Film Review: Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Release Date: June 16th, 1955 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Written by: Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, Don DaGradi
Based on: Happy Dan, The Cynical Dog by Ward Greene
Music by: Oliver Wallace
Cast: Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Dallas McKennon, Bill Baucom, Verna Felton, Peggy Lee

Buena Vista Film Distribution, Walt Disney Productions, 76 Minutes

Review:

“(repeated line) As my grandpappy, Ol’ Reliable, used to say… I don’t recollect if I ever mentioned Ol’ Reliable before?” – Trusty

As I started reviewing Disney’s classic animated features from the beginning, I wondered where their distribution partnership with RKO Radio Pictures would end. I guess it’s here, as this is the first film distributed by Buena Vista, which was created to be the distribution arm of the Disney company.

While that might not seem as if it is important to the final film, it could possibly be a reason as to why this one feels like a slight step down in quality for what Disney had been putting out, at the time. However, following up Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan couldn’t have been easy.

Also, that’s not to say that this is bad or unworthy of the Disney brand. Lady and the Tramp is still one of the best animated films of its time and deservedly considered a classic.

In fact, this is one of the classic Disney films that I watched the most, as a kid. I always liked the characters, the story and yes, even the romance. Honestly, this may have been my first experience seeing romance play out in a film. Well, it was at least the first romantic movie I probably paid attention to.

The animation is great and I also like the few songs in the film. However, the movie plays more like a sequence of events without much tying them together. At least, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the larger arc of the story and it almost feels like there isn’t one. Things happen, dogs fall in love and eventually, they live together and have babies. All of this, however, just felt like things that happened around random scenes.

I guess it didn’t need to have a clear objective and can be brushed off as just peaking into these two dogs’ lives for a bit but its lack of real structure and narrative progression does effect the quality.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Disney animated films of the 1950s.

Film Review: The Mummy (1959)

Release Date: August 1st, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Franz Reizenstein
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Michael Ripper

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes (original), 86 Minutes

Review:

“He who robs the graves of Egypt dies!” – Mehemet Bey

Since I’ve reviewed the entirety of Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein films, I figured that this classic monster reboot series also needed to be revisited.

Coming off of the heels of The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula, Hammer got the same creative team back together and took a shot at resurrecting The Mummy in their own, original way.

It also helped that they brought back both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for this one, making it feel like the third part in a trilogy of films where Hammer was showing tribute to the Universal Monsters franchise that kicked off in the 1930s.

I actually love that this is its own thing and it’s not trying to remake 1932’s The Mummy with Boris Karloff. It just takes the concept and gives the audience a fresh, new story. Sure, there are obvious similarities but this picture has a unique visual aesthetic and frankly, it’s one of the best looking Hammer movies of all-time. I also say that as someone that already loves the visual style of the studio’s classic films.

While I would rank this below the first Dracula and Frankenstein films, it’s still pretty damn good and it’s certainly the best of the Hammer Mummy series.

I enjoyed the characters and I especially liked the look of Christopher Lee’s mummy. The makeup was impressive for 1959 and Lee is such a good physical actor that his mummy is one of my favorites of all-time. While I don’t feel that he gets the same level of admiration as Karloff’s version of the monster, I’d say that his is on the same level and possibly a bit better due to his size and how imposing he is. Lee’s mummy just looks and feels stronger than Karloff’s and there is just something more sinister about him.

Ultimately, this is a solid Hammer horror flick. For fans of the studio and classic monsters, it is definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in Hammer’s Mummy series, as well as other Hammer films of the time.

Film Review: Peter Pan (1953)

Release Date: February 5th, 1953
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Written by: Milt Banta, Bill Cottrell, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright
Based on: Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
Music by: Oliver Wallace
Cast: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske

RKO Radio Pictures, Walt Disney Productions, 77 Minutes

Review:

“All this has happened before, and it will all happen again. But this time it happened in London. It happened on a quiet street in Bloomsbury. That corner house over there is the home of the Darling family. And Peter Pan chose this particular house because there were people here who believed in him.” – Narrator

This used to be one of my favorite Disney animated features when I was young. It’s still damn good and I’d consider it one of the best but it doesn’t quite hit me in the same way, now that I’m an adult. Although, I still appreciate it and its message about embracing the youthful parts of your spirit, especially for those of us who are much older than the kids in the story.

Overall, this is a good, fantastical, swashbuckling adventure. It features pirates, Native Americans and a group of kids that are trying to be a force for good in the fantasy land that they inhabit. Most importantly, it’s just a feel good movie that is fun to escape into for 77 minutes.

The thing I really like about it, as a fan of this style of animation, is the overall look and vibe of the movie.

I love the character design, the design of the locations and the animation, itself, is really damn good, propelling the Disney standard to new heights, once again.

At this point, Disney had mastered fluidity in its use of motion. It makes me further appreciate how great the company and its animators were, almost seventy years ago and more than thirty years before the PIXAR computer animated style became the norm. This is also why 2-D animation of this style is still and will always be my favorite.

Peter Pan is just amusing and entertaining from top-to-bottom. It’s stood the test of time, greatly, and it has spawned an eternal interest in the characters and its world that movies based off of it are still made today. While this is based off of the J.M. Barrie book, I truly believe that it is this film that kept Barrie’s creation alive for future generations.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Disney animated films of the 1950s.

Film Review: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Release Date: July 26th, 1951 (London premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Written by: Milt Banta, Del Connell, Bill Cottrell, Joe Grant, Winston Hibler, Dick Huemer, Dick Kelsey, Tom Oreb, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, John Walbridge
Based on: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
Music by: Oliver Wallace
Cast: Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Richard Haydn, Sterling Holloway, Jerry Colonna, Verna Felton, J. Pat O’Malley, Bill Thompson, Joseph Kearns, Dink Trout, James MacDonald

RKO Radio Pictures, Walt Disney Productions, 75 Minutes

Review:

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” – Alice

Growing up, Alice In Wonderland was my favorite animated Disney film after Sleeping Beauty. I’ll get into that other film’s greatness when I review it in the near future.

Getting back to Alice, I always saw it as the most bizarre and fun film in Disney’s massive catalog. Always being an artist, I also loved it’s surrealist approach to storytelling and its unique art style and clever design.

It’s still a solid film and one of the best of its era. I don’t know if I still hold it as high in the Disney oeuvre, as I once did, but it’s still really high up on my list because out of all the Disney animated features, it offers up the best type of escapism. In fact, that’s really what the movie is about, as a young girl escapes into her mind (or does she?) to help pass the time on a fairly mundane day.

I think that escapism is important and it seems lost in the modern world where entertainment is almost always injected with political and social messages to the point where escapism seems impossible, even in the realm of entertainment. Essentially, entertainment has stopped being entertainment but I’m also not here to harp on that, as I’m now doing the same thing that I’m criticizing.

Alice In Wonderland is a beautiful and energetic film that moves at a quick pace and actually does a lot with a short running time.

It’s just amusing from start to finish and full of bonkers characters, crazy situations and it captivates the imagination in a great way. You don’t have to think too hard or really at all. You can just get lost in the absurdity of this vivid and visually pleasing tale. It’s almost impossible to watch this film, even repeatedly, and not end with a smile on your face.

This film, for what it is, is near perfect. It absolutely accomplished what it set out to do and that’s probably why it has stood the test of time and is one of the most beloved Disney animated classics that typically finds itself near the top of most people’s list.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Disney animated films of the 1950s.

Film Review: Cinderella (1950)

Release Date: February 15th, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson
Written by: Ken Anderson, Perce Pearce, Homer Brightman, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Harry Reeves, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Maurice Rapf (uncredited)
Based on: Cinderella by Charles Perrault
Music by: Oliver Wallace, Paul J. Smith
Cast: Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Rhoda Williams, James MacDonald, Luis van Rooten, Don Barclay, Mike Douglas, William Phipps, Lucille Bliss

RKO Radio Pictures, Walt Disney Productions, 74 Minutes

Review:

“[to the clocktower chiming] Oh, that clock! Old killjoy. I hear you. “Come on, get up,” you say, “Time to start another day.” Even he orders me around. Well, there’s one thing. They can’t order me to stop dreaming.” – Cinderella

Cinderella was the first full-length, non-anthology Disney feature film in nearly a decade. It also kicked off what many have considered to be the greatest era in Disney history.

Getting back to feature-length storytelling, Disney was able to tell a better, more fleshed out, cohesive tale. Additionally, the company’s animators and conceptual artists didn’t have to stretch themselves too thin, as all their focus got to go into one story.

While I don’t know if more man hours went into this or the anthology films before it, the animation, here, is a step up from what Disney has done previously.

You really notice it in regards to the facial features and movements of the characters. Emotion is conveyed so well and everyone in the film wears their thoughts on their face, even if they don’t say anything. While that might not seem like a big deal in 2020, seventy years later, it’s really noticeable if you go back and watch all of these movies in release order, as I have been doing.

Now the plot is kind of a paint-by-numbers fairy tale but being that this was the first real “princess” movie, this is the film that really created the tropes and what has become the patented Disney style with their “princess” features.

The story is pretty basic but it’s also very effective. You feel for Cinderella and her situation and you want to see this pure soul find a much better life for herself. Her optimism and her attitude shine through and this is a story about never giving up hope and trying to be the best person you can be in spite of difficult situations.

A lot of people have come along over the years and talked down Disney movies like this for creating a culture where young girls are just waiting for a prince to come and save them. I’ve always thought that was bullshit and people who think that way just don’t understand films like Cinderella and just project their own world view on it. Besides, they obviously didn’t pick up on the optimism part and would rather play victim and blame a seventy year-old cartoon for their problems. But I digress.

Cinderella isn’t quite a masterpiece and Disney, in my opinion, has made much better films in their classic animated style. However, it is an important and historically significant one in setting the stage for what was to come from one of the greatest studios to ever exist.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Disney animated films of the 1950s.

Film Review: Hell Bound (1957)

Also known as: Cargo X, Dope Ship (working titles)
Release Date: October, 1957
Directed by: William J. Hole Jr.
Written by: Richard H. Landau, Arthur E. Orloff
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: John Russell, June Blair, Stuart Whitman, Margo Woode, George E. Mather

Bel-Air Productions, Clark Productions, 69 Minutes

Review:

Someone, but I forgot who, told me that Hell Bound was a hidden noir gem at the end of the classic film-noir era. While it’s okay, I thought it was hardly a gem.

From a criminal scheme standpoint, the film is intriguing, as it follows a gang plotting to rob a cargo ship carrying two million dollars worth of narcotics left over from World War II. Although, by 1957, those drugs may have expired or turned extra deadly. Adjusted for inflation, though, that two million is over eighteen million in 2020.

The heist falls apart when one of the gang member’s girlfriend falls in love with an ambulance driver who has been set up to be a pawn in the scheme.

I think the only real high point in the film is the finale. It sees a big confrontation that takes place at the Los Angeles Harbor, where, at the time, it was the resting place of hundreds of scrapped trolleys.

The film is competently shot, fairly well acted but it doesn’t offer up much that is notable outside of the climax and the scope of the heist.

As far as noir pictures go, it’s not bad but it’s far from great. Mostly, it’s forgettable.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s.

Film Review: Quicksand! (1950)

Also known as: Gungfly (Sweden)
Release Date: March 24th, 1950
Directed by: Irving Pichel
Written by: Robert Smith
Music by: Louis Gruenberg
Cast: Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Barbara Bates, Peter Lorre, Jack Elam (uncredited)

Samuel H. Stiefel Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

“Now, wait a minute! Don’t holler ’til you hurt!” – Daniel ‘Dan’ Brady

Quicksand was pretty highly touted in a few books I read on classic film-noir. However, I found it to be a bit pedestrian and drab.

Now the performances by most of the main cast were good, especially Peter Lorre, but Mickey Rooney was kind of a distraction, as I just didn’t find his character to be believable. That may also be because I’m watching this through modern eyes and I mostly only know Rooney through his work, later in his career.

It was just hard for me to buy into him in this but that’s also a moot point when the picture itself isn’t very engaging, has a really basic plot and also has really predictable twists and turns.

The film is also very short, which isn’t a big deal, especially with smaller noir productions of the time but there is such a lack of story that even with a scant running time, it feels like there are scenes that are too drawn out. It feels like the script was 60 pages and they tried their damnedest to stretch it to the length of a film with 80 to 100 pages.

Still, it’s not bad. It’s passable and fairly competent from a technical standpoint. There just isn’t a whole lot here to care about or sink your teeth into. There’s a hundred classic noir pictures that are better than this one.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other noir B-movies of the ’40s and ’50s.

Film Review: Panic In the Streets (1950)

Also known as: Outbreak, Port of Entry (working titles), Quarantine (script title)
Release Date: July 1st, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy, Daniel Fuchs, Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel

Twentieth Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“You know, my mother always told me if you looked deep enough in anybody… you’d always find some good, but I don’t know.” – Lt. Cmdr. Clinton ‘Clint’ Reed M.D., “With apologies to your mother, that’s the second mistake she made.” – Capt. Tom Warren

While most urban film-noir pictures take place in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Chicago, it’s always cool to see one set in another city. In the case of this film, we’re taken to one of the most interesting and entertaining cities in the world: New Orleans.

I love New Orleans and it’s really neat seeing a film that was shot in that city’s streets circa 1950. It’s a very different place from what it would become but at the same time, it has such a rich history and really it’s own style that all of that comes through and gives you one of the most unique looking urban noir pictures ever made.

The film also gave us the debut of Jack Palance, who would go on to be one of the greatest character actors of all-time, as well as a multiple Academy Award nominee.

On top of that, we get such incredible performances from Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas that just on acting alone, this eclipses most of the other noir pictures of its day. Add in superb direction from a true maestro, Elia Kazan, and you’ve got a true classic.

While it’s not a masterpiece, it was a gritty, energetic and engaging motion picture from the first frame to the last.

The City of New Orleans really becomes a character in the film and apart from Kazan’s visual style, I think a lot of the credit also has to go to cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who has a pretty impressive filmography, himself.

The story is about stopping a potential outbreak, as a small crew of criminals murders a man and it’s discovered that the victim had pneumonic plague. This forces a police captain and a military doctor to have to begrudgingly work together in an effort to solve the mystery of the man’s execution, find his killers and stop a pandemic from happening in New Orleans.

This is a movie that packs a real narrative punch that is punctuated by an incredible finale in a banana factory. In fact, there’s so much squeezed into this energetic and very layered film that I’m surprised they were able to get it all in the movie at just 96 minutes.

It is well-paced and even if it moves by fairly rapidly, Kazan did a masterful job in executing his vision on the screen and with real energy.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other noir pictures of the era, as well as Elia Kazan’s other films.

Film Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Also known as: Walter Wanger’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (complete title), The Came From Another World, The Body Snatchers (working titles), Sleep No More (Germany)
Release Date: February 5th, 1956
Directed by: Don Siegel
Written by: Daniel Mainwaring
Based on: The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
Music by: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Sam Peckinpah

Walter Wanger Productions, Allied Artists Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next, You’re next…!” – Dr. Miles J. Bennell

The Body Snatchers story has been adapted at least a half dozen times over the years. Most of them have been pretty meh but this one, the original version, is pretty great for what it is and it is one of the best science fiction films of its era.

Honestly, when compared to what was the 1950s sci-fi norm, this film is pretty exceptional and it sort of legitimizes sci-fi film in a time where they were mostly ignored by critics and looked down upon as cheap, pulpy schlock made for kids that were rotting their brains reading comic books.

This isn’t my favorite version of the story but it only falls behind the ’70s remake with Donald Sutherland, which was pretty close to masterpiece levels.

My first experience with this film came when scenes from it were featured in Joe Dante’s Gremlins from 1984. Those scenes sort of enthralled my young mind and I remember asking my dad where they were from and he told me and then showed me this film when it popped up on television one night. It is probably one of the things that really got me into classic horror and sci-fi.

The film, unlike others like it, is actually well acted, well shot and it comes across as a competent, bigger budget movie. It feels as if it was put out by a major studio but it wasn’t. It was made by Walter Wanger Productions and then got distribution by the larger Allied Artists.

The story is creepy as hell and it’s still effective, even if this film couldn’t get as dark and harsh as some of the remakes.

Ultimately, this is a superb looking motion picture that eclipsed its similar competition and helped to move science fiction cinema forward.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s alien paranoia and atomic era science fiction.

Film Review: Clash by Night (1952)

Release Date: May 30th, 1952 (limited)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Alfred Hayes
Based on: Clash by Night by Clifford Odets
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Andes, Silvio Minciotti, J. Carrol Naish

Wald/Krasna Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“What do you want, Joe, my life’s history? Here it is in four words: big ideas, small results.” – Mae Doyle

While I love the hell out of Fritz Lang movies, especially his noir films, as well as just about anything that Barbara Stanwyck has done, this film mostly missed the mark for me.

This also has Marilyn Monroe and Robert Ryan in it too but regardless of the film’s star power, I found it mostly dull and sort of wrecked by Paul Douglas, who had me wanting to kill him by the third act of the picture.

Now I haven’t seen much with Paul Douglas in it, except for the original Angels In the Outfield, but he really started grating on my nerves due to how overly intense he was once he lost his shit due to his wife running around with Robert Ryan behind his back.

Sure, I understand the guy would be pissed but he wrecks the scenes he’s in by acting like a bull in a china shop. That might not be Douglas’ fault though, as Lang probably thought that it was effective, as he was sitting behind the camera directing these scenes. I guess my biggest issue with it is that it pulls you out of the picture and diminishes the great performance by Stanwyck, who felt like she was whispering her lines next to a madman with a bullhorn.

Still, it’s hard not to sympathize with Douglas’ character and maybe that’s just the magic of it all and Fritz Lang got the performance that he wanted out of him. And maybe I didn’t see how effective it was until that final scene that closed out the film, which had a surprisingly pleasant conclusion and made my heart warm for the two leads.

This isn’t the type of noir I fancy the most, however, as I like gritty crime stories. This one is more about a woman that creates human wreckage in her wake but starts to realize that she’s found something she didn’t even know she needed. Unfortunately for her, at least at first, she learns this way too late, after her selfish impulses have caused a lot of damage.

For those who prefer noir pictures that focus more on human romance, this will most assuredly be your cup of tea. It’s hard to deny how great Stanwyck, Ryan, Monroe and J. Carrol Naish are in this. And while this isn’t close to Fritz Lang’s best, you leave the film fairly satisfied with how it all turns out, which is kind of odd and unique for the noir genre.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the era, especially those featuring Barbara Stanwyck or Robert Ryan or directed by Fritz Lang.