Photoplay reviews the films of winter ’58/’59

This post is a part of TMP’s Historical Context series, in which I share excerpts from my collection of vintage magazines.

As every issue did, the January 1959 edition of Photoplay included reviews of the latest film releases. What would a movie mag be without its reviews, after all?

Promotional shot for Bell, Book and Candle (Image via Doctor Macro)
Kim Novak and a feline friend in a promotional shot for ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ (Image via Doctor Macro)

“Get more out of life – go out to a movie,” Photoplay urges readers. “What’s on tonight? You’ve got to go out to see the best! Look for these new pictures at your favorite theater.”

Bell, Book and Candle – “Good”

While Photoplay acknowledges that some parts of this film are hilarious, the reviewer maintains that the stage production was better, and that the story “loses most of its allure on film, because the tone wavers unhappily between comedy and some drama.” Jimmy Stewart’s performance is described as “blue-ribbon,” but Photoplay doesn’t feel that Kim Novak was a good choice for her role.

Home Before Dark – “Excellent”

This film is described as “subdued and believable,” with Jean Simmons’ best performance in a decade. The supporting cast is also praised: “Rhonda Fleming does well as the stepsister and Dan O’Herlihy is excellent as Jean’s stuffed-shirt husband. As an admirer, Efrem Zimbalist scored solidly.”

The Inn of Sixth Happiness – “Excellent”

Photoplay calls this film “a vivid dramatic experience and an inspiring testament to faith.” The magazine also praises Ingrid Bergman’s performance, saying that she’s “at the peak of her great power as an actress” and that her performance “is the crowning glory of the year’s most moving and memorable screen achievement.”

I Want to Live! – “Excellent”

Susan Hayward for I Want to Live! (Image via Doctor Macro)
Susan Hayward for ‘I Want to Live!’ (Image via Doctor Macro)

This film’s story, the life of Barbara Graham, is described as “violent, sordid and shocking.” After all, the film does follow “the real life saga of a San Francisco harlot convicted of murder.” Though fuzzy in logic and “vague” (possibly due to censorship), Photoplay praises the power of the film’s story. The editing (by Robert Wise) is also celebrated, as is Susan Hayward’s lead performance, which “will stay with you long after you’ve left the theater.”

The Last Hurrah – “Good”

Photoplay praises this adaptation’s faithful attention to detail when adapting Edwin O’Connor’s “rousing and hilarious” novel. However, the reviewer takes issue with the fact that the film only feels “sporadically alive” and that the story loses its punch on-screen.

My Uncle, Mr. Hulot – “Excellent”

This film is the sequel to Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, and Photoplay thinks that the follow-up is even better than the first. Equal parts “hilarious satire on modern architecture” and screwball comedy with “an uncanny eye and ear for the quirks in human nature.”

Party Girl – “Good”

Party Girl‘s plot may be too formulaic and familiar according to Photoplay, but they do see merit in the film’s “lush” visual elements. The performances are described as unspectacular, with Robert Taylor acting “with his usual competence” and Cyd Charisse only worth watching for her “two torrid dance numbers that are genuine eye-poppers.”

The Restless Years – “Very Good”

Photoplay‘s synopsis of this film makes it sound quite over-dramatic, with lots of characters who all hate each other for different reasons. The mag’s reviewer seems to feel lukewarm about this one, even though they rated it very good. “At least, these teenagers are neither giddy nor delinquent — and that’s refreshing,” the reviewer writes.

Poster for 'The Roots of Heaven' (Image via Doctor Macro)
Poster for ‘The Roots of Heaven’ (Image via Doctor Macro)

The Roots of Heaven – “Good”

“The year’s most exasperating film” may be a description that makes this one sound great, but Photoplay criticizes the film for “jumping all over the place” and not developing its ideas wholly enough. Good ideas are there, and the film covers topics “that most films wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole,” but in trying to say too much the film doesn’t say enough according to this reviewer.

Separate Tables – “Excellent”

Photoplay‘s reviewer found this film to be very well-adapted from stage to screen. The film is described as “continuously absorbing,” with a stellar performance by Deborah Kerr. “Since her American debut eleven years ago, Miss Kerr has had a few chances to really act. To those still unaware of her true worth, it will be a revelation. […] Magnificent is not a word to be used lightly; on Miss Kerr it fits like a glove.”

Torpedo Run – “Good”

This film is described by the viewer as “protracted but interesting,” moving slowly “from one crisis to another, until the grand slam finale.”

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