#143 The Searchers

Watched: November 12 2017

Director: John Ford

Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood, Ward Bond, Henry Brandon, Hank Worden, Harry Carey Jr.

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 59min

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Somewhere in Texas, Ethan Edwards (Wayne) returns to the homestead from the Civil War. Which ended three years earlier. He may have been involved in some shady business in the interim. After years away, he joins his brother’s family to (possibly) settle down and stay away from conflict.

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You just know this is too idyllic to last…

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A neighbour’s stolen cattle lures most of the men, including Ethan, away from their homes in search of the thieves, but it turns out that the theft was a decoy to raid the unprotected houses. Ethan returns to find his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew killed, and his two nieces missing – the work of Comanche warriors.

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Funeral first – then vengeance!

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Along with his 1/8 Cherokee adopted nephew Martin Pawley (Hunter) and niece Lucy’s fiancé Brad Jorgenson (Carey), Ethan starts his search for his lost relatives – a search which will take several years and claim its share of casualities.

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It also leads to some great, heroic poses

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On the surface an adventure movie, The Searchers deals with some very uncomfortable questions of racism, mainly through main character Ethan, who is willing to kill his beloved niece once he learns that she has assimilated and now lives as a Comanche.

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Treacherous wench! Adapting to survive!

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We loved Laurie, Mose, and the fight between Charlie and Martin, and there are some amazingly beautiful shots in this film. It’s a Western epic spanning several years with lots of interesting characters – especially Ethan is intriguing if not particularly likable. Our dog was also very into it – anything with horses, dogs and shootings quickly becomes a favourite for him.

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Like us, Doggo is less keen on overly tanned white people playing Native Americans, but he appreciated all the Native extras

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What we learned: If someone you love has assimilated to another culture, it’s not reason enough to kill them… Also, what makes someone “white”?

Next time: Written on the Wind (1956)

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#142 The Killing

Watched: November 9 2017

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr, Vince Edwards, Joe Sawyer, Timothy Carey, Kola Kwariani

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 25min

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Five men, led by mastermind Johnny Clay (Hayden), are planning a heist on a race track with a potential earning of around $2 000 000. Apart from Johnny himself, there’s money man Marvin Unger (Flippen), corrupt cop Randy Kennan (de Corsia), and inside men George Peatty (Cook) and Mike O’Reilly (Sawyer).

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“So, if anyone has a manipulative, two-timing wife who’s sure to sell us all out, now’s the time to come forward. No..? No one..? George..? All right then, we go on as planned!”

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George, a small and nervous man, is easily manipulated by wife and residential Dame Sherry (Windsor), who guilts him into sharing parts of their plan with her. Interested in the money, and less so in her husband, she confides in her lover Val (Edwards – their relationship is the exact opposite of Sherry’s marriage in terms of power and manipulation) who teams up with some buddies to steal the money once the five men do the dirty work.

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“You’ll still love me if you’re rich, right Val?” “Sure thing! I’m definitely not sleeping with you because you’re married and therefore there are no obligations on me, and I won’t leave you for someone younger once I have loads of cash!”

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The plan is well thought out, but will the five men get away with it? Will Johnny manage to pull off one last job and retire from crime to marry his girl Fay (Gray)? Or will the deceitful Dame and her lover ruin it all?

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Also, is Nikki’s puppy real or stuffed..? We’re genuinely asking here.

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From the intense opening score to the climax at the airport, The Killing is full of suspense and intrigue. We loved the voice over which, unlike most Noir films, is not voiced by a character in the film but a narrator; we loved Mike and his sickly wife (we were rooting for them throughout); we loved the different takes on the same scene; and we absolutely loved the mask Johnny wears for the robbery.

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The stuff of which nightmares are made

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The first Kubrick film on the list was a new one for us, and it lived up to the expectations, although it is fairly different from his later works (he was quite young at this point). The female characters are not much to write home about, but otherwise this was a very entertaining thriller with some very cool details which we enjoyed.

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Also, great inspiration for a simple yet creepy Halloween costume!

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What we learned: Never share anything with Dames.

Next time: The Searchers (1956)

#141 The Bad Seed

Watched: November 1 2017

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Starring: Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones, Evelyn Varden, Eileen Heckart

Year: 1956

Runtime: 2h 9min

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8 year old Rhoda Penmark (McCormack) is a prim and proper young lady who is a bit spoiled and very straightforward. Her father and neighbours think the world of her, especially landlady Monica Breedlove (Varden), but her mother Christine (Kelly) has noticed a more sinister side to her daughter; she has an explosive temper and is possibly the worst loser in history.

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“Another kid has better handwriting than me! My life is over!”

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When Rhoda fails to win a school prize for penmanship, she does not take it well. Later, at a school picnic, the boy who beat her accidentally drowns. Christine becomes suspicious when she then finds the boy’s missing medal among her daughter’s precious things…

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By precious things, we mean serial killer trophies

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While Christine suspects her daughter may not be quite normal, handyman Leroy (Jones) recognizes exactly what she is – he sees himself in her. He’s too confident in his own supremacy though, so he confronts the child and teases her. Big mistake! She may be tiny and young, but Rhoda is also vicious and resourceful.

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Lesson: never confront a suspected killer, no matter how cute their pigtails are

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The Bad Seed holds up very well, despite the many “evil child”-films which have come since its release. Patty McCormack is perfect as Rhoda – alternating between sweet and deadly effortlessly.

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Mama should have known something was wrong looking into those eyes…

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We loved Monica the Landlady and her psychoanalytical friends, and the crazy and manipulative Rhoda. The film is long and melodramatic, with lots of sitting room exposition (it’s based on a play), but it is also very creepy and engaging. The Freudian influence is very evident, especially when it comes to the (many) weirdly intense parent-child relationships. Or perhaps that’s just how parents and children interacted in the ’50s.

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You know, with poison…

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What we learned: Don’t have kids!

Next time: The Killing (1956)

#140 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Watched: October 5 2017

Director: Don Siegel

Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Dr Miles Bennell (McCarthy) has had a rough few days, and is trying to convince a psychiatrist that he is not crazy but that his home town really is at the centre of a large scale alien invasion. His story is then told in flashbacks and we see the invasion unfold.

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He has really cultivated that so-not-crazy-right-now-look

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Bennell, a small town doctor, has been out of town and very popular in his absence; half the town has been in to see him, but when he returns they are no longer as keen. He gradually finds that many of his patients seem to suffer from Capgras delusion – they think their loved ones are not themselves or have been replaced by impostors. They also suddenly snap out of their delusions without any treatment…

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The thick plottens when the protagonists find an unconscious man with no distinguishing features hidden in a friend’s basement

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Bennell, together with childhood crush Becky Driscoll (Wynter), starts to investigate and what they find is literally out of this world – a race of alien “pod people” who are taking over the entire town of Santa Mira by replacing its people with unemotional but otherwise perfect replicas.

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“Tired of your neighbour? Grow a new one in a greenhouse! Pod People – Replacing Non-Conformist Folks Everywhere”

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers shows a quiet invasion – alien beings who fell from the sky gradually take over friends, relatives and neighbours in their sleep. Those not yet taken grow increasingly paranoid and hysterical, especially since the change is hard to prove – it’s mostly just a feeling and an instinct that something is wrong.

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Until they start chasing you, of course. Then you know.

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This film is remade (or, the novel by Jack Finney is filmed) every other decade or so, sometimes under different titles (such as Body Snatchers or The Invasion), and each time the plot changes slightly based on the general zeitgeist. The original, from the fifties, naturally has clear undertones of McCarthyism and the communist scare.

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Though things have changed a lot since 1956, the tried and tested investigative method of poking stuff with a stick has fortunately survived.

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We’ve mentioned how we love old-timey sci-fi before, and this film is an old favourite which still holds up. We’re really looking forward to Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version now, to see the differences (we haven’t seen it in ages). Also, although the quality of the different productions vary a bit, we think they should just keep remaking the plot every twenty years or so. It’s a good indication of what people’s fears are at any given time, and important documentation for the ages.

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And it gives us shots like this.

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What we learned: If people around you start acting weird, they’re probably pod people and are out to get you.

Next time: The Bad Seed (1956)

#138 Bigger Than Life

Watched: October 4 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Robert F. Simon, Walter Matthau

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 35min

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School’s out for Easter. What a dream! Though not for teacher Ed Avery (Mason), who suffers stomach pains and is on his way to his second job as a cab dispatcher. Despite his clear discomfort and his rush to get to his second, secret, job, he takes the time to give a student a break and to play matchmaker for a couple of colleagues. An all round good guy!

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Pictured: every teacher’s face at vacation time

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After a dinner party, Ed collapses and his wife Lou (Rush) and BFF Wally (Matthau) get him to the hospital. The doctors run a series of tests, including a very cool and quite possibly cancer-inducing X-Ray with barium, and are discouraged by what they find. Without treatment, Ed has less than a year to live.

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A life span further reduced by the liberal helpings of barium and x-radiation

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The only treatment found to be somewhat effective is the newly discovered (possibly?) hormone cortisone, but it can have serious side-effects. After weeks of experimenting, a proper dosage is found, and Ed is sent back home with a few weeks’ supply of cortisone pills.

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Ed’s medication gives him a new appreciation for fancy clothes and shopping sprees. There’s a chance we may have too much cortisone in our systems…

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In time, Lou starts noticing some changes in her husband’s personality. He is more adventurous and spontaneous, but less sensible and responsible. He is energetic and manic with terrible mood swings and occasional tremors.

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There’s always a possibility he is possessed, according to the mirror

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As Ed’s solution is to up his cortisone intake, his new personality traits develop into full blown delusions of grandeur, complete with a new tyrannical approach to family life.

 

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Even his shadow gets in on the action, looming threateningly over his young son Richie

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Bigger Than Life is very dramatic, and Ed’s development throughout the film goes from one extreme to the next. We loved the X-Ray/barium scene, the dramatic crescendo of the ending, the shadows and the general craziness. It may not be a film we’ll rewatch over and over again, but it is definitely worth watching once.

What we learned: Teachers owe it to themselves to be sick on school days – not during vacation. Word! Also, stick to the prescribed dosage.

Next time: Forbidden Planet (1956)