The older I get, the more I like watching films from the 1950s, the decade in which I was born, especially the mid-1950s. I like revisiting my favorites from that period and continually discovering new films from that time, be they westerns, dramas, crime movies, historical epics, musicals, sci-fi, horror, etc. It was a unique period for filmmaking, as Hollywood was undergoing a transition from the studio era, its ironclad contracts and ownership of theaters to one of independent production, independent theater chains, a loosening of the Production Code, more location shooting and greater acceptance by the public of foreign films. The old guard was still turning out exemplary work, as seen in the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, William Wyler and King Vidor, all of whom had gotten their start during the silent era, while younger directors with bolder visions and new stylistic approaches had emerged during and after the war, including Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Elia Kazan, Anthony Mann, Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, Don Siegel, Samuel Fuller, Robert Aldrich, Douglas Sirk and Otto Preminger. In addition, a host of new talent was emerging from television, Broadway and documentaries and quickly finding their way to Hollywood, including Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn, Martin Ritt, Delbert Mann, Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer, and Robert Altman. These overlapping waves of directors offered an unprecedented talent pool the likes of which Hollywood has never seen since. It’s no coincidence that a group of French film critics developed the auteur theory around this time.
Richard Widmark would have turned 100 this coming Friday, December 26, 2014. He died only six years ago on March 24, 2008, at the age of 93, having outlived 95% of his co-stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. (Kirk Douglas, Sidney Poitier, Robert Wagner and Doris Day are among the few who have outlived him and are still with us. Lauren Bacall outlived him by six years.) Widmark had a solid career as a leading man in Hollywood from the late 1940s to the early 1970s before turning to character parts (and the occasional TV movie lead) in the 1970s to early ’90s. His last movie role was in TRUE COLORS (1991) and his last TV role was the male lead in COLD SASSY TREE (1989).
Sunday, my last full day in Paris, found me in the morning waiting on line in the rain to enter the Musee d’Orsay, where a Van Gogh exhibit awaited.
It was the last day of the exhibit, so I’m glad I got to see it even though I had to wait on line a second time inside the museum to see it. I’ve seen Van Gogh paintings before, but not so many of them in one exhibit–and in Paris where most of these paintings originally found their home! No photography was allowed in the exhibit, so I didn’t get any shots, but here’s a famous one that was included:
Akira Kurosawa’s wartime film, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL (1944) is a propaganda drama that was designed to glorify the efforts of teenage girls recruited to work on the production of implements for Japan’s combat with Allied forces. Here they work in a factory making lenses for bomb sights and all live together in a dormitory. They are shown embracing their work and plunging into it with wholehearted patriotic fervor. The film plays like Soviet propaganda of an earlier era or Chinese Communist propaganda of a later era, but with characteristic Kurosawa touches, including a succession of great closeups and a focus on the human element even in the midst of celebrating the collective spirit.