Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '55 - Andrew Wickliffe ""

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Underrated '55 - Andrew Wickliffe

Andrew Wickliffe has been blogging about film and comic books for almost ten years.
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I’m not sure I really like any films from 1955 I don’t consider underrated. When trying to come up with this list, I had an obvious problem–Eleanor Parker. Her three films from 1955 are all underrated to one degree or another and Interrupted Melody is one of my favorite movies and I’ve never understood why it doesn’t have a better reputation.
Mid-decade is always a particular time; you can see the films from the beginning of the decade in its films, whereas you might not see them in a film made in the late part of the decade (though you’ll see mid-decade similarities). 1955 is still when you could have a really good studio picture; dramas weren’t by rote yet.
But you also had something like Killer’s Kiss, Stanley Kubrick’s first film, which I’d definitely consider underrated. It’s far from his best work but it’s not his worst and he does some great things in it. That chase at the end still sticks with me and it’s been over five years since the last time I watched the film.

Then you also have The Cobweb, which is a big MGM melodrama with an all star cast–Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Gloria Grahame, Fay Wray!–directed by Vincente Minnelli. I’d never heard of it (when I grew up, Widmark was mostly known for Kiss of Death–I hope DVD availability of his other work has changed that impression). I think I watched it because it was the latest Fay Wray movie I’d ever had the opportunity to watch. And it’s pretty dang good too. I watched it on TCM; now Warner Archive has it out.
Similarly, the first time I saw Interrupted Melody was on LaserDisc; it’s now available on DVD from Warner Archive. It’s hard to ignore the importance of Warner Archive in making American film history accessible.

Another of the Eleanor Parker films from 1955 is The Man with the Golden Arm, which I’d heard of as a Frank Sinatra movie before I was familiar with Parker. And, for whatever reason, I knew Otto Preminger directed it. The film deals with heroin addiction. By the nineties, when I first saw the film, it had a mediocre reputation at best. Director Otto Preminger’s reputation had peaked, Sinatra was still a pop culture icon but not his movies, drug use could be a lot more explicitly shown.
And Golden Arm isn’t one of my favorites, but it’s a beautifully made film. It’s on this great set, with Preminger mixing traditional Hollywood with progressive filmmaking techniques. And the acting’s great. The fifties and sixties always seemed to go together for me, like the thirties and forties did; from black and white to Technicolor or Cinemascope. But these films from 1955 show something else. They show a distinct period of mainstream American filmmaking, which is always developing, but not in such contradictory ways. Golden Arm is urban on a set, Killer’s Kiss is urban on location. Cobweb is traditional soap, Interrupted Melody is more done as a character study instead of a soap.

There are some overrated films from 1955 too. But instead I’ll finish with Jack Arnold’s Tarantula. The Universal fifties sci-fi film was well underway by 1955, with Arnold driving a lot of it, and Tarantula is a rather solid picture. It got some attention for a while because of Clint Eastwood having a bit part, but deserves a real appreciation.
Tarantula never got a solo release from Universal Home Video–it’s now out on their MOD archive series (it was previously in a regular DVD box set), which they don’t advertise well enough.
Of the five films I talked about, Killer’s Kiss is about the only one I’d ever heard to see. And Tarantula, but as a kid. The rest I found on my own based on my own classic film interests. 1955 seems like a good year for film, but once you find the right films, most years are a good year for film.

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