1950s movies marathon – part 116

Horror of Dracula (1958, UK)

Peter Cushing hunts down Cristopher Lee to punish him for his crimes against symphonic metal. Watched it all. This isn’t a good Dracula, but it is a very fun one, the most fun anyone had made up to that point, with blood and cleavage and gothic camp in screaming color. The Bela Lugosi version is the one everybody remembers, and calls a classic, for some reason I don’t understand. It was horrible, and was made at the lowest point in Hollywood history, right at the birth of sound movies. You’re better off watching this.

Touch of Evil – Director’s cut (1958, USA, Welles)

I’m confused by how popular this movie is. The self-conscious stylishness screams at you from every scene. Orson Welles is awful, his character is a caricature whose purpose seems to be to demonstrate Welles’s acting talent, and Charlton Heston feels off somehow, perhaps because no amount of makeup can make him look or sound like an authentic Mexican. The result is interesting, but a flawed masterpiece? Film buffs are very strange people.  Watched it before, and half of it this time.

Ascenseur pour l’echafaud / Elevator to the Gallows (1958, France)

A quiet murder farce where the punch line is revealed in slow motion throughout the second half of the movie, but is no less funny for it. Watched it all. Who knew French filmmakers (other than Tati) had a sense of humor?

9 Responses to 1950s movies marathon – part 116

  1. Bruce Rheinstein says:

    I’ve never understood the argument that Charlton Heston doesn’t “look … like an authentic Mexican.” Do Ricardo Montalbán, Thalía and Sofia Vergara look Mexican? Not all Mexicans look like Cheech Marin. Anyway, it’s a shame you don’t appreciate one of the last, and best, movies of the classic film noir period.

    Anyway, normally I can’t stand French cinema, but based on your description I’ll have to catch Ascenseur pour l’echafaud / Elevator to the Gallows.

    • Well, I’m not saying that the actor must _actually_ look like a Mexican, whatever that means. But it has to be plausible. And in Heston’s case, there’s just something off about it. I can’t put my finger on it. And it’s extra important because the movie makes such a big deal about racism against him and his marriage. It makes the choice of using Heston feel hypocritical.

      And I don’t agree that this is one of the last movies of the classic film noir period. Film noir more or less ended in the 40s. This is a retro film noir, made by someone who was looking back on that period.

      And yeah, I too hate French movies, at least I’ve hated most of the ones so far.

      • Bruce Rheinstein says:

        I’d bookend classic noir with The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Touch of Evil (1958). Retro noir would encompass later films such as LA Confidential, Chinatown, and The Killer Inside Me –not to be confused with neo-noir films such as The Grifters, Memento, and Reservoir Dogs.

        I think the problem with Heston may be that because he came to be such a prominent WASPish figure we see him, not the role he is playing. In 1958 it wouldn’t have been a problem. He’d just played Jews in Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments and was decades away from becoming the face of the NRA.

      • But what other noir movies were made throughout the 50s? In the 40s there were several good ones each year, especially after 1945. In the 50s there seems to be a big drop in the number and quality. A few good ones, sure, like My Gun is Quick (1957), but it just feels to me like the moment is over, and now Welles is looking back on it, trying to recapture a specific look and feel. Kubrick’s The Killing feels the same. Classic noir wasn’t that conscious and deliberate about what it was doing.

        I don’t really associate Heston with the NRA, (and Ben Hur was ’59), but in his 50s movies he has that red-blooded American macho aura to him, and there’s his Indiana Jones prototype in Secret of the Incas.

        Anyway, my biggest problem with Touch of Evil is that the stylishness is too loud. Too self-conscious. I liked The Lady from Shanghai better, from the 40s noir wave.

  2. Bruce Rheinstein says:

    No doubt the second decade of classic film noir suffers in comparison with the first, but there are still plenty of watchable titles. Consider Asphalt Jungle and Sunset Boulevard, in 1950; Detective Story and Strangers on A Train, in 1951; On Dangerous Ground (1952); The Big Heat (1953); The Night of the Hunter (1955); The Killing (1956); and, of course, Touch of Evil (1958).

    Other genres also incorporated elements of noir, such as the western Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). Likewise, Witness for the Prosecution (1957) is arguably noir.

    The 50s and 60s were tough years for American film in general, what with the breakdown of the studio system and the advent of TV.

    • Sorry, I still disagree. There’s such a big difference between the output in the late 40s and the late 50s. The wave was over. Out of course it’s never really over, and great movies continue to influence other movies, etc., but they’re very different. All the late movies you mention either use noir elements in a different way, or seem to me to use them in a self-conscious way the earlier movies didn’t. And there are few of them. I can name several good noirs from most years of the late 40s, and there were lots of lesser ones. How much noir was made in 1957? If talking about the beginning and end of a “period” in film history means anything, it can’t mean the _absolute_ beginning or end, because then nothing would ever start or be over. For instance, there were science fiction movies in the 1940s, but there’s still a noticable upsurge in the 1950s, the birth of something new. And nobody ever stopped making gangster movies, but there’s a time around 1940 or so when the classic wave ended, so that when Key Largo comes around in 1948, it’s a retro gangster movie, a movie that deliberately looks back on something in the past.

      I probably can’t define this objectively, though.

  3. Bruce Rheinstein says:

    Granted it’s not exactly definitive, but the Wikipedia lists 18 film noir titles for 1957. Of those, I’d argue that Sweet Smell of Success is good and several are watchable. Most, like Plunder Road, I’m not familiar with and are probably best forgotten.

    Perhaps the most basic classification of movies is that there are two kinds – good ones and bad ones. The distinction is largely subjective. I look at Touch of Evil and I see a good, albeit flawed, movie. In places, such as the opening sequence, I’d call it great. You hate it. And because our opinions are subjective neither of us is likely to convince the other.

    Likewise, while the classic film noir period is usually described as encompassing both decades (see, e.g., http://www.filmsite.org/filmnoir.html ), by the late 50s it was in serious decline. Argue that the quantity and quality had dropped significantly and you’ll get no disagreement from me.

    • But Sweet Smell of Success is also very different from the 40s noirs. The topic is completely different: PR, media, fame, etc. It has more in common with A Face in the Crowd than with Gilda, it’s a cynical message movie. To me, that Wikipedia list shows how you can lose perspective if all you do is look closely at each individual movie and ask “is this noir”. Well, yeah, there’s this element, and that element. But the 1946 movies were some of the best of that year. The 1957 movies were forgettable and low budget, most of them, or too different to be part of that earlier moment, like Sweet Smell of Success.

      When a genre falls apart like that, I don’t see how it makes sense to keep the classic period going until Touch of Evil. I don’t dislike that movie so much that I don’t accept that it’s pretty good. It is. But it’s not part of any moment I can still see going at that point. I know this is very subjective, but art history can’t be purely quantitative. And my subjective view, from fast-forwarding through a lot of these, and watching some of them, is that there was something _alive_ in the late 40s, something they didn’t have a name for but that people would later referred to as film noir, and that something died in the early 50s. The influence lasted much longer, but that’s when I would say the classic period ended.

  4. Sprudlum says:

    According to http://www.theyshootpictures.com/noir250noirs1.htm, Touch of Evil belongs to the best of film noir :

    ” – the top-ten most cited noir films are: Out of the Past (1947), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Laura (1944), Touch of Evil (1958), D.O.A. (1949), Double Indemnity (1944), The Killers (1946), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Big Sleep (1946) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955). The most cited years are between 1944 to 1958, with 1947 being the peak year.”

    This may not be much more than an aggregate of subjective opinions, but the web site has a number of interesting references, in addition to a comprehensive overview of films belonging to the genre.

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