All That Heaven Allows. Directed by Douglas Sirk. This is not my first experience with the oeuvre of Douglas Sirk – my first being the 1947 thriller Lured – but All That Heaven Allows feels like the first “real” Sirk film that I’ve seen. It’s a Technicolor beauty, bathing its small-town setting and characters in the loveliest colors possible courtesy of famed cinematographer Russell Metty. The film’s stars, Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, are divine as the couple in love facing obstacles from “people who talk.” Agnes Moorehead does a nice job (as always) playing Wyman’s closest confidante, along with Virginia Grey as one of Hudson’s friends and Gloria Talbott as Wyman’s intellectual, Freud-quoting daughter. Extra-special mention goes to Jacqueline deWit, who is particularly venemous as town gossip Mona Plash. Overall there is a sense of magic to this exceptionally romantic movie. I look forward to other 50s Sirk gems: All I Desire, Magnificent Obsession, There’s Always Tomorrow, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels, A Time to Love and a Time to Die and Imitation of Life.
Diabolique. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. The best way to view this classic thriller is late at night in a very dark room, preferably when you’re alone. You’ll be chilled to the bone as you watch Diabolique’s talented leading lady, Véra Clouzot, battle seemingly supernatural elements amidst a Hitchcockian suspense tale. Simone Signoret, her partner in crime, plays her part with her usual cool self-assurance. Paul Meurisse is effective as Véra Clouzot’s cruel husband and Signoret’s lover, the man against whom Véra Clouzot and Signoret plot their revenge. The large cast features many notable older French actors and also the young actor Georges Poujouly, who had great roles in Forbidden Games and Elevator to the Gallows. Auteur Henri-Georges Clouzot, obviously heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s style, created an absorbing world filled with unforgettable characters. The penultimate scene and Véra Clouzot’s ever-widening eyes will print an indelible stamp on your brain.
East of Eden. Directed by Elia Kazan. James Dean was a faraway idea to me before I saw this film on TCM when I was sixteen. Dean was enigmatic, yet his emotions were so accessible; it is incredibly easy to relate to his character’s highs and lows. Whether or not you have read the original novel by John Steinbeck upon which the film is based, I’m sure Dean’s portrayal of Cal Trask will impress you. Leading lady Julie Harris makes a positive impression as the girl Dean falls in love with. Raymond Massey, a character actor I always enjoy, does solid work as Dean’s father. Richard Davalos fares more poorly as Dean’s bland brother (although you might know Davalos from the East of Eden image of him used for the cover of the Smiths’ 1987 album Strangeways, Here We Come). The cast also features Jo Van Fleet (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Dean and Davalos’ mother), Burl Ives, Albert Dekker, a young Lois Smith and Timothy Carey. While the film does not surpass the genius of Kazan’s earlier masterpiece On the Waterfront, it is a fine film in its own right. Photographed in glorious color by Ted D. McCord and scored by Leonard Rosenman, East of Eden is an enduring drama.
Lola Montès. Directed by Max Ophüls. This film is the definition of love-it-or-hate-it. It has its fans, like critic Andrew Sarris (“in my unhumble opinion the greatest film of all time”), but it also has many detractors. Perhaps your enjoyment of the film depends on how you feel about the director, Max Ophüls. I consider his earlier films Letter from an Unknown Woman and La Ronde to be brilliant, so I was certain that I would appreciate Lola. The actors are top-notch: Martine Carol as the beautiful title character; Peter Ustinov as the circus master; Anton Walbrook as the elegant King Ludwig I of Bavaria; Lise Delamare as Lola’s mother; young Oskar Werner as a nameless student enamored of Lola. Perhaps most extraordinary is the lavish production design and art direction/set decoration by Jean d’Eaubonne and Robert Christidès, making every set a unique wonder. Those components are amplified by the gorgeous Eastmancolor cinematography of Christian Matras and the extravagant costumes of Georges Annenkov.
The Seven Year Itch. Directed by Billy Wilder. While this is not Wilder’s greatest film, in truth it is unfairly underrated. “The Girl” is played to perfection by Marilyn Monroe, tempting harried protagonist/neighbor Tom Ewell when his wife (Evelyn Keyes) and kids go on vacation without him. Ewell deservedly won a Golden Globe for his performance. He’s hilarious whether he’s running around Manhattan in the sweltering summer daytime or cooling off in front of his apartment’s air conditioner with Monroe at night. Their “Chopsticks” piano duet is a definite highlight. Robert Strauss, Oskar Homolka and Victor Moore are all a hoot in their small supporting roles, stealing their respective scenes. My favorite moment in the film, though, is a scenario dreamed up by Ewell when he envisions Keyes having a hayride tryst with pal Sonny Tufts. Ewell lets his imagination run away with him, thinking up uproarious dialogue for the supposed affair.