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, 16 March 2012

The Look of 1959

I have been meaning to get around to 1959, for me one of the best movie years ever, and a key year for me, being 13 at the time - going to the movies and reading the movie magazines of the time, back in my small town in Ireland. 1959 was as important as THE great movie year 1939, and also 1960 and 1962, for me. The big hitters of the year are too well known to go over again - BEN HUR, SOME LIKE IT HOT, ANATOMY OF A MURDER, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, THE NUN'S STORY, ON THE BEACH, RIO BRAVO, IMITATION OF LIFE, etc .... I want instead to concentrate on "the look" of a few particular favourites: NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, A SUMMER PLACE .... also westerns like Cooper's THE HANGING TREE by Delmer Daves and THEY CAME TO CORDURA by Rossen, THESE THOUSAND HILLS where Lee Remick is so touching as the "saloon girl" and Loren has to choose soldier Tab Hunter or her rich protector George Sanders in Lumet's THAT KIND OF WOMAN, while Anthony Quinn woos her in THE BLACK ORCHID.

What I particularly like about NORTH BY NORTHWEST is that view it creates of America going about its business at railway stations, on trains, tourist attractions like Mount Rushmore, art galleries, hotels etc as our hapless George Kaplan (Grant) flees across country .... and of course that amazing house - a mid century modern dream - created for the film's climax when Cary drops down the matchbook to warn Eve Kendall that they (Mason and Landau) are on to her.

There is also of course the Frank Lloyd Wright style house in A SUMMER PLACE, Delmer Daves' enormous hit from the Sloane Wilson novel (I remember getting the paperback...) which cemented Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue as the teen favourites - Sandra was soon GIDGET, while Troy had that run of successful Daves sudsers like PARRISH, SUSAN SLADE, ROME ADVENTURE (LOVERS MUST LEARN) - more on those soon. For a while though, Troy with the blond hair and the red windcheater and the white shorts was almost as iconic as James Dean in his red jacket and jeans. Troy was also the nasty boyfriend who beats up Susan Kohner passing for white in IMITATION OF LIFE, Sirk's farewell and still the sudser to beat them all.

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING remains a delirious treat too (more on it at Joan Crawford, Jean Negulesco, 50s, Trash labels). Joan is specially billed "and Joan Crawford as Amanda Farrow", as we follow the 3 girls Hope Lange, Suzy Parker and Diane Baker - it should have been 4 as in Rona Jaffe's bestseller, but they made it 3 in keeping with Fox's other films, usually by Jean Negulesco, as here) so Martha Hyer is practically snipped out of the film. It has the look to perfection of offices in the late 50s - the look that MAD MEN aspires to now - where Joan/Amanda terrorises the typing pool and good girls worry about going too far (Baker), or falling for heels (Baker/Parker) or becoming a married man's mistress (Lange). I love that opening as the camera sweeps over Manhattan and all those girls going to work, as Hope emerges from the subway and the breeze blows up her little bolero jacket showing the lining underneath, as she fixes her hat while wearing her white gloves - which Eve Kendall of course wears as she dangles from Mount Rushmore in N BY NW...

In black and white too we have Lee Remick as the over-heated army wife in ANATOMY OF A MURDER, while Elizabeth Taylor has that white almost transparent bathing suit for her role as 'bait' in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, and that nice summer dress for the climax as she screams out what happened to Sebastian last summer ... SUMMER was actually filmed in England, where the look was perfectly captured in films like I'M ALRIGHT JACK and ROOM AT THE TOP and Losey's BLIND DATE, and EXPRESSO BONGO, and thrillers like TIGER BAY and NORTHWEST FRONTIER, or THE JOURNEY and SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL.  Filmed in 1959 for 1960 release was Donen's comedy ONCE MORE WITH FEELING with Kay Kendall and Yul Brynner, Kay was dressed by Balmain in black and white costumes to reflect 1960 style but she died in September '59 three months after filming completed, before the film's release ...

Over in Europe though the new decade was limbering up with those seizing-the-moment films like Truffaut's THE 400 BLOWS, Clement's PLEIN SOLEIL, Bolognini's LA NOTTE BRAVA, Mocky's LES DRAGUEURS, Chabrol's LES COUSINS, Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE, Dassin's LA LOI, the Russian BALLAD OF A SOLDIER and THE LETTER NOT SENT, Brazil's BLACK ORPHEUS, while Fellini and Antonioni were filming L'AVVENTURA and LA DOLCE VITA, while Hitch rushed out his cheapie PSYCHO ... but that's 1960!
Also, of course were those films set in the new suburbs sprouting up then: Fox's NO DOWN PAYMENT in 1957 with their roster of contract players (Jeffrey Hunter, Joanne Woodward etc) (Jeff Hunter label), and Richard Quine's 1960 saga of adultery in those new suburbs architect Kirk Douglas is building in STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET (Kim Novak label).

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