best film: Lola Montes from Ophuls. Lola Montes is a pure stylistic explosion and it is far ahead of the rest of the films from 1955. Andrew Sarris called it the greatest film ever made. Sadly, at age 53, it would be Ophuls last film as he would fall ill and die in 1957.
most underrated: La Pointe Courte – the debut film from Agnes Varda is not on the TSPDT consensus top 2000. It isn’t that shocking; this film was not widely available for a long time (still sort of isn’t but it is getting better). But watch this film skyrocket up the list in future years as more and more people discover Varda in general this magnificent film in particular. You couldn’t go wrong picking Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief in this category or Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm– neither of those land in the top 2000—a shame.
- Varda is 27 years old
- The title credits on wood, then a smooth tracking shot from that wood (a character in the film as it’s part of the blue collar town and a reoccurring set piece) down an alley—really nice
- We glide through houses in the town via windows like Renoir
- Babies crying (neo-realism) and nonprofessional actors
- Clothesline a nice visual motif
- Title of the film is a seaside village/neighborhood – film is a portrait of a town—never patronizing
- The face on face Bergman blocking—may actually be from Varda! It’s here and beautiful- done at 34 minutes in and repeats again at 37 minutes (referencing the position of the two principal actors) and then later it layers them in bed. If this is Varda, and not Bergman- it’s a change for me—this film actually debuts seven months before Smiles of a Summer Night, Bergman’s first film (that I know of) with a similar shot.
- Gorgeous set piece of abandoned ship
- Another great shot through an object on the ground and then we track through the object along the beach
- Dialogue is good, too—a woman from the village says of the two leads “they talk too much to be happy”
- The village has Ford’s community and custom
most overrated: There is actually a fair amount to choose from here. The TSPDT consensus top three doesn’t look like mine at all- but it is Renoir’s French Cancan that stands out the most. Like Floating Clouds– maybe I should refrain from commenting until I see it again (last time for both was on VHS I believe) but for now the consensus has it inside the top 500 (#473) and I’d easily get to 1200-1500 films before it.
gem I want to spotlight: East of Eden from Kazan
- Dean’s lead debut, first archiveable film, first nom, and the only film that was released prior to his death in Sep 1955
- First film for Kazan in color and widescreen
- Trademark yellow sweater for Dean in every scene almost like his red jacket in Rebel Without a Cause
- Cain and Abel via Steinbeck in Salinas (on location shooting- gorgeous) California—meditation on hypocrisy from father Raymond Massey
- Dean is enchanting—method—apparently he even went so far as to provoke Massey (who did not like Dean he said during and after) off-screen to increase the intensity of the performance and the gulf/dynamic between the two
- Like Rebel– troubled teen, tormented by parents/family relationship – debut for Jo Van Fleet (who is very good here- won best supporting actress)
- Dean and Massey are two complex characters- I mean Massey is on the draft board and Dean is a war profiteer—it’s believable that he would be upset
- Dean is such a gifted physical actor—grabbing his hair (busy with his hands like Brando grabbing Eva Marie Saint’s glove in On the Waterfront– the way Dean slinks out of the back of the car
- Dean has his trademark changes in volume of speaking—soft spoken and mumbling to almost over the top outpouring of emotion
- Kazan’s triumphs are the train shot using widescreen, the gorgeous yellow flowers in the dialogue scene with Julie Harris (she’s on-point as well as far as the ensemble goes) and the greatest achievement of Kazan here is that he tilts the camera often- Dutch angles—it’s shocking- great art—once he does it to run parallel with Dean’s slouching elbow
- Dean has a bunch of complex relationships in the film—he dotes on his father, jealous of perfect (Abel) brother, his best friend is Julie Harris— of course the mother—and Burl Ives is strong as the surprisingly sensitive sheriff
- “brother’s keeper” line—the brother Richard Davalos (Aron) looks like dean in some scenes- under the tree of knowledge especially
trends and notables:
- He’d pass away in 1957—and Lola Montes is the last film directed by Ophuls
- Just a bit of a pause for the run for the Japanese auteurs—particularly Ozu and Kurosawa. Ozu skips 1955 with no entry and Kurosawa’s Ikimono no kiroku doesn’t really belong in the conversation among the year’s elite films
- There is a whopping 50 archiveable films from 1955
- I’ve said it before but long before Kubrick (getting to him soon here) every year we have a Dreyer film it is an event. 1955 brings us Ordet– the first Dreyer film since 1943’s Day of Wrath and the last one until 1964’s Gertrud
- The year of the Rays—with Johnny Guitar in 1954 and two films in 1955 (including Rebel Without a Cause) we’re in peak Nicholas Ray territory (10 archiveable films between 1948-58). Godard said (he’s said a lot of stuff) “There was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforward there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray.” I say the year of “Rays” plural because 1955 is the start of the Apu trilogy and the debut from Satyajit Ray. Nicholas and Satyajit account for seven (7) of the top 100 films of the 1950’s. The Apu trilogy, and Satyajit Ray, are extremely important as far as the history of realism is concerned and I think it is fitting that Ray picks up right when the Italians are finishing up with the mode
- Kubrick- I can’t go much longer without getting to the first archiveable film from the great Stanley Kubrick. Killer’s Kiss is a vast improvement over 1953’s Fear and Desire (which I have mixed feelings on) and he’d improve upon that still in 1956’s The Killing. Kubrick would surpass them both of course- but at this point he isn’t nearly as exciting as the starts here for Satyajit Ray or Varda (these are two of the best directing debuts ever).
- As far as I can find- Oklahoma ! is the first film shot on 65mm. It was also shot on the normal 35mm as well– this would be a major movement in the upcoming years
- I do think it is a bit of a stretch to call La Pointe Courte the beginning of the French New Wave– works better as an antecedent or precursor
- 1955 is the beginning and end, tragically, for James Dean. Dean is a big part of my “gems” section above talking about East of Eden but both Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden come out in 1955—and both are spectacular. It is Dean’s debut, he passes away on September 30th before Rebel even gets its premiere (and Giant comes out in 1956). He’s nominated for Academy Awards in both years he’s eligible. It is just so sad—Dean would’ve gone on to be one of the all-time greats.
- As far as firsts for directors I’ve already mentioned Satyajit Ray, Varda and Kubrick. There’s more though. Polish auteur Andrzej Wajda makes his first appearance, same with John Sturges (no relation to Preston) for Bad Day at Black Rock and of course Charles Laughton directs his first and only film- The Night of the Hunter
- I mentioned James Dean already but other noteworthy actors with their first archiveable films in 1955 are Michel Piccoli in Renoir’s French Cancan. It is a bit of a passing of the torch as this would be Jean Gabin’s last archiveable film as well. In a similar passing of the torch (though Guinness is far from done in 1955) Peter Sellers makes his archiveable debut in The Ladykillers. Sellers is a comic genius, and much of his reputation rests on his range. He made so many movies where he portrays various characters (most famously in Strangelove) so it is fitting he’d get his start next to Guinness (who it appears he was studying the career of) who did the same thing so often- he was one of the original chameleons (in the line of Paul Muni) and played various characters as well– famously in Kind Hearts and Coronets for one. Gunnar Björnstrand also has his first of many archiveable films in 1955 as part of the Bergman stable of actors in Smiles of a Summer Night.
- Future co-stars Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau both had their first archiveable films in 1955. Matthau is in The Indian Fighter and Lemmon is in Mister Roberts (and won an Oscar in support). Matthau and Lemmon would go on to make 10 movies together but their first isn’t until 1966. So as for Mister Roberts– it marked the first film on the big screen after a seven-year absence for Henry Fonda (mostly working in theater during the hiatus). Think of that- one of our most prolific actors took seven years off in his prime and still ended with 29 archiveable films. If you look below both John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy are credited for directing Mister Roberts. Famously, Ford and Fonda got into an argument on set and it ended with Ford punching Fonda in the face. Sadly, they never worked together again. You have to think the Jimmy Stewart role in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance would’ve been Fonda’s.
best performance male: James Dean is the performer of the year with two films that rise above the top 10 of the year quality in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. Dean took the world by storm (you can’t say he’s revelatory as he’s so heavily influenced by Clift and Brando) in 1955. Dean’s per performance quality of acting average would ever be matched by any other actor in cinema (ok Bjork is right there, Maria Falconetti, Cazale and Daniel Day-Lewis). If it was just one of Dean’s performances to deal with I might have given the edge to Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter– truly one of the great villains of all-time. It may surprise some but Frank Sinatra has a strong case for best actor of the year in The Man With the Golden Arm. Sure, now in 2021, an actor playing a person with addiction is an easy Oscar-baiting target but Sinatra is deglamorized and raw here—a real performance. He proved he could handle this sort of performance just a few years earlier in his Oscar-winning supporting role in From Here to Eternity. Lastly, the young 8-year old Subir Banerjee deserves mention for his work in Ray’s Pather Panchali.
best performance female: Martine Carol gives the best female performance of the year in Ophuls’ Lola Montes. Very closely trailing her is Jane Wyman as Cary Scott in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. Simone Signoret dazzles in Diabolique and Grace Kelly slips into the mentions here. Kelly didn’t get a mention in 1954’s summary despite her work in Rear Window so I’m making amends a little and combining it with her work here To Catch a Thief.
- Lola Montes
- All That Heaven Allows
- La Pointe Courte
- The Night of the Hunter
- The Man With the Golden Arm
- Pather Panchali
- Rebel Without a Cause
- To Catch a Thief
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Generation- Wajda||R|
|All that Heaven Allows- Sirk||MP|
|Bad Day at Black Rock- J. Sturges||HR|
|Blackboard Jungle – R. Brooks||R|
|Blood Alley- Wellman||R|
|Desperate Hours- Wyler||HR|
|East of Eden – Kazan||HR/MS|
|Floating Clouds- Naruse|
|French Cancan- Renoir||R|
|Guys and Dolls – Mankiewicz||R|
|House of Bamboo – Fuller||R|
|Ikimono no kiroku – Kurosawa||R|
|Il Bidone- Fellini||R|
|It’s Always Fair Weather- Donen, Kelly||R|
|Killer’s Kiss- Kubrick||R|
|Kiss Me Deadly- Aldrich||HR/MS|
|La Pointe Courte – Varda||MS/MP|
|Land of the Pharaohs- Hawks||R|
|Le Amiche – Antonioni||R/HR|
|Lola Montes- Ophuls||MP|
|Love Me or Leave Me- C. Vidor||HR|
|Marty- Delbert Mann||R|
|Mister Roberts- Ford, Leroy||R|
|Mr. Arkardin- Welles||R/HR|
|Ordet – Dreyer||MS|
|Pather Panchali- S. Ray||MS|
|Rebel Without a Cause- N. Ray||MS|
|Richard III- Olivier||R|
|Run For Cover- N. Ray|
|Smiles of a Summer Night- Bergman||HR|
|The Big Combo- Jo. Lewis||HR|
|The Big Knife- Aldrich||R|
|The Far Country- A. Mann||R|
|The Indian Fighter- De Toth||R|
|Lady and the Tramp- Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson||R|
|The Ladykillers- Mackendrick||HR|
|The Man From Laramie- A. Mann||R/HR|
|The Man With the Golden Arm- Preminger||MS|
|The Night of the Hunter- Laughton||MS|
|The Phenix City Story – Karlson||R|
|The Prisoner- Glenville||R|
|The Rose Tattoo- Daniel Mann||R|
|The Seven Year Itch – Wilder||R|
|To Catch a Thief- Hitchcock||MS|
|We’re No Angels- Curtiz||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
@Bobby- thanks for sharing. I have a copy of it sitting here- hoping to get to a rewatch of it this summer yet. What makes Night of the Hunter so special to in your estimation?
Drake – I wanted to know what you thought of Jules Dassin’s Rififi. You have it as HR but not top 10 material. The 30 minute silent robbery scene alone makes me think this should be one of the top movies of the year. Plus, Jean Servais as Tony “le Stéphanois is a pitch perfect as an ex con looking to regain his place, his performance is along the lines of Alain Delon in several of his Jean Pierre Melville movies.
Obvious the Asphalt Jungle was highly influential along with Bob le flambeur (which I also love)
on movies like Reservoir Dogs, Ocean’s 11, and even Kubricks the Killing.
And as much as I love all the movies I’ve listed above I still don’t think I’ve seen a better
heist movie. Frankly, to me this is THE Heist movie.
Curious on your thoughts?
@James Trapp- It really fell out of the top 10 of 1955 because of the strength of 1955— I think Rififi is a superb film (ahead of The Killing among others)– it did land on my top 100 of the 1950’s http://thecinemaarchives.com/2019/03/01/the-best-films-of-the-decade-the-1950s/. I don’t have an individual page for it yet though unfortunately — when I get to revisit it again I’ll have more details
Great page, with the update it seems i have work to do here. So many great movies that i haven’t seen.
I want to point out that poor Dreyer didn’t make movies because he didn’t want to (unlike Malick who took a 20 years) it was because his films were harshly treated, booing and financial failures. It was hard to get someone to finance his films.
Truly a misunderstood genius.
In fact his most acclaimed film during its release was Ordet.
Too bad we never got to see the Jesus movie, one of the greatest movies never made together with Napoleon.
According to the information Ordet and Gertrud were “drafts” for their Jesus film.
Okay I just saw Diabolique, what a movie, pure suspense. I am sure that if I had seen this movie as a child I would have died of fear.
I would like to talk about the movie, but they would be spoilers, i only came to recommend it if you haven’t already.
I usually don’t like to call a movie thriller Hitchcockian, because it seems like an insult to the teacher, but this movie fits perfectly
Here are some curious facts :
-Hitchcock was going to buy the novel it’s based on, but Clouzot bought it first.
-Hitchcock is a fan of Diabolique, it is said that he influenced the creation of Psycho
-The writers of the novel (Boileau and Narcejac), also wrote “D’entre les morts” on which Vertigo is based, so it’s worth it
I also saw To Catch a Thief, a very good movie. Drake, i remember you had the movie only as “Recommended” and now as “Must-see” but i could not find the review, in theory if you changed the rating it means that you saw it recently, so it should have a review (just out of curiosity)
Ohhh Drake, you always forget that Gunnar Bjornstrand actually had a minor supporting role in Sawdust and Tinsel, thus making his archivable debut in 1953, not 1955! This error also appears on the Gunnar Bjornstrand page as well.
@Zane- thank you for the help here
Watch the The Ladykillers from Mackendrick; a real gem, a lot of fun.
What are some more good older comedy’s? Also, would you recommend anything else from
Mackendrick (aside from The Sweet Smell of Success of course)?
*Watched The Ladykillers
@James Trapp- Kind Hearts and Coronets is one- The Lavender Hill Mob is another that come to mind. I also have The Man in the White Suit in the archives from Mackendrick.
@Drake – thanks for the suggestions, I really liked Alec Guinness in this. Finishing up my Melville study but like mixing in some other fims for variety.
I have a vague premonition that attainment of MP status on your grading system is swiftly forthcoming for The Big Combo; I am unable to pinpoint the precise root of this feeling but anyway it is very prominent. Just in case I am wrong, I will try to provide a ‘cursory’ explanation for why I believe this film is unequivocally worthy of such an accession as well as being named alongside the supreme monoliths of the noir genre.
DP John Alton was arguably the most respected figure in the history of noir cinematography (as exemplified by his seminal 1949 text Painting With Light, which is practically considered the chiaroscuro Bible), and never are the reasons for this more apparent than when taking a glance at a single frame of the delusive monochrome nightmare that is The Big Combo. The abundance of compositional eye candy you have posted above is proof enough of the film’s visual brilliance on a shot for shot level, but in fact entire scenes are orchestrated with as piercing a stylistic sensibility as can be found in the noir genre or any other; from the opening scene, Alton envelops his radiant ingenue in a cobweb of perfidious shadow, just as her aspirations of freedom are being suffocated and stamped into oblivion by the spectral silhouettes of Mr. Brown’s henchmen. This is one of the film’s many examples of Alton putting the symbolic nature of light and shadow (and later, quite famously, fog) to exceptional use; for another example take the sequence in which Mr. Brown’s henchmen intend to assassinate the protagonist, Diamond, in his apartment, but fall prey to the deceit of their own Stygian habitat, and unknowingly kill his occasional girlfriend (a dancer at the local burlesque). Instead of showing a slow motion full shot of the woman being horrifically ravaged by bullets and every last particle of blood and brain matter that splatters across the walls a la modern cinema, we are given a far more minimalistic and poetic treatment of the event; the henchmen open fire through the door of the apartment; we see a lit cigarette fall off the edge of a chair, a lone wrist fall limp and hang loose in the sable veil; and the camera slowly rising to a window revealing the neon sign of the burlesque club, swelling as though in silent sorrow for the demise of its own progeny…
Another one of my favorite scenes is the execution of Mr. Brown’s right hand man, Joe McLure (like all great film noir, this one knows how to kill people the right way). McLure is almost entirely deaf and requires a hearing aid to discern any sound whatsoever; anyway, Mr. Brown decides to provide him a sort of faux mercy by removing his hearing aid so he doesn’t have to hear the gunshots; there is a sort of haunting tranquility to the silent spurts of the Tommy guns, and we hear only footsteps; Mr. Brown walks slowly towards the camera with a soulless, dispassionate glare as the screen fades to black.
I have not researched the subject of Philip Yordan’s ostensible credit-snatching to a great extent, so let’s just say the following praise is directed towards “a fellow”
The film’s spiraling narrative pulls off the incredible task of simultaneously representing the ultimate distillation and love letter to its predecessors while also being seemingly impervious to the platitudes and predictability that generally come along with such a thing. There is no identifiable “femme fatale” in The Big Combo because a fellow understands film noir beyond the superficial similarities between some of its exemplars; he understands the essence of the genre as Raymond Chandler so elegantly summarized in his 1944 essay The Simple Art of Murder:
“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”
The Big Combo’s protagonist of Diamond fits this archetype as well as any other; a fellow establishes him from his very first scene as a man steadfast in his idealism, but plagued by shortcomings bred not from evil, or even moral grayness, but from pure humanity; chief amongst them: he is in love with the girlfriend of notorious underworld kingpin Mr. Brown, whom his department has been trying to apprehend for years. This sexual and emotional dynamic being transposed onto his work forms a blatant conflict of interest, and it is something that Diamond has to grapple with both internally and externally throughout the entire film.
In the character of Susan Lowell, the suicidal dame in question, we have as realistic a portrayal of an abusive relationship as has ever been composed for screen; a fellow leaves no fashionable ambiguity as to why she won’t even attempt to escape from Mr. Brown: it is made abundantly clear that he is an individual of certain *ahem* corporeal advantages
and this is apparently more than enough to provide a counterbalance to any pesky desire for non-abuse that may start seeping into her mind.
The genius of the film’s ending extends far beyond the stunning cinematography, as it represents both the culmination and the confrontation of both of our two protagonists’ most beleaguering faults: Susan has (in the previous scene) just witnessed one of Mr. Brown’s henchmen murder a man in cold blood inches away from her in an elevator; her crisis of cunnilingus has reached its true climax, and at last she has a chance to end it all by betraying him on the causeway; meanwhile, Diamond has Mr. Brown at his mercy, and is himself handed a difficult choice: to exact revenge against the tormentor of the woman he loves, or continue to uphold his vigorous code of nobility?
And of course both questions are answered; I won’t claim the ability to read minds, but perhaps the film’s final frame was intended to evoke Nietszche’s abyss, with our two protagonists staring off into the pallid oblivion of themselves, and what their answers may have wrought. I dunno.
@Max- Excellent work here- wow. Thank you for sharing this.
@Drake- what are great child performances you mention in your acting categories?
@RujK- Great question. I do not have an easy way to go rip them all out by age. I do have plans for a top performances list and it’ll be fun to see how many are child performances
I coincidentally was planning on asking you what the shortlist for goat child performances were in film today haha. I’ll gladly wait till the performance list comes out though
Question about that: would that be split up into a top 100 male list and then female top 100?
@Matthew- Haven’t quite decided yet- not sure on the number 50 or 100… and not sure on combined or male/female split
Drake – Recently someone asked me about Marty (1955) which I still need to watch. I see you have it as a simple R. Just curious about your thoughts on the film and Ernest Borgnine’s performance? And to be clear the person asking is not a hardcore film buff just someone looking for an entertaining movie.
@James Trapp – Certainly an entertaining movie driven more by Paddy Chayefsky’s writing and the performances than Delbert Mann’s direction. It can’t really compare with the strongest films of 1955 (or any year)- but I would never not recommend this film to someone.
@Drake – sounds good, thanks.