Art Vs Commerce: Musicals, Bible Stories, and Bad Choices (1950s)


Well that was a brief respite. 1954 made good choices I could respect, and 1955… well… we don’t open with a bad choice, just a weird one.

And The Oscar Goes To…

Okay! I’ve been wanting to see this one, the story of Jimmy Stewart and his best pal the imaginary rabbit– what’s that? This isn’t– five years earlier? Harvey. Right. Yes. Now that I see that written down of course it’s Harvey and was always Harvey, I have no explanation why I’ve spent the last month thinking it was Marty.

I envy 1950s audiences for having two years to shake off Ernest Borgnine’s very effectively unpleasant performance as Sgt. Judson in From Here To Eternity. I had two days. Honestly though, the only trick to adjusting from one role to the other is that Sgt. Judson hated Italians enough to murder a fellow soldier and Marty is so deeply Italian that his mother gives him grief for not dating Italians.

Marty is a quiet, simple character study of Marty and Clara, two lonely people dealing with years of rejections who find each other on one random Saturday night and have a wonderful evening, only for everyone who’s been badgering Marty to get a girl suddenly feel threatened when he has one and try to talk him out of it so the story has conflict. It’s sweet and the script from Patty Chayefsky moves along, but… Best Picture? I mean we have quiet character studies that get Best Picture nominations now (Michael Clayton, Manchester By The Sea, The Phantom Thread), but they don’t win. Maybe they get an acting trophy like Borgnine did here, but not the big prize.

Plus this one shows that Hollywood flaw that of course existed in the 50s but also never went away. Look at that poster. Emily Blair, who played lovelorn Clara, is perfectly attractive, but is supposed to be as unable to find a dancing partner at the club as Marty, who self-identifies as “fat and ugly.” If a male character is supposed to be lonely and unattractive, he’s Shrek. If a woman is supposed to be lonely and unattractive, they muss up Amy Adams’ hair a little. It’s so pervasive that when arguing over the sexual prospects of Bustopher Jones from Cats… because it’s a plague year and we’re all a little crazy from cabin fever, don’t judge… I had to point out that in nearly every movie or TV show I’ve seen him in, James Corden pulls.

[Awkward cough]

Back to Marty, then.

I mean it’s fine, but… definitely more Grand Hotel than Casablanca, if you follow me. And it’s not like nothing else was happening in 1955, either.

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: In the top third at number 27, thanks mostly to Chayefsky, Borgnine, and Blair. I mean fine, I don’t really have complaints about this one, but feels high to me.

The Box Office Champ

Okay, so, the Academy wanted something quiet and simple this year, I bet the audiences went for something big and dramatic and–




Cinerama fucking Holiday? This is the box office champ of an entire year? 1955 was the year of James Dean in East of Eden, of Marilyn Monroe’s most iconic moment in The Seven Year Itch, and you, film history, are going to look me in the fucking eye and say audiences preferred Cinerama Holiday? A storyless travel documentary about a Swiss couple having a holiday in America while an American couple goes to Europe and oh look the screen is wide, that pulled in 10 million 1955 dollars? It’s like if in 2008, when Iron Man took on The Dark Knight, the top-grossing movie had been the London Eye 4-D Experience or the Soarin’ Around the World ride at Disney’s California Adventure.

No I didn’t fucking watch it. I couldn’t even get through the damned trailer.

The entire point of this movie’s existence was “Hey look how wide we can make a screen, here’s some POV shots of skiing,” it does not warrant being watched at home. People don’t rush to own the old IMAX nature documentaries on DVD, you probably can’t even find– this is on BLU-RAY!? They remastered this thing and sold it to people? And people said “Yes I want a copy of Cinerama Holiday in my house?”

God damn people make dumb choices sometimes, just the dumbest choices.

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: Nothing. Not one review. Because why would there be. You can’t dissect it, it has no content.

But Why Not…? Anything. Fucking anything. Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando did Guys and Dolls together, and in 2020 that feels like a weird sentence but in 1955 it was something you could just go and see but no you were busy at Cinerama Holiday, damn it 1950s what the hell, just what in the damn hell 1950s, throw a dart at a map and you’ll find a way to get there and be wrong about something

[Hold music]

Okay. I’m back, I’m calm, it’s fine.

I’d apologize to some biblical epics for being harsh on them earlier but I’ve looked ahead at the list and… no. Won’t be doing that.

Other Events in Film

  • I mentioned Seven Year Itch and East of Eden.
  • Two things from Disney in 1955: Lady and the Tramp made it to number six at the year’s box office, and the Empire of Joy’s capital completed, as Disneyland, the company’s true heart, opened its doors.
  • Oklahoma! was just ahead of Guys and Dolls at the box office.
  • The first movie to feature a rock and roll song, Blackboard Jungle, opened, and teens went nuts, dancing on their seats to… “Rock Around the Clock?” Really? Huh. Well… rock had to start somewhere.
  • The Motion Picture Association of America refused to give The Man With the Golden Arm a Production Code seal, as its frank examination of drug addiction didn’t pass the Hays Code (but alcoholism did in The Lost Weekend? Puritans, man, they make no sense). The studio, United Artists, left the MPAA and released it anyway. It was a moderate financial hit, critical darling, and scored three Oscar nominations, including Best Actor for Frank Sinatra, which increased questions about the point of the Hays Code. The Man With the Golden Arm didn’t kill the Hays Code, but it did knock some of its pretty teeth out.

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