Friday, April 3, 2009

1959 (The 9 Years, Part 3)

As we are now in 2009, we can expect to see a great many articles trumpeting the 70th anniversary of the fabled "Best Movie Year," 1939. This is tradition, dating back probably to every 9 year of every decade.

But is 1939 really the best year for movies? I don't know about that. It was great, but after the watershed year 1979, I started having my doubts. In 1989, I started noticing a trend. And in 1999, I was sure I was on to something.

I have a theory: that the 9 year in every decade is the best of that period. Why? I can only surmise that filmmakers working during the decade in question want to get out their final word on the era, and thus save their best for last. But, in the end, who really knows why: maybe it's simply just chance working here. Still, it's a very definable trend.

1959 stands as the true beginning of the 9 year pattern. There are just too many incredible movies here to ignore, and the year really gave 1939 a run for its money. Though I have no proof, I would bet that the 1939 commemorative articles began being published here (who could ignore the 20th anniversary of Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz?). But I would posit that 1959 was a much more influential annum. So:

50 years ago this year, we celebrate:

The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (fun solo Lou Costello B-movie)

The Alligator People (scary Roy Del Ruth horror film with Beverly Garland and Lon Chaney Jr.)

Anatomy of a Murder (brilliant Otto Preminger courtroom drama with outstanding cast including James Stewart, George C. Scott, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden, Lee Remick, Duke Ellington, Judge Joseph Walsh, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, and Saul Bass' eventful artwork)

Ballad of a Soldier (intensely lovely Russian WWII drama)

The Beat Generation (Against one's better judgment, interesting beat-oriented B-movie with Mamie Van Doren, Louis Armstrong, Jackie Coogan, Vampira, and James Mitchum)

Ben-Hur (William Wyler's epic tale of slavery and faith, with one of the most jolting of all climaxes--the famed chariot race, directed by Andrew Marton and stuntman Yakima Canutt; won a record-setting 11 Oscars, including Best Actor for Charlton Heston and Supporting Actor for Hugh Griffith)

The Best of Everything (Madison Avenue-set pre-feminist melodrama with Joan Crawford, Hope Lange, Stephen Boyd, and Robert Evans)

The Big Circus
(Rousing circus movie, written by Irwin Allen, with Victor Mature, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Red Buttons, Rhonda Fleming and Gilbert Roland)

Black Orpheus (raucously colorful, Brazillian-set Oscar winner for Marcel Camus, with remarkable score by Antonio Carlos Jobim)

A Bucket of Blood (beat-influenced Roger Corman horror movie with Dick Miller in rare lead role as modern artist who paints with blood)

Career (gorgeous-looking acting drama starring Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine)

Compulsion (Richard Fleicher's serious retelling of Leopold and Loeb murders, with Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell as the killers and Orson Welles as the lawyer who defends them; all three shared that year's Best Actor award at Cannes)

The Crimson Kimono
(gritty Samuel Fuller film noir set in Japan)

Darby O'Gill and the Little People
(hit Disney live-action movie with debut performance by Sean Connery and convincing special effects)

The Diary of Anne Frank (George Stevens' riveting adaptation of the famed book, with unmatched cast: Millie Perkins, Joseph Schildkraut, Richard Beymer, Ed Wynn, Diane Baker, Gusti Huber, Lou Jacobi and Supporting Actress Oscar-winner Shelley Winters)

Expresso Bongo (unjustifiably little-known British beat movie starring Brit chart-topper Cliff Richard)

The FBI Story
(hard-bitten police drama, lovingly photographed, starring James Stewart and Vera Miles)

Floating Weeds (lilting, simple Yasujiro Ozu film about wandering Japanese acting troupe)

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (high-quality shrunken-head B-movie)

The 400 Blows (indelible debut for director Francois Truffaut, with his star Jean-Pierre Léaud as Truffaut alter-ego Antoine Doinel; one of the best films ever made)

General Della Rovere
(amazing Roberto Rossellini WWII picture starring Vittorio De Sica)

Gidget (memorable beach movie with Sandra Dee and Cliff Robertson; the first in a series)

Hiroshima Mon Amour (evocative Alain Renais existential romance between a French woman and a Japanese man--a art-house classic)

A Hole in the Head (smiley, sunshiney Frank Capra picture headlining Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson, with Oscar-winning song "High Hopes")

The Horse Soldiers (rousing, though flawed, John Ford Civil War actioner with John Wayne and William Holden)

House on Haunted Hill (William Castle's funny/scary horror hit, filmed in skeleton-revealing Emergo, with key perfs from Vincent Price and Elisha Cook Jr.)

I'm All Right, Jack (challenging British union comedy with Peter Sellers, Terry-Thomas, Ian Carmichael, and Richard Attenbourough)

Imitation of Life (colorful remake of 1934 melodrama, directed by the great Douglas Sirk, with Lana Turner, Sandra Dee and Juanita Moore)

The Immoral Mr. Teas (Russ Meyer's perverse sexploitation breakthrough)

Journey to the Center of the Earth (vibrant adaptation of Jules Verne's novel, with James Mason, Pat Boone, and Oscar-nominated art direction and special effects)
The Killer Shrews (one of the funniest bad movies of all time; love those disguised dogs)

The Last Angry Man (final major screen performance from Paul Muni)

Li'l Abner
(tuneful adaptation of stage play culled from Al Capp's comic strip)

Moonbird (handsome, Oscar-winning animated short by John and Faith Hubley)

The Mummy (Britain's Hammer Films' take on the Egyptian-based monster movie, with studio stalwarts Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing at the forefront)

Nazarin (Luis Bunuel's masterful tale of Christian faith)

North by Northwest (landmark Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, with Cary Grant falling for Eve Marie Saint while trying to outrun evil spies James Mason and Martin Landau; one of the greatest thrillers of all time)

The Nun's Story (Fred Zinnemann's heartfelt drama with nun Audrey Hepburn lending assistance to beleaguered Congo doctor Peter Finch)

Odds Against Tomorrow
(tense Robert Wise thriller with Robert Ryan, Harry Belafonte, Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame)

On The Beach (slow but still effective Stanley Kramer adaptation of Nevil Shute's end-of-the-world novel, with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astaire in his first non-dancing role)

Operation Petticoat
(Cary Grant and Tony Curtis shakily command a pink submarine in Blake Edwards-directed comedy with smart screenplay)

Our Man in Havana (droll Carol Reed comedy with Alec Guinness impressing, as usual, as amateur spy in Cuba)

Pickpocket (Robert Bresson's unspeakably unique crime drama)

Pillow Talk (the best of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson rom-coms, pretty to look at, with an Oscar-winning screenplay and energetic supporting perf by Thelma Ritter)

Plan 9 From Outer Space
(the very best "bad" movie of all time--forever funny but also somehow meaningful, directed by Ed Wood Jr., with Tor Johnson, Vampira, Gregory Walcott, Dudley Manlove, Paul Marco, Mona McKinnon, and the final screen appearance of horror legend Bela Lugosi)

Porgy and Bess (beautiful Otto Preminger-directed version of famed Gershwin musical, with Dorothy Dandridge, Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, and Brock Peters)

Pork Chop Hill (incredible, sobering Korean war drama, directed by Lewis Milestone, with a cast that just won't quit: Gregory Peck, Woody Strode, Robert Blake, Rip Torn, Norman Fell, Harry Guardino, Harry Dean Stanton, George Peppard, George Shibata, Martin Landau, Bert Remsen, Charles Aidman and Gavin MacLeod)

Pull My Daisy
(watershed experimental film co-directed by Alfred Leslie and noted photographer Robert Frank)

Ride Lonesome (Budd Boetticher's exciting, moving western, with likable Randolph Scott trying to outmanuver complex villain Richard Boone and frothing killer Henry Silva)

Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks western showpiece, one of the finest of the genre, with John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, and Ward Bond)

Room at the Top (one of the first of Britain's kitchen sink dramas, with Lawrence Harvey and Oscar-winning Best Actress Simone Signoret)

The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film (breakthrough movie for A Hard Day's Night director Richard Lester, starring Brit Goon Show cast, including producer Peter Sellers; nominated for Best Live Action short film)
Shadows (cutting-edge indie movie, the debut for writer/director John Cassevetes, detailing an interracial romance; unfailingly original and important)

The Shaggy Dog (wacked-out Disney movie starring Fred MacMurray as an detective who turns into a sheepdog)

Signal 30 (bloody Driver's Ed film that shocked a generation into paying attention on the road)

Sleeping Beauty (Besides Fantasia, perhaps the most beautiful of Disney's full-length animated films)

Some Like It Hot (Utterly incredible Billy Wilder comedy, arguably the best of all time, starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as jazzbos trying to outrun the mob, with fantastic female lead in Marilyn Monroe, and a myriad of memorable supporting performances from Joe E. Brown, Pat O'Brien, George Raft and Nehemiah Persoff; "Well, nobody's perfect!")

Suddenly, Last Summer
(sickening adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play, starring Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Montgomery Clift; directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

A Summer Place (picturesque Delmer Daves seaside romance, with Sandra Dee, Troy Donahue, Dorothy MacGuire, and memorable Max Steiner score)

They Came to Codura
(entertaining Robert Rossen western with Gary Cooper)

Tiger Bay (gripping British thriller with young Hayley Mills befriending killer Horst Bucholtz, and Mills' real-life father, John Mills, playing the detective hunting the man down)

The Tingler (another gimmick-laden William Castle/Vincent Price collaboration, even more ambitious than House in Haunted Hill, filmed in literally-electrifying Percepto-Vision)

Verboten! (documentary-tinged WWII thriller directed by Samuel Fuller)

Wild Strawberries
(filmed in 1957, released in the US in '59; Ingmar Bergman classic starring former director Victor Sjostrom as near-death professor taking an enlightening road trip)

The World, The Flesh and The Devil (post-apocolypse classic starring last-man-on-earth Harry Belafonte)

The World of Apu (the last entry in Satyajit Ray's historical Apu trilogy)

Though the American studios make an impressive showing (strangely, a great year for odd couple Vincent Price and Sandra Dee, each with three movies on the list), this year was really a breakthrough for international and indie cinema: on the foreign side, we received jaw-dropping product from Japan, India, Britain, France, Sweden, Russia, Brazil and Spain; on the independant side we were greeted with efforts from Cassavetes, Castle, Corman, Hubley, Meyer, Ed Wood, and Hammer Films. One thing's for sure: movies were changing, arguably for the better, back in 1959. Not included on this list were many effective drive-in movies like Attack of the Giant Leeches and Beat Girl, all of which are still fun to watch as cult offerings. As it stands, 1959 ups the ante with 66 titles, 10 more than in 1949, and 25 more than in "greatest movie year" 1939. Really, now, 1959 is looking pretty dang good. But we take a bizarre step sideways with the next installment in The 9 Years series: 1969!


Lisa said...

Love that tail end of the 1950s! Room for silliness and serious work, nice seeing international films breaking through to America, and some wonderful performances there!

Anonymous said...

The Hanging Tree.