Monthly Archives: August 2012

1950s movies marathon – part 104

12 Angry Men (1957, USA, Lumet)

The one skeptical Fonda on the jury convinces 11 reactionary caricatures that they’re all wrong about their murder case. Watched it all. Hollywood liberals make the best – and the worst – message movies. In fact, they make all of them. And this is one of the very good ones, although it cheats a bit by stacking up everything in favor of Henry Fonda. (There’s even a good case to be made that the defendant was guilty after all.)

Jeanne Eagels (1957, USA)

Artists find themselves so immensely interesting that they tell the rest of us stories about the rise (and fall) of great actors, authors, musicians, etc., over and over again, always emphasizing that although The Artist may be brilliant and wealthy, they too can sometimes be a bit unhappy. Why not tell the story of the rise and fall of great plumbers and used car salesmen? This navelgazing gets tiresome. Except when they get it perfectly right. This isn’t one of those times. Watched: 26 minutes.

The Burglar (1957, USA)

This is now one of my favorite caper movies. It has the same story as all caper movies do: The crew gathers, execute, – and fail. There appears to be no other possible way to make a caper movie. The only variation is in how well the formula is executed. And here the execution is almost perfect. Watched it all.

1950s movies marathon – part 103

Sneznaya Koroleva / The Snow Queen (1957, USSR)

The Snow Queen listens through the mirrors of ordinary people for anyone who mocks her, and punishes them by sending them away to a kingdom of winter and ice. I may be going out on a limb here, but .. is there perhaps a political subtext here? Watched it all. This is technically inferior animation, but closer in spirit to the Disney of twenty years earlier than anything Disney themselves were making in the 1950s.

20 Million Miles From Earth (1957, USA)

As usual, there’s more emotion in the animated face of Ray Harryhausen’s monster than in all the live actors who hunt him, and more of a story in the eyes of the monster than in the actual script. Watched: 40 minutes, plus the Harryhausen scenes. Did he ever get a chance to work with good actors and a good script? He’s a genius, but that’s not much good if you’re the only one in the production team who is.

Montpi (1957, West Germany)

Ooh .. this is something completely new. If I cared about movie theory or movie history I might have a name for whatever sort of style this is, but I don’t. I just care about being unexpectedly run over by something new. Watched it all. The Paris in this love story is uglier than Hollywood’s Paris, but also more real, like it’s a city that people actually live in.

1950s movies marathon – part 102

Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam / The Devil Strikes at Night (1957, West Germany)

There are just enough Good Germans left in the Nazi Empire to solve the mysterious case of the retarded serial killer, (but unfortunately too few to solve the case of the fanatic who sends millions to their deaths). Watched it all. The Germany in this movie is a layered society where Hitler skeptics are so numerous that they easily find and befriend each other using hints and nods. I wonder if it really was like that, or whether the post-war Germans merely needed it to be, and wrote themselves back into the past. Btw: It’s amazing how much better the usual dumb crime fiction tropes (conspiracies of silence etc) work when the story is set in Nazi Germany.

The James Dean Story (1957, USA, Altman)

What’s interesting here isn’t the documentary, which is full of the usual psychological platitudes, but the fact that nobody, as far as I know, had made a movie like this before: A fawning act of contemporary myth-making. Watched: 41 minutes.

Don Quixote (1957, USSR)

A story that works at all times, and in all contexts. In Norway, 2012, Don Quixote is the liberal with a heart of gold and a brain of mush. In the Soviet Union, 1957, perhaps he’s the communist intellectual who still believes in the party line? The story laughs at him, but it’s a joyless laugh, because it also wishes that we lived in his world, instead of our own. Watched it all.

1950s movies marathon – part 101

The Lonely Man (1957, USA)

Here’s another of those good-bad westerns Hollywood seem to have started making around this time, when they apparently realized that all a western really needs is a couple of memorable actors (like Jack Palance and Anthony Perkins), some dramatic angles, and a sentimental story about hard men out in the lawless wilderness. Watched it all.

Zero Hour! (1957, USA)

Hey, it’s the movie Airplane! got most of its plot from! It’s almost exacty the same movie, without the jokes .. which doesn’t quite work. There is a character who looks like Leslie Nielson, though, so much that it’s sort of funny. Watched: Bits and pieces.

The Desk Set (1957, USA)

Something must have predisposed me in favor of 50s office movies. I wonder what. Anway, this one has Spencer Tracy as a Wikipedia evangelist who tries to get Katharine Hepburn’s TV research department to stop relying on those old-fashioned paper books, and start trusting The Eternal Hive Mind. Watched: 35 minutes, plus the end, where an anonymous editor merges the articles on curfew on Korfu, thus causing confusion and hilarity – and also the earliest “computer running amok” scene I can remember seeing.

Hancock’s Half-Hour (1956-60, UK)

You know, I don’t think Tony Hancock is anything like Marve Fleksnes after all. They may have got some of the scripts from Hancock, but apart from the unlikeable main character, it’s not the same at all. Watched: A couple of episodes.

Chris Mooney – Storm World – Hurricanes, Politics and the Battle over Global Warming

Chris MooneyStorm World – Hurricanes, Politics and the Battle over Global Warming (2007)

The debate among scientists over the link between global warming and hurricane strength reflects an old and sometimes bitter divide between empirical meteorologists, who look at hurricanes as they actually occur, and try to find patterns in the data, and theoretical meteorologists, who try to form models that can explain how hurricanes operate. The idea that global warming will increase hurricane strength, and maybe already has, has more support among theoretical meteorologists, and is met with more skepticism from the empiricists. But apart from the aging hurricane giant and climate skeptic William Gray, who’s been flying into hurricanes since the 1950s, meteorologists don’t debate global warming as such, but its effects. And during the 2005-2006 hurricane seasons, this difference of opinion was politicized and blown out of all proportions by journalists, activists and politicians, dragging hurricane scientists into a media game they were not prepared for.

Recommended: Strongly. I usually hate anecdote-driven science books, but this is a perfect example of how they can also be used to illuminate, by placing a confusing debate in a historical context. I agree entirely with the way Mooney balances the opposing viewpoints, and with his warning to those who want to mix politics and cutting edge science by hyping up the latest papers that confirm their view. Non-scientists should aim to make rational decisions based on uncertainty, and leave the scientific community in peace to reach conclusions at its own, infuriatingly slow pace.

1950s movies marathon – part 100

The Cranes are Flying (1957, USSR)

These Mosfilm movies do something extraordinary. They make me want to go and live in the old USSR. Even in wartime. The world of the Mosfilm Dream is not a happy place, as such, but a place that is in tune with its basic humanity. An honest place. It’s hard to believe, I know. Watched it all. While some Soviet movies feel like they’ve copied the best of Hollywood, this one reminds me more of a British war movie, one of the less cheerful Powell & Pressburger ones, perhaps, where everything is falling apart, but you stick to your duty, because what else is there?

The Great Claw (1957, USA)

The reason they’re calling this movie The Great Claw is probably that Attack of the Giant Stupid Space Chicken sounded too silly. So imagine how the audience must have felt when the giant stupid space chicken shows up. (To be fair, it does have a great claw.) Watched: 13 minutes.

The Story of Mankind (1957, USA)

This comedy, featuring medium stars and has-beens in various scenes from history, is a failure in every way possible. But at least now we know that we have Chico Marx to blame for the popular belief that Columbus discovered that the Earth was round. We also learn, after all this time, that Harpo Marx’s wig is red. Aha! Well, yes, that does fit. Too bad we can’t see it in any of their good movies. Legend Films, care to colorize? Please? Watched: Bits and pieces.

1950s movies marathon – part 99

Ni liv / Nine Lives (1957, Norway, Skouen)

A resistance fighter battles ice, snow, blindness, gangrene, and, incidentally, one or two German soldiers, in the mountains of northern Norway. Watched it before, several times, and again now.  There are two basic Norwegian archetypes: One is the missionary, who goes out among the barbarians to preach the (today, secular) Gospel. The other is the one we meet here: The lone, foolhardy man whose battle with the elements becomes the path to some sort of sturdy peasant’s equivalent of spiritual enlightenment. I like that one better. We all do.

Nightfall (1957, USA)

Enigmatic man gets kidnapped by a gang of mobsters who wants to know where “the money” is. Great setup for a claustrophobic interrogation thriller, right? Instead the movie goes into flashback, to tell us who the enigmatic man is, who the mobsters are, and what really happened to “the money”. Yawn. Watched: 22 minutes. Look, if your story has a dull beginning, don’t just dump it in the middle. Find a better beginning.

Run of the Arrow (1957, USA)

One of those magnificent confederate underdogs you always find hanging about in westerns decide to join up with the Sioux nation rather than give his oath of allegiance to those goddam yankees. Watched it all. Look, never mind the politics, confederates just make better protagonists.

James Hansen – Storms of My Grandchildren

James Hansen – Storms of My Grandchildren (2009)

One quarter sound but poorly explained climate science, one quarter anecdotes about Hansen’s visits to the White House, one quarter Hansen’s personal theories about how we’ll drown and/or fry ourselves to extinction, and one quarter reasonable discussions on energy policies.

Recommended: No. Hansen never really backs up his claim that we must limit CO2 levels to 350 ppm if we want to avoid a 75 meter sea level rise, or that burning all our oil, gas and coal is certain to cause Venus-like temperatures. He just repeats that he “has come to believe” that it is so. Hansen is in many ways a mirror image of the climate skeptics. He relies on generally accepted theories when he can, but cherry-picks when he must. He even resort to the same conspiracy theories as the skeptics do about why other scientists don’t take his theories seriously. It’s because he’s opposed by a powerful and tightly knit network of IPCC-related scientists! This isn’t science. It’s the ramblings of a crank. His views on solutions are more down to earth. He argues that cap-and-trade doesn’t work because it sets a floor on CO2 reductions, and that governments should not aim to “pick winners” among energy alternatives. The best solution is a large carbon tax where funds are distributed directly back to the citizens. Oh, and he’s pro-nuclear. (Oddly, the one thing nearly all the books I’ve read on climate change and energy alternatives so far have in common is that they’re cautiously pro-nuclear and pro-carbon tax.)

Minireviews: David Archer – The Long Thaw, Michaels and Balling – Climate of Extremes

David Archer – The Long Thaw (2009)

An overview of what climate scientists know – and don’t know – about climate change in the past, the present, and the distant future.

Recommended: Yes. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with this one. Archer is a level-headed writier. Maybe that’s why I find it more chilling when he explains that he has no idea what could trigger a massive land ice meltdown than when James Hansen say it’s definitely going to happen.

Patrick J. Michaels, Robert C Balling Jr – Climate of Extremes (2009)

Global warming is real, and is caused by human CO2-emissions, but the effect is possibly a bit smaller than the IPCC believes. It’s too soon to blame global warming for hurricanes and other extreme weather events, and too soon to tell what it will do to the land and ocean ice. Climate scientists do in general know what they’re talking about, but there may be a publication bias in favor of “worse than we thought” papers in scientific journals, and there is definitely one in the general media. Listen to climate scientists, never to journalists.

Recommended: Yes. This is one climate skeptical book I have no problem recommending. This is how skepticism is supposed to work. Michaels and Balling are not mindless contrarians, and their main criticism is aimed at how climate science is presented by non-scientists, not the science itself. Their temperature argument isn’t convincing, but “too soon to tell” is probably closer to the consensus than “we’re driving off a cliff”.

1950s movies marathon – part 98

No Time to Be Young (1957, USA)

The young people today, they’re psychopaths, frauds, whiners, sluts, and criminals. Civilization is doomed. Watched it all.

The Spirit of St. Louis (1957, USA, Wilder)

The life of Charles A. Lindbergh, or at least the part of it that didn’t involve being a Nazi. If anyone can make a biopic that doesn’t suck it’s Billy Wilder, but probably not even he could make one that is actually worth watching. Biopics are the spawn of Satan’s own commitee meetings. Just don’t. Watched: 12 minutes.

Quatermass 2 (1957, UK)

It’s becoming clear where Dr Who got its combination of sci-fi and horror from. Quatermass should be designated an honorary 0th Doctor. Watched it all.

The Depraved (1957, USA)

Boy meets girl. Girl has asshole husband. Boy murders husband. (Boy probably goes to prison?) The asshole husband in this movie is unusually sadistic, but in a believable way. He’s the sort of petty, tyrannical lord of the household you’re prepared to believe may really exist. It makes the old story feel not so old any more, and if it wasn’t for everything else about this movie, it could have been good. Watched: 34 minutes.

The 27th Day (1957, USA)

Ooh, look! It’s the earliest movie I’ve seen where ordinary people are kidnapped by aliens! Unfortunately, they’re the kind of passive-aggressive aliens who put their victims through tests to make some tiresome point about cosmic peace. “You want to destroy your world? Sure, have these super-weapons, go ahead. See if we care.” Watched: 14 minutes.