Halls of Montezuma (1951)

halls of montezuma film review

“The everlasting story of the everlasting glory of the UNITED STATES MARINES!” That tagline might lead one to expect this film to be a gung-ho pro-America, pro-war film. It certainly has enough action and ‘splosions to satisfy your average war film fan but this is essentially an anti-war film. That may come as no surprise if you’ve seen one of the earliest anti-war films, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) by the same director, Lewis Milestone. The story takes place during WWII where a company of Marines have landed on a Japanese held island in the Pacific. As they advance inland the Japanese launch an unrelenting rocket attack and the combined US forces are unable to locate the rocket base. Richard Widmark stars as Lt. Anderson who is tasked with capturing Japanese prisoners in order to get information from them about the rocket base. The quest to solve this mystery, which involves an understanding of the Japanese psyche and a bit of luck, forms the main story arc of the film but along the way we get to know some of the main characters through occasional flashbacks to their lives before the war. Lt. Anderson was formerly a high school chemistry teacher who has developed migraine headaches due to the stress of resisting his urge to flee from combat. He relies on Doc (Karl Malden) to keep him supplied with painkillers so he can continue to function when the headaches start. Anderson knows he could use his condition to get a ticket home but war has made him bitter and he would rather die. What finally gives him hope for the future is the film’s central message which I found a tad too religious. The film was made with extensive cooperation from the United States Marine Corps and even utilized by them as a recruitment film which seems a bit odd considering its anti-war stance. And they needed recruits as the U.S. had entered the Korean War in 1950 while this film was being shot. The Navy and Marine units who appear in the film would go on to fight in Korea.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Halls of Montezuma at imdb.com

As of May, 2017, Halls of Montezuma is available to rent on DVD from ClassicFlix.com.

The Savage Horde (1950)

the savage horde (1950) film review

The best little Western you’ve never seen! The rather generic title might put one off but this is a quality B Western from the studio that specialized in the genre, Republic Pictures. At the heart of the story is a conflict between Wade Proctor, an unscrupulous cattle rancher with a large operation, and a group of cattle ranchers with smaller herds. Whereas Westerns about range wars may be rather common I found this one intriguing not only because it is well done but I sensed that there is more going on here than meets the eye.

As far as I know, neither the director nor screenwriter had any problems with the House Un-American Activities Committee but there seemed to be a message involved when the ranchers join forces and band their herds together in order to stand up to Proctor (“Worker of the world, unite!”). Proctor has a hired group of henchmen that he uses to intimidate the ranchers and he owns the only figure of law enforcement in the area, an elderly and cowardly judge who is financially dependent on Proctor. In today’s terms the story could be seen as a metaphor for the struggle of the 99% against the 1%. The plot device is as old as the biblical tale of David and Goliath and I may be stretching things a bit too far but consider that the story on which the screenplay was based was written by Thames Ross Williamson (1894-1961), who was not only a prolific writer of novels and screenplays but also wrote text books on economics and political science. He studied at Harvard, taught and lectured on economics all over the world. Certainly his interests in economics and political science informed his fiction writing. I can’t say for sure what Williamson’s political persuasions were but the outcome of the film may be a clue.

The theme of good vs. evil is of course common to almost all Westerns which I think is part of their universal appeal. The concept of evil is a human invention which to me describes impulses emanating from the unconscious and collective unconscious. We all struggle with unconscious impulses. It’s not that there are good men and bad men but that good and evil, or consciousness and unconsciousness, are at war within each of us. This particular film deals with the evil, or unconscious impulse, known as greed. Wade Proctor is a man totally given over to the impulse. He is not so much a man as he is a personification of a vice. Of course those who oppose him are personifications of good or consciousness. More recent Westerns have given us characters that are more true to life in that they are a mixture of good and evil impulses but I feel that many older, simpler Westerns can also be taken as true to life if one regards them in a metaphorical way.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

The Savage Horde at imdb.com

As of August, 2016 The Savage Horde is available to stream at Amazon.

Miquette et sa mère (1950)

Miquette et sa mère film review

The general consensus seems to be that this is the weakest effort from French director Henri-Georges Clouzot who is probably best known for The Wages of Fear (1953) and Diabolique (1955). According to Wikipedia, Clouzot only made the film to fulfill a contract and it was neither a financial nor critical success. It is based on a comedy first produced on the stage in 1906 about a naive young girl, Miquette (Danièle Delorme), who works in her mother’s variety store in a small town and dreams of being an actress much to her mother’s disapproval.  She catches the eye of Monchablon (Louis Jouvet), the hammy leader of a traveling theatre group when he stops in the store. She reveals her theatrical aspirations to him and he invites her to contact him if she ever visits Paris. Urbain (Bourvil), the awkwardly shy nephew of the town’s wealthiest citizen, Le marquis (Saturnin Fabre), is in love with Miquette but his uncle is pressuring him to marry an ugly heiress. When Le marquis catches the two together he chases his nephew off and, finding himself attracted to Miquette, takes her to Paris to fulfill her acting ambitions with hopes of making her his wife or mistress. In Paris she joins Monchablon’s group and begins acting in comedies. Her mother arrives in Paris intending to take her back home but ends up joining the the theatre group as well. Meanwhile, Urbain, still in love, sends anonymous gifts and attends her performances. The play performed by Monchablon’s group is cleverly blended with the story in the film. The use of intertitles setting the scenes and the actors making asides to the film audience lend a vaudevillian aspect. As this is the third film adaptation of the play perhaps the story was overly familiar to the French when the film was released but I found it witty and amusing. It’s lightweight material, a style of entertainment the French term boulevard theatre, but if you haven’t seen Clouzot’s other films or if you can watch it without expecting something on par with The Wages of Fear you may be pleasantly rewarded.

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

Miquette et sa mère at imdb.com

Although there is a DVD available on the French amazon.com I believe the only version available with English subtitles as of July, 2016 is streaming at rarefilmm.com.

All About Eve (1950)

all about eve film review

All About Eve won six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. It was nominated for 14 Awards, a feat equaled only by Titanic (1997) though some of the categories the latter film was nominated for didn’t exist in 1951. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who wrote and directed All About Eve, is given credit for bringing a New York sensibility to American cinema. He longed to be part of the New York theater circle though he never directed a play nor had a play produced on Broadway.  Mankiewicz regarded Hollywood people with disdain, an attitude shared by the theatre people who are the subject of All About Eve, yet he liked the money, the women, and the control that came with his career as a film director.

Herman Mankiewicz, Joe’s older brother, started out as a newspaperman eventually becoming one of Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriters. He co-wrote Citizen Kane (1941) with Orson Welles for which both men received Oscars. Herman helped Joe get his start in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Joe produced several films for MGM including The Philadelphia Story (1940) and began directing in 1946 after leaving MGM for 20th Century Fox. As a director Mankiewicz wasn’t too interested in the visual aspect of his films. He felt that directors who employed fancy camera work and lighting were trying to draw attention to themselves and distracting the audience from the screenplay and the actors. Mankiewicz essentially wrote theatre for the big screen. In fact, Random House, which usually only published Broadway plays, published the screenplay for All About Eve. As Bill Sampson, the theatre director in the film says, “What book of rules says the theatre exists only within some ugly buildings crowded into one square mile of New York City? Wherever there’s magic and make believe and an audience there’s theatre.”

The origin for Mankiewicz’s screenplay was the short story The Wisdom of Eve written by Mary Orr and published in the May, 1946 issue of Cosmopolitan. Her story was loosely based on real events involving her friend, Viennese actress Elisabeth Bergner, and Martina Lawrence, a devoted fan who stood outside Bergner’s stage door for months during a performance of a play. Bergner’s husband took Martina on as an assistant. When Bergner was late for a reading with another actor Martina filled in for her, replicating Bergner’s performance down to the accent and stage business. Bergner arrived in time to see Martina imitating her. Their relationship ended when one of Bergner’s fans wrote to her praising Martina’s reading and Martina stole the letter.

Mankiewicz took this story and embellished it with details that mirrored his own life. The conflict between a stage star on her way down, Margo Channing, and a star on her way up, Eve Harrington, is a reflection of Joe’s relationship with his brother Herman. Their father, a stern taskmaster, always considered Herman the more gifted of his two sons. When Joe got started in Hollywood he was frequently referred to as Herman’s kid brother. Unfortunately, as Joe’s career began to rise Herman’s was sinking due to his alcoholism and gambling. Joe envied Herman’s Academy Award and wanted All About Eve to be his Citizen Kane. There are similarities between the films such as the flashback structure and the way the characters are introduced.

An even greater parallel exists between Margo Channing and Mankiewicz’s second wife Rose Stradner, an Austrian actress who had also been upstaged by an understudy. The famous party scene where Margo gets drunk and misbehaves is typical of what went on in the Mankiewicz household according to Christopher Mankiewicz, one of Joe’s sons. Like Herman, Rose was an alcoholic and like Margo, afraid of losing her husband to a younger woman and she had every reason to be since Joe was a notorious philanderer. Mankiewicz was a devotee of psychoanalysis and would use psychological jargon with his wife just as Bill Sampson does with Margo. He would ask psychiatrist Karl Menninger to analyze his screenplays to determine if he had portrayed the psychological aspects of his characters successfully.

Perhaps Mankiewicz picked up the notion that women are happier being housewives than having a career from some psychological study in the late 40’s which may explain Margo’s lines in the film about a woman not being complete without a man. When she announces her plans to marry Bill and turns down a part in a new play she says, “I finally have a life to live. I don’t have to play parts I’m too old for just because I have nothing to do with my nights.” Margo seems happy but this is one instance in the film that seems more like wishful thinking on Mankiewicz’s part than a reflection of his own life. He stifled his wife’s career because he felt she belonged at home. She tried to drown her unhappiness with alcohol and took her own life in 1958 at the age of 45.

In some ways life imitated the film. Bette Davis who plays Margo Channing and Gary Merrill who plays her lover Bill Sampson actually fell in love during the production. They were married shortly afterwards and remained man and wife for ten years. Anne Baxter who plays Eve Harrington insisted on being considered for the Best Actress Award instead of Best Supporting Actress which probably prevented Bette Davis from winning the Oscar for Best Actress. Mankiewicz invented the Sarah Siddons Award for the film but in 1952 a group of theatre enthusiasts in Chicago founded the Sarah Siddons Society to honor actors for their theatre performances in Chicago. The Society still exists and past recipients of the Award include Celeste Holm and Bette Davis.

Bette Davis’ performance in All About Eve is considered one of her finest. Like Margo Channing her career was declining but this film initiated a brief resuscitation. George Sanders won the Best Supporting Actor Award and his performance as theatre critic Addison DeWitt is considered one of his best if not his best. The film also features Marilyn Monroe in a small role early on in her career. It is said that her presence in this film helped advance her career.

Whereas All About Eve has great writing and performances I don’t consider it a great film. It’s a very good film and its wittiness is a delight to the intellect but the medium of cinema is capable of so much more than capturing the performance of a well written screenplay. I consider Mankiewicz’s No Way Out, released earlier in 1950, a better film as it is less theatrical and more cinematic.

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

All About Eve at imdb.com

As of May, 2016 All About Eve  is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.com

 

Story of a Love Affair (1950)

story of a love affair (1950) film review

The year 1950 marked the feature film debuts of two prominent Italian directors, Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. Both started their careers in the film industry as screenwriters in 1942 though Antonioni made several documentary shorts beginning in 1947 before his first feature film, Story of a Love Affair (original Italian title: Cronaca di un amore). Both directors broke from their Neorealist backgrounds with their first features. Fellini’s and co-director Alberto Lattuada’s Variety Lights is a bittersweet backstage comedy whereas Antonioni’s Story of a Love Affair is influenced more by American film noir than Italian Neorealism. Most of the characters are affluent and the film concerns the dynamics of a relationship rather than the social issues treated in a film like Bicycle Thieves (1948). It starts out like a police procedural as Enrico Fontana, a wealthy businessman, hires a private detective to investigate his beautiful young wife’s past. The wife, Paola, is played by nineteen year old Lucia Bosé who won the Miss Italia beauty contest in 1947. After the detective snoops around Paola’s home town one of her former beaus, Guido, travels to Milan to warn her. Seven years previously Guido’s fiancée died after falling down an elevator shaft while they stood by and watched so they assume the detective is investigating her death. Ironically it is Fontana’s suspicion that reunites the former lovers and rekindles their passion. Parallels to The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) appear when Paola starts suggesting that Guido kill Fontana so they can be together. The rest of the film however does not play out like a typical noir but veers toward a psychological study of the two lovers.

Even in his first feature Antonioni displays the distinctive style that would permeate his later films. One of these traits is his use of the physical environment and architecture to comment on the characters and situation. Notable in this film is the use of one-point perspective which may suggest a narrowing of possibilities for the characters and their relationship. The film’s low budget is most apparent in the sound design and minimally orchestrated score. Like most Italian films the sound was post-synched. The original negative was lost so the film had to be restored from a surviving print which may be partially to blame for the less than stellar audio. The Lorber Films DVD edition apparently has the same transfer used by the now defunct NoShame label in addition to a second disc of extras all of which I found rather tedious.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

Story of a Love Affair at imdb.com

As of April, 2016 Story of a Love Affair is available on DVD and for streaming at Amazon.com

The Breaking Point (1950)

the breaking point film review

Ernest Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not has been adapted to film several times. The first, and most famous, is the Howard Hawks film To Have and Have Not (1944) with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It has little in common with Hemingway’s novel other than the title, the name of the protagonist, and his occupation. The third cinematic adaptation was The Gun Runners  (1958), directed by Don Siegel with Audie Murphy in the lead role. The Breaking Point is most faithful to the novel and of all the film versions of his novels this was Hemingway’s favorite. The original setting in Florida during the Great Depression has been changed to California after WWII. Central character Harry Morgan (John Garfield) was a PT boat captain in the war who’s having a hard time fitting into the postwar prosperity bubble like many returning servicemen. He charters his boat for sport fishing but can’t seem to keep up on the payments on his boat and support his wife Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter) and two kids. Whereas the Hawks film transformed Hemingway’s novel into a tale of patriotism, The Breaking Point  is mostly about the post-war crisis of masculinity.

After a disastrous charter trip to Mexico Harry tells his wife Lucy to lay off him because he’s had a rough three weeks:

Lucy: Don’t give me that purple heart routine. You’ve got a wife and two kids to think about. Keeping us together, getting us enough to eat, clothes for our backs. That’s the biggest war there is and you better realize it.

Harry: It’s war all right and I’m scared.

It’s on that trip to Mexico that Harry meets Leona Charles (Patricia Neal), a good-time girl who tries hard to seduce Harry who truly loves his wife. Some reviewers felt the Leona character existed only to give the film some sex appeal but I disagree. When her attempts to seduce Harry are unsuccessful she has her own crisis of identity that mirrors Harry’s.  Her line, “I don’t like to think I’m not exciting, haven’t got much else” is echoed later by Harry’s: “All I got left to peddle is guts.” Their relationship is just as important to the film as Harry’s relationship to his wife.

Director Michael Curtiz who is best known for Casablanca (1942) also helmed Four Daughters (1938) which was Garfield’s screen debut that catapulted him to stardom. Garfield, born of poor Jewish immigrants, grew up in the Lower East Side of New York City and was a gang leader until he was introduced to acting in reform school. Lawrence Swindell writes in his biography: “”Garfield’s work was spontaneous, non-actory; it had abandon. He didn’t recite dialogue, he attacked it until it lost the quality of talk and took on the nature of speech.” He is considered a predecessor to Method actors like Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Montgomery Clift. Garfield’s liberal political views caused him to be investigated by the HUAC to whom he refused to name names which put an end to his film career. Due to  a childhood case of scarlet fever, he had a weak heart and died aged 39 in 1951. Some say the investigation hastened his death. Ironically, after his death, the committee cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Warner Brothers did little to promote the film upon its release owing perhaps to the investigation. Due to a legal dispute the film wasn’t aired or released on DVD until 2011.  Perhaps now it will gain the wider appreciation that it deserves.

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

The Breaking Point at imdb

As of March, 2016 The Breaking Point is available to buy on DVD or stream at Amazon.com.

Crisis (1950)

crisis film review Based on the short story The Doubters by George Tabori, Crisis marks the directorial debut of Richard Brooks (In Cold Blood). Spencer Tracy was to play the part of an American neurosurgeon vacationing in an unnamed Latin American country with his ten year old daughter but the suits at MGM thought a little romance would help at the box office and so Cary Grant was cast along with Paula Raymond as his wife. Raymond’s role is superfluous for the most part and as the character’s function is mostly that of a pawn in a political struggle I think the original idea of a daughter would’ve have been better because it’s easier to accept the presence of a thinly drawn character when it’s a child. The film belongs to Grant and José Ferrer, who plays the dictator, Raoul Ferrago,  of that unnamed Latin American country (parallels to Argentina and Juan Perón are fairly obvious).  Ferrago detains Ferguson (Grant) because he is suffering from a life-threatening brain tumor and doesn’t want to leave the country nor even his presidential palace fearing his government will be overthrown by revolutionaries in his absence. Ferguson resents being held prisoner but feels compelled as a doctor to perform surgery however he risks provoking the ire of the populace if he saves the hated tyrant’s life. Grant, who rarely got a chance to play dramatic roles, does quite well here but judging by the film’s box office performance the public preferred him in his usual lighter roles.  It may not be the most suspenseful political thriller you’ll ever see nor is it a must-see film but I don’t regret the time spent watching it. ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10) Crisis at imdb. As of July, 2015 the Warner Archive DVD of Crisis is available to rent from Classicflix.com.