1956: Part 1

Friendly Persuasion. Directed by William Wyler. This warm family drama came at the tail end of Gary Cooper’s career and at the beginning for Anthony Perkins, who received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Cooper’s tender, thoughtful son. Perkins, who became synonymous with creeps and serial killers once Psycho came out in 1960, made his mark in this film. (The Oscar was won by another Anthony… Quinn, for playing Gauguin in Lust for Life.) This tale of a Quaker family dealing with the ongoing Civil War tackles all the major problems any family would face: crises of conscience, trouble with understanding how religion and real life intersect, the choice to go to war and the dual joys and pains of first love. Wyler handles the material with his usual deftness, giving all of the family members time and space to grow. Ellsworth Fredericks’ cinematography and Dimitri Tiomkin’s score further establish the sense of Americana that the film depicts. The family even has a pet goose! (“Samantha,” whom you will adore.)

Miracle in the Rain. Directed by Rudolph Maté. After reading the 1943 novella by Ben Hecht, I knew I had to see the film. Hecht wrote the screenplay, expanding his story to enrich the characterizations. Rudolph Maté, who started out as a cinematographer for foreign films like The Passion of Joan of Arc and Vampyr as well as American classics like Foreign Correspondent and Gilda, proves in Miracle that his directorial skill is just as refined. The stars work within the context of the film because they don’t overpower it: Jane Wyman, with her beautiful heart-shaped face, is perfect as tender, lonely Ruth, even though she’s a little old for the role; Van Johnson is believable as a kind, lovestruck soldier. By the time Wyman made this film, she had already won an Oscar and been nominated for two more (plus a nomination prior to her win for Johnny Belinda), but Johnson never received awards of the same caliber. It’s a shame, since he was an actor of terrific sincerity, including in this film. Besides Wyman and Johnson, Eileen Heckart and William Gargan are first-rate in supporting roles. You really owe it to yourself to see this melancholy romantic drama.

The Searchers. Directed by John Ford. Ford is one of the all-time great directors of the American western. He got some of the best performances out of John Wayne and this film, which was later inducted into the National Film Registry in its inaugural year, is no exception. Wayne gives a powerful performance, one which rivals his work in another Western classic, Red River. The other star of The Searchers, Jeffrey Hunter, whom I had previously known as Jesus in King of Kings, is a fine sidekick for Wayne. Hunter holds his own in every scene he’s in, especially in the scenes he shares with his love interest, Vera Miles (of Psycho fame). Many notable character actors populate the rest of the cast, including Ward Bond, John Qualen, Olive Carey, Henry Brandon, Ken Curtis; Harry Carey, Jr. (Olive Carey’s son in the film and in real life), former silent film star Antonio Moreno and Hank Worden. There’s also Natalie Wood, who was between 16 and 17 years old during filming. The cinematography by Winton C. Hoch is remarkable, capturing the epic beauty of 1860s-1870s Texas in all its stunning glory. Max Steiner’s score is a compliment to the aura. This is a true gem of American cinema.

The Solid Gold Cadillac. Directed by Richard Quine. Judy Holliday is a definite favorite of mine. Although the dated comedy Born Yesterday is the film for which she won her Best Actress Oscar, my favorite films of hers are Bells Are Ringing, It Should Happen to You and this sweet, enjoyable comedy. Holliday plays a shareholder in a New York City corporation (the bigwigs are played, among others, by Fred Clark and John Williams), a woman whose big mouth gets her appointed to a position in the company as a sort of liaison to the public. She is well-matched by Paul Douglas – another fine actor who died too soon – as a former member of the corporation who becomes a politician. He and Holliday have wonderful chemistry. The Oscar-winning costumes by Jean Louis look lovely on Holliday, Neva Patterson and the rest of the female characters. Narration by George Burns adds to the fun. If you want to get a nice glimpse of mid-50s Manhattan, check this movie out.

Tea and Sympathy. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Minnelli’s forte was clearly the musical genre, but this adaptation of Robert Anderson’s play, which was adapted by Anderson himself, works very well. The film’s approach to the discussion (or non-discussion) of sexuality is effective, giving John Kerr a good showcase for his character’s emotional struggles. Deborah Kerr (no relation), whom I have long considered an excellent actress, is radiant. Her BAFTA-nominated performance was overlooked at the Oscars in place of her nomination for The King and I, which I have not yet seen, but I’m sure that Tea and Sympathy is on par with that film. John Alton’s lush cinematography casts a reverent glow over the proceedings and the general look of the film, including hairstyling by the famed Sydney Guilaroff, is heightened by its distinctly mid-50s quality. Some may find the film dated, but I think it has held up nicely.


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