1958 in Movies

Movie reviews for movies released theatrically in 1958.

1. Ascenseur pour l’echafaud aka Elevator to the Gallows, directed by Louis Malle (10/10)

A film like this is why the French New Wave is celebrated. How a first time filmmaker made something this assured, this original, this unique, this unbelievably cool, I will never know.

The film takes noir conventions and revitalizes them with location-shooting, confined spaces, a very judicious use of technique and, of course, that classic Miles Davis score.

Malle uses a classic device – a man stuck in an elevator – but combines it with another classic (noir) device – mistaken identity. The two play off each other reinforcing the tension – which is also reinforced by the sparseness of the score – and we can forgive the sometimes dated performances. (Also, that “interrogation room” feels like it’s out of some other movie.)

Just an absolute classic film.

1. Popiol i diament aka Ashes and Diamonds, directed by Andrzej Wajda (10/10)

Read the review.

1. Touch of Evil, directed by Orson Welles (10/10)

Many people call this “The Greatest B Movie of All-Time.” Certainly, Charlton Heston was a terrible casting decision and there are other things about this movie that come across as misguided, but the opening shot is perhaps the greatest in feature film history and no matter how bad Heston might be as a Mexican, the rest of the cast is good enough that we can sit back and marvel at the film around them.

1. Vertigo, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (10/10*)

Some believe this is Hitch’s best movie. I actually haven’t seen it since I saw it multiple times in my tweens and teens.

5. Ballad of Narayama, directed by Keishuke Kinoshita (9/10)

This film – which tells the story of a Japanese legend of villages exposing their elders to die during famines – is perhaps the most Kabuki-driven Japanese film I’ve seen to date, taking that theatre style and making it central to the execution of the movie. Filmed nearly entirely on sound-stages, the film has a heightened level of theatricality or unreality, despite how many people apparently believed that these legends were true. The deliberate decision to use sound-stags – a practice that was not as common in Japanese cinema in the ’50s as it was in Hollywood – turns out to be a nice, subtle way of remind the audience that this is a fable, more than anything.


And the final scene, which removes the artifice, helps hammer home the point that this legend is more about how people treat their elders today than it is some kind of historical claim about the evils of the past.

Anyway, it’s a remarkable film to look at – the sets are quite something – and is as affecting as these things get – remembering that Japanese acting, especially back then, is harder to relate to for many of us westerners than western acting.

A remarkable film.

6. The Fly, directed by Kurt Neumann (7/10)

Don’t know why I didn’t write a review at the time. This is near-classic sci-fi for the era, when most sci-fi was beyond terrible.

7. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Richard Brooks (7/10)

Again, no idea where this review went. How this play won a Pulitzer, I’ll never know. Maybe the original cast had some subtlety. This is very overdone but we must remember the context.  This is what acting was in the ’50s, after all. Decent for what it is.

8. Mon Oncle, directed by Jacques Tati (7/10)

This is mildly funny, and not as clever as I was led to believe. It really does seem to have been done before. It’s neat to look at and it’s also really neat to see something so unconcerned with dialogue for so much of the time. But I’m not really blown away at all. I’d rather watch Keaton or Chaplin because they were overcoming the limitations of their era and it seems like Tati is more creating his own in order to overcome them, if that makes sense.

9. Run Silent, Run Deep, directed by Robert Wise (7/10*)

I saw this years ago. But the cast is great so I can’t be that crazy.

10. Big Deal on Madonna Street, directed by Mario Monicelli (6/10)

Read the review.

11. The Naked and the Dead, directed by Raoul Walsh (6/10*)

Seen in my war movie phase and well before I read the novel.

12. The Defiant Ones, directed by Stanley Kramer (6/10)

A little obvious in its contrivances to convey its message. Like the Day the Earth Stood Still of prison-escape movies.

13. The Blob, directed by Irwin S. Yeaworth Jr. (5/10*)

Rated from memory. Saw when I was young enough to find it scary.

14. Darby’s Rangers, directed by William A. Wellman (5/10*)

I saw this movie multiple times as a teen and, until last month, could have re-watched it at any time since I owned it on videotape. I did not. My memories were not positive. 5 seems charitable.

15. The Quiet American, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (4/10*)

Full disclosure. I saw this film in my early 20s (perhaps earlier) and well before I had read the novel. I liked it. Gave it a 7/10. Then I read the novel and also learned that Greene absolutely hated this movie. Instead of re-watching it, I changed my rating. So take this with a huge grain of salt.

16. Dunkirk, directed by Leslie Norman (4/10*)

Don’t remember it.

17. Gigi, directed by Vincente Minnelli (3/10*)

The review I wrote in outrage at this movie  – which, in retrospect, should have been rated lower – has gone missing.  (It may have been deleted for my use of swearing.) So instead I will leave you with comments from zip.ca users who feel the same way I do:

  • Amadeus writes: “I had to check this out, since it is considered by many to be one of the last great musicals of the MGM era, as well as being directed by Vincente Minnelli. Unfortunately, this musical adaptation does not live up to the hype nor can it be compared to such classics as Singin’ in the Rain or Brigadoon. The story itself loses interest about half way through and the songs are dull and uninspiring. The acting is pretty good, with Leslie Caron doing an adequate job of the title role and Louis Jordan even better as Gaston. The rest of the characters are either terribly annoying (Maurice Chevalier) or incredibly snobbish and arrogant (The grandmother and aunt). Simply put, this movie is not worth my time or anyone else interested in watching a charming, sweet moving musical. All this has a bunch of snobby French upper-class twits filled with preconceived notions about the opposite gender and marriage. I can’t begin to describe how disappointing this one is.”
  • ErinB writes: “This is the most horribly offensive film I’ve seen in a long time – and the fact that it’s supposed to be “sweet” or “romantic” only makes in worse. The unreflective vulgarity of the central message isn’t even hidden by talented acting or singing. By the end of the film, the best thing I could say about it was, “well, at least it’s over.””
  • Yogini writes: “I AM SURE THE PEDOPHILES ADORE THIS FILM. There is a lot wrong with this world, and the patriarchs who ran Hollywood have a lot to answer for. Director Vincente Minelli lived to see his wife, Judy Garland, and daughter, Lisa Minelli, suffer for being sex objects. Were there any granddaughters to follow their grandmother’s and mother’s tragic stations of the cross?”

My sentiments are echoed in these viewers’ disdain of what is one of the worst examples of the old Hollywood system.


1. “Les Raquetteurs” aka “The Snowshoers”, directed by Michel Brault (7/10)

Because I am an idiot, I did not review this short when I saw it. I will likely never watch it again.