1953 in Movies

Movie reviews for movies released theatrically in 1953.

1. The Earings of Madame de…, directed by Max Ophuls (10/10)

This is something quite remarkable.

The story in itself is not particularly special, and it’s an old one in essence if not in form. The plot device is not particularly great (though it does give us a number of moments of humour).

But this is one of the best shot films I have ever seen. It is just incredible the things he does with the camera.

Add to that the fantastic acting by the three leads and this is an absolute classic.

Both things made me care about something I normally couldn’t.

1. The Wages of Fear, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot (10/10)

This is an incredible film. It is, as its reputation alleges, one of the most edge-of-your-seat films of all time, even despite the time that has passed.

But that’s hardly all of it; if it was just a very suspenseful film, it wouldn’t be a masterpiece. Clouzot takes his sweet time, so there is a ton of character development before the actual suspense, which makes the suspense all the better, but which also makes the whole situation feel far less contrived.

Another incredible thing about the film is how cosmopolitan it is: I count four languages and this adds greatly to the authenticity of the film, even if it wasn’t actually filmed where it is set.

3. Beat the Devil, directed by John Huston (10/10)

Probably Huston’s strangest film, at least his most idiosyncratic. Probably the most existential major Hollywood movie prior to the American Renaissance. Just watch it.

4. Ugetsu, directed by Kenji Mizoguchi (10/10)

If I had seen this at the same time of The Earrings of Madame de… I might have lost my mind just as much as with that film. Read the review of Ugetsu.

5. Tôkyô monogatari aka Tokyo Story, directed by Yasujirô Ozu (10/10)

Not the greatest movie of all time, but still a very well done film. Read the review of Tokyo Story.

6. The Big Heat, directed by Fritz Lang (9/10)

For reasons that escape me, I seem to have not reviewed this when I watched it. I remember that it is pretty classic noir.

7. From Here to Eternity, directed by Fred Zinnermann (9*/10)

This is an iconic film but I watched it so long ago I don’t trust my rating. I would like to read the book.

8. Stalag 17, directed by Billy Wilder (7/10)

The first decent POW movie, perhaps. I watched it along time ago.

9. Shane, directed by George Stevens (7/10)

Overrated. I think that this film’s place in the cannon comes from a nostalgic fondness for pre-revisionist westerns, rather than a true assessment of its worth.

10. The Band Wagon, directed by Vincent Minnelli (7/10)

This is an inventive, meta musical that’s entertaining enough to make me think I need to re-watch Singing in the Rain.

But it still suffers from the usual Golden Age of Hollywood nonsense: mild, easy, humour, musical numbers that don’t really fit the plot, a relationship between two people completely the wrong age for each other, and so forth. And it has a rather awful moral: the people want easy entertainment, not art, and they’re right.

And can someone tell me why so many of these old musicals insist on portraying a stage show and then doing things in front of the camera (and with the camera!) that couldn’t possibly work on stage? Why do that? I don’t get it!

Anyway, this is as good as these things get, I guess. I still don’t like classic musicals.

11. I Confess, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (6*/10)

Seen during my Hitchcock phase.

12. The Naked Spur, directed by Anthony Mann (6/10)

For a while, it seems like this movie could be really surprising. It’s somewhat hard to tell whether Ryan or Stewart is the bad guy (aside from the fact that they were type-cast as such) for quite some time. However, that ambiguity goes out the window after a while (except for a brief return in the climax / denouement) and everyone assumes their
predetermined roles. It’s disappointing. It could have been great had they pursued the right angle and messed with the casting a little bit.

13. Hondo, directed by John Farrow (6*/10)

Watched during my John Wayne phase.

14. Roman Holiday, directed by William Wyler (6/10)

Well this is light entertainment that is well-made. Don’t really know what else to say.

It’s sort of a Cinderella at the ball thing (they make it obvious) and these characters have become stereotypes (if they weren’t already).

The best part of it is the location shooting, relatively rare at the time (they emphasize that during the title sequence). There’s nothing particularly notable about the acting; it is competent.

But with a story like this there aren’t too many places to go.

15. Man in the Attic, direted by Hugo Fregonese (5/10)

Alright I guess, better than its kind in some ways.

16. Fear and Desire, directed by Stanley Kubrick (4/10)

For fans only. This is really a pretty bad movie.

17. How to Marry a Millionaire, directed by Jean Negulesco (3/10)

The one positive thing I think I can say about this is that the production values are good…oh yeah, and there was some location shooting (that being the only thing about this that doesn’t embody all evils of the studio system).

Otherwise, this is just horrible. What does this film say about women? It’s just atrocious. Monroe is not good, I don’t care what her reputation is. I usually love Bacall, but here she’s repugnant (her character is, anyway).

This movie is just gross. Good riddance to the system that produced trash like this.

18. Glen or Glenda, directed by Ed Wood (1/10)

As bad as it sounds.

19. Mesa of Lost Women, directed by Ron Ormond and Herbert Tevos (1/10)

Mesa of Lost Women is one of the worst movies ever made. I’ll have to watch Manos again and see how they compare. It’s seriously that bad.

The good part is that it has a ridiculous number of one-liners to keep you laughing.

Where do I start?

Most of the “giant spiders” are just women with really long nails painted black. That was very disappointing. The dwarfs are funny though. The one giant spider you rarely see, and only just an arm. The one time it moves, it’s just a smaller spider thrown at the camera.

The acting is just bizarre, some of the people seem like quite normal, competent actors, but some of the others are just out of their minds (probably because of the script). The narration is perhaps some of the worst in film history. At some point I thought the narrator was going to join the cast in front of the camera because he was talking to them (not the audience).

Anyway, it’s really worth watching. It’s just beyond terrible. Worse (though with a much higher budget) than I Eat Your Skin. The latter had no pretensions whatsoever, this movie thinks it’s scary.

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