Pickup on South Street (1953) Sam Fuller

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Pickup on South Street is one of Sam Fuller’s few big studio films, and more importantly, one of his finest. Pickpocket pro Richard Widmark inadvertently becomes involved in stolen government secrets when he pickpockets the wrong woman, a tough talking Jean Peters. This is hard core noir mixed in with cold war paranoia. The film is filled with tough smart aleck talking guys and dames, no matter what side of the law they are on. Widmark is very good, but Thelma Ritter as Mo, the snitch, steals every scene she is in. Not a perfect film but damn near close. Continue reading

Short Takes: Two Anti-War Classics

dirk_bogarde_king__countryKing and Country is a dark, brutal, effective attack on war by the exiled American Joseph Losey. A shell shocked soldier, one Private Hamp (Tom Courtenay), is put on trial for desertion after he walks away from the brutality and loss of humanity of war. The young soldier has already served three years at the front, witnessing the violent, senseless, inhuman pointlessness of trench warfare. Living in rat-infested conditions, witnessing one atrocity after another, Hamp, after one particular brutal day of warfare, leaves. He wants to go home. Continue reading

The Joker is Wild (1957) Charles Vidor

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My parents did not go to the movies too often, though when they did they generally took me along. Sure my Mom did take me to the Disney movies of the day like Tammy and the Bachelor, Dumbo and whatever other family fare was out there during the summer, but as a family, meaning my Dad came along, it was not too often. I can remember family viewings of The Bridge on the River Kwai, The King and I and a little gem called The Joker is Wild. I was only about nine years old at the time, yet the film had a memorable impact on me. What made it so unforgettable was Frank Sinatra. We didn’t have a record player at the time but our home was always filled with music on weekend mornings with the sounds of Jerry Vale, Nat King Cole, Perry Como and a lot of Frank Sinatra. There was a radio show on WNEW-AM called The Make Believe Ballroom with D.J. William B. Williams. Williams played a lot of what he called The Great American Songbook and tops on his list was Sinatra. I bring this all up because, as far as I can remember, The Joker is Wild was the first movie I ever saw with Frank and there is a certain scene where Sinatra, as Joe E. Lewis, is badly beaten up by some mobsters. This all happens off screen but you see the aftermath which resulted in a scarred face, a cut tongue and an amazed little kid in the theater. Continue reading

Bigger Than Life (1956) Nicholas Ray

Ozzie Nelson goes bonkers in Nick Ray’s drug induced destruction of a “perfect” 1950’s American family. James Mason is a well liked, though a self confessed, straight laced “dull” person, that is until he is diagnosed with a rare disease and the only known cure is the then new miracle drug cortisone. When he begins to abuse the medication, Ozzie, I mean Ed Avery, turns into an egotistical know it all, spitting out strange child rearing theories at a PTA meeting. At home, he brow beats his son, withholding meals until his homework is done correctly. From there his delusions only get worst, until one day, he pronounces God was wrong when he spared Isaac. Ed is even willing to surrender his family in a biblical sacrifice. In “Bigger Than Life,” Nick Ray tears down the walls of the phony 1950’s facade of white picket fences and elegant worry free suburban living. He also takes a hard look at the abuses of prescription drug use long before it was ever considered a problem. Continue reading

Rawhide (1951) Henry Hathaway

Rawhide3 Though written by Dudley Nichols, Rawhide is no Stagecoach. Still, the film is interesting despite the fact it never manages to rise above the norm. The setting is a stagecoach relay station in the middle of nowhere. Tyrone Power is Tom Owens, the son of the station’s owner, who has come west to take over the family business with old timer Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan) teaching him the ropes. When the stage pulls in one day, among the passengers on board are Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward) and her very young niece. Soon after, a Calvary patrol stops by warning everyone that four men have recently broken out of the state prison and are in the area. Due to the potential danger, and company regulations, the stage driver refuses to take Vinnie and the child any further. They are forced to remain at the relay station which turns out to be more of a danger than had she been allowed to continue on her journey with the stage. Continue reading

Rear Window – A Second Look

 

still-of-james-stewart-in-rear-window-(1954)-large-picture The previous time James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock worked together was on Rope; an experimental piece for Hitch that was considered a failure by most critics of the time. Stewart himself was not happy with the picture, or with the role, which he felt was not right for him. Additionally, there was the fact Rope was not a financial box office success. Some cities even requested cuts before it was to be shown. In Chicago it was banned outright. This was most likely because the storyline was a bit too close to the real life Loeb-Leopold case of the 1920’s.  Subsequently, when Hitchcock called about Rear Window, Stewart was hesitant to accept, especially after hearing that, like Rope, the film would take place mostly on one set. Furthermore, he would be confined to a wheelchair for the entire film.

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Bellissima (1952) Luchino Visconti

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Maddelina Cecconi (Anna Magnani) is trapped with an abusive husband from a working class background. A nurse who provides injections for diabetics, she and her husband are saving their money in hopes of someday getting a home of their own. She wants better for her young plain looking daughter, Maria (Tina Apicella). She loves the movies (we see her watching Howard Hawks “Red River” on the local outdoor screen).  When she hears about a movie director’s, Alessandro Blassetti portraying himself, open call for 6-8 year girls for his next film, Maddelina, like hundreds of other hopeful mothers, heads to Italy’s famed Cinicitta film studio with Maria for the auditions. During the process she spends the family’s small savings on ballet lessons, clothes for the young girl and paying off a hanger on who ensures her Tina will get the role. Maddelina becomes blinded by the possibilities of fame and fortune, a way out toward a better life for her daughter. By the end of the film, after hearing the film crews cruel assessment of Maria’s screen test, Maddelina realizes the superficiality of the film industry and that the cruelty of rejection is all too often the end results. Maddaline comes to finally realize family is more important that fame and fortune. Continue reading