1950s

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Odds Against Tomorrow 1959

David Burke (Ed Begley) is a former police detective who was forced to leave his job who has a plan to rob a bank, but needs some help to pull it off. First is Earl Slater (Robert Ryan), a real tough guy and former criminal, and then there’s Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte), a nightclub performer with a fondness for gambling. Earl isn’t interested in it at first, but David has promised him $50,000 for his assistance and Earl could really use the extra money because he feels guilty for letting his girlfriend Lorry (Shelley Winters) support him. Johnny doesn’t want to be involved at first, either, but he has a fondness for gambling and owes some money to a gangster who has threatened to harm his ex-wife and daughter if he doesn’t get his money. Both Earl and Johnny reluctant agree to help David with the heist, but there’s one major problem — Johnny is a black man and Earl is deeply racist. Earl wants to back out when he finds out who his partner in crime will be, but ultimately can’t stand being a kept man.

David has planned the heist out in detail, but Earl’s intolerance of Johnny puts the heist in jeopardy. When the time comes to rob the bank, they start to carry out their plan, but it all goes awry because Earl refuses to trust Johnny.

Three words for Odds Against Tomorrow: first-rate noir! It’s an incredibly gritty movie with a gripping story, a great score, excellent performances, and fascinating characters. And when I say it’s gritty, I mean this is a movie that absolutely revels in grit and grime. It’s a movie that didn’t hit any wrong notes with me and that almost makes it hard for me to write about, because there’s nothing negative for me to say; I liked it all. This was a B-picture, so it’s a an excellent example of how you don’t need a huge budget to make a real knock-out of a movie.

Journey to Italy (1954)

Journey to Italy 1954

Alex and Katharine Joyce (George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman) have been married for several years, but their marriage isn’t necessarily a happy one. There’s no romance in their relationship and when they think about it, they don’t really know each other at all. When they make a trip to Naples together to sell a villa that belonged to Alex’s late uncle, the drive is the longest time they’ve spent alone together in their marriage.

Once they arrive in Naples, it becomes clear just how unhappy and distant they are with each other. Katharine prefers to take day long trips to museums and taking in the historic locations while Alex prefers to spend his time in Capri flirting with other women. All of the images of death Katharine sees really resonate with her and all the pregnant women she sees around town make her long for a child of her own. Eventually, Alex and Katharine reach a breaking point and decide to divorce. But is it really too late for them?

Journey to Italy is a movie that’s best to actually watch and experience than it is to write about or read about. It’s a beautiful, haunting film with exquisite performances by Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders. They were absolutely believable as a terribly unhappy, distant couple. It’s all beautifully filmed and very nuanced; very intimate. It’s one of those types of movies that might not seem like it’s going anywhere, which can be frustrating for many people, but it all absolutely does lead somewhere.

The Gazebo (1959)

The Gazebo 1959

Elliott Nash (Glenn Ford) is a prominent television writer and director. Although he likes his job, it is a very stressful occupation and it’s made him very high strung. Not a bad person, he’s the type of man who nurses injured pigeons back to health, just stressed out a lot of the time. He and his Broadway star wife Nell (Debbie Reynolds) recently bought a house together in the suburbs so he can get away from the city and be able to relax a little.

In addition to his job responsibilities, there’s something else that’s been eating Elliott up inside. Lately, he’s been getting phone calls from a man trying to blackmail him into paying him to keep some scandalous pictures of Nell out of the papers. But the blackmailer is asking for higher and higher amounts of money, more than he can afford at the moment. The only way he can get the money is to sell the house, but Nell just loves it and refuses to agree to selling it, despite Elliott’s best attempts to sabotage the home.

When Nell purchases a historic gazebo to put in the backyard, it needs to be placed on a concrete foundation. When Elliott finds out it will take 24 hours for the concrete to set, Elliott decides to lure the blackmailer to his house by telling him he has the money so he can kill him and bury him in the backyard where the gazebo will be. Elliott goes through with the plan, despite a few mishaps along the way. But then he later finds out that the real blackmailer was found dead in his apartment. So who is buried under the gazebo?

Now this is a movie that’s well overdue to be rediscovered. Not your typical Debbie Reynolds flick, but if you appreciate dark humor, it’s a very funny movie. Glenn Ford was absolutely hilarious in the scene where he’s trying to carry out his murder plot and Debbie Reynolds is just a delight. I really liked Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds together as a duo. And since I mainly know Glenn Ford from movies like GildaBlackboard Jungle, and The Big Heat, seeing him in a more comedic role was a nice change of pace.  The Gazebo is also noteworthy for being the film debut of Carl Reiner and featuring John McGiver in a great supporting role. Given its offbeat style of comedy, it’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but it was right up my alley.

The Breaking Point (1950)

The Breaking Point 1950

Harry Morgan (John Garfield) dreams of running a successful fishing boat rental business, complete with a whole fleet of boats. Currently, he only owns one boat and is barely making enough money to make the payments on it and take care of his wife Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter) and their two daughters. It’s putting a terrible strain on Harry and Lucy’s marriage and Lucy desperately wants him to give up this idea and go work on his father’s farm, but he refuses.

One day, Harry is hired to take Hannagan (Ralph Dumke) and his girlfriend Leona (Patricia Neal) fishing in Mexico. While in Mexico, Hannagan leaves Leona behind and without paying Harry for his services. Now truly desperate for money, Harry takes a job offered to him by Duncan (Wallace Ford), who often tries to recruit him for shady jobs. This time, Harry is asked to smuggle Chinese workers into the country illegally. Harry isn’t happy about having to take this job and tries to protect those close to him like his friend Wesley Park (Juano Hernandez) and Leona, who he has become attracted to, so they won’t be involved. And he certainly doesn’t want Lucy to know what he’s up to, although it doesn’t take her long to realize something is wrong and to hear that he’s been spending a lot of time with Leona.

It gets harder and harder to keep his new “job” a secret, especially after Harry gets into a tussle and kills a gangster who tries to rip him off. Harry runs into problems with his boat being confiscated, which gets him even deeper in with Duncan after Duncan helps get the boat back so Harry can do more work for him. This time, Duncan wants Harry to help some gangsters escape after a robbery. Once again, feeling like he has no other choice, he takes the job but comes up with a plan to turn the tables.

The Breaking Point is film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. Although the version starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, which came six years earlier, is by far the more famous version, The Breaking Point is much more faithful to the source material. (As great as To Have and Have Not is, nobody even bothers trying to argue it was a faithful adaptation of the book.) The Breaking Point is hugely under appreciated. John Garfield, Patricia Neal, and Phyllis Thaxter are all excellent. It’s very raw and gritty with a powerful ending, very much in line with the signature Warner Brothers style. The screenplay is fantastic and it certainly doesn’t hurt that it had Michael Curtiz at the helm as director. The only reason I can imagine as to why it isn’t a more well-known movie is that it’s overshadowed by To Have and Have Not. (I’m not trying to speak ill of To Have and Have Not; I’m very fond of both movies.) Keep an eye out for this one, you won’t be disappointed.

My Forbidden Past (1951)

My Forbidden Past 1951

Barbara Beaurevel (Ava Gardner) is the granddaughter of a rather notorious woman who now lives in New Orleans with her uptight, socially-conscious aunt Eula (Lucile Watson) and cousin Paul (Melvyn Douglas), who is romantically attracted to Barbara. Barbara’s notorious grandmother is something Eula tries her hardest to keep secret. Barbara is in love with Mark Lucas (Robert Mitchum), who is about to take a trip to Africa to do some research, and Mark wants Barbara to join him so they can be married on the boat. She desperately wants to join him, but when Paul realizes what she’s doing, he talks her out of it.

Barbara writes a letter to Mark telling him that she’ll wait for him, but Paul makes sure he doesn’t get it and Eula wants her to marry the wealthy Clay Duchesne (Gordon Olvier) instead, but she waits. But since Mark never gets her letter, he marries a woman named Corinne (Janis Carter) instead. Meanwhile, a lawyer has been coming by Eula’s home, looking for Barbara to tell her about an inheritance. Since being honest would mean admitting to being related to Barbara’s grandmother, Eula tries to send him away. But when Barbara finally meets with him, it turns out she’s due to get a million dollar inheritance.

Thanks to her inheritance, Barbara has the money to make herself the belle of New Orleans society and she starts by throwing a large party and inviting all of the most important people in town, including Mark and Corinne. Corinne is a bit of a social climber so she loves the idea of going to a society party and Mark doesn’t want to go at first, but when Paul insults him, he decides to go out of spite. She’s hoping to convince Mark to divorce Corinne, but when she notices an attraction between Corinne and Paul, she comes up with another scheme to get them apart.

My Forbidden Past was a completely and totally mediocre movie. It’s far from being one of the worst movies ever, but despite the good cast, there’s nothing interesting about it, either. It clearly wasn’t meant to be a prestige picture, although the first-rate cast might make you think otherwise, but there are so many other B-movies that are so much more interesting. The story could have potentially been more interesting, but it just didn’t pan out that way. The movie was too rushed for that. I kinda wish I had picked any other movie from today’s lineup to write about; any of them would have had to have been more interesting than this. Although I do love it’s ridiculously salacious sounding tagline of, “She’s the kind of woman that made New Orleans famous!” It makes it sound so much more scandalous than it really is.

God’s Little Acre (1958)

God's Little Acre 1958Ty Ty Walden (Robert Ryan) owns a cotton farm that once belonged to his grandfather. Or, at least, it used to be a cotton farm. Ty Ty believes his grandfather buried gold on the farm and has spent the last 15 years digging holes all over the property with two of his sons, Buck (Jack Lord) and Shaw (Vic Morrow). They haven’t found any gold, but Ty Ty refuses to stop trying, even though with all his digging, they haven’t been able to grow anything on the farm in years. The one place he hasn’t tried digging yet is an acre of land he calls God’s little acre, a plot of land Ty Ty has promised that anything that grows — or is found there — goes to the church. But he’s pretty willing to change his mind about where exactly God’s little acre ought to be if he suspects the gold might be buried there.

The quest for gold has taken a major toll on the family. The family is completely destitute and many of his family members are fed up with his ridiculous quest for gold. Meanwhile, Buck is upset that his wife Griselda (Tina Louise) is still in love with her former lover Will (Aldo Ray), but Will is married to Buck’s sister Rosamund (Helen Westcott). Will used to work in a cotton mill, but ever since the mill closed down, he refuses to do any other kind of work and spends much of his time getting drunk. The only one who has anything promising happening is Ty Ty’s daughter Darlin’ Jill (Fay Spain), who has just been proposed to by Pluto Swint (Buddy Hackett), who is running for Sheriff, although she wants to wait and see the results of the election before she says yes.

Ty Ty is so desperate to find the gold, he and Uncle Felix (Rex Ingram) kidnap a Dave Dawson (Michael Landon), a local albino, because they’ve heard they have magical powers for divining gold. When Dave leads them to an area close to the house, they get to work digging yet another hole. But when it becomes clear there’s no gold to be found there, Uncle Felix suggests that Ty Ty either asks his other son Jim Leslie (Lance Fuller) for money or give it up and go back to farming so the family can have some money again. Meanwhile, Will, in a drunken stupor, tries to re-open the cotton mill, with tragic results.

I’ve been wanting to see God’s Little Acre for a while now and I was hoping it would be the sort of movie I’d love, but it somehow missed the mark with me. It’s not a bad movie, but I can’t help but feel like something must have been lost in the transition from novel to film here. I’ve never read the novel, but it’s just a hunch I have that the book did the story more justice. There’s a lot of interesting things going on, but somehow, they just didn’t seem to gel right with me. I didn’t hate anything about it, but I didn’t love anything about it, either; it just fell smack in the middle of the road for me. It pretty much just made me want to check out the original book, instead.

The Actress (1953)

The Actress 1953

Clinton Jones (Spencer Tracy), his wife Annie (Teresa Wright), and their teenage daughter Ruth Gordon (Jean Simmons) live together in a modest apartment outside of Boston. They’re a pretty typical family, but Ruth dreams of being anything but typical. More than anything else in the world, Ruth wants to become a great actress. She adores the actress Hazel Dawn and dreams of being able to have a career just like Hazel’s. Ruth’s stage aspirations are well-known to everyone close to her, except for her father. She doesn’t think he would approve of her going into the theater and it’s true, he’d much rather see her go off to school to become a physical education teacher. Annie would rather see Ruth just settle down and marry her boyfriend Fred (Anthony Perkins)

Ruth’s dreams of stage stardom only get bigger when she gets a response to a fan letter from her idol Hazel Dawn inviting her to come meet her backstage after a performance. Hazel knows about Ruth’s desire to be an actress and later sends Ruth a message saying she’s arranged for a Ruth to meet an important director. Eventually, she has to tell her father about her dreams of stardom when he insists on filling out her application to go to school to become a gym teacher. He has her doubts about whether or not she could make it as an actress, but is surprisingly supportive. However, he really wants her to finish school first and absolutely doesn’t want her to go to her interview with the director.

Part of the reason Clinton isn’t so willing to give Ruth his unrelenting support is because financial instability is a big concern for him. Not only for her, but because he’s worried about his own job and doesn’t think he’d be able to support her studying to become an actress. When he gets some news that assures him his job is secure, he promises to send her to acting school. Ruth is thrilled, but when something goes wrong at the last minute and Clinton loses his job, she refuses to let it hold her back. And sure enough, Clinton finds a way to help.

The Actress is based on actress Ruth Gordon’s own experiences as a teenager. Although it’s a story about Ruth, Spencer Tracy is the one who gets the richest role in the movie. Spencer Tracy was an expert at playing characters who could seem gruff and stern, but still had a soft side to them, and this is very much on display here. This was very much intended to be a tribute to Ruth Gordon’s father and Spencer certainly did him justice.

On the whole, it’s a very pleasant movie with just the right amount of sentiment. It may not be anything truly spectacular, but it’s still likable enough that I’d give it another watch if there wasn’t much else on television. The Actress is also noteworthy for being the film debut of Anthony Perkins.

Black Widow (1954)

Black Widow 1954

After saying goodbye to his actress wife Iris (Gene Tierney) at the airport, Broadway producer Peter Denver (Van Heflin) decides to make an appearance at a party being thrown by their neighbor, Lottie (Ginger Rogers), a fellow actress. Peter really doesn’t want to go, but he finds it hard to make excuses not to when he lives in the same building as the host. At the party, he meets 20-something-year-old Nancy “Nanny” Ordway (Peggy Ann Garner).

Like lots of young people, Nanny has recently come to New York City full of ambition and looking to start a successful career as a writer. Peter is very happily married and has no interest in having an affair, but he likes to help people who are just getting started, so he offers to take her out to dinner, making his platonic intentions very clear. After that night, he continues his friendship with Nanny and when she says her apartment isn’t very conducive to writing, he agrees to let her work from his luxurious apartment while he’s at work during the day.

When Iris returns from her trip, she and Peter arrive at their apartment and discover that Nanny has committed suicide. But once the police get involved, it becomes clear there was foul play involved. Iris was well aware of Peter’s friendship with Nanny and never felt threatened by it…until the investigation gets underway. Once the police investigation begins, though, some evidence comes forward that makes Peter look like the prime suspect. Determined to prove his innocence, Peter has to do some investigating to clear his name.

Black Widow isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not a great movie, either. The story is nothing innovative or groundbreaking, but it’s entertaining enough to watch at least once. There are certainly far worse ways you could spend 95 minutes. But I have a slight soft spot for it since there’s something about film noir movies that were filmed in Technicolor that I really like (I don’t know why really, just one of my many random fixations.) Also, because it has a poster that is far more scandalous than the movie actually is. (Seriously, why does the woman on this poster have long hair? Nanny has super short hair, nor is she nearly that vampy.)

Black Widow has a lot of big stars, but none of them are at their best in it. Gene Tierney in particular is extremely under utilized in it, so if you’re watching it for her, you may be disappointed. George Raft was pretty underwhelming in his role as a detective working the case. And although I liked some of Lottie’s sassier quips, it’s not one of Ginger’s finest roles, but it’s not a terrible one, either, especially considering where she was at that point in her career.  This was one of the last feature films she made before mostly moving into television and stage roles, so while Black Widow is no Kitty Foyle, it doesn’t even come close to Trog or Sextette territory, either. The best performance of the movie comes from Peggy Ann Garner, who unfortunately, doesn’t get top billing even though she deserved it more than most of the other actors in this movie.

One Set, Two Movies: Holiday Inn (1942) and White Christmas (1954)

Holiday Inn White Christmas

The movies Holiday Inn (1942) and White Christmas (1954) have much in common. Both movies are regarded as Christmas classics, with Bing Crosby starring in each movie. And both movies feature songs by Irving Berlin, most notably the song “White Christmas.” But according to IMDB, the movies have even more in common than that. According to IMDB, the set for General Waverly’s inn in White Christmas was a remodeled version of the set used for the inn in Holiday Inn. So I took a close look at both sets to see how they compared.

When I set out to write this post, I was hoping to have a longer list of similarities to point out. But upon close inspection, it became clear the Holiday Inn set was indeed remodeled for White Christmas, and quite extensively at that. The two inns have very different layouts and several elements seen in White Christmas, such as the dining/floor show area and indoor fire pitwere not part of the original Holiday Inn set.

White Christmas Roasting Hot DogsWhite Christmas Performance Area

One thing the sets have in common is they both have entrances right by the main stairway. However, the two entry areas are so different I’m not sure how much, if any, of it was part of the original Holiday Inn set. The only thing the two entrances have in common is they both have similar windows. The floors are different, the staircases are very different, and the front desk area was added for White Christmas.

Holiday Inn Entrance 1 Holiday Inn Entrance 2 White Christmas Entrance 1 White Christmas Entrance 2

The fact that the two inns have similarly shaped windows is one of the biggest similarities between the two sets. However, even those aren’t exactly the same between the two movies.

Holiday Inn WindowsWhite Christmas Windows

Despite there being so many differences between the two sets, there is one area that is unmistakably part of the original Holiday Inn set. These three distinctive windows, which were originally seen by the piano where Bing Crosby first sang “White Christmas” in Holiday Inn, are also briefly seen in White Christmas during the party scene when Judy and Phil announce their engagement. The rest of the area had been pretty drastically changed for White Christmas. As you can see, the door was removed, as was the fireplace, and an entryway to another room was created. Those windows, however, look almost exactly as the same in White Christmas as they did in Holiday Inn. The only difference I can see is there was some moulding around them in Holiday Inn which was removed for White Christmas.

Holiday Inn Windows White Christmas Party Scene

 

Watch the Birdie (1950)

Watch the Birdie 1950

Rusty Cammeron (Red Skelton) works at his family’s camera shop, but business isn’t going too swimmingly. The bank is coming after them for money they owe, so when a customer comes in and tells Rusty there’s money in taking pictures of famous people and selling them, Rusty convinces the customer to leave his camera so he can use it to go out and try to get some shots. Rusty tries getting footage of Lucia Coraline’s (Arlene Dahl) yacht being christened, but only succeeds in taking an unplanned swim. Lucia rescues him, but the borrowed camera is at the bottom of the lake.

Lucia has a soft spot for Rusty and after hearing his financial woes, she sends some of her employees to his store the next day to buy enough stuff for him to pay off everything he owes.  She also hires him to come shoot footage of the groundbreaking ceremony at the Lucky Vista Housing Project, which she’s an investor in. Rusty’s attempts to film the ceremony are a complete disaster, but he does unwittingly end up getting footage of Lucia’s manager, Grantland Farns (Leon Ames), making plans to sabotage the housing project.

When Rusty screens the footage, the audio and the footage don’t match up, but Grantland wants that footage back before he can get it straightened out. He sends Miss Lucky Vista (Ann Miller) to seduce him and get the film back, and despite her best efforts, he doesn’t fall for her. But Lucia does catch them together and assumes the worst. By now, Rusty and Lucia have fallen in love, so the whole incident is very upsetting to both of them, but they both straighten everything out to reveal the truth about Grandland.

Watch the Birdie is basically a very loose remake of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman. The overall plots aren’t particularly similar, but a number of sequences are lifted straight out of The Cameraman. While Watch the Birdie never even comes close to touching the genius that is The Cameraman, it is good for some laughs. I loved beginning exchange between Rusty and a kid who came into his store and I got a kick out of Red Skelton narrating the opening credits. But, unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. It’s not terrible, it’s just not as good as it could have been.