29). The Omniscient Gazing At Society Through The ‘Rear Window’
Alright, yes I think we all know about this Hitchcock’s thriller place in his ouvre and cinema at large. THE movie people think about in terms of mind-numbing ‘slow-burn’ suspense from the master, with the always reliable Jimmy Stewart and previously mentioned radiant Grace Kelly starring. So allow me to indulge a little on this entry, because I can relate to you a story about the production of this classic. Now, mind you this is a family-held story so it may not happened this way or at all, but it is a good one so what-the-hell. In the early 50’s, My Grandmother was in advertising helping to produce some of the first T.V commercials ever aired. Her job involved getting to know good-looking models and actresses that could sell the products or wear the outfits (She knew Kim Novak for instance), the same type that Hitchcock was into… for his movie roles. One such good-looking model as a favor to my Grandma and Grandpa knew Hitch was making ‘Rear Window’ on one of the sound-stages and granted them entry for a day of shooting. They were of course not allowed near any of the big names so they wandered about, finding themselves on the cat-walk overlooking the day’s shoot. When filmed rolled they believed they were not disturbing anything as nobody shouted at them the whole time. After one certain take Jimmy Stewart started to complain to Hitch about something taking his concentration off the scene, he looked around and noticed my grandparents above the set. So, they were told to come down, trying to explain themselves my Grandma supposedly in all her sass said “Let me get this straight, Jimmy is kissing Grace Kelly, while sitting in his lap, and we’re the ones he’s paying attention to?”
28). The Feminism In… A Feminist Western? Just Call It ‘Johnny Guitar’
A feminist western? in 1954? Well, it’s about as feminist as you’ll get in ’54 anyway. Nicholas Ray’s ‘Johnny Guitar’ is an often overlooked western starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden and Ernest Borgnine. The setting is a town essentially run by two women Crawford’s Vienna with her Saloon and Mercedes MacCambridge’s woman-on-a-mission Emma. Two strong-willed women essentially battle for the soul of a town, in the middle of the old west a juxtaposition that was jarring for it’s time and still is by most standards. The men are essentially pawns in the duel between Vienna and Emma, even the normally mancho character of The-Man-Who-Rides-In is dwarfed by Vienna’s controlling demeanor. Surprisingly the rest of the men in town (hardly any another women are shown…) follow to a fault the inclining of high-pitched, high-strung Emma. A hidden gem amongst the testosterone heavy western genre, that showed that women would start to take a more active roles in the near future. Both in reality and on screen.
27). Cary Grant, Suave But Befuddled, As Roger Thornhill, and many others…
North by Northwest is easily Hitch’s most entertaining romp that used his constantly employed mistaken-identity or wrong-man-at-the-wrong-time themes. With Cary Grant giving one of his most recognized roles as Roger Thornhill, a sophisticated New York socialite mistaken for a super-spy. Thornhill is mistaken first for an American spy then political assassin as he tries to figure out who did what? Where? And how? Grant’s natural charm as a leading man is ever present when he encounters a beautiful stranger, who may or may not be a convenient romantic conquest. George Clooney before he was ever born, Grant continued to symbolize the suave and sophisticated gentleman in his movies made in the decade like ‘An Affair to Remember’, ‘To Catch a Thief’ and ‘Indiscreet’.
26). The Quiet Dissolution In ‘Tokyo Story’
The prolific Yasujiro Ozu is name you’ll hear again later in this list, for right now in this spot his 1953 portrait of a dense and complicated family coming apart is as sheering and powerful as it was six decades ago. Japan was recovering fast from the destruction and devastation, with enough aid from the west the wounds from war were gradually healing. All was not well; however, in the land of the rising sun. Conflicts between modern westernization and the strictly traditional ways began to surface in ugly ways. Conflicts between the embracing a new future or honoring the past, were never more apparent than with the family centered in ‘Tokyo Story.’ The quiet desperation of the older parents, the eagerness of their grown children to push them out of their lives and the desperate attempts of one woman to keep everyone all together blend together into an all-too-natural family dynamic.
25). The Anti-Militaristic Tones In ‘From Here To Eternity’
Fred Zinneman had already made a somewhat anti-western with ‘High Noon’, depicting just how much ethics and sense of justice really meant on the frontier, having the Hero fight in spite of the people he’s supposed to protect. A year later he went for another anti-glory picture with ‘From Here to Eternity’ depicting some members of the greatest generation as bigots, overly ambitious and questioning their service to their country. Montgomery Cliff, Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra turn in career defining performances as not overly brave nor outright courageous men stationed in Pearl Harbor in the weeks leading the ‘day of infamy.’ Remarkable for film’s willingness to paint these men as who they probably were, not supermen. The depiction of Military service is notable as well for not removing the harshness and brutality of it. Released in an era of the Military Industrial Complex, eight years after WWII, with Eisenhower as president the film is surprising to this day.
24). The Dream Sequences In ‘Wild Strawberries’
Our first look into the evocative mind of the Swedish Master of Cinema himself, Ingmar Bergman. Dubbed Bergman’s most ‘accessible’ work by some critics, this 1957 journey of the mind produced some of the most surrealist images of the decade. As an old Physician Profesor Isak Borg begins to have vivid hallucinations and dreams about his entire life while traveling to receive an high academic degree. Epiphanies are reached, latent emotions surface and heart breaking confessions are said. All-in-all a typical Bergman psychological trip. ‘Wild Strawberries’ is definitely a tad ‘warmer’ and inviting than others in his body of work, with instances of humor even sprinkled in. Use of surrealism had died down in years previous, but it would be it would be artists like Bergman to bring it back into popular use. As he proved he was only getting started…
23). The Heist In Kubrick’s ‘The Killing’
Bergman and Kubrick back-to-back? I’m really getting heavy on you guys… with two rather unimpressive feature movies under his belt, Stanley Kubrick looked to finally make himself known to the world of cinema, and did he ever with the cinematically advanced ‘The Killing.’ One of the most influential pioneering crime movies ever, employing the use of unreliable narrator, non-linear story-line with multiple perspectives and a heist gone wrong. Sterling Hayden is great as the brains of operation to rob two million dollars from a race-track. Emblematic of the popularity of era’s film noir but having a style all its own helped to get Kubrick noticed as the budding talent he was. Considered his first ‘Mature’ film, he would go on to make his first true masterpiece a few years later. Notable for its influence, decades after ‘The Killing’s release its stylized framing inspired one video store clerk named Quentin Tarantino to make another heist gone wrong movie ‘Reservoir Dogs’.
22). Introducing Paul Newman
One of the finest actors of the last century, armed with those steely blue eyes, got his first break on several T.V shows before hitting the silver screen. His first major role came in 1954’s unfortunately bloated and overwrought ‘The Silver Chalice’, but it wouldn’t take long for him to garner positive reviews. In 1956 Robert Wise directed him to critical acclaim in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’, as a down-and-out wandering boxer struggling to find his lot in life. By the end of the decade he would receive the first of his 12 academy award nominations for his 1958 break-through performance opposite Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’ The rest, as they say, is film history, he would go on to create some of the most revered and iconic film characters ever. He also became one of the most respected professionals off-screen as well, with his renowned charity work in his chain of food and drinks ‘Newman’s Own’. Quickly making a name for himself after an rather inauspicious debut, Newman would eventually show in the 50’s the first glimmers of the super-star he would become.
21). The Mysticism Of ‘Ugetsu’
We look back again at post-war Japan cinema, this time with old-fashioned morality tale on the violent and turbulent times in 16th century feudal Japan. The story centers on two brothers and their families as they are driven by greed to profit from the many civil wars occurring at the time. One brother wants to considered a great warrior at all costs, another is seduced by a temptress to leave his family. The lengths the brothers go to are shocking, in the end they face horrific outcomes of their choices. Kenji Mizoguchi shoots most of the film’s scenes using crane shots, thus we are floating up and down on our characters in their respective journeys with an omniscient prospective. Observing the actions of these desperate people in harsh times, transitioning from scene to scene like a feather on the wind. Guided seemingly supernaturally by the unseen hand of Mizoguchi in this mystical tale of greed, inhumanity, sacrifice and redemption.
20). The Relationship In ‘Hiroshima Mon Amor’
Elle is a French actress making a movie about peace in Hiroshima, she catches the eye of a french-speaking Japanese man Lui. The two share a seemingly innocent one-night stand together, but when they begin to converse with each other they start to find out just how deep injuries sustained in war and conflict can go. Elle was living in Nazi-occupied France, Lui family was living near Hiroshima when it was destroyed. Being with him, she is reminded of a long-dead love she had while living under Nazi rule. She had previously never been able to talk this young love to anyone around her due to certain circumstances. Being in newly rebuilt Hiroshima and with Lui she starts to express her pain after over a decade of burying it. The film is remarkable just for the opening scenes, juxtaposing Elle and Lui having sex with shots of new Hiroshima and the aftermath of the bomb dropped there. Suggesting that new patches over deep wounds don’t conceal everything forever. Emblematic of the time in a post-war world of having to move forward with the knowledge of the horrific recent past. As a sign of times, Elle is played by none other than the recent oldest nominated best actress, Emmanuelle Riva, in her first major film role.
Whew, we’re really getting to the cream of the crop in the next installment, you can tell because of the nods to Bergman and Kubrick here, but next time we have the Duke, John Wayne’s best role, 12 Angry Men, and French New Wave. It’ll be a great ride, you’ll be singing in the rain I guarantee it.