After our run of later period, more biographical Louis Malle films a few weeks ago we swing back with his first feature length, which is a different sort of master work than Au Revoir les Enfants but still sticks with me. Elevator to the Gallows, or Lift to the Scaffold as the British (and Pat) demand to call it, is a noir murder with a bit of Bunuelian stream of consciousness thrown in and a level of suspense fit for Hitchcock if not Clouzot. And all that name-dropping aside, it’s also just a really good film.
We finish up the final chapter of Andrzej Wajda's Three War Films with a film that takes place in the aftermath of armistice. Well, armistice for some. Ashes and Diamonds is a brilliant piece of cinema the contemplates where a country can go after national trauma tears its core. It's also a film that exists in a suddenly more culturally open Poland and it wears its western influences on its sleeve.
Alec Guinness first tried to read Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth during World War II, but couldn't bear its stream-of-consciousness narrative. Sometime later his wife impressed upon him to give it another shot and he went on to adapt it into a screenplay. Ronald Neame was brought into direct the resulting film, released in 1958, with Guinness staring as the eccentric artist Gulley Jimson. It's often called his funniest film, which is a pretty tough crowd to beat out. Personally, I'd lean toward Murder by Death or Kind Hearts and Coronets for that honor, but The Horse's Mouth is right up there, and quite a bit more poignant even as a comedy.
The Hidden Fortress is Akira Kurosawa's first Cinescope film (though called Totoscope in Japan) and he wastes no time using the widened frame to his visual advantage. Released in 1958, The Hidden Fortress was also Kurosawa's first huge financial blockbuster, earning box-office receipts like he would not see again until 1961's Yojimbo.
Mario Monicelli's spoofy 1958 heist film Big Deal on Madonna Street stands up even if you're not familiar with the films it's referencing, and Pat and I won't be for another two weeks as it's mostly taking the piss out of Rififi which Lost in Criterion will talk about two weeks from now. Maybe we should have waited? That seems like the professional thing to do. That's not in our bag.
A British-produced and -filmed sci-fi horror film set in Canada and starring Canadians as American members of the Air Force. Oh, and the special effects were done by a German count in Munich. Arthur Crabtree's 1958 film is story of the horrors that accidentally occur when you combine telepathy and atomic energy, Fiend Without a Face is ridiculous with the added bonus of being so gory it received an X rating in its native country even after extensive editing.
Irvin Yeaworth's The Blob is a ridiculous and wonderful science fiction film from 1958. The frst lead role for the great Steve McQueen, the film kicks off with a Burt Bacharach co-written theme song that put me firmly on board before the lyrics start and ends with the now-ironic coda that we'll be safe from The Blob so long as the polar ice encasing it never melts.
We're combining two films this week, in part because they are the first two chapters of a planned trilogy (wikipedia even lists them as one film) and in part because one of the films does not exist as it's own proper Spine number in the Criterion Collection.
Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible (Part I 1944 and Part II 1958) is an historical epic about Josef Stalin's favorite Czar, and an early unifier of all of Russia, or all the Russias, as the case may be. The first film I'm sure Stalin loved as it paints Ivan as a strong leader with clear Stalinesque parallels. The second dives into the man's troubles and violent treatment of just about everyone he could treat violently, and Stalin stopped appreciating the comparison. Which is why the Part II wasn't released until five years after Stalin's death (and, sadly, ten years after Eisenstein's).
In this episode of Lost in Criterion Pat and Adam discuss Roy Ward Baker's 1958 titanic epic about the Titanic A Night to Remember and wax rhapsodic about the affect the disaster had on the 20th Century.
While Adam continues to not be able to pronounce things, even in English, Pat manages to win this week's Captain Edward J. Smith Award for Great Achievements in Idiocy for deleting the first take completely instead of saving it. We need to develop safeguards against this sort of thing.