Film Review: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Release Date: July 26th, 1955 (Des Moines premiere)
Directed by: Charles Laughton
Written by: James Agee
Based on: The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb
Music by: Walter Schumann
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin

Paul Gregory Productions, United Artists, 92 Minutes

Review:

“There are things you do hate, Lord. Perfume-smellin’ things, lacy things, things with curly hair.” – Rev. Harry Powell

I hadn’t seen this since I was a kid but having revisited it now, I was torn as to which Robert Mitchum character was more evil, this one or his role as Max Cady in Cape Fear. Regardless of which you choose, there is no one from this era that quite stirs up the intimidating, creepy vibe like Robert Mitchum.

Mitchum is perfection in this film. Also, Shelley Winters was solid and just a heartbreaking character. The scenes the two shared were so uncomfortable that I’m sure it left the audiences of the 1950s pretty disturbed.

As unhinged and as crazy as Mitchum was in Cape Fear, I do think that his character here, the Reverend Harry Powell, gets the edge. For one, he always speaks about the word of God and God talking through him but he is an actual serial killer, driven by greed and willing to kill innocent women and children just to get a bag of money that his former cellmate hid before incarceration.

This is a truly chilling film and there are few scenes in motion picture history more effective than the moment where the runaway kids are hiding in the barn and see the silhouette of Mitchum on his horse, slowly trotting across the horizon line, singing his biblical songs while looking for them.

Additionally, the scene with Shelley Winters dead in the front seat of a car at the bottom of the river is shocking, even by today’s standards. At the same time, there is a real haunting beauty in that shot and it’s that moment that really takes this film from being a dark thriller to something a bit more enchanting and viciously surreal.

Another moment that really stuck out to me, visually, was when the kids escaped the basement with Mitchum running up the stairs, reaching out like a murderous madman trying to grab them. It’s a quick moment but I immediately equated Mitchum to a natural predator desperately lashing out with animal-like instinct.

The kid actors in this, who take up most of the screen time, are actually pretty incredible. Most kid actors are annoying, especially in the 1950s, but these two felt like real frightened kids from any era. And the bravery of the boy was both uncanny and inspiring.

The Night of the Hunter is a bonafide classic and for good reason. If you love Robert Mitchum and have never seen this, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice.

It boasts some of the best cinematography and lighting I’ve ever seen, as well as perfect set design and a mesmerizing tone that feels a bit fantastical but also gritty and real.

Man, I just love this movie.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the original Cape Fear, as well as some of Mitchum’s noir pictures: Out of the Past, Crossfire, Where Danger Lives, Angel Face and The Locket.

Film Review: This Island Earth (1955)

Also known as: Bloodlust In Outer Space (reissue title)
Release Date: June 10th, 1955 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joseph M. Newman, Jack Arnold
Written by: Franklin Coen, Edward G. O’Callaghan
Based on: This Island Earth by Raymond F. Jones
Music by: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein (all uncredited)
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason

Universal Pictures, Universal International, 86 Minutes

Review:

“It is indeed typical that you Earth people refuse to believe in the superiority of any world but your own. Children looking into a magnifying glass, imagining the image you see is the image of your true size.” – The Monitor

Sometimes Universal lumps this film into their Universal Monsters franchise. This is mainly due to the alien monster the Metaluna Mutant, who is one of their most iconic creations. However, as much as I like the monster and this film, it doesn’t fit within the general Universal Monsters style. Plus, this is more sci-fi than horror. Really, it isn’t horror at all, unless for some bizarre reason you are actually scared of the big brained rubber suit alien. Also, unlike the other Universal Monsters movies, this one is in color.

Also, this film has the distinction of being the only film that Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on the big screen, as it was the one featured in the MST3K movie. That film stars Mike Nelson and it came out between seasons 6 and 7, so it was devoid of TV’s Frank and hadn’t yet given us Pearl. But I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk specifically about This Island Earth. And to be completely honest, it is the film least deserving of getting roasted in the entire history of MST3K.

It’s not a bad movie for its time. It has hokey effects and doesn’t look as refined as some of the bigger sci-fi films of the time but it’s still imaginative and the effects work does its job for 1955.

The real highlight for me is the Metaluna Mutant but sadly, the monster doesn’t get much screen time. The bulk of the film deals with coming into contact with an alien society and then going into space to meet them. There is a sinister plot underneath it all but that doesn’t mean that every alien our Earthlings encounter is evil.

This used some pretty great matte paintings in several scenes and while it’s obvious, the art direction was really impressive and you do get immersed in this world.

I thought that the use of Technicolor was well done and it made this film flourish in a visual way that couldn’t have been achieved in standard black and white. The Metaluna Mutant certainly wouldn’t have looked as cool and its doubtful he would have become as iconic as he did without color. He probably would have just been filed away into the depths of old movie history with a slew of other black and white rubber aliens.

If you are into classic sci-fi from this great era, you’ll probably find this pretty enjoyable. It’s not the best film of its type but it is much better than average.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s alien threat movies: When Worlds CollideWar of the WorldsThe Day the Earth Stood StillIt Came From Outer Space and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Film Review: Rififi (1955)

Also known as: Du rififi chez les hommes (original French title)
Release Date: April 13th, 1955 (France)
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Auguste Le Breton, Jules Dassin, Rene Wheeler
Music by: Georges Auric
Cast: Jean Servais, Robert Hossein, Magali Noël, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, Marcel Lupovici, Robert Manuel, Carl Möhner, Marie Sabouret, Claude Sylvain, Jules Dassin (credited as Perlo Vita)

Pathé, 118 Minutes

Review:

“[to Tony about Cesar] For a job with you he’ll come. Cesar! There’s not a safe that can resist Cesar and not a woman that Cesar can resist.” – Mario Ferrati

Jules Dassin, a maestro of film-noir, was blacklisted from Hollywood. So he took his talents to France and made Du rififi chez les hommes or just Rififi.

Other Dassin fans have told me to watch this for quite a while now but I just got around to it because I have a giant laundry list of stuff that I need to watch. But I am glad that I did as this is now my favorite of Dassin’s crime pictures.

I think that this benefited from Dassin not being under the controlling eye of Hollywood execs. It felt more personal, much more gritty and allowed Dassin some creative freedom in an era where it didn’t really exist, at least in the United States.

The big heist sequence in this film was fantastic and one of the best I’ve ever seen. It takes up a big chunk of the second act of the picture but each shot was well crafted and every moment served a purpose and was interesting.

Seeing heists in film is really common nowadays but back in the mid-’50s it wasn’t. Dassin put great detail into this sequence and what makes it cool, seeing it all these years later, is that it isn’t high tech, it is much more hands on and displayed real cunning, as opposed to just some boffin on a laptop hacking cameras, lasers and safe codes.

I also thought that the acting in this was really good. All of the key players were able to express themselves without a lot of dialogue. You could read things on their face, which also made the experience more effective for English speaking audiences that have to see this film with subtitles.

The cinematography was top notch and a lot of that can be credited to the lighting. But ultimately, it was Dassin’s directorial prowess that brought all the pieces together in the right way, visually.

Between this film and Le Samouraï, I’m really digging French film-noir. For other fans of noir out there, or just Jules Dassin fans, this is certainly not a waste of your time and is pretty close to being a film-noir masterpiece.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other noir pictures by Jules Dassin: The Naked CityNight and the CityThieves’ Highway and Brute Force. Also, the French neo-noir Le Samouraï.

Film Review: The Phenix City Story (1955)

Release Date: July 19th, 1955 (premieres in Phenix City, AL; Columbus, GA; Chicago, IL)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Daniel Mainwaring, Crane Wilbur
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: John McIntire, Richard Kiley, Kathryn Grant

Allied Artists Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Rhett, I’m not stickin’ my neck out. Why should I? Phenix City has been what it is for 80, 90 years. Who am I to try to reform it?” – Albert L. Patterson

I have really come to like Phil Karlson’s work. When I was celebrating Noirvember here at Cinespiria, I checked out a few of his films, which were luckily streaming on FilmStruck. So, since there are more available to check out, I thought I’d give The Phenix City Story a shot, as I have read some good things about it.

Unfortunately, this is a film with multiple personality disorder. The first fifteen minutes or so is comprised of news interviews and I actually thought that this was going to be how the entire movie was presented. Talking heads, giving their accounts of the atrocities the mob in their small Alabama town committed. Luckily, this only took up fifteen minutes. But it was at least interesting, as it featured the real people who were a part of the true story this film is based on.

Once the real cinematic story started, it was pretty refreshing. However, even though I was interested in the subject matter the first half of the movie was really slow. But once the mob severely crossed the line with the murder of a young black girl, things picked up and got so intense that it was impossible to turn away. They even went on to murder another child and at that point, anything was possible because I never thought I’d see anything this graphic done to a child in a movie from this era.

The story is a retelling of the real events surrounding the 1954 assassination of Albert Patterson, a man who had just been elected Alabama Attorney General. He ran on the platform that he was going to cleanup Phenix City, which was controlled by the mob, who were running gambling establishments throughout the area. But with their presence came corruption, control and violence. The events in the film, including the assassination, led to the city having to go under martial law, where the state militia came in and ran the crooks out of town.

Seeing 1950s Alabama culture was pretty intriguing. I never knew this story’s details and it was captivating seeing it unfold onscreen. Ultimately, it is about a community having enough of the unlawful tyrants that ruled over them and finally pushing back.

The high points in this film are really good but it feels very disjointed and the early parts made it hard for the narrative energy to get going. Once it does get going though, you’re locked in.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other Karlson film-noirs: Kansas City Confidential99 River Street, etc.

Film Review: To Catch A Thief (1955)

Release Date: August 5th, 1955
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: John Michael Hayes
Based on: To Catch A Thief by David Dodge
Music by: Lyn Murray
Cast: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Charles Vanel, Brigitte Auber

Paramount Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“For what it’s worth, I never stole from anybody who would go hungry.” – John Robie

This is a Hitchcock film that I had never seen and the best part is that I got to check it out on the big screen. It’s also no secret that I love Hitchcock, especially his films from this era. While this is a magnificent movie, it isn’t quite on the level of Rear Window, which came out a year earlier and also starred Grace Kelly. Still, it is a fine movie in every regard.

To Catch A Thief teams up Grace Kelly with Hitchcock favorite Cary Grant. Grant plays a famous retired jewel thief. As he pounces around the French Riviera, a new jewel thief appears and draws the ire of the law and the rich citizens of this old Mediterranean beach community. Grant wants to solve the mystery, as he is the prime suspect, and wants to continue on the straight and narrow path. Grace Kelly figures out who he is and we get a big mix up and a real whodunit mystery, as Grant races to uncover the truth behind the robberies.

While Hitchcock was a master of mise-en-scène, especially in his use of color, this is one of his more vivid looking pictures. The use of greens and the colorful flair was well executed. Hitchcock and his cinematographer Robert Burks outdid themselves in creating and capturing the majestic allure of the French Riviera. The fireworks scene is especially captivating.

The chemistry between Grant and Kelly was uncanny. Kelly is always pretty close to perfect in her work with Hitchcock and Grant was always a top notch Hollywood star that brought his charm, wit and gravitas to every role he played. The rest of the cast was also a lot of fun and had a good camaraderie with Grant and Kelly, especially Kelly’s mother, played by Jessie Royce Landis. I absolutely loved Landis in this picture.

The pace of the film is a bit shaky though. It moves along swiftly for the most part but there are a few areas in the film where it feels like the narrative is put on hold or stagnates. When you get to the end however, you realize the importance of some of these scenes. But the film does employ a lot of misdirection, which was done pretty effectively.

Compared to Hitchcock’s other work from this era, To Catch A Thief is a lightweight. It doesn’t cast a heavy and ominous shadow over the proceedings but that’s kind of what’s cool about it. The film is certainly one of Hitchcock’s funnest outings. At its core, it is a quirky romantic adventure filled with mystery and the geographical beauty of a James Bond picture. Ultimately, it is a fun and exciting movie with a lot of attractive things to be swept away by.

Film Review: Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Also known as: Gojira no gyakushû, lit. Counterattack of Godzilla (Japan), Gigantis the Fire Monster (US – original title)
Release Date: April 24th, 1955 (Japan)
Directed by: Motoyoshi Oda
Written by: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Shigeaki Hidaka
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura

Toho, 81 Minutes

Review:

Godzilla Raids Again was a quickly pushed out sequel to the original Gojira. And like its predecessor, the film was shot in black and white, making it the only film in the franchise, apart from the original, that wasn’t released in color.

In the United States, despite the success of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the American re-edit of Gojira, this film didn’t take the Godzilla name and was initially release as Gigantis the Fire Monster. In fact, English dubbed versions of the film still make reference to the monster being called “Gigantis”.

This film introduced the beloved kaiju Anguirus, who fought Godzilla in this picture but would go on to be a top ally for decades. And this is actually the film that gave birth to kaiju battles, as the previous Godzilla picture only featured the title monster.

Compared to the original, which was an exceptional motion picture, this is a very poor sequel to it. While it was successful, maybe Toho wasn’t keen on its quality, as Godzilla was shelved for seven years until he was brought back to battle King Kong in one of the best kaiju epics of all-time.

There are several reasons why this film is lacking compared to the two chapters that sandwich it.

To start, while tokusatsu master Eiji Tsuburaya did handle the special effects, some mistakes were made during the production. The frame rate of the camera was not set correctly and the big kaiju battles are fast paced to the point that the monsters move around at impossible speeds and it almost plays like a slapstick comedy segment every time that Godzilla and Anguirus tie-up. It just looks hokey and doesn’t match up with the action of any other Toho kaiju picture. Plus, it is missing audio effects and the battles just sort of happen to music, looking like a goofy spastic dance.

Another reason why the film suffers is that Godzilla mastermind Ishirō Honda was not behind the camera. Additionally, the script was written by people that weren’t mainstays in the franchise in the same way that Shinichi Sekizawa and Takeshi Kimura were.

The film is still enjoyable for Godzilla fans and it does have its positives.

Toho regulars Hiroshi Koizumi and Takashi Shimura star in the picture and give good performances.

Also, the overall visual look of the film is fairly solid. The scene where Godzilla comes to shore and the military fills the sky with flares looks really cool and holds up well. Also, the scene where Godzilla is walking through the snow covered valley, surrounded by icy mountains, is a beautiful sight where the contrast between the monster and his environment is enhanced by the black and white presentation.

In the long history of Godzilla films, this one is mostly forgettable other than the debut of Anguirus and the kaiju versus kaiju concept that would become the standard in just about every kaiju movie made after this one.

Film Review: King Dinosaur (1955)

Release Date: June 7th, 1955
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: Bert I. Gordon, Tom Gries, Al Zimbalist
Music by: Louis Palange, Gene Garf (uncredited)
Cast: William Bryant, Wanda Curtis, Douglas Henderson, Patti Gallagher

Lippert Pictures, 63 Minutes

Review:

Bert I. Gordon was one of the most prolific b-movie sci-fi and horror directors of the 1950s and 1960s. While he isn’t as well known as William Castle, he still put out a lot of pictures at the same time. Unfortunately for Gordon, his films aren’t nearly as good as Castle’s and many of them were actually lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000, this being one of those films. He may actually be the director that has the most films riffed on MST3K, as his tally sits at eight… eight!

Gordon had to start somewhere and this is it. King Dinosaur is his first picture, as sole director. He co-directed Serpent Island with Tom Gries a year earlier.

This was not a good start but the film apparently didn’t hurt Gordon, as he continued to direct through the 1980s but none of his later films are really known.

King Dinosaur holds a 1.9 rating on IMDb, which is absolutely abysmal. Is it that bad though? Well, yes.

The picture is incredibly tough to get through, even when watching it on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Some films should be too awful for them to even attempt to make fun of and this should be on that list. It is so boring and horrendous that North Koreans use it to torture South Korean hikers that accidentally cross the border.

There is nothing positive about this film other than its short running time. 63 minutes is still too damn long though. Hell, the trailer below is too damn long.

The movie is a bad mixture of horrendous acting, terrible sound and an overabundance of poorly used stock footage. But at least they used a real snake in a scene, even though it wasn’t exciting or all that suspenseful.

I’d feel bad for Bert I. Gordon but somehow he turned this turd into a long career behind the camera.

Before I end this review, I have to run this rotten turkey through the Cinespiria Shitometer. My trusty machine is a little miffed that I gave it this picture to calculate, however. Oh well, it has one job to do and this is it! Alright, here are the results… King Dinosaur comes out as a “Type 1 Stool: Seperate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”