best film:  Ikiru from Kurosawa

  • Both visually masterful and staggeringly profound and poignant
  • One of cinema’s greatest character studies- Kane, Raging Bull– the examination of a man’s life. A bit of It’s A Wonderful Life and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
  • Kurosawa adapted Dostoevsky the year before with The Idiot but achieves here a work on the level of those novels he clearly admired
  • Kurosawa’s meticulous mise-en-scene arrangement of Shimura’s character’s office—a fortress of paperwork keeping him captive, a magnificent shot (one of 30-40 art museum up on a wall pieces in the film) from behind his head with the two rows of workers flanking him
  • A triumph of black and white deep focus photography that passes Wyler and heads squarely into the Welles territory – compositions that may not have have Welles’ playfulness and inventiveness with angles but surely rival them in beauty
  • The narrative structure is different (and not as earth-shattering) than Rashomon but slyly complex as well—we start with knowing Shimura’s character’s fate, we have the shattering flashbacks of raising his son: the funeral, baseball, appendix, his son going off to war—. He dies at the 92 minute mark in in a 143 minute film – like Citizen Kane here we get multiple opinions and people trying to define a life posthumously- a intriguing and bold structure
  • The intersecting heads at the bar in the frame at 39 minutes like the famous shot from Bergman’s Persona – which is fourteen years after this, there’s an obstructed window at the bar, the neon signage bouncing off the window of the car during the night of drinking

 

Another highlight of the deep focus depth of frame foreground/background work is the 74-minute mark with Shimura and the tea in the foreground

 

There are 30-40 of these- at 83 minutes when Shimura and the young female former co-worker are at dinner talking there is an entire birthday party going on in the background in deep focus—marvelous work

 

One of the defining scenes in cinema in the 1950’s is Kurosawa’s shot through the play structure at the 137 minute mark tracking along, creating a frame within a frame (and surrounding labyrinth structure) of Shimura on the swing. It is absolutely breathtaking. It strikes me as one of the greatest single shots and/or frames of the 1950’s along with the opening and closing shots in The Searchers, the opening of Touch of Evil, the 360 green-tinted shot in Vertigo, perhaps a half dozen others.

 

most underrated:   Park Row from Sam Fuller

  • energy pours out of Fuller’s Park Row– his fifth film and easily his best to date in 1952
  • Opens with a marvelous tracking shot as Gene Evans (Fuller’s lead now in three straight films after Steel Helmet and Fixed Bayonets!) strolls through park row with the credits on top
  • Fuller’s first full scene here after the titles and opening tracking shot over the titles is in a bar and he’s so skilled here at blocking faces and placing them in the square frame—a standout is at eight minutes he has three rows of individual people talking to each other but they’re all facing the camera

Fuller so skilled here at blocking faces and placing them in the square frame

  • Sharp, fast-faced crackling witty jargon-filled dialogue like a Hawks’ screwball (like His Girl Friday also a film about the newspaper industry) or Aaron Sorkin
  • In that same opening scene at the bar there’s a shot of four faces at the bar with Evans in the foreground – his profile in the camera
  • Fuller is clearly buzzing with admiration for the subject matter— another tracking shot overhead the street—he’s going back and forth in this little world he built and clearly loves like say Cuaron’s Roma or Tarantino’s 1969 Hollywood in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • The film is one of cinema’s most underrated films- not in the TSPDT top 2000—my guess is not enough people have seen it (it notoriously bankrupt Fuller upon release), and still isn’t easy to find today. Also, comparisons with Citizen Kane (it’s about a one-man newspaper man eccentric artist, an ambitious entrepreneur seeking truth) don’t help
  • the tracking shots along the street, the work with body and face blocking in the frame, and then Fuller has this swirling shot of a dramatic kiss at 56 minutes—swinging behind bars obstructing the frame- stunning.

 

most overrated:  Limelight from Chaplin just shouldn’t be at #523 (which is where it sits on the TSPDT consensus list). Singin’ in the Rain really shouldn’t be at #12 but that feels like a nitpick in comparison to Limelight. I’m probably 1000 slots lower on Limelight.

 

gem I want to spotlight:  The Bad and the Beautiful from Minnelli. I feel bad that I keep ignoring Minnelli and this is his seventh archiveable film since his debut in 1943 (so 7 in 10 years). It is also a welcomed opportunity to give a shot out to Kirk Douglas again. Douglas had three archiveable films in 1951, two in 1952—giving him 10 in 7 years since his debut in 1946.

 

trends and notables:

  • In the 1951 recap Ozu and Kurosawa were the big story—well here we add Mizoguchi to the mix (these three make up 3 of the top 10 films). Mizoguchi had been around for a long time—but his two peaks are just before WWII—and then from 1952-1955. Of course, as far as Kurosawa is concerned– this gives him two of the best films of the 1950’s so far with Rashomon in 1950.

from The Life of Oharu – Mizoguchi, Ozu and Kurosawa comprise three of the top ten films of the year in 1952

great symmetry from The Life of Oharu

overhead shots like 1941’s The 47 Ronin— this here is Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu

superior depth of field shot and frame in Ozu’s The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice

  • With Umberto D and Europa ’51 this is sort of the last bastion for Italian Neorealism’s heyday. Visconti’s next film (Senso in 1954) is definitely not neorealism, Rossellini starts moving on, and though De Sica would be back in 1960 with Two Women—this is sort of the end of the momentum for this movement

from De Sica- this is Umberto D– With this and Europa ’51 this is sort of the last bastion for Italian Neorealism’s heyday

  • We’re smack in the middle for Ophuls’ peak in 1952 — Le Plaisir is sublime and Earrings comes out the following year—similar period for Sam Fuller- his two best films are 1952 and 1953—and this is a good time to send up a reminder that there has always been an indie cinema. Jarmusch must laugh when people talk about indie cinema starting in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s with Tarantino, Soderbergh, Spike and Linklater—and ditto here- I mean go back to Cassavetes and then to Fuller and Ulmer. Anyways- Fuller’s Park Row was self-financed and shot in 14 days—if that isn’t indie cinema I don’t know what it is

We’re smack in the middle for Ophuls’ peak in 1952 — Le Plaisir

 

  • His artistic breakout would be the following year- but this is the first archiveable film (and solo directing debut) for Federico Fellini with The White Sheik– Fellini was a writing collaborator on some of Rossellini’s films (Rome, Open City, Paisan, The Flowers of St. Francis). So 1950 gave us Bergman’s debut, and in 1951 we have Fellini- two of the best five or so directors of all-time
  • As far as acting first timers in the archives the big breakthrough in 1952 is the luminous Grace Kelly. She plays Gary Cooper’s Quaker wife in High Noon. Kelly’s career would last only four short years before she’d retire at age 27 to become Princess Grace. In that four-year span Kelly would have seven archiveable films (made a total of just eleven)
  • Lastly- they if you watch old movies or TCM enough you’ll eventually recognize the work of Arthur Kennedy- a supporting actor (five oscar noms– all from 1949-1958) with fourteen (14) archiveable films and three of them in 1952 (Bend of the River, Rancho Notorious, The Lusty Men)

 

best performance male:  The answer here is Takashi Shimura in Ikiru plan and simple. Shimura gives one of the better performances of the 1950’s- often a physical silent performance, the pained grimace—the vast canvas of a face, slumping of the shoulders. There is no shortage of strong performances right behind Shimura though. Carlo Battisti in Umberto D is one of the faces of neorealism—you can’t go more than 3-4 performances recalling the history of that movement without getting to his work here in 1952. A pair of Genes are next. Gene Kelly does his finest work (coming off An American in Paris the year before so this is his summit here) in Singin’ in the Rain. Gene Evans may be even better in Samuel Fuller’s Park Row. Evans lost about 40 lbs. from the war films he made with Fuller in 1951 for Fuller. He plays Phineas Mitchell—and Evans’ brazenness is a perfect fit for Fuller’s street-wise maverick. Lastly, Gary Cooper deserves mention for his work in High Noon. Cooper has been a star for 20+ years at this point in his career in 1952—and usually I’m not overly impressed— but this it here in 1952—the superb pained expression on his face for the entire running time—his best performance.

 

Carlo Battisti in Umberto D is one of the faces of neorealism—you can’t go more than 3-4 performances recalling the history of that movement without getting to his work here in 1952

Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain- one of the landmarks of 1952

 

best performance female:  Kinuyo Tanaka leads the way in the best female performance of the year category in 1952. Tanaka is Mizoguchi’s titular character- a tragic victim. Maureen O’Hara goes toe to toe with giants of the screen John Wayne and Victor McLaglen in Ford’s The Quiet Man. Packing the same fight and energy in about half the size is Debbie Reynolds– the third and final mention here for her work in Singin’ in the Rain.

the famous wind kiss scene (homage in Spielberg’s E.T. amongst others)

The Quiet Man from John Ford- known for its location shooting in Ireland and it shows. It’s absolutely gorgeous exterior photography

top 10

  1. Ikiru
  2. Singin’ in the Rain
  3. Umberto D
  4. Le Plaisir
  5. High Noon
  6. The Quiet Man
  7. Park Row
  8. The Life of Oharu
  9. Forbidden Games
  10. The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice

 

phenomenal long shot from Singin’ in the Rain

multiple elevations, character blocking– a great shot from The Quiet Man

from High Noon– a stunning close-up composition

 

the opposite here- pulling back via crane shot in High Noon to reveal Cooper’s hero alone- fending for himself

 

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

5 Fingers- Mankiewicz
Bend of the River- A. Mann
Breaking the Sound Barrier- Lean R
Carson City – De Toth
Clash By Night- Lang R
Deadline USA- R. Brooks
Europa ‘51- Rossellini R
Forbidden Games – Clement HR/MS
High Noon- Zinnemann MP
Ikiru – Kurosawa MP
Kansas City Confidential – Karlson R
Le Plaisir – Ophuls MP
Life of Oharu- Mizoguchi MS
Limelight- Chaplin R
Park Row- Fuller MS/MP
Pat and Mike- Cukor R
Rancho Notorious- Lang R
Singin’ In the Rain- Donen, Kelly MP
Sudden Fear- D. Miller
The Bad and the Beautiful- Minnelli HR
The Big Sky- H. Hawks R
The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice – Ozu HR
The Golden Coach- Renoir R
The Greatest Show on Earth- DeMille R
The Importance of Being Earnest- Parker
The Lusty Men – N. Ray R/HR
The Member of the Wedding – Zinnemann
The Quiet Man – Ford MP
The White Sheik- Fellini R
Umberto D- De Sica MP
Vita Zapata- Kazan R

 

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives