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.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Rhapsodising about 1954, again

RHAPSODY, 1954. The opening titles tell us it’s the South of France. Wealthy Louis Calhern is arranging namecards for his lunch party, but then his daughter Louise (Elizabeth Taylor) enters and instead of being his hostess she is off to Zurich, driving in her open sports car, with her cases of all those Helen Rose outfits, a different one for each scene. Louise we soon see is a spoiled rich girl, used to getting her way and indulged by her indulgent father ….  She has her eyes of fiery Paul Bronte, master of the violin, but only if he studies hard enough to please teacher Michael Chekhov. Louise settles in to Celia Lovsky’s charming apartment and starts to get bored as Paul (Vittorio Gassman in one of his first American films) puts his music first and her second. She is left on the sidelines in her furs, white gloves and diamonds at the café as the other students, including predatory Barbara Bates, crowd around him. But diversion is at hand, as she gets to know the upstairs tenant, John Ericson, who becomes hopelessly devoted to her, putting his music at risk. 
He at least plays the piano – cue endless close-ups of them playing as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff swamp the soundtrack, and of course there is the obligatory montage of capital cities and concert posters as Bronte tours and becomes famous, while Louise marries John, who is now drinking heavily. Bronte comes back into her life as she decides to leave her husband while trying to convince him he can become a great player without her. 
We finally leave her (this thing seems to go on for hours) at the concert hall as Ericson can indeed play without her, as Bronte arrives to collect her. Which man does she choose?  This is a prime farrago, which I remember seeing as a kid, one of four Taylor did in 1954, overall I much prefer THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS but Liz is certainly at her early zenith as the camera lovingly lingers on her rapt expressions as her men play, and play and play …. High Class Trash, it has that MGM lush quality, directed by Charles Vidor (an old hand at this kind of thing – he began, but died, during the 1960 SONG WITHOUT END). 

There's no business like show-biz as Marlon's Napoleon 
drops in on Marilyn
1954 - my first year at the movies, aged 8. What a year that was, as I have mentioned before here - see label, 1954-1, JOHNNY GUITAR and A STAR IS BORN were the first films I saw, taken to by my parents, in small-town Ireland .... it was that great year for routine westerns, costumers and mini-epics, and several musicals. The big hitters of the year were of course ON THE WATERFRONT, Ava as THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, Audrey as SABRINA, Grace as THE COUNTRY GIRL, REAR WINDOW, DIAL M FOR MURDERwhile other popular hits included CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THEM!, EXECUTIVE SUITE, WOMAN’S WORLD, THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN, CAINE MUTINY, THE GLENN MILLER STORY as James Stewart and June Allyson continued to be so very popular. Meanwhile, Kazan was shooting EAST OF EDEN .... the first of James Dean's three major releases for 1955 and 1956. 
The big foreign movies were THE SEVEN SAMURAI and LA STRADA, and Visconti's SENSO, and I just recently discovered Mizogushi's LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS.

I was soon lapping up other westerns (often with my father) like: THE COMMAND, DRUM BEAT, SITTING BULL, CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA, RIVER OF NO RETURN, BROKEN LANCE.
while other musicals we loved were: THE STUDENT PRINCE, CARMEN JONES7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS (well, I never liked that one much), THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS (where Marilyn was at her most peaches and cream, the blonde to Elizabeth Taylor's exotic darkness), WHITE CHRISTMAS, BRIGADOON, YOUNG AT HEART, ROSE MARIE.

The epics and peplums included THE EGYPTIAN and DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS (see below), THE SILVER CHALICE (Paul Newman's odd debut with young Natalie Wood, right, as a blonde who grows up to be Virginia Mayo, and Jack Palance mesmerising as Simon the Magician who thinks he can fly..below.),  
KING RICHARD AND THE CRUSADERS, SIGN OF THE PAGAN,  BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH, PRINCE VALIANT - cardboard castle time indeed, while Italy gave us ULYSSES, ATILLA and TWO NIGHTS WITH CLEOPATRA, these two with that young Sophia Loren. I simply loved her WOMAN OF THE RIVER, but did not catch up with the delightful TOO BAD SHE'S BAD, her first with Marcello, until much later. De Sica's GOLD OF NAPLES with her and Silvana Mangano was a popular choice too, and still marvellous now. 
Other programmers we liked were Charlton Heston in THE NAKED JUNGLE (terrific with Eleanor Parker) and SECRET OF THE INCAS, plus TAZA SON OF COCHISE, VALLEY OF THE KINGS, and Rock's CAPTAIN LIGHTFOOT

Grace Kelly was very busy that year, not only those Hitchcock's but the dull COUNTRY GIRL and the programmer GREEN FIRE where she looked very tailored down on her South American plantation. La Taylor fitted in not only RHAPSODY and LAST TIME I SAW PARIS but also BEAU BRUMMELL and replaced Vivien Leigh in ELEPHANT WALK - once GIANT made her a superstar next year in 1955 she slowed down to barely one a year... her husband Michael Wilding was also toiling in Hollywood then, to less effect in TORCH SONG, THE GLASS SLIPPER, THE EGYPTIAN, THE SCARLET COAT .....  Shelley Winters was very busy, with 6 titles that year, while Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Simmons, Deborah Kerr, Susan Hayward etc were all churning them out. Brando had not only ON THE WATERFRONT but as Napoleon in the Fox costumer DESIREE, James Mason was not only Norman Maine in A STAR IS BORN but also the bad guy in PRINCE VALIANT and Nemo in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.

The English studios were busy too:  with the hilarious BELLES OF ST TRINIANS and DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (Dirk and Kay! - right with Kenneth More), dramas like THE WEAK AND THE WICKED, HELL BELOW ZERO, THE GOOD DIE YOUNG, and Glynis Johns and Dora Bryan as mermaids in the delicious MAD ABOUT MEN.

1954 discoveries of mine in recent years include MAMBO - a lurid melodrama where marrieds Shelley Winters and Vittorio Gassman are both keen on Silvana Mangano who dances up a storm; Rene Clement's KNAVE OF HEARTS (or MR RIPOIS) with Gerard Philipe on the loose in London, wooing lovely young Joan Greenwood among others - right; and Linda Darnell is the marvellous romantic melodrama THIS IS MY LOVE (see Linda label). 1954 we love you. Next major years: 1959/1960, 1962.

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