The 50’s as a decade may not be as fondly remembered in terms of, well, anything. But there was still some gosh dawn awesome movies for kids to go watch at them there drive ins before heading to the malt shop and listening to Peggy Sue on the Juke Box. Christ, no wonder kids went apeshit in the 60’s.
Anyway, as always from the second half of this decade I’ve found three movies that mean something to me and also a “what the hell?” moment of zen for us all to snigger at.
The Killing (1956)
The Killing was a box office failure on release which shows film goers in the 50’s didn’t know shinola from that other stuff. Because Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is awesome, it’s a film that is splattered with the term “Hard Boiled” which is hardly surprising as it’s written by give no fucks crime writer Jim Thompson who’s novels are a delight of bullets, crimes and shady characters.
The Killing has the sensibilities of a lurid pulp novel. A certain arsehole director claimed The Killing as a major influence on his first feature Reservoir Dogs. Unlike many classic gangster movies of the era, the Killing has no redeeming characters, no story arcs of redemption, no tragic figures trapped in a cycle of violence they try to escape for the love of a dame. The Killing is simply the story of a heist, with bad people doing bad things and inevitably backstabbing each other.
The target of the heist is the two million dollar takings at a racetrack, with seasoned criminal Johnny Clay (played brutally by western and ganster baddie Sterling Hayden) putting together a crew for one last job before taking off with his wife to be. It’s an intricately planned job, that is put at risk when one of the weasley members of the gang tries to impress his cheating wife by letting her in on the plot, but she in turn enlists her lover to ambush the gang and take off with the takings.
It’s a dark, gritty punch in the face of a film where you’re immersed completely in their underworld. All the story revolves around the members of the gang and their heist. There’s no subplot involving the law chasing them, no virtuous characters to fallback on. This a tale of villains, with no charming traits or charismatic personalities to make you want to root for them, no sense of honour about not harming innocents to cling to, these are just bad people. Jesus, a key element of the plot is to shoot an innocent racehorse mid race to cause a distraction. The Bastards!!!!!
The Killing is an ugly crime drama, and it’s unmissable because of it.
The Vikings (1958)
Some films just feel like bank holiday afternoons to me. Films that for no real reason became a staple on the BBC television during Christmas, Easter or Bank Holiday Mondays (The Great Escape is one film that inexplicably became associated with Christmas tv schedules to the extent complaints would be sent if it failed to show up one year). What ever the reason for it I thank the BBC for showing classic movies to those of us who’d rather stay in because thats how I grew to love some of my favourite movies who’s familiarity would be lazily comforting on those day offs.
The Vikings starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh is one such movie. This epic adventure romp captivated me as kid, the tale of a colony of Vikings engaged in raids against England but it’s also about the feud between a Viking Prince Einar (Douglas) and a slave Eric (Curtis) who unbeknown to them are actually brothers, Curtis being the result of Viking leader Ragnar (Borgnine) raping an English Queen on one of his raids. The deadly feud between the two is given further fuel when both fall for the the Princess Morgana (Leigh) who is held captive for ransom after a Viking raid.
It’s a glorious looking film, full of vibrant colours and breathtaking views of the Norwegian scenery. Just as stirring is the majestically triumphant score, especially the catchy horn blowing tune that accompanies the return of the Vikings from their initial attack on England. It’s a scene memorable for the celebrating Vikings, playfully attempting to skip from oar to oar of their boat with various degrees of success. Legend has it that the stuntmen tried and failed to make it all the way across, repeatedly ending up plunging into the water. However Douglas amazed everyone by sauntering effortless across them on his first try.
These antics of the Vikings are typical of their lust for life and it’s hard not to find them endearing as they party, brawl, feast, drink and womanise. However viewing with 21st century eyes there is an unease as the boisterous and charismatic Ragnar boasts to Einar how his mother fought against him with tooth and nail when they first met, which in turn leads the young son (in real life Douglas was only two months younger than Borgnine) to show his affection for Morgana by attempting to force himself on her (which considering the rumours of Douglas and Natalie Wood has an even more uncomfortable element to it).
The Vikings for it’s time is also viciously violent in tone. Early on Eric responds to Einar’s demand to hand over his pet Hawk by sending to attack him and rip out his eye. Einar’s revenge is to have Eric sentenced to be tied underwater to a boulder and be eaten alive by crabs. Later when Eric delivers a captured Ragnar to England the viking is executed by being thrown into a pit of wolves. Eric though in a sign of respect for Viking traditions throws his former captor a sword so he can die with it in his hand and hence be accepted into Valhalla, but because of this slight to the English King sentences Eric to have his hand severed.
Eric repeats the gesture of the sword by allowing Einar to die with it in his hands after defeating him in the climatic and exciting duel between the two. Douglas would however get his win back against Curtis a few years later in the epic (but painfully slow in places) Spartacus.
This is a swashbuckling fun adventure romp. Douglas steals the film with his presence as a hateful but charismatic villain while Curtis is the perfect counter with his quiet, gentle demeanour driven to make a stand by his love for at the time real life wife Janet Leigh. Borgnine is a riot and James Donald provides a touch of class as the English Lord exiled to live amongst the Viking hoards and the scene between the two at the Viking feast where a drunk viking attempts to judge his wife’s fidelity with an game involving axes is hilarious (although some may well not approve of the gender politics involved).
Well worth unwinding to next Bank Holiday.
The Blob (1958)
Do you remember the first film you ever sat through?
I’m pretty sure the first film I saw was probably the 1933 King Kong. However the earliest I actually can REMEMBER sitting down and watching a film is actually the B-Movie classic The Blob starring a young Steve Mcqueen (who was broke and took a $3,000 one of payment instead of an offered 10% of the profits and thus missed out on a sizeable cut as the film grossed over four million).
While the teen audience it was aimed at would have probably watched the film at a drive-in on a double bill with “I married a monster from outer space” I saw as a four year old in my pyjamas sat on the couch with my mum (who would often let me stay up late as company while Dad was away working, I got to see so much more awesome TV than the other kids because of it.) And despite how long ago it was and how young it was I remember so much of it vividly.
I remember the cheesy theme music with the chorus lyrics “Look out the Blob will get you!” I remember the weird meteorite that crashes on Earth with the Blob inside that looked to my young self like a golfball. Then there is the growth of the blob, starting with attaching and engulfing the arm of the poor unfortunate that finds it and during his night at the hospital the blob devours him and is discovered by the nurse on duty as what looked like to me a giant red blob of jelly.
It says something about the Blob that even as a timid four year old I wasn’t scared in the slightest by the “horror” that was The Blob. Even when it absorbs the nurse and doctor at the hospital and grows with each victim to giant proportions and goes on to terrorise the young audience at the cinema I would be able to sleep soundly that night, although the way it oozed through the windows of the theatre and though the projection booth was intensely creepy.
One thing that did distress me was the fate of Steve Mcqueen’s cute little dog that disappears half way through the film and we’re told has become another victim of the Blob’s rampage. I’m sure I would have swapped the dog’s fate so that he survived rather than the annoying kid in the cowboy outfit who runs in front of the blob and attempts to stop him with his cap gun. Even as a four year old I knew that was a fucking stupid idea and this is coming from someone who once put his finger in a mousetrap to see what it felt like (spoiler it bloody hurt).
The Blob holds a special place in my heart as an early introduction to film and although I wouldn’t appreciate it then the concepts of story and drama. I do remember getting frustrated when none of the adults believe the teens that a giant blob is on the loose, I mean I’ve just seen the blob on screen, how can they not know?
As B-Movie silly as the film is, in particular the acting, the monster is still an effective concept and it’s mindless hungry rampage and ability to devour people as if they never existed is a creepy fate. The special effects have a charm to them, with the stop motion bringing the blob to life and the bright red is simply glorious. Even if it does look like a big blob of jelly.
Couchzone “What the Fuck?” moment……Attack of the 50ft Woman (1958)
The film title alone just screams B-Movie excess in all it’s glory “Attack of the 50ft Woman.” And oh my that poster, a splendid exhibition of 50’s exploitation and outrageousness. That scantly clad beautiful woman rampaging through the overpass, crushing cars as if they were toys. It’s become an iconic image, a representation of the B-Movie and has been adopted politically by feminist groups. It adorned my bedroom wall for many, many years.
Thing is, in common with many people I’d never seen it. Even all my years of watching sci-fi and monster classics on the BBC-2’s seemingly never ending season of the best and worst of the genre it was one film that never seemed to get it’s day in court. It was that film everyone knows of but no one seemed to have seen.
Then last year I stumbled across the film about to be shown on one of the more obscure, low rent channels on the Sky Network (one of the ones which is a mix of bad movies and infomercials). So finally time to put the film to the poster.
And it turns out to be a ponderous complete pile of crap, so not worthy of that incredible poster.
The fifty foot woman in question starts the film as a whiny, alcoholic millionaire, distraught that she’s losing her husband to a younger town slapper (the couple in question are plotting for a way to get her institutionalised or murdered so they can secure her fortune). One night she runs into a giant alien, the encounter resulting in her slowly growing in size (and getting blonder and longer hair) and eventually going on a jealous rampage or revenge. Well “rampage” is probably a bit strong of a term, more like a plodding stroll into town after which she pulls the roof off a bar and grabs her cheating husband and throws him around before a good ole Sheriff guns her down.
Take you pick on whether you want to read this film with a feminist subtext of a woman pushed too far by society or a 50’s attitude of warning what happens when you give women too much power. Actually don’t, either interpretation is giving this garbage way too much relevancy and credit.
But what’s really horrible is the use of special effects. The film had a budget of $90,000 dollars, however it was brought in $10,000 under budget and boy should they have spent that extra cash. The size of the initial giant is expressed by having the camera right up close to his face, and a weird effect is created by having him and later the 50ft woman superimposed on the film which results in them being see through almost like they’re supposed to be ghosts. Then there is a hysterically bad paper mache “giant hand” that comes through the doorway of the bar in an attempt to grab her cheating louse of a husband.
But the real weird “what the fuck?” moment is an effect that I swear I saw but can find no real evidence of. It comes during the “rampage” where the 50ft woman takes the roof off the bar (a bland lifeless minature) and reaches in to grab her husband. What she pulls out at first is an obvious floppy doll (with very short legs) and then in a futher shot I swear to God she is holding a baby in a suit. Yes someone it seems thought that a baby in a suit is a dead ringer for actor William Hudson. We’ll forget the fact that the scale is thrown completely out of whack.
The thing is I have searched and found no reference to this in the movie. Although to be fair for such an iconic in name B-Movie there is very little written on it even on the internet. I’ve found clips of the scene on youtube, but there seems to be an edit at the moment I’m talking about. But I swear blind I saw this baby stunt double in the film.
So cheap as I am to doll out hard cash in order to rewatch this pile of crap again I ask you gentle reader, if you should happen to have the misfortune to find yourself watching this tripe, please keep an eye out during the “attack” on the bar scene and see if she does in fact lift out a baby masquerading as an adult and let me know. Because in the words of Albert Popwell in Dirty Harry “I gots to know!”
So farewell to the 50’s because next time on Couchzone Movie Club it’s time to say hello to the 60’s. Free love and orgies for everybody!!!!!!!!!!!