Even the structures of the two films are similar.

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Edith Head did herself proud in both films.

In ELEPHANT WALK, John Wiley (Peter Finch) runs a sprawling tea plantation in British Ceylon.  The plantation, Elephant Walk, got its name because John’s father, Tom, built it on the elephants’ traditional path to the river.  After a whirlwind romance in England, John marries Ruth (Elizabeth Taylor) and brings her back to the family bungalow to begin her duties as the lady of the house.  In THE NAKED JUNGLE, Christopher Leiningen (Charlton Heston) writes long, lonely letters from Brazil to his brother in New Orleans.  His brother meets Joanna (Eleanor Parker) and introduces Christopher and Joanna by mail.  The two correspond and eventually marry by proxy.  Joanna travels to the jungle to be Christopher’s wife and run his home.

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Soon after taking up residence at Elephant Walk, Ruth notices subtle changes in her new husband.  Charming and loving in England and on their honeymoon, John becomes distant, gruff, and even brutal in Ceylon.  The oppressive atmosphere of Elephant Walk, along with the influence of John’s long dead father, old Tom Wiley, turn John iron-fisted and cruel.  In THE NAKED JUNGLE, immediately after her arrival in Brazil, Joanna sees differences between Christopher’s letters and his demeanor.  Intelligent and gentle during their correspondence, Christopher becomes insulting and downright nasty in person.

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This is what John Wiley does instead of hanging out with Liz Taylor.

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Leiningen’s sort of an ass.

John Wiley’s main issue is the Governor.  John’s father and the builder of Elephant Walk has been dead for years, but still manages to run the show.  His rules, attitudes, and methods for running the plantation and his house haven’t changed despite his death.  They still celebrate his birthday each year with a big party. They even present gifts to the guests around Tom Wiley’s elaborate, marble crypt, conveniently located on the lawn just steps from the house.  Handy.  The combination of the ever present Tom Wiley, her husband’s hostility, and the middle-aged frat boy mentality of most of the plantation workers drives Ruth away.  She plans to leave with the sympathetic and cultured Dick Carver (Dana Andrews), John’s foreman.

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“I hope she picks me.”

Christopher Leiningen’s problem in THE NAKED JUNGLE is sex and his need to be the first to sleep with his new wife.  Joanna, a widow, fulfills all Christopher’s requirements.  She has manners, refinement, and beauty.  She even plays the piano.  The fact of her first marriage, however, drives him crazy.  You see, Christopher has no sexual experience and he can’t stand the thought that his wife does.  He won’t touch her and plans to send her back to the states.

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“I’m sending you back.”

Naturally, Ruth can’t leave Elephant Walk.  On her way to the boat for England, everyone gets cholera.  Ruth has to stay to boil linens and burn things.  The cholera epidemic strikes at the same time as a major drought so besides the stacks of dead bodies and the quarantine and all, they’re also running out of water and the elephants get antsy.  Get it?  Antsy?  Anyway, thirsty and fed up, the elephants stampede and John races to save Ruth.

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“I’m coming, Ruth!”

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the Marabunta start crawling their way through the jungle toward Christopher’s ranch and civilization in general.  You see, every twenty-seven years, army ants charge through the Amazon eating everything they see.  So the calendar strikes 27 and the ants come-a-runnin’.  Christopher and Joanna have to curtail their trip to the boat to take her back to New Orleans to fight them some ants.

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“Hold it right there, you damned, dirty ants!”

Will John Wiley rescue Ruth from elephants?  Will he see the error of his ways and start his marriage again without his dead dad’s interference?  Will he return the ugly elephant necklace he makes Ruth wear?

Will Christopher beat the ants?  Will he decide to love Joanna despite her horrid promiscuity?  Will William Conrad stop speaking with that ridiculous mystery accent?

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“I’m not sure where I’m from.”

I’ll never tell.

ELEPHANT WALK did better at the box office than THE NAKED JUNGLE and it’s a better film in general.  Peter Finch does a terrific job as the anguished John Wiley, who embraces his imperious father’s memory even as he fights its hold over him.  He’s great when he’s angry and truly contrite while asking for forgiveness.  Elizabeth Taylor’s Ruth looks spectacular in the gorgeous Edith Head gowns and dresses she wears.  She’s a beautiful and sympathetic character who’s torn between her love for her husband and her fear for him and herself in this unhealthy atmosphere.  Dana Andrews is convincing as John’s overseer who falls for Ruth and tries to help her escape.  Abraham Sofaer plays Appuhamy, the efficient head servant at Elephant Walk whose loyalty to the old master tries Ruth’s patience.  His restraint gives the character integrity and allows us to see the change in him as he finally accepts Ruth.  Direction by William Dieterle along with the Franz Waxman score and the actual location shooting gives this film polish and the A-list actors deliver fine performances.

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Abraham Sofaer as Appuhamy

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Abraham Sofaer (in back) as Incacha.

THE NAKED JUNGLE is a less solid film than ELEPHANT WALK.  Heston does a decent job as the immature Christopher.  Deep down he’s a poet who hides his soft side and thinks he HAS to object to his wife’s non-virgin status.  As I said, Heston does a decent job, but he lacks the subtlety his character needs.  Eleanor Parker wears the Edith Head costumes brilliantly and plays the put upon wife well, but she’s far too melodramatic.  She’s more subtle than Lana Turner, but that doesn’t take much.  William Conrad plays his part well, but they saddled him with a goofy accent which detracts from his performance.  Conrad played the Heston role in the radio version of the Carl Stephenson story.  I guess they wanted to throw him a bone.  Guess who plays the faithful servant/overseer?  Yup.  Abraham Sofaer.  This time he’s Brazilian.  Ernest Laszlo and George Pal did the photography and production and Byron Haskin directed.

 

All in all, ELEPHANT WALK and the NAKED JUNGLE will both fulfill your animals running amok needs.  There’s great footage of elephants stampeding throughout ELEPHANT WALK and the scene where they wreck Wiley’s mansion is spectacular.  If you’re into that disease thing, the film also has cholera!

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George Pal produced THE NAKED JUNGLE and the ant effects are decent.  Scenes with ants overtaking grown men are pretty cool even if they’re unbelievable.

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“So many ants.”

Where THE NAKED JUNGLE fails is that ants keep killing people you don’t particularly care about.  A disaster film has to allow us to learn something about its victims before flinging them off cliffs.  If it doesn’t, it’s just some random SyFy film like ANTOPUS VS LOBSTELEPHANT.  To sum up, ELEPHANT WALK is a terrific film with realistic performances that looks wonderful.  THE NAKED JUNGLE is a pretty good film with lots of ants, which is a plus, and a so-so story.  Watch them both and tell me what you think.

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I wrote this piece for the Nature’s Fury Blogathon hosted by the always fascinating Barry of Cinematic Catharsis  He’s a nice guy who runs a terrific film blog.  Please check it out.

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His Kind of Woman (1951)   2 comments

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Until you watch HIS KIND OF WOMAN, you might not realize Vincent Price is the star.  You might believe the credits and think you’re watching a Robert Mitchum/Jane Russell vehicle full of mobsters who crack wise and a beauty who sings a little.

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“Is that a gun in your pocket?”

After all, up to this point, Vincent Price spent a lot of time in costume dramas or as the guy who didn’t get the girl.  Gene Tierney threw him over for Dana Andrews in LAURA even after she was dead and she dumped him again the next year for Cornel Wilde in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN.  I’m not sure Hollywood knew what to do with the erudite actor.  Handsome, articulate, and athletic, Vincent looked the part of the leading man, but had more to give.  You might say he was too smart for his own good.

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“Snatch this revolver from my hand, Grasshopper.”

Male ingenue parts don’t show off your sense of humor much so studios plugged him into the role of the witty, yet evil count.  A few films, like SHOCK (1946) allowed him to show more range, but it wasn’t until Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe phase in the 1960s that Vincent was really allowed to shine.  The exception to that is HIS KIND OF WOMAN.  Vincent Price sinks his teeth into the Mark Cardigan role.

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“This is going to be fun.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Mitchum and Russell steam up your glasses in this film, but what brings me back to John Farrow’s 1951 crime thriller again and again is the wonderfully over-the-top performance by Vincent Price as Mark Cardigan, the biggest movie star who ever swashed a buckle.

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“Did you close the garage?”

Cardigan travels from Hollywood to gorgeous, mid-century Morro’s Lodge in Baja California, Mexico to hunt and fish and woo his mistress, Lenore Brent (Jane Russell).  His sporting ways do little to impress Lenore; she starts warming up to Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum).  He’s in sunny Mexico for a mysterious, dangerous reason, which becomes clearer and uglier as the story progresses and we get to know the dastardly Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr).  Nick’s a mobster deported by the U.S. government who wants to get back into the states.  How does a famous and recognizable hoodlum get past customs, and where does the Nazi doctor fit in?  Nick plans to use Dan—and I don’t mean he wants to borrow Dan’s passport.  Dan, a teetotaler, still manages to intoxicate Lenore and the two begin a sexy little romance.  I’ll admit: it’s fun to watch.  Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell have terrific chemistry.  That said, I still can’t watch this film without wishing it had more Vincent.

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“My GODZILLA was the best! Say it!”

As Mark Cardigan, Vincent, full of boyish charm, tries to get his friend excited about hunting with him, but encounters only sarcasm.  He has all this fancy hunting and fishing gear, but no one wants to play.  He’s sure Dan will be a sport, but he has mind on other things.

Mark Cardigan: “What about tomorrow morning?
Dan Milner: “All right, what about it?”
Mark Cardigan: “The hunting. I’ve got all the equipment you need. How about me rootin’ you out about five.”
Dan Milner: “Five?”
Lenore Brent: “He shoots them as they crawl out of bed.”

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“Wanna kill some stuff?”

Despite their best efforts, neither Lenore nor Dan can dampen Mark’s enthusiasm and off he goes to his favorite blind quoting Shakespeare.  It’s that bigger-than-life, booming attitude that makes me smile every time I watch HIS KIND OF WOMAN.  A combination of Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, and Ronald Coleman, Mark Cardigan has all the conceit of a matinee idol with some intelligence and a little humility to balance it out.  Mark mentions the danger ahead of them and Dan promises that if his friend dies in battle, he’ll be sure to give him a big sendoff.

Dan: “Well, if you do get killed, I’ll make sure you get a first-rate funeral in Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.”
Mark: “I’ve already had it.  My last picture died there.”

The interplay between Mark and the other characters continues throughout the film.  Actually, he doesn’t need anyone to play off.  He spends a good portion of the film soliloquizing.  What separates this film from others depicting actors forced to face reality is how Mark handles it.  He accepts the challenge and the risk gleefully as if he thinks he’s still on stage 6. On his way to fight the gangsters, Mark arms himself and then stops to don a black cape.  Fabulous!  History abounds with films about self-absorbed actors blurring the line between fantasy and reality, but this is more fun than profound.  Part of the reason may be that when Mark looks deeply into his soul, he likes what he sees there.  His long-winded speeches about battles and heroes aren’t just for show.  Deep down he wants to believe every word and surprises even himself when the bullets start flying.  It’s thrilling and joyous and fun.

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“It’s 14 against 2.”
“We’ll take ’em.”
“How do you know?
“Bad guys can’t shoot.”
“Oh right.”

HIS KIND OF WOMAN has a romance with great chemistry, a twisted bad guy with a taste for torture, a Nazi, and a brilliant, but bored actor dying to prove himself to himself.

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Nazi

I can’t picture another actor who could do the part justice as well as Vincent Price.  He has the energy, athleticism, timing, and eloquence to pull it off.  Who else could wax poetic while trussing a duck?

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OK. Maybe this guy.

Without delving too deeply into plot summation, I’ll say HIS KIND OF WOMAN packs a lot into two hours.  There’s a love story, a mobster attempting to foil immigration, a CASABLANCA-like sub-plot with Jim Backus sitting in for Claude Rains, and a Nazi.  As Joe Bob Briggs says, “…too much plot getting in the way of the story.”  Fortunately, the writers, Frank Fenton and Jack Leonard along with the talented cast can handle it.  I think this film’s success lies in the philosophy expressed by Jim Backus’ stockbroker when discussing movies in general.   “People don’t go to movies to see how miserable the world is.  They go there to eat popcorn and be happy.”  Preston Sturges couldn’t have said it so well.

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That jacket.

Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)   Leave a comment

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Edward Bare (Dirk Bogarde) leads a life of leisure.  He spends his days taking drives in his fashionable car, shopping, then retiring to his large country home with his wife, Monica (Mona Washbourne).  Monica, or Mony as he calls her, is somewhat older than her handsome husband and comes from a more refined social class.  Despite their differences, Mony loves her Teddy Bare and he, in turn, dotes on his elderly wife.  He is kind and solicitous toward Mony and she takes pains to teach Edward about etiquette and culture.  Everything moves along swimmingly until Mony’s attorney, Philip Mortimer (Robert Flemyng), who dislikes Edward, calls on Mony and asks her to rewrite her will, leaving Edward out.  Mony, you see, inherited great wealth when her first husband died.  Philip is pretty sure that Mony’s money, and not her charm, compelled Edward to marry her.  When the two shoo Edward out of the room to discuss Mony’s fortune, Edward fears the worst.  Edward hears that Mony will sign a new will the next morning.  Assuming the new will excludes him, Edward concocts a hasty plan.  He’ll have to move fast or lose Mony’s wealth and his carefree lifestyle.  Fear convinces Edward to act rashly.

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“Where can I find arsenic at this time of night?”

Without going into too much detail, things go poorly for both Mony and Edward.  Mony won’t be coming down to breakfast and Edward learns he may have jumped the gun a bit.  After Edward’s miscalculation, he needs another sugar momma or he’ll have to do something drastic like get a job or some such nonsense.  Enter Freda Jeffries (Margaret Lockwood), a brassy ex-barmaid who married the boss and inherited the pub when he died.  She sold the business and now she has money, but no direction.  Edward is taken with Freda’s straightforward personality and her healthy bank account.  Edward and Freda decide to make a go of it, but she’s no fool.  She knows he’s a fortune-hunter, but she can’t help herself.  Despite her street smarts, Freda falls for Edward.

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Mmmm cute bad boy.

All this time, Philip, the attorney, hangs around Edward hoping he’ll spill the beans about Mony’s suspicious death.  Freda is having none of it though and stands by Edward until another woman enters the scene.  Charlotte Young (Kay Walsh), yet another lonely, rich woman starts to show a little too much interest in Edward and then all bets are off.

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“Freda will just love you.”

I’ve said this before, but I love the look of British films of the 1950s and 60s.  That shadowy black and white quality serves as a great backdrop for actors.  This is not a toney art film and director Lewis Gilbert (Alfie, The Spy Who Loved Me) hangs back and lets the talented cast work.  Dirk Bogarde connives and plans and even outsmarts himself, but he does it so beautifully, you find yourself cheering for him.  Margaret Lockwood always delivers a strong performance.  She’s wonderful as the sarcastic and real Freda.  She was even nominated for a BAFTA for best British actress for her role in this film.  Writer John Cresswell based his screenplay on Janet Green’s play, Murder Mistaken.  The snappy dialogue gives Lockwood and Bogarde a chance to shine and surprises throughout the film keep you guessing.  If you’re looking for a sharp thriller with some black comedy, CAST A DARK SHADOW fits the bill.

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“A whoopie cushion?”

House on Haunted Hill (1959)   7 comments

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Vincent Price invites you to a party. Are there balloons and noisemakers and a clown? Gee, I hope not. No, but Price does invite a bunch of total strangers, a creepy housemaid, and a scaaaaary skeleton. Ahhhhh!!

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Avon lady!

Millionaire, Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) holds a birthday party for his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in a spooky mansion. For those of you playing at home, that mansion is Ennis House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. If his guests can stomach a night in the spooky house, Loren will pay each of them $10,000. That’s about $81K in 2015 dollars. A nice payday. It sounds simple enough until we learn that several people, including Watson Pritchard’s (Elisha Cook, Jr.) brother were murdered in the house. Funny thing though, they never found his head.

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A building from Wright’s pueblo pyramid period.

Just when we think we’re watching a straight haunted house film, Loren and his wife go at it. The couple do their version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and it’s clear this party will end badly. Loren, you see, has had three wives before Annabelle and each has expired under mysterious circumstances. Hmmm. Annabelle confides in guest, Lance Schroeder (Richard Long) that she fears for her life. Her husband, she says, wants to kill her and he’ll stop at nothing. When the servants leave prematurely, locking the party-goers in for the night, they’ll have to contend with ghosts and spirits and a possible murderer among them.

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Vincent has the coolest party favors.

Robb White, frequent William Castle collaborator, wrote the screenplays for House on Haunted Hill, Macabre, The Tingler, and others for the great showman.  Castle directed this movie and filled it with piercing screams, an active skeleton, and a rolling old lady. Supposedly, Alfred Hitchcock saw Castle’s big box office returns and decided to make Psycho. Then, Castle saw Psycho and decided to make Homicidal. I hope that’s true. Anyway, we win. All three films are horror classics.

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“There’s no food at this party.”

Oozing charm and menace, Vincent Price does his best Vincent Price. The rest of the cast hold their own, but are nothing to write home about with the exception of Elisha Cook, Jr. His crazed, drunken ramblings about ghosts and unseen forces are appropriately over the top. Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, who might win an Una for screaming artistry, and Robert Mitchum’s big sister, Julie round out the players. Julie Mitchum’s claim to fame in this film is that when offered a drink, she always asks for a scotch and… A scotch and what? Motor oil? Drain cleaner? Mare sweat? It’s an odd thing, but it always strikes me as funny.

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“Aaahoooo Werewolves of London!”

Ever the marketing genius, William Castle used this tagline for House on Haunted Hill. ‘First film with the amazing new wonder EMERGO: The thrills fly right into the audience!’ I wish I had been around to see a Castle film in the theatre. Flying skeletons, fright insurance, cowards’ corner…such fun. By the way, does anyone know a good acid vat installer?

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“I’m not touching you!”

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Cell 2455, Death Row (1955)   Leave a comment

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Caryl Chessman, called the Red Light Bandit because he used a red light atop his car to pull over couples, rob them, and rape the women, wrote four books during his twelve years on death row. Cell 2455 Death Row came out while Chessman still lived. The film shows Chessman (William Campbell) as a difficult teen who fell in with the wrong crowd and then became a gang leader.

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I said medium rare!

He pleads guilty to some of the robberies, but innocent to the rape charges and acts as his own attorney in court. It gets a bit Alan-Alda-in-the-last-seasons-of-M*A*S*H-y in this part and the whole thing smells strongly of whitewash and Hollywood filtering. Apparently Chessman did a decent job of fending off the electric chair in real life though. Anti-death penalty crusaders protested and wrote songs on his behalf. Biggies like Aldous Huxley, Norman Mailer, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Ray Bradbury wrote letters asking for mercy. SPOILER ALERT: When the film opened he was still with us, but was later executed when the secretary asked by the judge to call the jail for another stay of execution, called the wrong number. By the time she found the correct one, it was too late. No kidding. You can’t make this stuff up. The most interesting part of this film is that William Campbell’s younger brother Robert plays Chessman as a youth. Vince Edwards appears as a fellow criminal. Pretty standard.

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The real Caryl Chessman’s mug shot.

And the Winner Isn’t…   13 comments

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Despite the fact that two of the five best picture nominees for 1957 took place in courthouses, there was no justice for quite a few filmmakers at the RKO Pantages Theatre that year. I started to write this piece about the snubbing of a particular film, but after researching the story I found many glaring omissions for that year. We think of Oscar snubs as a modern phenomenon, but even in the 1950s, filmmakers found fault with the Academy’s choices. In fact, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas sang a duet during the awards ceremony called “It’s Great Not To Be Nominated”. Who did grab the glory that year?


“It’s Great Not To Be Nominated”

In 1957, for the first time in Academy Award history, the five nominees for best director came from the five nominees for best picture. Here are the nominees.

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The Bridge on the River Kwai
1957 was David Lean’s year. The Bridge on the River Kwai got eight nominations and won seven Oscars including best picture and best director. Full of strong performances from Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa, and the entire cast, Lean’s epic on the futility of war scored big and deservedly so. I think there were other films that could easily have won or at least grabbed a nomination in a few categories, but no matter. Kwai plowed through all of them.

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Witness for the Prosecution
Billy Wilder’s incredible courtroom drama boasts a great story written by Agatha Christie and adapted for the screen by Wilder, Harry Kurnitz, and Lawrence B. Marcus, and stellar performances from its cast. Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Marlene Dietrich, and Tyrone Power create memorable characters in this legal drama full of fun plot twists. Witness received six Oscar nominations, but won none.

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12 Angry Men
Sidney Lumet’s claustrophobic drama about jury deliberations that will decide the fate of a young man was nominated for three Oscars. 12 Angry Men’s playlike blocking and intelligent script keeps the audience rapt and the memorable performances by Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, Jack Warden, and the rest of the jury still hold up.

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Sayonara
Joshua Logan directed this socially conscious drama about American servicemen stationed in Japan who had to battle military regulations and racial prejudice to marry Japanese women. Paul Osborn wrote the screenplay based on the James Michener novel. Michener based the book on his own experience in marrying a Japanese woman after his deployment to Japan during World War II. Nominated for ten Oscars, Sayonara won four. While the topics of miscegenation and prejudice are worthwhile, the film isn’t all that great. The main reason to watch this film is Miyoshi Umeki’s poignant Oscar winning performance.

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I don’t get to keep the clothes?

Peyton Place
Don’t get me started. Grace Metalious’ wildly popular tale of small town hypocrisy and scandal received a whopping nine Oscar nominations, but was shut out anyway. Thank goodness. Peyton Place boasts some of the stiffest acting of the 1950s. The trite script written by John Michael Hayes allows Lana Turner and Lloyd Nolan to over-emote while remaining as wooden as Hope Lange’s woodpile. Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the occasional bad film. I just don’t expect it to get nine Oscar nods. Clearly someone wasn’t paying attention.

I agree with the academy about nominations for The Bridge on the River Kwai, Witness for the Prosecution, and 12 Angry Men, but I take issue with some of the Sayonara nods and all of the Peyton Place nominations. What other films deserved attention from Oscar? I’m glad you asked. 1957 saw some terrific films that were all but ignored come award season.

3:10 to Yuma
Delmer Daves western nail-biter ramps up the suspense and Glenn Ford gives his best performance. Zero nominations.

Desk Set
In this charming romantic comedy, Spencer Tracy plays an efficiency expert hired by a television network to study Katharine Hepburn’s department. The script, written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron and based on William Marchant’s play is clever, realistic, and warm and you can’t deny the chemistry between the two leads. Zero nominations.

Edge of the City
Martin Ritt’s gritty noir deals with racism, loyalty, and personal integrity. Sidney Poitier, John Cassavetes, Ruby Dee, and Jack Warden deliver powerful performances. Zero nominations.

The Enemy Below
This taut war thriller pits U.S. Navy Captain Robert Mitchum against U-boat commander Curd Jürgens in a game of sea chess. Dick Powell produced and directed this suspenseful WWII film. The Enemy Below won its only nomination for best special effects.

Fear Strikes Out
Anthony Perkins hits it out of the park (sorry) as Boston Red Sox player Jimmy Piersall who battles pressure from his domineering father, played by Karl Malden, and mental illness to play in the majors. Robert Mulligan directed and Perkins and Malden are wonderful in this true story. Zero nominations.

Gunfight at the Ok Corral
The John Sturges directed western starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday is just fun to watch. Rhonda Fleming, Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland, Dennis Hopper, and Whit Bissell round out this great cast. Two nominations (sound and film editing).

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
John Huston’s sweet love story has a tough Marine (Robert Mitchum) falling for Deborah Kerr’s nun as they duck Japanese soldiers on a Pacific island during WWII. Two nominations for best actress and adapted screenplay. Zero wins.

Three Faces of Eve
Nunnally Johnson directed Joanne Woodward in her Oscar-winning role as a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. Lee J. Cobb and David Wayne add their tremendous skills as character actors to this gentle psychological study. One nomination. One win.

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Peyton Place? Are you kidding?

Oscar ignored some other good films that year. 20 Million Miles to Earth and The Black Scorpion boast effects by Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien and Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man comes from a Richard Matheson story. Zero nominations, not even for special effects. The noir sleeper The Burglar, based on a story by David Goodis and starring noir fave Dan Duryea got zero nominations. Fred Zinnemann’s tale of addiction, A Hatful of Rain received one nomination for best actor. Jailhouse Rock, Elvis’ best film, wasn’t even nominated for music or set design. Budd Boetticher’s suspenseful western The Tall T has some lovely cinematography, a tight story by Elmore Leonard, and Randolph Scott! Zero nominations. While these omissions may surprise a film fan, the three I have left will probably baffle you. They did me.

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A Face in the Crowd
Budd Schulberg’s prescient look at the power of fame, television, and manufactured celebrity has direction by Elia Kazan, and a talented cast which includes Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, and Lee Remick. It also boasts a stunning performance by Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes, the southern ne’er-do-well whose homespun wisdom and charisma lifts him from obscure slacker to national power broker. It’s absolutely criminal that Griffith wasn’t nominated for best actor.

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Paths of Glory
Really? This one kills me. Penned by Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson, and Humphrey Cobb and based on Cobb’s novel, Paths of Glory serves as a searing indictment of hypocrisy, politics, and war. Kubrick’s promise as a director showed in his earlier films Killer’s Kiss and The Killing, but Paths of Glory elevated him to another level entirely. Georg Krause’s gorgeous cinematography and those long Kubrick shots of the trenches show the contrast between the squalor of the front lines and the officers’ palatial digs. In this fact-based story from WWI, Kirk Douglas dominates the screen, but the supporting players offer stellar performances too. Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris, Timothy Carey, and especially Ralph Meeker more than hold their own alongside the dynamic Douglas. Zero nominations.

tonyburt

Sweet Smell of Success
Alexander Mackendrick’s gorgeous, vicious story of a ruthless newspaper columnist and the people he manipulates captured exactly zero nominations. Zero. Zero nominations for the brilliant screenplay written by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman based on Lehman’s novella. Zero nominations for James Wong Howe’s amazing noir camera angles and lush black and white cinematography. Zero nominations for Elmer Bernstein’s dramatic, jazzy score. Zero nominations for Tony Curtis’ clever, nuanced performance. Zero. If you judge the quality of a film by the number of quotable phrases, you’d have to place Sweet Smell of Success near the top. Of course, the same goes for Jaws, Caddyshack, Die Hard, Casablanca, and Pulp Fiction. Actually, that’s a pretty cool crowd. Success has some real zingers. After Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) makes a particularly nasty crack J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) says, “I’d hate to take a bite out of you, Sidney. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.” Later, Falco commits a crime which will frame someone Hunsecker dislikes and reports to him, “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.” I’m not the only one who finds this dialogue memorable. Barry Levinson has a character in his film Diner who recites the dialogue from Sweet Smell of Success throughout the entire film. Clifford Odets (Bigger Than Life, Clash by Night) and Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) wrote sparkling dialogue for a gritty tale of power, ambition, and manipulation. The cinematography, music, and direction combined with a powerhouse cast including not only Curtis and Lancaster, but also Sam Levene, Martin Milner, and the highly underrated Barbara Nichols make for a film that stays with you long after it’s over. The fact that Oscar bypassed Sweet Smell of Success strikes me as the biggest of gyps.

light

I wrote this piece for the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon hosted by Paula of paulascinemaclub.com @Paula_Guthat,
Aurora of aurorasginjoint.com @CitizenScreen, and Kellee of kelleepratt.com @IrishJayhawk66

Thank you, ladies! You run a fun blogathon.

bob hope

The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)   Leave a comment

telegraph poster

Victoria Kowelska (Valentina Cortese) loses her husband in the war and the Nazis send her to Belsen. She befriends a sick woman in the concentration camp and tries to help her regain her strength. When the woman, Karin Dernakova dies just before the allies liberate the camp, Victoria assumes Karin’s identity. Neither woman had relatives left alive in Poland, but Karin has family, including a young son in the United States so New Karin travels to the US to care for her friend’s son. No one there has seen Karin so they believe her story. Once in New York, Karin meets the handsome and charming Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), executor of Karin’s rich aunt’s will and guardian to her son.

oj
Did you say iocaine powder?

Alan sweeps her off her feet and after a whirlwind romance, they marry and move to the family mansion in San Francisco’s toney Telegraph Hill section. Almost immediately, Karin senses tension in the household. The housekeeper, Margaret (Fay Baker) resents her presence and seems too attached to both Alan and her son, Christopher (Gordon Gebert).

margaret
Margaret’s domain.

Karin perseveres because of her increasing attachment to the boy, but her worries increase as a series of accidents plagues the household. She also meets and falls for attorney Major Marc Bennett (William Lundigan) who happens to have helped Karin at the refugee camp in Poland. Karin begins to suspect her new husband, but are her fears rational or is guilt about her own lies making her paranoid?

scary rich
Hi honey!

Directed by the talented and eclectic Robert Wise (The Haunting, The Day the Earth Stood Still), The House on Telegraph Hill is a thriller with a crime/noir feel that keeps you guessing. The death of her friend paves the way for Karin to start a new life in America. Is survivor’s guilt making that life impossible or are Karin and the child really in danger? Richard Basehart can play naïve innocence or cunning evil equally well and he leads a decent cast of actors in this little gem of a picture. Fay Baker channels Rebecca’s Mrs. Danvers at times and Valentina Cortese was convincing as the beleaguered concentration camp survivor. Gordon Gebert as the little boy does a nice job too.

margaret1
Hands off! He’s mine!

I’ve always liked this film. The small cast and relatively simple story line give the characters room to develop and their acting chops carry off the mystery and deception well. The locations in and around the Telegraph Hill section of San Francisco are lovely even without Lucien Ballard’s cinematography and the sets and costumes also help set the mood. If you like crime films with a bit of old school flair, you’ll like The House on Telegraph Hill.

house

Psst: Richard Basehart and Valentine Cortese married in 1951…

…and divorced in 1960.

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