Around the World in 80 Days (1956), 175 minutes, D: Michael Anderson
Baby Doll (1956), 114 minutes, D: Elia Kazan
This Kazan film has been called notorious, salacious, revolting, dirty, steamy, lewd, suggestive, morally repellent and provocative. Time Magazine was noted as stating: "Just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited..." The stark, controversial, black and white film was so viciously denounced by the Legion of Decency upon its release that many theaters were forced to cancel their showings, but it still did moderately well at the box office despite the uproar. Baby Doll's impact was heightened by its themes: moral decay, lust, sexual repression, seduction, infantile eroticism and the corruption of the human soul. Its advertisements and posters featured a sultry young "Baby Doll" curled up in a crib in a suggestive pose, sucking her thumb. The young actress portraying 'Baby Doll' Meighan, Carroll Baker (25 years old and in her second film) received a well-deserved Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her role. Karl Malden played the role of Baby Doll's sexually-frustrated husband Archie Lee, and Eli Wallach starred as unscrupulous businessman Silva Vaccaro whose main aim was to deflower the child bride. To make the film appear more genuine and authentic, most of it was filmed on location in Benoit, Mississippi. The landmark, tragi-comedy film, one of the most erotic cinematic works ever produced, was based on Tennessee Williams' first original film screenplay, interweaving and adapting two of his earlier one-act plays: "Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton" and "The Long Stay Cut Short" (aka "The Unsatisfactory Supper"). The highly-acclaimed Williams had many of his plays adapted for the screen in the 1950s: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly Last Summer (1959)). As before, Williams' work on this film was directed by Elia Kazan, a favorite director of several of his plays on Broadway as well.
Bigger Than Life (1956), 95 minutes, D: Nicholas Ray
The Burmese Harp (1956, Jp.) (aka Biruma No Tategoto), 116 minutes, D: Kon Ichikawa
Bus Stop (1956), 94 minutes, D: Joshua Logan
Aka The Wrong Kind of Girl, this comedy/drama, adapted by George Axelrod (who also co-wrote The Seven Year Itch (1955) also starring Monroe) and based on the hit Broadway play by William Inge, was Marilyn Monroe's first "serious" lead role. She plays Cherie, a fifth-rate, hillbilly saloon-bar singer in Phoenix, originally from the Ozarks, whose dream is to go to Hollywood. Her path crosses that of a naive, callow and rude cowboy from Montana in town for a rodeo, Beauregard 'Bo' Decker (Don Murray in his film debut), who immediately is smitten by his sweet 'angel.' The most memorable moment of Bus Stop is Monroe's famous torch-song performance of "That Old Black Magic" for an unappreciative audience, mixing sensuousness with a wistfully sad, soulful quality. The country bumpkin persistently tries to woo Cherie (whom he crudely calls Cherry) - and forcefully kidnaps her to take her home with him. They become stranded during a blizzard at a roadside bus stop - the Blue Dragon Inn in Idaho, where she eventually falls for her abductor. Widely considered the best role of Monroe's career, it mixed comedy with dark pathos. The film proved Monroe was a more-than-capable actress reflecting her skillful acting talent and some of her own personal insecurities.
Forbidden Planet (1956), 98 minutes, D: Fred McLeod Wilcox
Giant (1956), 201 minutes, D: George Stevens
High Society (1956), 111 minutes, D: Charles Walters
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), 80 minutes, D: Don Siegel
An allegorical, intensely paranoid, chilling science-fiction parable of alien possession, based on Collier's Magazine's serialized story The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney - one of the greatest low-budget 50's films that can be interpreted as philosophical commentary upon the spread of McCarthyism or Communism. Set in the idyllic small town of Santa Mira, California and told in flashback. Physician Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) begins to become paranoid and suspicious when his patients report that their loved ones, friends, and relatives are not themselves but emotionless shells, replicas, or imposters. Actually, the town is being surreptitiously invaded by strange, alien plant forms called 'pods,' that take over or replicate the likenesses, personalities and identities of human beings while they sleep. Miles and old girlfriend (now recently divorced) Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) fight to stay awake and battle the changes that may overtake them. When they flee to escape a similar fate and are chased into an abandoned mine shaft, Becky momentarily falls asleep - and her unresponsive kiss is revelatory. As the last 'human' being, he hysterically screams warnings while running down the middle of a highway, reaching the refuge of a hospital in San Francisco.
The Killing (1956), 83 minutes, D: Stanley Kubrick
A stylish film noir crime drama, and the definitive heist-caper movie - Kubrick's third film and first successful one, although highly under-rated when released. The tale is about a desperate gang of anti-hero misfits and lowlifes (in an ensemble cast) led by a grim, determined, and recently-released-from-jail con Johnny Clay (Hayden). The group devises and executes a complex, carefully-timed racetrack heist of $2 million - that goes terribly wrong, similar to Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950) (also with Sterling Hayden). The plan is to cause simultaneous, diversionary confusion by shooting one of the racehorses in mid-race and instigating a bar fight, thereby allowing Johnny to rob the main track offices and seize the day's takings. The gang includes racetrack teller George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a pathetic wimp and loser who is easily tricked by his devious, scheming femme fatale wife Sherry (Marie Windsor) into revealing the details of the heist to pass to her adulterous lover Val Cannon (Vince Edwards, the future doctor Ben Casey on a TV series), who plans to take the loot at the rendezvous point once the robbery has been accomplished. The entire movie is presented non-chronologically in a winding fashion (with flashforwards and flashbacks), and played out in a series of tense, black-comedy scenes with swift transitions. The doom-laden, voice-over dialogue was derived from Lionel White's novel Clean Break. The film has influenced many heist films, including the original Ocean's Eleven (1960) (also remade in 2001). With excellent cinematography by Lucien Ballard, but ignored completely by the Academy, although this work would influence filmmakers for decades after - most notably Guy Ritchie and crime drama auteur Quentin Tarantino and his film Reservoir Dogs.
The King and I (1956), 133 minutes, D: Walter Lang
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), 120 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
The Red Balloon (1956, Fr.) (aka Le Ballon Rouge), 34 minutes, D: Albert Lamorisse
The Searchers (1956), 119 minutes, D: John Ford
A complex, epic, 'psychological' Western story about a man's obsessive five year quest for revenge, set in post-Civil War America. Based on the novel by Alan Le May. This film is unquestionably Ford's finest, beautifully filmed in his most popular locale, Monument Valley. Raiding Comanche Indians, in retaliation, massacre a frontier family and Chief Scar (Henry Brandon) kidnaps the teenaged daughter Debbie (Natalie Wood). The embittered, racist, anti-hero brother Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), a mysterious Civil War Confederate veteran, engages on a journey to pursue his niece - to kill the Chief who abducted her AND to kill his corrupted, tainted, disgraced niece to 'save' her from her savage captors. During their extensive, perilous, grim search, conveyed by a series of flashbacks, he is accompanied by half-breed adopted nephew Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), who is equally determined to save the girl. This exceptional film was not nominated for Academy Awards.
The Ten Commandments (1956), 219 minutes, D: Cecil B. DeMille
Written on the Wind (1956), 99 minutes, D: Douglas Sirk
A lush, psychosexual, trashy melodrama about wealth, greed and lust, acclaimed director Douglas Sirk's best film, about the decline and self-destructiveness of a rich Texas oil family. Adapted from Robert Wilder's novel. Told in flashback after an opening murder scene, weak Texas millionaire/oil man Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack), the ne'er-do-well son of Texas dynasty magnate Jasper Hadley (Robert Keith), marries beautiful executive secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall) after an insistent romance. But he becomes suspicious of his best friend Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), a handsome, successful geologist, who has similar affections - but only platonic - for Lucy. Kyle's trampy, nymphomaniacal sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone), who wants the unattainable Mitch, fuels Kyle's anxious jealousy, suspicions of his own sterility, and an habitual bout with a bottle by suggesting that Lucy is pregnant with Mitch's child. An unfortunate confrontation ensues, causing Lucy to have a miscarriage. Roaring drunk, gun-wielding Kyle threatens Mitch and ends up dead. An inquest is held to determine Mitch's guilt or innocence, with Marylee's testimony holding his life in the balance.
The Wrong Man (1956), 105 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock