Category Archives: 1962

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Robert Mulligan)

During To Kill a Mockingbird’s exceptional opening titles, I wondered how it was possible the film was going to look so amazing yet had no reputation for being some exquisitely, precisely directed piece of cinema. Then up came Stephen Frankfurt’s credit for title design, which kind of dulled my excitement for a moment. Could Mulligan maintain what Frankfurt set up—along with composer Elmer Bernstein, who’s score is essential to the film–with these opening titles?

Short answer, yes. The first hour of Mockingbird is, while obviously not as fastidiously executed as the opening titles (which examine the various contents of a child’s mementos box), is exquisite. Mulligan, Bernstein, cinematographer Russell Harlan–Mockingbird is a gorgeous black and white—screenwriter Horton Foote, and actors Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, and John Megna create this bewitching window into a memory of childhood. An uncredited Kim Stanley narrates from—presumably—the present; she’s grown-up Badham, who’s just about to start school (South in the early thirties, guessing first grade versus kinder); Alford’s her older brother, Megna’s the new kid on the block, an out-of-town visitor. Her dad’s a widower, respected lawyer Gregory Peck. They’re not rich but they’re respected. They’ve got a Black housekeeper (Estelle Evans), who Peck treats with as much respect as if she were his white housekeeper slash babysitter. It’s a progressive block. They’re not country white trash. The first hour has a little about race, but a lot of it is about how tomboy Badham learns about class differences and societal norms.

The first hour is this lovely, mostly lyrical look into Badham and Alford’s childhood. Running through the distant background is Peck’s subplot about defending a Black man accused of rape. The kids aren’t allowed in the courthouse (by Dad Peck); Foote and Mulligan gradually introduce the subplot. And the idea of Peck as the lead. Until the second hour, it’s from Badham and Alford’s perspective. A little bit too much from Alford’s given Badham’s literally the narrator but thanks to Mulligan’s gentle, deliberate direction of the kids’ perceptions of events, Harlan’s great photography (which is even better at night), and Bernstein’s music, it gets a pass; narrative-wise. The film’s got enough going for it, you can give it slack for not sticking close enough to Badham.

In fact, the film’s got so much going for it, you want to give it that slack even after it becomes obvious it’s never looping around to Badham again. Even with further narration breaks, once the film starts straying from Badham’s perspective, it never comes back. It goes to Alford, then Peck—albeit for the continuous second act courtroom sequence—then back to Alford in an almost peculiar way (the film avoids Badham during the court scenes), then to Peck for the finale because he’s got top-billing. Though not in a significant way. Even though he’s top-billed, even though he’s got the lengthy court scene mostly to himself, Peck always feels like a special guest star. “And Gregory Peck as Atticus (Dad).”

Whenever Peck comes into the film in the first act, the kids bring him in somehow. Either they call him into the scene or go find him or call him into the scene… but it starts with the kids. Foote and Mulligan keep that perspective in the second act, just before the trial starts, when the kids go and stand by Peck as he’s standing off against a white trash lynch mob. It’s a good segue to the courtroom and Peck taking over the narrative. It makes sense; his subplot’s been building and the trial is occupying the children’s minds too.

So during the trial—Brock Peters plays the accused, not actually appearing onscreen until his day in court—the kids (Badham, Alford, and Megna) watch from the second floor balcony, where a kindly Black minister (Bill Walker) they know gets room for them. The trial seems to take less than a day. 1930s South. Every once in a while as Peck tries to convince his fellow white people Black people are people too and you can’t frame them for rape just because you’re an asshole, the film cuts up to Alford watching his dad crusade, presumably inspiring him. Megna gets some reaction shots too, which makes it seem like as long as Southern Whites aren’t white trash they won’t be racist but… I don’t know, aspirational 1962 film. The film’s got a few moments of bald-faced white saviorism but since it’s 1962, it’s not like the Black characters appear enough to be shown in specific suffering. It’s a weird way to get a pass but… it works.

But no shots of Badham. Not even after the end of the trial. Not right away. And they’re way overdue. We don’t get any idea how Badham experiences the trial, other than she’s tired when it’s over. It’s all about Alford. And not from Badham’s perspective.

The third act epilogue, which resolves everything and ends in a nice narration bow from Stanley and very deliberate, effective direction from Mulligan, somehow centers on Badham but, again, not her experience of it. Mulligan and Foote commit to one way of doing a big scene, maybe the only way they could do it in 1962, and it’s a well-executed scene with some great filmmaking… but it doesn’t do anything for Badham or give her much to do. Then it tries to wrap it up with Peck and it’s… awkward. Not even because of the narration.

Lots of great performances but the kids are where it’s at. Badham and Alford are phenomenal. Megna’s really good too but he’s more functional. The film takes its time with Badham and Alford’s character development, showcasing it, which just makes downgrading them in the second half even worse. Evans is good (there’s a film in her perspective of the events), Peters is excellent, Frank Overton’s good as the police chief. James Anderson’s terrifying though a little thinly written, which is weird given how the film goes out of its way to empathize with “redeemably racist” white men, as the victim’s father. Collin Wilcox Paxton is okay as the victim. If the film ended strong for Badham, she’d get a pass… but she’s another example of how Foote and Mulligan try to avoid giving the female characters too much focus.

To Kill a Mockingbird is an excellent film. But there are some asterisks after that positive adjective.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Mulligan; screenplay by Horton Foote, based on the novel by Harper Lee; director of photography, Russell Harlan; edited by Aaron Stell; music by Elmer Bernstein; produced by Alan J. Pakula; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Mary Badham (Scout), Phillip Alford (Jem), Gregory Peck (Atticus), Estelle Evans (Calpurnia), John Megna (Dill Harris), Brock Peters (Tom Robinson), Frank Overton (Sheriff Heck Tate), Rosemary Murphy (Maudie Atkinson), Collin Wilcox Paxton (Mayella Violet Ewell), James Anderson (Bob Ewell), Ruth White (Mrs. Dubose), Robert Duvall (Arthur Radley), Richard Hale (Nathan Radley), Steve Condit (Walter Cunningham Jr.), Crahan Denton (Walter Cunningham Sr.), Bill Walker (Reverend Sykes), and Paul Fix (Judge Taylor); narrated by Mary Stanley.


Eegah (1962, Arch Hall Sr.)

Eegah is a rather bad, rather weird, and yet spirited budget King Kong picture—with a prehistoric Southern California caveman instead of a giant ape. Sure, there’s the teen idol aspect to it, but once the film commits to damsel in distress Marilyn Manning madly crushing on survived since the Stone Age Richard Kiel and the film basically then being about Manning and dad (director Arch Hall Sr.) trying to keep Kiel preoccupied so he doesn’t remember to rape Manning… okay, maybe it’s a little bit more than just a budget King Kong. Though Kiel running amok in riche South California in search of true love Manning has an almost earnest quality to it, especially since Manning’s actual boyfriend (Arch Hall Jr., son of producer-director-costar Hall Sr., natch) is kind of a dipshit. He’s a wanna be blond Elvis in 1962, complete with band; he gets three big numbers in the film… maybe more actual songs but three showcases. The first act of the film plays like a promotional video for Hall Jr.; hey, he can “sing” and he can “act.”

Though it’s probably unfair to get on any of the actors for their performances because the whole thing is looped, presumably by the original cast but who knows; the sound person didn’t, you know, record the sound. Hall Sr. probably should’ve paid a little more. Though maybe the dubbing gives Eegah some of its charm… also maybe not. It’s never entirely clear if the film has charm or just seems like it ought to be charming. Because of the dubbing, it’s impossible to know what Manning’s original intent was during the attempted rape scene. It’s literally contradictory and very rough. In the middle of this silly pseudo-monster movie (but biblically accurate, the film reminds a couple times) there’s this plot development about the impending sexual assault, then the actual sexual assault (with daughter Manning sacrificing herself to save father Hall Sr., so, there’s something there too)… and it never gets dealt with. Other than Manning mooning for Kiel because she realizes what a lamer she’s got in Hall Jr.

Even though Hall Sr. kind of gets that Manning is hot for Kiel. And Hall Sr. is vaguely creepy around Manning. Though it seems more like a budgetary problem than anything actually creepy… wait, no. There’s a scene where Manning wants to pamper Hall Sr.; they’re being held captive by Kiel and Hall Sr.’s ego is bruised. He’s a famous adventure writer and this caveman who survived thanks to sulfury water is one upping him and about to rape his daughter. So Manning gives Hall Sr. a shave.

That shave leads to Kiel wanting a shave and Manning realizing without his hundreds of thousands of years old caveman beard, Kiel’s kind of hot in a giant way.

Kiel’s “dialogue” consists of grunts and gibberish, frequently saying “Eegah,” which convinces questionably competent adventurer Hall Sr. its Kiel’s name. Because he goes around saying his name to himself. And go around he does. When Kiel’s chasing the heroes in their dune buggy—the film’s very big on Hall Jr.’s dune buggy. It’s a shock he doesn’t have a musical number while driving it, though I suppose he does do an expository monologue about dune buggies during their ride, which is also something. There are occasions where Eegah is almost accidentally good, like when Hall Sr. gets dropped off by helicopter—or maybe it’s just because it’s cool to see “M.A.S.H.”’s Korean landscape again–and it’s this intense, silent sequence of shots, with Hall Sr. no doubt calling in some favors. In lieu of good sets or complex shots or… tripods, Hall Sr. has helicopters and really nice cars and….

Oh, crap. I forgot the swimming sequence.

So while Hall Jr. sings a song about another girl—all of his songs have a girl’s name in them, never Manning’s, because he wants her to think he’s a player—Manning swims around and twirls off the crappy water slide in the country club Hall Sr. got permission to shoot in. Or didn’t get permission. But it’s a long song, long swimming sequence, weird swimming sequence. One can only imagine Hall Sr.’s “swim sexy” direction to poor Manning.

So, yeah. There’s some icky stuff to Eegah, especially if Manning is supposed to be sixteen.

The film’s weird. And often terrible in amusing ways. It’s impossible to take seriously in pretty much every way. Unless you’re interested in early sixties Southern California visuals. Or for examples of how not to light people on location. Vilis Lapenieks does some stunningly inept lighting.

Eegah is one of those movies where you wonder if the making of stories are better than the movie, but it’s still weird enough to be amusing. The weird also covers some of the iffy material. Though… the third act does actually have a lot more potential than the film realizes. I can’t believe I forgot about the third act.

There’s this fight scene between Hall Jr. and another band member. The other band member wants Manning. There’s like a dance off before the fight, with Hall Sr. and some other old guy standing there commenting on it pseudo-obliviously….

It’s all just so strange. It’s ineptly produced, with terrible sets, yet it still manages to be weird in ways unrelated to being too cheap or not, you know, good. Eegah’s sort of bewitching. And sort of not.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Arch Hall Sr.; screenplay by Bob Wehling, based on a story by Hall; director of photography, Vilis Lapenieks; edited by Don Schneider; music by André Brummer; released by Fairway International Pictures.

Starring Marilyn Manning (Roxy), Richard Kiel (Eegah), Arch Hall Jr. (Tom), Arch Hall Sr. (Mr. Miller), and Lloyd Williams (Mr. Kruger).


Tower of London (1962, Roger Corman)

Tower of London almost makes it. The film gets through the low budget, which has a static picture of a model Tower of London instead of a picture of the real Tower for establishing shots, obvious backdrops, not great makeup to age or deform its cast, and the occasional reused footage. Director Corman keeps the pace up—the film doesn’t even run eighty minutes and covers two years and at least a half dozen murders. Well, more assassinations than murders. The film’s about Richard III (Vincent Price, who’ll either get a half sentence or a paragraph later, both are suitable) and his mad quest for power. He kills off kin, children, women, and the elderly, most of whom come back to haunt him as ghosts. See, Tower of London isn’t just Vincent Price and Roger Corman doing a historical horror picture together, they’re doing Shakespeare. More specifically, Price is doing Shakespeare, while Corman refuses to give Price that stage. Though probably for budgetary reasons, not to spare the audience.

The film’s best sequence is when handsome, fit, good guy Robert Brown is trying to get the Queen and her two sons to safety. Richard III, historically, in the play, and in this film, wants to kill off his little nephews so he can assume the throne. Brown isn’t going to let that happen. He’s handsome, fit, and good, after all. Unlike Price’s Richard, who’s got a varying-sized hunched back (it doesn’t jump left to right and then back, unfortunately) and an ostensibly withered arm. We never see the arm (Price always has on a glove) but it seems perfectly strong enough to wield a sword. But Price is a warrior, something Brown is not. Though Price being a warrior doesn’t matter because he goes crazy.

But the escape sequence. There are a few times in Tower of London when everything comes together and the escape sequence is the best example of it. Corman’s pacing, the sturdy professional performances from Brown, Sarah Selby, Joan Freeman, and Richard Hale (they all seem to be able to pretend they’re doing Shakespeare, not Tower of London), Archie R. Dalzell’s excellent black and white photography (it’s not moody but it’s outstanding), and, I don’t know, the added value of children in danger. The escape sequence is really good. You wish the movie could somehow end with it, even before you find out how the movie’s actually going to end.

Because Tower’s greatest strength is everyone but Price. Price gives a hammy, drooly performance, limping and wrenching his back to and fro, full of energy. His monologues are enthusiastically whiny. His character is a combination of a jackass and an idiot. The only people stupider in Tower of London than Price are the entire rest of the cast because he’s always killing people and never getting even suspected of it. When the rest of the cast finally gets to just act like they know Price is killing people left and right, Tower enters into its best phase—the escape sequence is in this portion. But getting to watch the actors opposite Price when he’s cavorting? Their professionalism, if not better (Joan Camden is actually good as Price’s wife, who Lady Macbeths him, and Michael Pate is kind of awesome as Price’s chief stooge), makes Tower interesting to watch.

Unfortunately the finale—and blame Shakespeare—gets rid of the supporting players and is instead just Price hamming it up in an absurd suit of armor—the costuming is probably inaccurate but is at least not absurd for most of the film, but Price’s king outfits are hilarious. There’s one where he wears the crown over his silly hat and then his armor has a visibly cheap crown incorporated into the helmet, which also has a big floofy feather. He should win the battle when everyone else starts laughing and he can take them out. He also doesn’t have much of a hunch in the armor, which is annoying since Price’s looked goofy the whole movie because he’s wearing such a big hunch, who knows how he might’ve played without it to leverage. Price somehow isn’t overtly theatrical, but borrows devices from such a performance and applies them badly to whatever he’s doing.

But, yeah, the end. No one else around to react to Price, just him blathering… Tower falls just when it needs to stay strong. It’s too bad, though probably inevitable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Corman; screenplay by Leo Gordon, F. Amos Powell, and Robert E. Kent, based on a story by Gordon and Powell and plays by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Archie R. Dalzell; edited by Ronald Sinclair; music by Michael Andersen; produced by Gene Corman; released by United Artists.

Starring Vincent Price (Richard of Gloucester), Michael Pate (Sir Ratcliffe), Joan Freeman (Lady Margaret), Robert Brown (Sir Justin), Bruce Gordon (Earl of Buckingham), Joan Camden (Anne), Richard Hale (Tyrus), Sandra Knight (Mistress Shore), Charles Macaulay (George, Duke of Clarence), Justice Watson (Edward IV), Sarah Selby (Queen Elizabeth).


An Autumn Afternoon (1962, Ozu Yasujirô)

In An Autumn Afternoon, director Ozu has a peculiar approach to how he presents his cast delivering dialogue. They stare just off camera and speak calmly, gently, no matter what. Ozu and photographer Atsuta Yûharu are incredibly precise with the composition; while Hamamura Yoshiyasu’s editing needs that precision, it also creates a distance. And Autumn is a character study, so it having such a definite, consistent distance is a little strange.

Especially when Saitô Takanobu’s music is always playful, always inviting.

Ozu presents a couple hours of these characters’ lives–during what could be a momentous occasion, but he and co-writer Noda Kôgo skip it–and lets the viewer get to know them. The way Ozu shoots the dialogue, the way he shoots medium shots–never from the character’s perspective, always from something impossible as a participant–the viewer is intrusive. But that intrusiveness is never acknowledged.

An Autumn Afternoon is a film constructed to keep the viewer aloof while never acknowledging there can be a viewer; all while the music and Kanekatsu Minoru’s gorgeous production design invites the viewer into the film. Ozu doesn’t even let himself get excited about his accomplishment in that aloofness. He’s always focused on the characters.

It’s like he can’t be bothered with the idea anyone’s going to watch Autumn.

All the acting is strong, especially Ryû Chishû in the difficult lead role, Okada Mariko as his daughter-in-law and Tôno Eijirô as his old schoolteacher.

An Autumn Afternoon is hostilely brilliant.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ozu Yasujirô; written by Noda Kôgo and Ozu; director of photography, Atsuta Yûharu; edited by Hamamura Yoshiyasu; music by Saitô Takanobu; production designer, Kanekatsu Minoru; produced by Yamanouchi Shizuou; released by Shochiku Company.

Starring Ryû Chishû (Hirayama), Iwashita Shima (Michiko), Sada Keiji (Koichi), Okada Mariko (Akiko), Nakamura Nobuo (Kawai), Kita Ryûji (Horie), Mikamo Shin’ichirô (Kazuo) and Tôno Eijirô (The Gourd).


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