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Professor Foster Hirsch

4/16/15

Fifties films were the topic of the day.  Professor Hirsch takes the position that many of that era’s films were better than those made since.  He ascribes this to many factors including that it was the end of the star system in Hollywood; that Hollywood was desperate due to the recent competition of television and that there was a political divisiveness at that time, which gave rise to important themes.

Professor Hirsch listed ten films that he feels were among the most important and influential.  These are in no particular order of importance:

  1. “My Son John” – A domestic melodrama that creates the feeling that something is wrong with the family’s son.  At first you feel that it may be because the son seems gay because of his not fitting in with other boys and a somewhat effeminate manner.  But it turns out that the real problem is that the son is a Communist, which is regarded as horrible.
  2. “Rebel Without a Cause” – James Dean becomes the world’s first teenager in an iconic performance that made his reputation, which holds today.  It is not a great movie, but Dean introduces us to method acting for the first time and the film has a theme of failed fatherhood, which is picked up in later films.
  3. “Bwana Devil” – Not a great film, but well done.  It introduced 3D movies and was exceedingly well done from a technical standpoint.  This film started a short period of 3D movies, which were some of the best technical 3D movies ever made.
  4. “On the Waterfront” – the best movie of the fifties and arguably the best film ever made.  Marlon Brando is extraordinarily good with his personification of self-awareness.  Prof. Hirsch sees this as a testament to the problem of the friendly witness, which is how people who cooperated with the HUAC Committee were characterized. 
  5. “Imitation of Life” – Best melodrama ever made.  A brilliant film about race relations.  It is still a powerful film.
  6. “Sudden Fear” – This film starred Joan Crawford and was her last hurrah as a major star.  She plays a woman scorned in this film noir.
  7. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – A brilliant film that could be interpreted as either left or right wing.  It has been interpreted both ways.
  8. “The Robe” – First cinemascope film and one that used the wide-screen format in the proper manner with no close-ups.  It predates the cynical Hollywood approach. Interestingly, the Christians are stand-ins for Communists or so it was intended by the ardently Communist screen-writer.  But the message had to be delivered indirectly in this time when many topics were taboo.
  9. “Red Garters” – An experimental musical set in a stylized world that lent itself to song and dance.
  10. “The Immoral Mr. Tease” – This was an exploitation film that introduced porno movies.  It was not a great movie, but very influential.  A counter-culture film during a time of great conformity.

Five overrated films from the fifties:

  1. “The African Queen” – Poorly shot.  Had to reshoot most of it in a studio so it doesn’t look real.  Prof. Hirsch doesn’t like the characters.
  2. “The Quiet Man”.
  3. “Some Like it Hot” – Not funny, too long and a little smutty.
  4. “The Asphalt Jungle”.
  5. “Vertigo” – A good movie, but not the greatest movie ever, which is a recent evaluation by some.

Five underrated films:

  1. “The Incredible Shrinking Man”.
  2. “The Steel Trap”.
  3. “The Bad Seed” – Serial killer child, who stands as a metaphor for gay people.
  4. “Track of a Cat”.
  5. “The Egyptian” – Really about the coming of Christianity.

Five/Six greatest fifties films:

  1. “On the Waterfront”.
  2. “Ben Hur”.
  3. “Rear Window”.
  4. “Singing in the Rain”.
  5. “High Noon”.
  6. “Bridge on the River Kwai”  - - Greatest war film made.

Q&A

Q.  What about the Third Man?

A.  Made in 1949, but part of the same era, which started after World War II and went way into the sixties.

Q.  Why do movie reviewers write such silly reviews compared to book reviewers?

A.  Who would want the job?  Think of all the crap you have to watch and a movie doesn’t nearly have the depth of a book.

Q.  What about foreign films?

A.  I am familiar with American films.  I don’t have the cultural background to evaluate foreign films and I am not acquainted with their background.

Q.  Where does “From Here to Eternity” rank in your estimation?

A.  Not very highly.  It was badly directed.

Q.  What about “Forbidden Planet”?

A.  A very good movie—fascinating film.

Q.  What actor in the fifties won two Academy Awards?

A.  Anthony Quinn.

Q.  What about “Cape Fear”?

A.  A terrifying movie.  The remake was nowhere near as good.

Q.  How do you feel about “Shane” and “Lincoln”?

A.  I didn’t see “Lincoln”, but I heard it was very good.  “Shane”, is a great movie.

Q.  What about “The Men”?

A.  A powerful film.

Q.  Did the actions of HUAC stop some movies from being made?

A.  Their actions were shocking.  They may have stopped some ideas from expression, but we will never know if we lost something important.

Q.  When was “12 Angry Men” made?

A.  1957—A good film.

Q.  How do you feel about “Sierra Madre” and “Viva Zapata?

A.  I have never seen “Sierra Madre”.  Viva Zapata was not one of the better films.  Brando did not give a great performance.

Q.  How does the Academy Awards list compare with yours?

A.  For the most part the Academy took things more seriously then and made good selections.  At times they differed from my picks, but these are all just opinions so they are bound to differ.

Q.  Are directors responsible for the differing quality of performances?

A.  To a degree, yes, but no-one is on top of their game all the time.