The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Sunday, January 04, 2009
FOR ORSON WELLES WHO IN THE FIFTIES: In which we continue our tour of the best movies made in the years that end with "8." So far we've visited
1998, 1988, 1978, and 1968. Onward to the Eisenhower era.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1958, it gave its Best Picture award to Gigi, a mediocre musical that even Maurice Chevalier couldn't save. In fact -- and I say this in sorrow, as a confirmed Chevalier fan -- he wasn't very good in it himself. Maybe if they'd cast Harpo Marx hiding a phonograph under his coat instead...

1. Touch of Evil
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Welles, from a novel by Whit Masterson

"A policeman's job is only easy in a police state."

2. Vertigo
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Samuel Taylor and Alec Coppel, from a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

I'm not exactly in the minority here. Half a century after the fact, most critics are going to pick either this or Touch of Evil as the best American movie of 1958. So I'd just like to take this opportunity to remind you again that the Oscar went to Gigi.

3. Ivan the Terrible, Part 2
Written and directed by Sergei Eisenstein

Completed in 1946, but suppressed by Stalinist censorship until the Khrushchev thaw.

4. Mon Oncle
Directed by Jacques Tati
Written by Tati, Jacques Lagrange, and Jean L'Hote

Slapstick vs. technocracy.

5. Man of the West
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Reginald Rose, from a novel by Will C. Brown

The last entry in Mann's series of layered, psychologically complex westerns.

6. Night of the Demon
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Charles Bennett and Hal E. Chester, from a story by Montague R. James

The American cut is called Curse of the Demon. Watch the British edition if you can -- both versions were damaged by the oafish interference of producer Hal E. Chester, but the American one was mangled more.

7. Ashes and Diamonds
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Written by Jerzy Andrzejewski, from his novel

Another product of the Khrushchev thaw, or more precisely the Gomulka thaw, which is what you get when you combine Khrushchevism from above with labor unrest from below. The film's ambiguous attitude towards the Communists is handled delicately -- unlike Hal E. Chester, the East Bloc authorities could mangle much more than a mere movie -- but there's little doubt about where the Polish audience's sympathies lay.

8. The Magician
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Bergman, from a play by G.K. Chesterton

A playful mixture of horror and humor, with some crafty things to say about illusion's relationship to truth.

9. The Big "O"
Directed by Carmen D'Avino

Variations on the 15th letter.

10. A Movie
Directed by Bruce Conner

The lost bridge between Joseph Cornell and YouTube Poop.

N.B.: Night of the Demon technically debuted in 1957, though it didn't make it to America til '58. I included it anyway for the usual reason: I didn't realize its actual year of release when I compiled my '57 list last year, and I'd hate to ignore the picture entirely. If I were forced to exclude it, I'd fill out this top 10 with Claude Chabrol's Le Beau Serge.

posted by Jesse 5:01 PM
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