Movie Review – Early Summer

Early Summer (1951)
Written by Kogo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu
Directed by Yasujirō Ozu

As the second part of Ozu’s Noriko trilogy, Early Summer is a more complex examination of post-War Japanese lives across three generations of a family. Setsuko Hara returns to play another character named Noriko, like in Late Spring. Chishū Ryū, who played the father in Late Spring, plays the eldest brother in Early Summer. Once again, a young woman living with her parents and being pressured into marriage is at the forefront of the plot. This time the story has more layers and humor, always remaining tender and empathetic with all its characters.

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Movie Review – Early Spring

Early Spring (1956)
Written by Kōgo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu
Directed by Yasujirō Ozu

Since I became deeply interested in film & filmmakers, Yasujirō Ozu’s name has been one that has come across my radar time & time again. Anytime a piece of criticism would talk about Japanese cinema’s great directors, it was Akira Kurosawa & Ozu. For whatever reason, I’d never sat down to watch an Ozu film, my list of movies piling up while ignoring those listed as essential. Not much about Ozu’s early life stands out, the son of a fertilizer salesman, living a relatively Japanese middle-class life in the 1910s. Things get interesting as he became a young adult starting with his expulsion from his boarding school dormitory after being caught writing a love letter to another boy. While Ozu’s sexuality was never confirmed before his death in 1963, he seemed to at least be questioning who he was attracted to.

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Movie Review – The African Queen

The African Queen (1951)
Written by John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, and John Collier
Directed by John Huston

Despite his track record of dark, crime-centric movies, John Huston was also a romantic. That was on full display in The African Queen. This wasn’t Huston’s last film with Humphrey Bogart, but it is considered his last great film working with the actor. He was working with a lighter, comedy type of film. Huston also shot on location in Uganda and the Congo. The African Queen was a Technicolor picture that added difficulty to the production. The cameras needed for the Technicolor process were large and somewhat unwieldy. But in an effort for authenticity, Huston refused to shoot most of the picture on a soundstage.

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Movie Review – The Asphalt Jungle

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Written by Ben Maddow & John Huston
Directed by John Huston

John Huston was fascinated with the state of the urban in post-War America. We saw in Key Largo that there was a looming fear that the old Prohibition-era mobs would return to power. In The Asphalt Jungle, Huston takes a much more nuanced look at the criminal element, refusing to present them as one-dimensional and no good. The Asphalt Jungle was a challenge to get made as MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer did not like it. He was overridden by the head of production, Isadore “Dore” Schary. Schary was a Jew born in New Jersey who eventually worked his way up to run MGM after Mayer left when his direction was losing the studio money. Mayer favored dazzling wholesome spectacles, while Schary wanted darker movies that had a message. 

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Movie Review – North by Northwest

North by Northwest (1959)
Written by Ernest Lehman
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

In my opinion, Alfred Hitchcock’s best works are his dark, psychological films. But, he did manage to deliver something outside of the box with North by Northwest. This is a classic Cold War espionage story about a case of mistaken identity and the fallout that ensues. It’s filled to the brim with Hitchcock’s wry humor and livened up by screenwriter Ernest Lehman. The final product is a lavish and certainly expensive film with the production traveling across the United States as its protagonist tries to get to the bottom of how he became entangled in this mess.

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Movie Review – Vertigo

Vertigo (1958)
Written by Samuel A. Taylor, Alec Coppel, Maxwell Anderson, and Thomas Narcejac
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

In my opinion, Vertigo is Hitchcock’s greatest film. It contains all those elements associated with his work but perfectly distilled to their most impactful essence. Hitchcock collaborator Jimmy Stewart gives his best and final performance for the director. Bernard Herrmann composes a gorgeous musical score that haunts the picture. Vertigo is also Hitchcock’s most honest film about himself, revealing many of his own obsessions and the way he tormented his actresses, especially foreshadowing what was to come with poor Tippi Hedren in just a few years.

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Movie Review – The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man (1956)
Written by Maxwell Anderson & Angus MacPhail
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

You know something is immediately different when Alfred Hitchock himself appears on the screen, in the shadows, to tell us this film is based on actual events, unlike his other pictures. The picture is in black and white and, while the credits tell us the score is by Bernard Hermann, the music is more sedate than we expect from that composer. Events happen on screen in almost methodical fashion, people walking from one place to the other, little emotion. The first display of emotion by a character, fear, leads to everything falling apart for one person whose life ends up in tatters by the end of our tale.

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Movie Review – To Catch a Thief

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To Catch a Thief (1955)
Written by John Michael Hayes
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

To Catch a Thief is an uncharacteristically glamorous affair for Hitchcock, lacking the dark psychological edge most audiences associate with his work. He always liked to have beautiful women in his cast and handsome actors, but usually, somewhere in the story, it would delve into twisted territory. But this keeps things focused on jewel theft in the French Riveria and one man trying to clear his name. It does feature mistaken identity elements, a common trope in Hitchcock’s work, but it lacks the suspense found in films like Rear Window and Dial M for Murder.

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Movie Review – Rear Window

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Rear Window (1954)
Written by John Michael Hayes
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I first saw Rear Window when I was a child on our local unaffiliated network that aired whatever they could get their hands on. I was probably 10 or 11, but I remember being absolutely caught up in the way Hitchcock told the neighbors’ stories without much dialogue and even illuminated our protagonist in the way the images cut between these other people. This is a genuinely tense & thrilling murder mystery that uses its setting to its fullest. I think Rear Window is an excellent example for filmmakers with limited budgets and filming spaces to take advantage of every facet of that room or building to create a truly suspenseful story.

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Movie Review – Dial M for Murder

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Dial M for Murder (1954)
Written by Frederick Knott
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

1954 was a big year for director Alfred Hitchcock and marked what critics refer to as his “peak years.” This is the period most people think of when they hear the filmmaker’s name. His television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, would start in 1955 and run for a decade. He’d helm pictures like Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, and more. In 1955 Hitch became an American citizen and began making his pictures for Paramount. He would work with some of his best actors like Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Grace Kelly. He’d also infamously terrorize actress Tippi Hedren in The Birds & Marnie, revealing some genuinely dark and disturbing psycho-sexual issues of his own. Hitchcock was a very problematic guy but at the same tapping into the depths of the human psyche.

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