My Journey through Films and Film Songs 16

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Watching English Films in 1950s #3

Viva Zapata! was a film about Emiliano Zapata, a revolutionary who led the fight to restore land taken from common people by the Mexican dictatorship. Based on a script by Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, the film starred Marlon Brando in the title role and Anthony Quinn in an Academy Award-winning supporting role.

Viva Zapata! was directed by Elia Kazan, described by The New York Times as one of the most honoured and influential directors in Hollywood history. However, there were protests when the 89-year-old director was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1999, and, during the ceremony, many in the audience refused to stand and applaud. Elia Kazan became persona non grata to some sections of Hollywood when, in 1952, he testified before the United States House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that he had been a member of the Communist Party and named eight fellow members including playwrights and actors, who had joined him. The HUAC subjected witnesses to public ridicule and forced them to confess their association with communists or their sympathizers and to name others who had joined them. Many of the witnesses obliged, to save their own skins or to settle personal scores. The informers included actors Lee J. Cobb and Sterling Hayden. Those named included actors Jose Ferrer, John Garfield, Judy Holliday, and Edward G. Robinson.

Ivanhoe was a historical drama based on the novel of the same name by Sir Walter Scott. With Robert Taylor in the lead, it starred two of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland’s sister who had acted opposite Laurence Olivier in Rebecca. George Sanders, who had also impressed us in Samson and Delilah (1949) and Rebecca (1940), had another important character role in Ivanhoe.

The Bad and the Beautiful tells the story of corruption and exploitation in Hollywood with Kirk Douglas playing the negative role of an unscrupulous, manipulative film producer who alienates everyone around him by using them to ensure his own success. It was nominated for five Academy Awards including Kirk Douglas for best actor and it won four Academy Awards including best supporting actress for Gloria Grahame. Lana Turner, who played the lead opposite Kirk Douglas was well known as a seductive film actress who provided grist for gossip mills with her highly publicized personal life. We read about her affairs in the film magazines. She was one of the highest-paid American actresses and one of MGM's biggest stars. She was a popular culture icon of Hollywood glamour and a screen legend of classical Hollywood cinema. She earned the reputation of femme fatale with her roles in Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and The Three Musketeers (1948).

Five Fingers was a World War II spy film about an Albanian spy codenamed Cicero, stationed in Ankara, Turkey. It was based on the book Operation Cicero that we had read in Reader’s Digest Condensed Books in abridged form. James Mason gave a polished performance in the role of the spy. Sudden Fear, starring Joan Crawford, was a tale about a successful Broadway playwright who marries a murderous man, played by high cheek-boned Jack Palance, one of the most menacing Hollywood villains of the time. Gloria Grahame played his paramour and accomplice in the planned murder.

Singin' in the Rain was a musical romantic comedy film starring two of the greatest dancers of all time, Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. The film was directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, and featured Debbie Reynolds and Cyd Charisse. It takes a light-hearted look at Hollywood in the late 1920s when performers were caught up in the transition from silent films to " talkies". The film is regarded as the >greatest musical film ever made and one of the best films ever made. Gene Kelly’s choreography included intricate steps that were a treat to watch. Debbie Reynolds, who was basically a singer and actress. had to struggle to keep up with Kelly and O’Connor. Gene Kelly, who was a perfectionist berated her so much that, eventually, she had a breakdown. Fred Astaire, one of the best dancers in Hollywood, happened to see her and, although he was not a part of the film, helped her with the dances. In an interview, she said that even Fred Astaire struggled with some of the steps. The film made her a star. Debbie Reynolds is reported to have said that the two hardest things she had ever done were giving birth and dancing in Singin’ in the Rain.

1953 witnessed the introduction of advanced technology in cinema production and exhibition. The advent of television in 1950, seriously affected attendance in cinema halls and the motion picture industry began to look for ways to get the audience back into theatres. Attempts to make cinematic screen images more lifelike and realistic began in the 1920s. In 1929, the process of polarizing light for reducing glare was invented. This technique enabled the introduction of 3D films. Stereophonic sound was invented in the 1930s.

Warner Bros.' House of Wax was the first 3D movie with stereophonic sound. There was great excitement and anticipation when this film was released in Bharat Talkies in Nagpur. Newspapers carried big ads promoting the movie and the cinema hall displayed posters in which the characters appeared to be jumping out of the picture frames. When we entered the hall with adrenaline pumping, the gatekeeper handed each of us a pair of free but returnable special glasses with instructions to wear them while viewing the film. Preceding the main feature was a short promo 3D film in which missiles like tennis balls and golf balls from the screen appeared to come out of the screen and crash into the faces of viewers. In the movie itself, there were scenes featuring fights, in which you felt the punches coming at you and, involuntarily, tried to dodge them, and dancing can-can girls, whose kicks appeared to strike your jaws.

In the same year, 20th Century-Fox, introduced a new projection system, known as CinemaScope, which could be retrofitted to existing theatres at a modest cost. CinemaScope was first used for 20th Century-Fox's The Robe and became the USP of the film's marketing campaign. Lured by the prospect of watching a movie on a big screen, we flocked to Bharat Talkies, the first cinema hall in Nagpur to be fitted with a CinemaScope screen. Imagine my consternation when I found myself seated behind a Sikh whose turban obscured my view of the whole big screen. For the next two hours, I was hard put to watch the screen, turning one way or the other depending on the movement of the turban before me, at the end of which I got a crick in my neck. I was forced to watch it a second time.

In the 1953 Academy Awards, From Here to Eternity, based on a novel by James Jones, took the honours for best picture. It had great performances by Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, and Frank Sinatra. In contention with From Here to Eternity were Julius Caesar, The Robe, Roman Holiday, and Shane.

British actress Deborah Kerr was, until then, known for soft romantic roles. Her British accent and manner led to a succession of roles portraying a refined, reserved, and proper lady, as in King Solomon's Mines (1950), Quo Vadis (1951), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Julius Caesar and Young Bess (1953). In From Here to Eternity (1953), Deborah Kerr shed this image, displaying her sensuality, as the embittered American military wife romping illicitly, and passionately, with Burt Lancaster amidst crashing waves on a Hawaiian beach. She was nominated for Best Actress Academy Award for this role. Singing star Frank Sinatra won the Oscar for best supporting actor for a touching performance.

The Robe, the first film in Cinemascope, was a fictional Biblical epic film starring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons. The Robe marked the rise of another iconic star in the form British actor Richard Burton. Burton established himself as a formidable Shakespearean actor in the 1950s and was called "the natural successor to Olivier". But he never lived up to this reputation and, in 1952, turned down an offer to play Mark Antony in MGM’s Julius Caesar, that Marlon Brando essayed with great finesse. In 1952, he accepted the offer from Twentieth Century-Fox for a role in My Cousin Rachel, based on a novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, starring Olivia de Havilland in the title role. This was Richard Burton's first role in an American film. My Cousin Rachel was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Richard Burton for best supporting actor. Burton also won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year. In 1953 he appeared in the 20th Century Fox war film The Desert Rats with James Mason and in The Robe. In later years, Richard Burton became famous for his on-off romance with Elizabeth Taylor.

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More by :  Ramarao Annavarapu

Top | Cinema

Views: 576      Comments: 2

Comment Excellent as usual.i admire your seem to have a total recall.
I am delighted to read your articles.
Thank you

07-Apr-2024 01:19 AM

Comment Wonderful reading.transported to the period of narration as if through a " Time Machine".

Annavarapu L. Sharma
06-Apr-2024 22:47 PM

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