Thursday, December 17, 2020

Capsule Reviews - The 1950s

Three movies from the 1950s

1. The Alligator People (1959)

You hear the title, and it brings to mind a certain kind of film; a low-budget monster flick with bargain-basement make-up and effects. And in a way, The Alligator People is that movie, but it’s not just that movie. While under hypnosis, Joyce (Beverly Garland) recounts her tragic past, and how she searched high and low for her lost husband Paul (Richard Crane), who disappeared on their wedding night. Following the few clues she managed to uncover, Joyce traveled to the swamps of Louisiana, where she met, among others, Dr. Mark Sinclair (George Macready), a well-meaning scientist whose research once saved Paul’s life… but at a terrible price. The first half of The Alligator People, when Joyce is trying to track down Paul, proves an intriguing mystery, and by the time the puzzle of his disappearance is solved, we’re invested in the characters. The cast is exceptional, including Lon Chaney Jr., who plays Manon, a drunken handyman and the film’s eventual heavy. The Alligator People does get a tad goofy towards the end (especially when the “creature” is finally revealed), but for the bulk of its runtime this is a much better movie than its schlocky title would lead you to believe. X Rating: 7 out of 10

2. Oklahoma! (1955)

Set in the waning days of the old west, Oklahoma features a number of cowboys, farmers, and young ladies, all preparing for the big box social later that evening. Curly (Gordon MacRae) is a happy-go-lucky cowboy who has set his sights on Laurey (Shirley Jones, in her big-screen debut), niece of the kindly Aunt Eller (Charlotte Greenwood). But Laurey, tired of waiting for Curly’s invitation, has agreed to let hired hand Jud (Rod Steiger) accompany her to the social. Laurie’s friend, Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame), is also caught in a love triangle: her longtime beau Will Parker (Gene Nelson) has just returned from Kansas City, and is going to ask for Annie’s hand in marriage. But traveling salesman Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert) may have beaten him to the punch! Based on the popular stage musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma is high-spirited and funny, with some great songs (including “Oh What a Beautiful Morning’” and “Kansas City”) and well-choreographed dance routines. That’s not to imply the entire movie is harmless family fare; Steiger’s Jud is a spooky fella, peering into Laurey’s bedroom as she changes clothes and threatening bodily harm on Curly if he tries to take Laurey away from him. In addition, there’s an extended dream sequence that treads into dark territory, and the final showdown between Curly and Jud is as tense as they come. Still, even with its occasional forays into the dramatic, Oklahoma is as feel-good a musical as you’re ever going to find.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

3. Solomon and Sheba (1959)

Fresh on the heels of such biblical epics as King of Kings and The Ten Commandments, director King Vidor’s Solomon and Sheba takes the Old Testament story of the wise King Solomon and his heathen lover Queen Sheba and transforms it into a sporadically thrilling but mostly humdrum big-screen extravaganza. On his deathbed, King David (Finlay Currie) names his younger son Solomon (Yul Brynner) as his successor, angering Adonijah (George Sanders), the elder son and Israel’s most able warrior. With God’s grace, Solomon proves a wise leader, choosing peace over war with Egypt. But will the king’s faith be strong enough to resist the feminine guiles of Queen Sheba (Gina Lollabrigida), who was sent by the Pharoah (David Farrar) to seduce Solomon and turn his people against him? There are sequences in Solomon and Sheba that are, indeed, spectacular, including the opening battle and, especially, the final confrontation between Solomon’s troops and the Egyptian army. But there are far too many long-winded scenes, most centering on the title characters’ romance, to maintain the energy of the film’s grander moments. More often than not, you’ll find yourself staring at the clock, wondering how long it will be before something interesting happens.
Rating: 5 out of 10

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