Over-Exposed (1956, USA)
I’m not saying it’s okay that Cleo Moore has to be exceptionally talented, hard-working, wise to the sneaky ways of men, and also ruthless, in order to make a career as a woman photographer, but it’s certainly more inspirational than the idea that equal opportunity should apply to mediocrities as well. Watched it all. It’s only a moderately good movie, one of those pseudo-feminist movies Hollywood has been making since the 30s about successful career women who, on second thought, decide in the end that she’s better off marrying that whiny boyfriend who resents her ambition than with making lots and lots of money at the top of her profession. Ambition almost kills her. How convenient!
Who Done It (1956, UK)
Benny Hill looked sleazy even back in 1956. There’s just something about his face. Watched: 10 minutes.
Forbidden Planet (1956, USA)
Leslie Nielsen lands on a planet that hasn’t been informed that Freudianism has been discredited back on Earth, and thus triggers a planet-scale sex and violence-related neurotic breakdown. Watched it several times before, and again now. It’s perfect. The least interesting thing you can say about this movie is that it has a bit of The Tempest in it. As if the reason this movie is good is that it features a father and a daughter who lives in isolation, and not, you know, the actual story itself, which is completely different.
Storm Center (1956, USA)
Bette Davis believes that her small-town library should have books of all kinds in it, including pro-Communist propaganda, even if it makes some people angry. It’s a matter of principle, of being brave enough to expose yourself to ideas you disagree with. Watched it all. There actually weren’t all that many red scare movies in the 50s, and anti-red scare movies like this were better made, anyway. This one captures the mystical commitment librarians and book lovers throughout the ages have felt to the Idea of the Library as an intellectual free zone, a theme that for some reason feels relevant to some other things I’ve been writing about lately. (The child actors are awful, though. And the story is didactic, but I agree with the message, so I don’t mind.)
Et Dieu… crea la femme / …And God Created Woman (1956, France)
I wonder if there were people in the 50s who swore that they watched Brigitte Bardot movies for the plot and the dialogue. Watched: 10 minutes. I hate French movies, I really do. Even when they have such an .. interesting plot and well-formed dialogue as this one. It’s not a prejudice, I’ve given them every chance, but it almost never works.
The Mountain (1956, USA, Dmytryk)
The sets and scenery in this climbing movie are so spectacular that you hardly notice the characters, although they’re interesting in their own respect: Aging mountain climbing Spencer Tracy and his greedy asshole grave robber of a brother. Watched it all.
The Searchers (1956, USA, Ford)
I’ve heard it said that the anti-heroic tone of this movie, where John Wayne is almost as hateful and murderous as the Comanches who have kidnapped his niece, represented something new in westerns in 1956. But Anthony Mann had been making cynical westerns for year. What this is, though, is an exceptionally well-made western, and that has always been rare. Watched it before, several times, but I didn’t notice until this time how much the Tatooine scenes in Star Wars owe to it.
The Conquerer (1956, USA, Hughes)
This movie is best remembered today for (allegedly) causing half the cast and crew to (eventually) die from cancer, because it was filmed downwind from a nuclear test area. Also, for the odd choice of having John Wayne playing a cowboy dressed up as Genghis Khan.Even the Obligatory Decadent Banquet Scene is unusually silly. Watched: 8 minutes.
Between Heaven and Hell (1956, USA)
Whenever a movie opens with a piece of music that makes me sit up and pay attention, more often than not the music is written by Hugo Friedhofer. In this movie he borrows the Gregorian chant for Dies Irae, which was used to even more chilling effect in the intro to the T. H. Dreyer movie Vredens dag, (a movie intro so ominous that it makes you want to go out and invent black metal). Anyway: Watched: 12 minutes.
Khan begins working as a translator for the lawyers of the detainees at Guantanamo because she believes that, although they may be guilty of what they are accused of, they still deserve to face their accusations in a fair trial. She gradually comes to believe that most of the detainees are in fact innocent, victims of power struggles in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that many have been tortured and sexually assaulted. The whole system is a massive injustice.
Recommended: Yes. She could be more skeptical of the detainees’ stories, but she backs up the strongest claims with trusthworthy sources.
So when a book about modern Iran opens with a chapter about how Shia Islam is stupider than Sunni Islam, a lot of questions pop into my mind: What was the author thinking? What was the editor thinking? What were the blurbers thinking? The one question I’m not asking is: What other valuable insights does this author have to offer me about life, religion and politics in modern Iran?
Read: 31 pages.
The Forty-First (1956, USSR)
Even Soviet war movies were good in 1956. Like many Soviet movies of this time, it feels like an alternate reality Hollywood movie, in this case an alternate reality Civil War western: A lost company of soldiers trek across a desolate landscape in search of their army, dragging an enemy agent along with them. And this isn’t The Fall of Berlin. The bad guys are mostly bad, but the good guys are all human. And the ending – ah, I love Russian sentimentalism. It’s my second favorite type of global superpower sentimentalism. Watched it all.
Around the World in Eighty Days (1956, USA)
I love how seriously the intro takes itself, explaining how technological progress has turned many of Jules Verne’s fantasies into reality, and may soon even make it possible to travel to the moon. That’s the spirit that eventually got them to the moon a decade later. But the movie itself is too farcical. Farce is all wrong for this story. Watched: 37 minutes. Beautifully shot, though. One of the best-looking widescreen movies so far.
The Violent Years (1956, USA, Wood)
Most 50s teenage gang movies seem like they’re made by peaceful, law-abiding adults who try to imagine what this “juvenile delinquency” they read about in the papers is all about. Something to do with music, guns, and .. mmmm dangerous gangster girls dragging innocent boys into the woods. Oh yes, yes yes yes. Ahem. Watched it all, with MST3K commentary.
A Beijing student during the Cultural Revolution goes native among the nomads of Inner Mongolia, and learns to respect their love/hate-relationship with the wolf packs that terrorize their grasslands. Wolves taught the Mongols military tactics, and keep their pests in check. You fight them, because you must, but you also admire them and recognize their usefulness. The Han Chinese have become weak and sheep-like, and should learn from the wolf-like qualities of the Mongols.
Recommended: Strongly. Partly for being a fantastic novel, which although being entirely natural has the mythic power of a Sandman substory. And partly for what it says about modern China’s search for identity. Some have interpreted its massive popularity as a sign of an emerging receptivity for fascism. I think that’s too literal-minded, and ignores the ecological message. But when millions of people read a novel that attacks them for behaving like sheep, it’s certainly interesting.
Various people have for more than a century done their best to destroy what little economic and social fabric there has been to destroy in Congo / Zaire. They succeeded. Now nobody knows how to fix it, and there is little hope for the near future.
Recommended: Weakly. The topic is interesting, but the writing is unfocused. Contrast with Jason K. Stearns’ Dancing in the Glory of Monsters.