According to its most influential and lasting films, Hollywood in 1950 struggled with its past and found part of its future. Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve inspect old theatricality and stars. I can’t tell if they were trying to redeem the past or kill it off, but they made it a bit harder to take the old-school seriously. Glimpses of the future popped up in unassuming places with varying degrees of immediate impact and quality.
There are a couple movies that people care about for which I have zero context: In A Lonely Place directed by Nicholas Ray and Orpheus directed by Jean Cocteau. I’ve seen a few by Luis Bunuel and didn’t care about them so I didn’t see The Young and the Damned.
An unsuccessful young screenwriter is drawn into the world of Norma Desmond, an older silent film star. She pursues a grand comeback that the rest of the world knows won’t happen, but he humors her to calm her wild mood swings and gain a comfortable life.
Billy Wilder is one of my favorite filmmakers from this era. Here he pushes film’s theatrical past into the light of reality, personifying that past in Gloria Swanson as Desmond. Her complete lunacy is hilarious but to us but you can feel others’ fear or attraction to her. There’s good stuff in other roles but she’s the main reason I can expect someone to enjoy Sunset Boulevard.
All About Eve
Beautiful young actress Eve becomes the assistant to the older and respected stage actress Margo. Eve slowly works into Margo’s social circle and tries to become her replacement professionally and socially.
While Sunset Boulevard makes the silent era seem crazy, All About Eve makes the case that the world of actors continued to be crazy. Conspiracy, backstabbing, and relationship tampering all close in on the funny, mean, and always interesting Margo.
Hollywood back then (and pretty much now) rarely focused on a problem women faced and how a woman fights back against it. There’s no single representative of all women, and instead they’re treated like real people. It’s great because varied types of roles and characters are the only way to avoid seeing the same stories over and over. The whole thing is kind of undercut by Marilyn Monroe, who does basically nothing but somehow was crowned Person We Want More Of.
When a woodcutter finds a samurai’s dead body in the forest, a captured bandit admits to committing the crime. Three witnesses give conflicting testimonies on how and why it happened.
Rashomon is one of those go-to responses for what film nerds might love. Slow character reveals, plot confusion, and the foreign language make it kind of low-hanging fruit on that front. The nerds picked a good one this time. It just has a great spooky vibe and its variety of shots and settings make it look awesome. It’s famous for depicting the same event multiple ways depending on who’s telling the story, introducing the unreliable narrator to movies. I’d seen that in tons of movies it influenced first but Rashomon still surprised me. Some of the acting is out-of-date and it’s a bit sentimental but even there it’s better than most of the 1950s.
The Asphalt Jungle
A group of men plan a heist first succeeds and then falls apart as they turn on each other.
Solid style but nothing too crazy here otherwise unless you love the genre. It’s a tense heist noir starring Sterling Hayden, which is exactly what The Killing is, and The Killing is better. John Huston makes good stuff from what I’ve seen otherwise so maybe I just need to watch this one again.
The Asphalt Jungle’s biggest cultural legacy at this point is the introduction of Marilyn Monroe. Judging from the poster and how frequently she’s mentioned in reviews, you wouldn’t know her role is small and she does nothing impressive but be extremely hot. I’m sure I will write about the strangeness of her phenomenon in the future but for now I’ll just say the people of 1950 must have been uncontrollably desperate.
A partially paralyzed WWII lieutenant living in a veterans’ hospital attempts to reenter society. As he struggles with physical and emotional problems his friends and doctor encourage him not to give up on his relationship with his fiancee.
As a young man who has had major health problems I could definitely relate to The Men. Each patient, doctor, and friend deals with these problems differently. For each problem you can see there are way more you can’t see. It’s tough to watch but that’s the only way they could show life-changing ailments accurately.
The Men isn’t by itself a big deal but Marlon Brando is the biggest deal as far as actors are concerned. It’s his first lead role, but not one that caught on in a big way. He’s excellent for the time but he won’t be excellent for all time until later movies.
Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl films his attempt to prove Polynesia could have been settled by South Americans. He and his crew attempt the trip using only technology available to these hypothetical colonizers.
The hypothesis Kon-Tiki attempts to prove isn’t considered much by historians today for other reasons, but the trip makes for a great documentary. The crew is enjoyable and Heyerdahl knows just what to focus on. They experience unique dangers and puzzles and it’s great to see how they try to solve them. Not much movie history but you might enjoy it too.