best film: 1958 is a two horse race at the top with Touch of Evil and Vertigo—any year with two of the best thirty films of all-time is a special one by definition. Still, ultimately when forced to pick, it is Hitchcock’s work that emerges as the crowning achievement of 1958
- From Saul Bass’ gorgeous opening credits with Bernard Herrmann’s score (it has to be his finest, right?)—it is clear this film is different- even for Hitchcock—both his most ambitious film, the height of his perfectionism– and the greatest crystallization of his exposed psychosis on screen
- At 17 minutes we get the first of many scenes at Ernie’s restaurant- the beautiful plush red velvet décor. Flowers galore in the mise-en-scene throughout and of course the fixation on the color green- starting with Kim Novak’s emerald dress. Hitchcock’s’ camera glides effortlessly and unhurried across the room—hypnotic—approaches her back and lines her up in profile for the first time of many (a repeated formal shot). A strong sequence
- Greens galore, his sweater, her sweater, the car—all leading up to the greatest use of the color green on film in the hotel empire
- Hotel Empire’s neon greens—gob-smacking–dazzling. I don’t remember an earlier (or better) use of neon street light in cinema. This has been borrowed from many many times including Chazelle’s La La Land. We see Novak’s profile again- this time in silhouette at 104 minutes- a masterful formal touch call back to the first time he met here- along with being a stand-alone striking image
- Green pouring in again after his transformation and possession of Judy back into Madeleine is complete. There’s almost a release as he finishes and perfects her hair at the 116 minute mark and then we get one of cinema’s most singularly brilliant moments/scenes and shots—the 360 degree kiss in the hotel room. The neon green bathing them, the camera dancing with them as the background shifts from the hotel room to the mission and back to the hotel room—cinematic ecstasy
most underrated: Gigi from Vincent Minnelli is the most underrated film of 1958. Again, it is rare that the actual best picture winner from the Academy is also “underrated”- but when you look for Minnelli’s work on the TSPDT consensus you can’t find it—even on the extended 1001-2000 list. Minnelli’s use of color, costume and the entire expanded wide CinemaScope frame deserves a better fate than the current TSPDT list. No, it should not have won best picture—but now it’s swung so far the other way it is now underrated. For years TCM ran this little informative commercial feature Scorsese talking about the awful “pan and scan” technique used by television presentations of widescreen films—Gigi was the example (or one of—Ben Hur another) of why you needed the letterbox format to appreciate the entire frame.
most overrated: Fritz Lang’s The Tiger of Eschnapur was a film that largely made me scratch my head with indifference—especially for a Lang film. I hope I missed something- I’m a big admirer of Lang’s work of course- but this one sits at #731 on the TSPDT consensus list which would put it in the top 10 for 1958. I’d probably get to 2000 films before it and at least 20 from 1958. TSPDT putting it ahead of like Elevator to the Gallows is utterly baffling.
gem I want to spotlight: Satyajit Ray’s The Music Room is a formal masterpiece that is so well structured that it’ll have you thinking about it for weeks after watching. It is the best single film from Ray and made at a time when he was on absolute fire (he actually interrupts his Apu trilogy for a year to make this). The Music Room is rhapsodic and filled with such well-earned melancholy.
trends and notables:
- Vertigo is the best film made from the best director of all-time—so that’s the biggest story of 1958. It is also the beginning of an unmatched three-year run that Hitch is about to go on that includes North by Northwest and Psycho. These are three of the best 103 films of all-time–made in a three-year span from the same director
- Touch of Evil is both a masterwork from Welles—but also really the official end of film noir. Film noir is a genre, and genres really can’t end—but noir is sort of also an era and most film historians have if ending here with pretty much everything coming after declared as “neo-noir”. I think it is fitting that noir ends in 1958 and the French New Wave has its unofficial launch the next year in 1959. Touch of Evil’s opening 3 ½ minute long take is important as well- this is jaw-dropping muscular filmmaking—a landmark—though I think Welles film is a masterpiece even without it. You’ll see it below but what a coup for Welles in 1958—he’s long since been working outside of the normal studio system and here- more than a decade and a half after Kane– he delivers the second best film (director) and second best performance of the year (actor).
- Minnelli needs to be singled out for his 1958– Some Came Running AND Gigi in one year- two top 10 films
- I won’t be noting every great auteur’s first foray into color but it is fun to watch Ozu make the plunge and experiment in Equinox Flower – the red teapot (it is red!), the orange pop, and the gorgeous multi-colored laundry in his trademark pillow cutaway shots
- 1958 is a big year for directing firsts in the archives – there is no bigger splash than Malle’s two-pronged 1958 debut. His first film, his debut, is Elevator to the Gallows. I think Jeanne Moreau’s performance and the Miles Davis soundtrack steal a bit of Malle’s thunder- but he’s the genius who orchestrated it all—at age 26. As if that wasn’t enough for a debut—The Lovers from Malle also lands in 1958. Brilliant and prolific.
- Let’s stay with the French for another one here- Claude Chabrol’s debut lands in 1958 with Le Beau Serge—many may point to this as the beginning of the French New Wave. Chabrol is a member—and this precedes Breathless and The 400 Blows– but I’d argue you can’t really start a movement with Le Beau Serge
- Like Lumet in 1957, Arthur Penn is an east-coast television director that finally got his chance to direct in film—his debut is The Left Handed Gun with Paul Newman is from 1958
- John Cassavetes probably isn’t worth a mention for his acting career – but as an auteur—absolutely– and 1958 is his debut, Shadows. It is an important milestone as far indie cinema goes. Cassavetes uses his own money and shoots this on 16mm—up until now the bulk of “indie” cinema or lower budget alternatives were genre (think Ulmer in noir, or Fuller, or sci-fi, horror)—but Shadows is a drama—an alternative to Hollywood- and it is no coincidence it emerges at the same time as the French (and sort of against the big budget Cinemascope color epic)
- The single best auteur (with all due respect to Malle and Cassavetes) to have his first archiveable film in 1958 is Shôhei Imamura—Imamura starts here with Endless Desire
- For actors it is a big year of firsts as well. Klaus Kinski, 14 years before Aguirre, (talk about paying your dues) quietly gets his first archiveable film in Sirk’s A Time to Love and a Time to Die
- Claudia Cardinale makes a slightly more auspicious debut in Big Deal on Madonna Street. Cardinale would be in many of the best films over the next ten years. Another of the most important of the Bergman trope gets his beginning in 1958- Erland Josephson here in The Magician. Yet, perhaps more promising overall than the previous mentions is the first archiveable year (in two films) for Dean Martin in Some Came Running and The Young Lions. Deano had been in a bunch of unspecial films with Jerry Lewis up to this point- but in the Minnelli film especially- he proves he has some dramatic acting chops.
best performance male: James Stewart gives far and away the best performance of 1958 in Vertigo. His John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson is as complex a figure as cinema would produce and Stewart was more than up to the task. Stewart has an edge here, and to a lesser degree in Rear Window, that he would never show with Capra—I think his work with Anthony Mann would be great preparation for this, the apex achievement in his brilliant career. The finest acting in his career is the scene on the way up the stairs as he abuses Kim Novak’s Judy during the film’s climax—I think the film would lose a little bit of its spell if Stewart isn’t absolutely magnificent here. Behind Stewart I only want to single out three others from 1958 (a much lighter year here than 1957 with a whopping ten mentions). Welles is easily the runner-up to Stewart for 1958. His work here rivals his work in Citizen Kane– such an intricate character. I also want to highlight Chhabi Biswas in Ray’s The Music Room and young Zbigniew Cybulski (known as “the polish James Dean”—sadly as fate would have it, Cybulski dies tragically young before 40 as well) in Ashes and Diamonds. These two round out the mentions this year.
best performance female: Stewart is mesmerizing in Vertigo—but Kim Novak is also no slouch either. If she hadn’t retired the role may have gone to Grace Kelly and I believe Vera Miles passed on Vertigo as well. No disrespect to either, but wouldn’t want to see another actor in Novak’s role. Jeanne Moreau gives her best performance to date and is Novak’s closest rival in this category for 1958 for her work in Elevator to the Gallows. Leslie Caron gets a mention for Gigi and Shirley MacLaine owns every scene she is in—stealing them away from always affable Sinatra and Dean Martin in Minnelli’s Some Came Running.
- Touch of Evil
- The Music Room
- Mon Oncle
- Elevator to the Gallows
- Ashes and Diamonds
- Some Came Running
- Horror of Dracula
- Equinox Flower
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Night To Remember – Baker||R|
|A Time To Love and a Time to Die- Sirk||R|
|Ashes and Diamonds- Wajda||MS|
|Auntie Mame- DaCosta||R|
|Big Deal on Madonna Street- Monicelli||HR|
|Cairo Station – Chahine||HR|
|Cat on a Hot Tin Roof- R. Brooks||HR|
|Elevator to the Gallows- Malle||MS|
|Endless Desire Imamura||R/HR|
|Equinox Flower – Ozu||HR|
|Horror of Dracula – Fisher||HR|
|I Want To Live- Wise||HR|
|Le Beau Serge- Chabrol||R|
|Long, Hot Summer- Ritt||R|
|Man of the West- A. Mann||R/HR|
|Mon Oncle- Tati||MS|
|Murder By Contract – Lerner||R|
|Party Girl- N. Ray||R|
|Rickshaw Man- Inagaki||R|
|Run Silent, Run Deep- Wise||R|
|Separate Tables- Delbert Mann||R|
|Some Came Running – Minnelli||HR/MS|
|South Pacific- Logan||R|
|The 7th Voyage of Sinbad – Juran||R|
|The Big Country- Wyler||R|
|The Defiant Ones- Kramer||R|
|The Hidden Fortress – Kurosawa||R/HR|
|The Horse’s Mouth- Neame||R|
|The Left Handed Gun- Penn||R|
|The Lovers- Malle||R|
|The Magician- Bergman||R|
|The Music Room- S. Ray||MP|
|The Old Man and the Sea- J. Sturges||R|
|The Quiet American – Mankiewicz||R|
|The Tiger of Eschnapur- Lang||R|
|The Vikings- Fleischer||R|
|The Young Lions- Dmytryk||R|
|Thunder Road – Ripley||R|
|Touch of Evil – Welles||MP|
|Vertigo – Hitchcock||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
This is a great page. The yearly archive updates, especially the addition of lots of images, has made each one wonderful. I’m sorry if I missed this on another year, but what is your plan for the site after the year updates are complete?
@Graham- thank you– happy to hear you’re enjoying the updates. I’m not sure after this. I’m averaging two years a week at this point with 60 years roughly left to go– so we’re talking late Summer 2021 probably so there is plenty of time to give it some thought. I think the goal is to eventually build the top 500 films of all-time out to 1000 (there are just too many good films) and the top 250 directors out to 500 (ditto here). My interest is less and less in acting and performances but those top 100 actors list are really popular pages. I thought about doing directors of photography– or breaking down various stylistic elements in cinema— not sure though. That would be a tall ask– I’ll most likely just keep cycling these updates. Some of these pages are old now.
Is there a case to be made for Touch of Evil being Orson Welles best movie?
I mean there is so much too praise
– The spectacular opening scene using one of the best tracking shots in film history
– The possible subtext that is common is Welles films where there’s a connection between
Orson Welles the actor/director and the character he portrays (“your future’s all used up”
and Welles never worked in Hollywood again and just the overall arrogance of Quinlan)
– The films border town atmosphere is one of its biggest strengths; its use of Diegetic music,
all the seedy bars/clubs, the Marlene Dietrich character
– Both the performance of Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan and Hank Quinlan the character are
fascinating. I like the way the film gradually makes us pity Quinlan to some extent as we
learn more about his back story as the film progresses which is in some ways similar to
Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane, both are men who were both successful at their
respective fields when they were younger and end up as just bitter and unhappy old men
who have trouble accepting that their glory days are far behind
Personally I have Welles top 5:
1. Citizen Kane
2. Touch of Evil
3. Magnificent Ambersons
4. Chimes at Midnight
5. The Lady from Shanghai
Disclaimer: I have not seen The Trial for a long time
I still consider Citizen Kane as his best film but with each subsequent watch of Touch of Evil it at least makes me consider the idea
@James Trapp- If you’re asking me I think there is indeed a case to be made for Touch of Evil being Welles’ movie. Some of the greats like Welles have several films at or near this level. You have Scorsese with his big three, Coppola the same, Kurosawa… I have Touch of Evil in the top 30.
Okay, I see what your saying, I agree with Scorsese’s top 3 of Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Taxi Driver (my order) being somewhat interchangeable, same with Coppola’s GF 1, GF 2, and Apocalypse Now
It’s hard to deny that there were great films released in 1958, but I’ve always considered it a good year that happened between two massive ones (1957 and 1959 are just insanely great, I think). I have to rewatch Vertigo, because I think I’m missing something there. I really like it, but there are several Hitchcock films that I enjoy more. As of right now, Touch of evil would be my number 1 pick without a doubt.
By the way, I wanted to ask you… Have you seen the original Ballad of Narayama? O did you just not like it enough to mention it? I’m bringing it up because it easily ranks among my top 10 of the year. It’s visually stunning and very unique, it has a very poignant message about how we as a society deal with the elderly, and on top of that, it has one of my favourite performances by Kinuyo Tanaka.
@David O. – so I’ve seen Imamura’s 1983 version- but not the 1958 Kinoshita version. I have it circled- I was hoping to get my hands on the Imamura version in 2019 when I did my study and watch them together but I never got the chance. I’ll make sure I prioritize that- thanks for the suggestion.
I love Touch of Evil, probably agree with it being best of 1958.
Vertigo is amazing though and I hear you, the first time seeing it I was not blown away, but it gets better with each subsequent watch. I can I was too focused on the plot/narrative the first time or two and got too focused on how far fetched the story was. But there is so much to appreciate between the use of color, the score (one of the greatest ever), and the subtext regarding Hitchcock and the way he was so controlling (to an unhealthy degree) with his actresses. This is why Vertigo is often regarded as his most personal movie or the movie where he faces his obsessions head on. If I have one complaint about Vertigo its the dialogue is sometimes a little too on the nose (the bright young lawyer that decided he was going to be chief of police someday)
I sound like a broken record, but it’s a great update. This page looks much better with many images than with one. Great job.
Curiously, Welles himself didn’t like the opening shot very much because all of the first thing they talk about is that shot.
He felt that the other achievements of the film were not appreciated, like the other longer take. Smarties, what shot am i talking about? (without searching the internet)
If you don’t know which is the longest shot, you’re not a true cinephile haha
I’ve read before that there is a 12 minute take later, but I can’t quite remember where it is. It may be a hotel or office or something.
Whoops. I have searched it now. I was correct on the length, but not the location. I will not write the correct one here so others who are more intelligent can respond.
In Roger Ebert’s review of “The Trial” (link below) Ebert mentions that he once asked Welles if he wanted to do a commentary for Citizen Kane and Welles was annoyed that people always wanted to talk about Kane given that he made many other great films
@James Trapp– yep— Orson Welles is reported to have said, “Say what you will, but ‘The Trial’ is the finest film I have ever made.”
For Touch of Evil (1958) which version are you accounting for?
I just took a look at a Touch of Evil 3 Pack for sale which includes the following:
Viewers have the option of watching all three versions of the film: the “reconstructed version”(111 minutes) from 1998, the “original theatrical version”(96 minutes) from 1958 and the “preview version”(109 minutes) from 1976. This Blu-ray review is for the “reconstructed version” and it looks absolutely glorious on Blu-ray. Welles was notorious for using deep focus photography in the films he directed and he worked with great cinematographers over the years.
I know Orson Welles had that famous 58 page memo. When you rank Touch of Evil on your lists which version are you using?
@James Trapp– the reconstructed version
just ordered it on Blue Ray, looking forward, all these years I’ve only seen the 96 minute version and even that one I’ve always considered a favorite so I’m super pumped for the reconstructed version
It’s so amazing. I wrote recently somewhere (top 500 films maybe?) about many of the things that are great about it. I didn’t list them all because there’s just so many. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
@Zane – finally caught a viewing of the Reconstructed version and I was almost speechless after watching it. I mean I already considered Touch of Evil one of my all time favorites and that was the 93 minute version. After watching this version I think it’s in my top 20 all time
– the opening shot without the credits and score is a huge improvement
– the overall improved clarity
– the extended ending sequence is way better as well
– the overall sound quality is superior in this version
Seeing this just makes me that much more bothered by the fact that we will never see the original cut of the Magnificent Ambersens, another movie that I love. None the less great experience seeing an already all timer made that much better
@James Trapp – Don’t give up yet friend. As unlikely as it is, there is the possibility that a copy of the full-length cut will be found someday.
You said Minnelli never made a masterpiece in his career on the page for the year he directed Some Came Running??? Also Sinatra absolutely deserves a mention for his acting work in that film.
@Zane- I don’t follow your comment here. Sorry.
Some Came Running is a masterpiece is what I’m saying.
@Zane- oh ok, no worries- I just wasn’t sure if that is what you meant.
Some Came Running page by 2022. I have hope.