Category Archives: 1961

Mothra (1961, Honda Ishirô)

Mothra is a strange mix of Japanese monster movie, 1950s Hollywood sci-fi and Disney. The last ingredient only becomes clear at the end of the movie, though it’s probably present throughout (as Mothra returns home with the two fairies, it’s clear Mothra would have made a fine animated feature). But the strangest element of Mothra isn’t a genre one, as Christian movies weren’t big in that era. Mothra interacts with religion–specifically Catholicism–in a way I’ve never seen in a Japanese movie, much less a giant monster movie, before. At the end of the movie, it’s revealed Mothra herself is some kind of agent of God. It’s a discrete revelation (the movie doesn’t deal with the implications at all), but it’s definitely there. Had Mothra dealt with those implications, like the origin of church bells and the cross as a Christian symbol being on a Polynesian Island since long before Christ… well, it would have been a far more interesting film.

Moving on, Mothra also features a very global community. Instead of containing the action to Japan, the movie ends in Rolisica–which is as close as Russia (and features a large Russian farming community, as well as Eastern Orthodox churches), but looks like America and everyone speaks English. Initially, the country’s only a stand-in for the USSR, so when its propping up a crazy capitalist, it’s real funny. But the unreality of the country, in terms of its national character and closeness to Japan, lends to that Disney feel (as does everyone waving goodbye to Mothra, who’s just gotten done destroying a bunch of cities and killing untold hundreds).

But the story, which is clearly influenced by King Kong–an expedition produces some good showbiz results with disastrous consequences–is all right. It follows a reporter (Frankie Sakai) and a scientist (Koizumi Hiroshi) to the expedition and back, establishing them as important and so on. There’s the reporter’s cute photographer and the scientist’s little brother who tag along for their adventures. It’s all very genial (and somewhat damning at the end, when Mothra ends on a dumb, “women are so silly” joke).

The likable cast–well, Jerry Ito is terrible as the villain, but moving on–only needs to get the movie to the special effects sequences and they do. Once Mothra’s attacking the city, the excellent miniature effects take over. There’s a lot of city work, with moving vehicles and detailed buildings and it all looks fantastic. Only when the camera holds too long on the miniature figures are there any problems (most of the editing during the destruction sequences is perfect though). And then there’s the issue of Mothra herself. The caterpillar, even with its lifeless eyes, is good. The giant moth… not so good. Luckily, Honda doesn’t pause the camera on it, instead going to the street scenes and those are fantastic. When Mothra hits the New York City stand in and blows the blocks of cars all around… great stuff.

Mothra‘s strangely ambitious–especially at the end with the Eastern Western setting and the Christian overtones–and a lot of it works real well. Great effects throughout, some good music and Honda’s got some excellent shots in the movie, sometimes just in conversation. But the end, kneecapped already with the ludicrous fond farewell to the monster, and then ending on the dumb joke, really brings Mothra down. As the movie gets more interesting from a scholarly standpoint, its quality lessens.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Sekizawa Shinichi, based on a story by Hotta Yoshie and Nakamura Shinichirô and a novel by Fukunaga Takehiko; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Koseki Yuji; production designers, Abe Teruaki and Kita Taeko; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Frankie Sakai (Bulldog), Koizumi Hiroshi (Dr. Chûjô), Kagawa Kyôko (Michi), Uehara Ken (Dr. Harada), Ito Emi and Ito Yûmi (The Twin Fairies), Jerry Ito (Clark Nelson), Tayama Akihiro (Shinji) and Shimura Takashi (the news editor).


RELATED

Advertisements

Girl with a Suitcase (1961, Valerio Zurlini)

Girl with a Suitcase plays a little like The Nights of Cabiria. Watching Suitcase, one can’t help but feel like the filmmakers were quite familiar with Cabiria. Cabiria, of course, is from a certain period of Fellini and Suitcase feels a little like that Fellini, only the diet version. The film does have a lot of nice things about it–Valerio Zurlini is a fantastic director and he has wonderful composition in this film. Also, for a film with lots of loud music, it’s really quiet. Zurlini lets his actors act and doesn’t help them much in the technical department, which means the actors have to be really good… and, for the most part, they are. Claudia Cardinale is fine, but her character is something of an intentional enigma, so she’s really not the best standard for the film–she’s also not the protagonist. The protagonist is the sixteen year old boy who’s got the crush on her, which is where Girl with a Suitcase differs from other depressing Italian films (it’s like Nights of Cabiria with kids, maybe).

The problem with this story–the boy-about-to-be-a-man and the older woman with secrets he loves–is the lack of a successful conclusion to the story. There are probably films with this story made twice a year from every country in the world (at least one with a good-sized film industry). Girl with a Suitcase goes a different route for most of the film though, not giving the kid anything to do but spend time with Cardinale. Oh sure, he’s got the absent family, but it’s not an issue for a couple reasons. First, because he’s too busy with Cardinale. Second, because the damn thing switches protagonists for the third act, concentrating on her. Those diet Cabiria moments come about because of the switch, but they also serve to make Cardinale a sympathetic character. Only to crap on her in a boring way.

Somehow, the film’s two hours and boring but really not long enough. It stops without ending. The kid, played Jacques Perrin, is okay. Sometimes he does good, sometimes he doesn’t. It’s like Zurlini wasn’t giving him enough direction in some scenes. Another problem with the inevitable conclusion is the age difference. While Perrin is supposed to be sixteen, he was actually twenty and Cardinale was twenty-three. They look close in age and it really affects the reading of certain scenes.

I’ve only seen one other Zurlini film, The Desert of the Tartars, and I was expecting a lot more from Suitcase. The first hour is pretty good though and, overall, it’s not wasted two hours (especially given the amazing sound design).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Valerio Zurlini; written by Leo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Giuseppe Patroni Griffi and Zurlini; director of photography, Tino Santoni; edited by Mario Serandrei; production design, Flavio Mogherini; produced by Maurizio Lodi Fe’; released by Titanus.

Starring Claudia Cardinale (Aida), Jacques Perrin (Lorenzo), Corrado Pani (Marcello), Luciana Angelillo (Aunt Marta), Carlo Hinterman (Piero), Riccardo Garrone (Romolo), Renato Baldini (Francia) and Romolo Valli (Father Introna).


RELATED

Return to Peyton Place (1961, José Ferrer)

I’ve read a review of Return to Peyton Place positing the whole film as a disservice to Mary Astor. It might have been Maltin. Right now, I’m reading Bruce Eder’s review over at allmovie. Eder’s a smarty-pants (he does or did a lot of scholarly audio commentaries) and I’d almost recommend it over my own post, because I made a few of the same observations. Return to Peyton Place starts out bad, with Rosemary Clooney singing a silly song over location shots of the town. The first Peyton Place had a great score–if it was a little derivative of Aaron Copland’s Our Town score–and the first couple seconds of music in Return to Peyton Place seemed all right… then the singing started. Clooney was married to director José Ferrer at the time and one imagines there’s a connection to her involvement.

Worse, the first scene is with Carol Lynley. I’m a Peyton Place fan and I can imagine how upset people seeing this film in the theater would have been. Lynley is a poor substitute for Diane Varsi, who originated the role. Poor substitute might be too polite. Lynley’s acting is a crime against celluloid. But then Eleanor Parker and Tuesday Weld and Mary Astor show up–and here’s where Eder and I agree–and Mary Astor’s first scene is really good. Immediately after, she becomes Mrs. Bates, complete with haunted house, but the first scene is good. Tuesday Weld manages to have a few good moments, but she’s busy being in love with Swedish sky instructor–she visibly competent, though I don’t know if I’d say anything if I didn’t know she turned well. Eleanor Parker–replacing Lana Turner, who was the lead in the original Peyton Place–is around because she has to be, but there’s no emphasis on her. It’s a bad sequel in that way–it’s set after the events in Peyton Place, but certain things didn’t happen….

The idea of the film–besides Mary Astor combating her son’s new, pregnant Italian bride (Fox was very international with Return to Peyton Place)–is Lynley writing a book a lot like… Peyton Place. The novel was (I’m Googling for the appropriate adjective) notorious at its publication. That idea of turning that notoriety into filmic content in a sequel, it’s not a bad one. It would allow for the film to cover the existing situations in the narrative and create all sorts of conflicts and yada yada yada, but it’s so poorly handled, it just doesn’t work. Jeff Chandler–who’s good–is bad in Return to Peyton Place. He doesn’t fit the role of book publisher and his scenes are all with Lynley and… oh, they’re awful together.

It’s hard to imagine a good sequel to Peyton Place. You would need the entire cast to return. You would need five or six stories, good ones (instead of two and a half bad ones). You’d need a good writer–though, Return to Peyton Place’s scenes are competently paced–and you’d need a good director. But still, even with all of those components (and Return to Peyton Place has none of those components), there still isn’t a good artistic reason for a sequel….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by José Ferrer; screenplay by Ronald Alexander, based on a novel by Grace Metalious; director of photography, Charles G. Clarke; edited by David Bretherton; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Carol Lynley (Allison MacKenzie), Jeff Chandler (Lewis Jackman), Eleanor Parker (Connie Rossi), Mary Astor (Mrs. Roberta Carter), Robert Sterling (Mike Rossi), Luciana Paluzzi (Raffaella Carter), Brett Halsey (Ted Carter), Gunnar Hellström (Nils Larsen) and Tuesday Weld (Selena Cross).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.