For Reel

3:10 to Yuma (1957)
July 28, 2016, 6:37 pm
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Director: Delmer Daves
2.5 Stars
310 to YumaAlong with High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma became one of the defining films in a decade that sought to elevate the western above its supposedly simple roots and into something more grounded in complex character psychologies and social realism. Heroes and villains were no longer as clearly distinguished, and rather than the Old West serving as the setting where honor was upheld and alliances were unbreakable, in the 1950s the west becomes an entirely isolating environment defined by self-interest. Whereas Delmer Daves made a terrific argument for the “new” western in the previous year’s Jubal (which transplanted a Sirkian psychosexual melodrama into a western setting), 3:10 to Yuma never feels anything less than strained. Despite the drive towards realism, an overbearing score evokes a pompous grandiosity that Daves is unable to resist steering clear of. Moreover, as beautifully composed as many of the images are, the visual strategies within a scene is often a mess—due to jarring cuts and poorly conceived angle choices, it is frequently disorienting trying to spatially relate characters to one another and their surroundings. As with the worst tendencies of Stanley Kramer, Daves matches his social messages with a need for audio-visual “importance”, playing up a desired level of prestige that lacks the resonance of the supposedly dated westerns of years past.

The Black Scorpion (1957)
June 12, 2016, 11:15 am
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Director: Edward Ludwig
2 Stars
The Black ScorpionAs Hollywood is wont to do, the first response to the great success of Them! was to milk a new genre of Big Bug creature features, ignoring all that made Gordon Douglas’ masterpiece a classic and instead assuming it was merely the spectacle giant insects that made the film connect so thoroughly with audiences. The Black Scorpion isn’t the worst of imitations—as with Them!, it spends an admirable amount of time creating an atmospheric, mysterious tone before the monsters appear, and once they do they are animations supervised by the great Willis O’Brien. When, in the climax, a giant scorpion repeatedly pulls helicopters from the sky and stings them with its tail, the action has an incredible sense of weight and force to it, thanks in large part to how the scorpion’s body nearly folds in on itself during the movement. Fans of stop motion will also be delighted to see several other creatures that were leftovers from King Kong over two decades previous—one, a trapdoor spider, terrorizes a young boy. But The Black Scorpion proves the old adage that sometimes less is more. By the time the scorpions finally appear, they occupy nearly every frame of the picture. Even the most impressive creature won’t maintain viewer interest when it is meant to be gawked at for an hour straight. Similarly, the politics aren’t as rich as Them! (although the film does indeed champion the need for cooperation between disparate groups), and a romantic subplot is dead in the water.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)
February 22, 2016, 2:26 pm
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Director: Frank Tashlin
4.5 Stars
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?Director Frank Tashlin has been championed as the key comic voice of a decade, an auteur who captured the obsessions of 1950s America as succinctly and critically as Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch did in the decades before him. Here, Tashlin’s aim is at American advertising, and particularly how things are packaged and sold to the masses. The running gag of the film is that Tony Randall, as the eponymous Rockwell P. Hunter, has become a sex symbol known as “Lover Doll” due to his relationship with buxom starlet Rita Marlow (Jayne Mansfield). Mobs of women chase after him in a preview of Beatlemania to come, and in one sequence, in which he’s told to dress appropriately to suit his image, he wears both heeled shoes and a ludicrously full-shouldered sport coat. The gag is especially biting when juxtaposed with Mansfield–the joke being that he’s getting put through exactly what a star like her would be. Moreover, he’s subject to humiliation by becoming more and more like the image he’s being sold and, now, is meant to sell. The climactic setpiece, “Mr. Successful, You’ve Got It Made!”, is a surreal sendup of the very idea of success, where Randall has finally got the job he’s been looking for but ultimately finds himself impotent. Tashlin films the sequence with an insistence on primary colors–the office the number takes place in is pitch-black except for the colored spotlights–and in one case uses jump cuts to accentuate Randall’s nightmarish failure to live up to his own ideal. In the use of color and editing, the sequence seems ripped straight from the French New Wave, with Tashlin’s cartoonish imaginings pushing the limits of what cinema can be and, more importantly, predicting where it would soon go.

Aparajito (1957)
June 17, 2015, 10:24 pm
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Director: Satyajit Ray
4.5 Stars
AparajitoThe second installment of Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy sees Apu (Smaran Ghosal) and his family leaving the village for the city of Benares. In the early moments, Apu has already become more a central figure in the story, with his wandering through alleys and the riverside obsessively followed by cinematographer Subrata Mitra. While Pather Panchali promised that there was a world outside, Aparajito begins by thrusting Apu into a playground of development, drawing him further and further away from his roots. There’s a greater interest in these early sequences in framing Apu within long shots, a means of physically demonstrating the growth of his world. He’s a figure in a landscape, sometimes even a boy lost in a crowd. As the mother, Karuna Banerjee becomes an even more tragic figure in this installment, with a sense of repetition happening as it seems as though she is doomed to the fate suffered by auntie in the first installment. The final sequence, in which Apu returns home and searches for his mother after studying for some time in Calcutta, is among the most powerful of the trilogy. What once was home now seems alien to him, a desolate wasteland of broken walls.

A Face in the Crowd (1957)
April 3, 2011, 2:28 pm
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Director: Elia Kazan

Fifty four years since its release, Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd has not only remained relevant, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Schulberg and Kazan had successfully predicted much of what television would do to the American political consciousness. Characters like Glenn Beck (whom Keith Olbermann dubbed “Lonesome Rhodes Beck”) continue to exemplify the interaction between propagandistic media and politics. Kazan, always known as an actor’s director, brought tremendous performances out of the bitter Walter Matthau, the allegiant Patricia Neal, and most memorably, an astonishing turn by comedian Andy Griffith, who delivers one of the screen’s most enduring characters. While much has been said about Griffith (and deservedly so), Neal serves as a surrogate for the audience, whose loyalty to Rhodes is constantly challenged by Matthau, the closest thing there is to a moral compass in the film. Despite the want to demonize Lonesome Rhodes, Kazan never settled for distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys, and for that reason many of his characters have continued to leave lasting impressions.