Top Ten By Year: 1958

For those unaware of my Top Ten By Year column:
I pick years that are weak for me re: quantity of films seen and/or quality of films seen in comparison to other films from that decade. I am using list-making as a motivation to see more films and revisit others in a structured and project-driven way. And I always make sure to point out that my lists are based on personal ‘favorites’ not any notion of an objective ‘best’. I’ve done 1935, 1983, 1965, 1943, 1992, and now 1958. Next I’ll be doing 1978.

1958 was a curious year for my Top Ten By Year project. I had seen 14 films from 1958 before all of this. Not much compared to the other years of that decade. When I said I picked 1958 for this, everybody proclaimed “Such a great year!” And it is, in the sense that every year is a great year in film if you know where to look. But the reason that 1958 stood out to me so much when I was trying to decide on a year from the 1950’s is because I was ambivalent on many of the ‘classics’ I had already seen. And three months later, that’s still the case. I’ve already mentioned it in my What I’ll Remember post but it bears repeating. I flat out do not care for The Hidden Fortress; it’s my least favorite Kurosawa film by a mile. Elevator to the Gallows is a taut genre exercise but nothing more than a first-timer testing the waters; impressive but not involving. I appreciate Cairo Station’s importance but didn’t take to it. Okay, I like Mon Oncle and Big Deal on Madonna Street, I’ll give you that. Ashes & Diamonds is masterful, but not in my wheelhouse. Outside of Nicholas Ray’s unshakable popularity among cinephiles, I’m perplexed for the love that people have for Party Girl. And Equinox Flower is richly pleasant but there’s a wall between the two of us. That’s a lot of films I just listed right there. And I’m sure anyone reading this loves one or more of the above and is shaking their head right now. So the question is; what am I left with? In my efforts to plumb the depths of what 1958 has to offer, I came up short. A lot of what I watched was merely, well, okay; engaging in context or in spurts, or in how they fit as part of the larger whole, but rarely in their own right. There was a lot of divergence in my own preferences and 1958 as a whole (interesting that 1957 though, contains so many favorite films of mine).

So while this is a very strong group of ten (I absolutely treasure all of these films), unlike other years, it was not too difficult to secure a spot this time around, at least comparatively. Though there are five very distinctive films not on the list that I wish there was room for. I’ve now seen 44 films from the year. In addition to first time viewings, I re-watched 11 of the original 14 films I’d seen for this project. I’ve also realized that my list this time is almost entirely US films, which is sort of embarrassing but it’s just the way the cookie crumbled this time. In writing this post, I find myself touching on the particular quality of actresses, even more than normal, and what it is that the women of 1958 bring to the films they are so central to.

We’re right at the tip of some major cinematic movements that are soon to start. Tawdriness is welcomed in increasingly growing measures. Noir is gasping its last corrupt breaths. The musical is on the downslide. European ennui is catching on. Auteurs are communicating cynicism through genre. Stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age hang on like aging apparitions. Authentic and naturalistic emotions make up the new. And at the forefront, theater has taken over cinema; The Adaptation Craze is in full operating mode.

Top Ten By Year: 1958 Poll Results
Movie Music Mix: 1958
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1958: A Love Letter

Biggest Disappointments:
The Lovers
The Blob
Cry Terror!
Attack of the 50ft Woman
I Want to Live! (re-watch)
It Happened in Broad Daylight
The Matchmaker
The Haunted Strangler

Blind Spots:
Brink of Life (could not get hold of this though I tried, oh how I tried), A Time to Love and a Time to Die, The Horse’s Mouth, Fiend without a Face, Ice Cold in Alex, Run Silent Run Deep, No Time for Sergeants, South Pacific, Ballad of Narayama, The Long Hot Summer, Cowboy, The Last Hurrah

TOTAL LIST OF FILMS SEEN IN 1958: (bold indicates first-time viewings during research, italics indicates re-watches during research):
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Anna Lucasta, Ashes & Diamonds, Attack of the 50ft Woman, Auntie Mame, A Movie, Le Beau Serge, Bell Book and Candle, The Big Country, Big Deal on Madonna Street, The Blob, Bonjour Tristesse, Bridges Go Round, Cairo Station, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cry Terror!, The Defiant Ones, Elevator to the Gallows, Equinox Flower, The Fly, Giants & Toys, Gigi, The Goddess, The Haunted Strangler, The Hidden Fortress, Horror of Dracula, I Want to Live!, It Happened in Broad Daylight, The Last Day of Summer, The Lineup, The Lovers, The Magician, Man of the West, The Matchmaker, Mon Oncle, Murder by Contract, The Music Room, Party Girl, “Robin Hood Daffy“, Some Came Running, The Tarnished Angels, Terror in a Texas Town, Too Much Too Soon, Touch of Evil, Vertigo

Honorable Mentions:
The Music Room (India, Ray): Music as symbolic wealth and obsolete extravagance haunt a decaying mansion and its owner who refuses to acknowledge change.

Some Came Running (US, Minnelli):
The prodigal son accidentally returns home, torn by himself and the two sides of town, each represented by a lady. Poor Shirley MacLaine; those last five minutes are brilliant and devastating.

Man of the West (US, Mann):
The Straw Dogs of studio westerns, and a volatile, sickening and at times unbearably tense piece of filmmaking. Damn do I really need to catch up with some more Anthony Mann films.

“Robin Hood Daffy” (US, Jones):
Um, Daffy Duck as Robin Hood. Need I say more? “Ho! Haha! Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Ha! Thrust!”

The Lineup (US, Siegel):
Think of this as being tied with my #10. With San Francisco location shooting even more notable and far less appreciated than Vertigo, this starts as a dull police procedural and morphs into something episodic, dangerous, and off-kilter.

FTV: First Time Viewing

RW: Re-watch
LTF: Long-time Favorite

10. Gigi
(US, Minnelli) (RW)
Some Came Running, Vincente Minnelli’s other 1958 film, may have more meat on its bones, but Gigi is home to personally preferable Parisian frills. The many reasonable criticisms leveled against it play heavily into why I find myself so smitten with it. It is, overall, an admittedly inconsequential story. It’s a musical with nary a dance to be found (and let’s be honest, no real singing either). The protagonist is an impossibly rich and handsome man (Louis Jourdan) who we are meant to empathize with, because, wait for it, he’s bored (besides “It’s a Bore”, another of Gaston’s songs is the petulant “She is Not Thinking of Me”). The story is conflicted over what we expect of women, and then resents them for achieving just that. It has none of the pizzazz or freedom of the director’s soundstage musicals and none of the propulsion of his melodramas.

So; why Gigi? It’s difficult to say. I’d argue that all of the above works, at least to some degree, in its favor. It has a deceptively stilted charm, made up of Minnelli’s sumptuous obsession for dressing-the-frame paired with sparse camera movement. When you look closer, what at first seems oppressive is actually freeing. The actors are given ample room to move about the elaborately constructed spaces or locations, leaving us to appreciate the rich precision of the interiors (That red room! That yellow room! That pink room!), or the way the imaginary is transported into legendary Paris locations. With one simple pan, Maxim’s becomes a gossip funhouse where space curves and endless planes of speculating people blur into one another.

Gigi is a mix of innocuousness and sly implications, and just like Gigi (Leslie Caron) and Gaston, the two constantly play off each other. Sister makeover musical My Fair Lady may have the better songs, but give me the light playfulness and balanced business of this over the stuffy lifelessness of the latter any day. How can I not fall for a film that has Maurice Chevalier misremembering history with Hermione Gingold against a soundstage lit setting sun?

Anna Lucasta
9. Anna Lucasta
(US, Laven) (FTV)
As written, “Anna Lucasta” (inspired by” Anna Christie”) centers on a Polish-American family and an estranged daughter-turned-prostitute returning home. But it was originally performed and adapted by the American Negro Theater, opening in Harlem with an all-black cast in the 1940’s. Fifteen years and one Paulette Goddard film later, an adaptation of the African-American production was released.

Nobody talks or writes about Anna Lucasta. Nobody seems to have seen it (it’s available on Instant Netflix fyi). Those who do write about it do so for its historical value and seem underwhelmed by what’s actually there. It was barely advertised and also dismissed upon release.

I love Anna Lucasta. For one, it’s a needle in a haystack to see an all-black cast during the studio era (fuck, any era) in something other than a musical. Most importantly, it’s damn good. Cinematic? No; Arnold Laven’s direction is something tepid. It’s seen as a detractor, possibly a deal-breaker, when a film isn’t able to shed its stage origins. But there’s a particular way theater grabs hold of its audience from the get-go, using personalities and everyday dynamics that are old hat for the characters but brand new to us. Anna Lucasta fails in the directorial department, but it’s got this quality in spades.

It also has Eartha Kitt, Queen of the World; watching the camera take to her serpentine presence is a privilege. And then there’s Sammy Davis Jr, character actor Rex Ingram as Anna’s deeply troubled father, and a host of offbeat characters rounding out the central family. Though the film prefers a romantic interest  it’s impossible to get behind (who among us actually wants Anna with snoozefest what’s-his-name over the one, the only, Sammy?), Anna Lucasta has an immediately welcoming energy in which we the audience are invited into the well-worn dynamics of this family as Anna herself is begrudgingly and deviously welcomed back into the fold.

The Magician Bergman
8. The Magician
(Sweden, Bergman) (RW)
Hiding among all these adaptations is Ingmar Bergman, wrestling with the very idea and purpose of cinema and his relationship to his audience.

A story of versus; the illusion of truth versus scientific explanation, acknowledging transparency versus willful submission. It’s pretty clear which side Ingmar Bergman is on in this case of absolutes. Bergman asks to what end humiliating the creator serves. In The Magician, stuffy authoritative detractors, led by Gunnar Björnstrand, clinically dissect a form of illusion for being the very thing that it is; illusion. Thus, they are seen as useless, seeing only facade without bothering to think on why the facade exists. Those that submit know they are doing so, whether to be seduced like the sex-starved maids downstairs, or to extract a source of faith or entertainment.

The Magician has a curiously hodgepodge structure. Starting with an enchanted trek through in unforgettably fairy-tale forest as photographed by the great Gunnar Fischer, we then devote whole sections to bawdy sex comedy, elusive two-person conversations and horror. Stringing these sections together is a series of humiliations committed by the stingy non-believers onto Bergman’s alter-ego, the worn-out masked Vogler (Max von Sydow). The Magician is in part about how we mask ourselves and the protection that it provides us. What affected me most about the film was how Vogler reveals himself in the final half (pretending to be mute he finally speaks and sheds his physical disguise), only to be rejected by nearly everybody.

7. Murder by Contract (US, Lerner) (FTV)
An assassin who doesn’t like guns. Prepping over doing. Kicking your feet up and seeing the sights. Those who’ve seen Murder by Contract know how singular it is (Martin Scorsese is chief among them, citing this as a major influence), that it zags where others zig. Removed from almost everything going on in American cinema at the time, it’s a B-movie sunken in its own mellow groove even though the hit job in question has a steadily decreasing deadline. It’s impossible not to think of what Jim Jarmusch would be doing nearly thirty years later. The sparse budget constraints are accompanied by a mulling eccentricity, and a keen sense of humor. Yes, this is one of those films that could easily be described as ‘cool’. Claude (Vince Edwards), our unknowable assassin, is in full control of the existential narrative, even as he struggles to complete his task on time. We’re just happy to be along for that smooth, smooth ride.

6. Auntie Mame
(US, DeCosta) (RW)
Why is it that the happy-go-luckiest film from this group is the most difficult to write about? Auntie Mame doesn’t impress so much as it does slap you silly with celebration. Don’t look too hard at those encrusted jewels and turbans or it all falls apart; luckily, the devil-may-care surface is the thing. It’s got a daring lack of conflict. When something major does happen, like, oh, say, poverty or death, it’s treated like a mild speed bump in the jovial banquet that is life. Director Morton DeCosta sets the stage, literally, bringing theater into film and sectioning the episodic structure by incorporating divisive flourishes like punctuated fade-to-black stage lighting.

Reprising her Broadway role, Rosalind Russell’s uproarious high-wire performance (which stupidly lost an Oscar to Susan Hayward) is no small part of what would eventually define Auntie Mame as a seminal camp work. She plays to the camera, going a mile-a-minute (distracting us so much that we almost don’t notice, but definitely do, the cringe-worthy racist caricature that is Ito), and never loses sight of Mame’s humanity, shown through loyalty and protectiveness. Her constantly evolving interior decorating and costumes are by turns lavish and kitsch. As much as it is a fuck-the-haters film about living life to the fullest, it is also about expressing and flaunting oneself through appearances (which is of course assuming everyone has the social status necessary for this kind of living; like I said, don’t look too hard). Devoid of irony, yet self-aware, Mame’s wealthy bohemian and nonconformist ideologies set up indulgent spectacles in presentation and character. I suspect that a film like Auntie Mame was a healthy and mild way for the general public to engage with eccentricity and alternative living in 1958. It offers a non-threatening form of bohemia while tossing in taboo markers like lesbians, unwed pregnancies and excessive casual drinking on the sidelines. It’s made up of whims, moving at Mame’s swift tempo to the next thing and the next, always in transition. Does time fly by too quickly when living life this way?

With sustained conflict-free lightness and class-based exclusivity, films like Gigi and Auntie Mame may be largely unfashionable and easy targets for present day audiences, but they are indicative of the kaleidoscopic universes that Hollywood was still capable of creating in this dwindling stage of the studio game. And I love them both dearly.

5. Touch of Evil (US, Welles) (RW)
This refers to the reconstructed version of Touch of Evil, put together by editor and audio engineer Walter Murch, producer Rick Schmidlin and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum according to Orson Welles’s famous 58-page memo to Universal which details the ways in which (through both editing and sound) the studio chopped up his vision.

There are only a handful of films that make me want to take a shower afterwards. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one. Touch of Evil is another. To see it is to feel the muck of it all in your bones. Every single thing in Welles’s film about border corruption in no man’s land, from macro to micro, is designed to keep us permanently off axis. The second it starts, with that revelatory three minute plus take, it’s like we’re part of a harshly lit carnival attraction. Everybody keeps losing each other, and the combination of characters is constantly shifting. The conventionalized dialogue is delivered like a relay race, with everybody passing the baton to their ever-changing neighbor. And the streets, even when occupied by people, always feel deserted.

Of course, Touch of Evil wasn’t the exact end of film noir’s Golden Age, but it does make for a hell of a send-off; the genre is flayed open, innards spilling out. Uncompromising in every way, all the latent and pent-up sleaze of decades past rises to the top. At the center of it all and at the edges too, is Welles as Captain Hank Quinlan. While watching him, I couldn’t help but think of a line from Robert Shaw’s Indianapolis speech in Jaws, spoken with that drawl; “you know the thing about a shark, he’s got…lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye”. With all that extra padding and makeup, Welles looks like he’s made out of wet clay, sputtering around like a wind-up toy, jerking and lumbering this way and that. He muscles his bloated visage into every frame he can, brandishing Quinlan’s nefarious qualities on the outside. Considering that Orson Welles was a legitimate fear of mine for two years during my adolescence (seriously; I couldn’t go into Blockbusters or look through magazines; guidance counselors got involved), it’s no hyperbole to say that Hank Quinlan was, at one point, my literal worst nightmare. Watching Touch of Evil today reminds me that my fear was completely valid.

4. Bell Book and Candle
(US, Quine) (RW)
Shot after Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak reteamed for Bell Book and Candle, a supernatural comedy that retains Stewart’s obsession with Novak, but trades all of that torment for eccentric frothiness. In the film, Novak casts a literal spell on Stewart. Gillian works for herself, and owns her manipulations, regrets, and the circumstances that lead to her decision (I also love the novelty that someone like Kim Novak is convinced she needs a spell to make someone fall in love with her). Where Vertigo posits Novak as otherworldly through Scottie’s eyes, Bell is about her predicament, breaking through the actress’s distinct brand of impenetrability as well as explicitly engaging with the notion of Novak as feline.

Some may call Bell Book and Candle slight. To me it’s got a brand of lounging whimsy that doesn’t exist today. Sure, it gets up to indulge in some mishaps, but this is primarily a film defined by its quirks (and an alternative Christmas film too!). Witches and warlocks are portrayed as harmless kooky beatniks who blend in with the New York City crowds, and hang at a club called The Zodiac. Jack Lemmon is Gillian’s bongo playing brother and Elsa Lanchester’s her flighty aunt, and she plays it exactly the way you’d imagine.

1958 is the Year of Novak, and her Gillian Holroyd is a hallmark for those of us who appreciate the kinds of presence you can’t buy. Her airs, her clothes, her cat named Pyewacket, her voice like warm honey, and those formidable painted eyebrows. It’s sort of sad that the film systematically strips away her exoticism (her store is even transformed into one of fragile femininity; glass flowers), but what can I say? I’m moved by her conflicting fears and desires to be human, to allow herself to love and be loved. It’s just disappointing that she couldn’t have all this and be a badass witch too. But it gives us a happy ending for Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, and who among us could balk at such a resolution?

3. The Tarnished Angels
(US, Sirk) (FTV)
Douglas Sirk transports the stock players and the baggage of melodrama from the previous year’s Written on the Wind into desolate black-and-white territory with a longtime dream project; an adaptation of William Faulker’s Pylon. It’s about post-WWI identity but feels dislodged from time. Trading a suburban setting for death-defying airshow attractions, a pilot (Robert Stack), his wife (Dorothy Malone), and mechanic (Jack Carson) all live in a sort of lost haze where resignation reigns and communication is vacant. For a how-did-I-get-here-and-why-do-I-stay narrative with so much dialogue and reminiscing, this is all about failure to communicate. And when the unspoken finally is spoken, it is too late. Catharsis and loss are all that’s left.

We enter the trio’s (plus son Jack) lives via Rock Hudson’s reporter character named Devlin. James Harvey writes about Hudson’s performance in his excellent book Movie Love in the Fifties, and it’s not exactly a kindly assessment. I don’t agree with him. Hudson’s boyishly masculine persona works for him, not against him, precisely because it goes against the character, complicating everything about him. If he can’t quite pull off the selfish ‘human interest’ pursuer, torn between observing and participating, it only makes the performance more atypically shaded. Instead of a gruff worn-down alcoholic who pokes his nose where it doesn’t belong, we get a man whose looks hide a self-loathing and constant tension derived from his place within the narrative. In short, Hudson makes Devlin less of an immediately recognizable type, and more of a pretty wayward scavenger hunting for scraps.

Dorothy Malone’s (the film’s true MVP) LaVerne understandably runs hot and cold on him. One the one hand he’s trying to help smooth things over. On the other hand; who the fuck does this guy think he is? He barely knows this woman and thinks he can break in on these three tethered souls, judge them, and then, however sincerely, get involved in their affairs. Back up Rock Hudson; back the fuck up.

Douglas Sirk may have had an arduous experience working in black-and-white Cinemascope, but the film doesn’t show it. He and cinematographer Irving Glassberg create sprawling and glowing images that emphasize alienation and the solitary corners of shared spaces. Doom is everywhere. A shadowy specter appears after two characters kiss. Nightmarish parade masks lunge at us throughout. In truth, I find more resonance in the windswept hauntings of The Tarnished Angels than some of Sirk’s color-embellished stories of suburban pulp.

2. Bonjour Tristesse
(US, Preminger) (FTV)
I had been looking forward to seeing Bonjour Tristesse more than anything else on my watchlist. Turns out my hopes were not unfounded. After Otto Preminger launched Jean Seberg into uncertain fame with the much maligned Saint Joan, he put her through his tyrannical ways again with an adaptation of Françoise Sagan’s steamy and scheming coming-of-age novel. Teardrop stained minimalism courtesy of Saul Bass segues into the dour partying of a black-and-white prologue which in turn gives way to the sunny blue skies of the French Riviera. Of course our young Cecile (Seberg) would see her life in the kinds of extremities that alters film stock.

Almost half of the films on this list take on the personalities of their protagonists in some way. This being Cecile’s story (and her narration), Preminger heavily plays into the adolescent angst angle, so much so that at times we even unfairly balk at Anne’s (Deborah Kerr) seemingly obstructive manner. The bond that Cecile has with her father (David Niven) contains far more, and far less, than an underlying incestual vibe. They are, first and foremost, party companions in a world of their own carefree design. Third parties are welcome on the unspoken understanding that it’s all temporary. Not because father and daughter are inseparable (although they kind of are), but because Raymond isn’t built for monogamy. And responsibility is resolutely not welcome on the premises. Preminger makes Seberg a constant presence within the frame, especially when it’s just Raymond and another woman. She’s always somewhere to be found; after all, she’s part of the package.

Besides the potential end of a lifestyle, the threat of Anne’s presence is even more significant in the way it throws Cecile into self-critical thinking. She begins measuring herself against Anne, looking at herself in the mirror, yelling at herself, cursing herself. She is seeing herself in a way she never has, and she doesn’t like what’s looking back.

An easy case could, and should, be made that David Niven’s Raymond is worse than Cecile. At least she can hide behind misplaced passion, the selfishness of privileged teenage life, and eventual remorse. He however, is passive and remote in a story that theoretically revolves around him. Anne and Cecile are the active parties. They battle over someone who is always present but never fully aware or concerned with the extended showdown going on right in front of him. So when we hear him speak to Elsa (Mylène Demongeot) as overheard by Anne as overheard by Cecile as overheard by us (the specific dialogue of which is, critically, not in the book) it is a shocking and cruel moment; a gut-punch to the heart with irrevocable residual impact.

Jean Seberg is a source of constant fixation for me, a mix of the old and new functions of stardom. New because audiences didn’t quite know what to make of her or her modern look (though Godard did after seeing this film); that boyish frame and pixie blonde hair. Old because Preminger’s attempts to launch her career embodies that classic studio way of thinking in that yes, skill matters, but essence is the true key. Seberg’s abilities are limited, yet she’s intoxicating to watch. There’s a flatness in her voice that works in tandem with the character. She may not have it but she has it, and the latter is what counts.

A couple of times during the black-and-white sequences, Cecile looks at the camera, past us, past anything. That final shot is one of self-loathing; she assesses herself a final time, furiously rubbing that emptiness in as far as it can go. There’s a gaping hole where communication ought to be but isn’t. She and Raymond are trapped in a routine of debauchery. Neither have the maturity necessary for confrontation, so they will remain stuck with the tired routine they had once coveted so dearly.


1.Vertigo (US, Hitchcock) (LTF)
There was never any surprise or doubt that Vertigo would be my number one. It’s the film that overtook Citizen Kane as Sight & Sound’s Greatest Film of All Time. It obviously won my Top Ten By Year poll by a landslide even with a juggernaut like Touch of Evil in there. And it’s the second Alfred Hitchcock film to have the top spot on one of my Top Ten By Year lists. The other was my first post for this ongoing project. The year was 1935 and the film was The 39 Steps. Shadow of a Doubt also featured at #2 on my 1943 list.

What do you even say about a film like Vertigo? What strikes me most upon revisiting is it’s the rare film (if anyone can think of others do let me know) that manages to retain its sense of eerie discovery. However well we know the narrative, its almost supernatural hold remains. The ‘mystery’ goes beyond story; it’s pumping in the blood of the thing. It is here that Hitchcock, the definitive deliberate filmmaker, makes what must be his most assured work. While watching, I slowly realized that the entire film consists of two-person scenes (visiting the bookshop with Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) and the courtroom are the exceptions and even those…). This thread of narrow focus makes its endless calculations an uncommonly intimate experience.

Vertigo is constantly folding and peering in on itself, presenting mirror images of illusions, the act of watching and following (often accompanied by dissolves) never more to the forefront in a Hitchcock film. We watch, we watch Scottie (James Stewart), we watch Scottie watching. Hitch is Scottie, we’re Scottie and we’re Hitch, the director laid bare like never before or since. Under an auteurist lens, Vertigo is something like the ultimate catnip. He’s not hiding behind any defense mechanisms, no acerbic humor. We’re in the deep end of fetishistic obsession; transformation, blondes, the threshold of death, the list goes on. A woman’s eye becomes something out of a Spirograph, the fairer sex a gateway to a destructive black hole.

With that key perspective change, Scottie and us go our separate ways, while a window into Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak) is cracked; something Scottie never gets. She looks at the camera, begging us to understand and forgive her. Her words, intended for him, never reach their destination. The landmarks and streets of San Francisco function as something recognizably concrete amidst all the slippery pieces, visual cues that set the stage for the final third as Scottie doubles back through his own story in a desperate effort to recreate all he has lost. His damaged pride and blindness to his weaknesses sends him into a frenzied tailspin that goes so wrong so quickly. All we can do is wince and watch with knowledge of the truth while he becomes more and more unreachable.

The key to Vertigo, at least for me, is the crucial fact that ‘Madeleine’ is an invention. Even outside of that fact, Scottie is in love with a backlit profile, never a person. ‘Madeleine’s’ nonexistence only further underlines that. He needs to be needed. We see her through his point of view constantly; as a wilting flower, a painting, a puzzle, a ghost; again, never as a person. In line with the story fed to Scottie, she moves as if possessed. She comes with a hazy kind of light. She is immediately positioned and spied upon as an object among either delicate or timeless objects. Madeleine among the flowers, Madeleine as one with the garden, Madeleine in the museum. Kim Novak’s undercurrent of unease about her own perfection plays directly into her performance. There’s a scene where she sits in Scottie’s living room after a faked attempted drowning. It is their first formal meeting. Her hair is in a loose ponytail and she is wearing a red robe with white polka dots. The scene is an anomaly for both Novak and her character. The ‘Madeleine’ costume hangs in the laundry room (the dress is often made visible in the scene). Her face is open and bare; it’s the only time she isn’t made up to be someone else. Neither Madeleine nor the brash Judy, this scene is Kim herself.

I have to end this with a special shout-out to Midge, one of my favorite characters in film and to Barbara Bel Geddes for making the longtime hanger-on the most relatable, lovable and individualistic that type has ever been.


What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1958: A Love Letter

The What I’ll Remember posts are an ongoing tradition; it’s a logbook of sorts and a way to pay tribute to the year-specific viewing I’ve done. It’s also a way of stressing that, while the Top Ten by Year list is the endgame, the process  is what counts. There are takeaways, good and bad, everywhere, and here are some of them.


The meddlesome ultramodern house in Mon Oncle

The 1950’s, the cinematic era of theater (Auntie Mame, Gigi, The Matchmaker, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Bell Book & Candle, Anna Lucasta, Separate Tables)

Banner Years for: Kim Novak, Shirley Maclaine, Deborah Kerr, Tony Curtis, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Jeanne Moreau, Paul Newman, Dorothy Malone, Jimmy Stewart, David Niven

The sweet buffoonery of Big Deal on Madonna Street

Gert Fröbe, Burl Ives, and Lee J. Cobb are scary scary men….. (It Happened in Broad Daylight, The Big Country, Man of the West)

touch of evil

….but they have nothing (to be fair, does anybody?) on Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, whose bloated monstrous visage spills into every composition

Marlene Dietrich living every fatalistic line of dialogue as Tanya in Touch of Evil (“Your future’s all used up”, “What does it matter what you say about people”)

Two vastly underseen showbiz biopics (Too Much Too Soon and The Goddess)

Marilyn Monroe didn’t have a film released in 1958, yet Kim Stanley plays a thinly veiled version of her in the probing The Goddess. A worthy technician with none of her spark.

Dorothy Malone
Dorothy Malone’s tattered drunken mess in the harrowing nadir moment of Too Much Too Soon

In his last film appearance, Errol Flynn playing friend John Barrymore but also in turn playing himself in Too Much Too Soon

“The stoplight was against me” (Cry Terror!)

Peter Cushing, so slick in that red velvet (Horror of Dracula)

The laidback ahead of its time eccentricity of Murder by Contract 

the music roomThe kathak dance in The Music Room

“His last words were…” (The Lineup)

Forget Christopher Lee, Carol Marsh is Horror of Dracula’s MVP

Horror goes Technicolor (The Blob, Horror of Dracula, The Fly)

Ginnie and Ms. French in the classroom accompanied by visual hierarchy (Some Came Running)

Soaked breasts; the latest weapon against censorship (Cairo Station, The Haunted Strangler)

Confirmed suspicions that Dorothy Malone is not appreciated nearly as much as she deserves (The Tarnished Angels, Too Much Too Soon)

Starting in media res (Terror in a Texas Town)

“Haaaaaaarrrrrrrryyyyyyy!!!!” (Attack of the 50ft Woman)

Sterling Hayden with an endearingly terrible Swedish accent, bringing a harpoon to a gunfight (Terror in a Texas Town)

Man of the West reminding me I need to catch up with Anthony Mann’s filmography

Being unprepared for Man of the West’s descent into torment; it’s the true horror film of 1958

Two films each from Vincente Minnelli, Douglas Sirk, Ingmar Bergman (Some Came Running & Gigi, The Tarnished Angels & A Time to Love and a Time to Die, The Magician & Brink of Life)

The red room in Gigi

The final five minutes of Some Came Running

Postwar life in The Tarnished Angels and Some Came Running (WWI and II respectively)

Suggested Double Features:
Vertigo/Bell Book & Candle
Some Came Running/The Tarnished Angels
Gigi/Auntie Mame
The Goddess/Too Much Too Soon
Murder by Contract/The Lineup 

Real life ex-couple Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis Jr. (in his film debut) sizzling onscreen together in Anna Lucasta

Have I mentioned how grateful I am for Jack Carson? (The Tarnished Angels, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof)

Screen shot 2012-05-15 at 2.59.11 AM
The constantly evolving interior decorating in Auntie Mame’s living quarters

Breakdowns in communication as the starting place (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Tarnished Angels) and the finish line (Bonjour Tristesse)

Most intriguing use of screen persona: Rock Hudson in The Tarnished Angels (also; Rock Hudson screaming “Embalming fluid!!!”)

Least Favorite Film Characters of 1958: Agnes Gooch (Peggy Cass; Auntie Mame), Mae Pollitt (Madeleine Sherwood; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Gwen French (Martha Hyer; Some Came Running), Horace Vandergelder (Paul Ford; The Matchmaker)

Favorite Characters of 1958: Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes; Vertigo), Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak; Bell Book and Candle), Ginnie (Shirley MacLaine; Some Came Running), Jiggs (Jack Carson; The Tarnished Angels), Mame Dennis (Rosalind Russell; Auntie Mame); Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller, Separate Tables)

Ingrid Thulin looking really hot in drag (The Magician)

Gigi’s green coat (Gigi)

Seberg + Preminger Take 2 (Bonjour Tristesse)

Sirk channeling Von Sternberg (The Tarnished Angels)

Wondering if I’m one of those people doomed to find the majority of Ozu’s work merely pleasant (Equinox Flower)

More Afqa film stock please (Equinox Flower)

Dynamation! (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad)


Jean Seberg looking through us as she breaks the fourth wall (Bonjour Tristesse)

Jeanne Moreau walking the streets to Miles Davis (Elevator to the Gallows)

1958; the year of canon films that Katie has varying degrees of dislike, indifference, or merely moderate positivity towards (The Hidden Fortress, Mon Oncle, Equinox Flower, Elevator to the Gallows, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Cairo Station, Ashes & Diamonds, etc etc :dodges all of the tomatoes:)

Jeanne Moreau’s pearls and orgasm in The Lovers

Poor Dandelo (The Fly)

The pale pinks and the red teapot in Equinox Flower

The Matchmaker Perkins Morse

Anthony Perkins and Robert Morse being adorable together, hiding and peeking out of places (The Matchmaker)

The memorable cinematography starring Flashlights and Snow in the final sequences of Le Beau Serge

The needle in a haystack existence of a non-musical 1950’s film with an all-black cast led by the incomparable Eartha Kitt, yet nobody has seen it! Fix that people! (Anna Lucasta)

I want a cat so I can name it Pyewacket (Bell, Book & Candle)

Elsa Lanchester + bongo playing Jack Lemmon = greatest kooky relatives ever? (Bell, Book and Candle)

“America is Japan” (Giants & Toys)

defiant ones

The exhausting physicality on display in The Defiant Ones

The lighter superimposition montages of Giants & Toys

Mendacity (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof)

Elizabeth Taylor’s delivery of “He says ‘bull’ when he’s disgusted” (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof)

The somehow charming exclusively experiential ethos present in Gigi and Auntie Mame

Speaking of Gigi and Auntie Mame, both showcase a strangely cavalier attitude towards death and/or near death

All of Kim Novak’s costumes in Bell Book and Candle please, thank you

Auntie Mame and Bonjour Tristesse title pictures from Art of the Title

Bonjour Tristesse titles

Vertigo titles
Battle of the title sequences (Auntie Mame, Bonjour Tristesse, Vertigo)

Jimmy Stewart obsessed with Kim Novak x2 (Vertigo, Bell Book and Candle)

Mame Dennis’s camp and costumes (Auntie Mame)

Rosalind Russell fine tuning the sitcom style of acting (this is meant as a high compliment) (Auntie Mame)

Marveling at how Separate Tables manages to make its Acceptance of a Sexual Predator ending genuinely moving

Extensive San Francisco location shooting (Vertigo, The Lineup)

A handful of favorite shots:

The Magician Bergmanashesanddiamonds1le beau serfejeanne-moreau-les-amants-twotarnishedangls5Kim-Novak-Collection_DVD_R1_Disc2_Bell-Book_03215vertigo-grey-suit-flower-shop

Top Ten By Year: 1958 – Poll Results

After successfully incorporating a poll into my Top Ten By Year Project for the 1992 festivities, it was clear this needed to become a tradition. So months later, after viewings and re-watches galore, here we are, arriving at the end of my 1958 research. And to kick things off, I asked all of you to tell me your top films of 1958. Up to 10 were allowed, order not required.

I received 98 responses total from twitter, tumblr and WordPress combined, and 93 different films represented!!! For some perspective, there were 60 responses to the 1992 poll. So thank you so much to everyone who voted for making this a considerably bigger turnout than last!

Keep a tab on Cinema Enthusiast, because over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting the rest of my 1958 series including a Music Mix, What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1958: A Personal Sampling, and of course my own Top Ten. For the 1992 results, my list was tallied in with the rest, but not this time because as of right now I still have a few things to watch and re-watch.

Below I have both the aggregate results and all of your individual responses. As much fun as seeing the collective top ten, it’s far more important for me to post everybody’s response because a. the individual lists are always far more fun that the collective and b. ideally this post should function as a resource for learning about films you may not have heard of, but that person whose taste you really trust on twitter listed it as one of their favorites so maybe you should check it out!

Mandatory reminder (I do this every time) that I use lists as a representation of taste, an excuse to extrapolate, as prompts for discussion and discovery, and, when it comes to my Top Ten By Year project, as a finale to where the real importance lies; the viewings themselves.

Top Ten By Year: 1992 Poll Results

Films not eligible for this list: Wild Strawberries, The Cranes Are Flying, and Night of the Demon (I have them all as 57).


POLL RESULTS — Top Ten By Year: 1958:
1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, US) – 74 votes
2. Touch of Evil (Welles, US) – 64 votes
3. Mon Oncle (Tati, France) – 35 votes
4. The Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa, Japan) – 27 votes
5. Some Came Running (Minnelli, US) – 23 votes
6. Elevator to the Gallows (Malle, France) – 21 votes
7. Ashes and Diamonds (Wajda, Poland) – 19 votes
8. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Brooks, US) – 17 votes
9. Man of the West (Mann, US) – 16 votes
10. The Magician (Bergman, Sweden) (tie), The Tarnished Angels (Sirk, US) (tie) – 13 votes each

The rest:
12 votes: Bonjour Tristesse, The Music Room, Horror of Dracula
11 votes: Cairo Station, Gigi
10 votes: Party Girl, A Night to Remember
8 votes: The Blob, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Murder by Contract, The Defiant Ones, Equinox Flower, I Want to Live!
7 votes: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
6 votes: The Fly, Ivan the Terrible Part II, Le Beau Serge, Separate Tables, A Time to Love and a Time to Die
5 votes: Auntie Mame, South Pacific, Bell Book and Candle, The Lineup, The Long Hot Summer, Giants & Toys, The Horse’s Mouth, A Movie, The Lovers
4 votes: The Big Country, Terror in a Texas Town, Enjo, Fiend without a Face
3 votes: Ice Cold in Alex, “Robin Hood Daffy”, Run Silent Run Deep, The Last Hurrah
2 votes: Look Back in Anger, Carry On Sergeant!, Thunder Road, The Ballad of Narayama, Free Radicals, Buchanan Rides Alone, Les raquetteurs, Eroica, The Left Handed Gun, Cowboy, Bridges-Go-Round
1 vote: Varan the Unbelievable, Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys!, The Goddess, Stolen Desire, Endless Desire, The Matchmaker, Damn Yankees, The Great Gila Monster, Ajantrik, Wind Across the Everglades, No Time for Sergeants, The Last Day of Summer, Le Chant Du Styrène, War of the Colossal Beast, The Quiet American, Glas, Anticipation of the Night, The Expanding Airport, Attack of the 50ft Woman, Gunman’s Walk, The Fearmakers, Cop Hater, High School Hellcats, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, Les Miserables, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Teacher’s Pet, The Vikings, China Doll, Bomber Moon, Days of Wine + Roses (Frankenheimer), Machine Gun Kelly, Marjorie Morningstar, God’s Little Acre, The Very Eye of Night, King Creole, Gideon’s Day, Nazarin

Individual responses:

Vertigo, Mon Oncle, Separate Tables, The Big Country, The Blob, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Cairo Station, The Magician, The Music Room

@TheEndofCinema (Sean Gilman of The End of Cinema; The George Sanders Show, and They Shot Pictures podcasts):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Some Came Running, Murder by Contract, Mon Oncle, The Music Room, Ivan the Terrible Part 2, The Hidden Fortress, The Lineup, Bonjour Tristesse

@salesonfilm (Kristen Sales of salesonfilm, Movie Mezzanine, FilmFracture, etc):
Mon Oncle, Ashes and Diamonds, Touch of Evil

@faithx5 (Jandy of The Frame):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Elevator to the Gallows, Mon Oncle, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Gigi, South Pacific, The Fly, Some Came Running, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

@DeusExCinema (David Neary of Next Projection, etc.):
Ashes & Diamonds, The Defiant Ones, Ice Cold in Alex, Touch of Evil, Vertigo, Varan the Unbelievable

1. The Hidden Fortress 2. Vertigo 3. Touch of Evil 4. The Music Room

@SeriousFilm (Michael Cusumano of Serious Film):
Vertigo -Touch of Evil, Mon Oncle, The Music Room, Hidden Fortress, Big Deal on Madonna Street, The Blob

@FernandoFCroce (Fernando F. Croce of CinePassion):
Some Came Running, Man of the West, Party Girl, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys!

@Flixwise (Flixwise Podcast):
The Magician, Touch of Evil, Vertigo, Elevator to the Gallows

@stcve (Steve Christian):
Party Girl … (nine others)
Shout out to I Married a Monster from Outer Space

Touch of Evil, A Night to Remember, The Tarnished Angels, Ivan The Terrible Pt 2, Vertigo, Bell Book & Candle, Terror in a Texas Town, Mon Oncle, Gigi, Some Came Running

@gmanreviews (Andrew Robinson of gmanReview, The Movies You Love Podcast, etc):
Touch of Evil, Vertigo, The Hidden Fortress

@Phil_On_Film: (Philip Concannon of Phil on Film, Little White Lies, Sight & Sound, etc):
Touch of Evil, The Music Room, Some Came Running, Equinox Flower, Bonjour Tristesse, The Magician, Ice Cold in Alex, The Tarnished Angels, Stolen Desire, The Hidden Fortress

@filmactually (Shane of Film Actually):
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Auntie Mame and The Defiant Ones

@notjustmovies (Jake Cole of Not Just Movies, Movie Mezzanine, Slant, etc.):
Vertigo, Some Came Running, Man of the West, Touch of Evil, Music Room, Mon Oncle, Murder By Contract, Party Girl, Elevator to the Gallows, The Hidden Fortress

@WeRecycleMovies (Anne Marie, writer of A Year with Kate project over at The Film Experience):
Vertigo, Auntie Mame, Defiant Ones, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Long Hot Summer, The Matchmaker, Touch of Evil, 7th Voyage of Sinbad, I Want To Live, The Big Country

Vertigo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Horror of Dracula, A Night to Remember, and The Fly. Maybe Fiend Without a Face

@mrbowers (M.R Bowers):
Vertigo, Horror of Dracula, The Fly, Touch of Evil, A Night to Remember

@michelledeidre (Michelle Buchman):
Vertigo, The Fly, The Blob, Damn Yankees, Mon Oncle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, South Pacific

@SchmanthonyP (Brian Schmid):
Vertigo, Giants & Toys, The Hidden Fortress, Elevator to the Gallows, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Man of the West, Ashes & Diamonds, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Cairo Station, Mon Oncle

Cairo Station, Ashes & Diamonds, Elevator to the Gallows

@BtPardy (Brett Pardy):
Vertigo, Party Girl, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Hidden Fortress, The Music Room, Touch of Evil, Cairo Station, Some Came Running, Ashes and Diamonds, The Horror of Dracula

@DepartedAviator (Andrew Kendall of Encore’s World of Film & TV):
Vertigo, Some Came Running, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

@alexkittle (Alex Kittle of and 366 Weird Movies):
The Hidden Fortress, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Horse’s Mouth, Vertigo, Bell Book and Candle, The Giant Gila Monster, Enjo

@bmrow (Brent Morrow):
Ballad of Narayama, Wind Across the Everglades, Some Came Running, Equinox Flower, Murder by Contract, Ajantrik, Cairo Station, Vertigo, Mon Oncle, Man of the West

@redroomrantings (Justine A. Smith, Chief Film Editor and podcaster at Sound on Sight):
Vertigo, Bonjour Tristesse, Touch of Evil, Terror in a Texas Town, The Tarnished Angels, Elevator to the Gallows, Mon Oncle, Some Came Running, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Blob

@wormatwork (Seema of They Shot Pictures podcast):
Touch of Evil, Bounjour Tristesse, The Music Room, A Time to Love and a Time to Die

@whynotanna (of Start Focus End):
Horror of Dracula, Mon Oncle, Fiend Without A Face, Robin Hood Daffy, No Time For Sergeants

@willow_catelyn (of Curtsies and Hand Grenades):
Touch of Evil, Vertigo, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Bell Book & Candle, Horror of Dracula, It Came From Outer Space

Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Gigi

@JigsawLounge (Neil Young of Neil Young’s Film Lounge):

@FCardamenis (Forrest Cardamenis of Forrest in Focus, Spectrum Culture, The Film Stage, and Movie Mezzanine):
Free Radicals, A Movie, Eroica, The Last Day of Summer, Le Chant Du Styrène

@astoehr (Andreas Stoehr of Pussy Goes Grrr, Movie Mezzanine, etc.):
Equinox Flower, The Horse’s Mouth, Man of the West, Mon Oncle, The Music Room, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Some Came Running, The Tarnished Angels, Touch of Evil, Vertigo

@tnyfrontrow (Richard Brody of The New Yorker):
Giants & Toys, Party Girl, Mon Oncle, Cairo Station, Some Came Running, Bonjour Tr, Equinox Flower, War of the Colossal Beast

@Kza (Kent. M. Beeson):
The Tarnished Angels, Buchanan Rides Alone, Man of the West, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, The Horse’s Mouth

@VIFFSTER (Tom Charity):
Touch of Evil

Vertigo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Some Came Running, Mon Oncle, Ashes and Diamonds, Elevator to the Gallows, Long Hot Summer, The Quiet American, Touch of Evil, The Hidden Fortress

@JoeCaou (Joseph Caouette of Kino in Purgatory):
Cairo Station, Ivan the Terrible Part Two, Mon Oncle, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Man of the West, Les raquetteurs

@UnpluggedCrazy (Arlo J. Wiley of the Gobbledygeek podcast):
Vertigo, The Hidden Fortress, Touch of Evil, Ashes and Diamonds, A Night to Remember, I Want to Live!

@alexyoungen (Alex Youngen):
Glas, Les Raquettuers, Anticipation Of The Night, Mon Oncle, Man Of The West, The Magician, Fiend Without A Face, The Expanding Airport, The Defiant Ones, Ashes and Diamonds

@cine_scope (Giovanni Battista of CineScope and The Metropolist):
The Magician, Hidden Fortress, Touch of Evil, Vertigo, Elevator to the Gallows, The Music Room, Ashes & Diamonds, Enjo, Mon Oncle, Cairo Station

@JiffySquidward (Steve Maple):
Vertigo, Some Came Running, The Music Room, Mon Oncle, Ashes & Diamonds, Touch of Evil, Cairo Station

Touch of Evil, (Horror of) Dracula, The Magician, The Lineup, Fiend w/out A Face, Gunman’s Walk, The Fearmakers, Cop Hater

@Vincent_Nijman (Vincent Nijman)
Elevator to the Gallows, The Hidden Fortress, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, The Fly

@CriterionRefs (David Blakeslee of CriterionCast):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, The Lovers, The Magician, Hidden Fortress, Ashes & Diamonds, Equinox Flower, Mon Oncle, The Horse’s Mouth and Elevator to the Gallows

@Cinematic_Life (of This Cinematic Life):
Auntie Mame, Vertigo, Mon Oncle, Touch of Evil, The Hidden Fortress, Elevator to the Gallows, Ashes & Diamonds

@awolverton77 (Andy Wolverton of Arts of Darkness):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, The Defiant Ones, Separate Tables, Man of the West, Thunder Road, The Magician, Run Silent Run Deep, Horror of Dracula, Teacher’s Pet

@cinemasights (James Blake Ewing of Cinema Sights):
Mon Oncle, Vertigo, Robin Hood Daffy, Ivan the Terrible Part Two, The Hidden Fortress & Touch of Evil

Auntie Mame, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Elevator to the Gallows

@adamhopelies (Adam Batty, Lecturer and founder of Hope Lies At 24 Frames Per Second):
Elevator To The Gallows, Mon Oncle, Touch Of Evil, Vertigo, Le Beau Serge

@toro913 (Miran Terzic):
Vertigo, Mon Oncle, Elevator to the Gallows, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Lineup, Cairo Station, Some Came Running, The Hidden Fortress, Murder by Contract, Touch of Evil

China Doll, Bomber’s Moon, Days of Wine + Roses (both Frankenheimer directed), Machine Gun Kelly, The Big Country, A Time to Love and a Time to Die

@fistithoughts (Andrew Ellington):
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Vertigo, Separate Tables

@railoftomorrow (Scott Nye, writer and podcast co-host at CriterionCast, etc.):
1. Vertigo, 2. The Tarnished Angels, 3. A Time to Love and a Time to Die, 4. The Lovers, 5. Bonjour Tristesse, 6. Touch of Evil, 7. Party Girl, 8. Ashes and Diamonds, 9. The Magician, 10. Touch of Evil

@doctor_morbius (Christianne Benedict of Krell Laboratories):
Giants & Toys, Vertigo,  Touch of Evil, Man of the West, The Vikings, The Hidden Fortress, Enjô, Run Silent Run Deep

@oblongpictures (Chris Salt):
Mon Oncle, Touch of Evil, Ice Cold in Alex, Equinox Flower, Carry on Sergeant, I Want to Live

@007hertzrumble (of The James Bond Social Media Project):
1. Vertigo 2. Mon Oncle 3. Touch of Evil 4.Big Deal on Madonna Street 5. Terror in a Texas Town 6. The Fly 7. The Lineup

@Lena_Houst (Lena Houst of Film Misery)
Vertigo, Mon Oncle, A Movie

The Tarnished Angels, Party Girl, God’s Little Acre, Vertigo, Ashes & Diamonds, Some Came Running, Mon Oncle, Touch of Evil, The Left Handed Gun, Elevator to the Gallows, Man of the West

@labuzamovies (Peter Labuza, Author of Approaching the End, host of The Cinephiliacs, contributor to Variety, etc.)
Cowboy, Bridges-Go-Round, Vertigo, Gigi, Tarnished Angels, Murder by Contract, Cairo Station, Ashes/Diamonds, Hidden Fortress,

@tmibugbee (Teo Bugbee of The Daily Beast, Grantland, The New Republic, etc.)
1.) Vertigo 2.) Bonjour Tristesse 3.) Gigi 4.) Tarnished Angels 5.) Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

@ch_williamson (Chuck Williamson of The Missing Slate)
1. Vertigo, 2. The Tarnished Angels, 3. Enjo, 4. The Very Eye of Night, 5. The Fly, 6. Touch of Evil, 7. A Movie 8. Man of the West, 9. Mon Oncle, 10. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

@mattdegroot (Matt DeGroot):
Vertigo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Touch of Evil

@p2wy (Patrick Goff):
1 Vertigo 2. Bonjour Tristesse 3. Gigi, 4 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 5. Elevator to the Gallows

@timothyeraw (Tim Evans of Verite, CineOutsider and Grolsch Film Works)

@ohrachelleigh (Rachel Leigh of
Vertigo, Le Beau Serge, Elevator to the Gallows, Gigi, The Defiant Ones, A Night to Remember, Horror of Dracula, Big Deal on Madonna Street, Touch of Evil, I Want to Live!

@jchristley (Jamie N. Christley):

@ericgregersen (Erik M. Gregersen):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Murder by Contract, The Hidden Fortress, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ivan the Terrible II, Terror in a Texas Town, The Horse’s Mouth, Bridges-Go-Around, Giants and Toys

@abielkova (Adriana Bielkova)
1. Touch of Evil, 2. Mon Oncle, 3. Les Amants de Montparnasse, 4. Le Beau Serge, 5. Look Back in Anger, 6. Vertigo, 7. Elevator to the gallows, 8. Separate Tables

@thefilmtemple (Max B. O’Connell of The Film Temple, Indiewire):

@TyleKurner (Kyle Turner of Movie Mezzanine, The Movie Scene, etc.)
Touch of Evil, Vertigo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Night to Remember

@mimbale (Miriam Bale, programmer and contributor to various publications including Film Comment and the New York Times)
1. Vertigo 2. Bell, Book & Candle 3. Bonjour Tristesse 4. Party Girl 5. Tarnished Angels 5. Man of the West 6. The Lovers

@GeraghtyDarren (Darren Geraghty):
Vertigo. The Hidden Fortress, Touch of Evil, 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Elevator to the Gallows, The Tarnished Angels, South Pacific, A Night to Remember,  Le Beau Serge,  Ashes and Diamonds

@adam_the_k (Adam Kuntavanish, director of Special Features and Sr. Staff Critic at Next Projection):
1. Vertigo 2. Touch of Evil 3. Bonjour Tristesse 4. Mon Oncle 5. Equinox Flower, 6. Eroica 7. Giants and Toys 8. Murder by Contract 9. Man of the West 10. Endless Desire

@ME_Says (Murtada of ME Says):
Vertigo, Cairo Station, Auntie Mame, I Want to Live!, South Pacific, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

@bybowes (Danny Bowes of Salt Lake City Weekly, and Indiewire):

@Andrew_Bemis (Andrew Bemis of Cinevistaramascope):
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Dracula, The Hidden Fortress, The Magician, Some Came Running, Elevator to the Gallows

@CocoHitsNewYork (Conrado Falco of Coco Hits New York):
Robin Hood Daffy

Vertigo, Touch of Evil, The Magician, Mon Oncle, Ashes and Diamonds, Elevator to the Gallows, The Music Room

@oldfilmsflicker (Marya Gates of Cinema Fanatic, creator of Noirvember):
Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), Bell Book and Candle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Defiant Ones, The Goddess, I Want to Live!, The Long, Hot Summer, Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds), Some Came Running, Touch of Evil

Adam Kohrman:
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Ashes & Diamonds

Tumblr responses:

Vertigo, The Blob, Elevator to the Gallows, Attack of the 50ft Woman

Bonjour Tristesse


Vertigo, I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street, Touch of Evil, Look Back in Anger, Mon oncle, A Night to Remember, The Big Country, Carry on Sergeant (long live Kenneth Williams)

Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Hidden Fortress, Mon Oncle, Gigi, Thunder Road, Horror of Dracula

Touch of Evil, Vertigo, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Les Miserables, Run Silent Run Deep, A Night to Remember, Gigi, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, The Ballad of Narayama

touch of evil, vertigo, hidden fortress, the blob

vertigo, touch of evil, man of the west, some came running, the hidden fortress, the last hurrah

Vertigo; Ashes and Diamonds; Touch of Evil; A Movie; The Blob

Vertigo & Mon Oncle


1. Vertigo 2. Party Girl 3. Touch of Evil 4. The Music Room 5. King Creole


Gideon’s Day and Equinox Flower

WordPress responses:

Paul Boyne:
Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Some Came Running, A Night to Remember, The Blob, The Hidden Fortress, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, South Pacific, The Magician, Le Beau Serge

shadowsandsatin (of shadowsandsatin):
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Defiant Ones, Some Came Running, I Want to Live, The Long, Hot Summer, Separate Tables, Marjorie Morningstar, Party Girl, Vertigo, and Touch of Evil

Joel Bocko of Lost in the Movies:
1. Vertigo, 2. Free Radicals, 3. Some Came Running, 4. Touch of Evil, 5. The Hidden Fortress






Capsule Reviews: 1958 Watchlist Section Four – Westerns

We’re a year away from Rio Bravo and not quite in revisionism territory (tinkering though, sure). Another genre in transition. These may look and feel like Westerns, but whether benign or brutal, these films poke at and/or undermine the established codes. On the left end of the spectrum, there’s William Wyler’s The Big Country, a 165 minute epic A-picture that uses its sprawl to debunk Western myths with Gregory Peck’s pacifist James McKay. On the right is paltry-budget extraordinaire Joseph H. Lewis’s last film Terror in a Texas Town, a bare bones outlier oddity that would go down nicely paired with Murder by Contract from the same year. In the middle is easily the best and most enduring of the three; Anthony Mann’s endlessly unforgiving Man of the West. Here, all that’s left of the Western are deserted ghost towns, the constant threat of explicit violence, and the inconsolable gap left in the wake of wasted blood.

The Big Country
(1958, Wyler) (US)

A joint project with Gregory Peck (he and William Wyler produced) about what happens when a man challenges, through refusal to kowtow, the social norms of his environment. The two families-in-a-long-standing-feud story carries the kind of history stewing that befits a film of this scope. And what a scope. Shot in CinemaScope, Franz F. Planer drowns the characters in vista without, critically, losing the human intimacy that often evaporates when working in widescreen framing. Lots of Westerns showcase beautiful landscape photography, but strong depth of field here that one wonders how all this land fits on the screen at all. That may sound like Wyler and company squished the land into the frame, like an overflowing suitcase being shoved down down down so it can just barely close. But no, it’s simply majestic, emphasizing the irony of two families unable to cohabit in all that space.

The essence of Gregory Peck is one of surface passivity masking action through dignity and an unwavering moral compass. His James McKay is seen by others as a pushover, a coward. But he isn’t. He just lives by his own mostly pacifist code, refusing to succumb to what is expected of him just because proving oneself as the new kid on the ranch is what one inevitably does. When he does prove himself, it is to himself, on his own time and his own terms. He wants no fanfare, and he certainly feels no need to tell his disappointed fiancee (Carroll Baker) that he did ride that horse, or that he did defend himself in the blue of the night.

For its swiftness and Burl Ives-ness (it was for this, and not Cat on a Hot Tin Roof from the same year, that he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), The Big Country suffers from that ever-familiar trap of narrative over-inflation. Everything carries on a few beats too long. Gregory Peck challenges the explicitly-presented-as-such outmoded Western. Since Peck doesn’t want to fight, this is short on action and long on talking. Everything is over-expressed and drained of emotional resonance. It’s all just a mite too square.

Two highlights are the fistfight between Charlton Heston and Peck that switches between extreme long shot to medium shot. The emphasis is on the act of having it out, not on claiming a victor. Second is when Jean Simmons tells Peck a story. The music randomly swells, gradually drowning out her voice, and he eventually feigns fainting. It’s such an anomalous moment in the middle of a traditional film, and I really appreciated that little touch.

man of the west mann
Man of the West
(1958, Mann)
“When you were a boy?”
“I don’t know what I was”

I was considerably unprepared for Man of the West, the Straw Dogs of studio westerns — that is, if you replace the invaded home with a derelict barn that symbolizes a tense union between past and present. Twenty minutes in, Gary Cooper’s reformed criminal, Arthur O’Connell’s gambler, and Julie London’s dance hall girl wander off together after an unfortunately timed train robbery. I thought ‘oh lovely; it’ll be about the adventures of this ragtag trio’. Oh, how very wrong I was.

This is a volatile, sickening and almost unbearably tense piece of filmmaking. We are soon trapped in this barn with Lee J. Cobb and his underlings, as Link (Cooper) comes face-to-grizzly-face with the life he left behind so many years ago. Reform is too abstract to hold in this world. Cooper is, after all these years, forced back into this fold in order to protect London and O’Connell. But his fake re-alliance doesn’t ensure their safety at all. Nothing he does gives him leverage. Nothing he does matters. Link, in a desperate effort to protect Billie (London) proclaims “she’s mine”. And again, it changes nothing.

Man of the West operates as a vice grip, a gradual tightening of the fists. Its chamber piece setting (three acts, taking place on a train, a barn, and a ghost town) and warped use of lenses tighten the unbearable suspense, as does the constant threat and/or follow through, of violence. There is nobody to run to. The planned bank robbery of the third act is a bust because it turns out Lassoo is a ghost town. The characters are isolated with one another, and the audience with them. At a certain point Man of the West feels something akin to hell. Nowhere is this more definitive than an agonizing scene where Billie is forced to strip while Cooper looks on, powerless at knifepoint. Billie is the broken heart of the film, consistently sidelined except when serving as an example of the world’s brutality. But I’m really fond of Julie London’s efforts to imbue Billie with an inner life; there is depth to her terror and unrequited desire that is not on the page.

Something I’m seeing in these 1958 films is the acting clash of the old studio era and the new Method actors who were then infiltrating the cineplex. This was one of Gary Cooper’s last films; he would die in 1961. We never buy Link’s past when looking at Cooper, nor do we buy his ‘act’ of returning to the fold. His age and unconvincing criminal ‘persona’ make Link vulnerable at every checkpoint, his efforts to protect aren’t reassuring, and when they succeed, it’s just plain ugly. There is no triumph to be found in Man of the West. Sidling up against Cooper is Lee J. Cobb as the lecherous Dock Tobin. Even the name suggests a weight; it’s a name we don’t want to hear. Dock Tobin. The distractions of overacting often yield back to potency and that’s the case with Cobb. He slobbers and mutters, his decaying mind still protecting his immoral instincts. He is downright scary. All that rampant dirtiness that the Code can’t be direct about, it’s all there on his grubby visage.

All in all I’m pretty unfamiliar with Anthony Mann’s work in general, although The Furies is a favorite of mine and the only other I’ve seen of his, so seeking out his work is probably an excellent idea.

terror in a texas town
Terror in a Texas Town
(1958, Lewis)

Joseph H. Lewis, expert in the art of B-noirs and westerns, kicked off his retirement with this unusual and self-consciously artificial coda populated by blacklisted participants (Dalton Trumbo scripted this under a pseudonym). That this one’s a bit different is immediately apparent. For one thing, it starts in media res…with Sterling Hayden…clenching a harpoon! Then the credits kick in and we backtrack to the beginning, which isn’t as much about Sterling Hayden (and thank goodness, because his naive do-gooder bit reads like a slab of mayonnaise despite an endearingly awful Swedish accent) as it is about Nedrick Young’s hit man Johnny Crale, a villain-identified-by-dark-wardrobe type who nevertheless shoulders existential, but not humane, shading. Notably, the most humanistic, and the most involving, character is a Mexican-American farmer named Jose (Victor Millan) (lo and behold, here lies actual Mexican-American representation here!) who struggles with whether or not to get him and his family involved in the dangerous proceedings by divulging pertinent information to Hayden.

The formal quirks (and Hayden’s accent) make this more an idiosyncrasy than something that truly engages. As it chugs along, it becomes apparent that Terror in a Texas Town exists in a sort of suspended space. Lurking extras are a rarity. A saloon confrontation has mere stragglers on the sidelines, nobody to really stare in intimidation and watch two cowboys have at it. The majority of the scenes are shot in long takes that reframe the action. Remember that scene in Citizen Kane with Kane as a child, playing in the snow while the adults decide his fate indoors? It’s a famous long take, not flashy, but readjusting the composition in meaningful ways as the blocking evolves. Well, that technique shows up a lot here, again emphasizing this suspended space, a dislocation dressed in cheap sets that may be motivated by budget, but ends up reading not quite of this world. It’s minor cult status can be largely attributed to the cumulative vibe.

Other Recent Viewings:
The Two Faces of January (2014, Amini): **1/2
What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971, Harrington) ****
35 Shots of Rum (2009, Denis): ****
See No Evil 2 (2014, Soska Sisters) 1/2

Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #43-49


#43. The Long Goodbye (1973, Altman): A


#44. Foxy Brown (1974, Hill): B-

My first blaxploitation movie! I’d appreciate any recs anyone wants to throw my way. I know this was originally supposed to be a sequel to Coffy and that the two films are apparently almost identical. This has everything I’d come to expect from the subgenre; rough around the edges, reveling in depicting part of a (still) underrepresented culture using a barely there framework of sex, brawls, crime and funky beats.

But Foxy Brown is just an excuse to showcase the incandescent Pam Grier, both her body and beauty, her general physical presence and her no-nonsense demeanor. Grier can’t really act, and yet, she’s just to die for. I could watch her for eons and the film’s appeal hinges mostly on her. Foxy Brown is entertaining, boring, sleazy, offensive, well-paced, outrageous, exploitative and kitschy in equal measure. Grier’s wardrobe is 70’s print-heaven.

Random Observations:
– The cartoonish villain’s massive owl necklace
– The nurse’s reaction to Michael’s erection
– Foxy pulling a gun out of her hair


#45. Timecrimes (2007, Vigalando): B+

Snappy time-travel film that distills the concept by making it as small-scale as possible. Ordinary schmo gets thrown into a revolving series of mishaps even though he only travels back 90 minutes. The small-scale vibe is what I like most about Timecrimes. There’s also a streak of sick humor as Hector gradually evolves through physical facial damage. The middle act is rough stuff though; once you get into the rhythm of Hector filling in the spaces, it gets predictable and tiresome. In a Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban climax kind of a way. At least there you had Harry and Hermione interacting with each other. With Timecrimes you have to muddle through with only Hector to entertain. Thankfully it bounces back by throwing a couple of surprising wrenches into the mix for its final act. A worthy and involving debut from Nacho Vigalondo (who also appears in the film) that deserves to be seen. It’s on Instant Netflix so check it out.

Random Observations:
-Using “Picture This” as a time-tracker
– Hector is kind of an idiot. Constantly having to play catch-up with himself.

The Magician Bergman

#46. The Magician (1958, Bergman): B

A story of versus; the illusion of truth versus scientific explanation, acknowledging transparency versus willful submission. It’s pretty clear which side Ingmar Bergman is on in this case of absolutes. Bergman asks to what end humiliating the creator serves. In The Magician, stuffy authoritative detractors, led by Gunnar Björnstrand, clinically dissect a form of illusion for being the very thing that it is; illusion. Thus, they are seen as useless, seeing only facade without bothering to think on why the facade exists. Those that submit know they are doing so, whether to be seduced like the sex-starved maids downstairs, or to extract a source of faith or entertainment.

The Magician has a curiously hodgepodge structure. Starting with an enchanted trek through in unforgettably fairy-tale forest as photographed by the great Gunnar Fischer, we then devote whole sections to bawdy sex comedy, elusive two-person conversations and horror. Stringing these sections together is a series of humiliations committed by the stingy non-believers onto Bergman’s alter-ego, the worn-out masked Vogler (Max von Sydow). The Magician is in part about how we mask ourselves and the protection that it provides us. What affected me most about the film was how Vogler reveals himself in the final half (pretending to be mute he finally speaks and sheds his physical disguise), only to be rejected by nearly everybody.

Max von Sydow has never been better. He grounds the film with a penetrating inner torment that reveals itself in harrowing facial expression and body language that conveys a barely contained sorrowful rage.

There’s a clenching factor missing from The Magician. Bergman, excavator of the human condition, funnels his usual themes of faith, truth, suffering and the theater into a narrow resolve for denigrating his critics. Which is all fine and dandy, but this means it makes for a film that fascinates as part of Bergman’s filmography more than a story that stands on its own. And yet, The Magician has stuck with me these past twenty-four hours and I find myself thinking about it more after the fact than I was while watching.

Random Observations:
– Ingrid Thulin looks hot in drag
– Shot of waning light visually activating drowsiness
– The shot above stood out for me most in a film filled with memorable images
– Bergman can creep the pants off you when he wants to

torn curtain

#47. Torn Curtain (1966, Hitchcock): C

With dull characters, flat performances, an undeveloped center and a stop-and-go-stop-and-go pacing, Torn Curtain never fully gets off the ground. There’s a lot that doesn’t come together; being saddled with a script Hitchcock was unsatisfied with, actors he didn’t choose, a rushed production start to fit Julie Andrews schedule, firing Bernard Herrmann and the death of two regular collaborators during prep, etc.The most it achieves is a truly gripping sequence; the arduous slipshod killing of Gromek that remains the apex of Torn Curtain. There are other aspects I enjoyed a lot. Supporting characters like Gromek, Lindt, Koska and Jacobi, the scene between Michael and Lindt, the ballerina payoff, the bus ride from Leipzig to Berlin. That’s really about it though.

The characters simply do not make their mark, making it difficult to care. Paul Newman seems like he doesn’t want to be there (he could never get past the script issues and we know that Hitchcock just wants his actors to do their damn job). Julie Andrews never registers at all; she’s just broadly worried the whole time. That’s it. The section from Sarah’s perspective is drawn out far too long, which is unfortunate because the ‘what about the spy’s wife’ idea is where the whole root of the film stems from.

A fundamental issue is that the central conflict between Michael and Sarah is that she doesn’t know he’s a spy. Once that’s cleared up, there’s no conflict between them, and what there was quickly became tedious.

The second half fares better overall, but when Lila Kedrova steps onto the scene, ready to ACT! fresh off her Zorba the Greek acclaim, the film comes to a screeching sponsor-begging halt. Torn Curtain isn’t bad-bad but it’s not very good, and for Hitchcock, well, that’s bad.

Random Observations:
– The triple-take moment from the ballerina on stage = really effective.
– No music during big Gromek scene is perfect

Theatre of Blood

#48. Theatre of Blood (1973, Hickox): B

Vincent Price has some fish to fry. His victims?  A group of critics, Anton Ego’s if you will, who didn’t appreciate his Shakespearean performances enough to give him a major award. These folks aren’t the fleshy young things we’re used to seeing cut up. Theater of Blood is fun 70’s schlock, using the wide variety of grisly murders found in the Bard’s work and re-serving them on a delectably lowbrow, albeit one-note, platter. The film is boiled down to a series of stacked kill scenes, one after the other, each more different from the next in method, but with the same ingredients of madness; victim unawares, Price performing Shakespearean dialogue, reveal, victim’s face a-tremor and….well, you know the rest.

Vincent Price is simultaneously petrifying and campy as a jilted and delusional actor in what was reportedly his favorite role; he clearly has such a good time with this part. Vincent Price was strapped into a narrow margin of projects throughout his career, never getting to do things like Shakespeare. Edward Lionheart never wanted to do anything else. They meet in an ideally compromised middle; no wonder it was his favorite role. He pops up in ludicrous get-up after ludicrous get-up, some Bard-inspired, some not. My favorite? His fey Afro-accessorized hairdresser Butch. Groovy, baby. Most of his dialogue comes from Shakespeare, and Price makes his character come alive through the very criticisms heaped upon Lionheart; he hams it up!

There are streaks of macabre humor, little detailed touches that make the movie. A couple of standout examples are the surgical killing set to music normally found in a swoony love scene, or when the homeless swarm around Price in the mud to groom and comfort him, feeling like an supervillain’s inexplicably strange origin story. Theatre of Blood is baroquely peppered, that hammy kind of giallo-influenced horror, and one of the best of its kind that I’ve seen.

Random Observations:
– In the oddest of ways, Theater of Blood feels like the kind of scenario that could turn up in an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series”; in fact I believe there are a couple of stories with vague similarities. Except this isn’t Batman, it’s horror.
– Such wonderful British character actors in this; Robert Coote, Robert Morley, Dennis Price, etc.

The Narrow Margin

#49. The Narrow Margin (1952, Fleischer): A

Screening Log: July 1st-15th – Films #214-230

Hello all! I just thought I would give a heads-up on a few of the posts I plan on writing up over the next month. I’d like to review Breaking Bad Season 5 as it airs. Considering that I spend more time thinking about, analyzing, gushing and mulling over that show more than pretty much any film, I find it appropriate to air out my thoughts as each episode airs. So expect some thoughts on Sunday’s premiere in the next few days. I will also be watching and reviewing Joachim Trier’s sophomore work Oslo, August 31st. A review for 2004’s A Very Long Engagement, a Reintroduction Post, a Worst-Blu Ray Cover file, a Potential Double Feature and finally the 90’s Edition of Film Character I Have an Irrational Hatred Towards are all posts I am aiming to have up over the next month.

This has been an exciting week between Breaking Bad premiering, Shut Up and Play the Hits having its one-night only showing and The Dark Knight Rises on Friday, which I will be seeing at midnight. I plan on rewatching The Dark Knight, a film I like a great deal but (!) that’s about it. Suffice it to say I am still very excited for the final installment. However, the vitriol being spewed onto critics are have ambivalent/negative reactions to the film is not surprising but still despicable and depressing. I hate to generalize, but sometimes fanboys just piss me the hell off. Rant over.

All grades are ultimately arbitrary and are there mainly for my own posterity.

214. Caged (1950, Marshall): A-

215. Mirror Mirror (2012, Singh): D-

216. Street of Shame (1956, Mizoguchi): A-

217. The Deep Blue Sea (2012, Davies): B

218. Executioners (1993, To & Ching): D+

219. Party Girl (1958, Ray): C-

220. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Bergman): A

221. A Very Long Engagement (2004, Jeunet): A-

222. On the Beach (1959, Kramer): B-

223. Bullhead (2012, Roskam): B+/B

224. Pather Panchali (1955, Ray): B/B-

225. Harakiri (1962, Kobayashi): A/A-

226. Red Desert (1964, Antonioni): A

227. Seconds (1966, Frankenheimer): B/B-

228. The Passion of Anna (1969, Bergman): B-

229. The Naked Kiss (1964, Fuller): B+

230. John Carter (2012, Stanton): C+/C




Weekly Screening Log: June 17th-23rd

206. The Hidden Fortress (1958, Kurosawa): C+

207. Lola (1961, Demy): B+

208. La Bête Humaine (1938, Renoir): A-

209. Irréversible (2002, Noé): B+

210. Midnight in Paris (2011, Allen): A-

211. The Tree of Life (2011, Malick): A

212. The Phantom Carriage (1921, Sjöström): B-

213. Diary of a Country Priest (1951, Bresson): A

214. The Troll Hunter (2011, Øvredal): C