best film: The Seventh Seal from Ingmar Bergman
- Bergman’s first masterpiece—and a landmark film in 1950’s cinema
- A gray film- severe in tint and mood—Bergman sets the tone with the choir reigning down during the opening as we set out with the young Max von Sydow (just 28 years old here) and Gunnar Björnstrand back from the crusades as Death, incarnate, shows up on the rocks on the beach
- I forget how tight the film is- 96 minutes and I always forget the humor (pitch black–certainly) —it is heavy stuff- and von Sydow’s confessional soliloquy, the group of flagellants, the witch burning— medieval darkness- but it isn’t without its breaks for levity
- Bergman’s screenplay—both in the ingenuity of the fable, and the dialogue– are among cinema’s finest. And the performances, von Sydow in particular—are superior—but it would be wrong to believe Bergman didn’t excel as a visual auteur until the 1960’s– it is here in abundance (with most of the jaw-dropping sequences in the back half of the film)– a standout at 19 minutes as von Sydow approaches the cross to pray. Like much of Bergman’s work- the topic is really the deafening silence of God—he’d go at it in different ways over the years or decades
- overcast, shadowed, muddled – not the accentuated monochrome difference between black and white—this is Gunnar Fischer as DP- I’m not trying to take away from Sven Nykvist but this is certainly proof that Bergman could make one of the most beautiful films of the decade without the famous (justifiably) cinematographer he’d go on to work with the majority of his career
most underrated: Le Notti Bianche from Visconti currently sits at #1549 on the TSPDT consensus extended list—wildly underrated.
- A Dostoevsky adaptation (White Nights) – certainly going to remind cinephiles of David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), and then of course Before Sunrise from Linklater decades later and Kiarostami’s Certified Copy– a man and woman walking and talking in a tight time frame (this is three straight nights) in a European city (Venice here)
- Silver Lion winner
- It’s clear that at least up through 1957 (and perhaps beyond through at least The Leopard in 1963) Visconti is going toe to toe with Rossellini and Fellini. For example, Fellini in 1954 (Visconti’s Senso) made La Strada and then here in 1957 we had Nights of Cabiria from Fellini and this here—oddly enough both Italian auteurs getting a boost from Nino Rota who does the superb musical score here.
- Unlike the Neo-realism Mount Rushmore film La Terra Trema which used location shooting as a character in the film, here, Visconti created an entire city in the of Cinecitta studios. It is meticulously designed and reminds me a bit of Caligari (I mean every puddle and broken window is purposeful), how Cuaron rebuilt streets for Roma and how Coppola moved from the wild jungle of the Philippines to controlling everything inside for the beautiful One From the Heart.
- It is Visconti- so it is not only operatic (or operatic realism) but opera in the text
- Great framing with the big column blocking the frame at 40 minutes — With Mastroianni and Maria Schell—two lovers in a frame like Antonioni would go on to master- I think this and Senso, the blocking and arrangement of the two, clearly had an influence on Antonioni
most overrated: McCarey’s An Affair to Remember is a very good film with stellar performances by Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr but it is simply not worthy of the #410 spot (which would put it close to Masterpiece range) best film of all-time as the TSPDT consensus would lead you to believe. It’s a fine film, and in the archives, but artistically it is dwarfed by comparison if you look at what say Douglas Sirk was doing in the melodrama genre during this stretch or even what Visconti does with two lovers in Le Notti Bianche– these two films are not close in quality.
gems I want to spotlight: 1957 is loaded with these aspiring westerns– The Tin Star from Anthony Mann may just be his most ambitious film visually. Forty Guns from Samuel Fuller is dazzling, the original (50 years before the Christian Bale/Russell Crowe remake) 3:10 To Yuma is very well done and Budd Boetticher directs not one 1957 film, but two— Decision at Sundown and The Tall T.
trends and notables:
- 1957 is Ingmar Bergman’s year. It is extremely rare (von Sternberg’s 1930 comes to mind) that a director has multiple masterpieces in the same year—indeed for all but about a handful of auteurs EITHER Wild Strawberries OR The Seventh Seal would be a career-defining/best film. A year this good just does not happen (or when it does- like Coppola’s 1974—it happens once every 20-30 years or so).
- Right on the heels (and sandwiched between in the top three films of the year) of Bergman is Kubrick and 1957 is the year of Paths of Glory and Kubrick’s first masterpiece. Ophuls passes away in 1957, Renoir’s last archiveable film is in 1956, Rope is nearly a decade in the rearview (1948) – Paths of Glory is an important film in the history of the tracking camera—Touch of Evil coming from Welles the following would be another
- Speaking of Welles and Kubrick- there are just directors that are so talented their films look like nothing you’ve seen before and that’s Mikhail Kalatozov – 1957 brings us The Cranes Are Flying – the first archiveable film (and first I can get my hands on) for Kalatozov
- Shakespeare and Kurosawa—a perfect match—and we get the first of three official adaptations here with Throne of Blood (Macbeth) in 1957 – Kagemusha feels like Shakespeare but isn’t – in a few years we’d get The Bad Sleep Well (Hamlet) and then of course in 1985 we have Ran (King Lear)
- I’ve mentioned Kalatozov—this is his first year with an archiveable film—but we also have the first archiveable film (in a true debut) for Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men). Lumet came up through television. He’d go on to make a total of 17 archiveable films over the course of the next 50 years up to and including Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead in 2007—fifty years after 12 Angry Men
- Two massive acting heavyweights get their start in 1957 as well. I’ve mentioned Max von Sydow – the most recognizable (largely because of this role in The Seventh Seal—and of course he’d work in Hollywood for decades) of the Bergman players. Marcello Mastroianni gets his first archiveable film in Visconti’s work (though this was far from his debut)—these two would be two of the top 25 actors of all-time
- Anthony Mann is on an absolute roll in 1957. He’d give us two in 1957 (Men in War, The Tin Star) which would make twelve archiveable films in the last eleven years. He’d be back for one more in 1958 and again in 1961. Budd Boetticher would be on a similar roll, again, mainly in westerns starring just one man but instead of Jimmy Stewart (Mann’s most frequent collaborator) it’s Randolph Scott with Boetticher and these are terrific films. He’d give us a total of eight archiveable films from 1951-1960.
best performance male: 1957 is one of the greatest years in this category over cinema’s 100 year+ history. After going back and forth for my singular “best” performance I’m settling on Max von Sydow’s work in The Seventh Seal. He would go on to make eight archiveable films with Bergman, eventually go on to work with Woody, Scorsese, Spielberg, star in The Exorcist and be more than capable in all of it– but he’d never be better than he is here. It’s a staggering performance but only by an eyelash did I pick it over any number of others in 1957 including Victor Sjöström’s expert work in Bergman’s other 1957 masterpiece, Wild Strawberries. Gunnar Björnstrand plays von Sydow’s squire in The Seventh Seal (and has some of the best scenes) as well as a smaller role as the doctor in Wild Strawberries (von Sydow also works in both). I’m already at three actors with the just the Swedes here and I’ve been trying to limit my picks here to five performances a year but there are too many in 1957 to do that- so I’ll get on with it. William Holden and Alec Guinness do some of the best work of their career in Lean’s River Kwai. I think even above those two I’d put both Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster’s career high-water-mark performances in The Sweet Smell of Success (it is definitely Curtis’ best work, Lancaster’s work in The Leopard may trump this but that’s close). Lancaster’s buddy and frequent co-star Kirk Douglas gives his best career performance in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory– his courtroom speech and his steel reserve as he tracks through the trenches– powerful, intelligent, filled with such believable goodness and moral compass—his “you can go to hell” line and delivery is one of acting’s great moments—it’s an atom bomb—I get goose bumps every time. You can’t stop here without getting to Mifune (there’s really no great distance between Mifune and von Sydow)— the final siege of the castle and Mifune’s performance is clearly the film’s finest moment. So we’re at nine actors named here and I’ll add one more- I definitely think he’s tenth- but Mastroianni sneaks in here for his work in Le Notti Bianche. It isn’t his fault he’s tenth—he’s first-rate in a top five of the year quality film.
best performance female: 1957 is a tremendous year for international cinema and in many of those films the female performance led the way. In fact, five of my six mentions here are in non-English speaking language films. The singular greatest performances is once again, like in 1954, Guiletta Masina in Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria. Behind her we have Maria Schell in Le Notti Bianche and Tatyana Samoylova in The Cranes Are Flying. Isuzu Yamada is here for Throne of Blood (is that one of the best film titles of all-time?). Yamada’s poker-faced embodiment of evil perfectly contrasts with Mifune’s animated puppet. Machiavellian. You can see the wheels set in motion and the seed of her deceit planted. Bibi Andersson like von Sydow and Björnstrand pulls double duty for both Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal. Roles like this for 50-year-old actresses just do not come along often enough but the final mention here is for Barbara Stanwyck (the lone English-speaking role here in the category) in Forty Guns. Man– did Fuller write her a great part– but she’s up for it. She’s just commanding. She blows poor Barry Sullivan off the screen completely. This gives Stanwyck at least one “best of the year”-level mention in the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s.
- The Seventh Seal
- Paths of Glory
- Wild Strawberries
- The Cranes Are Flying
- The Bridge on the River Kwai
- The Sweet Smell of Success
- Le Notti Bianche
- Nights of Cabiria
- Throne of Blood
- Forty Guns
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|3:10 To Yuma- Daves||HR|
|A Face in the Crowd- Kazan||HR|
|A King In New York- Chaplin||R|
|An Affair To Remember – McCarey||R|
|Baby Face Nelson- Siegel|
|Decision at Sundown- Boetticher||R|
|Edge of the City- Ritt||R|
|Forty Guns – Fuller||HR/MS|
|Funny Face- Donen||HR|
|Gunfight at the O.K. Corral- J. Sturges||R|
|Il Grido – Antonioni||HR|
|Le Notti Bianche – Visconti||MS|
|Love in the Afternoon- Wilder||R|
|Men In War – A. Mann||R/ HR|
|Mother India – Mehboob Khan|
|Nights of Cabiria- Fellini||MS|
|Night of the Demon- Tourneur||HR|
|Old Yeller- Stevenson||R|
|Pal Joey- Sidney||R|
|Paths of Glory – Kubrick||MP|
|Peyton Place- Robson||R|
|Run of the Arrow – S. Fuller||R|
|Silk Stockings- Mamoulian||R|
|Sweet Smell of Success- Mackendrick||MS/MP|
|Tarnished Angels- Sirk||R|
|The Bridge On the River Kwai- Lean||MS/MP|
|The Cranes Are Flying- Kalatozov||MP|
|The Incredible Shrinking Man – J. Arnold||R|
|The Lower Depths – Kurosawa||R/HR|
|The Prince and the Showgirl- Olivier||R|
|The Seventh Seal – Bergman||MP|
|The Tall T- Boetticher||R|
|The Three Faces of Eve- N. Johnson||R|
|The Tin Star- A. Mann||HR|
|The Witness For the Prosecution- Wilder||R|
|Throne of Blood – Kurosawa||HR/MS|
|Tokyo Twilight – Ozu||R/HR|
|12 Angry Men – Lumet||HR|
|Wild Strawberries- Bergman||MP|
|Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?- Tashlin||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
I don’t think there will be a completely correct answer wrt to the best year in Cinema History. If I had to choose one, my vote would go to 1957.
Bergman, Kubrick, Fellini, Antonioni and Kurosawa Following them are Lean, Lumet, Chaplin, Kalotozov and Mann.
As you mention above, it’s loaded all round: Films, Actors, Actresses, Directors.
Won’t be complete without a complain. Nargis (Mother India) over Barbara. She carries that film.
@AP– thanks for sharing. I agree on being a “completely” correct answer. It isn’t math. 1957 is a solid choice. My buddy mentioned how good 1959 is and my choice has been 1960 for awhile. I do think there’s something about the late 50’s and early 60’s though with international cinema an all-time best— just feels like the time when the highest volume of the 50-100 or so great auteurs were working and doing high quality work
thanks for the note on Nargis– No grade here for me because I haven’t seen Mother India in too long to comment. You could be right- I look forward to revisiting.
@Aldo- It is still the year of Bergman with those two masterful films— I was just wondering to myself if I had any other director that had both the #1 and #2 films of the year like von Sternberg with 1930 as I didn’t think so. You recommended three that weren’t- so I said they weren’t. Nothing to fight about.
I have seen Paths of Glory recently http://thecinemaarchives.com/2018/07/30/paths-of-glory-1957-kubrick/
Simply spectacular, one of the best years in the history of cinema and there are still 59, 60 and 62 that will surpass it.
Great page, you could easily reach 50 images this year.
I would like to highlight the Bridge on the river Kwai, an entertaining movie, it turns into a suspense movie in the last 30 minutes.
Glad you included Bibi, she steals every scene she’s in.
My little complaint is the omission of Ingrid Thulin, she like Bibi should have been mentioned, i just hope she is not omitted in 1963.
There aren’t many movies where the 2 main stars complement each other better than Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis in The Sweet Smell of Success
from Roger Ebert:
“The two men in “The Sweet Smell of Success” relate to each other like junkyard dogs. One is dominant, and the other is a whipped cur, circling hungrily, his tail between his legs, hoping for a scrap after the big dog has dined. The dynamic between a powerful gossip columnist and a hungry press agent, is seen starkly and without pity. The rest of the plot simply supplies events to illustrate the love-hate relationship.”
There are so many great scenes “match me Sidney” haha
They are both so despicable and without conscience, it’s like Sheen and Douglas in
Wall Street except unlike Sheen Tony Curtis’s character never really redeems himself
And then there’s the scene where they meet the boyfriend of JJ’s (Lancaster) sister and
talk circles around him, they’re both so spineless which makes it so fascinating to watch
@Drake Doesn’t Henry Fonda deserve a mention in the best male category for 12 Angry Men?
And Lumet’s film name is 12 Angry Men not Twelve Angry Men like you mentioned in Archives,Directors and Grades.
@Malith- thanks. Graham and I talk about Fonda here in the comments http://thecinemaarchives.com/2021/02/04/12-angry-men-1957-lumet/
Do you think both Pyaasa(1957) and 12 Angry Men(1957) are superior to Throne of Blood(1957)?
Gunnar Björnstrand does not play the doctor in Wild Strawberries; he plays Sjöström’s adult son and Thulin’s husband.
@Zane- ok- his character’s name is Dr. Evald Borg https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050986/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_64
Perhaps say “a doctor” instead of “the doctor.”
I guess – but he doesn’t really do anything medically-related in the film whatsoever, and Sjöström plays a retired physician as well.
@Zane- I want to improve the site but there are 1700+ posts, and 2700 words on this page alone. Feels like a nitpick. I can’t update the pages regardless for a few days. If there is something glaring (like I omitted Crash for Holly Hunter’s resume)- I want to fix it- but this feels very minor.
A little thing since you mentioned Holly Hunter. She is also in The Firm(1993) as well as Crash(1996). Actually she got oscar nominated for The Firm.
I always thought Masina’s work in La Strada was an unassailable masterpiece of acting, Chaplinesque in how she masks darker recesses and a tortured soul with smiley adorable innocence, but unlike Chaplin she occasionally allows her real emotions to seep through. It’s incredibly genuine and heartbreaking and powerful. Then you look at Nights of Cabiria, and she’s just so over the top and histrionic and actressy that it seems like the work of a completely different artist. There are certainly complex emotions on display in Cabiria, but it’s not executed with the same simplicity and absolute sincerity of her Gelsomina. My personal choice for the best female turn of ’57 is Isuzu Yamada’s chilling Lady Macbeth. I know this is an unpopular opinion, so I was hoping to hear some other froods’ thoughts on the matter.
Apparently I’m getting dementia because I was about to say I watched Sweet Smell of Success a few days ago only to check Letterboxd and find out it’s been more than 2 weeks… anyway the question is is there any chance Alexander Mackendrick makes the next Top 250 directors? Seems possible since like you say here it is a borderline Masterpiece and that is due quite heavily to his unification of the incredible camera movement shot on location, the dark lighting, the harsh dialogue in the screenplay, and the two lead acting performances. It is also not his only great work as well as The Ladykillers is also in the TSPDT GF Top 1000 and is a HR here so even if he dropped off heavily after Sweet Smell of Success it’s not like he was a one-hit wonder or anything.
@Zane – just saw this, I just watched Sweet Smell again. Man I love this film. There is a good documentary in the Criterion extras for Sweet Smell. Here it is below: