1957: Part 1

*Sorry this post took so long… I’ve had far too many college papers to write in the last few weeks. I know the banner’s been up for a while, but I just never had the time to write the post until tonight. But here you go – enjoy!

The Bridge on the River Kwai. Directed by David Lean. I’d say that this is the film which marks the beginning of Lean’s journey into filming epic tales set in foreign lands. On paper it might seem odd to have William Holden and Alec Guinness starring in the same movie, but Guinness proved that he was capable of an extraordinary dramatic performance as Col. Nicholson. (He’d had previous forays into dramas with Oliver Twist and The Prisoner, but he was usually better recognized for comedies like Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers.) Holden is, of course, his usual excellent self, commanding the screen with both bravado and his trademark handling of dry wit. One cannot overlook the fine supporting work by Sessue Hayakawa, Jack Hawkins and James Donald either. I recall discussing Lean with my 12th grade English teacher, who preferred Kwai to Lawrence of Arabia, which is my own favorite film. In spite of my preference, I do think of Kwai as a quite obvious masterpiece and an essential. To miss this film would be madness.

The Cranes Are Flying. Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov. There are not enough amazing things to say about this film, which was the only Soviet film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Tatyana Samojlova, who gives one of the greatest performances in the history of film, is beyond magnificent as Veronika, a heroine who looks somewhat like Audrey Hepburn. Aleksey Batalov, who plays Boris (Veronika’s boyfriend), also gives a tremendous performance, especially during the army/war scenes. Rounding out the cast are Vasili Merkuryev as Boris’s father, Aleksandr Shvorin as Boris’s horrible cousin Mark, Svetlana Kharitonova as Boris’s sister Irina and Valentin Zubkov as Boris’s friend Stepan. Besides the acting, you will be floored by the brilliant cinematography by Sergei Urusevsky and the editing by Mariya Timofeyeva. If you can, also check out Kalatozov’s 1959 drama The Letter Never Sent, recently released on DVD by the Criterion Collection and starring Samojlova and Innokenti Smoktunovsky (and with cinematography again by Urusevsky). Kalatozov is an important and under-recognized name in Russian/Soviet film history. I must thank TCM for affording me the chance to see this jewel of world cinema, which I consider one of my top ten favorite films.

Fear Strikes Out. Directed by Robert Mulligan. This film stars Anthony Perkins in one of his best pre-Psycho roles. He displays the effects of baseball player Jimmy Piersall’s mental illness and breakdown very effectively and is a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist. Karl Malden, a dependable actor often called on to play a father in the 50s and 60s, gives a typically solid performance as a manipulative man who drives his son to the brink of insanity. The score by Elmer Bernstein and crisp black-and-white cinematography by Haskell B. Boggs add to the plaintive beauty and simplicity of the film. Fear Strikes Out also features one of my favorite character actors, Adam Williams, as the doctor who helps Perkins. You might recognize Williams as one of James Mason’s henchmen in North by Northwest and as the title character in the “Twilight Zone” episode “The Hitch-Hiker.”

Love in the Afternoon. Directed by Billy Wilder. Wilder knew, perhaps better than any other director, how to elicit a wonderful performance from Audrey Hepburn. As in their earlier collaboration, Sabrina, Hepburn is delightful as a shy girl who learns how to live and pursue love with joyous abandon. Many people consider Gary Cooper to have been miscast, but I can’t see any other actor playing Frank Flannagan. He’s the perfect aging playboy. William C. Mellor’s cinematography lights both Hepburn and Cooper beautifully. (In this scene, notice how at 4:52 the lighting is such that Cooper looks years younger.) The use of the waltz “Fascination” as the movie’s theme is a lovely touch, along with the already utterly romantic aura of the Parisian setting. Having Maurice Chevalier play Hepburn’s father is casting genius; Chevalier, who marked his return to American film with this role (after 22 years of acting in British, French and Italian cinema), lends a charming combination of sweetness and seriousness to his portrayal of a father caught between his job and his daughter’s happiness. Please don’t ignore this underrated classic!

Peyton Place. Directed by Mark Robson. The novel by Grace Metalious is better, but the film has plenty to offer. Lana Turner is better in this than I’ve ever seen her; maybe she brought to her performance the emotional baggage of being the mother of a teenage daughter. As for the supporting actresses, I prefer Hope Lange to Diane Varsi, partly because Varsi’s speech and acting are too affected. Lange is not exactly how I had pictured Selena, but Lange captures the character’s vulnerability. Russ Tamblyn is good as sensitive Norman – I was struck by just how much he looked like his daughter Amber. Terry Moore is great as Betty Anderson, even though she’s clearly too old for the part. The other cast members, including Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan, Arthur Kennedy, David Nelson, Barry Coe, Mildred Dunnock, Leon Ames and Lorne Greene, form the backbone of a solid drama. I’d also like to point out the vibrantly colorful Oscar-nominated cinematography by William C. Mellor (who also photographed Love in the Afternoon) and the score by one of my favorite composers, Franz Waxman.

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