1957

SPUTNIK II SPACE DOG

Main Events
– USSR launches 1st animal into orbit
– Martin Luther King, Jr. begins nationwide resistance to racism
– Toyota cars sold in U.S.
– Elvis buys Graceland
– Eisenhower Doctrine approved by Congress


Winner: The Bridge on the River Kwai
Nominees:
– Sayonara
– Peyton Place
– Witness for the Prosecution
– 12 Angry Men

Sayonara *out of ****
Sayonara

Director: Joshua Logan
Starring: Marlon Brando, Red Buttons, Miyoshi Umeki
Wins (4): S. Actor (Buttons), S. Actress (Umeki), Sound Recording, Art Direction
Nominations (10): Picture, Director, Actor (Brando), Adapted SP, Cinematography, Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
I only wish I could have said goodbye to this movie sooner.  It was a challenge to have to listen to Marlon Brando’s exaggerated and offensive attempt at a Southern accent for the 2 hours and 27 minutes that it takes this film to be done.  Brando is going for a Texas accent here, but what he achieves is a Deep South drawl one might come across in South Carolina or Georgia.  I wouldn’t wish a viewing of Sayonara on anyone so I will do my best to describe it for you.  Think of Foghorn Leghorn (cartoon character) playing chubby bunny.  That’s what Brando sounds like and it’s not just his horrible accent.  He comes across so cocky and empty-headed, but one feels like he was going for charming.  There’s nothing worse than a simple story that takes forever to make its point.  Director, Joshua Logan, knew all about that, having directed with equally eye rolling, Picnic (1955).  Ace (Marlon Brando) is an Air Force pilot stationed in Japan during the Korean War.  His buddy, Kelly (Red Buttons) falls in love with and marries a Japanese woman, as so many American soldiers did at the time.  The American military officials in Japan frown upon these types of relationships and create laws prohibiting relationships between American soldiers and Japanese women; going so far as to send the newlywed soldiers back to the States without their new brides.  Sayonara cries foul at this treatment as Ace himself falls in love with a Japanese woman.  Our pilot flies in the face of the establishment who start really cracking down on these interracial marriages.  Perhaps it was true love or perhaps it was the double suicide committed by Kelly and his oriental bride, but Ace and his girlfriend decide to tie the knot, despite the laws.  I see Sayonara the same way I see films like, Around the World in Eighty Days, King Solomon’s Mines, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, etc.  They exist mainly to enlighten the audience on different countries, cultures and way of life.  Several minutes-worth of this film is spent watching a Japanese puppet show or a traditional Japanese play.  In fitting eye-rolling fashion, the last line of the film is, “sayonara”.  This time, I was too relieved to be annoyed.

Peyton Place **out of ****
Peyton_Place

Director: Mark Robson
Starring: Lana Turner, Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn, Hope Lange, Diane Varsi
Wins (0):
Nominations (9): Picture, Director, Actress (Turner), S. Actor (Kennedy), S. Actor (Tamblyn), S. Actress (Lange), S. Actress (Varsi), Adapted SP, Cinematography
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
Peyton Place tries to be a movie about a perfect, small, quaint little town indicative of the 1950’s, or at least how it was portrayed on TV, but with dark problems brewing at its core.  I’m afraid the film very much attempts to make a statement on a few different things when in actuality it makes a statement on nothing.  As for the intended message of the film, well that was made quite plain; Peyton Place, on the outside, looks like a picturesque small town with perfect citizens and perfect families, but there are some really dark, serious issues going on deep within, like bickering over high school dances and who should or shouldn’t be invited to a birthday party and who got slapped for trying to get fresh in the car in the parking lot and the cover-up of an abortion because a young woman was raped by her father…. Oh, what? Yes, that’s right.  Peyton Place throws that into the mix and passes right by it as if it was as miniscule a storyline as the rest of them.  That’s what Peyton Place is, a bunch of miniscule storylines brought into one long, empty chasm of reel.

Witness for the Prosecution ****out of ****
witness_for_the_prosecution

Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester
Wins (0):
Nominations (6): Picture, Director, Actor (Laughton), S. Actress (Lanchester), Sound Recording, Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
When you combine the expert technical precision and noir style of director, Billy Wilder, with story inspiration of legendary crime novelist, Agathie Christie, what you would expect is a match made in heaven and that is precisely what you get.  There’s absolutely nothing flashy about this film.  It’s simply a British-style courtroom drama/murder mystery that is thoroughly enjoyable and perfectly on point throughout its entirety.  It must be tough writing a decent courtroom drama simply because if what unfolds during the trial is too far-fetched or unrealistic from an argument or a behavioral perspective within the confines of a courtroom environment, then it becomes all too easy for a viewer to simply “check out”.  Witness for the Prosecution plays it straight.  Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) is an overweight, unhealthy and codgery, though not altogether unfriendly barrister (lawyer) who, after much consideration, has taken on what seems to be a hopeless case of a man, named Vole, accused of murdering an old woman who had just included him in her will.  It appears to be an open and shut case as Vole is almost certainly guilty.  However, Robarts uncovers some very important information that feels will bring an innocent verdict for Vole, but what actually unfolds is a really great and unexpected twist of an ending.  One of the best things about the film is that right before the credits roll, a voice over asks the audience please to not reunion the ending for those who have not yet seen it.  A “no spoilers please” announcement some 70 years ahead of its time.

OSCAR WINNER

The Bridge on the River Kwai ****out of ****
bridge_on_the_river_kwai_xlg

Director: David Lean
Starring: Alec Guinness, William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa
Wins (7): Picture, Director, Actor (Guinness), Adapted SP, Score, Cinematography, Film Editing
Nominations (8): S. Actor (Hayakawa)
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
My opinions of overly long films have been made known quite clearly on this blog.  Those films that wear out their welcome or think so highly of themselves as to feel the need to edit very little are treated more harshly than other movies that bring nothing to the table except that they’re just not long.  The Bridge on the River Kwai, at 2 hours and 41 minutes, is the perfect amount of time to tell this really wonderful and engaging story.  This film is set during WWII in a Japanese prison camp where a battalion of British prisoners of war have just arrived and are led by Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness).  Japanese Colonel Saito, the head of this POW camp insists that all officers of this battalion, along with the regular soldiers, perform manual labor building a bridge that will open up more routes for supplies on the Japanese side.  Nicholson refuses to let his officers obey Saito due to that being against the Geneva Convention.  Saito cares nothing for the rules and punishes the officers and puts Nicholson in an iron box for days.  The British officers purposely are lax in their work ethic and sabotage the building of the bridge.  However, due to his pride as an officer along with his concern for the image of the British Army, Nicholson insists that they work hard despite it benefiting the enemy and the breaking of the Geneva Convention.  Nicholson even goes so far as to suggest a different place for the bridge as well as improvements on logistics and efficiency.  In this wonderful case of reverse psychology, Saito listens to Nicholson’s advice and even makes his own men help in the building of the bridge.  Meanwhile, Commander Shears (William Holden), an American who had escaped from the very same camp has been sent back on a mission to destroy this bridge before it is completed. Nicholson’s pride and work ethic has blinded him so much that he desires to do the best job he can even though it is for the enemy.  All parts quickly come together and the film culminates into one fantastically thrilling ending.

SHOULD HAVE WON

12 Angry Men ****out of ****
twelve_angry_men_xlg

Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb
Wins (0):
Nominations (3): Picture, Director, Adapted SP
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
This film begins after the closing arguments of a murder trial, the defendant of which is an 18-year-old young man from the slums of New York City.  From this point on, the entirety of the film takes place in the jury room as the men that make up this jury attempt to reach a verdict.

The verdict is a simple one that requires little thought and that is, “guilty”.  All of the jurors are convinced except for Juror 8 (Henry Fonda).  The other jurors are outright flabbergasted at the possibility that this young man actually could be innocent.  The idea of thinking things through is a preposterous one for these other jurors, but Juror 8 insists that they take the time to go over the evidence and talk things through, since a young man’s life is on the line.  Quite quickly, the other jurors begin to despise Juror 8 and insult him for taking up their precious time, keeping them away from other things that they want to do.  This process is long and frustrating for these other jurors, but especially for Juror 8, who takes the tension and insults in stride.  These jurors, many of whom are close-minded and care nothing for the defendant whether he’s guilty or not, begin to fight amongst themselves.  The weather has a real presence in this film.  It had been so hot that the jurors were visibly exhausted, the fans couldn’t spin fast enough, the windows couldn’t open wide enough and the button-down shirts of the men were soaked with sweat.  Then came the rain.  Not just a drizzle, but a downpour.  It seems the weather couldn’t just be a little hot nor could it rain just a tad nor could the film have come and gone without regard to the weather…  No, it was pouring or it was blazing and this intensity in the weather nudges at the audience from one direction while the tension between the jurors festers in another.  The movie experience is very much felt due to the elements.  However, one by one, Juror 8 convinces the others that it just might be possible that this young man is innocent.  With each re-count of the verdict votes, it seems another “not guilty” vote is added to Juror 8’s side.  He wears them down with his insistence on fairness, for what it really boils down to is that the other jurors saw this young poor hoodlum as worthless anyways, never mind the fact that the evidence is stacked against him.  Juror 8 does more than change their minds, though.  Juror 8 changes them as people, at least for the duration of the deliberation, by having them examine themselves in the process.

Other Films to Consider
Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, starring Patricia Neal and Andy Griffith as you’ve never seen him and wished you’d have never seen him and hope to never seen him again.  An unknown, troubled musician makes it big and attempts to handle his success without completely losing it.  The acting by Neal and Griffith is so good, you’ll wonder why they weren’t nominated, but it’s Kazan’s style and take on the subject that make this film probably more relevant today than it was in 1957.

Sweet Smell of Success is Alexander MacKendrick’s gritty, noir tale of a loosely moraled press agent (Tony Curtis) in Manhattan who dances around the very powerful, very influential and very dangerous newspaper owner, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster).  Tony Curtis is a baller in this film and MacKendrick leaves us scratching our head and wondering why he didn’t direct more films.

OVERALL YEAR SCORE – 75%

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