1950s

D.O.A. (1950)

D.O.A. 1950 Poster

When Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) announces he’s taking a quick trip to San Francisco, his girlfriend Paula (Pamela Britton) is nervous about him going alone, but reluctantly agrees to let him go. As soon as he gets to his hotel, Pamela calls to tell him Eugene Phillips has been urgently trying to contact him and refuses to leave a message. Frank also meets Sam Haskell (Jess Kirkpatrick) who invites him to join a party in his hotel room.

The party moves to a nearby bar and when Frank notices his drink tasting strangely, he doesn’t think anything of it. When he wakes up the next morning not feeling well, he goes to a doctor and finds out his drink had been spiked with a lethal poison that has no known antidote. He only has a few days to live and plans to spend it finding out who could have poisoned him and why. Sam is nowhere to be found and the bar they visited is closed. Later, Pamela calls to let him know that Eugene Phillips had suddenly died, the reason for his important call still unknown.

Sensing there may be a connection between his poisoning and Eugene’s death, Frank goes to Eugene’s place in Los Angeles and finds out he had committed suicide. Everybody close to Eugene is acting strangely and nobody knows why he’d want to talk to Frank. Meanwhile, back home, Paula has finally found Eugene’s connection to Frank — Frank had notarized a bill of sale for a purchase of Iridium that Eugene had been involved in. When Frank discovers that Eugene’s death was actually a murder, he suddenly finds himself caught in the dangerous position of knowing too much.

Three words for D.O.A.: essential film noir. D.O.A. is anything but dead on arrival; it has one of those opening scenes that grabs your attention instantly and holds onto it with a tight grip until the last frame. Does it get any more purely film noir than an opening scene of a man staggering into a police station to report his own murder? An extremely intriguing story that is very effective without trying too hard. D.O.A. is everything I want from a good film noir.

The Catered Affair (1956)

The Catered Affair Poster

Just as cab driver Tom Hurley (Ernest Borgnine) finally saves enough money to fulfill his longtime dream to own taxi cab, his daughter Jane (Debbie Reynolds) is engaged to her boyfriend Ralph Halloran (Rod Taylor). Since Jane and Ralph don’t have a lot of money, they decided to get married after Ralph was presented with the opportunity to drive a car across the country so the trip could be their honeymoon. Since they plan on being married a week later, Jane insists the wedding will be a small, simple affair with the guest list very strictly immediate family only.

Tom and his wife Aggie (Bette Davis) try to fulfill her wishes for a small wedding, but Aggie’s brother Jack (Barry Fitzgerald) lives with them and if they invited Jack, they’d have to invite a slew of other people. Jack is very upset when he finds out he isn’t invited, and as word of Jane’s impending nuptials spreads to friends and neighbors, everyone questions what the rush is and why they aren’t having a bigger wedding. While Jane comes from a working-class background, Ralph’s family is more well-off and wants them to have a more elaborate wedding. Between all the pressure from others and Aggie’s own regrets over her own rushed wedding, Aggie insists on a bigger wedding, even though it would cost everything in Tom and Aggie everything, including Tom’s opportunity to own that cab.

As they start planning the lavish wedding, unexpected expenses start popping up left and right. First Jane’s matron-of-honor’s husband loses his job and can’t afford a dress. Then Ralph’s mother invites far more many people than she was supposed to. Everything costs way more than Tom expected it to.  As the expenses mount, so does the tension between family members. Eventually things get bad enough for Jane to call the whole thing off and go for the small affair she and Ralph had originally envisioned. In the wake of Jane’s decision, Aggie is faced with the realization that for the first time since they were married, their household will soon just be her and Tom.

The Catered Affair is like the more dramatic counterpoint to Father of the Bride. Wedding plans spiraling out of control isn’t exactly fresh material for movies, television, and plays, but The Catered Affair is still a rock solid, nuanced drama; a real career highlight for Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, and Debbie Reynolds. Despite the done-before premise, the writing is strong enough to easily stand out from the crowd. The cast is phenomenal; Bette Davis is particularly great with her sensitive, restrained performance. With Aggie’s insistence on having a big wedding, it would be really easy for her character to turn into an over-the-top tyrant. Instead, Aggie has a lot of complexities and extremely sympathetic moments. Debbie Reynolds’ performance impressed me since at the time, she was mostly doing more fluffy, lighthearted material, but she held her own quite nicely with the likes of Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine.

Green Mansions (1959)

Green Mansions PosterAfter his father is killed by rebels, Abel (Anthony Perkins) heads into the Venezuelan wilderness to avenge his death and find a rumored cache of gold. Along the way, he encounters a tribe of natives and wins the respect of their chief Runi (Sessue Hayawaka) and his son Kua-Ko (Henry Silva). Abel is allowed to stay with the tribe, as long as he doesn’t hurt them. Kua-Ko warns Abel to stay out of a nearby jungle, which of course only makes Abel want to go explore them. While getting a drink at a pond, he catches a glimpse of a mysterious woman in the reflection.

When the tribe finds out that Abel has gone into the forbidden jungle, Runi wants Abel to go back to kill the woman. Instead, he goes back to warn her, but before he can, is bitten by a very poisonous snake. He awakens two days later to find himself being cared for by the mysterious woman, named Rima (Audrey Hepburn), and her grandfather Nuflo (Lee J. Cobb). Abel will need a few more days to fully recover, and while staying with Rima, who has been living in the jungle with her grandfather since she was a child. She shows him around the jungle and while he falls in love with her, Rima is confused by her feelings for him.

Abel returns to the tribe a few days later and after explaining that he couldn’t kill Rima, the tribe doesn’t believe him and Kua-Ko vows to kill her himself. Abel runs to warn Rima and Nuflo and together they flee, but along the way, Rima learns some upsetting truths about her grandfather and the childhood she longs to remember.

Oh, dear. I took a break from  the Every Simpsons Ever marathon on FXX for this? Green Mansions is just a mess of a movie. Anthony Perkins is one of the least believable adventurer types I have ever seen. He is woefully out of place here and his performance is as wooden as a lumber yard. Audrey Hepburn isn’t particularly good in it, either, which is hugely disappointing. There’s absolutely no chemistry between her and Perkins, the story wasn’t very interesting, and the whole thing just left me wishing I had spent those two hours watching something else.

Pillow Talk (1959)

Pillow Talk 1959

Decorator Jan Morrow (Doris Day) has a pretty good life. She’s got a good career, a nice apartment in New York, a perpetually-hungover housekeeper named Alma (Thelma Ritter). Two things she doesn’t have are a husband and her own phone line. Jan is forced to share a party line with playboy songwriter Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) and she can never get her calls through because Brad is constantly on the phone serenading his many female admirers. Anytime Jan complains, Brad just dismisses her as jealous of his active love life.

Fed up with the situation, Jan tries to get the phone company to give her her own phone line, but to no avail. Neither of them can stand the other, but that all changes one night when Brad goes out to a nightclub where Jan also happens to be. He recognizes her voice and when he sees how beautiful she is, he would love to introduce himself. But he knows that if she knew who he really was, she’d want nothing to do with him. So he creates the persona of Rex, an rich Texan rancher. Jan falls head over heels for Rex, but things get even more complicated when it turns out that Brad’s friend Jonathan (Tony Randall) is one of Jan’s clients and has been trying his hardest to win Jan’s heart.

Pillow Talk is simply one of the greatest comedies ever made. It’s the kind of movie that, if I’m having a bad day, I can always put that movie in and it will never fail to make me smile. Romantic comedies and lighthearted entertainment in general tend to never get the credit they deserve because people often mistake lightheartedness doesn’t take any talent. Pillow Talk may be fluff, but it is quality fluff in every way. Doris Day and Rock Hudson are both on top of their games. If you’ve never seen any of their other movies, you can watch Pillow Talk and understand exactly why they were such a celebrated on-screen duo. Not only are the leads fantastic, the supporting cast is equally great. Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall are so amazing. The writing is clever and the direction is sharp. The only way you can’t win with this movie is if you don’t like romantic comedies because Pillow Talk is romantic comedy at its finest; a complete and total delight.

Sayonara (1957)

Sayonara 1957

During the Korean War, many American servicemen stationed in Japan are falling in love with and marrying Japanese women. Although some soldiers are open-minded about interracial relationships, many are not and unfortunately, many of the ones who don’t approve are the ones who hold the most power. When top Air Force pilot Major Lloyd Gruver (Marlon Brando) is first sent to Japan, he’s among the ones who doesn’t approve. However, his friends Joe Kelly (Red Buttons) and Captain Bailey (James Garner) do pursue relationships with Japanese women. Joe is in love with Katsumi (Miyoshi Umeki) and wants to marry her, but has to get special permission from his congressman to do so because the military is making it so difficult for soldiers to get married.

Gruver’s views on interracial relationships suddenly change when he sees Hana-Ogi (Miiko Taka) and is immediately captivated by her. While Gruver is dedicated to the military, Hana-Ogi is dedicated to Matsubayashi, an all-female theater troupe. Just like the military forbids Gruver from dating Japanese women, the Matsubayashi forbids Hana-Ogi from dating. Gruver tries to pursue Hana-Ogi anyway and she resists at first, but she eventually agrees to meet with him at Joe and Katsumi’s home.

Hana-Ogi and Gruver continue to see each other, doing their best to keep their relationship a secret. Of course, it doesn’t stay a secret for long and when the Matsubayashi finds out, they send Hana-Ogi to Tokyo as a punishment. And the military continues to discourage interracial relationships by ordering all servicemen with Japanese wives back to America and won’t allow them to take their wives with them. Even though Gruver and Hana-Ogi were never married, Gruver is also sent back to America. Before he leaves, he stops in Tokyo to see Hana-Ogi one more time and make a last-ditch effort to see if their relationship will work.

Sayonara is one of those movies that was acclaimed when it first came out, but over the years, it hasn’t been talked about as much. For being a Best Picture nominee and featuring a Best Actor nominated performance from Marlon Brando, I’m not sure why I haven’t heard of it until now. But Sayonara is indeed still very much worth watching; it’s still a very relevant film. It’s a little too slowly paced for my liking, but the beautiful cinematography and good acting make it worth sticking around for. Red Buttons is someone I usually associate with comedy, so his more serious, gentle yet completely heartfelt performance here was a real revelation for me.

The Unknown Man (1951)

The Unknown Man 1951Brad Masen (Walter Pidgeon) really has it all. He’s a highly respected attorney, known for his dedication to upholding the law. He has a lovely wife Stella (Ann Harding) and his son Bob (Richard Andersen) is about to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer, too. But it all starts to fall apart when Brad’s friend approaches him about defending Rudi Wallcheck (Keefe Brasselle), who is facing a murder charge. Since Brad doesn’t handle criminal cases, he initially turns the case down. But after thinking it over and meeting with Rudi, he changes his mind since he believes Rudy is sincerely innocent and wants to help him.

Despite his lack of experience with cases like this, Brad successfully convinces the jury that Rudi is not guilty. But it isn’t long before Brad realizes that Rudi is nothing more than a good actor. In reality, he was a known thug who was indeed guilty. Horrified at his failure to uphold the law, Brad immediately starts doing everything he can to right his wrong. He does some investigating and finds out Rudi has been involved in a crime syndicate that shakes down local business owners for “protection money.” Even worse, it turns out the syndicate is run by Brad’s friend Andrew (Eduard Franz). When Andrew realizes that Brad knows what he’s doing, he starts cautioning Brad about what getting tangled up with him could mean. In a rage, Brad stabs Andrew to death using a knife he had taken from Rudi’s apartment.

Since the police find Rudi’s fingerprints all over the gun, he immediately becomes the top suspect. But even in a situation like this, Brad is still deeply committed to the law and doesn’t want Rudi to be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Brad represents Rudi in court once again, but can he save Rudi?

If I were to sum up The Unknown Man with one word, I would pick “adequate.” It’s likable enough, but not a movie to go out of your way for. It’s worth seeing if you’re a big Walter Pidgeon fan as he’s quite good in it. But the rest of the cast doesn’t rise above being simply sufficient (Ann Harding’s role is fairly small). The story had potential, but other pieces of the puzzle aren’t strong enough for the movie to become as good as it could have been. There are certainly worse ways you could spend an hour and a half and it’s the sort of thing I might watch again if there isn’t anything else on, but it’s just an average movie.

A Few Thoughts on Some Like it Hot

Some Like it Hot Tony Curtis Jack Lemmon

Even though Some Like it Hot is now regarded as one of the all-time great comedies, I think one of the most remarkable things about Some Like it Hot is how easily it could have been just another run-of-the-mill movie instead of the classic it is today.

There have been times when I’ve tried explaining the plot of Some Like it Hot to someone who has never seen it before, only to have the person seem less than impressed by its premise.  In all fairness, I can see how people might get that impression because when you strip it down to its bare bones, it doesn’t sound particularly unique.  The whole trope of men dressing up as women for comedic purposes is one of the oldest tricks in the book; it’s been done for centuries.  Even one of Some Like it Hot‘s most memorable scenes, the party in the train compartment, is very reminiscent of the infamous stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.

However, the fact that Some Like it Hot is anything but mundane is a testament to the talent of Billy Wilder.  It’s like he figured out the recipe for the perfect comedy and it’s a recipe that hinges on the quality of the ingredients.  Everybody involved with it needed to bring their “A” game or it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it did.

First of all, there’s the brilliant writing by Wilder and his frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond.  It may not have been the most original premise for a movie, but it’s easy to forgive that when it’s written so well.  Add to that three outstanding actors in the lead roles and one rock-solid supporting cast.  But most importantly, the actors were under the direction of someone who really brought out the best in them; even the notoriously difficult Marilyn Monroe.  All of these things combined are what took a movie that seems so common on the surface and elevated it to a much higher level.

Ten Little Things I Love in Some Like it Hot

Some Like it Hot Sweet SueJoan Shawlee’s facial expressions.

Some Like it Hot Jack Lemmon Backwards BassWhen Jerry/Daphne accidentally tries playing the bullet-ridden bass backwards.

Some Like it Hot - Millionaires RockingMillionaires in rocking chairs, rocking in unison.

Some Like it Hot Osgood MonogramOsgood’s jacket with the sparkly monogram.

Some Like it Hot Jack Lemmon Whole PersonalityThe face Daphne/Jerry makes when Josephine/Joe tells him to give Osgood “the whole personality.”

Some Like it Hot Tony Curtis EarringsThe way Joe’s earrings move as he rides the bike to take Sugar to Osgood’s yacht.

Some Like it Hot Jack Lemmon MaracasJack Lemmon’s way with maracas.

Some Like it Hot Banquet HallThe way Joe and Jerry go sliding across the banquet hall because they’re running around in high heels.

Some Like it Hot Tony CurtisThe look on Joe’s face as he watches Sugar sing “I’m Through With Love.”

Some Like it Hot Nobody's PerfectThe way Jerry reacts to the infamous final line, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Some Like it Hot: Marilyn’s Finest Role

Marilyn Monroe Some Like it Hot

Despite being such an enormous pop culture icon, Marilyn Monroe is often very misunderstood and underestimated.  Many people claim to adore Marilyn, but would be hard pressed to even name one her movies.  Others only know Marilyn from that image of her standing over a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch and assume she didn’t actually have any talent.

If I were to recommend a Marilyn Monroe movie to someone who has never seen one of her movies before, I would go with Some Like it Hot.  Sure, Marilyn was funny in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but you see none of her dramatic skills there.  If you only watched Don’t Bother to Knock, you’d never take her for a comedienne.  But Some Like it Hot offers a look at everything that made Marilyn great.   It let her be a bombshell, it let her show off her comedic talents, and it let her have moments of melancholy as well.  She’s bubbly, yet cynical.

Marilyn Monroe Some Like it Hot Entrance

When we first meet Sugar Kane, it’s a signature Bombshell Marilyn moment.  As she walks through the crowded train station, moving just like Jell-O on springs, not only is she beautiful, she’s the embodiment of all the intangible qualities the camera adores.  Call it what you like — magnetism, star quality, screen presence — she had it in spades.  When she’s singing songs like “Running Wild” and “I Want to be Loved By You,” her magnetism is so far off the charts it makes you wonder what this band is doing playing little gigs at hotels when they’ve got a lead singer like that.

Marilyn Monroe Some Like it Hot Train Party Scene

Of course, Marilyn the Comedienne has plenty of time to shine in Some Like it Hot.  Comedic actors often don’t get the credit they deserve because so many people have the mistaken idea that you don’t have to be particularly talented to do comedy.  That couldn’t be further from the truth, but there’s no denying that Marilyn made comedy look like the easiest thing in the world in Some Like it Hot.  Her comedic timing was absolutely impeccable and feels completely natural.

Marilyn Monroe Some Like it Hot Phone Call SceneLast, but certainly not least, there’s Marilyn the Serious Actress.  Marilyn the Serious Actress only gets a few scenes in Some Like it Hot, but when those moments come, they’re some of her best moments in the movie.  Those are the moments that prevent Sugar Kane from being just like Marilyn’s other characters who were out to land a rich husband.  Sugar’s been jilted in ways that Lorelei Lee would never tolerate and she has a cynical streak to show for it.  Lorelei Lee would never let herself end up playing in a second-rate band, sneaking booze on a train and lamenting all the men who have mistreated her and taken her money. I love how completely and totally unimpressed Marilyn sounds in the scene when Sugar talks about that.

Marilyn’s heaviest acting moments come close to the end of the film.  The first of which is when Sugar gets the phone call from “Shell Oil Jr.” explaining why he has to leave.  In that scene, Sugar goes from being on top of the world to feeling the lowest she’s ever felt.  Her heartbreak is very evident, but Marilyn never resorts to over-the-top hysterics.  Instead of actually sobbing uncontrollably, when she talks, she sounds like she wants to sob uncontrollably but is trying to hold herself together.  You really hear this when she offers her band to play at his wedding and when she tells Josephine and Daphne that she could never forget him when there’s a Shell station on every corner.

One of the most poignant scenes I’ve ever seen Marilyn do is when she sings “I’m Through With Love.”  By the end of the song, she sounds so thoroughly defeated. You don’t doubt that she meant every single word of that song.  I also love the little mannerisms that Marilyn works into this scene to show how uncomfortable Sugar is.  She keeps fidgeting with her scarf and when she puts her head down at the end of the song, she moves her shoulders in a way that suggests she’s trying not to cry.

Marilyn’s performance in Some Like it Hot is definitely not the work of an amateur — it’s the work of an actress who has really applied herself to improving her work.  Some Like it Hot was released just four years after she caused a sensation in The Seven Year Itch and the progress she made in that time is remarkable.  She really upped her own ante here.

Father of the Bride (1950)

Father of the BrideUpon getting the news that their daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) is getting married to her boyfriend Buckley (Don Taylor), Stanley and Ellie Banks (Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett) are immediately thrown into the whirlwind of planning a wedding.  While Ellie is largely enthusiastic about Kay’s impending nuptials, Stanley isn’t as easygoing about the whole thing.

Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if the wedding plans went smoothly.  First Stanley worries that Kay might be marrying a good-for-nothing lowlife, but when those fears are put to rest, every new event brings on a new source of anxiety for Stanley.  First Stanley and Ellie go to meet Buckley’s parents and Stanley accidentally drinks too much.  Then during the engagement party, few guests are interested in the large batch of martinis Stanley has made for the occasion so he spends the entire party in the kitchen playing bartender.

At first, Kay only wants a small, simple wedding.  But since Ellie has always regretted not having a large wedding of her own, she wants to give Kay the wedding she never had.  Stanley puts his foot down at a maximum of 150 guests, but that number quickly grows to 250.  The whole wedding planning process is enough to make Stanley consider paying Kay to just elope already.  And when the RSVP cards are rolling in, Kay wants to call the whole wedding off after getting into a fight with Buckley.  But they quickly work things out and the wedding goes on as planned.  When all is said and done, Stanley decides all the stress was worth is.

Father of the Bride is completely charming and an absolute delight.  This is a movie that just gets it exactly right in every way.  Spencer Tracy’s performance is nothing less than a joy to watch.  And when you take his performance and combine it with Joan Bennett, direction from Vincente Minnelli, and a wonderful screenplay, you have a real winner of a movie.  It’s very funny, warm, and sentimental without being sappy.  Plus, who could ever forget that shot when we first see Elizabeth Taylor, looking positively radiant, in her wedding gown?  Simply put, Father of the Bride is a real must-see movie.