Men in War (1957, USA, Mann)
A lost company and a shell-shocked colonel try to make their way from point A to point B in some desolate part of Korea. Watched it all. Possibly the first good Korea war movie. I’ve talked before about how few good war movies Hollywood made after 1946 or so. This sounds counterintuitive, because you’d expect that war movies would be better with hindsight. Nope. War movies from 1944-46 feel like they were made by veterans who had just returned home from the front. War movies from the post-war decade feel like they were made by the little brothers who stayed at home, and/or by military PR departments. This is one of the exceptions. No wonder, with Anthony Mann as director.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, UK, Lean)
You think you’ve seen a movie, and then it turns out that it’s a lot different from what you remember. For one thing, this one is about an hour longer than I recalled. Watched it all before, and again now. For some reason this movie makes me think of software development projects, but why on earth would that be? It also makes me think that Great Britain is, if not the biggest, then at least the greatest military power on earth, and that 1957 should in no way be remembered as the second year of a long decline that has lasted until the present. Because if that was the case, it would give this movie a melancholic subtext it probably wasn’t intended to have.
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957, UK)
That guy whats-his-name who had a minor role in Star Wars has the most fantastic cheek bones and nose. It makes you want to hug him, even when he sneaks about dismembering people and performing unholy experiments that violate all that is decent in the world. Watched it all.
Jet Pilot (1957, USA)
The world’s sexiest, most flirtatious Russian jet pilot makes her way into John Wayne’s airspace, where she is brought down to earth, and taught about freedom and this strange thing you westerners call .. “love(?)” Watched: 21 minutes. Was there some kind of Communism fetish in the late 50s, where generals who spent their days cold-sweating at the thought of mutually assured destruction fantasized about capturing a Siberian ice goddess? If so, this movie was made for them. Btw, aren’t you a little old to be a jet pilot, John?
Loving You (1957, USA)
A shy truck drivers turns out to have a great singing voice, and he does something with his knees that makes all the girls scream, but will success go to his head etc? Watched: The musical bits. But enough about the movie, let’s talk more about Elvis. I can’t shake the impression I get from these movies that he’s some sort of god or alien who has been beamed down to earth. I don’t know what star power is made from, but it’s real, and you feel it strongest at moments like this, when it’s introduced in its purest form for the first time in a new field.
Saint Joan (1957, USA, Preminger)
Like Bergman’s Seventh Seal, Saint Joan uses medieval Christianity to talk about the present, but from a wiser and less annoyingly ironic 20th century perspective. Joan is the idealist who changes the world without understanding it, while the cynics who do understand it, and the fools who rule it, are unable to make the mad leaps true change requires. Whether the change is good or evil is incidental, a matter of luck. Watched it all.
The Flesh is Weak (1957, UK)
The pimps of London go about recruiting prostitutes in a very odd way. They walk around on the streets, looking for “proper” girls the movie audience can identify with, then spend several weeks grooming them, and luring them unwittingly into the business, one cautious and devillish step at a time, until they’ve been tricked into becoming something they would never have chosen of their own free will. Seems unnecessarily complicated, considering that this profession has usually never lacked on the supply side. Watched: 16 minutes.
Tokyo Twilight (1957, Japan, Ozu)
The punishment for being a film buff is that you have to sit through entire Yasujiro Ozu movies and pretend that you’re not bored. Watched: 10 minutes. The reward is that you’ll be able to berate your less masochistic friends for not being familiar with the Genius of Ozu.
Sjunde inseglet / The Seventh Seal (1957, Sweden, Bergman)
The mid-20 century existentialism of the main characters is so annoying that I actually like the flagellants better. I mean, what would you prefer to do, if you lived in the time of the Black Death? Make ironic observations about faith and death, or walk around the countryside in capes, singing the Dies Irae? Wow! Watched it all. Anyway, if you want to watch a movie about Scandinavian old-time religion, go with T. H. Dreyer’s Vredens dag and Ordet instead.
Aphradi Kaun (1957, India)
This is a two hour long Indian movie full of singing and dancing. Watched: 3 minutes. This is just to let you know that, yes, out of all the 50s movies I’m fast-forwarding through, some of them are Bollywood movies. And I hate every second of every one of them. There is nothing that interests me here, not even to make fun of. I’ll return with more when Bollywood starts doing something interesting. They eventually got over that multi-hour musical epic phase, right?
The Abominable Snowman (1957, UK, Guest)
That British guy who had a minor role in Star Wars brings a bunch of loud American yahoos up into the Himalayas, in search of the yeti. Take a guess at how many of them make it back down. Watched it all. Everything is right about this monster movie, but what stands out most of all is the landscape, icy and mountainous, the perfect setting for lying alone in your tent and hearing howls in the distance.
Ill Met by Moonlight (1957, UK, Powell & Pressburger)
English spies have a jolly good time on Crete, drinking and dancing with the locals, kidnapping German generals on a whim, and not even dying gloriously all that often, (although they would if it was called for). Watched it all. I like the direction Powell & Pressburger are taking now, returning to the War, where they started, but with a bit more nostalgia, daring-do and irony than in the movies they made during the actual war, (the main difference being that it’s easier to be cocky when you already know that your side won).
Zombies of Mora Tau (1957, USA)
One thing you’ll notice when you start watching old horror movies is that their zombies aren’t real zombies, just voodoo zombies. They’re no fun at all. Now, technically, voodoo zombies are the original, “real” zombies, but only in the sense that those pancakes the Italians make are the original, “real” pizzas. Watched: 3 minutes.
The Astounding She-Monster (1957, USA)
This is one of the most astounding movie titles in the history of bad movies. See, it’s a monster. A she-monster. And it’s astounding. (Nah, it’s just an alien in a tight jumpsuit.) And the movie itself is astoundingly bad, with a narration that approaches Ed Wood-levels of absurdity. Watched: 22 minutes, and I would have watched the rest, if there had been an MST3K version. Astoundingly, there isn’t.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.