Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Alcoholic ex-football player Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman) and his sexually-frustrated wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) are in Mississippi to celebrate the 65th birthday of Brick’s father Big Daddy (Burl Ives), who’s dying of cancer. With Brick’s brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and mean-spirited sister-in-law Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) sucking up to Big Daddy and Big Momma (Judith Anderson) in order to inherit the wealthy cotton tycoon’s land, Maggie is desperate for Brick to do something to convince his father he’s worthy of taking over the family estate. However, Brick has more on his mind than his father’s will — mainly the recent suicide of his best friend, Skipper.

Say, folks! If you’re interested in the topic of queer images in film, have I got an event for YOU! From June 18-22, Garbo Laughs (that’s me) and Pussy Goes Grrr will be hosting the Queer Film Blogathon. Check it out now to find out how you can contribute and even win prizes. The party simply won’t be the same without you!

Directed by Richard Brooks for MGM in 1958, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was adapted from the 1955 Tennessee Williams play of the same name. Despite the film’s enormous commercial success and six Academy Award nominations, both Williams and its star Paul Newman expressed dissatisfaction with the play’s translation to the big screen. In fact, Williams actively encouraged people waiting in line for the film not to see the movie, because he was so personally offended at the film’s bowdlerized bastardization of his work.

Broadway has always given more leeway to “controversial” works and writers than Hollywood has, which is exactly the case with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Williams intended Cat to be his personal treatise on the destructive effects of internalized homophobia on the human psyche; but with such a taboo subject at the heart of the story, the Hays Office would only allow homosexuality to be subtextually hinted at in the screen version. Therefore, with its core principles remaining unspoken, the film does not have the same impact as the play, and the message is watered down. Brick is only allowed to hint at what the play frankly proclaims and discusses, mainly the possibility of a homosexual romance between Brick and his dead friend Skipper.


The Maze (1953)

Image Source: Wrong Side of the Art

Synopsis: Life for the newly-engaged Kitty Murray (Veronica Hurst) and Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson) couldn’t be any happier – until Gerald receives a letter notifying him of the death of his uncle. Now it is his duty to take on the role of baronet of Craven Castle in the Scottish highlands. It’s expected that Gerald will settle his business at Craven and then return to Kitty, but soon he makes it clear that he’s not coming back and that the engagement is off. The heartbroken Kitty and her supportive aunt Edith (Katherine Emery) pay an unannounced visit to Craven, where they find Gerald a prematurely-aged and altogether different man. Kitty tries her best to bring back the warm and good-humored Gerald she once knew, but all Gerald wants is for Kitty and Edith to leave Craven Castle. What is affecting Gerald? Could the MacTeam family secret lie in the forbidden hedge maze in the center of the castle grounds?

Based on a novel and originally filmed in 3D, The Maze was the final film by Oscar-winning art director and production designer William Cameron Menzies, who received an honorary award in 1940 for his outstanding use of color in a little picture known as Gone with the Wind. Despite the fact that Menzies had more than twice as many artistic credits as he did directorial roles, he was also at the helm of such notable movies as 1932’s Chandu the Magician and 1936’s Things to Come. For a man who at the time had been in the business for nearly forty years, practically since the beginning of the medium of film itself, Menzies clearly knew what he was doing with The Maze. Although the plot synopsis may make it sound like a schlocky low-budget B horror picture (not necessarily a bad thing!), The Maze is definitely aided by Menzies’ directorial experience and impeccable eye for detail. It’s a beautiful movie with some stunning cinematography; Craven Castle has so many inky, shadowy corners you might think you’re in a German Expressionist film from the ’20s, not an American monster movie from the ’50s. The players, all relatively unknown (to me, anyway), also help add to the spooky ambience of the picture and heighten the mystery. The narrator is Aunt Edith, and while Katherine Emery at this point was an accomplished character actress and stage performer, here she sort of gives you the impression that she’s played by someone’s actual Aunt Edith. It’s distracting but not too much; I suppose it just adds a hint of realism.

Doesn’t it ever occur to anybody to bring HEDGE CLIPPERS into one of these damn things?!?

It’s good that the atmosphere is so strong, because the film relies on it a lot to pass the time. That’s my way of saying that nothing much happens until the last ten minutes or so. While many reviewers complain that The Maze is too slow, I rather enjoyed the build up of suspense and thought that it helped those last ten minutes really pack a punch. I don’t want to spoil it too much – seeing as how the poster above specifically requests that I don’t give away the ending – but I will say that there is a monster at the center of the maze, and it is definitely worth the wait. I can’t say you’ll be scared, though, but hopefully you’ll be entertained. There’s also some very silly science in the last few scenes which I enjoyed probably too much. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by The Maze, which I had never heard of prior to stumbling across it on Netflix (which predicted I’d give it a very low rating). It’s a wonderfully eery little picture with the perfect hint of schlock thrown in for good measure. I can definitely see adding it to my annual must-watch Halloween roster.

The Maze (1953) – 3.5/5 stars

’50s Monster Mash Blogathon: 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: An American astronaut (William Hopper) is rescued by fishermen when his ship crash lands in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Sicily. Later that day, a local boy (Bart Braverman) finds a curious organic artifact on the beach and sells it to a visiting zoologist (Frank Puglia) on a trip to Sicily with his granddaughter (Joan Taylor). Soon, the object reveals itself to be an egg, out of which hatches a tiny and strange creature. But the alien doesn’t stay small for long, growing at an incredibly rapid rate. The monster escapes the confines of the zoologist’s cage and flees into the countryside. With the Italian police force on its trail trying to protect humanity and the American Army trying to recover their valuable scientific specimen, what fate awaits this monster on this planet where he was never meant to be?

This is an official entry in Forgotten Classic of Yesteryear’s ’50s Monster Mash Blogathon, a truly fantastic event celebrating the joy, pleasure and pain of 1950s monster movies from around the world. Organized by Nathanael Hood, this blogathon spans from today until August 2, and with forty talented bloggers pledged to participate, a fun and wacky time is sure to be had by all. Please click the banner to view some of the contributions, and keep checking back on Forgotten Classics as the contributions roll in all week long.

First of all, sincerest apologies to Nate for the lateness of this review! Dealing with a lot of illness and business ’round these parts, not to mention planning a trip out of town and a possible move out of town after that. I’m going to keep my intro brief so that I actually have some chance of getting this post up before the day is through. 20 Million Miles to Earth was directed by Nathan Juran for Columbia Pictures for the sole purpose of displaying the incredible, jaw-dropping, still-as-of-yet-unparalleled stop-motion animation effects talents of the legendary Ray Harryhausen. While a lot of the film seems quite low-budget, Harryhausen, as always, shocks and awes. Come take a trip with me into this monster movie classic, this B-grade gem, this long long journey… 20 Million Miles to Earth!

Warning: This is a Full Recap review, meaning it includes screencaps and commentary on the film in its entirety. Therefore, it is much longer than a regular review, and spoilers are pretty much guaranteed. (more…)

Diabolique (1955)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Christina Delassalle (Véra Clouzot) and Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) used to have the same problem: they were in love with the same man. Now they have a different problem: they both loathe the same man. With Christina as his sickly wife and Nicole as his strong-willed mistress, Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) uses physical force to keep both women under his thumb. Finally, Nicole proposes the only remaining solution to Christina: they should murder Delassalle. Christina reluctantly and fearfully goes through with the plan, and they dump the body in the swimming pool. But when the pool is drained the next day, the body is nowhere to be found. Soon, eerie signs of Delassalle start popping up everywhere, from the suit he died in coming back from the cleaners to a foggy visage of his face appearing in the background of a photograph. Could the evil man possibly have survived their foolproof plan – or is he tormenting them from beyond the grave?

I went into this film knowing only two things about it: 1. It starred Simone Signoret, who I’ve wanted to see more of ever since her captivating performance in Ship of Fools (1965). 2. It was part of the Criterion Collection expiring from Netflix Instant on July 22, presumably to move over to Hulu Plus, where Criterion is cloistering away all its best films, never again to be seen by me (in streaming form, anyway). I’m so glad I got to see this film before it escaped my grasp. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1955 under the original French title Les diaboliques (The Devils), something about Diabolique makes it feel older than its 56 years. In its use of black and white, its noirish nuances, it definitely feels more ’40s than ’50s, especially when you compare it to the sprawling Cinemascope epics being produced in the United States around the same time. This is, of course, in no way a jab at the film, merely an observation. Who needs blaring Technicolor and sweeping landscapes when you’ve got a perfectly spooky little French ghost story to draw you in? (more…)

Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Troubled youth Jim Stark (James Dean) is on the run from his past. His domineering mother (Ann Doran) and hen-pecked father (Jim Backus) have left Jim confused about how to be a man. Jim’s mother thinks all her son’s problems will be solved when they move to a new town and transfer Jim to a new high school. There Jim meets Judy (Natalie Wood), a nice girl who runs with a bad crowd and is aching for someone to love her for who she really is. He also meets Plato (Sal Mineo), a sensitive and unpopular boy with absentee parents who is yearning for guidance and acceptance. Unfortunately, Jim also meets Buzz (Corey Allen) and the gang, who do everything they can to provoke Jim into falling back into his old habits. Then something goes horribly wrong, and Jim must decide on his own how to handle it. Can doing the right thing ever be the wrong choice? If you can’t find a role model for manhood in your own father, where canyou find one?

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

This review was originally posted on my old blog, Movie Dames, in August of 2009. Since that blog is no longer in existence and there isn’t an archive of my posts there, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to use this opportunity to repost this review. I don’t discuss the film from strictly a queer perspective, but I do go into the queer aspects of it quite a bit. I’m leaving most of the original writing intact; this is just how it looked when it was published two years ago, so if the writing or analysis seems amateurish – just remember, this is coming from me two years ago. :) Please don’t judge me too harshly.

Warning: This is a Full Recap review, meaning it includes screencaps and commentary on the film in its entirety. Therefore, it is much longer than a regular review, and spoilers are pretty much guaranteed. (more…)