This review is part of the 50’s Monster Mash Blogathon hosted by Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear. The blogathon runs from July 28th through August 2nd.
An allegory on the infiltration of communism in America? A metaphor for people turning a blind eye to the McCarthyism hysteria that was sweeping the country in the early 1950’s? An attack on the potential dangers of conformity and the stamping out of individuality? Don Siegel’s 1956 gem of a film, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” has been said to really be about any and all of these themes since its debut now more than fifty years ago. Siegel, who should know, never mentions any of this kind of subtext in his autobiography, “A Siegel Film,” so one can assume, all the reading into this classic SF film that has been done is just that, critics and filmgoers reading their own thoughts and ideas into a work of pop art…and there is nothing wrong with that! After all, isn’t personal interpretation one of the elements and joys of good art? Admirer, analyze, come up with theories, themes beyond what even the artist conceived.
The film is based on a serialized novel, written by Jack Finny, published in 1954 in Collier’s Magazine called, “The Body Snatchers.” It was produced by Walter Wanger (notoriously known for shooting talent agent, later a producer, Jennings Lang. Wanger believed Lang was having an affair with his then wife, actress Joan Bennett) and directed by low budget action director Don Siegel. Siegel already had ten feature films under his belt including “The Big Steal,” “Duel at Silver Creek,” “Private Hell 36” and “Riot in Cell Block 11.” Allied Artist agreed to back the film and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring was on board to adapt Finney’s superb novel. Continue reading
At first glance these two films would seem to have very little in common. The first was made by an expatriate arty American filmmaker, the second a former actor turned writer/director of little consequence and barely remembered today.
Joseph Losey established himself as a unique filmmaker to watch with his first feature, “The Boy with Green Hair.” He would make four more films before getting caught up in the HUAC witch hunts and decided to leave the country rather than face Joe McCarthy’s inquisition. His first stop was Italy where he made one film before settling in for good in England where by the early 1960’s he began a cycle of films (The Servant, Accident, The Go-Between) that would cement his reputation, especially with a series of works written by playwright Harold Pinter.
Crane Wilbur began his career as a suave, handsome, silent film actor, most famously as Pearl White’s co-star in “The Perils of Pauline” serial. Wilbur also showed a knack for writing and directing becoming a triple threat. By the time the sound era arrived, Wilbur’s acting career was on its last legs; he would spend the remainder of his career behind the screen. As a screenwriter Wilbur wrote or co-wrote such films as “Crime School,” “Alcatraz Island,” “House of Wax,” “Women’s Prison,” “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima,” “I Was a Communist for the FBI,” “He Walked by Night,” Crime Wave,” and “The Phenix City Story.” As a director, Wilbur spent the bulk of his career in “B” film alley with most of the films largely forgotten today. Best remembered is arguably his next to last directorial effort, “The Bat” starring Vincent Price. Continue reading
“The Tall Target” takes place almost one hundred percent of the time on a train. Anthony Mann has created an enclosed, claustrophobic, moody thriller set just days before the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. It’s difficult enough to make a great thriller but when your audience already knows your target is going to survive, well it just makes it all the much more or a challenge. Mann, I am happy to say was up to the task.
Dick Powell, who by 1951 had already made the transition from song and dance man to the dark lit streets of hardboiled film noir, is New York City policeman, John Kennedy. Kennedy has discovered a plot to assassinate the newly elected President. His superiors in the department do not take his findings seriously; Kennedy soon resigns in disgust. He arranges to be on board the night train heading to Washington D.C. in an attempt to intercept the inaugural train in Baltimore and expose the plot.
On the train, Kennedy’s world is one of paranoia, darkness and confrontation from forces wanting to prevent his interference. His attempts to investigate and expose the assassination plot are continually met with suspicion and disbelief. Multiple efforts are made on his life. Friends and strangers alike become enemies. No one can be trusted. Every passenger on the train seems to be in a very tense state. A mixture of Yankees and Rebs, both sides are outspoken about their views on the new President and with each other making for quite few potential suspects. Continue reading
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I always thought “His Girl Friday” was one of the most acidic screwball comedies to ever hit the screen until I watched “Nothing Sacred.” The cup runneth over in this sharply written film and it isn’t with love. For this you can thank Ben Hecht who co-wrote the original source material for the prior film, the Broadway hit, “The Front Page” and was the only credited writer for the latter (Producer David O’Selznick handed Hecht’s script over to George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, Dorothy Parker and Ring Lardner Jr. among others. Despite all these other hands in the pot, Hecht’s sour look remained intact). Hecht may be more the auteur of these two films than either of the two directors. Both are driven by aggressive, cynical newspaper reporters who will exploit and outright lie to sell newspapers and make a buck for themselves. If anything stops “Nothing Sacred” from being a full blown masterpiece of prickly comedy, it has to do with two components. The first, the part of Wally Cook, the cynical newspaper reporter screams out for Cary Grant. Instead, here we have Fredric March. Now, it’s not that March is bad, he’s not. He just seems like he is wound up a little bit too tight for the role. He cannot let himself let loose like Grant would have. The second factor is the treatment of the film’s black characters which I will get into in more detail a little further on.
For Ben Hecht, it not just the newspaper reporters who are nasty, evil and corrupt, it’s the entire cast! Carol Lombard’s Hazel Flagg is an unscrupulous liar willing to carry on a charade just so she can get out of her hick New England town and visit New York City. The folks from Warsaw Vermont, Hazel’s small hometown are monosyllable, unwelcoming and suspicious of outsiders. Even the kids are nasty; one youngster (Billy Barty) bites Wally on his leg while others pelt him with stones after he arrives in town inquiring about the unfortunate Hazel Flagg.
I should talk a little about the plot before going any further. As I said, Lombard plays Hazel Flagg, a small town girl from Warsaw, Vermont, where people don’t take kindly to strangers, especially slick New York City newspaper reporters. Factory worker Hazel was misdiagnosed by her doctor (Charles Winninger) who informed her she was going to die due to exposure from radiation poisoning at the factory. Her fellow co-workers collected $200 dollars to send Hazel on her dream trip to see New York before she dies. However, just before she is about to leave, she receives even worst news from her doctor. You see, he made a mistake, she’s going to live! Upset, she cries out “It’s kind of startling to be brought to life twice…and both times in Warsaw!” Continue reading