A Rose By Any Other Name

The Miniver Story catches up with the Miniver family after World War II. Mrs. Miniver was reliant on the war since it was released at the height of it. The Best Picture winning film had a hopeful ending, but I’m not sure anyone was expecting a sequel. The Miniver Story is mostly forgotten since it didn’t receive any Oscar attention. Despite the fact that Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon put forth the same effort 8 years later.

The Miniver Story is narrated by Mr. Miniver starting with VE Day. Without WWII, the drama comes from Mrs. Miniver being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Kay avoids telling her loving husband Clem, daughter Judy, or son Toby. Her oldest son Vin is nowhere to be seen since Garson married and divorced her on screen son between movies. Kay also keeps an emotional affair she had during the war a secret while enjoying the few days she has left.

Clem is more or less eager to get away from England. Toby is still a chatterbox played by a very young James Fox. Judy is all grown up played by Cathy O’Donnell in a similar role to the one she had in The Best Years of Our Lives. The good natured Tom Foley loves her, but she’s blindly infatuated with the much older and very arrogant Steve Brunswick. It’s like a soap opera, but the emotional payoff is good. The Miniver Story is a serviceable way to revisit a family affected by war.

The Miniver Story

Mr. and Mrs. Miniver at their daughter’s wedding

Preceded by: Mrs. Miniver

Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’

High Noon is one of the greatest Westerns ever made. A feat managed in only 1 hour & 25 minutes. Which proves a movie doesn’t have to be long to be good. One of many reasons why High Noon should’ve won Best Picture instead of The Greatest Show on Earth. Though High Noon is very simple, the story can be interpreted as a political allegory. Oscar nominated writer Carl Foreman was blacklisted for his ties to the Communist Party. John Wayne turned down the lead role because of it, but he regretted it when screen legend Gary Cooper won Best Actor. Fred Zinnemann was once again nominated for Best Director and the film won further Academy Awards for Film Editing, Original Score, and Original Song.

“The Ballad of High Noon” was a highly influential lone cowboy theme. Which is perfect for unlikely hero Will Kane. The aging Marshall is faced with either leaving town with his newlywed bride or facing a band of gun-toting outlaws from his past. High Noon takes place in real time leading up to the outlaw’s arrival on the noon train. Unlike most Westerns, almost the entire town is too cowardly to help Kane. Most of them debate whether the town deserves what’s coming to them. You really start to feel sorry for Kane after his many rejections. Lloyd Bridges is former Deputy Harvey Pell who resents Kane for not making him Marshall.

Thomas Mitchell and Otto Kruger play the Mayor and Judge who either stand down or leave town. Lon Chaney Jr. plays the former Marshall who doesn’t have much fight left in him. High Noon is especially groundbreaking for giving better roles to its female co-stars. The lovely Grace Kelly makes an impression as Will’s conflicted Quaker wife Amy who actively helps her husband by the end. Katy Jurado became the first Hispanic female Golden Globe winner for her part as the strong-willed Helen Ramirez. Though Ian MacDonald plays central outlaw Frank Miller, Western fans will recognize Lee Van Cleef as part of his gang. The final showdown is a tense shootout where duty prevails. High Noon is the thinking man’s Western.

High Noon

Will Kane stands alone

It Eats You Alive!

The Blob is a B movie that devours the competition. Originally released as a double feature with I Married a Monster from Outer Space, The Blob took on a life of its own. I’ve known about the iconic monster for years, but I never watched the 1958 movie. Mostly because I always thought it was colorized from a black & white version. Turns out the The Blob is just very colorful. It’s a cheesy B movie with a campy theme song, questionable acting, and a seemingly laughable threat.

Yet the Blob is actually more terrifying than it looks. It’s surprisingly based on a true story involving star jelly discovered in 1950 Pennsylvania. The Blob is a red gelatinous mass that falls from a meteor and quickly consumes everything in its path. Nothing can stop it! The more it eats, the bigger it becomes! The Blob is an early horror film centered around teenagers, because it was made for the drive-in generation. Even though newcomer Steve McQueen clearly isn’t a teenager, he does manage to show off his driving skills.

Together with co-star Aneta Corsaut as his sweetheart Jane and a group of friends, Steve attempts to warn the town. The police don’t believe them until things get worse. The Blob first consumes a poor old man, doctors, and random townspeople until it reaches a movie theater. Engulfing an entire diner with the main characters in it is surprisingly tense. The Blob genuinely feels unstoppable until it gets cold. Ending its reign of terror (or does it?). The Blob grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.

The Blob

The Blob

Followed by: Beware! The Blob

Human Nature

The African Queen is the original romantic adventure in the jungle. So many films have been inspired by it, but I never really knew what it was about. The African Queen is shot in full technicolor that really brings its African setting to life. It’s another Hollywood classic that wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, but did receive a lot of Oscar attention. John Huston was once again nominated for Best Director. The Oscar nominated Screenplay is based on the 1935 C. S. Forester novel of the same name. Although set during World War I, the primary difference between book and movie is making the Germans more villainous.

Aside from genuine African villagers and mostly unseen German officers, The African Queen is carried by two characters. Luckily they cast two of the biggest stars in Hollywood. This was the earliest I’ve seen Katherine Hepburn in her 5th nomination for Best Actress. Humphrey Bogart finally won Best Actor after failing to win for Casablanca and being snubbed for Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The latter was also directed by Huston and Bogie is just as gruff. Hepburn is British missionary Rose Sayer who loses her brother during a German attack. Robert Morley briefly plays “The Brother” who dies from shock.

Although Cockney British in the book, Bogie plays the Canadian riverboat captain Charlie Allnut. He offers her safe passage on the titular African Queen. Charlie is a more lively drinker and Rose is a more refined sophisticate, but all their humorous bickering leads to romance. Of course an unmarried couple cohabiting a boat was quite scandalous for 1951. Together they fix up the boat, travel through treacherous waters, and formulate a plan to sink the Königin Luise with makeshift torpedos. The African Queen set a standard for decades to come.

The African Queen

Charlie and Rose take the African Queen downriver

A Savage Story of Lust and Ambition

Room at the Top is the most scandalous story the late 50’s had to offer. Although black & white with a standard full screen format, Room at the Top is filled with swearing and strongly implied sexual situations. Most of the movie centers around an affair between a younger man and an older woman. Since Room at the Top came out in 1959, it predates Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. I think they got away with so much because the film is a British production not made by a major studio. Room at the Top is based on a 1957 novel that managed to win the movie Best Adapted Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Picture, but only Ben-Hur had any chance of winning.

The title Room at the Top refers to poor former POW Joe Lampton who wants to turn his life around by marrying a wealthy woman. He sets his sights on the lovely young Susan, but he quickly develops a strong connection with the older and less wealthy Alice. I know it’s an affair, but Joe and Alice’s romance is so genuine that you can’t help but root for them. Alice’s husband doesn’t treat her right and refuses to divorce her. Joe has no feelings for Susan, yet he’s forced to marry her through unexpected circumstances. Laurence Harvey gives a complex performance, but it’s Simone Signoret who deserved her Best Actress win with an even more multilayered performance.

Room at the Top is also known for featuring the shortest performance ever nominated in an acting category. Hermione Baddeley’s performance is only 2 minutes & 19 seconds long, but boy does she leave an impression. She plays a friend of Alice who wants her to be happy, comforts her when she’s down, chastises Joe when the unthinkable happens, and reacts with disappointment at his wedding in only four separate scenes. Room at the Top truly is a savage story of lust and ambition.

Room at the Top

Joe makes love to Alice

Thank Heaven for Little Girls

Gigi is the last MGM musical to win Best Picture. Ending a great tradition dating as far back as The Broadway Melody. Gigi was only adapted as a musical from French author Colette’s novella of the same name. It’s another Parisian romance suited for director Vincente Minnelli, but it couldn’t be more different than An American in Paris. Gigi doesn’t break any new ground, but it did break the record for highest clean sweep at the Academy Awards. Gigi won all 9 of its Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography – Color, Costume Design, Film Editing, Scoring, and Original Song.

All of them are deserving wins, but it is odd that Gigi wasn’t nominated in a single acting category. The cast is very French with Leslie Caron returning to work with Minnelli. Gigi is an innocent fun-loving school girl groomed by her aunt and grandmama to become a wealthy man’s courtesan. Being a trained mistress is quite scandalous for the late 50’s, but not too much attention is called to it. Gaston is simply a wealthy womanizer with a new woman every week. Louis Jourdan is second only to Maurice Chevalier as his similarly womanizing Uncle Honoré who cheers him on in the background.

His song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” speaks for itself. Eva Gabor plays one of Gaston’s romantic conquests who goes so far as to attempt suicide when he leaves her. Gaston’s only genuine relationship is with Gigi. It’s a classic close friendship that develops into something more. If any of Gigi sounds similar to My Fair Lady it’s because Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe contributed to both. The Oscar winning song “Gigi” perfectly captures Gaston finally seeing Gigi as a woman. The only question is whether or not he’s willing to give up his playboy lifestyle for her. Gigi is a heartwarming romance with plenty of color and music.

Gigi

Gaston takes Gigi out

‘S Wonderful

Funny Face is the first Audrey Hepburn musical and one of the last to feature Fred Astaire. Both are screen legends with a serious age gap. Since Hepburn was just getting started, most of her romantic co-stars were a lot older than her. Funny Face is actually based on a 1927 Broadway musical starring Astaire and his sister. The movie has almost nothing to do with the original show. Aside from Gershwin music and Astaire in a different role. Singin’ in the Rain director Stanley Donen turned Funny Face into a colorful affair filmed in VistaVision.

The titular “funny face” is an intelligent bookworm named Jo Stockton. Hepburn is as beautiful and elegant as ever, so I’m not sure what it is about her face. Funny Face isn’t particularly deep apart from all of Jo’s talk about philosophy and empathy. Overbearing fashion designer Maggie Prescott takes Jo upon her photographer’s suggestion, and molds her into a model. Eloise creator Kay Thompson makes a rare on-screen appearance as Maggie.

Jo falls for her photographer Dick Avery during their stay in Paris. Although her interest in philosophy doesn’t go away, Jo does come to love her many costumes and themes. Funny Face was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, but it wasn’t a financial success. Only after My Fair Lady did it get the appreciation it deserved. Songs like the titular “Funny Face” or “‘S Wonderful” are upbeat and dances have plenty of energy. Though the most memorable dance actually comes from Hepburn in an iconic all-black beatnick ensemble. Funny Face is ‘s wonderful.

Funny Face

Maggie examines Jo’s funny face

Getting to Know You

The King and I is an extravagant musical production etc, etc, etc. The 1956 film is based on the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, based on the 1944 Margaret Landon novel Anna and the King of Siam, based on the 1860’s memoirs from Anna Leonowens etc, etc, etc. There have been many adaptations before and since, but only The King and I was nominated for Best Picture etc, etc, etc. 1956 was packed with epics that included Around the World in 80 Days, Giant, and The Ten Commandments etc, etc, etc.

Yul Brynner made his mark playing Rameses II, but it was King Mongkut of Siam that won him Best Actor etc, etc, etc. Brynner was Russian with an exotic look and shaved head that made him convincing for the role etc, etc, etc. Mongkut is an old fashioned, but eccentric king willing to modernize his country etc, etc, etc. Anna Leonowens is a British school teacher who educates the King’s many wives and children etc, etc, etc. Deborah Kerr stands equal with Brynner and plays off him well etc, etc, etc. There are hints of romance, but their relationship is more about mutual understanding etc, etc, etc.

The King’s youngest concubine Tuptim stands out since she’s played by Rita Moreno etc, etc, etc. Her forbidden love of a commoner puts the King’s ancient customs into question etc, etc, etc. The King and I also won Best Art Direction, Costume Design, and Scoring etc, etc, etc. Musical numbers benefit from distinct Rodgers and Hammerstein songs like “Getting to Know You” etc, etc, etc. An extended Siamese interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin stands out as well etc, etc, etc. The King and I knows just what to say etc, etc, etc.

The King and I

Anna and the King of Siam

Short and Sweet

Marty is the shortest movie to ever win Best Picture. It’s no secret that the Academy Awards prefers films with an extended 2-3 hour runtime. As if a good story can’t be told in a short amount of time. Marty is not only a great story, but they manage to tell it in only 1 hour & 30 minutes. It’s short because Marty was originally written as a 51 minute teleplay for The Philco Television Playhouse. First time director Delbert Mann took over the project and won Best Director. Meanwhile, Paddy Chayefsky won Best Adapted Screenplay for his own story. Marty was so impactful that it ended up winning the first Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Marty is refreshingly simple and gets right to the point. Marty Piletti is a 34 year old Italian American Catholic butcher living in the Bronx with his mother. Right off the bat it’s made clear that Marty is a lonely man afraid he’ll never get married because of how he looks. Marty speaks to me on a personal level. Such an unconventional lead was played sincerely by the late great Ernest Borgnine in a Best Actor winning performance. Marty finally meets someone at a ballroom dance. Clara is a shy school teacher who’s no more attractive than he is. Betsy Blair is just as sincere with their simple romance that plays out over the course of one night.

At first awkward, Marty and Clara manage to connect through their families, aspirations, and similar experiences. Marty is only made longer with subplots that mirror Marty’s budding relationship. Marty’s mother fears her son will leave since his aunt is forced to move out of his brother’s house. Marty’s brother has relationship problems with his sister-in-law. Then there’s Marty’s friend Angie and drinking buddies who are content with their party lifestyle. All of them call Clara a dog, but Marty finally realizes he’s crazy to care what anyone else thinks. A valuable lesson that ends the movie where it needs to. Marty is short and sweet.

Marty

Marty and Clara meet his mother

The Strawberry Investigation

The Caine Mutiny is like a cross between Mutiny on the Bounty and From Here to Eternity. It both deals with a mutiny aboard a Navy vessel and takes place during World War II near Pearl Harbor. The difference is the 1951 book wasn’t based on historical fact. The Navy never had an official mutiny and the movie didn’t receive their seal of approval until that was made clear. I knew nothing about The Caine Mutiny, but I’m glad I saw it. Fun fact, Michael Caine actually got his stage name from the movie. It’s an interesting character study that centers around the actions of Naval officers who fear their captain is unfit for duty.

Officers include the late Robert Francis as fresh out of college Ensign Willis Keith. When he questions his first captain, he’s immediately replaced by the far worse Lieutenant Commander Queeg. Humphrey Bogart manages to make Queeg unreasonably difficult and overly strict, but never unsympathetic. Queeg is seen as paranoid due to his cowardice actions, ball bearing habit, and launching an investigation of something as ridiculous as strawberries. Fred MacMurray is somewhere in-between as writer Lt. Tom Keefer who initially suggests a mutiny, but tries to save face in the end.

Van Johnson follows through with the mutiny as Lt. Steve Maryk relieves him of duty during a typhoon. The final act is a rousing court-martial led by José Ferrer as their lawyer Lt. Barney Greenwald. When Queeg cracks, Greenwald manages to make the men (and the audiences) see things from both sides. It’s a complex story that had to be stripped down from page to screen. Which is why the movie includes a mostly unnecessary love story between Keith and singer May Wynn. Yet The Caine Mutiny still managed several Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. The Caine Mutiny has an enduring legacy.

The Caine Mutiny

Lieutenant Commander Queeg joins the USS Caine