Melodrama at its finest! Directed by high-drama master Douglas Sirk, this film will make you run the gamut of all emotions. There is scandal, affairs, wronged love, unabated passions, alcoholism, miscarriages, infertility, guns, murder, etc. Sounds good, right? Well, it is. It’s like one big soap opera, but, don’t worry. It’s a top-notch soap…with Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas and Dorothy Malone, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role.
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Civil War veteran Ethan spends more time wandering the West than he does with his family. When he finally comes home, he soon finds himself searching once again: this time, for his sole-surviving nieces who were kidnapped after a raid on his brother’s home by Indian chief Scar. Many consider (including myself) this the best work from the frequent collaboration of John Wayne and director John Ford. The vistas from Ford’s famed location Monument Valley never looked more stunning. Wayne never was more tormented and troubled, really showing his acting range in this one. What a brilliant combination!
Evil Robert Mitchum comes to a small, sleepy town posing as a preacher to try and win over the hearts and bank accounts of unsuspecting ladies, preferably the desperate ones. Enter Shelley Winters with no husband and two kids, making the perfect target. The best thing about this movie is Robert Mitchum. Normally a good actor who is able to play any kind of role (cowboy, cop, soldier, good guy, bad guy, etc.), this movie took the “bad guy” role to new heights. Here his devilish acts focus around children. Even with a subject matter that can be very touchy, Mitchum gives this role his all. The end result is one of the creepiest, meanest and most ruthless characters in American cinema.
What can I say? Venice. Rossano Brazzi (tall, dark, handsome, and Italian) and summer. What more is there? Add into the already-perfect mix director David Lean and star Katharine Hepburn and what you end up with is simply magical. Summertime is a movie for everyone who has ever been in love, ever wanted to be in love or ever even thought of falling head of heels in bliss. Hepburn plays a single woman in the prime of her life (someone who might be derogatorily called an old maid or a spinster) who finally fulfills her dreams of venturing to Venice. While she loves the beauty of the city, she feels forlorn at seeing all of the couples enjoying the splendors of Venice together. Soon, she encounters a shop owner (played by Brazzi) who sweeps her off her feet, even though he has more than his fair share of secrets. Their love affair changes her life and her outlook on everything, especially Venice. Director Lean (best know for his sweeping epics including Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai) uses his mastery in both capturing the magnificence of Venice and the delicateness and wonder of a love affair. Once you watch this one, you might want to head to Venice and fall in love, so be prepared to call the airlines!
This 1955 British comedy from Ealing Studios may be one of most riotous dark comedies in history. The story starts off easy enough (an old London lady serves as the facilitator of criminal activities for five men until their “perfect” plan goes horribly awry) but quickly turns into a series of farcical errors, most of which end in tragedy. This film seems to use the right combination of terror and comedy to create a funny yet dark tale. Alec Guinness is the main star of the film, even though a young Peter Sellers also appears as one of the five criminals, and the “Lady” played by adorable Katie Johnson does steal the show.
Rivaling Gone with the Wind as one of the most picturesque, epic love stories ever, this one is set in Hong Kong, after WWII. Unlike GWTW, this one ends tragic, though of course, that is all I will say. Starring William Holden, who plays a war reporter, and Jennifer Jones, who plays a Eurasian doctor from China who encounters prejudice in Hong Kong, this is a sweeping tale of love and loss, happiness and sadness. With the Oscar-winning song playing in the background constantly, this film is sure to make any romantic satisfied.
Jane Wyman as a middle-aged widow and Rock Hudson as her young gardener…sounds familiar, right? Well, the 2002 film Far From Heaven was loosely based on the plot. The biggest difference between the modern-day interpretation and the 1955 melodrama is that it was considered HIGHLY scandalous for an older woman to be involved with a younger man back then. Today, that would raise little more than an eyebrow, if that. In addition to the powerful, yet out-dated story, this film, directed by Douglas Sirk, features a breathtaking use of color. Sirk adds even more melodrama to the already syrupy scenes by wowing the audience through bold and expressive colors. From the clothes to the scenery (done on a set), the melodrama of the film is enhanced with the brightness and vibrancy of the colors. So, get your tissues ready and be prepared for some campy, sometimes corny dialogue but some visually stunning filmmaking.
Hitchcockian, according to Wikipedia, is “a general term used to describe film styles and themes similar to those of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.” Being a Hitchcock fan, this term is like nails on a chalkboard for me…when misused. And, trust me, 99% of the time, it is misused. Brian De Palma is often called “Hitchcockian.” Um, excuse me…no, he’s just a copy-cat. Basically, the term has been tossed around by film critics since the Hitchcock era to signify any decent thriller. Hitchcockian has become WAY too over-used. It should not be used for ANY thriller…good or not. Hitchcock had a certain style, a certain elegance to his films that very few (if any) filmmakers have been able to duplicate over the years. Les Diaboliques is Hitchcockian. First of all, it was made in 1955, when Hitchcock was still alive and well and avidly working (the 1950s was probably his best and most accomplished decade). The story of Les Diaboliques is about two women (the wife and the mistress) who kill a man, only the have the dead body turn up missing. There are certain key differences between this film and Hitchcock’s work, of course, such as Les Diaboliques is devoid of the usual Hitchcock humor. But, on the whole, this is a great thriller…so Hitchcockian that the Master himself felt a little jealous of French director Henri-Georges Clouzot…maybe not jealous per se, but let’s just say Les Diaboliques was such a good thriller that Hitchcock felt some pressure. Do I think Hitch broke a sweat? Well, considering that he was and always will be the one and only Master of Suspense, I think he had very little to worry about.
At the beginning of this Billy Wilder film, Sabrina Fairchild is an unassuming chauffeur’s daughter who has plain looks (OK – as plain as Audrey Hepburn can get!) and an intense infatuation with the employer’s son, David, played perfectly by William Holden (with blond hair!). After a stint in Paris at cooking school, she returns as a sophisticated woman, but still retains her crush on David. Enter David’s older and less carefree brother Linus, played by Humphrey Bogart, to muck up the ideal love affair Sabrina has in mind for she and David. Basically, that’s the plot in a nutshell. The performances make this film more than just your typical romantic comedy. Holden is perfect as the lollygagger David, who is much more interested in the ladies than in the family business. Bogart combines the right mix of stiffness and lovability to be a Linus we can actually imagine Sabrina being attracted to. Apparently, Hepburn and Holden did not get along well with Bogart while making this film. That lack of chemistry does not show up on screen…all of the characters’ interactions with each other seem natural and unforced. It is a little odd seeing the much older Bogart with the young Hepburn, but that’s Hollywood. Even back in 1954!
A comedy about a prisoner of war camp in Germany? With Nazis we can laugh at? Is this possible? Well, since nothing was impossible for director Billy Wilder, he (and co-writer Edwin Blum) took this stage play (by Donald Bevin and Edmund Trzcinski) and adapted it with comic brilliance for the screen. William Holden plays Sefton, one of the screen’s best love-to-hate-‘um/hate-to-love-‘um characters. Why does the audience feel this way about him? Well, Sefton is a curmudgeon and crook. He makes friends with the Nazis in order to get special perks. He has a foot locker filled with contra-band items that the other men would kill for. He basically is a guy who uses his time in the Army and in the prison to hone his schmoozing skills to get what he wants or needs. But, he’s funny. He’s like the class clown that you find yourself laughing with even though you think he’s distasteful and inappropriate. I like Holden and have seen most of his films. This is, in my opinion, the role Holden was born to play. He becomes Sefton…you forget that you’re watching an actor and you get caught up with the shady deals and craftiness. When the other men of Sefton’s barracks believe he is the “stooge” (or snitch) who is telling the Nazis about the escape plots, we feel sorry for him even though we are not quite sure whether we believe he’s innocent. He has proven he deals with the Nazis so maybe he is the snitch…or maybe not? Wilder’s filmmaking (along with Holden’s performance) seals this film as one of the best war films of its kind—or of any kind. Look for film director Otto Preminger as Colonel von Scherbach, who steals the few scenes he is in.