Film Review: Rashômon (1950)

Release Date: August 26th, 1950 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa
Based on: In a Grove by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki

Daiei Film, 88 Minutes

Review:

“It’s human to lie. Most of the time we can’t even be honest with ourselves.” – Commoner

Kurosawa is one of the best filmmakers of all-time. I have a deep admiration for a lot of his pictures. However, Rashômon isn’t at the top of my list, even though it really brought him worldwide notoriety and won an Academy Award.

It’s still a really good film but I always gravitated to his action heavy samurai epics like Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and Yojimbo or his crime films like Stray Dog and Drunken Angel. But this film is still very engaging and maybe more intimate than the others, as it has a very small cast and really just focuses on a single event.

The purpose of the film is to tell the story of this event from four different perspectives. Kurosawa did this because he wanted to show how different interpretations can greatly vary. Also, within that, Kurosawa wanted to show how memory or bias can sway factual accuracy.

Initially, Japanese critics weren’t too fond of the film and they were a bit baffled when Western audiences praised it. Ultimately, this film opened the gates for Japanese cinema, as it was now being appreciated by audiences across the world.

The film deals with some heavy subject matter, especially for 1950. The story deals with the rape of a woman and the apparent murder of her husband. I don’t really think that this is a film that could have been made in America, at the time. I also think that its gritty realism is what caught audiences by surprise and captivated them, as Hollywood films were typically so clean and pristine. Even the grittiest of film-noir pictures didn’t get this dark.

Historically, this is one of the most important foreign films of all-time. It paved the way for other directors and new genres that made their way to the States. It allowed Kurosawa to have the respect and freedom to make better films, some of which became the best movies ever made.

I don’t want to take anything away from this. It’s doesn’t necessarily resonate with me like a lot of Kurosawa’s other work but I can’t deny it’s place in history, its influence and the great craftsmanship it took to bring it to life.

Also, the sequence where the dead husband speaks through a medium is legitimately creepy. I did love that part of the film.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Kurosawa films of the late ’40s and early ’50s.

Film Review: The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

Release Date: April 7th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: Harold Medford, Jerome Weidman
Based on: a story by Gertrude Walker
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Warner Bros. Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t talk to me about self-respect. That’s something you tell yourself you got when you got nothing else.” – Ethel Whitehead

The first fifteen minutes of this film sucked me right in. It had a very effective start but then it didn’t let go as it rolled on.

Man, I just really loved Joan Crawford in this. She’s always a treat to see in anything but something about how she played this role felt a little bit more organic and closer to her real personality and charm, as opposed to being the centerpiece in a tightly controlled and meticulously crafted big Hollywood production. Not to say that this wasn’t a tightly controlled and meticulously crafted big Hollywood production but it seemed like she had more room to breathe with her performance. I’d almost say that there was more emphasis on freedom of performance and realism than just trying to make her look gorgeous mixed with a touch of viciousness.

As the story goes on, we see Crawford play out the typical femme fatale shtick. She uses her sex appeal and charm to work her way up the social chain from man to man, not caring much about how she burns them on the way. So it should go without saying that this doesn’t lead towards a happy ending for most of the main players. But there is a dark twist at the end, which surprised me, considering how the morality code in Hollywood worked at the time.

It’s fun watching this story escalate and seeing characters turn into monsters as it progresses, all because of the selfish actions of one broken woman. It’s a movie where likable characters evolve into unlikable ones, even if you initially just see them as victims of Ethel’s (Crawford) toxic antics.

The story moves at a pretty brisk pace and it doesn’t relent from start to finish. The plot has a lot of pieces and clever swerves but it’s crafted well and goes off without a hitch. This had some solid screenwriting work from Harold Medford, as well as Jerome Weidman.

This also had crisp cinematography and obviously the lighting was fine tuned to make Crawford glow but the picture also has a dark and brooding, organic grittiness to it. Sure, a lot of it looks like classic Hollywood and fantastical in its magic but the movie is well balanced between the shiny veneer and the darkness that the veneer is made to distract you from. You see beyond the beautiful and superficial topical layer, right into the abyss that’s waiting to pull all these people down.

This is a top notch film-noir, from a top studio and featuring one of the top stars of the era. I can’t say it enough, Crawford was an absolute gem in this and it’s strange to me that this isn’t one of her better known motion pictures.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Joan Crawford film-noir pictures like Mildred Pierce and Possessed.

Documentary Review: Kon-Tiki (1950)

Also known as: A Aventura de Kon-Tiki (Brazil), Kon-Tiki 1950 (Swedish re-issue festival title)
Release Date: January 13th, 1950 (Sweden)
Directed by: Thor Heyerdahl
Written by: Thor Heyerdahl
Music by: Sune Waldimir
Cast: Thor Heyerdahl, Herman Watzinger, Erik Hesselberg, Knut Haugland, Torstein Raaby, Bengt Danielsson, Ben Grauer (voice), Gerte Wald (uncredited)

Artfilm, Janson Media, Sol Lesser Productions, 77 Minutes, 58 Minutes (TV edit)

Review:

For those who don’t know the story of the Kon-Tiki expedition, you are sorely missing out. Back in 1947, a brave Norwegian, Thor Heyerdahl, rounded up a team to construct a primitive style raft with local materials in Ecuador and Peru for the purpose of setting sail towards Polynesia to show that such a task was possible in order to prove that it’s also possible that the Pacific islands were populated by people who migrated from South America.

Heyerdahl also kept things as primitive as possible, as far as the method of travel. They did bring some military rations for food and had a radio, in case of emergency and to make contact with the outside world in an effort to check-in on their progress.

If you love nature documentaries or seeing real men do some really manly shit, than this is something you’ll probably enjoy. It’s really exciting, informative and kind of magical. It makes you wish that you were there, even though it was hard and strenuous. But these guys really tested their mettle and spirit but got through it okay.

Also, if you’re into history, science or just love things pertaining to South Pacific culture, this really delves into all of that.

There is a great scene with curious whales, another regarding the dangers of having freshly caught sharks on the boat, as well as the big climax where they have to work their way over a massive and dangerous, razor sharp coral reef in an effort to finally hit land.

I loved this documentary and it’s made me want to go back and watch the 2012 motion picture based on this expedition. Mainly, because I want to test its accuracy after having seen this documentary and just because this is such a great and incredible story.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The 2012 motion picture Kon-Tiki and the other Thor Heyerdahl seafaring documentary The Ra Expeditions.

Film Review: Armored Car Robbery (1950)

Also known as: Code 3, Code 3-A (working titles), Criminal Brigade (Portugal)
Release Date: June 8th, 1950
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Gerald Drayson Adams, Earl Felton, Robert Leeds, Robert Angus
Music by: Roy Webb, Paul Sawtell
Cast: Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens, William Talman

RKO Radio Pictures, 67 Minutes

Review:

“You should see her workin’ clothes. Imagine a dish like this married to a mug like Benny McBride… the naked and the dead.” – Ryan

Richard Fleischer would go on to have a heck of a career. However, he first rose to prominence in the late ’40s and early ’50s when he turned his attention towards directing a string of film-noir pictures.

Armored Car Robbery is just one of four really solid noirs that Fleischer did. The other three being The Clay Pigeon, His Kind of Woman (he was uncredited for this one) and The Narrow Margin. I’ve reviewed all of these except for His Kind of Woman but I plan to revisit it soon.

This film teams up two classic noir heavyweights: Charles McGraw and William Talman. It also features Adele Jergens, who isn’t the most alluring femme fatale in noir history but still has a very strong presence and a certain beauty that seems more authentic and real than just some insanely beautiful dame slithering around her prey.

The plot sees a criminal named Purvis (Talman) recruit Benny to help him rob an armored car at Wrigley Field (the old Los Angeles one, not the famous Chicago one). Benny’s wife has been two-timing him and the man she has been sleeping with is Purvis, although Benny doesn’t know this at the time. The robbery goes sideways due to a passing police patrol. A cop is murdered in the getaway and the criminals escape. The dead cop’s partner, Lt. Jim Cordell (McGraw), makes it his personal mission to bring these criminals to justice. With all the pressure, the criminals become paranoid and things start to fall apart.

Armored Car Robbery is very typical of the RKO visual style in regards to their crime pictures. It feels like a gritty and edgy RKO picture, which for fans of classic film-noir, should be a very strong positive.

One problem with the film is that there was a better armored truck robbery a year earlier called Criss Cross. The stories themselves are different but it is hard to not review this film without citing the earlier one. That one was a Robert Siodmak picture and starred Burt Lancaster and Dan Duryea. While that film shouldn’t take anything away from this one, if you’ve seen Criss Cross first, this movie can’t help but feel a bit derivative.

The things that make this film work though are the talented cast, the direction of Fleischer and the crisp, high contrast visual style.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Richard Fleischer’s The Clay Pigeon, His Kind of Woman and The Narrow Margin.

Film Review: The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)

Also known as: The Gun (working title)
Release Date: December 26th, 1950
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Seton I. Miller, Philip MacDonald
Music by: Louis Forbes
Cast: Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall

Jack M. Warner Productions, 20th Century Fox, 81 Minutes

Review:

“This is my first time out. How am I doin’?” – Andy Cullen, “All right, kid. Do any better, and I’ll be out of a job.” – Police Lt. Ed Cullen

The Man Who Cheated Himself is a neat little film-noir that stars the always domineering Lee J. Cobb in a rare role where he isn’t shouting a lot.

It also stars Jane Wyatt, who just feels completely out of place as the femme fatale type, as she is most synonymous for playing the mother in Father Knows Best. It also stars John Dall, who I loved in Gun Crazy and Rope, as well as a very young Lisa Howard before she went on to be a controversial news figure that committed suicide at 35 years-old.

Unfortunately, this is a film suffering from multiple personality disorder.

It is pretty dull and comes off as uneventful, even though there are things happening. This film just lacks excitement and energy. I’m not sure if that’s because Lee J. Cobb was told to play this role a bit more chill than he normally does or if he was bored doing it and didn’t give us a boisterous performance. When I watch a film with Cobb, I expect a certain panache and he just didn’t have it here.

Additionally, everything is just sort of dry. This isn’t a new story and really, just borrows heavily from several films within the classic film-noir style. There isn’t much to set this apart and to make it stand out among its peers.

However, the final scene at Fort Point (under the Golden Gate Bridge) was an incredibly well shot sequence that built immense suspense and had me at the edge of my seat. But it builds such great tension and then falls flat, as the bad guys get caught in the most anticlimactic way possible. This sequence must have made a fan out of Alfred Hitchock though, as he used the same location in his classic picture Vertigo.

I probably expected more out of this film than it had to give. I like Cobb, I thought his performance in 12 Angry Men was incredible but even great actors have duds from time to time.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Other old school film-noirs: RoadblockQuicksand!Pitfall, Please Murder Me!Too Late For TearsShock, etc.

Film Review: Rocketship X-M (1950)

Also known as: Expedition Moon, Rocket to the Moon, None Came Back, Journey Into the Unknown, Rocketship Expedition Moon (working titles)
Release Date: May 26th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Kurt Neumann
Written by: Orville H. Hampton, Kurt Neumann, Dalton Trumbo
Music by: Ferde Grofe
Cast: Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Beery Jr., Hugh O’Brian, Morris Ankrum

Lippert Pictures, 78 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve been wondering, how did a girl like you get mixed up in a thing like this in the first place.” – Floyd, “I suppose you think that women should only cook and sew and bear children.” – Dr. Lisa Van Horn, “Isn’t that enough?” – Floyd

For a picture showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000, this one actually isn’t half bad.

Plus, it also has a well-known actor in it: Lloyd Bridges.

But all things considered, this still isn’t a very good movie. It probably played much better in 1950 but it was fairly dry and uneventful. It was written by the Dalton Trumbo (and a few others too) and it was more serious than some of the other over the top sci-fi pictures of the time.

This did feature Martians and a nonsensical plot that sees our astronaut heroes miss the moon, only to land on Mars. But at least this wasn’t overly hokey. At least, I didn’t think so. Granted, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more with big rubber suited monsters but I feel like this was a real attempt at making a sci-fi picture that was supposed to be seen as a more serious film than a movie played up for scares and to appeal to the pulp readers of the day.

In the end, Rocketship X-M is one of the better films to get riffed by Joel and the ‘Bots.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Other MST3K fodder that featured rocketships: Women of the Prehistoric PlanetProject Moonbase, The Phantom PlanetFirst Spaceship on Venus, etc.

Film Review: Caged (1950)

Also known as: Femmes en cage (France), Locked In (working title)
Release Date: May 19th, 1950 (New York premiere)
Directed by: John Cromwell
Written by: Bernard C. Schoenfeld, Virginia Kellogg
Based on:  Women Without Men by Kellogg and Schoenfeld
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby, Hope Emerson

Warner Bros., 96 Minutes

Review:

“Come on you tramps – line up for Christmas.” – Evelyn Harper

I discovered this film when it was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. While I guess it fits the loose rules of what a noir can be, it is more of a “women in prison” movie but twenty years before those sort of pictures were made primarily for sexploitation.

I didn’t know what to expect but this was very dramatic and a better film than what I was anticipating.

The main character, Marie Allen, is sent to prison for a crime she was a part of because she was in love with a shady guy. That guy was killed and Marie was punished for the crime, being institutionalized while being pregnant. The film sees the timid and shy Marie have to adjust to a hard prison life. She plays things by the book and hopes to be paroled early. However, she is denied parole, her mother also rejects the responsibility of having to raise Marie’s baby until she gets out and everything in Marie’s life falls apart because she is trapped behind bars, completely and utterly powerless.

It is the way that the story unfolds, though, that makes everything work so well. You really feel for Marie and your heart breaks in certain scenes but like Marie, you develop a harder demeanor and are right along with her when you want to see her push back against a corrupt system that is failing at its job of rehabilitating those it locks away.

Caged is a fine film with a lot of layers. It’s superbly written and Eleanor Parker really put this film on her back and carried it.

It has nothing special in the realm of cinematography but it is clean and the camerawork is still very good. It doesn’t employ a strong chiaroscuro vibe like other film-noirs.

I was pleasantly surprised by Caged and I was certainly glad to discover it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A male prison noir Brute Force, as well as other noir films The Narrow Margin and Side Street.