best film:  The Searchers from John Ford

  • John Ford’s The Searchers is many things: a meditation on wilderness and civilization is chief amongst them
  • An update of Melville—John Wayne is Ahab here, obsession—monomaniacal
  • The best film of all-time, #9 on TSPDT, #7 on Sight and Sound
  • The greatest work from four-time Oscar-winning best director John Ford
  • Dazzling on-location shooting in Monument Valley. Ford shot there often, but never like this aided by VistaVision—the stunning red rock made of sandstone make for true architecture as character
  • This is from Ebert- he compared the low-brow humor which is a running trait in Ford’s oeuvre- to Shakespeare’s clowns- I like that
  • There is humor and community in Ford’s world- an important theme and habitat
  • Heavily influenced Kurosawa, Scorsese (Taxi Driver specifically)- Schrader (ditto—made Hardcore and Taxi Driver which are updated versions of this), Spielberg, John Milius De Palma, Godard, Wim Winders, and George Lucas (the massacre scene from The Searchers is lifted and used in Star Wars of course- both examples of fantastic filmmaking)
  • Best of the 14 films made by Ford with Wayne

the marvelous character blocking compositions on the porch in The Searchers

  • It is one of the greatest examples of architecture as character in photography and film—these characters are swallowed up by the rugged uncivilized world. It’s both beautiful and unforgivably harsh
  • The door as a frame is Ozu—it’s brilliant and Ford emphasizes shadow. It happens again and again not just at the beginning and end which are two of the greatest moments in cinema history acting as bookends

among the greatest opening shots in cinema history…

…and among the greatest closing shots

 

  • Ford is one of cinema’s true artists. He makes the avant-garde choice here more often than not over naturalism. Look at monument valley—there are no houses there- this isn’t realistic… look at the staging of the first battle with the Native Americans and the straight lines- it’s striking

 

most underrated:   Bob le Flambeur from Melville wrongly fell off the TSPDT consensus top 1000 in 2020.

  • It’s both an important film (probably the easiest film to point to singular bridge between noir and the French New Wave) and a fantastic work of art without the important influence associated
  • Shot on location—Melville said he could not get Jean Gabin because of cost and turned down a young Alain Delon (for second lead) because he would have distracted from the film and Roger Duchesne’s Bob. I like Duchesne (Bob) and Daniel Cauchy (who plays Paolo) but this may be a film on another level (better) with Gabin and Delon
  • Melville’s 4th film- but his first crime film- a genre he’d become synonymous with
  • Film is admired by and paid homage to often by the likes of: Godard, Kubrick Jarmusch, Tarantino PTA and many others (film was remade by Neil Jordan as The Good Thief starring Nick Nolte in 2002)
  • Handled camera on bike, location shooting in the real Paris—all of this is four years before Breathless (Godard would tap Melville on the shoulder for an important small role in his debut film of course)
  • Melville loved Hollywood and is heavily influenced by America- wore ray bans, Plymouth car in the film
  • Gorgeous first shot of Bob in the black and white checkerboard set designed room/wallpaper—shot off a window reflection- a hell of an entrance to the character
  • Trench coach (Le Samourai later for Melville)

Wallpaper is often wild- gorgeous to look at- a real visual effort for sure from Melville on top of the rich characterizations and enthralling plot/narrative

  • Bob says “this is a real thug’s face” about himself- this could easily be Belmondo saying this
  • The film has a lovely authentic seedy atmosphere to it I adore- bars, casinos, 2am-4am seems to be where the film and characters all dwell- smoke—neon lights— sleep all day
  • A medication on fate- I could see the Coen’s being influenced here
  • Paolo is a great character, young, stupid, worships Bob, wears a similar coat, gives up having sex with a girl to hang with Bob
  • A triumph of natural noir lighting

 

most overrated:  It is Fred Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet at #884 on the all-time consensus list which makes it #9 of 1956. I’d get to 20 films from 1956 (which isn’t a year with great depth) before it.

gem I want to spotlight:   I’m going to cheat and pick two very different films here. Aparajito from Satyajit Ray is as strong as 1955’s Pather Panchali- the first leg of the film of Ray’s Apu trilogy. It’s humanism at its finest, but also a pillar of the neo-realism movement from Rossellini and De Sica up through Boyhood and the Dardenne brothers. Also, if you’re looking for lighter fare – try High Society.  It is an impressive remake of Cukor’s 1940 The Philadelphia Story. Grace Kelly plays the Katharine Hepburn role, Bing Crosby plays the Cary Grant role and Frank Sinatra plays the Jimmy Stewart role. It’s a testament to the three actors how well they follow up the legends in the 1940’s film. The only one of the six (three from this film and 3 from the 1940 original) with no acting Oscar is actually Cary Grant- haha. Grace Kelly’s last movie and she’s incredible here—what a loss for us that she stopped working– what a talented actress and incredible beauty. Unlike Cukor’s version in black and white,  this is in VistaVision, color and this one includes original music by Cole Porter— a great bonus and on top of having Cole Porter music—we get three of the best musicians of the 20th century (Louis Armstrong, Crosby and Sinatra) working tougher.

Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, High Society | Frank sinatra, The philadelphia story, Sinatra

on top of having Cole Porter music—we get three of the best musicians of the 20th century (Louis Armstrong, Crosby and Sinatra) working tougher

trends and notables:

  • 1956 is a down year at this out after 1955. Still- it gives us The Searchers– one of the select group of films (my choice) that you could argue is the best film of all-time. 1956 brings Bresson’s crowning achievement- A Man Escaped

1956 brings Bresson’s crowning achievement- A Man Escaped

 

  • The depth isn’t there- we’re back to 37 archiveable films after 1955’s 50—just one of those fluke things
  • DeMille’s The Ten Commandments is a juggernaut at the box office (making Charlton Heston a massive star) almost twice as big as #2 (Around the World in 80 Days– more on that in a second), Giant is third. These are long films–escapism, big format, color films—distancing themselves from television

it is a flawed film– but you can’t argue with this shot from DeMille’s Bible epic

the trend of popular epics is cemented with the massive success of The Ten Commandments-– far and away the biggest box office draw of 1956

Dean in Giant– released posthumously

an epic shot fitting the genre from Giant

  • Around the World in 80 Days wins best picture at the Oscars—certainly one of the weaker efforts to actually win (I didn’t give it a thought as far as putting it in my top 10 and it is closer to falling out of the archives than making a run at the actual best picture of the year). However, it is an important film on two fronts. For one, it is, as far as I can tell, the first 65mm/70mm large format film. It is a natural extension of the CinemaScope wider screen—we now have a photography that doubles the size (and double the clarity) of your standard 35mm (which is double that of the indie go-to 16mm—which that even is double your typical home movie 8mm). Also, Around the World in 80 Days stars the sort of star-cameo ensemble sub-genre. Think of How the West Was Won, The Longest Day and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.. larger format (for the most part) ensemble star cameo films. This one includes Peter Lorre, Marlene Dietrich, David Niven, John Gielgud, Ronald Coleman, Andy Devine, John Mills, Charles Coburn and many others.
  • Bogart technically died in 1957 (January 14) but 1956 is his last archiveable film here in 1956- The Harder They Fall. It’s certainly part of life and the progression of time that great actors and directors die but we lost Bogart here rather young at age 57 and he’s one of the greatest actors of all-time
  • 1956 gave us two films by Sirk (who is on fire during this period- back to back years with masterpieces), Aldrich and Hitchcock along with another entry from Kazan and Nicholas Ray who seem to be good for at least one archiveable film a year in the 50’s. In fact, Ray would give us nine total this decade and Kazan would be good for seven.

experimental if not downright expressionistic in visual mise-en-scene and lighting design– Sirk buried this visual panache in the melodrama genre — this is from Written on the Wind

rarely does a year go by that Hitchcock doesn’t have one of the best shots of the year- 1956 is no exception with The Man Who Knew Too Much— three different depths here in this composition– Hitchcock remade himself– watch the two films and compare his work in the 1930’s and 1950’s– he’s just a better director in the 1950’s

  • Grace Kelly, sadly, would also famously retire in 1956 and become Princess of Monaco. She was a great actress in her prime (age 27) so it is a damn shame to lose her
  • I think it’s sort of fitting that the year following the death of James Dean that we’d have the first archiveable film for Paul Newman– who would be a fitting beneficiary as he’s also an unbelievably handsome and talented young Marlon Brando heir. It’s weird to think Newman was 6 years older than James Dean. Newman’s first archiveable film, Somebody Up There Likes Me was passed on by Clift, then was supposed to star James Dean, and was also the first archiveable film for a promising young actor with a much smaller role than Newman… Steve McQueen
  • It may not be on the level of Newman or McQueen but 1956 marks the first archiveable film for Eli Wallach—he’s in Kazan’s Baby Doll– it seems like every year one of the best most talented actors of a generation gets their start or big break with Kazan— that can be no coincidence
  • I don’t have The Trouble With Harry or Artists and Models in the archives for 1955 so technically  Around the World in 80 Days is the archiveable first for the great Shirley MacLaine
  • It is mentioned above but Melville is a bit of a stop gap between American film noir and the French New Wave
  • Speaking of noir, it is sort of getting replaced as the B-movie of choice by both the western (films like 7 Men From Now, The Fastest Gun Alive) and sci-fi (certainly a B-movie genre at this point—films like Forbidden Planet and Invasion of Body Snatchers)

the single best shot from Siegel’s Invasion of Body Snatchers– Kalatozov actually has a similar shot years later in Letter Never Sent

best performance male:   The best actor of the year, male or female, is extremely easy in 1956. It John Wayne. His Ethan Edwards character and performance are amongst the greatest in film history. It’s a richly complex, nuanced work. I think Rock Hudson deserves mention in 1956.  He is not a talented actor but I have to note his work here not only in Written on the Wind but Giant as well – two top 10 films. My third and final mention here is the timeless performance by Roger Duchesne as Bob in Bob le Flambeur. As much as I admire Duchesne’s work I mentioned several times in my notes on the film that it may be a better film with say Jean Gabin in the lead (probably why I’m getting to him after Hudson).

a low angle and camera position beautifully captures Rock Hudson (and Dorothy Malone way in the background) in Sirk’s Written on the Wind

best performance female:  It is an awful year for female roles and performances. Frankly, beyond Wayne in The Searchers it isn’t not a great year for acting period. I’m going to give my best performance of the year by a female to a great supporting turn by Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind. She steals every scene she’s in.  Lauren Bacall also gets a mention as well for her work in the same film even if she’s quite up to the same sort of call out as Malone is for her work

Sirk bouncing the light off of Lauren Bacalltop 10

  1. The Searchers
  2. A Man Escaped
  3. Written on the Wind
  4. Aparajito
  5. Bob le Flambeur
  6. The Man Who Knew Too Much
  7. The Killing
  8. The Ten Commandments
  9. Early Spring
  10. Giant

from Kubrick’s The Killing— stark beauty

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

7 Men From Now- Boetticher
A Man Escaped- Bresson MP
Anastasia- Litvak R
Aparajito – S. Ray MS
Around the World in 80 Days – M. Anderson R
Attack- Aldrich R
Autumn Leaves- Aldrich R
Baby Doll- Kazan R
Bhowani Junction- Cukor R
Bigger Than Life- N. Ray HR
Bob Le Flambeur – Melville MS
Bus Stop- Logan R
Early Spring – Ozu HR
Elena and Her Men- Renoir R
Forbidden Planet – Wilcox R
Friendly Persuasion- Wyler R
Giant- Stevens HR
High Society – Walters R
Invasion of Body Snatchers- Siegel HR
Lust For Life- Minnelli R
Moby Dick- J. Huston R
Somebody Up There Likes Me- Wise R
The Bad Seed- LeRoy R
The Fastest Gun Alive- Rouse R
The Harder They Fall- Robson R
The Killer Is Loose- Boetticher
The Killing- Kubrick HR
The King and I- W. Lang R
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit- N. Johnson R
The Man Who Knew Too Much- Hitchcock
The Searchers – Ford MP
The Ten Commandments– DeMille HR
The Wrong Man-Hitchcock R
There’s Always Tomorrow- Sirk R
War and Peace – K. Vidor R
While the City Sleeps – Lang R
Written on the Wind – Sirk MP

 

 

*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