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.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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-Bonjour-Tristesse

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)

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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

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

Bonjour Tristesse titles

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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:

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Capsule Reviews: 1958 Watchlist Section Three – Horror


Approaching the halfway point of 1958 Watchlist and finding myself largely distanced from the content so far. My appreciation for individual films is defined by larger contexts i.e considering where cinema was at this point in time, tracking formal and narrative emergence, established modes and the increasingly outdated. I’ve a long way to go, but true immersion in the cinematic universe of 1958 is, as of right now, a rarity.

attack of the 50ft womanAttack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958, Juran) (US)
“HAARRRYYY!!!”
Starting off with a brief trip into sci-fi. Equivalent to an average albeit stretched out “Twilight Zone” episode (every one of its 60 some odd minutes are felt) with its hearty helpings of melodrama and noir. A peculiar little item that never becomes much of anything, but the effects transcend bad to become simultaneously riotous, nonsensical, and even haunting.

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The Blob
(1958, Yeaworth Jr.) (US)

Youth: the newly favored benefit-of-the-doubt perspective of 50’s American cinema. The Blob is a very early example of teens taking center stage in horror. Of course, we now recognize them as a predominant demographic for both onscreen slaughter and off-screen viewership. And try as I might, it’s difficult to think of earlier examples of growing pains and pleasures at the center of horror. Scientists, fully formed mad men, and unsuspecting women held the reins in decades previous. This fusion between sci-fi/horror and the new teen cinema of the 50’s sounds far more promising than it is. Essentially a feature length reminder of the communication gap and inherent distrust between adults and kids, The Blob is a ‘but you gotta believe me’ story of supposed troublemakers crying wolf and a bunch of adults and idiot cops that just won’t listen. Perhaps it would have been more engaging if the supposed troublemakers in question actually had a renegade streak running through their veins. Instead, age and bad situational timing are the sole markers of invalidation.

The Blob is one of three films in this post that help introduce Technicolor to the horror world. Until this point its visual language was exclusively expressed in blacks, whites, grays; the unknowable shadows. Hammer Horror in the UK changed that, splattering untapped possibilities of color to the genre with 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein. The immediate impact in America can be seen with both this and The Fly (which takes things one step further, being shot in CinemaScope). The crimson red of blood is replaced with the crimson red of the blob itself, a gelatinous being with no rationale or character, only the patient drive for sustenance.

The Blob peaks early with its kooky title song and the first scene between Steve McQueen and his lady friend in a car with an entirely black background, dislodged from visible surroundings.

The Fly 1958The Fly (1958, Neumann) (US)
A standard 50’s don’t fuck with nature B-story, but not a B-movie, as illustrated by the atypical presentational pairing of lux Cinemascope. Also atypical is its structure, starting as a domestic murder mystery and segueing into a lengthy cautionary tale flashback. The Fly misuses its time in some pretty egregious ways (ten minutes are spent trying to catch a fly), but the moments of screechy pleas and kaleidoscopic perspectives break through the dryness in ways that elicit shivers.

No doubt about it, body horror is the most unnerving kind out there. While David Cronenberg’s far superior take details the vile minutiae of bodily transformation, the emphasis here, when it strives to be, is on change after the fact, particularly the sudden loss of will and the self. But since Andre (David Hedison) is and remains a remote presence (to us and the film) married to science, his wife’s (Patricia Owens) experience is foregrounded, the aforementioned will and self taking a back seat. The real tragedy is that Andre’s mistake doesn’t alter the household’s norm. He’s still always in the basement, still closed off to the world. By the end, Helene never seems quite appropriately saddened by the loss of her husband, because, well, Andre never contributed much to his family in the first place. His commitment to scientific breakthrough is so absolute that he doesn’t even have the time to be the protagonist of his own story. Once the flashback begins, that honor is, thankfully (in the sense that Hedison is a wet blanket), handed off to Patricia Owens by the irreplaceable Vincent Price as brother-in-law. Her marital commitment ensures that shock gives way to pragmatism, and she does what needs to be done. Once he transforms and loses himself, she sees him as being already gone, 100% Other. The loss of Andre’s identifiable features such as voice and face gradually overpower his ability to still communicate through knocks, typed letters, and increasingly scrawled chalkboard writing.

haunted stranglerThe Haunted Strangler (1958, Day) (UK)
A stuffy affair with Boris Karloff is its sole partially saving grace (even the unnerving face contortions are all his). Shows its hand halfway through when it repositions into a Jekyll and Hyde take that soon finds its own static mold. An intrusively shot hanging at the start contains a tangible dirty perversity that sadly isn’t approached again. This is the second 1958 film I’ve seen (the other being Cairo Station) that uses soaked breasts as a censor-pushing weapon. Unexpectedly contains perhaps the highest ratio of can-can dancing (due to the film’s short length) I’ve ever seen.

horror of draculaHorror of Dracula (1958, Fisher) (UK)
Since this is a go-to exemplary representative of Hammer Horror by many, I question if Hammer is for me. A transitional marker for horror, it arrives after a primary focus on atmospherics and the unseen, during censorship testing, but before transgressions that endure as transgressions on the screen today (this caused quite the stir in the UK upon release but doesn’t retain that sense). Hammer became a 50’s equivalent of the Gainsborough Melodramas of the 40’s in the UK, but not as salacious or intriguing, at least to my eyes.

Of the films in this post, Horror of Dracula makes the most effective use of color, favoring admittedly overlit compositions that nevertheless embellish and flaunt the aristocratic digs. Giallo would eventually run with the horror/color combo, but Terence Fisher lays the foundation for what would become the expressive status quo.

Most admirable are the audacious ways the source material is toyed with, shredded, and effectively pared down. Bram Stoker’s novel becomes enticing mincemeat in the clutches of screenwriter Jimmy Sangster. For example; when Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) meets Dracula (Christopher Lee) in the opening minutes, I was thinking about Harker’s unavoidable dopiness. For audiences, Dracula is synonymous with vampire, so we can’t help but unfairly resent him for not knowing the mythos he’s stepped into. Unfair, but true. Just as I think this, it is revealed that Harker already knows who Dracula is, and has willfully entered his headquarters in order to stealthily conquer him! Putting aside the largely dry investigative elements (helped greatly by the velvety dapper presence of Peter Cushing), there is a fixation on what people do in solitude. Harker writes in his journal, Lucy waits for Dracula to ravish her at night, Van Helsing stews in his own thoughts, etc. For a film this short, considerable time is spent showing characters in rooms by themselves.

Christopher Lee’s take on the titular character is widely accepted as iconic. There is a truly frightening use of close-ups starring bloody eye contacts posing as jump scares and the smart use of Lee as a silent-but-growling manifestation (all of his dialogue comes in the first act). But Lee has always come across as a strictly hackneyed presence. Miles above Bela Lugosi whose theatrical stiffness is much worse, he nevertheless lacks the charm, sexuality or danger that supposedly so appalled censors. For all that, one only has to look slightly stage right to Carol Marsh as Lucy, whose brief appearance of clear-eyed sexual menace wafts over everything. Fear bleeds into desire and her anticipatory bedroom stares tell us everything we need to know.

Other Recent Viewings:
The Zero Theorem (2014, Gilliam) ***
L’Intrus (2004, Denis) ***
God Help the Girl (2014, Murdoch) * ½
The Double (2014, Ayoade) ***
Neighbors (2014, Stoller) ** ½
Raze (2014, Waller) *
Gone Girl (2014, Fincher) **** ½
The Boxtrolls (2014, Annable, Stacchi) ****
White Bird in a Blizzard (2014, Araki) ****
Manhunter (1986, Mann) ****
Body Bags (1993, Carpenter/Hooper) ***