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May 7, 2012

A YEAR ON FILM: 1954



1954 is one of those years that stands out for me because of one particular movie that was released (which I will get into in a moment), but again upon compiling this list I am amazed as to how many good films can come out of one year.

What really draws me to the movies of the 50s is the subtext that seems linger under the surface.  Sure the American Dream looks all clean and happy, but underneath is this frustration with life, smoldering sexual tension and of course teenage delinquency seemed to be rampant - best seen in the movies of Nicholas Ray, Joshua Logan, Douglas Sirk and Elia Kazan.

The 50s were also great for horror and science fiction movies that used the atomic age as their backdrop - like say GODZILLA which came out in 1954.




Oh and communists were waiting around every corner to attack and take away our democratic freedoms - and Congress thought Hollywood was overrun by them.

Hollywood wanted you to not stay home and watch TV, so the 50s also saw the rise of the Cinema-scope picture and plenty of wide-screen epics.  The first Cinema-scope picture was released in 1953 (THE ROBE) so in 1954 it's still in its infancy but as you'll see below, Hollywood wasted no time with it.

As I mentioned above, 1954 instantly brings to mind one title - and that is Elia Kazan's Academy Award winner for Best Picture ON THE WATERFRONT.




There is a tone to this picture which really just sets it apart from the rest of the pack.  Brando is bursting with energy, and method acting was becoming a major technique in American theater and film and this movie is a prime example of it.  ON THE WATERFRONT as far as I am concerned, is the movie that made Brando a Hollywood icon.




The usual notes - this is not a list that represents everything released in the year 1954 but a sampling of movies that I have seen and either liked or disliked, and some have notations of significant directors and comments.

20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
Disney goes Cinema-scope, and they do it in style.  One of my favorite Live-Action Disney movies (second only to MARY POPPINS) - I mean how can you go wrong with Kirk Douglas using a Turtle shell as a guitar, or the attack of the giant squid which terrified me as a kid.




THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
I love movies about Hollywood.  I love movies that explore the dark side of Hollywood even more, and this falls into that category.  Right from the beginning the melancholy tone of the picture grabs you and never lets go.  Bogart again at his finest!




BLACK WIDOW





BRIGADOON





THE CAINE MUTINY





CARMEN JONES





CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT





THE COUNTRY GIRL





CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
Personally my favorite classic horror franchise to come out of Universal Pictures.  The creature is cool, the score is fantastic and hey look..it's in 3-D!




DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS





DESIREE

Recently released on Blu-Ray by the specialty label Twilight Time.



DIAL M FOR MURDER (Alfred Hitchcock)
This was a good year for Hitchcock, with this film and another listed below (he is the master of suspense after all, so I will create some myself).  Also interesting is that DIAL M FOR MURDER was 3D!

Remade as A PERFECT MURDER with Michael Douglass in 1998.




THE EGYPTIAN
Also out on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time, THE EGYPTIAN is truly an epic production with big sets and wide-screen pomp and circumstance as well as wooden dialogue and acting - which is what makes it truly great.




EXECUTIVE SUITE (Robert Wise)





THE GLENN MILLER STORY





GOJIRA (GODZILLA) (Ishiro Honda)


There is a reason I post 2 different posters for GODZILLA.  The first one is the original Japanese artwork for GOJIRA, then second is the American version which was re-cut adding scenes with Raymond Burr as a journalist on hand to appeal to the domestic audience.  Both versions are available on the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray for your viewing pleasure.  And thankfully, Matthew Broderick is nowhere to be found in either of them.



JOHNNY GUITAR (Nicholas Ray)
JOHNNY GUITAR is one of my favorite movies that not a lot of people know about - but those who do usually love it.  Sterling Hayden is a gunslinger who shows up at a saloon owned by Joan Crawford.  Mercedes McCambridge hates Crawford and wants to run her out of town.

The movie is not only great, but also legendary for the on set feuding between Crawford and McCambridge which is why the on-screen hatred probably feels so believable.




THE LONG, LONG TRAILER





MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION
No movies scream 50s to me more so than the works of Douglas Sirk.  Heavy melodrama and man is it laid on thick.

Rock Hudson is a playboy whose carelessness causes Jane Wyman to go blind.  He then goes to medical school to try and learn how he can help Jane get her sight back.  With a plot like that, how can you go wrong!




THE NAKED JUNGLE
Charlton Heston versus an army of ants.  And look at that one sheet - you can have that gun when you pry it from his cold, dead hands!




ON THE WATERFRONT (Elia Kazan)
It could have been a contender?  No, actually it was a contender and won!  Not only did it win Best Picture, but Brando also took home his first Best Actor Oscar.  Truly one of the great movies and performances of the 1950s.




REAR WINDOW (Alfred Hitchcock)
One of Hitchcock's best loved films.  James Stewart is stuck in a wheelchair and thinks he's seen a murder in the building across from him.  Suspenseful even though the entire movie takes place in one apartment.



RIVER OF NO RETURN (Otto Preminger)





SABRINA (Billy Wilder)
I can't think of a movie where I didn't fall in love with Audrey Hepburn.  Here she is torn between the playboy charms of William Holden, and the bookishness of Humphrey Bogart.  Just don't forget - they don't use umbrellas in Paris.



SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS





THE SEVEN SAMURAI (Akira Kurosawa)
What is there to say about THE SEVEN SAMURAI except that it is truly one of the greatest movies ever made.  Kurosawa's masterpiece is such a thrill to watch.  Later remade in 1960 into the Western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and also inspiration for one of my all-time favorite TV shows (don't laugh) THE A-TEAM.




THE SILVER CHALICE
I just happened to catch this movie recently on TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES and it is truly awful - but worth watching because it is so bad.  Paul Newman is badly miscast, but the sets are so sparse and interesting that the movie has a crazy surreal quality about it.




A STAR IS BORN (George Cukor)
The first remake of this story that has been done a few times (1937, 1976 and soon to be redone again and I believe directed by Clint Eastwood) and probably the most famous and best!  James Mason is so believable in the role of an actor who is surpassed by his now-famous wife, that if it wasn't for BIGGER THAN LIFE I'd say this was his best.  Also this is my favorite Judy Garland movie - and yes, even more so than THE WIZARD OF OZ.




LA STRADA (Federico Fellini)





SUDDENLY
Extremely suspenseful movie has Frank Sinatra holding Sterling Hayden and his family hostage as he uses their house to try and kill the President of the United States.  Short in that it's only 75 minutes long, but that's all they needed.




SUSAN SLEPT HERE (Frank Tashlin)
Director Frank Tashlin once worked in the animation department at Warner Bros. and it clearly shows in his live action films.  Famous for working with Jayne Mansfield (THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT) and Jerry Lewis (GEISHA BOY) here he has Hollywood screenwriter trying to deal with the fact that he is stuck with juvenile delinquent Debbie Reynolds.  Oh the scandal of it all.




THEM!
The atomic age has brought about giant ants that threaten to wipe us all out.  One of the great creatures-that-turn-into-giant-monster movies from the 50s.




THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS





THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN





WHITE CHRISTMAS


Next up: 1962.