Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

'50s dramas

Staying with the '50s for now, it seems it was the great decade for dramas, starting with ALL ABOUT EVE and SUNSET BOULEVARD in 1950, up to ANATOMY OF A MURDER and SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER in 1959. Here are some renowed, still endlessly watched titles:
ALL ABOUT EVE / SUNSET BOULEVARD / A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE / A PLACE IN THE SUN / COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA / CARRIE / FROM HERE TO ETERNITY / THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA / THE COUNTRY GIRL / A STAR IS BORN - its surely as much a drama as a musical / EAST OF EDEN / ON THE WATERFRONT / GIANT / REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE / BIGGER THAN LIFE / THE ROSE TATTOO / I'LL CRY TOMORROW / ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS / PICNIC / MARTY / BABY DOLL / BUS STOP / PEYTON PLACE / SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS / PATHS OF GLORY / 12 ANGRY MEN / A FACE IN THE CROWD / I WANT TO LIVE / SEPARATE TABLES / THE LONG HOT SUMMER / CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF / THE DEFIANT ONES / ANATOMY OF A MURDER / ON THE BEACH / THE NUN'S STORY / SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. It was of course the great era of those Tennessee Williams and William Inge adaptations (even if they had to be diluted for the screen) and of course the heyday of Kazan and Kramer, Nicholas Ray and Otto Preminger, with Wyler, Wilder and Zinnemann, Mankiewicz, Cukor and Minnelli, Huston and Hawks, Hitchcock and Ford all producing their late classics. I particularly like the look of those late '50s/early '60s 'American dream' melodramas like: A SUMMER PLACE, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, IMITATION OF LIFE, STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET by the likes of Evan Hunter who also scripted THE BIRDS.
Here are just a few overlooked ones I like:

BONJOUR TRISTESSE - one of Otto's big successes in 1958, this was bliss to discover recently. Its a terrific adaptation of Francoise Sagan's novel and Jean Seberg is perfect as Cecile it's narrator. The present as Cecile, a spoiled rich girl, and her playboy father David Niven continue their irresponsible way around the Paris highlife is in black and white, melting into technicolor when they recall the events that destroyed their happiness last summer... Deborah Kerr has one of her best roles as the new woman in Niven's life, whom Cecile discovers will not allow her to carry on doing as she pleases. Mylene Demongeot is nice as Niven's cast-off mistress, Geoffrey Horne is Cecile's boyfriend, and its all nicely judged and one of Otto's best. There is a nice moment near the start with Juliette Greco singing the theme tune in the nightclub as Cecile dances and tries to forget. Niven is much better here as the roue father than in SEPERATE TABLES as the blustering bogus colonel. Great views of '50s Paris and the Riviera too. As ever great Saul Bass titles.

THE JOURNEY - Anatole Litvak's 1959 drama set against the backdrop of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 with a busload of passengers trying to get to the border, is rather forgotten now, but TCM UK have been reviviving it recently. The best of 3 Deborah Kerr films in '59, she is ideally cast here as the perfectly groomed English milady (complete with pearls and twinsets) trying to smuggle her lover, wounded Jason Robards (his debut) over the border. Robert Morley is splendidly on board too and yes, that annoying child is the young Ron Howard. Kerr and Yul Brynner are re-united here and even have a little dance. He is the disillusioned Russian leader, and it reaches a nice dramatic climax. Anouk Aimee registers as a freedom fighter and Senta Berger is one of the girls in the background. It was an important film for Kerr as she met her second husband, writer Peter Viertel, here as he was helping Litvak (always a great director of actresses) with the script.

THE SEA WALL [or THIS ANGRY AGE]. There is a new French version starring Isabelle Huppert of this Marguerite Duras story - but this 1958 Rene Clement drama is a cherished memory as the movie itself seems totally unavailable these days. Set in French Indochina it features another great mother role for Jo Van Fleet here trying to keep her plantation from the oncroaching sea. Her son and daughther played by Silvana Mangano and Tony Perkins have their own ideas. Alida Valli features, as does Nehemiah Persoff and Richard Conte. Its a fascinating film (as is the recent version with the original title "Un Barrage Contre la Pacifique") one of those co-productions De Lauentiis did featuring his wife and star Silvana Mangano, who seems to feature a lot in my choices. Van Fleet of course was also amazing as the very old woman in Kazan's WILD RIVER from 1960 with Clift and Remick.

FIVE BRANDED WOMEN. An offbeat, downbeat Martin Ritt drama from 1959 - Ritt was certainly having an intriguing run of films in the late '50s and into the '60s. This is another Dino De Laurentiis co-production about 5 women who have their heads shaved in wartime Yugoslavia for fraternising with the enemy, they join the partisans led by Van Heflin and Richard Basehart and its all very very glum - but the women are Mrs De Lauretiis Silvana Mangano and Jeanne Moreau, plus Vera Miles and Barbara Bel Geddes. Carla Gravina as I remember was the 5th one ... they really did have their heads shaved - Vera Miles had to wear that unflattering wig in her next film, PSYCHO, as her hair had not grown back!

4 from that great year 1954:
THIS IS MY LOVE - here Linda Darnell is Vida, the unmarried sister of the more vivacious Faith Domergue married to crippled ex-dancer Dan Duryea who is very jealous of his young attractive wife. Vida lives with the mismatched couple and works in their diner and is engaged (or stringing along) a very dull boyfriend, until one day his friend, a “gas station Casanova” Rick Jason walks in and seems the answer to Vida’s dreams. He is merely leading her along however until he meets the vivacious Faith, thus setting in motion a tale of rage, murder and revenge, played out in lurid colours as the girls sling hash in the diner. 50s lurid melodramas don’t come much better than this, as directed by Stuart Heisler. [Jason was back in the '50s diner milieu in the downbeat '57 Fox film of Steinbeck's THE WAYWARD BUS as the bus driver married to shrewish diner owner Joan Collins (which Linda has tested for and would have been ideal casting) and with down-on-her-luck stripper Jayne Mansfield also on board the bus. The Steinbeck estate seems to be holding up release of this interesting very-'50s oddity - Fox could not include it in either their Joan or Jayne boxsets!]

KNAVE OF HEARTS [or MONSIEUR RIPOIS]. Good to finally get to see this rare Rene Clement film from '54 which features Gerard Philipe as the amorous Frenchman on the loose in a very '50s London breaking hearts left right and centre. The women include Joan Greenwood at her very best, and quite heartbreaking here, as well as Natasha Parry and Valerie Hobson. There was extensive location shooting so its fascinating seeing London of the period. Clement has a sure touch as he demonstrated a few years later with that great Highsmith adaptation PLEIN SOLEIL where the 24 year old Delon is as much an outsider as Philipe is here.

MAMBO is a film I had never heard of until recently, but its a fascinating puzzle. Its a Paramount film directed by Robert Rossen (an odd choice for him) but its also a Carlo Ponti-Dino De Laurentiis production set mainly in Venice and Rome with two Italian stars, Silvana Mangano and Vittorio Gassman – if only it had been in color with that great scenery and Venetian masked balls and the colourful Katherine Dunham dance group, which Silvana joins. She looks terrific here and in the dance numbers (the mambo must have been big about then as Loren does a terrific one in her ‘working in the river in shorts’ film WOMAN OF THE RIVER). MAMBO’s convoluted plot features Shelley Winters (Mrs Gasssman at the time) in what is surely one of the first clearly implied lesbian roles as she has a major crush on Silvana. Michael Rennie completes the odd quartet. Silvana's numbers are available on YouTube.

WOMAN OF THE RIVER. I have now re-seen the 1954 WOMAN OF THE RIVER for the first time since I saw it as a kid, and I am amazed at the 19 year old Sophia here in 1954, a very busy year for her - as Nives the proud canning factory girl who falls for hunk Rik Battaglia she does a sensational mambo dance and is just wonderful - no wonder it was her calling card to international films. She also goes cane cutting in the Po river, and it ends in drama with her young child. Its a film for the Italian market and Pasolini had a hand in the script, but its certainly vivid 50+ years later.

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