1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956)
2. War of the Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953)
3. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (Roy Rowland, 1953)
4. Foreign Intrigue
(Sheldon Reynolds, 1956)
Despite the presence of Robert Mitchum, and a couple of possible femmes fatales in Ingrid Thulin and Geneviève Page, this European-set international intrigue/pseudo-noir piece remains stolid and dull throughout, with the possible exception of the last few shots, which have a mystery and resonance that the rest of the film never hits, and one decent if brief chase sequence in the middle. Mitchum is investigating the death of his boss, a reclusive rich businessman, and finds out that both Nazis and Commies, and blackmail, may have parts to play in the mystery. Actually shot on the continent, in Vienna, Nice and Stockholm among other locales, but doesn't make much use of any of the splendid location possibilities, instead being talky and depressingly schematic throughout.
5. The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel
(Henry Hathaway, 1951)
OK bio-pic/war film about the last couple of years of the life of Erwin Rommel, in which he went from a solid supporter of his bosses in the Third Reich, to doubter and finally traitor to Hitler and martyr of sorts for the resistance and anti-fascists. The war footage is basically all real documentary film, and the production values aren't particularly high, and while James Mason is fine in the title role nobody else in the cast impresses particularly, and the way in which Rommel develops isn't presented all that interestingly and the film just doesn't have the deep feeling it ought to have, in showing how a patriot can finally decide that it's in his country's best interests for him to help overthrow or destroy it's leadership.
6. Across the Wide Missouri
(William Wellman, 1951)
Pretty good "A" western that runs only 78 minutes - huh? Yes, this was taken away from Wellman - one of many projects that suffered from studio interference, and that surely helped to lead him to his premature retirement just a few years later - and heavily cut, but there's still enough remaining to make it an enjoyable if frustrating experience. Clark Gable is a fur trapper, Ricardo Montalban is a young and reckless chief of the Blackfeet tribe, and their clash in the 1820s in some unnamed area (the title comes from a line in the song "Shenandoah" - there's nothing in the film, at least in this released version that we have, to indicate that the river has anything to do with the territory the story takes place in), and Gable's romance with Montalban's sister (I think - this was a little unclear), and the attempts to create a peaceable settlement between the tribes and the early settlers, form the film as we have it. Great cast also includes J. Carroll Naish, Adolphe Menjou, John Hodiak, Alan Napier and RIchard Anderson, excellent Technicolor; I suspect this might have been a truly great film and one of the better early "pro-Indian" westerns, in it's original or intended form, but it appears we'll never know for sure.
7. Cesta do praveku / A Journey to the Beginning of Tme
(Karel Zeman, 1955)
A bunch of young school boys, studying early geology, find a mysterious cave and take an imaginary voyage down a river back into the prehistoric past, encountering cave men and dinosaurs. This was the least-interesting of the Zeman films I've seen, though it might have some value to kids as an educational tool, which seems to be what it was intended as. Pretty good stop-motion and other animation - not on the level of Harryhausen but I'm sure this didn't have a budget anything like American films at the time.
8. To Catch a Thief
(Alfred HItchcock, 1955) (re-watch)
Probably third viewing - I think I saw this first in the cinema in the late 80s or 90s, then once on video in the early 2000s. This time I was visiting my brother and his family, and I reluctantly stayed late at their house to watch this with my sister-in-law, who can never get my brother to stay up after the kids go to bed. As a viewing experience it was terrible, because she kept bouncing the volume up and down every few seconds (can't wake the kids!) and because the aspect ratio and color were all fucked - they have a very early HD TV and it's really hard to adjust properly, and I've given up trying to do so. But even with those caveats - or maybe in some ways because of them - I feel the film improved a bit over the last viewing; I think I was paying more attention to it perhaps because it looked so awful. Robert Burks won an Oscar - his only one - for the cinematography and it's easy to see why, even with the exaggerated contrast that I had to sit through. And it's fun to notice more of Hitch's obsessions - like flowers, I just realized how often he uses flowers and flower shops in his films, sometimes as central motifs (Vertigo
) but often just as decoration. I also appreciate Grace Kelly more these days, but in the end, the film is a bit long for it's slight story, and very obvious in it's central "mystery" - who is the "Cat" going around impersonating retired thief Cary Grant and making his life troublesome? Not in the end among the master's best work, probably closer to the low end, but even 3rd-tier Hitch still has some entertainment value once a decade.
(Joseph Pevney, 1950)
Another film - one of a lot of lower-budgeted noirs I've seen in the last couple of years - that's hampered significantly by a very poor print, but this manages to triumph significantly over it's visual limitations. A totally amoral news photographer (Howard Duff in probably the best role I've seen him in) climbs to the top of the San Francisco hierarchy, and beyond, by getting shots he shouldn't be able to get - if you've seen Nightcrawler
this may seem a little familiar - while using those around him (including businessman and possible crook Brian Donlevy, definite crook Lawrence Tierney, editor Bruce Bennett and coworker Peggy Dow) with little regard for propriety or ultimately even life. This is just about as cynical as Ace in the Hole
and while it's cheaper and a little rushed at times, has some of the same power as an indictment of the get-the-story-at-all-costs mentality, and I suspect that if a quality version were available it would get a lot more recognition.
10. Kill Her Gently
(Charles Saunders, 1957)
Brit-noir with some nice foggy photography in it's outdoor scenes, and a somewhat promising cat-and-mouse triangle between a couple of thugs - an American (Marc Lawrence) and a Swede (George Mikell) both just escaped from the pen, and a British motorist (Griffith Jones) who picks them up, knowing who they are, for what are obviously shady reasons of his own. Unfortunately it doesn't really do anything interesting with this situation, and even when a significant revelation comes along about Jones, it does little to make this memorable.
11. Shadow on the Wall
(Pat Jackson, 1950)
Pretty decent psychological thriller with some limited noir aspects about a war vet (Zachary Scott in a rare and welcome sympathetic role) accused of murder, with his life hanging by a thread in the grip of his young daughter, suffering from the trauma of seeing her stepmother die, and not necessarily able to distinguish between the reality of what she saw and the fantasies and play acting that she's doing to keep the nightmares at bay. Ann Sothern in a villainous role is also very good, and Nancy Reagan gets a better role than usual as the psyciatrist treating the little girl (Gigi Perreau, excellent, whose career stretches from 1943 as an infant to today).