Monday, July 8, 2024

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1952: Murder and More

Now we've wrapped up some 1951 releases that were still considered 1952 films, 1952 can officially begin. With murder! Yes, although I did not realize it until I gathered them all together like this, five of the six films here involve murder in one way or another:

The Bushwhackers
release: January 8
dir: Rod Amateau
pr: Larry Finley
scr: Tom Gries and Rod Amateau
cin: Joseph F. Biroc

Civil War vet joins a local battle against a family killing homesteaders so they can better their position when the railroad comes. Lon Chaney, Jr., is the conniving patriarch who can't even rise from his chair because of his arthritis, who, for some reason, tells a complete stranger his plans. Actually, a decent 70-minute thriller.

Scandal Sheet
release: January 16
dir: Phil Karlson
pr: Edward Small
scr: Ted Sherdeman & Eugene Ling & James Poe, from a novel by Samuel Fuller
cin: Burnett Guffey

A tabloid editor has the scoop on a local murder; trouble is, he's the killer. Adapted from a novel by former journalist Samuel Fuller, who released his own journalism flick later in the year. Serviceable noir with Broderick Crawford giving a very solid performance as a man who's good at his job - he's ruthless, he's shameless, even willing to put his own life on the line for good copy. Noirs are all about people seeing the trap closing around them, but this is the rare one where the entrapped and the setter of the trap are the same guy - and all in the name of news! In that sense, it's a funny tribute to that unique trade.

Cry, the Beloved Country
release: January 23
dir: Zoltan Korda
pr: Zoltan Korda / Alan Paton
scr: Alan Paton / John Howard Lawson, from the novel by Alan Paton
cin: Robert Krasker

A Black minister goes to Johannesburg in search of his sister, his brother, and his son, who has just been arrested for killing a white anti-apartheid advocate. Can't pretend I've read the book since high school, but I remember it being one of my favorites of what we read, and I'm a great fan of the musical adaptation Lost in the Stars (well, the music in general; the film adaptation with Brock Peters has Brock Peters but is otherwise just OK). It's modest in approach but seismic in impact: Canada Lee is moving as the minister whose faith is challenged by the injustice of the city and the greed of his own family members, his quiet, peaceful nature slowly giving way to the tremor of anger that he;s kept long quelled; Charles Carson equally so as the white man with an, at best, patronizing view of his Black neighbors, whose son's murder does not further embitter him but instead radicalizes him the opposite way, a transformation Carson plays subtly, effectively. Great support from Sidney Poitier as a city reverend who's more cynical than Lee's country one. A jarring edit here and there, though interestingly, in skipping those establishing shots and transitions, we are left with more time for thoughtful conversation, for meaningful silences. How I remember the book, the movie captures.

Man Bait
release: January 25
dir: Terence Fisher
pr: Anthony Hinds
scr: Frederick Knott, from the play The Last Page by James Hadley Chase
cin: Walter J. Harvey

A married bookshop owner is prey to a hot young new assistant and her scheming conman boyfriend.  I didn't think this was half-bad, a good enough progammer with Diana Dors as the young woman who becomes, hm, not exactly a femme fatale. Found her whole arc interesting, as a matter of fact, a portrait of a beautiful but perhaps uneducated woman taken advantage of in different ways by men both calculating and "honorable" - to the film's credit, it doesn't really whitewash the bossman's complicity, merely says that that shouldn't place him at the center of subsequent events.

Japanese War Bride
release: January 29
dir: King Vidor
pr: Joseph Bernhard
scr: Catherine Turney, story by Anson Bond
cin: Lionel Lindon

A Japanese nurse marries an American soldier and goes home with him to the family farm - and struggles to fit in amidst the prejudices and jealousies of the people in her new home. Shirley Yamaguchi is our lead, she's wonderful, I have no notes. Often in danger of presenting the stereotypically submissive Asian wife, Yamaguchi (and the script) give her an undercurrent of frustration - and how could she not, the woman is doing her best - though they hint at her inner life more than they allow her to express it! Two elements I found interesting: one is the readiness of the men who actually served in war to accept her versus the bitterness of the wives and mothers who can still only see a symbol of The Faceless Enemy who took their loved ones; while the men are by no means universal in their acceptance nor completely open-minded (one neighbor calls her Ching-Chong and a geisha girl), I found that divide fascinating, the difference between lived experience and imagined threat. The second element is the inclusion of a Nissei family in town, a Japanese-American ranching family whose patriarch refuses to mingle with his white neighbors after they tried to take his land following his internment - and the neighbors, including our heroine's in-laws, all shake their heads and wonder at how this man can be so prejudiced because, after all, it's not like he doesn't have some of his land still. The disconnect! The opportunism! The continued bad blood! And it's interesting that there's an ambiguity regarding Yamaguchi's relationship with that family's son - a litmus test for our own prejudices? This is a film that could have been shallow, preachy, and given to easy answers against strawmen, but it is not. It's got that patina, sure, but there is something more thoughtful, more human, going on.

The Las Vegas Story
release: January 30
dir: Robert Stevenson
pr: Howard Hughes / Robert Sparks
scr: Earl Felton and Harry Essex / Paul Jarrico, story by Jay Dratler
cin: Harry J. Wild

A former nightclub singer returns to Las Vegas with her new husband, and her ex-boyfriend, a Vegas cop, isn't very happy about it - especially when the new husband is implicated in a club owner's murder. Fun noir, good cast: Victor Mature as the cop, Jane Russell as the gal, Vincent Price as the hubby with a secret, Hoagy Carmichael as (what else?) a pianist narrating the whole thing. Wish it had a better title, the one it has makes it sound like it's about the origins of the city. Just great entertainment.

Tomorrow, meet the year's Best Picture winner. Already? Already!

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