1958

Les surmenés (1958, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze)

Les surmenés answers the burning question: What if the French New Wave directors made a sitcom? In this sitcom, country girl Yane Barry comes to Paris. She’s won a typing contest, so she’s able to be a… typist, but she’s also engaged to her sister’s boss (Jean-Pierre Cassel), which is funny since they have no chemistry. Of course, she also doesn’t have any chemistry with Jean-Claude Brialy, who plays the other guy. She meets Brialy in the first scene, on the train ride in. Now, it’s not clear if Barry doesn’t have any chemistry with Cassel or Brialy because of some acting deficit because the short is committed to not letting her have any actual scenes. Either there’s narration explaining everything or Barry’s getting chastised for not being serious enough. Any scenes where she seems to have agency quickly turn into montage sequences.

See, Barry doesn’t want to live in Paris and not have any fun. She wants to live it up, all night, every night. Just like her brother-in-law (Jean Juillard) does. Excerpt Juillard is just working (he works nights and he’s addicted to that work). Barry’s addicted to partying. Cassel doesn’t want to party because he works. Will horny guy Brialy want to party with her?

Throw in a lot about Juillard working and his wife—Barry’s sister—Chantal de Rieux not liking him working all night and there’s the short. There’s not a lot to it. Certainly nothing dramatic and not much filmic either. The most creative thing in the film is the animated opening titles. I guess Jacques Letellier’s photography is fine, but director Doniol-Valcroze’s composition is (apparently intentionally) boring. Got to have the boring shots to make the montages work with the narration. But none of it actually works so… Les surmenés is just tedious. It doesn’t help the script—by François Truffaut, Michel Fermaud, and Doniol-Valcroze—is really hostile to Barry for some reason. Well, not some reason. It’s because Barry’s a young woman who wants to have fun in the big city. They could tell the exact same story, hit the same beats, same “emotional resonances” (quotations because no), and not be jerks about it.

I suppose the attitude does give the short some personality. Unpleasant personality, but personality; nothing else in it has any.

Wait—except Georges Delerue’s music, which starts fun and ends up being a sitcom score.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze; written by François Truffaut, Michel Fermaud, and Doniol-Valcroze; director of photography, Jacques Letellier; edited by Marinette Cadix, Albert Jurgenson, and Francine Vainer; music by Georges Delerue; produced by Pierre Braunberger.

Starring Yane Barry (Catherine), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Bernard), Chantal de Rieux (Solange), Jean Juillard (Étienne), and Jean-Claude Brialy (Jimmy); narrated by Monique Chaumette.


Run Silent Run Deep (1958, Robert Wise)

Run Silent Run Deep runs a little short. Just when the film has the most potential does it sort of shrug and finish up real quick. There’s a third act reveal and it’s a good one, but it’s not good enough the movie can end on it. Especially not after it’s just had such a strong second act.

Burt Lancaster has just had a big character development moment, there’s just been an awesome special effects sequence, it’s right when Run Silent Run Deep has its most potential. The film’s never bad, though it occasionally feels a little claustrophobic, narratively speaking, but it’s been on this “can’t believe no one calls him Ahab” arc with Clark Gable for about an hour. The second act shake-up comes at just the right moment and sets up a great third arc. And the third arc is not great. It’s perfunctory, inventively so, but perfunctory. The finale lacks any impact. The big action finale doesn’t have much action, certainly not of the level in the second act set piece; Lancaster’s arc ends up going nowhere. He really had just been support for Gable the whole time.

So, Run Deep takes place during World War II. It opens with sub commander Gable’s sub getting sunk; he survives, along with some other guys but not everyone. A year later, he’s pushing pencils and playing “Battleship” with new sidekick Jack Warden. All of a sudden Warden lets it slip three other ships have gone down just where Gable’s did. A man possessed he storms over to the brass, demands a ship, gets one, which pauses executive officer Lancaster’s promotion to captain. His captain… died on their previous mission? It doesn’t come up.

Once onboard it soon becomes clear Gable’s going to hunt down Japanese ship sinking all the U.S. submarines. Run Deep teaches the sound moral, “you’ve got to be willing to die to kill.” For a brief few minutes, the film’s about the inherent righteousness of Ahab-ing. Gable’s got Lancaster convinced—though Lancaster doesn’t want to admit it. The crew doesn’t get that perk of command, however, so they’re ready to mutiny.

Lancaster and Gable are great together because they don’t like one another but Gable’s exploiting Lancaster’s ability. It’s kind of awesome, even when it’s just to kill time with montage sequences. Run Deep impresses with its special effects. The other stuff? It doesn’t worry too much. The submarine set is fine; not great. The editing—supervised by George Boemler—is awesome. The editing makes Run Deep until that end of the second act uptick.

Gable’s good. Warden’s good. Lancaster’s almost great. He’s great for a while, then his character arc falls out from under him. Worse, the third act is set to be where Gable finally gets some great material and never does. It’s a bummer. It needs to go longer. And there are places where it could’ve, but it really could have used a better action set piece in the third act than the second. If the dramatics were stronger, it’d be fine. But the dramatics aren’t stronger.

Nice supporting cast, particularly Brad Dexter, Don Rickles (in a totally straight part), and Joe Maross.

Decent Franz Waxman score. Solid Russell Harlan photography. The composite shots don’t really impress but Harlan does fine with the submarine suspense stuff and it’s more important.

Wise’s direction is fine. He does really well with the action. He does better with the supporting cast than his stars, which is a problem. But there’s already that too short script. So fine.

But Run Silent Run Deep ought to be better than fine. It wastes Lancaster and Gable separately and it wastes them together.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by John Gay, based on the novel by Edward L. Beach; director of photography, Russell Harlan; editorial supervisor, George Boemler; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Harold Hecht; released by United Artists.

Starring Clark Gable (Cmdr. Richardson), Burt Lancaster (Lt. Bledsoe), Jack Warden (Yeoman 1st Class Mueller), Brad Dexter (Ens. Cartwright), Don Rickles (Quartermaster 1st Class Ruby), Nick Cravat (Russo), Mary LaRoche (Laura Richardson), and Joe Maross (Chief Kohler).



Lonelyhearts (1958, Vincent J. Donehue)

The most frustrating thing about Lonelyhearts is Donehue’s direction. While not a television production, Donehue directs it like one. He’ll have these shots of star Montgomery Clift baring his soul to girlfriend Dolores Hart and Donehue will stick with Clift, no reaction shot on Hart much less letting her hear the whole thing. Of course, less reaction shots in Lonelyhearts isn’t a bad thing. Donehue shoots them terribly. The first scene has one, while Clift is sitting in a booth with Myrna Loy and Robert Ryan and cuts from the three shot to a medium shot of Clift in his seat… obviously alone at the table. Coverage isn’t Donehue’s strong suit. Nothing is Donehue’s strong suit.

Lonelyhearts is based on a novel and a play, but producer and writer Dore Schary’s screenplay seems to favor the play. Unless the Robert Ryan character spoke in incessant monologue in the novel too. Not to complain about Ryan, who kind of gives the film’s best performance as a cruel newspaper editor who enjoys torturing his discontented staff almost as much as he likes torturing suffering wife Loy. She cheated on him once ten years ago, as a response to his multiple affairs, and has been waiting for him to forgive her since.

Yeah, Lonelyhearts has a lot of misogyny issues, even when it tries not to have them. While Ryan’s not a good guy because his cruelty, Loy’s only sympathetic because so she’s so contrite (and has been for so long).

Ryan gives the best performance throughout–he’s incredibly believable in his cynicism and loathing and self-loathing–and occasionally steals scenes from Clift. Only Ryan and Clift are guaranteed close-ups. They’re not the two top-billed for nothing. But once Clift’s story gets going and he starts collapsing in on himself, once he gets to make that self-loathing Ryan wants to engender in him physical, Clift’s got some great scenes. But he’s also got a somewhat crappy part.

Clift’s a young man with gumption (clearly not playing his thirty-eight years) who gets stuck writing the advice column because Ryan thinks he’s an idealist and Ryan likes breaking idealists. Clift’s also attractive and nice to Loy, so it gives Ryan a chance to be cruel to her about something else. Hart–Clift’s girlfriend and de facto fiancée–is twenty. Clift looks too old for her as the movie starts and he always looks older than her, but once he starts getting broken down, it’s like it takes the years off him.

The first half of the movie is everyone telling Clift he cares too much about the people writing to the advice column. It’s most effective when it’s Hart telling him he’s too empathetic because it just seems like Clift’s life is lose-lose. Then we find out he’s an orphan, then we find out he’s not really an orphan, his dad (Onslow Stevens) is just in jail for killing his mom for she cheating on him. The scene with Clift and Stevens facing off ought to be a lot better. It’s poorly directed and paced, but at that moment Clift looks way too old for the scene, even though Stevens actually is old enough to be his father.

Lonelyhearts has some terribly bland lighting from John Alton. It’s visually tedious, with these occasional moments when–somehow–Donehue manages to hold the shot on Clift or Ryan and get something good. Then it’ll cut away and Alton won’t match the lighting. But still, the actors are there to work. So it’s really unfortunate Loy gets squat and poorly directed squat at that. And it’s even more unfortunate Hart gets the “faithful girlfriend” role, only for Donehue to avoid her during her character development scenes, and her most frequent costars–Frank Overton (two years Clift’s senior) as her dad, Don and Johnny Washbrook as her brothers–give shockingly inept performances. Particularly bad writing for them as well. Schary’s not comfortable with silences, but he also doesn’t write background chatter well.

And the film’s use of sound effects to suggest they’re not shooting on a sound stage or an empty bar set? Inept. If Lonelyhearts were a television production upgraded to feature, it’d have some excuses. But as a feature made with television production standards? It’s got none.

The real drama in the film involves Maureen Stapleton and Frnak Maxwell. She writes to the column, devastated about the state of her marriage to handicapped Maxwell. Clift feels sympathy for her. Ryan says she’s a tramp wife on the make and demands he meet her in person. Things get complicated.

All Lonelyhearts needs is better direction. The script, albeit problematic, is more than passable–it doesn’t seem likely a film of its era would be able to get rid of the undercurrent of passive misogyny, given the subject matter–maybe some awareness of it would be nice. Though Hart getting a reasonable character arc and Clift or Ryan showing some real self-awareness instead of just implied future self-awareness would do a lot too. But Donehue’s direction sinks it.

The film starts low and claws its way up through its stagy production, poor technical efforts, wonky screenplay, all thanks to the cast. Ryan’s outstanding, Clift’s is occasionally but usually excellent. Both Stapleton and Maxwell have great moments; it’s unfortunate higher billed Hart and Loy don’t get the same courtesy.

A real musical score might’ve helped too. Conrad Salinger’s credited with one but it’s beyond sparse.

For having so many problems, Lonelyhearts is a kind of achievement. Acting-wise, anyway.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Vincent J. Donehue; screenplay by Dore Schary, based on a play by Howard Teichmann and a novel by Nathanael West; director of photography, John Alton; edited by John Faure and Aaron Stell; music by Conrad Salinger; produced by Schary; released by United Artists.

Starring Montgomery Clift (Adam White), Robert Ryan (William Shrike), Myrna Loy (Florence Shrike), Dolores Hart (Justy Sargeant), Maureen Stapleton (Fay Doyle), Frank Maxwell (Pat Doyle), Frank Overton (Mr. Sargeant), Jackie Coogan (Ned Gates), Mike Kellin (Frank Goldsmith), and Onslow Stevens (Mr. Lassiter).


Separate Tables (1958, Delbert Mann)

Despite taking place in a very English hotel with very English residents–all of them long-term residents, not temporary guests–Separate Tables hinges almost entirely on the Americans. Burt Lancaster is one such American. He’s a regular resident (even ostensibly engaged to manager Wendy Hiller; they’re definitely carrying on illicitly anyway). And Rita Hayworth is the other American. She’s one of the two inciting incidents. Though, arguably, Hiller and Lancaster’s engagement is the root inciter on that one.

The other inciting incident is retired British Army major David Niven getting into a bit of scandal. Niven is a blowhard, genially annoying to all his fellow residents–except Deborah Kerr. She’s there with her mother, Gladys Cooper. Cooper’s a nasty upper class widow, Kerr’s her terrorized, utterly controlled daughter. Cooper browbeats her, while Kerr resents her own day dreams. Only with Niven does she get a little bit of relief.

Cooper disapproves, of course, and is very glad to manipulate Niven’s scandal to hurt both him and Kerr. In a very British upper class sort of way. Cooper’s the film’s villain, but of course she’s a villain. Her behavior can’t be anything but reprehensible, given her character. Hard to feel malice towards her.

The Niven scandal–and Kerr’s reaction to it–is half the story. The other half is Hayworth and Lancaster. They used to be married. She’s a former fashion model, he’s an author of some renown. Their marriage ended with Lancaster in prison for assaulting her. But now she’s heard he’s fallen on hard times and was in London meeting her fiancé’s family and thought she’d look him up. To provide moral support. And, you know, seduce him. Because brute working class guys made good is the only thing ever to do it for her.

Except Lancaster still resents her for forcing him into the assault–she denied him his conjugal rights. Hearing Lancaster complain she didn’t let him treat her as property kind of undermines his sympathetic potential. Though, as it turns out, even though the Americans keep Separate Tables moving, they’re not really supposed to be the sympathetic ones.

They’re an extreme. Cooper (and Cooper’s way of thinking, which influences Kerr and even Niven) is another extreme. Tables is all about finding the balance.

The film takes place over a particularly eventful sixteen or so hours. Just before dinner to breakfast the next day. Tables runs a couple minutes under a hundred minutes, with the first act establishing a bunch of characters. The other residents include Cathleen Nesbitt as Cooper’s partner-in-crime, Felix Aylmer as a stuck-up retired public school teacher, May Hallatt as a horse better, and Rod Taylor and Audrey Dalton as two indiscreet lovers. Taylor’s studying for his surgical exams. Dalton’s ostensibly there to help, but she mostly just seduces him–literally–away from them. Initially, it’s through Taylor and Dalton the implied activity of sexual congress–which Cooper, Nesbitt, and Alymer–all find so distasteful, gets mentioned.

Cooper and Lancaster have just been doing it in secret for years before the engagement, which is still tentative and super-hush hush.

Separate Tables is a lot of talking, a lot of listening, a lot of silent, pained emoting. Once Niven breaks down in the first fifteen minutes–see, he knows the scandal is about to become known–it’s obvious the film’s tone is going to be somewhat peculiar. Director Mann relies entirely on the performances. He’s got a handful of showy moves, which all work beautifully, but it’s almost entirely shot to facilitate the performances. With Charles Lang’s gorgeous black and white photography. The film’s technically stunning–great music from David Raksin, great production design (it’s all on sound stages, including the exquisite exteriors) by Harry Horner. Except the editing. Every once in a while, Charles Ennis and Marjorie Fowler’s cuts will be jarringly bad. And even when they’re not jarringly bad, they’re never fully in sync with the performances. It never ruins a scene or really hurts one overall, but the editing causes some stumbles. It’s worst when it’s in a Hayworth and Lancaster scene, because they’re already a little rocky.

Hayworth’s cold, shallow, calculating former fashion model is kind of perfect counter for the cold, calculating, but repressed Brits around her. Hayworth’s best when she shows humanity, which rarely happens around Lancaster. Lancaster’s best when he’s opposite Hiller, just because his scenes with Hayworth are usually a combination of silent rage, silent lust, or noisy exposition dumps. While both Lancaster and Hayworth are good, they’re the weakest parts of the film. Especially when they’re together.

Meanwhile, the trouble brewing over Niven is positively enthralling, as Cooper musters her fellow residents in a revolt and each of them works through their personal feelings about the situation. Only Kerr gets to explode. And the movie–through Cooper–has been promising Kerr will explode since their first scene together (which is the second or third scene in the picture), so there’s a lot of anticipation.

Kerr doesn’t disappoint. Not once in the picture, even though much of her performance is just sitting looking upset. Niven never disappoints either. He’s got the biggest character arc and kind of two parts to play. One and a half at least.

Hiller’s great too, sort of better than the film deserves. It only makes it because of her. She’s able to support her costars enough to get them through their sometimes perfunctory or abbreviated character development.

Separate Tables is deliberate, careful, thoughtful. Mann and screenwriters Terence Rattigan (adapting his play) and John Gay pace it all perfectly. It never feels stagy, never feels confined, never feels perfunctory. At least not in the plotting or events. Sure, sometimes the character development is a little too slick, but it is only a hundred minutes and the present action is only sixteen or seventeen hours. The performances are sublime, the production (save the editing) is sublime. It’s a lovely, often impeccable film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Delbert Mann; screenplay by Terence Rattigan and John Gay, based on the play by Rattigan; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Charles Ennis and Marjorie Fowler; music by David Raksin; production designer, Harry Horner; produced by Harold Hecht; released by United Artists.

Starring Burt Lancaster (John Malcolm), Rita Hayworth (Ann Shankland), Deborah Kerr (Sibyl Railton-Bell), David Niven (Major Angus Pollock), Wendy Hiller (Pat Cooper), Gladys Cooper (Mrs. Railton-Bell), Cathleen Nesbitt (Lady Matheson), Felix Aylmer (Mr. Fowler), Rod Taylor (Charles), Audrey Dalton (Jean), Priscilla Morgan (Doreen), and May Hallatt (Miss Meacham).


The Great Monster Varan (1958, Honda Ishirô)

The only thing more tedious and lethargic than the first half of Varan is the second half of Varan. The first half has a motley crew of lepidopterologists awakening a giant monster. The second half has these lepidopterologists consulting with the military to destroy said monster.

Not sure why the military thinks a bunch of butterfly scientists will have good ideas about how to kill a giant monster. Eventually Hirata Akihiko shows up with the solution. Hirata killed the original Godzilla, which is only appropriate in Varan, since the monster has the exact same roar as Godzilla. Varan is done on the cheap. The real cheap.

The film has its share of behind-the-scenes drama. It was originally for television–a coproduction between Toho and an American company, but then the American company went bankrupt. So the two-part TV movie became a single eighty-six minute feature, in “TohoPanScope,” which had them cropping the television framing. I suppose that cropping is why a lot of director Honda’s shots are so bad. Even still, it doesn’t explain away the bad acting or godawful pace.

Or the lousy giant monster suit, which always seems in danger of coming apart onscreen.

There are numerous… well, they’re not exactly plot holes but narrative skips. Like when there’s a forest fire all of a sudden, or how–in the second half–the military attacks have nothing to do with what the Secretary of Defense orders. It makes sense as the Secretary of Defense (Yamada Minosuke) is utterly out of his depth. Yamada’s acting is bad, the script is bad, but even so, when he listens intently to the ideas of chief lepidopterologist Senda Koreya, there’s no plausible reason for Yamada to be listening to Senda. Senda’s writing is probably better, but his performance is so much worse. It’s a risible performance amid some decidedly unimpressive ones. Senda comes up with the solution at the last minute for saving the day, which is another of the film’s narrative skips. He all of a sudden remembers something–which the film doesn’t actually show, but should’ve–as the deus ex.

The first half makes Nomura Kôzô the hero for a while. He’s the intrepid lepidopterologist who dares to return to the giant monster’s territory after it kills two of his colleagues. He brings along Sonoda Ayumi; she’s a reporter and sister of one of the dead lepidopterologists. Varan has so little character establishing, her job is never important. There’s some stuff with newspapers reporting the monster, but it’s before she even shows up.

Bad editing from Taira Kazuji, piddly photography from Koizumi Hajime–though, really, who knows how Varan is really supposed to look (Toho apparently destroyed the original aspect ratio version of the film). But what remains isn’t adequately, much less impressively, photographed. The constant use of stock footage makes the experience even worse.

Ifukube Akira’s score is bad. Though he revised some of the music for later Toho kaiju movies to far better effect. Taira doesn’t really cut with the music in mind. Or sound. Maybe it’s because there are supposed to be commercial breaks. Seeing Varan cut into with commercials might help the overall viewing experience.

It’s an awful film. Especially when it refuses to end; the second half just goes on and on and on. There’s one single good miniature effects shot–and one good composite shot–but otherwise all the effects are bad. I suppose some of the matte backgrounds at the beginning are good. They aren’t godawful at least.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Sekizawa Shin’ichi, based on a story by Kuronuma Ken; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Shimizu Kiyoshi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nomura Kôzô (Kenji), Sonoda Ayumi (Yuriko), Senda Koreya (Dr. Sugimoto), Matsuo Fumindo (Horiguchi), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Fujimora), Murakami Fuyuki (Dr. Majima), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Katsumoto), Yamada Minosuke (Secretary of Defense), and Sera Akira (High Priest).


Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)

Vertigo is a nightmare. It starts with James Stewart recovering from a nightmare only to find himself in another one. Kim Novak finds herself trapped in a similar nightmare. There’s a lot of beauty in the nightmare, but it’s still a nightmare. And nightmares get worse before anyone wakes up. In Vertigo, both Stewart and Novak are trying to wake up from nightmares, only things get so entwined, they can’t.

Hitchcock, composer Bernard Herrmann and photographer Robert Burks spend the first three-quarters of the film dragging the viewer through the nightmare. The screenplay, from Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, is beautifully dense when it comes to dialogue. There’s so much talking at the start between Stewart and unrequited love interest Barbara Bel Geddes, between Stewart and old friend Tom Helmore. The script hammers in certain facts, certain things to remember, certain things to watch out for. Bel Geddes and Helmore have somewhat thankless roles in the script, mostly serving to anchor Stewart in reality, before he tries to find his way into Novak’s nightmare. She’s Helmore’s troubled wife. Unbeknownst to her, Stewart’s her bodyguard.

As Stewart tries to rationalize Novak’s nightmare from afar, Herrmann’s score booms, full of lush emotion. Stewart’s voyeurism percolates, apparently at a safe temperature, until the nightmare becomes Stewart’s and then it boils over. The film has varying styles, whether it’s Herrmann’s score and San Francisco locations or Novak and Stewart’s tragic courtship, Hitchcock brings them back. The same locations, over and over; at the beginning, it’s to bring stability to Stewart through Bel Geddes, later on, it’s for him to flounder in desperation. Different locations, of course. Bel Geddes, who gives a great performance and does get a few decent moments to herself, isn’t part of the nightmare. She might not be the happiest person, but the nightmare is something different.

Technically, the film’s a marvel. Hitchcock has these wonderful setups for visually tying Stewart and Novak together. It’s not just the locations, it’s the sets. It’s not just the set decorations, it’s how Hitchcock positions them in space. He has this wonderful way of having Stewart and Novak share the same space in a scene, sitting by the same lamp, standing in front of the same mirror, but keeping them apart. They can see each other, but they aren’t together. Different nightmares. Even if they think they’re sharing the same one.

At a certain point, Stewart ceases to be the film’s protagonist. Hitchcock pretends for a little while longer, but eventually Stewart and Novak’s story roles reverse. He becomes antagonist to her protagonist. Both actors do phenomenal work throughout, but during that reversal is when their work gets even better. Novak’s stunning. Stewart’s terrifying. Vertigo is unpleasant. It’s beautiful and it’s unpleasant. Just like a nightmare ought to be.

The film ends hastily. The nightmare is over. The viewer is left to reflect with an uneasy sensation–it’s all too horrible to dwell on. Hitchcock, his screenwriters, Novak, Stewart, Burks, Herrmann, editor George Tomasini–they create this perfectly encapsulated thing. The narrative pacing is great, the way Hitchcock applies various intensities throughout. There’s not a comfortable moment in Vertigo. Visual repetition only signifies things getting worse.

Edith Head’s costumes for Novak are also essential. It fits into the whole visual repetition thing. Hitchcock confronts every idea he implies in Vertigo. He never takes the easy route, making it a troubling, ambitious but constrained experience. It’s wonderful.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, based on a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by George Tomasini; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (John Ferguson), Kim Novak (Madeleine Elster), Barbara Bel Geddes (Midge Wood), Tom Helmore (Gavin Elster) and Konstantin Shayne (Pop Leibel).


Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles)

Touch of Evil is a visceral experience. Welles’s long takes and long sequences–in particular, the opening tracking shot, the apartment interrogation scene and the oil field interrogation at the end, these sequences depend on the viewer’s understanding of geography. Welles and cinematographer Russell Metty brilliantly establish the setting; then Welles does whatever he can to distract the viewer from it. Evil is active, whether through the movements of its characters, the camera, or even how Henry Mancini’s score works. The film is always moving.

The narrative is simple, if truncated–even without the studio interference, the narrative would be truncated. Welles plays a dirty cop who finally gets called on it by a Mexican police officer, played by Charlton Heston–yes, Evil is the film where you get to watch Charlton Heston play a Mexican. While Heston works to prove a pattern of corruption (mostly off-screen, making the revelation scenes all the more striking), Welles buddies up with Akim Tamiroff, who’s out to discredit Heston. But Welles starts the story being about Heston and Janet Leigh as newlyweds; they’re downright charming folks. He eschews a character study of his own character, he eschews juxtaposing that corruption story against Tamiroff’s plotting, which might work too. All for mainstream, studio acceptance. It’s a movie starring Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh after all. Shouldn’t they be more important than Tamiroff or Joseph Calleia?

They “should,” but they aren’t. And Welles is upfront about it. Once Heston and Leigh split onto their own storylines in the first act, Heston spends his time playing second fiddle (not so for Leigh) to the supporting players. Heston enables wonderful scenes from Calleia, Heston and Ray Collins. Leigh has a great scene with Tamiroff before playing terrified. She’s good terrified, but she doesn’t have any better scenes than her first big one in the showdown with Tamiroff.

Welles, as an actor, is flawless. He’s showing off and still giving a great performance. He gets most of the film’s best scenes, but he also gives himself more a character actor role.

The entire supporting cast is outstanding. Welles is clearly thrilled to have them and lets them work; Calleia does an amazing job. Valentin de Vargas and Victor Millan are good in smaller parts. Marlene Dietrich is perfect in her “cameo.”

Touch of Evil is a brilliant film. Welles’s abilities once again survive the studio knife, which is both frustrating and fortunate.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Orson Welles; screenplay by Welles, based on a novel by Whit Masterson; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Aaron Stell and Virgil W. Vogel; music by Henry Mancini; produced by Albert Zugsmith; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Charlton Heston (Mike Vargas), Janet Leigh (Susan Vargas), Orson Welles (Police Captain Hank Quinlan), Joseph Calleia (Police Sergeant Pete Menzies), Akim Tamiroff (‘Uncle’ Joe Grandi), Mort Mills (Al Schwartz), Ray Collins (District Attorney Adair), Dennis Weaver (Mirador Motel Night Manager), Valentin de Vargas (Pancho), Victor Millan (Manelo Sanchez), Joanna Moore (Marcia Linnekar), Harry Shannon (Chief Gould) and Marlene Dietrich (Tana).


Ashes and Diamonds (1958, Andrzej Wajda)

Ashes and Diamonds is unexpectedly on the nose. There’s even a scene where protagonist Zbigniew Cybulski taps his nose; I had no idea it meant director Wajda was going to go for not just narrative obviousness in the third act, but also visual obviousness. In just a few minutes, Wajda and co-screenwriter Jerzy Andrzejewski (adapting Andrzejewski’s novel) completely change tracks with Ashes. One minute, it’s a complex look at smaller city life in Poland as–literally–World War II ends and how communism is changing things. The next? It’s this painfully didactic morality tale.

Wadja might be able to get away with that morality tale if he’d prepared for it. Instead, it requires Cybulski’s character to change entirely–and Cybulski’s the most distinct character from the first scene of the film–for an unbelievable reason. Wadja and Andrzejewski have this tightly constructed tale set in a banquet hall, bar and hotel. And a little bit in the city. The characters move around each other, orbits affecting orbits. It’s extremely natural. Until Ashes hints at its downfall with a subplot. It’s too obvious a narrative move. For a few minutes, it seems like the film might avoid it. Then Wadja and Andrzejewski embrace the melodrama and run full steam ahead.

It’s frustrating for multiple reasons. First, the story would be more interesting without Cybulski and his anti-Communist story. It’s a sensational story, but it’s nowhere near as engaging as the supporting characters’ regular lives. Wadja puts in so much work to the supporting cast to give them so little. Second, the acting is excellent. Adam Pawlikowski, Waclaw Zastrzezynski, Bogumil Kobiela. All excellent. They get almost nothing to do by the end of the film. Ewa Krzyzewska, as Cybulski’s casual encounter, is great until she too is required to completely betray her character. The world isn’t complex, Wadja and Andrzejewski reveal. It’s painfully simplistic.

And, finally, it’s frustrating because Wadja’s direction–even when he’s being obvious–is startlingly fantastic. He and photographer Jerzy Wójcik perfectly compose every moment in the film, even the tepid ones.

For much of its runtime, Ashes and Diamonds is a major achievement. It’s a major disappointment at the end. Albeit a brilliantly made one.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Andrzej Wajda; screenplay by Jerzy Andrzejewski and Wajda, based on a novel by Andrzejewski; director of photography, Jerzy Wójcik; edited by Halina Nawrocka; music by Filip Nowak; production designer, Roman Mann; released by Zespól Filmowy “Kadr”.

Starring Zbigniew Cybulski (Maciek Chelmicki), Ewa Krzyzewska (Krystyna), Waclaw Zastrzezynski (Szczuka), Adam Pawlikowski (Andrzej), Bogumil Kobiela (Drewnowski), Jan Ciecierski (Portier), Stanislaw Milski (Pieniazek), Artur Mlodnicki (Kotowicz), Halina Kwiatkowska (Staniewiczowa), Ignacy Machowski (Waga), Zbigniew Skowronski (Slomka), Barbara Krafftówna (Stefka) and Aleksander Sewruk (Swiecki).


Mon Oncle (1958, Jacques Tati)

Mon Oncle has a concerning amount of narrative. Way too much of the film is about Jean-Pierre Zola and Adrienne Servantie’s bourgeois ultra-modern couple fretting over their son’s affection for his uncle, played by writer-director Tati.

Tati’s protagonist does not live in the automated home of Zola and Servantie, but in a quainter, more traditional part of the city. There are these lovely sequences–Suzanne Baron’s editing and Jean Bourgoin’s photography are magnificent–with a pack of dogs running between new and old. It’s one of Tati’s best repetitions in the film.

The story takes place over a few days (or at least gives that impression). Over that time, Zola gets so fed up with Tati, things just have to change. Except all of these exasperating situations are contrived, whether it’s Zola trying to get Tati a job multiple times or Servantie trying to set him up with a woman. The nephew, played by Alain Bécourt, follows Tati around but they don’t have a relationship. The film’s best relationship is probably Tati and his young neighbor, Betty Schneider. She’s becoming a young woman (and does by the end of the film, which makes no sense since it takes place over a few days) and their relationship is adorable.

Uncle goes on and on, with Tati filling the lackluster second half with lots of somewhat cheap gags. He never uses Henri Schmitt’s sets to full potential.

The first half’s good, but when it needs to progress, it flops.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Jacques Tati; screenplay by Tati, based on a story by Tati, Jacques Lagrange and Jean L’Hôte; director of photography, Jean Bourgeon; edited by Suzanne Baron; music by Franck Barcellini and Alains Romans; production designer, Henri Schmitt; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot), Jean-Pierre Zola (Charles Arpel), Adrienne Servantie (Madame Arpel), Alain Bécourt (Gerard Arpel), Lucien Frégis (Monsieur Pichard), Betty Schneider (Betty, Landlord’s Daughter), Jean-François Martial (Walter), Dominique Marie (Neighbor), Yvonne Arnaud (Georgette) and Adelaide Danieli (Madame Pichard).


Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (1958, Leo McCarey)

It’s hard to describe what’s wrong with Rally ’Round the Flag, Boys!; not because its ailments are mysterious but because the sentence is just a little problematic. Rally is a light handling of what should be a mature comedy. It deals with big issues–fifties suburban malaise and boredom, not to mention a strange post-war animosity towards the military–but director McCarey tries to do it all Cinemascope slapstick.

He does not succeed.

He’s lucky to have such a strong cast, because they really get the film to its finish. Its finish involves a Fourth of July pageant. The script lays the groundwork for that pageant real early, before taking a detour into a comedy of errors where Paul Newman can’t get away from Joan Collins’s roaming housewife, much to his chagrin and wife Joanne Woodward’s anger. The first twenty or so minutes setting up this part of the film are boring but gently amusing. Woodward and Newman are great together and Collins has a lot of fun.

Until her goofy dance sequences. There are maybe three of them. They all stop the film for a moment because they’re so awkward. Maybe if the editing were better. Louis R. Loeffler does a real bad job editing Rally.

But there’s also a tangent with teenager Tuesday Weld, who’s appealing but pointless if the film’s about Newman and Woodward. McCarey seems to be aiming high with the film’s ambitions, but he fails on all of them so maybe he wasn’t.

Rally’s fine, just unsuccessful.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Leo McCarey; screenplay by Claude Binyon and McCarey, based on the novel by Max Shulman; director of photography, Leon Shamroy; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Paul Newman (Harry Bannerman), Joanne Woodward (Grace Oglethorpe Bannerman), Joan Collins (Angela Hoffa), Jack Carson (Capt. Hoxie), Dwayne Hickman (Grady Metcalf, Comfort’s suitor), Tuesday Weld (Comfort Goodpasture), Gale Gordon (Brig. Gen. W.A. Thorwald), Tom Gilson (Corporal Opie) and O.Z. Whitehead (Isaac Goodpasture, Comfort’s Father).


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