The Caine Mutiny (1954)

caine

Starring: Robert Francis, Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, Jose Ferrer, Tom Tully, E.G. Marshall, Lee Marvin

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Summary: Naval officers begin to suspect their captain is insane

Other Nominations: Actor (Bogart), Supporting Actor (Tully), Adapted Screenplay, Dramatic/Comedy Score, Sound Recording, Film Editing

Positives

-Bogart’s performance is clearly the best part of the movie and his part is well-written. As opposed to Captain Bligh from Mutiny on the Bounty, Captain Queeg is mentally ill instead of just being cruel and evil which is a huge difference. Instead of just being the flat-out villain, he’s played as more of a pitiable and sympathetic character, someone who has enough moments of mental clarity and seemingly genuine remorse that you feel at least a little sorry for him even if he is clearly not fit for duty. Bogart does a great job of never going too overboard into raving lunatic territory and letting his character build from overly-obsessed with order to irrational and dangerous.

-The courtroom scenes which make up the last 30 minutes or so were my favorite part of the movie, as we get the best moments of drama and tension, and the best scenes from both Bogart and MacMurray, who also gives a strong performance in the movie.

Negatives

-I listed Francis as the first star because he has the most screentime, has the only subplot, and most of the story is told from his perspective. Francis is handsome, but not much else distinguishes him and he’s by far the weakest of the major players. Francis sadly would only act in four films before his death in 1955 from a plane crash at age 25.

-The courtroom scenes are the most memorable, but only end up making a very small part of the movie (about 20 minutes). The rest is just pretty good.

Overall

This is a very solid movie marked by a really strong performance by Humphrey Bogart, but unfortunately let down by the casting of its most used star.

Rating: B-

The Country Girl (1954)

country

Starring: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, William Holden

Director: George Seaton

Summary: A director hires a has-been and strikes up a stormy relationship with the actor’s wife

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Crosby), Actress (Kelly)*, Adapted Screenplay*, B&W Art Direction, B&W Cinematography

Positives

-I thought the screenplay was really strong for most of the movie. The movie is structured in a way where we’re given a limited amount of information to start about Crosby and Kelly (the couple at the heart of the story), and it leads us down a path of thinking that we slowly discover is incorrect. The way they do it though is smart: they they don’t resort to any cheap tricks to do it, they instead just limit our perspective and slowly expand it, along with a third character who reinforces our initial view. The characters are solid even if not wholly original, and the dialogue is good throughout.

-This movie produced two Oscar upsets: Some expected Crosby to win Best Actor (but lost to Marlon Brando for our next film, a decision history has vindicated), and Kelly was a massive upset as Best Actress (Judy Garland for the remake of A Star is Born was considered such a lock that they put cameras in her hospital room where she had just given birth so she could give her acceptance speech there). Ironically, I think Holden gives the best performance even if he’s by far the weakest character; Crosby and Kelly got nominations because they play more interesting characters and play against type. I liked all three leads, but Kelly was probably the weakest, with her line reading feeling off some of the time.

Negatives

-The movie tailed off a lot in the last act, as the buildup was much more interesting than the aftermath. For one, it shifts style and feels like a by-the-book romantic melodrama and loses its edge. Second, there’s a plot point that develops out of nowhere and it really hurts Kelly’s character for me who was very strong up until this point.

-There are a number of musical numbers in the movie, which mostly makes sense: they had Bing Crosby, and the movie centers around him being in a musical. However, having standard musical numbers clashes with the tone of the rest of the movie and I think it would have been better without them.

Overall

This is a well-written drama with some good performances even if it limps to the finish line

Rating: B

*On the Waterfront (1954)*

waterfront

Starring: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint (in her film debut), Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger

Director: Elia Kazan

Summary: A young stevedore takes on the mobster who rules the docks

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Brando)*, Supporting Actor (Cobb), Supporting Actor (Malden), Supporting Actor (Steiger), Supporting Actress (Saint)*, Original Screenplay*, Dramatic/Comedy Score, B&W Art Direction*, B&W Cinematography*, Film Editing*

Positives

-Lots of great performances. Brando deservedly won the Oscar for his restrained, natural and sensitive performance, proving again that he could play most anything around this time with equal success: his roles in A Streetcar Named Desire, Julius Caesar and On the Waterfront are all completely different and he’s great in all of them. Lee J. Cobb was always great playing scumbags and for whatever I think about his character, Malden is very good as well playing a local Priest. Saint made her debut here and won the Oscar for Supporting Actress despite clearly being a lead, but the studio lobbying paid off. She was fine, but I didn’t find her to be exceptional or anything.

-Terry Malloy (Brando) and his story of personal redemption is classic and memorable storytelling, with a fully fleshed-out character whose character progression feels realistic. especially towards the end where we get a lot of powerful scenes.

-I liked the score a lot, especially the highly unusual for the time jazzy music during the more exciting moments.

Negatives

-I really don’t like Karl Malden’s character. All he does throughout the movie is tell these longshoremen that they need to take a stand against the corrupt union and he looks down on them for taking it silently; the problem is that he has very little skin in the game compared to them: while the people who do try to take a stand are getting murdered or beaten within an inch of their lives, what’s the worst thing that he suffers through? Getting a brick thrown through the window of his church and someone throws a half-empty beer can at his head? C’mon.

-This didn’t factactor all that much into my final rating, but I feel like I need to say something on the subject: as an independent story, it’s terrific; as an allegory, I don’t buy it. This was basically the director giving his justification for naming names at the HUAC hearings, but the circumstances are completely different. Taking a stand against people whose crime was that their ideology was/is considered “subversive” is fundamentally different than taking a stand against an actively harmful, institutionalized machine. Terry Malloy in the movie faced the threat of losing his livelihood for taking a stand; what Kazan did was the exact opposite: by taking the easier route and caving into the powerful institutionalized machine (the U.S. government), he got to continue his livelihood while making others lose their as a result.

Overall

The performances and the arc of the main character are why this film is so fondly remembered. However, I didn’t like it as much as most people do because of some of the characters and the underlying subtext behind the film.

Rating: B+

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

brides

Starring: Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox, Marc Platt, Jacques d’Amboise, Tommy Rall, Russ Tamblyn, Julie Newmar

Director: Stanley Donen

Summary: When their older brother marries, six lumberjacks decide it’s time to go courting for themselves

Other Nominations: Adapted Screenplay, Musical Score*, Color Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-There’s some spectacular choreography in this movie, mainly the incredible main dance scene and the big brawl that take place at a barn raising

-The songs are solid, and Keel and Powell both have amazing voices

-A pre-Batman (and even pre-Marriage-Go-Round) Julie Newmar is in the movie, which is always fun to see. She was a lot more than just Catwoman though: she was a noted ballet dancer and won a Tony Award.

Negatives

-This is an entertaining for a technicolor musical like this, but man the story is insane and nobody would ever think of doing it these days. The movie embraces the ridiculousness of the initial premise, which is Keel coming into town, seeing a woman and just saying “hey, marry me!” and then they just get married immediately; the problem is the second big plot point of the story, which I’m not going to spoil it, but trust me it’s deeply problematic even with the right tone (which is about as good as it could be), and the movie loses a lot of the charm it previously had when this happens.

Overall

How much you will enjoy this movie will depend on two things: 1) do you like this era of musicals that started with Gene Kelly and Cover Girl in 1944 and ended with Gene Kelly, who directed the major financial and critical failure that I will be forced to watch for this, Hello Dolly! in 1969 and 2) can you get past the premise? For me, I thought it was an above-average musical, but they’re not a genre I like all that much.

Rating: C+

Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

coins

Starring: Maggie McNamara, Louis Jourdan, Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters, Clifton Webb, Rossano Brazzi

Director: Jean Negulesco

Summary: Three American roommates working in Italy wish for the man of their dreams after throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain

Other Nominations: Original Song (“Three Coins in the Fountain”)*, Color Cinematography*

Positives

-This is mostly an excuse to show off Italian locations in Technicolor, and on that front it succeeds. The color is average, but the photography itself is very good.

-Louis Jourdan comes off as a leading man and feels like a star (which he was), he’s handsome and charming.

-People probably remember the title theme sung by Frank Sinatra more than they remember the movie, and it’s classic Sinatra if you like that sort of thing.

Negatives

-This is very much a run of the mill romance movie. There’s romantic misunderstandings, people doing romantic things in exotic locations, hearts broken and then mended, everything you would expect in a movie like this, done in the most typical way possible. I’ve liked more romance movies that I watched here than I expected to, but they all were either romantic comedies or at least had something else distinctive about them screenplay or acting wise.

Overall

I am just thrilled that I had to watch this instead of something like Rear Window, Sabrina or the A Star is Born remake, all of which received at least 4 Oscar nominations but not Best Picture. This is a totally unremarkable romance movie that has little going for it other than its location or Louis Jourdan.

Rating: D+

1954 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1954

Seven Samurai: Many consider this Kurosawa’s greatest film (although I’m partial to Ikiru), this movie about a group of nomadic samurai hired to protect a village from bandits is one of the most celebrated (#17 on the Sight and Sound list) and remade (most famously as The Magnificent Seven) movies of all time.

Rear Window & Dial M for Murder: two of the many great Hitchcock films from the 1950’s on that were not nominated for Best Picture (although Rear Window was for Director, Screenplay and two others). Both star Grace Kelly, who had an amazing breakout year as a lead actress (these two plus the previously reviewed The Country Girl which she won Best Actress for) and were both either entirely (Rear Window) or almost entirely (Dial M for Murder) filmed on one set.

Godzilla: The film that started it all for one of the longest running franchises in film history, even if the tone here is very different than some of the later sequels during the original run (especially once Godzilla had a baby and teamed up with this guy: http://kaiju.wdfiles.com/local–files/wiki:jet_jaguar/jet_jaguar_1973_02.jpg).

La Strada: It received mixed reviews at the time of its release, but has since been acknowledged as one of Fellini’s best works. Won the Oscar for best foreign film, and was on the 1992 Sight and Sound director’s top 10 list.

Johnny Guitar: Joan Crawford stars in this western that received negative reviews at the time (likely due to how untraditional a strong female lead in a western was), but has now been re-appraised. In the National Film Registry.

Sabrina: Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden in a rom com directed by Billy Wilder? Sounds great, and it was nominated for 6 Oscars including Director, Actress and Adapted Screenplay, but not Best Picture. In the National Film Registry.

Salt of the Earth: This movie was considered subversive when it came out because it was very pro-union, feminist and everyone involved with the production side used to be blacklisted. Not surprisingly, it was suppressed and only 12 theaters in the country were willing to show it. Eventually though, it was appreciated as a bold work and is now in the National Film Registry.

A Star is Born: Generally considered the best of the 3/4 versions of this movie, it marked Judy Garland’s big comeback and got 6 nominations but not BP. Everybody expected her to win for Best Actress, but Grace Kelly won in a massive upset for The Country Girl. In the National Film Registry.

Vera Cruz: Considered the first dark and cynical western (which would basically become its own genre in the 60’s and 70’s).

Carmen Jones: An all-black musical drama had to be considered a big risk for a big-budget movie, but it paid off and was a box office success. Dorothy Dandridge became the first black woman to be nominated for Best Actress. In the National Film Registry.

Journey to Italy: Considered Roberto Rossellini’s best work, and it stars Ingrid Bergman during the time her and Rossellini were married, along with George Sanders.

1954 Nominees in Review

On the Waterfront: B+ (Won Best Picture)

The Country Girl: B

The Caine Mutiny: B-

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: C+

Three Coins in the Fountain: D+

1954 was a lesser year, especially considering that you could have come up with a much better nominee list comprised of just the major Hollywood films (not mentioning how good foreign cinema was at this time). On the Waterfront was the first BP winner that I thought deserved it since 1949, is there is that, but there wasn’t a lot of real competition for it.

In 1955: A movie about an interracial romance between a white person and an Asian person and the prejudices they face that isn’t Broken Blossoms or another film we’ll get to in 1957; The first-ever Palme d’Or winner that’s also the only Best Picture winner adapted from a teleplay; A movie set on a WWII naval ship with one of the best male casts ever; our one Kim Novak movie (no, not THAT one, a different one); and the second of our three Tennessee Williams plays adapted into Best Picture nominees, and the one that is by far the least remembered.