Movie Review – “The Blob” (1958)

 

 

Meet the definition of cheese and camp for science fiction in the 1950s – “The Blob.”

Looking beyond the laughable yet effective special effects, mostly consisting of running slime down a slope, and the story being made up of adults playing rebellious teenagers while trying to stop an alien amoeba creature, I feel the main reason people still talk about “The Blob” is because of the lead actor – Steve McQueen in his film debut.

Despite the fact that he does not look like a teenager in his Mister Rogers sweater, all the elements of what made McQueen so likable are here – cool, suave, rebellious, but with a heart of gold. Even if this is just a B-movie with a cult following, McQueen gives an A-list performance and sells that this is a teen that feels like he has the world against him. Effectively, he’s playing the boy who cried wolf, as the whole town doesn’t believe there is a gelatinous monster and every time he spots the jelly, it vanishes. He spends the rest of the movie proving that he’s not insane and trying to save the town from being consumed by the blob, and McQueen lives in the agony and pain of his character.

 

 

Beyond this, “The Blob” feels like a beach party movie that turned into a low-budget monster film, with it’s overplayed rebel teens versus the police plot and how the adults just don’t understand the kids these days. This plot takes up far more of the film than the story about the monster terrorizing the whole town. Then there’s the 1950s groovy theme for the Blob that feels like something out of “Scooby-Doo.” The whole film is campy fun like this, but it never takes itself too seriously so that the mood becomes disturbing, despite the fact that citizens are being dissolved by an alien jam.

Overall, “The Blob” has certainly earned its cult status, even if it belongs on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” It’s a strange mix of a rebel teen tale and a B-horror movie and works as both for the most part. The effects are minimal and dated, but still get the job done, especially during the climax. And of course, Steve McQueen turns in a captivating and heartfelt performance that he would become known for long after this film. Watch this one with some friends and some alcohol, and you’ll have a blast.

Final Grade: C+

 

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Movie Review – “No Time for Sergeants” (1958)

 

 

The charm of “No Time for Sergeants” is that it never takes itself too seriously while always trying to be as fun and endearing as possible in its own simple way. Andy Griffith masterfully pulls off the backwoods rube act of Will Stockdale during the peacetime air force, while always coming across as kind and charming in his own unique way, not unlike Forrest Gump – honest and larger than life, but knows nothing about how the real world works. This combination makes for a stand-out comedy that feels like an air force equivalent of “Mister Roberts.”

There isn’t too much else to say about “No Time for Sergeants” other than how effective it is through its simplicity of putting a uncultured yet well-meaning baffoon in the care of an orderly sergeant that is prone to emotional outbursts when things don’t go his way. The film doesn’t have an overly profound statement or message about the air force, nor does it berate the military. Instead, it presents a ridiculous situation and rolls with every ludicrious moment like it was a war using pies. This is just a simple yet fun ride that brought a smile to my film-loving face.

Final Grade: B

Movie Review – “A Man Escaped” (1956)

 

 

“A Man Escaped” is, above all else, an experience in claustrophobia. Set in a Nazi prison for members of the French Resistance, the film follows Fontaine (Francois Leterrier) as he does everything in his power to escape his German captors with the very few tools he has. There is hardly a word of dialogue and it is mostly set in one jail cell, yet this film does so much with so very little by making the mundane and trivial feel so monumental and important.

The strength in “A Man Escaped” lies in its uncertainty and strength in the littlest of details. Small things that we take for granted, like the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway, the passing of a note between prison members, the way the wood breaks off the prison door, are all of far more importance and tension than any of the characters or story. The entire film is made up of these details. This is by no means a classical drama, bragging about its big moments with tons of characterization, instead opting out for a more human and scintillating tale of survival.

 

 

The films’ director, Robert Bresson, is a revolutionary director of French cinema, always making minimalistic films that have less of a story and more of a single narrative focus. Bresson also never hired any professional actors, instead usually casting those who had little to no acting experience, because then their reactions and emotions are genuine instead of feeling forced. Bresson was also captured by the Nazis when he was part of the French Resistance, so this film plays with his own fears and struggles while he attempted to escape twice.

Overall, there is no other film like “A Man Escaped” that feels so focused and concise while always being so gripping. Unconventional, while remaining relatable and honest in its depiction of prison escapes. It is not just an achievement in French cinema, but one of the best claustrophobic thrillers ever made.

Final Grade: B

 

Movie Review – “A Night to Remember” (1958)

 

 

Believe it or not, James Cameron’s “Titanic” was not the first time the tragic tale of the unsinkable luxury ship was adapted to film – and many would argue it is not the best adaptation of this well-known story. And after seeing Roy Ward Baker’s “A Night to Remember,” I agree with those people.

While Cameron’s film changed some of the historical aspects for the sake of dramatic storytelling, “A Night to Remember” prides itself on being as accurate, almost documentary-like, as possible. Rather than playing with our emotions at the cost of changing what actually happened, we get sucked into the authentic tale of a situation that could have easily been prevented and how it quickly turns into a hopeless one for thousands of people, all because of ego and pride getting in the way.

On top of that, for a non-Hollywood film made in 1958, this black-and-white film looks stunning, with amazing detail from the lavish halls to the submerging engine room. Even the models of the sinking ship and its interiors filling up with water are so authentic that seeing them slowly submerge into the depths is just as effective as Cameron’s film, if not more so here due to the realistic tone of the movie.

But of course, the main focus of “A Night to Remember” is on the 2,200 people stuck aboard the sinking ship with only enough lifeboats for 1,200 people, and how these people cope with death creeping up on them.

 

 

The film mostly follows Second Officer Charles Lightoller (Kenneth More), the highest ranking officer to survive, as he prepares to board the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage. The mood is electric, as everyone is excited to be apart of history being passengers on not only the largest ship every built, but also one that has been touted as being unsinkable. It even gets to the point where the captain and the senior staff feel like they can relax, since they have nothing to fear. As a result, the crew of the Titanic miss a lot of obvious warnings and hazards until they’re right on top of a giant iceberg.

As the ship begins to sink, we watch that same electricity turn from shocking to deadly. The gravity of the situation is first handled with calm and sorrow, only for it to escalate to full blown panic and chaos as the front of the ship starts to go under. At which point, the focus switches to the brave men doing their best to save as many lives as possible, and how the passengers react to the icy water slowly surrounding them. Some are dumbfounded and unaccepting, while others realize there is no escape and hand on to the little life they have left. It’s like watching something beautiful slowly be destroyed from on-high and being unable to do anything about the desperate pleas and cries for help.

The tale of the Titanic is one of the most tragic and heartbreaking stories in modern times, and “A Night to Remember” captures the tragedy in the most brilliant, accurate and moving way possible. If you only ever watch one movie about this story, forget about Jack and Rose, and see one of the most wonderfully human movies ever made.

Final Grade: A

 

Movie Review – “Lust for Life” (1956)

 

 

There’s a conflict inside me on Vincente Minnelli’s “Lust for Life.” This is a very passionate, raw portrayal of Vincent van Gogh, displaying his entire life’s work, his flaws, desires and personal mistakes for the world to see, yet in the reminding us the impact van Gogh left on the world. And yet, like van Gogh himself, it honestly feels like that same passion and energy has no direction or reason to stick with the audience, like we’re just watching a documentary about Vincent Van Gogh and not a dramatic reenactment of his life.

So on the one hand, there’s a lot of great work being put into this film, especially from Kirk Douglas and his nuance performance that shows how conflicted and worried van Gogh can be, but also his drive to share the way he sees the world with everyone else, as well as Vincente Minnelli’s love of von Gogh’s paintings and how they’re scattered throughout the entire picture.

 

 

But, on the other hand, none of it is given any meaning. As great as Douglas’ performance was, I didn’t find any reason to care about his struggles or problems because of how standoffish and rude he was, making him a rather unlikable character that does little to redeem himself. It would be like watching someone insult his closest friends just to find out that he’s great at playing the piano – he might be an amazing musician, but that isn’t enough to make a worthwhile main character, let alone an entire movie.

“Lust for Life” certainly isn’t a terrible movie. It is visually pleasing, especially at capturing what brought about Vincent van Gogh’s inspirations for painting, and Kirk Douglas does a masterful job at walking the tight rope between crazy and passionate that he’s always been stunning at. It’s just that the film never really draws you in and makes you care about van Gogh’s character and his struggles, leaving most of this painting as a blank slate.

Final Grade: C-

 

Movie Review – “Jailhouse Rock” (1957)

 

 

Films starring insanely popular bands, musicians or singers have always had varying success depending on how you personally feel about that performer. “Hard Day’s Night” could be one of the greatest pieces of cinema you’ll ever see or just a look at a day in the life of the Beatles, all depending on how you feel about the boys from Liverpool, while the same can be said for nearly every film with Bob Dylan.

But the biggest example of this in Hollywood has always been Elvis Presley and the wide range of films he made during his long and varied career, from tongue-in-cheek comedies to exploring Seattle’s world fair. Though none of his 31 movies were quite as personal and heartfelt as “Jailhouse Rock,” a stark contrast to his other film appearances. Shot in black-and-white, the story is said to have drawn inspiration from many of Elvis’ real life experiences, namely finding fame and fortune from an early age and how that shaped him as he became an adult.

Even then, this type of story has been told many times before and with greater gravitas. It feels like “Jailhouse Rock” doesn’t quite go all the way with its darker, more personal premise about how fame corrupts and changes people, and pulls back to remind the audience that they’re watching an Elvis Presley movie. So, in that respect, how you feel about this film depends on how you feel about Elvis as both a musician and a person.

Elvis plays Vince Everett, a young construction worker who accidentally kills a stranger in a bar fight and is sentenced to two years in prison. While there, his cellmate, washed-up country singer Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy) teaches Vince how to sing and play the guitar, and finds out that he has a natural talent for it. Once Vince gets out of prison, he sets out to make a new name for himself in the music business despite his standoffish and fiery attitude.

 

 

I feel the only reason parts of “Jailhouse Rock” works is because the journey Vince undergoes once he’s released from prison so closely parallels Elvis’ own journey. It is a case of art imitating life and life imitating art, watching Elvis struggle with the lives he’s stepped on to get where he is, as well as the raw talent and charisma that made him a star in the first place. To see Elvis be put in a position like this, and with a camera pointed at him the entire time, makes “Jailhouse Rock” worth watching.

That being said, the film moves slowly, has a rather unpleasant and uncomfortable tone throughout most of it, and ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth with its half-baked climax and resolution. It feels like they couldn’t make up their mind if they wanted this to be a serious dark drama with someone who has experienced how dark it can be, or a happy musical about a misguided talent with a heart of gold, and that hurts the tone and atmosphere of this movie.

Still, if you like Elvis, “Jailhouse Rock” is worth checking out, if only to see Elvis basically playing himself. But if that doesn’t interest you, nothing else about this one will either.

Final Grade: C

 

Movie Review – “Born Yesterday” (1950)

 

 

“Born Yesterday” is a charming, uproarious film that is held up by the strength and wit of its lead performance by Judy Holliday and the journey of self-discovery and assertiveness that she embarks on. While the tale of an uncouth impolite woman being tutored to integrate her into society is one that’s been told time and again, Holliday delivers her lines with such sincerity and blissful ignorance that it is truly wonderful to watch this brass showgirl change before our very eyes.

Anytime Holliday is on-screen is a delight in how much she just owns this role. From Billie loudly playing the radio and singing to it while guests are trying to have a conversation, to her admitting that she is okay with putting very little thought into her life as long as she’s happy, to her genuine excitement as she circles every newspaper article so that her tutor, Paul Verrall (William Holden), will explain it to her. But even throughout these changes, she retains her sense of joy and wonder about the world – it’s just that that joy grows as her world grows.

 

 

This is one of George Cukor’s funniest films, in a long career of witty comedies. The dialogue is overflowing with great lines and revelations as Billie’s ignorance begins to fade and she sees the world that her fiancĂ©e, equally uncouth junk tycoon Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), has made for himself. The absurdly loud banter between Holliday and Crawford is charming in its own way, like watching two stubborn gangsters try to solve math equations, while the scenes between Holliday and Holden lead to some hilarious reactions from the two as they learn from each other.

Overall, “Born Yesterday” is a simple yet refreshing movie about knowledge overcoming ignorance. Judy Holliday is captivating from start to finish, always curious and always enchanting. The script is a perfect mixture of comedy and drama without sacrificing one over the other, leading to a satisfying conclusion and journey for our captivating lead. I had a smile on my face the entire time during this one, and it is not hard to see why.

Final Grade: B+