Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

invasion-poster1Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Jean Willes, Ralph Dumke, Virginia Christine, Tom Fadden, Kenneth Patterson

Directed by Don Siegel

Expectations: Very high.

fourstar


I can’t believe it took me this long to finally see Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I think at some point in my youth I did see it, but I was since replaced by a pod-person version of myself, thus erasing the memory of seeing this monumental film. I feel like I’ve actively avoided seeing this film in the years following this proposed switch. Even the other day when I decided to watch it, I only reluctantly picked it because it was expiring from Netflix Instant on October 1st. Well, whatever made me fight the stringent conditioning of the pod-brain I only just realized I have… Thanks! All kidding aside, I guess it wasn’t high on my priority list because I already knew the basic plot from beginning to end. I thought it’d be kinda crusty, too, with slow moments and charming but ugly FX. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a straight-up barn burner, even now almost 60 years on. The pace never once lets up. The film opens with Dr. Miles J. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) raving and screaming like a lunatic, rocketing us out the barrel and into the frenzy of living in a world inhabited by body snatchers. The cops get him to calm down enough to tell his tale, so the movie does the little underwater shimmering thing that they do in 1950s movies and we’re back at the calm beginning of Bennell’s story.

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Giant (1956)

giant_6Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Judith Evelyn, Earl Holliman, Robert Nichols

Directed by George Stevens

Expectations: Low.

threestar


Giant is a Texas-themed soap opera about a cattle rancher named Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) who marries a Virginian girl named Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) while he’s in town buying a horse from Leslie’s father. When they return as husband and wife to Bick’s ranch Reata, Leslie doesn’t quite fit in with all the Texas bigots. This, surprisingly, becomes an overarching theme of the film, but you’ve gotta sit through a whole lot of Texas-sized movie before it ever pays off. And — spoiler alert — even that payoff is less satisfying than I’d have liked it to be. In a film this long (201 minutes!), is it too much to ask that we actually build toward something worth waiting for? I guess if I was a hard-hearted racist jerk, it’d take almost 3½ hours to get me to understand why the film ends as it does, but I was already on-board right from the get-go.

What’s strange about the length of Giant is that it’s an epic unconcerned with being epic. There are moments when it slips into epic mode, but for the most part it’s a fairly straightforward chronicle of 30–40 years in the Benedict family’s lives. So why is it as long as it is? The answer lies within the familial relationships of the Benedict family. Allowed extra space to breathe, Giant presents more nuanced and layered relationships than are usually seen in films — especially one from the ’50s. But even with its extended length, it still feels like it’s breezing through the years and could have easily been longer if it wanted to be.

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Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (1956)

Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island [宮本武蔵完結編 決闘巌流島] (1956)
AKA Bushido

Starring Toshiro Mifune, Koji Tsuruta, Kaoru Yachigusa, Mariko Okada, Michiko Saga, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Daisuke Kato, Haruo Tanaka, Kichijiro Ueda, Kokuten Kodo

Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki

Expectations: High. Can’t wait to finish the trilogy.


[Editor’s Note: There will be spoilers, although I don’t know how much spoilers come into play on this film, as it’s pretty clear from the get-go what the end result will be.]

Early on in Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island, Musashi Miyamoto bests a fighter dominated by physical strength by using his own strength as tempered by his calm spirit. This tells us that the journey shown in Part 2 of the trilogy was a success; Musashi has indeed become the complete swordsman he set out to become. This is reinforced throughout the film through the encounters that Musahi has, such as moments when he settles a dispute simply by catching flies with chopsticks, or his increased focus on the arts (specifically woodworking). My favorite of these clues that Musashi has attained his goal was the subtle changes in the trilogy’s bombastic theme, which takes on a more reserved and calm tempo in this film.

As the title suggests, Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island is mostly focused on the duel between Sasaki and Miyamoto. While the actual duel doesn’t take place until the closing minutes of the film, its shadow looms over the entire film and creates a sense of impending tragedy for the two men. We are led to believe that Musashi will handily defeat Sasaki, but Sasaki has also proven to be quite the formidable samurai. Even in the final moments, the duel is anyone’s game, and this is what makes the duel so thrilling to watch.

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