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.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Back to 1954

The year in MY FAVOURITE YEAR is 1954 and I reckon it has to be one of mine too ... as its where it all began for me, going to the cinema aged 8. Seeing JOHNNY GUITAR* and A STAR IS BORN* were certainly a great intoduction to cinema with their great imagery. 1954 now in retrospect seems the pinnacle of those Eisenhower years with those big cars and odd fashions - a strange conformist time too with those HUAC hearings - but in the cinema it was that safe comfortable period, as Brando and Grace Kelly took centre stage.

The year's undoubted classics remain ON THE WATERFRONT, REAR WINDOW, A STAR IS BORN, SABRINA, THE COUNTRY GIRL, THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, so a good year then for Kazan, Hitchcock, Wilder, Mankiewicz and Cukor (though his Garland opus ended with cuts for decades until restored). It was also a great year for genre films and routine progammers. Musicals included CARMEN JONES, THERES NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS* (cementing Monroe's ascendency), the below par BRIGADOON, THE STUDENT PRINCE with Ann Blyth scoring as the singing barmaid while Purdom mimes to Lanza; and of course those SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS which didn't do it for me at all.

Westerns were rife, my dad took me to Alan Ladd in DRUMBEAT, Guy Madison in THE COMMAND, Dale Robertson in SITTING BULL. John Wayne remained iconic in THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY; Charlton Heston was terrific in two terrific programmers: SECRET OF THE INCAS made in Peru (he is the prototype for Indiana Jones here, complete with that leather jacket and hat, as Yma Sumac warbles that song to the Sun God; and Chuck smoulders with Eleanor Parker in THE NAKED JUNGLE as those ants invade. Giant ants ran amok in THEM!. Marilyn was having a "tropical heatwave" and was feeling "lazy" and went west too in Otto's RIVER OF NO RETURN which somehow doesn't seem like a western but she and Mitchum were a perfect team, particularly when he rubbed her down in that blanket.

European cinema hit its stride with Visconti's lush SENSO with its towering central performance by Alida Valli, and Fellini's LA STRADA, while a young Sophia Loren was in several Italian films - TOO BAD SHE'S BAD, the first with Mastroianni and De Sica, is enjoyable to catch now now, and I loved her Mambo dance back then in the torrid WOMAN OF THE RIVER* with hot Rik Battaglia, which I now see was co-scripted by Pasolini. Another recent pleasure was catching up with Bunuel's ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE and Rene Clement's KNAVE OF HEARTS* (MONSIEUR RIPOIS) with Gerard Philipe and Joan Greenwood (below).

England produced some terrific items like THE GOOD DIE YOUNG with its gang of 4: Laurence Harvey, Stanley Baker, Richard Basehart and John Ireland (with dames Gloria Graham, a young Joan Collins (like Loren soon Hollywood bound) and Margaret Leighton. Baker was also a good villain in an Alan Ladd programmer HELL BELOW ZERO* shot in the frozen wastes of Shepperton. Dirk Bogarde, Kenneth More and those other rather mature medical students were in DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE, the first of an amusing series. J Lee Thompson did a nice one about women in prison THE WEAK AND THE WICKED with Glynis Johns, Diana Dors, Sybil Thorndike, Athene Seyler, Rachel Roberts etc.

Left: Senso. The stars were busy that year: it was surely the first peak year for Monroe and Taylor, Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. Ava and Susan Hayward, Deborah Kerr and Jean Simmons all continued at the top, as did Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and June Allyson. James Mason was not only Norman Maine but also popped up as the villain in PRINCE VALIANT. Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis scored as did Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in that Sirk opus MAGNIFICIENT OBSESSION, while Rock was also CAPTAIN LIGHTFOOT for Sirk. Grace [in 4 films that year] had to fit in a programmer GREEN FIRE with Stewart Granger but she looked good in those tailored outfits down in the South American jungle, Elizabeth Taylor appeared in 4 films: ELEPHANT WALK, BEAU BRUMMELL, RHAPSODY and my favourite at the time: THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (once GIANT made her a 'prestige' star she slowed down to one event film a year); Shelley cramed in 6 films! Paul Newman began his career with THE SILVER CHALICE which was a delirious treat to see again recently with its weird sets, young Natalie Wood growing up to be Virginia Mayo with that strange eye make-up and Jack Palance being memorable as the magician who thinks he can fly. Palance also made a good Attila the Hun in Sirk's SIGN OF THE PAGAN. Other favorite costumers included the hilariously awful KING RICHARD AND THE CRUSADERS with Rex Harrison blacked up as Saladin and Virginia Mayo as the Plantagenet princess and George Sanders in his element as Richard the Lionheart. Superb matinee fare ! My favourite biblical though has to be THE EGYPTIAN with those great Fox production values and that cast!

It was a good year too for melodramas. My particular favourite is WOMAN'S WORLD* one of those lush Fox '3 girls sharing an apartment and looking for love' sudsers, only here the girls are married and all arriving in New York with their husbands to be vetted by Clifton Webb (at his acerbic best) to be the new general manager for his automobile company and the wives will be vetted too to see if they are suitable, as the couples are out of towners Cornel Wilde and ditzy June Allyson, sophisticates on the point of separating Fred McMurray and Lauren Bacall, and ambitious (and how) Van Heflin and Arlene Dahl, satisfaction is guaranteed. Clifton was also in the hit THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN with its hit tune and nice views of Rome and there was also the star-studded (Shelley and June again!) EXECUTIVE SUITE, and some torrid melodramas like Linda Darnell is Stuart Heisler's terrific THIS IS MY LOVE*, and that Italian MAMBO* where Shelley Winters seems to have the hots for Silvana Mangano.
(* reviewed on here in earlier posts)

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