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 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.

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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.

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Man of the West
(1958, Mann)
(US)
“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