- All That Heaven Allows
- Bad Day At Black Rock
- Pather Panchali
- East Of Eden
- Rebel Without A Cause
- The Ladykillers
- Smiles of A Summer Night
Such a good year for movies, and one of the most interesting and exciting is John Sturges’ disquieting tale of American racism at its most vicious, Bad Day At Black Rock. The film also features the great Spencer Tracy in his trademark. He is once again the moral righteousness who comes to calmly put everyone in their place, this time without an arm, and with an impressive level of strength and complexity.
The performance that impresses by today’s standards is the haunting, heart-rending work done by Jane Wyman in Douglas Sirk’s masterpiece All That Heaven Allows. Wyman was a master of small moments; as much as I love watching her writhe in pain over her struggle between her children and her husband, I am equally inspired by the way she so charmingly tells Rock Hudson that she loves Wedgwood.
Let’s not get too caught up in our love of the American naturalism that was sometimes found and always worth celebrating on the big screen; the grand theatrics of the stage-trained British is also worth celebrating, and very few did it as well as John Gielgud, particularly his work in Olivier’s adaptation of Richard III. Gielgud was always terrific on screen, not exactly tamping down his stage presence but making it real to the world he was inhabiting, and it was an energy he never lost up until his very last film at the age of 94.
I can never get over the power that young Natalie Wood brings to Rebel Without A Cause. Critics often focus on the homo-tortured relationship between Sal Mineo and his lovesick adoration of a legend-making James Dean, but just watch Wood’s face as she tells the police, in the opening sequence, that her father hates her. Wood was often the symbol of tortured teen angst, sort of a 50s Winona Ryder with much more talent, and this film is emblematic in displaying this.
You’ll find no shortage of writings on the work of Douglas Sirk, and in particular how his directorial style applies to the socially conscious messages of All That Heaven Allows. It’s all true, but what makes the film such a masterpiece is that it is a shrewd commentator on American society that also hits you very deep in the heart. My film scholarly self cozies up to my inner housewife and the two have a grand old time watching this one.