Film Review: The Seventh Seal (1957)

Also known as: Det sjunde inseglet (original Swedish title)
Release Date: February 16th, 1957 (Sweden)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Based on:  Trämålning by Ingmar Bergman
Music by: Erik Nordgren
Cast: Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Inga Landgré, Åke Fridell

AB Svensk Filmindustri, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing escapes you!” – Antonius Block, “Nothing escapes me. No one escapes me.” – Death

Ingmar Bergman is considered one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived. The Seventh Seal is considered his magnum opus by many. It has been referenced, parodied and ripped off by hundreds of films after it. The movies it has influenced have gone on to influence others. It’s reach is so deep and so broad that it will probably always have some sort of imprint on the film industry forever. It is an iconic body of work, regardless at how one views it. It is also an extremely high point, if not the highest, in the long history of Swedish filmmaking. The fact that I haven’t seen it in its entirety until now, could actually be criminal.

My entire life, I have been a huge film aficionado. So I’ve sort of always known about this picture and I’ve seen it’s effect on other bodies of work. I’ve seen this movie featured in documentaries and I’ve seen clips of it for so long that I felt like I had already seen it in a roundabout way. Even though I’m very familiar with the key elements of this puzzle, I’ve never had all the pieces put together in the proper way.

The Seventh Seal is about a soldier who is confronted by Death. He convinces Death to play him in a chess match. The soldier figures that as long as he’s locked in the match, he has more time on Earth. He is disenchanted and depressed over the fact that he’s wasted his life even though he realizes that he’s not that different from most men. He tries to bide his time all while searching for meaning and something greater. Eventually, time runs out and he has to face his mortality.

The film takes place during Medieval times but it’s not necessarily an accurate portrayal of that era. It’s more of a reflection of what was behind the inspiration of the story for Bergman, as he had stated that the idea of Death playing a game of chess came from a church painting from the 1480s. Additionally, the feeling of “doom and gloom” from the era was instrumental in helping set the tone of this film’s narrative. The film showcases the effects of plague and the witch hunts: things that were really very dark blights on human existence in that era. Really, what better time and place is there to set this film?

While I don’t consider this to be the masterpiece than many others do, it’s a very compelling film and it is easy to reflect on your own life, even in modern times, and compare it to the concerns that the knight has about his own existence and place in the universe.

Bergman certainly had an eye for composition and was a true artist in the medium of motion pictures. This really is art at its core. It is also a very human story as we will all one day be in the soldier’s shoes in one way or another.

The Seventh Seal is a very good motion picture that went beyond just influencing a generation, it influenced an entire art form well beyond what anyone could have imagined at the time. Films like this are extremely rare.

Film Review: The Blob (1958)

Release Date: September 12th, 1958
Directed by: Irvin Yeaworth
Written by: Kay Linaker, Theodore Simonson
Music by: Ralph Carmichael, Burt Bacharach
Cast: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howland

Fairview Productions, Tonylyn Productions, Valley Forge Films, Paramount Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“[after throwing acid on the Blob] Doctor, nothing will stop it!” – Kate, the nurse

If that Burt Bacharach theme in the opening credits doesn’t lure you in, you’ve got no musical soul.

Beyond that, this film rests on the shoulders of Steve McQueen, who was pretty young here but still the coolest guy in the room by far. He is a juvenile delinquent but not really. He just falls victim to the prejudices of a cop that hates the youth and his girlfriend’s judgmental father. Sure, he races a car backwards but that’s what cool people do. Regardless, he saved the damn town and was the hero of the movie.

The threat in this picture is a blob. Yes, an actual blob. But that should have been apparent by the title of the film.

Are blobs scary? Well, not really. But a lot of people get killed by this murderous Jello mold, which keeps growing, kill after kill. When we first meet the monster, it is a tiny little jelly ball that hatches from a small meteor. It attaches itself to a curious old guy in the woods and devours him in the local doctor’s office. It then eats the nurse, the doctor and eventually tries to eat the people inside of the small town’s movie theater. In the finale, the blob is big enough to engulf an entire diner.

At first glance, this may seem like typical ’50s sci-fi schlock. However, there is just something strangely magical about The Blob. It is a really good looking film for what it is. Considering it was produced on the cheap by an indie studio, the final product is impressive. It had the look of a major studio horror picture and even then, the special effects were maybe even better. Sure, an actual blob is probably cheap to make but the way that it moves and is shot, is more dynamic than what one would expect for the time.

The colors of this film are hypnotic and it just enhances the overall experience. This would not have been the same movie had it been presented in black and white.

The movie is short and straight to the point. It isn’t close to being the best picture of its time but it is solid and holds up as well as it can. Sure, it looks and feels dated, it’s 1950s science fiction, but it looks better than similar films from its day.

The Blob is a motion picture that’s better than it should be and that’s probably why it has stood the test of time and is still beloved by a lot of people. It also spawned a fairly okay remake in the late ’80s.

Film Review: Racket Girls (1951)

Also known as: Blonde Pickup, Pin Down Girls, Wrestling Racket Girls
Release Date: 1951
Directed by: Robert C. Dertano
Written by: Robert C. Dertano
Cast: Peaches Page, Timothy Farrell, Clara Mortenson, Rita Martinez

Arena Productions, Screen Classics, 70 Minutes, 68 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“And don’t forget about me. I’m Joe.” – Joe the Jockey, “Hi, Joe. You’re cute.” – Peaches, “I get it – anything that is small is cute. Well, that’s me.” – Joe the Jockey, “Don’t you know? Good things come in small packages” – Peaches, “[openly staring at Peaches’ breasts] Not to my way of thinking.” – Joe the Jockey

This was put out by Screen Classics and producer George Weiss, the man that distributed the earliest Ed Wood films. Therefore, you know this is of a similar quality. Well, it is missing the charm of Wood, so without that, it’s just a really awful motion picture that was destined to be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Like many of Weiss’ productions, this was released multiple times, in multiple small markets with multiple titles. This wasn’t uncommon for crappy indie pictures back in the ’50s, especially those that feel like they are some sort of proto-grindhouse feature albeit lacking the sort of skin and violence those movies would shovel into run-down theaters during their peak in the ’70s.

The plot revolves around some lady wrestlers in the ’50s. There are some unconvincing mobster types that try to use the women’s wrestling federation as a cover for their illegal schemes. The crime boss is in over his head and has to evade meddling police and bigger mobsters that he owes money to. I guess this is technically film-noir but it’s as low as a noir can get and then, even lower.

And if you must watch a noir picture with some wrestling in it, might I suggest Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, which is actually a damn fine film and has real wrestling legend Stanislaus Zbyszko in a key role.

This film could be the worst wrestling themed film ever made and that’s saying a lot if you’ve ever seen Grunt!Ready to Rumble or No Holds Barred. I actually love No Holds Barred in spite of its awfulness. But really, this makes Grunt! look like Citizen Kane.

Even if this had El Santo in it, it couldn’t have been salvaged. It’s an exceptionally shitty film to the point that I feel great distress over the poor film stock that had to have this movie burnt into its very soul. If Argentina can’t cry for Evita, they should shed those tears for the poor film stock that was permanently disfigured by Racket Girls.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this turd covered turkey is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Film Review: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Release Date: July 1st, 1959
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Wendell Mayes
Based on: Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver
Music by: Duke Ellington
Cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Duke Ellington (cameo)

Carlyle Productions, Columbia Pictures, 160 Minutes

Review:

“Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind – unanimous. It’s one of the miracles of Man’s disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.” – Parnell Emmett McCarthy

If you ever told me that I’d watch a courtroom drama that’s nearly three hours long and that I’d love it, I’d call you a liar. Nothing is more boring to me than court movies. They’re overly talkie, use an abundance of legal jargon I don’t care to know and they just sit there, in one room, seemingly forever. Hell, I hate when television shows I love go into some multi episode courtroom story. I hate courtrooms, I hate jury duty and I thought Court TV was something that old people watched, hoping it would kill them sooner.

Yet, Anatomy of a Murder is to courtrooms what 12 Angry Men is to jury duty. It took something that I have less interest in than dusting sand and made it compelling, engaging, entertaining and hooked me emotionally. In short, it’s a spectacular film that I was glued to from start to finish.

I have become a fan of Otto Preminger’s work, especially his film-noir stuff. While this isn’t noir, it has that distinct Preminger touch and visual allure. It’s clean, crisp, warm and has a strange magnetism that pulls you in. Preminger really was a master of the silver screen, as his films always looked immaculate yet lived in with a sort of grandiose aura about them.

The absolute highlight of this film is seeing two legendary actors: James Stewart and George C. Scott, go head to head as rival lawyers during the trial that is the focus of the story. And really, I think that it is the incredible performances by these two that lured me in, even more so than this being a Preminger film. James Stewart just owns this role and his mere presence prevented this film from having a dull moment. George C. Scott was a great accent to Stewart, giving him a powerful foil to play off of. Stewart was like a 24 oz. bone-in tomahawk ribeye while Scott was the best Béarnaise sauce you could ever hope to taste.

The film also dealt with very controversial subject matter for the time. The trial involved a murder that was committed in defense of the killer’s wife being raped. This was taboo stuff for the 1950s and there’s even a scene in the film where the judge has to explain to the people in the court that he won’t permit any giggles or snickering at the mention of the word “panties”.

Anatomy of a Murder is a long film but it doesn’t feel like it. The set up and investigative stuff before the trial is probably the slowest part of the movie but that doesn’t take too long and once you are in the courtroom, this picture just takes off and doesn’t come back down until the credits roll.

This is a pretty perfect film for its time and its subject matter. It goes to show what kind of magic Hollywood can produce when you have a premier director and two paragons of pure acting talent.

Film Review: Lost Continent (1951)

Release Date: August 17th, 1951
Directed by: Sam Newfield
Written by: Orville H. Hampton, Richard H. Landau, Carroll Young
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Cesar Romero, Hillary Brooke, Chick Chandler, Sid Melton, Hugh Beaumont, John Hoyt

Lippert Pictures Inc., 83 Minutes

Review:

“Look at the size of that footprint! I’ve never seen anything like it before!” – Nolan, “I have. Once… in a museum.” – Phillips

Lost Continent has the benefit of being watchable, thanks to being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It also has Cesar Romero in it but even the future Joker couldn’t pull this schlock out of the prehistoric muck.

It features a boring tale that finds some dudes in a world ruled by dinosaurs. It’s not all that original and has actually been a tale told dozens of times, even by 1951. It’s like King Kong without King Kong and less talent behind the production.

The dinosaurs look awful and sound more like elephants than ferocious giant reptiles. The effects, in general, are pretty terrible even for 1951 standards.

This is the type of film that could have had a decent story and kept you engaged with some solid hokiness but it fails to do that. I feel bad that Cesar Romero was subjected to this cookie cutter shit festival but he did some pretty bad movies in his day. But for a guy so suave and debonair, he probably deserved a better movie than this. Although, I guess actors need to work, even if that work is acting alongside some kid’s plastic bath toys.

I don’t hate Lost Continent and it is okay enough to get through with MST3K ribbing but there are much better ways that one can spend their time. You could start a new fad diet, learn how to tie some trick knots or hell… you could try Velcroing yourself to the side of a train. All would be better uses of your time.

All things considered, this needs to be run through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Film Review: Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951)

Release Date: August 8th, 1951 (New York premiere)
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Art Cohn, Felix E. Feist, Guy Endore
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Ruth Roman, Steve Cochran, Lurene Tuttle, Ray Teal, Bobby Hyatt

Warner Bros., 90 Minutes

Review:

“I came to New York from up state. I was gonna be a dancer. I was a brunette. Started on my toes and wound up on my heels.” – Catherine “Cay” Higgins

Tomorrow Is Another Day isn’t a film-noir that is highly regarded or even all that remembered. Like its director Felix E. Feist, it flies under the radar of historical significance but probably needs a bit more light shown on it.

It stars Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran, two actors that also probably deserve more recognition than they’ve gotten. They both had pretty good careers and had the chops to carry any picture. This film works so well because of their abilities, their chemistry and all of that being enhanced by the very capable Feist, behind the camera.

This could have actually been a better film than what it ended up being, had it followed the traditional film-noir framework and had a tragic ending. Instead, we get a soft and sweet ending where the two lovers on the lam come out unscathed. This was probably a last minute change due to the darker ending not testing well with audiences. In a way, this film sort of had the same fate as Douglas Sirk’s 1949 film-noir Shockproof. Actually, there are a lot of similarities between the two films in the happy ending and overall narrative.

Sappy, sweet ending aside, I liked this picture a great deal. Sure, it is mostly a cookie cutter noir and you’ll watch it feeling like you’ve seen this movie a dozen times over but Roman and Cochran are just so good on screen that you’re still lured in.

The sweet family that lives down the street also add a lot to the film. The husband is played by Ray Teal, who usually just had bit parts. Teal got to show his talents here. Teal’s wife is played by Lurene Tuttle, an accomplished actress and very likable here. The couple’s son comes to life through child actor Bobby Hyatt, who was the kid actor featured in more film-noir pictures than any other child in Hollywood.

Tomorrow Is Another Day is certainly better than average but not a classic. It works for what it is, even if it falls flat in the final moments. Still, the building of suspense and the paranoia of the characters was interesting to watch and experience.

Film Review: Where Danger Lives (1950)

Release Date: July 8th, 1950
Directed by: John Farrow
Written by: Charles Bennett, Leo Rosen
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, Claude Rains, Maureen O’Sullivan

RKO Radio Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“I wish you’d stop calling her my daughter. She happens to be my wife!” – Frederick Lannington

Where Danger Lives is a fairly underrated and forgotten film-noir. But it stars Robert Mitchum, so it automatically has a certain level of coolness and solid gravitas. Add in the intense and always engaging Claude Rains and you’ve got something really worthwhile. Plus, Faith Domergue was exceptional as this film’s femme fatale.

I actually didn’t know about this film until Eddie Muller featured it on TCM’s Noir Alley, which is a program you should check out on TCM every Sunday at 10 a.m. EST, if you are a true fan of film-noir. That was not a shameless plug, I just love watching Noir Alley.

This picture is interesting for a lot of reasons. It pairs up two old school badasses, Mitchum and Rains, has a good plot twist when Mitchum’s character suffers a concussion in the middle of the twisty topsy turvy noir-esque proceedings and then starts pitching more narrative curveballs at you.

From a stylisitic standpoint, the film is a pretty standard noir. It’s not visually breathtaking but it is still a beautiful looking picture that is well crafted. It is also directed by John Farrow, whose hand was also in the noir movies, His Kind of Woman, also with Mitchum, and The Big Clock. I’d say this is the best of the three and it is stripped of the flamboyancy that came with the other two. It’s an “on the run” film and the sets are mostly car interiors and road stop locations. It feels grounded in realism more than the others, which had a sort of fantastical grandiose Hollywood feel.

Due to the concussion element of the story, Mitchum’s Dr. Jeff Cameron is in a state of paranoia and confusion. It adds a really interesting dynamic to the film and kind of makes it seem like it could be a big scary hallucination. Mitchum sells it well and him being a doctor going through this condition allows for some good medical explanation of his situation and an understanding of what his fate could be. It makes the film play like a race against time, at least for his character.

The fact that Domergue’s Margo Lannington is nuts and becomes more and more unhinged, also brings another level of instability to the main characters’ dilemma. You know that she isn’t trust worthy and she’s a femme fatale with a bad case of psychosis. This doesn’t bode well for Jeff and his concussed brain. Really, this film is an examination of multiple mental conditions operating in a noir landscape.

The story doesn’t end well for the two main characters, although we get a rare moment where a femme fatale shows some humanity after all the problems she was instrumental in creating. Maybe she actually did care for Jeff and wasn’t just using him like so many other similar characters in the noir narrative style. That, along with the unique type of paranoia on display here, makes this an interesting and worthwhile experience that saved this from becoming a carbon copy of dozens of films before it.