If you weren't already aware, Laura runs the wonderful blog Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, which is a must for any classic film fans:http://laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com.
She can be found on Twitter here:https://twitter.com/LaurasMiscMovie
STRANGER AT MY DOOR (William Witney, 1956)
I just saw this Western for the first time at the Lone Pine Film Festival, and it made quite an impression. It's the story of Clay (Skip Homeier), a bank robber on the run who finds himself hiding out at a farm owned by a minister (Macdonald Carey). The minister quickly deduces Clay's identity and hopes he can break through to the younger man with Christian kindness. As time passes, Clay forms an attachment to the minister's son (Stephen Wootton); meanwhile the minister's young second wife (Patricia Medina) is simultaneously thrilled, terrified, and guilty about the attraction she feels toward Clay, despite a loving relationship with her husband. This bare bones description really doesn't do the film justice; its centerpiece is an unforgettable, nightmarish sequence when a wild horse tears up the farm. My only complaint is that I was left wanting a longer movie, as it was so interesting and I was left with unanswered questions about the characters and their relationships. It's a thought-provoking film with a moving ending.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.
FULL OF LIFE (Richard Quine, 1956)
FULL OF LIFE is a warm, funny, and touching film about a happily married couple about to have their first child. Nick (Richard Conte) and Emily (Judy Holliday) have a highly functional marriage which is delightful to watch. Over the course of this gentle movie, Nick repairs his relationship with his father (Salvatore Baccaloni) and finds his way back to church, which he realizes he'd stopped attending as an act of rebellion against his father. Holliday plays a sunny-natured, intelligent woman who is well matched with her introspective writer husband; those who know Conte from his tough guy roles will enjoy seeing him in a very different role as the supportive husband. The depiction of pregnancy is refreshingly realistic (mostly) for entertainment of the era.
Available on DVD from Sony.
SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE (Charles Haas, 1956)
I'm echoing my pal Jerry Entract in recommending this movie, which I described at my blog as a "darn good Western." Jock Mahoney plays Jim Trask, a Civil War veteran who returns home to discover his sweetheart (Martha Hyer), believing him dead, is now engaged to his friend Dave (Lyle Bettger). Jim takes his old job as sheriff, despite being unable to fire a gun due to a "friendly fire" incident in the war. It's a well-written film with strong acting by the leads; Bettger brings a bit of heartbreak to the villain, and there's also a nice part for David Janssen as Jim's deputy, whose loyalties are initially ambiguous. Mahoney's longtime experience as a stuntman is very much apparent as he takes flying leaps on a couple of occasions!
Not available on DVD in the U.S.
NIGHTFALL (Jacques Tourneur, 1956)
One of my favorite discoveries of 2013, I'm slipping this into the list thanks to its 1956 release in the UK; the U.S. release followed in January 1957. Like Tourneur's OUT OF THE PAST (1947), NIGHTFALL was filmed in my favorite little town in the Sierras, Bridgeport, California. (In fact, the murder early in NIGHTFALL was filmed just steps from where Robert Mitchum is fishing at the start of OUT OF THE PAST.) Aldo Ray plays a man caught in a nightmare, as some very bad guys (headed by Brian Keith) believe he has a missing bag containing $350,000. He ends up on the run with Anne Bancroft, with a mysterious man (James Gregory) following along. Besides the terrific Sierra scenes, there are also some interesting Los Angeles locations. There's an excellent screenplay by Sterling Silliphant which slides easily back and forth in time, juxtaposing romance and humor with brutal violence. A very underrated and enjoyable film.
Available on DVD from Sony.
THE LAST WAGON (Delmer Daves, 1956)
Richard Widmark is terrific starring as Comanche Todd, who has lived with Indians most of his life. After being unjustly arrested for murder, the wagon train escorting him to trial is raided and he finds himself using his unusual know-how to save the lives of a half-dozen teenage survivors of the attack. Many of the younger people are wary or insulting to Comanche due to his Indian connection and his status as a prisoner, yet as they travel to safety all learn important life lessons, and the oldest survivor, Jenny (Felicia Farr), falls in love with Comanche. The film has gorgeous scenic vistas filmed in Sedona, Arizona, and a lovely score by Lionel Newman.
Available on DVD from 20th Century-Fox.