Category Archives: 1956

Giant (1956, George Stevens)

Giant has a fairly good pace for running three hours and twenty minutes. Even more so considering almost the entire second act is told in summary, with stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean gradually getting more and more old age makeup. At his “oldest,” Hudson has a bulk harness, which is simultaneously obvious and effective. Hudson’s performance always needed a little heft. The literal visual presence of it helps.

The first half of Giant is Taylor’s. The film starts in early twentieth century Maryland. Texas cattle rancher Hudson arrives to buy Taylor’s stallion. Again, literally. It’s not clear why Hudson wants the horse because once he gets it home, there’s clearly no need for it. But Taylor decides she wants to marry Hudson right after meeting him; she’s engaged to Rod(ney) Taylor, who gets like four lines.

Taylor is Taylor so Hudson marries her, even though she’s already challenged him. Well, not him, but Texas. She pointed out they stole it from Mexico. That conversation ends up being this lengthy subplot through the entire film. And really Hudson’s only complete one. Giant starts as his movie but it’s Taylor’s after her second scene.

When they get back to big empty, pre-oil Texas, Taylor immediately runs into trouble with Mercedes McCambridge. McCambridge is Hudson’s (presumably older) sister who actually runs the ranch. Though Hudson doesn’t seem to understand it. At that point in the film, Giant becomes this glamorous yet discomforting look into the situation of intelligent women. They have to marry dim bulbs.

Besides realizing being a racist prick isn’t good, Hudson’s only arc for the three hours is worrying about who’s going to take over the family ranch. And it’s never dramatic because almost everyone in the second half–once the kids, who arrive about an hour in, grow up into teens then twentysomethings. Giant doesn’t dwell much on the years in between toddler and late teen because Pearl Harbor happens and young men need to be old enough to go off to war.

Taylor’s got a lot going on in the first half, before the aging makeup. She’s got to deal with McCambridge thinking she’s trying to take over the de facto matriarchy, Hudson being a chauvinist and a racist, her husband and his sister starving the Mexican-American workers on the ranch while intentionally depriving them of safe living conditions, problem ranch hand James Dean giving her the eye, and, soon, Hudson’s only parenting instinct to be to instill toxic masculinity.

And she’s great. The script’s always a little too scared to throw down about Hudson’s racism, almost like director Stevens knows it’s going to get too awkward afterwards so why not save it until the end. So Taylor’s got to navigate around that softness while still developing her character. It culminates in Taylor heading back for a “visit” in Maryland, taking the kids. Rodney Taylor gets another line. Real character development on the kids happens, which is cool. And the last time some of the three kids ever get any.

The second half, about when it’s the forties and oil has struck, eventually deals with youngest daughter Carroll Baker deciding to rebel by pursuing James Dean. Dean, in his old age makeup with an awesome pencil mustache, is, of course, old enough to be her father.

That the three kids, both as babies and then adults, look more like not just Taylor and Dean’s kids, but also Taylor and Taylor’s is sadly never a thing. Hudson whines at one point about a grandkid not looking like him but, come on, none of his kids ever have.

Giant’s not a soap. While Dean clearly has the hots for Taylor, her arc with him (in the first half, when she still gets arcs), is more about her coming to terms with her disappointment in Texas. Young Dean is a dreamer who wants to get far away. Old Dean is not a dreamer. The movie doesn’t really do the dreaming thing. Everyone’s too rich. It just happens.

Dean’s fantastic. He’s a villain, of sorts, but a supporting one. He’s not Hudson’s antagonist, at least not after the film’s done establishing the Texas ground situation on Taylor and Hudson’s arrival. But the thoughtfulness of the performance, which carries over (and gets even better, actually) into the aging makeup, is something to behold. There are some flashy scenes, but it’s also impressive in the quiet moments when the film’s still giving Dean an active subplot.

He loses it just before the film starts jumping ahead. He figures into the second half a lot, but he’s not an active presence. Third act, yes. Third act is when he gets to show-off what screen acting can actually be in old age makeup. But in the second he’s all background. He’s no longer in current contention for ranch heir.

Dennis Hopper plays the disappointing son–first he became a doctor and then he married a Hispanic girl (Elsa Cárdenas in the film’s most thankless role, which is saying a lot considering Sal Mineo’s “part”). He ends up figuring into the third act a lot. He’s all right. Better than Baker, who isn’t able to make the minx believable. Old man Dean is a creeper and he doesn’t hide it. It’s never believable Baker would think it was so hot.

Other than Dean being dreamy, apparently. And it’s no wonder. Taylor and Hudson’s old age makeup puts them in their, I don’t know, late sixties? They’re supposed to be fifty (at the most). Only Dean looks close to appropriate.

Screenwriters Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat bring up the aging in dialogue once or twice, with one full conversation, but it doesn’t play into the rest of the film. It’s never subtext. It’s either obvious or absent. Hudson’s increased drinking, however, seems like it might be a thing, especially since he and Dean both become massive functioning alcoholics simultaneously but separately.

In the finish, the film decides it wants to be about Hudson and his racism, but without ever, of course, being too judgy about it. Giant’s not telling people not to be racist at home, just out in public when some of the good ones might be around. But it does go so far as to tell them it’s still not really okay to be racist at home. Mind who’s around, of course. Good old uncle Chill Wills is all right, wink, wink.

And it almost kind of sort of gets somewhere. Even though it ignores this subplot actually had everything to do with Taylor before the film took it away. Giant comes through for Dean at the end. It comes through for Hudson. Well, his character at least. But it never comes through for Taylor.

Like, Dean is perving on Baker because she’s Taylor’s kid. It’s a thing. And Taylor never gets to deal with it. Stevens really lacks confidence in the leads’ abilities in the oldest aging makeup. So much so he doesn’t even try. He steps back. It works for Dean. It works for Hudson.

It doesn’t work for Taylor. It’s a bummer.

Most of the acting is good. Besides Baker. Earl Holliman’s a little ineffectual as well. But Paul Fix and Judith Evelyn are good as Taylor’s parents. Wills is good. Jane Withers, playing a character who clearly had a lot more to do in the novel, is fine.

Excellent photography from William C. Mellor. Stevens’s direction is good. It’s just a lot of story and a lot of movie. They get through it, but they don’t excel with it. William Hornbeck’s editing is perfunctory, which really doesn’t help by the third act, when the film proves unable to be soapy even when it wants and needs to be.

Still, taking everything into account, Giant’s worth it for Dean’s performance. It’s worth it for some of Taylor’s. It’s a damn shame there isn’t more to hers. The film really needed to be more confident treating second-billed Hudson like he’s second-billed.



Directed by George Stevens; screenplay by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat, based on the novel by Edna Ferber; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by William Hornbeck; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; production designer, Boris Leven; produced by Harry Ginsberg and Stevens; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Elizabeth Taylor (Leslie Benedict), Rock Hudson (Jordan ‘Bick’ Benedict Jr.), James Dean (Jett Rink), Mercedes McCambridge (Luz Benedict), Carroll Baker (Luz Benedict II), Dennis Hopper (Jordan Benedict III), Fran Bennett (Judy Benedict), Elsa Cárdenas (Juana Guerra Benedict), Earl Holliman (‘Bob’ Dace), Chill Wills (Uncle Bawley), Paul Fix (Dr. Horace Lynnton), Judith Evelyn (Mrs. Nancy Lynnton), Jane Withers (Vashti Snythe), Rod Taylor (Sir David Karfrey), Robert Nichols (Mort ‘Pinky’ Snythe), Carolyn Craig (Lacey Lynnton), Sal Mineo (Angel Obregón II), and Charles Watts (Judge Oliver Whiteside).




Patterns (1956, Fielder Cook)

Patterns is a short and simple picture. Van Heflin is the new man at a corporation; he suspects he’s there to replace his assigned mentor, Ed Begley. He has a ruthless boss (Everett Sloane) and a similarly ruthless wife (Beatrice Straight). Will Heflin, called a rising young man (Heflin was forty-eight on release), give in to the temptations of money or will he remain true to his ideals, the ones he got playing football? He was All-American, after all.

The first half hour of the film is spent setting up the rest–there’s no detail to the business, presumably because screenwriter Rod Serling wants Patterns to encompass almost any business. There’s also very little detail to anything else. The one scene Begley gets to himself has his teenage son (Ronnie Welsh) chastising him for not being a better father. The lack of detail gets to be a problem because it helps turn Sloane into a shallow villain, something Serling’s lack of characterization is already enabling.

Heflin’s phenomenal. Regardless of being suspiciously old for the part as written, he glides through it. There’s a lot of talking (Serling adapted the screenplay from a teleplay) and a lot of listening for Heflin, a lot of acting and reacting. He excels at both. Unfortunately, the only person who really holds up against him is Elizabeth Wilson, who plays Begley’s former secretary. She also gets a lot of implied characterization; Straight, unfortunately, gets none.

Outstanding photography from Boris Kaufman. Director Cook doesn’t get in the way of the actors or the screenplay; both are kind of a problem. The lack of personality from Sloane is a real issue. Begley’s pretty good, but his part’s thin. He’s the supporting player in his own story.

Maybe if Patterns offered a single surprise, a single moment not telegraphed in those first thirty minutes (or even if the subsequent sixty minutes followed a similar–no pun intended–pattern of pacing), there might be something to it. But Serling wants to do a particular kind of thing and the film does and it’s thin. Great performances from Heflin and Wilson aside–and Kaufman’s photography–it’s just too slight.



Directed by Fielder Cook; written by Rod Serling; director of photography, Boris Kaufman; edited by Dave Kummins and Carl Lerner; production designer, Duane McKinney; produced by Michael Myerberg; released by United Artists.

Starring Van Heflin (Fred), Ed Begley (Bill), Everett Sloane (Mr. Ramsey), Elizabeth Wilson (Miss Fleming), Beatrice Straight (Nancy), Ronnie Welsh (Paul) and Joanna Roos (Miss Lanier).


The Creature Walks Among Us (1956, John Sherwood)

The Creature Walks Among Us is a surprising disappointment. It never has potential exactly, but it does have something. Arthur A. Ross’s script is rather good for this production. Right off, Ross has decent science dialogue. His character interactions are good. And then it’s clear the cast is fairly solid too. I mean, sure, they’re B-Movie, but they’re able to handle everything. Because Creature Walks Among Us is a mix of a fifties sci-fi movie (they’re turning the Creature into a man with modern science) and fifties romantic melodrama. And cheesecake. And beefcake.

Unfortunately, it’s terribly directed. It’s beautifully photographed–while Maury Gertsman does have to light a lot of mediocre projection sequences, he does get to do some great day for night. But Sherwood’s a bad director. He doesn’t get Ross’s script, but doesn’t have anything he wants to spend more time on. The film has multiple instances of long establishing shots wasting runtime just so there doesn’t have to be more character work.

And the character work is what’s so cool about Creature Walks Among Us. It’s about a privately funded group of scientists working to capture the Gillman for study. Jeff Morrow’s the rich scientist who’s also a mad scientist. Walks Among Us is just too realistic and scientifically minded to let him do anything crazy to the Gillman. Instead, Morrow descends into a jealous rage. It’s a somewhat thinly written jealous rage, but Morrow’s good at it and so are the other actors responding to him.

Leigh Snowden, the aforementioned cheesecake, is Morrow’s wife. She’s got to deal with a crappy husband, a giant monster and unwelcome advances. Again, not the best part–occasionally she just says “well, off I go to swim,” so Sherwood can linger on her in a bathing suit. I suppose objectifying Snowden is Sherwood’s one of only interests during the film. It’s too much, but it’s also a waste of time because Snowden’s good. If Ross weren’t actually so competent at filling time, she’d be the best part of the movie. She probably gives its best performance; Ross just craps on her role for the finale. Hence Walks Among Us being a disappointment. It’s a reductive end.

The best performance in the film is beefcake geneticist Rex Reason. The script moons over this character and Reason does a fantastic job delivering all the scientific and philosophic monologues. Even though Morrow’s the lead scientist, Reason gets the best expository dialogue. Science shouldn’t be crazed mad man science, but Reason’s straightedge but soulful science. Sherwood almost seems to get Reason’s importance and at least stays out of the way.

As for the Creature walking among them, the film only partially delivers. While Sherwood does better with the Creature action than anything else in the film, it’s way too late and not important enough to the picture. Once the Creature proves not to be as much of a danger to the people as themselves, the monster aspect becomes irrelevant.

The Creature Walks Among Us has a lot of great stuff about it. Sherwood doesn’t bring any of that great stuff and he actively suffocates some of it. The cast and Ross deserve a lot better.



Directed by John Sherwood; written by Arthur A. Ross; director of photography, Maury Gertsman; edited by Edward Curtiss; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jeff Morrow (Dr. William Barton), Rex Reason (Dr. Thomas Morgan), Leigh Snowden (Marcia Barton), Gregg Palmer (Jed Grant), Maurice Manson (Dr. Borg), James Rawley (Dr. Johnson) and David McMahon (Capt. Stanley).


The Mole People (1956, Virgil W. Vogel)

I have a long nostalgic history with The Mole People, which I won’t get into, but there will be tangents. Because The Mole People’s one of the reasons I got into classic film. It’s one of the reasons I prefer watching black and white films for concise intellectual pleasure, usually in run time but sometimes in scope. Mole People is fifties Universal sci-fi, phase two of the Universal Genre Universe. Only Universal didn’t win this era like they did the first one. I’m not saying critically (which they wouldn’t have with the sci-fi output either), I mean in popular memory. It has all the elements to be a perfect relic of that era.

And it isn’t. Instead, it’s two very different but very interesting films. They’re joined by John Agar and Hugh Beaumont. Agar’s the obnoxious young archeologist, Beaumont is the wise, slightly older one. It’s actually very, very close to Star Wars in terms of their relationship–Agar’s a mix of Han and Luke, Beaumont’s a mix of Han and Ben. Some of the joy of Mole People is just watching Beaumont act opposite Agar. Beaumont just steps back, lets Agar perform, gets back to work. It’s an amazing way to handle ego.

Nestor Paiva is another archeologist. He’s great. While Beaumont sort of relaxes in the background, Paiva tries to consume it. László Görög’s script is talky (usually from Agar) and Vogel’s not a fan of close-ups (the backdrops don’t look as good), so there’s a lot for everyone to do. It’s cool.

Then Mole People becomes this subterranean thriller, expertly edited by Irving Birnbaum, expertly photographed by Ellis W. Carter. In a dark theater, in a dark room, there’s nothing but the three archeologists climbing down into the world of The Mole People. It goes on forever. It’s awesome.

At that point, it’s unclear where Mole People is going because there haven’t been any mole people yet. And it could go various ways. There are a lot of gorgeous backdrops and projections and mattes in The Mole People, especially once the underground world is discovered. But then it’s like the budget goes and the film entirely changes.

Agar and Beaumont are pretending to be surface gods to fool a really unfortunately cast Alan Napier. His Cardinal Richelieu stand-in ought to be one of those things to elevate Mole People to a higher plan. Instead, Napier’s neither strong nor weak enough to make an impression. The king, who may or may not have been played by Robin Hughes, makes more of an impression because of his make-up. He looks like a silent film star and then it’s like Mole People all of a sudden becomes a black and white movie where the audience is given permission not to imagine. You don’t have to imagine color, there isn’t any. If it were a full homage to thirties sci-fi in its second half, Mole People would really be something.

Only it doesn’t. And so it isn’t really something, again. Over and over, the film has the chance to go further and it doesn’t. It even opens with some English professor introducing the movie. Not a scientist, no, but an English professor. And he’s bad at it. And he has lots of dialogue. But it still doesn’t make an impact.

There’s a definite charm to The Mole People. Often great music (awesome opening titles). When Paiva’s around Agar, Agar is tolerable. Once Napier shows up, Görög’s script opens up a bit and Agar doesn’t have as much opportunity to annoy. Or maybe it’s just Beaumont getting more stuff to do. Cynthia Patrick is fine as Agar’s love interest. It’s a crappy role, but Patrick’s enthusiastic and she appears comfortable in the very weird setting.

I do wish it were better. But Görög’s script confuses enthusiasm with ability. Patrick can get away with it–so can Agar–but the script can’t. Some very nice technical work; Vogel remains stoic amid a questionably produced production.

Wait a second, I forgot about the crazy dance sequence. There’s this crazy dance sequence before the human sacrifice. It should be amazing, but it somehow isn’t. It’s an interesting crazy, not an amazing one. Vogel just some great ideas he just didn’t know what to do with them.



Directed by Virgil W. Vogel; written by László Görög; director of photography, Ellis W. Carter; edited by Irving Birnbaum; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Agar (Dr. Roger Bentley), Hugh Beaumont (Dr. Jud Bellamin), Nestor Paiva (Prof. Etienne Lafarge), Phil Chambers (Dr. Paul Stuart), Alan Napier (Elinu, the High Priest), Cynthia Patrick (Adad), Robin Hughes (First Officer) and Rodd Redwing (Nazar).