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JL: This is one of the better RKO releases of 1954. It does not get off on a particularly great start with some curious narration by its star, Barbara Stanwyck (who is good in her delivery but isn’t given good material to read) and she is shown on horseback against a way-too obvious back screen of cattle ranching stock. Yet we soon have some pretty on location scenery to get my enthusiasm rallied up more. Plus I do love her name: Sierra Nevada Jones.

TB: It’s a great name. And one almost imagines a mountain girl with windswept hair. But it seemed obvious to me that Stanwyck had a studio perm right before she appeared on camera.

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JL: With her in her opening scenes is “Pop” Jones (Morris Ankrum). This daddy-daughter relationship is peachy great with her constantly calling him “dad.” We all know what this means. He is doomed to die soon and all of her happiness is shattered.

TB: Of course you’re right about that. It’s almost funny how thick they pour it on. Woman loves father so much she will be devastated when he’s killed off a short time later. Though I must say I do like Morris Ankrum in this rather brief role. He’s a character actor I never paid much attention to before, and he’s well suited to the genre. He also seems to elicit a vulnerability in Stanwyck that she seldom if ever displays in her other motion pictures.

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JL: Yes. And her revenge will be against his murderers and finding justice.

TB: Let’s talk about Stanwyck’s leading man in this picture.

JL: Ronald Reagan is the major co-star, playing Farrell, undercover investigator late-19th century style. When observing her skinny dipping, he Is much more subdued in his reaction than Kirk Douglas was in THE INDIAN FIGHTER. He may not be the aggressive wooing type, but we can all see right away that he is a good guy who has her best interests at heart…and she will need a new man in her life eventually, with Pop gone.

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TB: I had remembered reading somewhere, awhile back, that Reagan enjoyed working with Stanwyck immensely. She had also costarred with wife Nancy, when she was billed as Nancy Davis, in EAST SIDE WEST SIDE (1949). Stanwyck and her ex-husband Robert Taylor were close pals of the Reagans and shared similar political views. Apparently, when Reagan was about to leave the White House, the last film he screened as president during his last week in office in January 1989, he and Nancy screened CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA.

JL: In the beginning, we don’t get a flattering picture of the “Indians” but it changes quickly. They are still considered as a separate species from all of the “white man” and we get plenty of Broken English on the soundtrack by a cast that…well, at least they sport nice suntans.

TB: Yeah. Fake painted-on tans. One thing that crosses my mind when I watch those scenes is how much time the actors playing natives must have spent in the make-up chair.

JL: When her beloved daddy dies, Sierra Nevada suddenly assumes the worst and yells at the natives visiting the scene: “You savage sons-of-a…Come finish the job! There is one of us left!” Yet she is informed that she will get help from them in finding out who is responsible. Anthony Caruso plays Natchakoa, the “bad” Blackfoot, and Lance Fuller is the dashingly handsome “good” one, Colorados.

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We have a potential triangle romance in the making involving Colorados with Sierra Nevada and Yvette Dugay’s Starfire, who tragically dies later after expressing some jealousy to her rival (who insists the contrary in her intentions).

TB: While I found the depiction of the good natives admirable, even ahead of the times, I found the plot with Stanwyck’s character and Fuller’s character a bit far-fetched. She really hadn’t been there long enough before her father died for her to become so close to Colorados.

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It felt like a plot device, so that Sierra Nevada had a few allies against the land baron (played by Gene Evans) that was actually responsible for her father being slaughtered and her land being taken away from her.

JL: Even if the races are all sticking to their own kind in the end, there are some interesting set-ups here.

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When Sierra Nevada and Colorados go into town, the residents are shocked by the two shown in cahoots; this being an interesting commentary on the racial prejudices of both circa 1888-89 and 1954 (i.e. Brown vs. Board of Education was stirring up the status quo). Later this theme is built up more with her defending herself, with Farrell’s help, against uppity ladies with their own opinions about the Blackfoot tribe.

TB: I must admit I liked the town scenes very much. They gave us a much-needed break from the land war raging between Stanwyck and Evans. Plus it was interesting to see how Stanwyck’s character lacked support from other women, which in some ways reinforced her resolve to be one of the boys if she was going to survive.

JL: The primary villains here are Natchakoa and sneaky Tom McCord (Evans), who steals an important document from Pop’s body at the scene of the crime. Thus, we have heroes and villains on both sides with plenty of action.

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Aside from Lance Fuller appearing shirtless in a fist fight, I guess the one Pride Month interest-of-sort is Stanwyck showcased in trousers, never a dress, throughout and displaying strong masculine resistance against a wooing schemer who tries to take advantage of her at one point. However she still winds up courting Farrell in the end and, while there are no talks of marriage and kids just yet like THE FURIES, you will be expecting it soon after “The End.” In short, all is well in the strictly heterosexual frontier known as Montana.

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TB: Final thoughts. What did you think about the directing?

JL: Allan Dwan was a wonderful director of action flicks with a filmography going back far enough. Remember ROBIN HOOD with Douglas Fairbanks? To be fair, he was 69 at this time and quite overworked with at least three back-to-back productions that year, so this may not represent him at his freshest. It is enjoyable for what it is, matinee entertainment.

TB: Thanks Jlewis. CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA may currently be viewed on Amazon Prime.

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Essential: BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (1969)

JL begins:

Paul Mazursky’s big directorial debut (and wonderfully co-scripted by producer Larry Tucker) is basically in the same league as GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, also produced by Columbia, and other quintessential good-if-not-great crowd pleasers of the sixties that tapped into what moviegoers were most curious to see at the time. It may end a bit too abruptly and not milk its subject matter for all it is worth, but I still enjoy it after multiple viewings. Even today, it has plenty to say about relationships and honesty, fidelity versus infidelity.

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Although three of the names in the title commit…gasp!…adultery (more of a no-no back then than today), this is a surprisingly chaste film that lies somewhere in-between a Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedy (Dyan Cannon wears as much eye liner and lip gloss as Doris under the sheets) and a Russ Meyer nudie-cutie with just enough bare tops on display, but not involving our star actresses, to warrant an R-rating. As with a number of box office successes, there was a feeble attempt to create a TV series out of it years later.

TB: Yes, I think the TV series was pretty much a flop. Definitely “tamer” since it had to contend with broadcast standards censorship. It aired around a dozen episodes in 1973. A young Robert Urich and Anne Archer played the main couple. Archer obviously was cast on the strength of her resemblance to Natalie Wood.

We should point out that the cast of the original movie features Robert Culp, who had made films, typically in supporting roles. But he was known more to audiences as a television performer in the late 1960s.

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JL: Robert Culp, who was famous at the time due to I Spy but less familiar today than his co-stars, and Natalie Wood, who needs no introduction, play the liberal-minded Sanders, Bob and Carol; he being a documentary filmmaker and she a rather bored, but pampered, housewife. They spend a weekend at a place resembling (and maybe is) the famous Esalem, a California retreat for new age yoga, relaxation, nude sun bathing and psychological therapy.

TB: You gotta love how they fit all the therapies in. It’s a one stop place for bourgeoisie healing.

JL: Bob is a trifle skeptical at first but Carol is more open to this getting-in-touch-with-your-feelings that starts out with the soft spoken leader (Greg Mullavey) getting them all to look at each other directly in the face and display total honesty about everything.

Meanwhile, Dyan Cannon and Elliott Gould play the Sanders’ more earthbound (read: uptight) friends, Ted and Alice Henderson.

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At first they merely are amused by this great weekend transformation during a discussion at an Italian restaurant, especially after Carol demonstrates “total honesty” with the waiter (Lee Bergere) by asking if he “genuinely” hopes that their food is satisfactory and even later tries to re-explain herself and apologize to him in the kitchen.

By the way, I absolutely adore Natalie Wood in her blue denim mini-skirt. Not to mention Dyan in her solid yellow with matching hair ribbon, repeated in red/black combo, virginal white, sky blue and as pink as a Playboy bunny in her later scenes.

All continues hunky dory until after a late after-party get-together involving a bit of marijuana smoking and stirred libidos. As the Hendersons leave, Carol bounces out with some all important information. She recently learned Bob had an affair, he was totally honest about it, she forgave him and she thinks it is all “beautiful” and worth sharing with her best friends!

TB: To be honest, this part of the plot seems rather absurd to me. In fact it seems like a sitcom plot, where the main character promises not to lie for a week and is honest to the point of being painful. We’ve seen it on dozens of shows with Lucille Ball and John Ritter. In this case, Mazursky is doing it as a bit of a device to draw the Hendersons more into the story…so that they are now part of the Sanders’ process of “truth” and “discovery.”

JL: Ted is amused, but Alice is disgusted beyond belief. I think Alice represents roughly 75% of the moviegoers seeing this in 1969 since most at them were well beyond their thirties and couldn’t quite grasp all of the new “freedoms.”

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JL: Back in the bedroom, it is obvious that Alice is no longer In The Mood while Ted is feeling frisky. After all, Bob’s affair and Carol being so candid and comfortable about it is as traumatic to Alice as her own mother’s death! Oh pleeeeeeeze.

Actually I greatly enjoy this lengthy bedroom conversation between these two (a key reason both were nominated for Oscars in their supporting roles) with her at first not wanting him to touch her, then they negotiate about whether or not to “do it” despite all of her rage over Bob and finally culminating with his telling her to not touch him!

TB: I agree the scene works rather well. But one of the problems I have with this set-up is that the filmmakers are not quite sure at times which couple should be most in focus. Or if the two couples deserve equal prominence since they may be reverse images of each other. Despite the “confusion” over which two are the main characters, or if all four are main characters, we do get some satiric moments and the comic potential of the storyline is exploited rather well.

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JL: Later Alice tries to get things out of her system with her psychiatrist (Donald F. Muhich). He displays a rather stoic reaction as she talks about “my” (instead of “our”) five year son whom she “loves.” Meanwhile she only “likes” her husband. She can’t handle sex and body parts, using nicknames instead of medical terms. When she has her “Freudian slip” mentioning Bob instead of Ted, it becomes apparent that she is worried her husband will do a no-no like Bob’s despite always being faithful to her.

TB: When I watched this particular scene I couldn’t help but think of Otto Preminger’s SUCH GOOD FRIENDS (1971) which came out a few years later. Again Dyan Cannon is submerged in an upper class melange of psychological and sexual dysfunction. I guess Preminger was a fan of her performance here in Mazursky’s film, causing him to cast her later in his film which covers some of the same “issues.”

JL: On a plane bound for Miami, Bob makes the mistake of suggesting to Ted that his affair was no big deal and, heck, you might as well take advantage of golden opportunities. Intriguingly, Bob himself decides NOT to have a second affair when given the opportunity on another trip at home, but he later confronts Carol herself having one of her own with a much younger and hunkier tennis instructor named Horst (Horst Ebersberg).

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TB: The old “what’s good for the goose” routine…! The tennis instructor is a soapy stereotype and since he’s so much better looking than Bob, you have to wonder why Carol would even look twice at Bob again.

JL: What I like best about this movie is that it puts the shoe on the other foot so that the man, who takes such things for granted, must now reconsider his own feelings of possessiveness and jealousy. We get Culp’s best acting scene but, of course, you know he is a dedicated liberal type who “does not use violence in this house” so he invites Horst to stay for a drink.

TB: I guess this keeps the tone light and prevents the film from descending into histrionics, which is what happens in THE GRADUATE when Elaine learns Benjamin’s been having an affair with her mother. But that’s another story!

JL: In Las Vegas, where everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, Alice has had plenty of time with her shrink and is no longer judging her best friends by “my morals” and the foursome enjoy themselves in the executive suite.

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TB: This of course leads to the film’s most “celebrated” and “liberating” image of the four of them in bed together. If you do a Google search of the film, nearly 80% of the images come from this portion of the movie. It’s quite the identifier.

JL: Everybody is now more amused than shocked to learn about Carol being even with Bob with her sex-capade, but then Ted decides to confess to his affair with a mouthful of yummy nuts! This sends Alice through the roof and she instantly starts undressing and demanding to swap hubbies with Carol, insisting that Bob must find her attractive enough to go to the sack with her. The great O word is expressed, which I can’t print here.

When they finally all decide to go to the next level, we gets some great comic scenes with Elliot Gould in particular.

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I find him much more more likable in this movie than in M*A*S*H. He fusses in the bathroom in preparation and takes way too long getting his undergarments off… under the covers. He is even more modest about his body than his own wife!

TB: This is where I think the film becomes a very immature thesis on sexual relationships. Yes, this is a comedy and we’re supposed to find some of it tongue-in-cheek, but ultimately it’s just a bunch of overgrown “kids” who don’t know the first thing about real adult interactions.

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And the fact that Ted’s confession forces Alice, who has been rather reserved up to this point, to suddenly want to get it on with Bob– that seems very contrived to me. Like Mazursky and fellow screenwriter Larry Tucker couldn’t actually come with a realistic way for them all to copulate together.

And then, ultimately, because they cannot venture into X-rated territory and remain commercially marketable, we don’t see them having sex with each other. Plus, I think in this situation, with everyone relaxed, there’d be some bisexuality playing out. But this film, as you said earlier, is chaste. It’s timid. And adolescent. Not as frank or grown up or adult as it could have been. It is an American film trying to do what provocative European films do, and not being able to pull it off, pun intended.


JL: So did they “do it” or not? A little video segment on YouTube has Quentin Tarantino suggesting that maybe they all all “did it,” but I kinda think they “didn’t.”

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TB: Yeah, they didn’t do it. The film leads up to the promise of sexual liberation but then it chickens out and tries to act vague and clever about it.

JL: We get a questionable scene of Bob looking up at the camera as he kisses Alice, which Quentin thinks is him shooing away the audience for more privacy. I think Bob’s expression is more along the lines of “maybe I should not go through with this since the concept was more exciting than the reality.

TB: Yep. I’m with you on this interpretation. Ultimately the film needed to have a moral ending for American audiences. Where the two marriages remain intact and their foursome goes nowhere.

JL: In the end, it is all about the Jackie DeShannon song. What the world needs now is love sweet love. Likely these couples won’t stray further in the future, but if they do, they will always be honest in true Me Decade fashion (and this does feel more like a seventies film in the end rather than a sixties film). The surreal parade scene is every liberal’s dream of a world united in multiple races and genders.

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TB: Sorry to burst your bubble, but I still don’t think this film measured up like it should have. It often takes the easy way out. It doesn’t allow the characters to become fully fleshed out, faults and all. The characters aspire to nothing basically and become amoral in a glib sort of cute way. What these four individuals are going through, is not presented in a meaningful treatise, examining possible consequences in a realistic light.

It’s clear to me they had to keep the characters likable at the end, or else these stars’ careers might have come to a screeching halt. I think one of the couples should have gone too far, should have reached the end of their marriage; while the other couple became more reasonable and saved from the debauchery. That is, if they are meant to be true reverse images of each other. Again I think a more mature European filmmaker would have done justice to the story.

Even though it was filmed in the post-code period, it still seems bound by remnants of the production code. And it seems to be too much in keeping with “good taste” which ironically causes a very dishonest version of what this story is. Anyway, since you obviously enjoyed the picture more than I did, I will let you finish things up with a few positive remarks…


JL: Much of this film’s charm for me personally lies in its time-capsule appeal. So many little things on visual display represent what was so “trendy” back at the time of its principal photography (November-December 1968), but now look like ancient relics of a bygone era. Obviously Las Vegas has changed immensely since then. We get at least two subtle digs at the presidential election with one visitor at the California retreat reading a newspaper lampooning LBJ and Nixon (perhaps this scene was shot just after the latter defeated Humphrey and Wallace), followed later by two minor characters discussing whether or not they should have bothered voting (a question expanded upon later in Hal Ashby’s SHAMPOO, set during this exact same time period but filmed post-Watergate).

Meanwhile, a trio of possibly (oh…heck, any modern viewer can see that they definitely are) gay men listen in on a conversation about love and honesty at the restaurant pre-Stonewall. We even get a bit part by Daniel Striped Tiger at a time when Fred Rogers was among the newest faces on TV.

The fashion show is especially impressive, with the false eyelashes and Nehru sweatshirts (not jackets anymore) going out of style between the time cameras stopped rolling and the time it finally hit theaters in September 1969.

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Of course, Bob must make sure his love beads are on, shirt or no shirt. However everything that Natalie Wood wears is hip and ahead of its time, especially the plaid pants in our early scenes that would not take the nation by storm for another two years or so. Plus Bob and Carol’s swinging California pad is pretty groovy with a huge dictionary (!?) opened up in the living room. I am guessing that Natalie says “groovy” at least five times on screen, but I will let the experts analyze that specific detail further.

The movie always leaves me with this warm afterglow that is hard to define. I guess it has to do with the wide-eyed innocence of the characters and the movie’s intentions, especially in that final scene of solidarity among all kinds of people. What could be worse to watch on screen?

Essential: JULES ET JIM (1962)

TB: When Jlewis and I discussed which films to review this month, I told him I would be flying to Chicago for the 4th of July and would really not have time to go in-depth too much on our first selection. My travel plans changed at the last minute due to the recent increase of Covid-related cases. When I read his review yesterday, I realized that there is nothing I could really add to it anyway. Except maybe…

…a brief comment or two about my first encounter with this film during my days at the USC School of Cinema-Television in the 90s. I remember we were told a lot about Truffaut and the beginning of the Nouvelle Vague. The professor spent time discussing the scene where Jeanne Moreau’s character dresses like a man, which Jlewis goes over. In many ways, it’s Moreau’s film though she doesn’t play one of the title characters.

Jlewis doesn’t seem to like the way the film concludes, but I favor bleak endings since I think they tend to be more realistic. I enjoy films that leave us hanging with a lot of different thoughts and emotions. The drama is certainly over the top in the last sequence, but it’s very provocative.

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Oh, one more comment. I attended a luncheon once where Lauren Bacall was the guest of honor. She did a question-and-answer session about her career. Naturally, she talked a great deal about Bogey. But she also liked discussing her friends. And she told us that when she filmed a TV movie in France in 1993 she had the chance to work with Jeanne Moreau and they became fast friends. She thought very highly of Moreau’s skills as an actress.


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JL: François Truffaut’s New Wave epic has plenty to answer for. It is a one-of-a-kind piece that stands on its own virtues and flaws, but has so many “connections” with so many other films. In fact, it will be difficult for me to discuss this one without the great sin of title dropping, but I will attempt to get it all accomplished in just two paragraphs and be done with it. May lose myself just a bit towards the end.

The Brits were among the first to mimic (to a degree) its flashy, then-trendy editing style with, among others, the Oscar winning TOM JONES which repackaged some of the French Look for easier consumption in Hollywood, and the Richard Lester comedies followed with a similar use of freeze-frames (more fashionable in the past with sports-reels, but now all the rage post-400 BLOWS), jump cuts and constant zig-zagging. You can watch both this and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT featuring the Beatles and have fun counting all of the oh-so-cute resemblances.

Equally immediate in impact was the clever use of iris-out effects, a silent film era device given a new face-lift with squares instead of circles, that soon became commonplace on TV during the swinging sixties, along with Georges Delerue’s popular music score (opening like a circus show but getting less jolly as it progresses) that prefigured scores in later doomed romances like Franco Zeffirelli’s version of ROMEO & JULIET and, of course, LOVE STORY by decade’s close. In turn, Truffaut and his crew borrowed plenty from all that came before them, like Robert Youngson’s homages to silent comedy stars (note the opening credits channeling a bit of Hal Roach and Mack Sennett) and Orson Welles’ “News on the March” gimmick in CITIZEN KANE of scratching up selected newly shot scenes to blend in better with the already scratched-up 1910s material being utilized.

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It is little surprise that the same director was originally scheduled to work on BONNIE AND CLYDE years later, since that one also carries the JULES ET JIM influence. Both features provide fun and frivolity during the first three quarters with just the occasional signs of future gloom suggested, then we get a final climax of I-did-not-see-that-coming. Both storylines ask the key question: Are you really free when you think you are free? Fittingly we get a newsreel of German book burning late in the presentation (i.e. two main characters are writers) and it is interesting that this was filmed in 1961 when Otto Adolf Eichmann’s trial and popular movies like JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG reminded a great many just how restricted freedom was a few decades earlier.

Our characters rebel against society’s restrictions by living a bohemian lifestyle (and apparently they each have some invisible trust fund that helps them do so financially), but there are still feelings of possessiveness, jealousy and, of course, lots of restless wanderlust that will never be satisfied.

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Catherine in particular, as played by Jeanne Moreau, dislikes protocol herself but still dictates it to all of the men she is involved with. Even in little ways such as forbidding Jim (played by the still living Henri Serre) from putting his hat on the bed and ordering him constantly “to talk” to her in private. She is especially demanding of the already domesticated Jules (Oskar Werner) who remains faithful to her during marriage even if she is unable to be herself. Unfortunately Jules can not grant her a final wish of being “distributed among the winds” since the current society norms won’t allow it.

Our sarcastic narrator (Michel Subor) labels her a queen but there are limits to being one. The title does not include Catherine despite how she dominates the screen. The true “love story” here involves our two male characters, one from France and one from Austria, who could not be separated by the Great War pitting them on opposite fronts and adding the fear of potentially killing each other in combat.

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Therefore, it is Catherine’s job to keep them distracted by dating both. In some respects, this is a “gay” film in terms of emotions if not actual physical activity. (Actually homosexuality is fleetingly mentioned when they attend a play referencing it pre-war but Jim doesn’t think it is a big deal despite how much the play’s author thinks it is.)

In the most famous scene that has been recycled in too many film compilations to count, she draws a mustache on her face and sports a boy’s cap in order to get that pair’s mojo up and chase her accordingly.


She later makes the threesome into a foursome by also getting sexual with Albert (Serge Rezvani), the one who initially got the boys interested in some Adriatic ancient statue resembling her facial features earlier. She may struggle being faithful to just one man, but she demands power over ALL of them.

She is not quite the feminist/suffragette despite expecting to have equal freedoms enjoyed by the opposite gender during the years “circa” 1912 through 1932. Simply put, she just wants to do whatever she wants and when she wants. Jules discovers in their marriage that she gets quite bored with the routine of playing mother to him and their little Sabine (Sabine Haudepin) even though she puts on quite a show when Jim visits. She makes a go with “domesticity” with Jim…and with Jules accepting the situation with no jealousy at all since he loves Jim equally and wants him to be happy, but she (more than Jim) gets all upset when they fail to produce a baby just like Sabine. This is despite the fact that she hardly wanted to be a mother to Sabine in the first place. Not surprisingly, we see the girl bonding a lot better on screen with daddy than mommy.

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Human behavior is never very consistent and many of us as individuals go through stages as to what we want and don’t want in life. When Jim has had enough of Catherine even though he still is “drawn to her”, he settles with the more tranquil Gilberte (Vanna Urbino) who plays a more authentic matron when Jules visits him later on. Before the war, he is quite captivated by lively Thérèse (Marie Dubois) dating Jules for a short period and playing “locomotive” with her cigarette at a time when it was still taboo for ladies to smoke.

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At a reunion over a decade later at a Paris club, he acts all polite when listening to her constant talk-talk but is now tuning her out…and that masterful Truffaut cleverly gets two others to walk directly in front of her on screen so that we only see Jim’s facial reactions of discomfort. One also senses that Jim feels less “bohemian” among the newer “bohemians” of roaring twenties Paris than he did before the war, not knowing how to react to one fellow who introduces his girlfriend as “empty headed” and saying that the only thing good between them is the sex. Jim takes great emotional stock in his physical affairs, even the tormented ones involving Catherine.

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It is a real downer that the film ends the way it does, but…c’est la vie. It is a trademark of French film-making, being so anti-Hollywood with a disregard for happy couples…and threesomes…riding off into the sunset. Then again, America itself was in the mood for these different kinds of endings in its entertainment during the transforming sixties, although it wasn’t until after BONNIE AND CLYDE that a fetish developed for it.

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Intriguingly quite a few famous titles released during those last years of the decade involved “gotcha” endings involving car crashes at the Chicago Democratic Convention, motorcycle hippies getting shot from pick up trucks, “wild bunches” in their final battles down Mexico way, Ratzo…Rico, I mean…dying on a Miami bound bus and Butch and Sundance shown in freeze-frame, although that scene mirrors Truffaut’s earlier 400 BLOWS more than JULES ET JIM.

Essential: ABOVE US THE WAVES (1955)

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TB: This week was a rather busy one for me, so I want to thank Jlewis who picked up the slack and reviewed our second British war flick.

While reading the comments that follow, I couldn’t help but think of the classic 20th Century Fox production THE FROGMEN (1951) which also has considerable underwater heroics.


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JL: With the familiar J. Arthur Rank muscleman gonging away before the opening credits, we can expect somewhat bigger budgeted fare here compared to THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM, with Ralph Thomas as director. (Both films were shot in 1954, although this one was released the following year with Republic Pictures handling U.S. distribution for a change of pace.)

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John Mills is the star attraction as Fraser, the Commander you want to lead you since he really tries to get to know each serviceman in his line-up, although maybe he can be a bit too friendly and personal about your home life. At least he is not the vulgar loud mouth sergeant we come to expect in so many American war films.

There is a fairly realistic, you-are-there feel early on as we see the Royal Navy men in training, not unlike what was often seen in the many Rank and Gaumont-British documentary shorts that would have been shown along side of this.

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Pity this is not in color, although there is wonderful outdoor and underwater cinematography reminding me of later James Bond films such as THUNDERBALL. Once again, the great Muir Mathieson conducts the Philharmonic, this time with composer Arthur Benjamin and no holding back. The quite jolly music makes you want to join these fellows diving and doing their maneuvers.

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Fraser is trying to convince Admiral Ryder, played in typical “chip chip cheerio” fashion by well-bearded James Robertson Joyce, that “frogmen” or “human torpedoes” can succeed against the German battleship Tirpitz. We follow a test group of men in their journey into Norway through trial and error, not all underwater but also also traveling through Nazi occupied territory on foot. Most of them make a final escape through Sweden and get back home so Ryder can commission a bigger ambush involving a trio of submarines, labeled X1, 2 and 3.

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As with the previous film, we also see Nazi aquatic mines that the submarines must bypass and I suspect both films drew from similar or same vintage footage here for a few shots. Impressive here is how one man must push one away from his ship…literally with his foot. Again, the music is very forceful here, in direct contrast to THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM which only brings in the music when it is absolutely necessary to enhance the suspense.

In our previous film, the fellows together talk a lot about the “missus.” In this one, most of the talk is about food. We get a promise between two that they will indulge in steak and eggs when they get back home. Not that promises are easy to keep in the deadly adventure of war. When approaching the Tirpitz, one even smells sauerkraut.

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In regards to women, John Gregson as “Your Uncle” Alec Duffy tells Donald Sinden’s Tom Corbett of his disastrous three year marriage and apparently needs a break from it for a while. Tom still seems optimistic despite he too being single and woman-free. Unfortunately we all know the Golden Rule of 1950s war films: it is important to have a “missus” in order to survive a war. Even Fraser must remind Abercrombie (James Kenney, who apparently hopped on to this film right after THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM) to be more careful with his foolish heroics because lives are at stake, especially ones like Ramsey (William Russell) who have “a wife and children.”

Among other faces present: Micheal Medwin, who passed away only recently at 96, has some slightly humorous moments as Stewart Smart. I think Lee Patterson was cast as Cox based on his blond pretty boy looks, sporting his turtle neck sweater better than his comrades as if he was Lana Turner.

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I did find myself dozing off during the lengthy submarine ambushes, despite the drama of one getting seriously damaged with its crew bravely staying aboard so that they don’t give away any unwanted signals to the enemy. I guess the problem was lack of sleep at the time of viewing. Plus a little too much dialogue at this stage of the suspense, all set in a rather predictable submarine crowded setting.

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Once we got back to more underwater heroics, I woke up again, being that this is the primary selling point of this action feature. When two crews get captured by the Germans, there is plenty of shouting at them that justifiably keeps you the viewer on edge like the prisoners of war worrying about their fate.

Yet the captain (Otto Edwuard Hasse) admires them enough to supply them with blankets and schnapps (yes, a great drink satisfies as much as great food). The climax invites some comparison to the more famous THE AFRICAN QUEEN (set in a previous war with Germany) involving an unpredictable explosion.

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I won’t spoil the ending but it is a sad one that reminds us of the price of war. We get John Mills’ face looking out and then looking back at his exhausted crew, backed on the soundtrack by foreboding violins that soon lead to one final outburst of orchestration gusto over our “filmed at Pinewood Studios” end credit.

TB: Thanks Jlewis. ABOVE US THE WAVES may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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TB: This weekend and next weekend our focus shifts to war films in honor of Memorial Day. However, we’ve decided to put a little spin on it, and concentrated on two seldom-discussed British war flicks. Both were made in the mid-1950s.


Our first selection has a strong cast, including Michael Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde and Bonar Colleano. It’s about 90 minutes in length, and much of it was shot inside a British studio…not on location. But it’s still worth looking at and is currently on YouTube.

JL: Have not heard much of this one, although ABOVE US THE WAVES (which we get to next) was already familiar to me since it is often referenced in the movie texts. Apparently United Artists successfully distributed it on this side of the Atlantic on account of its modest star power: Michael Redgrave (big name star), Dirk Bogarde (rising star), Anthony Steel (at least his face looks familiar) and Nigel Patrick…well, we know him (from the previous reviewed SAPPHIRE).

TB: Yes. They’re all at various stages in their careers. Redgrave was the most successful at this point. He’d already established himself in British cinema and had already gone to Hollywood to make a few American films before returning to London. We should also note that his wife, actress Rachel Kempson, plays his wife in this film, like she occasionally did in his pictures.

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JL: THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM is filmed in black and white on account of the newsreel and documentary footage incorporated. Also on account of its modest special effects work (including some noticeable fringing around the faces against ocean scenes, pre “sodium vapor process,” that is less obvious than it would be in color), this could be labeled a B-budget version of IN WHICH WE SERVE with its stranded-soldiers-rescue storyline even though a plane is involved this time.

A Lockheed Hudson aircraft is damaged by German attack in the North Sea and the four escapees float about in their rubber dinghy but are unable to send a mayday alert to headquarters. We cross edit from them to shots of the RAF Air Sea Rescue investigating their disappearance.

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These scenes showcase Anthony Steel’s Officer Treherne and Nigel Patrick’s Sgt. Singsby, among others. Much of the entertainment comes from watching devoted men efficiently working together as a well-oiled machine in saving “the blokes.”

In addition, there is also some light comedy involving multiple characters including James Kenny as a neurotic Corporal Skinner, Ian Whittaker as bumbling Milliken, George Rose’s Tebbitt ( quotes his line of “Self-heating soup? I never touch it. Don’t trust those chemicals.”) and a rather bossy Sydney Tafler as Corporal Robb.

TB: I should mention that Tafler was the brother-in-law of writer-director Lewis Gilbert. Gilbert used Tafler in his other films, notably in REACH FOR THE SKY (1956), which was made two years later.

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What did you think of Whittaker’s comic relief character, Milliken?

JL: Personally I find the humorous touches more intrusive than entertaining since the major focus here really should be on the fairly accurate historically presentation of material not often covered on screen.

TB: It’s interesting how you mention the comic elements not working. I had read another review of this film after I finished re-watching it recently, and the other reviewer said basically the same thing. That the comedy feels out of place. I assume the Milliken character was included for variety and to lighten a film with such serious subject matter. Some scenes with the character do not work, I agree…particularly the part where he’s cooking and sets the boat on fire. But his presence is marginal and mostly inconsequential.

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JL: Back to the missing men hoping to get rescued. Dirk Bogarde plays Sgt. Mackay and Michael Redgrave is Commodore Waltby, although I find Bonar Colleano (whom we saw before in SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE) as Kirby the most entertaining. In the beginning of their escape, he goes through their rations in their cramped quarters and makes note of the “delicate situation” of toilet paper, which looks like nothing more than a wad of Kleenex.

TB: I agree that Bonar Colleano does a splendid job. Colleano was an American stage and screen actor who found success acting in Britain. As I watched his performance, I couldn’t help but think that he and Michael Balfour, who also appears in this film (in a minor role) would be in a fatal car crash just four years later. Colleano died in the accident, while Balfour recovered, with nearly a hundred stitches.

Anyway, back to our story…

JL: The other guy in the dinghy, Officer Harding, is played by a less talkative Jack Watling. When he is sleeping, Mackay explains his relationship with “been together for two years” Harding to Watkins in a surprisingly romantic manner. Not that we should jump to conclusions here since this is Dirk Bogarde in his pre-VICTIM period and, after all, they are merely comrades in arms. Nonetheless he is very quick to bark back at the very heterosexual Kirby “That is all you ever think about, isn’t it? Girls and beer and going to the pictures?” as if he would be content with none of these as long as he still has his bro-buddy.

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TB: Of course, in real life, Bogarde was very closeted and told people that his long-time partner Tony Forwood was like a brother. One can only speculate what it must have been like for Bogarde when he first read the script and realized he could utter such lines with his character in this movie, like you said, several years before he’d make VICTIM.

JL: Kirby is not just into “girls” but has one specific one, played by Gudrun Ure in a short scene asking for any good news of his rescue. It seems that having a wife or a special girlfriend is what gets you through a war. We get two more wives questioning for information at a train station, including Mrs. Waltby. This I found quite interesting since Watkins adrift specifically tells Mackay that he is not fond of trains.

There is so much discussion about women among the guys hanging out together, especially among the rescue teams as they are sleeping and eating together wartime style, that even they themselves get tired of it on occasion. One even threatens to throw another overboard if he keeps talking about “that silly stupid wife” of his.

TB: Interesting. Though I think we have to realize that the men have little else to discuss, and probably do have their loved ones on their mind. One of them becomes a father at the end of the movie.

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JL: There is a redundant side-story involving some all-important wartime document in a briefcase that Watby carries. “I’ve got to get this case back to England even if we all die.” In the end, we never find out its importance and ultimately don’t care.

The briefcase comes into play in a rather tense scene when Mackay almost threatens mass suicide because he feels so depressed at sea. This is a very dark moment that Borgarde plays rather well in a bit of method acting.

TB: I’m glad you mentioned this subplot. I see it more as a McGuffin of sorts. And I think it was included in the film to show that these men are worth rescuing. That by saving them, it can potentially save more people from the Germans. We don’t really need to know what’s contained in the documents Redgrave’s character is carrying with him. After all, it’s classified information. But we know that when he delivers the papers in the briefcase, it will be a patriotic and heroic act.

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Regarding Bogarde’s performance, I concur that he’s tapping into some Method-style theatrics in the dinghy. And quite frankly, I found his performance to be a bit overdone compared to Redgrave’s more naturalistic style. But of course, Bogarde manages to convey the torment his character is experiencing, which the audience needs to see.

JL: One semi-flaw is the rather limited musical score, which starts out in a grand Max Steiner-ish sweep in the early scenes but then mostly disappears from the soundtrack except in little doses. Then again, that probably makes it ahead of its time since most modern day films and TV shows are much more limited in their music, focusing like this one on dialogue and sound effects more in order to better represent everyday life.

TB: It’s probably because they had a limited budget, or a compressed post-production schedule and needed to deliver the film to exhibitors on time. The background music is indeed rather sparse. I was trying to think if there was much background music in Hitchcock’s LIFEBOAT, which this film sort of reminds me of, to some extent.

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JL: Muir Mathieson conducts compositions by Malcolm Arnold for the London Philharmonic here; Mathieson being one of the British cinema’s hardest workers in both features and shorts during the forties and fifties and would also work on ABOVE US THE WAVES. That one is much more “slushy” in comparison and actually works a bit better for me in drawing an emotional connection with the characters.

There is one very effective scene worth mentioning here: the dinghy narrowly bypasses a Nazi sea mine (ball-like bomb) floating in the water as Kirby ominously states “Well…if anybody wants to pick us up now, they will have plenty of fun” and this is where the music comes out of nowhere to emphasize the importance of their dangerous situation.

TB: As I said the use of music is sparse, but is still included, where absolutely necessary.

JL: Since there are only a few suspenseful scenes and one distantly shot battle in the finale, I wonder if this would have worked better as a docu-drama “reenacting a true case” than as a fictionalized war flick, expected by viewers to be more action-packed. Regardless, the cast and director Lewis Gilbert handle the material with great professionalism even if we hear plenty of  “Are you alright?” and “We did it! We bloody well did it!” I do enjoy seeing these characters succeed through their struggles.

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TB: I’m glad you enjoyed the film. I should tell our readers that we had a series of private messages about this picture, after I had rewatched it. Mainly because I wasn’t sure it was dramatically exciting enough to be touted as an Essential. But fortunately, Jlewis convinced me that it is worthwhile and should still be covered here.

JL: Overall I disagree with some comments on that it is “dull” although I do agree that the somewhat modest scale of its production involves a few too many rear projection shots, mostly in the scenes with the four adrift, that seem out of place with the more realistic (possibly culled) footage of the military in action. Obviously those raised strictly in the post-1990s cgi special effects era would find this oldie a bit too prehistoric for their tastes.

Trivial note for a final scene: the nickname for cigarettes in British lingo is now considered an offensive term for gay men.

TB: I was wondering if you were going to mention that! It’s definitely not included in the film for dramatic irony, given Bogarde’s real-life sexuality. It’s an inoffensive British slang for cigarettes that is still used today. Recently, I watched an episode of the British soap EastEnders where a female chain smoking character asked someone for a f*g, and the American viewer in me did a double take until I realized that the context of that word in the U.K. is different than it is here.