Category Archives: 1964

Night Call (1964, Jacques Tourneur)

Night Call’s pre-Rod Serling tag has lead Gladys Cooper having trouble sleeping through a thunderstorm. She then gets two phone calls at 2 a.m., with just static on the line. The next day, after the Serling intro promising Cooper’s in for a momentous event, Cooper tries reporting the phone calls to the phone company but they’ve been having lots of trouble on account of the storm. The operator kind of dismisses her, as does her day-time caretaker, Nora Marlowe. See, Cooper’s kind of a mean old lady–her family doesn’t want anything to do with her–so she gets zero sympathy from Marlowe and, really, Night Call.

The phone calls continue, with the buzz eventually becoming moaning (a man moaning) and then the moaning just becomes the guy saying “Hello” over and over again. Cooper in a full panic, Marlowe is just as unsympathetic (the utter lack of chemistry between Cooper and Marlowe probably hurts Night Call but it’s hard to even imagine they could have any rapport), the phone company is investigating. All Cooper can do is wait. While the calls keep coming.

And somehow Marlowe’s never around to hear them–she’s convinced Cooper’s lying for the attention or something. Turns out, of course, she’s not. Instead there’s some highly contrived explanation along with some pointless comeuppance–watching Marlowe berate Cooper in one scene seems like elder abuse but also with some sexism thrown in–and a pat, predictable ending.

Cooper’s performance is… mediocre. Better than Marlowe, though Marlowe’s got no character to even hint at playing, but still quite mediocre. Tourneur’s direction is similarly middling. The interior stuff is boring, the exterior stuff is not. Except when Tourneur’s got to hammer in the point for the big finale. Rather nice photography from Robert Pittack (especially outside) and solid editing from Richard V. Heermance.

Night Call doesn’t particularly have anything going for it–acting, directing, writing–it’s kind of fine, but so what.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by Richard Matheson; “The Twilight Zone” created by Rod Serling; director of photography, Robert Pittack; edited by Richard V. Heermance; produced by Bert Granet; aired by the Central Broadcasting System.

Starring Gladys Cooper (Elva Keene), Nora Marlowe (Margaret Phillips), and Martine Bartlett (Miss Finch).


RELATED

Advertisements

Seven Days in May (1964, John Frankenheimer)

Screenwriter Rod Serling really likes to employ monologues in Seven Days in May. John Frankenheimer likes to direct them too. And the actors like to give them. Because they’re good monologues. The monologues give all then actors fantastic material. Everyone except George Macready, who isn’t the right kind of scenery chewer for Seven Days. Maybe Ava Gardner, who gets the thankless role of being the only female character of note in the film; doubly thankless, given her part is of a fallen woman and her monologue is the weakest in the film, writing-wise. She’s at least good and effective, just shoe-horned in. Macready has a choice part and oozes too much through it.

There are a lot of actors in Seven Days, there are a lot of monologues. The only one not to get any monologues (well, within reason, given the size of the part) Kirk Douglas. For the first half of the film, he’s sort of bouncing between monologues as he has a conspiracy thriller discovery arc as well as a “why the heck are there so many facists in the Armed Forces” arc. Douglas works for Burt Lancaster, who’s the top dog general at the Pentagon. Lancaster gets some great monologues. Fredric March is the President of the United States, who’s just signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets. Lancaster thinks March is a weak sister. Douglas thinks the military should stay out of politics and, somewhat naively, believes it does. But he also doesn’t think fascists are okay, so when it seems like there’s something suspicious going on with an upcoming nuclear threat drill–Douglas goes to the White House and tells March there’s a conspiracy for a military coup of the United States.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? And it’s a success. Seven Days is great entertainment. It just ought to be a lot better.

When the film starts, it’s Frankenheimer showing off. There’s a fight scene. Protestors for and against nuclear peace. Shocker, all the people against are white males. They throw the first punch. Riot in front of the White House. Frankenheimer shoots it stark, documentary style. There’s some issues with the scale of it, but it’s still an effective sequence. It’s also the only time Frankenheimer does anything approaching vérité. So while it’s distinctive, it’s a rouse. Seven Days isn’t going to be vérité. Though there are occasional later hints, which never pan out.

But then it almost immediately becomes Douglas’s movie. For the first half of the picture, until he tries to seduce Gardner for information to take down Lancaster, Douglas is the protagonist. The movie’s about the conspiracy, sure, but it’s about how he’s reacting to his role working against his commanding officer. After the Gardner seduction, the movie reduces Douglas to a supporting role. It’s got no real lead, just March, Lancaster, Edmond O’Brien, and sort of Martin Balsam. Balsam’s the only other person in the main cast not to get a monologue. He and Douglas are doers. Everyone else is a talker, especially O’Brien, who’s a drunken Southern senator who chows down on every line, sweating profusely and spectacularly. It’s a thin role at times–O’Brien gets to talk the movie version of politics, which hurts everyone who has to expound on it eventually; not even Lancaster and March can make the third act work.

See, Seven Days is able to get away with its American exceptionalism but not warmongers movie politics because Serling and Frankenheimer never double down on them. The thriller aspect is bigger. There’s even a military sand-crawler chase sequence. For a while in the second act, right after the film drops Douglas down, it seems like it might get action-packed. Then it doesn’t. It goes through a series of false endings and hinges the whole thing on the movie politics and how well Serling can write monologues about them.

And he chokes a little. There are too many monologues in the third act and they’re all too long. Lancaster gets away with one too long monologue. Poor March gets two.

Acting-wise, almost everyone’s fantastic. Not Macready. Andrew Duggan’s got a great small part. Lancaster’s great, March is great, Douglas is great. The problem is Serling’s switch from specific protagonist–Douglas–to a general one witnessing the events, which ends up being March most often. Serling fumbles that switch in perspective, but he and Frankenheimer keep the narrative distance about the same. So it’s not successful, but far from a failure.

Gardner’s good. The part’s crap. Even in the context of the story, the part’s crap–she’s Lancaster’s former now drunk mistress, who Douglas exploits for information. She’s got like three scenes, interacting with no one but Douglas. Again, shoe-horned in. Still, she makes the part work. It’s just she and Douglas really get boned by the script in the second half.

O’Brien’s kind of amazing. He’s a little broad, but he and Balsam as globe-trotting spies is one of Seven Days’s nicer second act touches. Balsam’s good too, he’s just got a far less showy part.

The film’s got great production values–big scale from Frankenheimer–amazing editing from Ferris Webster, good photography from Ellsworth Fredericks, solid Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s great entertainment.

It’s just a little thin.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Rod Serling, based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II; director of photography, Ellsworth Fredericks; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Cary Odell; produced by Edward Lewis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Col. Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey), Fredric March (President Jordan Lyman), Burt Lancaster (Gen. James Mattoon Scott), Edmond O’Brien (Sen. Raymond Clark), Ava Gardner (Eleanor Holbrook), Martin Balsam (Paul Girard), Whit Bissell (Sen. Frederick Prentice), George Macready (Christopher Todd), Hugh Marlowe (Harold McPherson), Richard Anderson (Col. Murdock), Bart Burns (Secret Service White House Chief Art Corwin), and Andrew Duggan (Col. William ‘Mutt’ Henderson).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE AVA GARDNER BLOGATHON HOSTED BY MADDY OF MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS.


RELATED

Panic Button (1964, George Sherman)

Watching Panic Button, two adjectives came to mind repeatedly. Anemic and stupefying. It’s incredible the things the film can’t make funny–like Maurice Chevalier, Carlo Croccolo and Eleanor Parker dressed up as nuns trying to make it to a Venice film festival. Not the Venice Film Festival, because the one in Panic Button also shows TV pilots. But director Sherman–or whoever directed the chase sequence (there’s also an Italian language version of the film directed by Giuliano Carnimeo and it could have just been second unit)–bombs it. It’s never funny, even though Parker and Croccolo are working. Poor Chevalier, on the other hand, becomes a metaphor for the film itself.

Panic Button is about the New York mob needing to lose half a million dollars. There’s an expository prologue with bad acting and worse dubbing. Mob boss’s son Mike Connors flies to Rome to make a TV pilot starring Chevalier, whose movies are poorly rated on late night television. It’s not a stupid idea for a movie, but everything except the idea is stupid. Connors falls for leading lady Jayne Mansfield, except they have no chemistry. Independently, they’re both actually fine–and even though it’s still not funny, Sherman’s best direction is of the female actors–Mansfield and Parker–but together they’re charmless. Meanwhile, Chevalier is living off his ex-wife (Parker) in some kind of fantasy world where he’s an accomplished actor. He’s not believable having a single movie credit to his name, much less enough to provoke marketing research.

The first act isn’t too bad, actually. Parker is great. She’s about the only one who makes Panic Button feel like a real movie and not, you know, something someone had to lose half a million dollars making. The film plays Chevalier’s character and the actor himself as a patsy, which is unfortunate. Awful editing from Gene Ruggiero doesn’t help. Sherman’s direction is no shakes whatsoever, but Ruggiero can’t even cut screwball banter. Well, wait. Sherman shoots it too wide so maybe there’s just nothing to cut.

And Parker and Connors have a lot of chemistry. So it reflects poorly on his character when Mansfield’s cleavage wins his heart. Of course, it’s fine for Parker. Even though she was married to Chevalier and then supported him for years after their divorce, it turns out she didn’t know him at all and there’s a chance for reconnection. Unfortunately, no one seems to have let Chevalier in on that development because his performance–regardless of the bad writing–is utterly one note.

Panic Button even manages to screw up Akim Tamiroff as a wacky acting instructor who ineptly directs the TV pilot.

And the music from Georges Garvarentz is super lame.

However, while Panic Button doesn’t have anything to recommend it–unless one wants to see Parker hold half the movie up with expressions or a travelogue of sixties Rome and Venice–the cast does do enough solid work it’s not a complete waste of time. Even with the mindnumpingly long chase sequence and a cruel (and inept) finale, Parker, Connors, Mansfield, Croccolo and even Chevalier to some degree take Panic Button seriously enough it’s not an abject failure.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by George Sherman; screenplay by Stephen Longstreet and Hal Biller, based on a story by Morton Friedman; director of photography, Enzo Serafin; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by Georges Garvarentz; produced by Ron Gorton; released by Gorton Associates.

Starring Mike Connors (Frank Pagano), Eleanor Parker (Louise Harris), Maurice Chevalier (Philippe Fontaine), Jayne Mansfield (Angela), Vincent Barbi (Mario), Carlo Croccolo (Guido) and Akim Tamiroff (Pandowski).


RELATED


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

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964, Honda Ishirô)

I’m not sure if Mothra vs. Godzilla should be much better, but it certainly should be somewhat better. There are constant problems with the film; little things, big things, but clearly fixable things. Like the composite shots. They’re terrible. Director Honda, seemingly overwhelmed with all the landscape sets, relies on occasional composite shots to give Godzilla scale. The shots should be okay, but the composite printing is awful.

Otherwise, the special effects are solid. There’s some great stop motion in parts too. But Honda has a rough time with some of the Godzilla sequences–in Mothra; Godzilla shows up rather late and (literally) stumbles around before establishing himself to be a big old jerk. There’s no Godzilla behavioral science in Sekizawa Shin’ichi’s script. Godzilla’s just a big dumb, mean animal who acts without motive. But he also manages to be a jerk about it.

In having such a weak script as far as characterizations, which isn’t helped by the charmless lead performances–not to mention Mothra being a sympathetic giant monster (complete with accessible, religious overtones)–the film makes the giant monsters way too interesting. It pays off with the final battle, however, which Honda, editor Fujii Ryôhei and composter Ifukube Akira do wonderful work on.

There are some reasonably competent storytelling twists and Mothra always seems like it should get a lot better any moment. Leads Takarada Akira and Hoshi Yuriko–he’s a reporter, she’s his photographer, there’s some funny business going on–ought to be great. But they have no chemistry at all. Takarada seems bored by the whole film; Hoshi’s got energy, but no one to act off. As the scientist, Koizumi Hiroshi’s in a daze. He has nothing to do.

There’s a subplot about evil amusement park developers, played by Fujiki Yû and Sahara Kenji. It’s a really dumb subplot, but the actors are relatively game. Honda doesn’t direct them well. He doesn’t direct any of the actors’ scenes well. He rushes through the shots, never relying on the actors for anything.

Really bad performances from Itô Emi and Itô Yumi, as Mothra’s talking Barbie dolls.

But Sekizawa’s script does have some imagination. It occasionally sparks with Honda’s own problematic direction and Mothra vs. Godzilla nearly works.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fuji Ryôhei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takarada Akira (Ichiro), Hoshi Yuriko (Junko), Koizumi Hiroshi (Professor Miura), Fujiki Yû (Nakamura), Sahara Kenji (Torahata), Itô Emi (Shobijin), Itô Yumi (Shobijin), Tajima Yoshifumi (Kumayama) and Tazaki Jun (Murata).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | GODZILLA, PART ONE: SHOWA.