Every month, A Place for Film brings you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series reflects the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema and demonstrates the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Every cinephile has their blindspots. One of mine is American science fiction movies from the 1950s. Eager to remedy this, I decided to watch Creature from the Black Lagoon, which also fits into the “monster movie” subgenre, which I have adored since I was a kid. I found it to be a well-designed movie which contains a conflict that is perhaps even more relevant today than it was when this movie first came out.
Creature from the Black Lagoon follows a crew of scientists as they journey down the Amazon River, prompted by the discovery of a fossil from a creature that is a link between land and sea animals. They eventually find a live version of this creature, which seems to have existed since the Devonian period and might be the last of its kind. Two of the scientists, David Reed and Mark Williams, argue about how to deal with The Creature as it becomes attracted to David’s colleague/girlfriend Kay Lawrence.
This movie has good production value. The design for The Creature (done by an uncredited Disney animator named Milicent Patrick, the subject of a recent biography) is incredible and fascinating — if they put the costume for The Creature in a museum I would spend a happy hour examining it. The score by Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, and Herman Stein features booming music that makes the action sequences more exciting. But perhaps my favorite technical aspect of this film is the underwater sequences — directed by James Curtis Havens — which capture the mixture of strangeness and beauty that is this film’s greatest strength.
While this movie is mostly known for being entertaining — perhaps because of its status as a seemingly “lowbrow” monster movie — it does contain relevant social commentary. Reed argues that they should study The Creature and be careful in its habitat, while Williams passionately desires to kill it and bring it back to civilization, no matter the cost. This mirrors two approaches human beings can take to our own environment: we can conserve it with scientific professionalism, or use it to gratify our emotional urges. Watching this primal conflict between two approaches for how to deal with the world around us is especially poignant at a time of increasing environmental devastation. At the same time, this film contains the type of idealistic optimism endemic to 1950s science fiction — part of why the film’s scientists pursue their research is to aid future efforts to support life on other planets — that is needed now more than ever, at a time when we need to confront the climate crisis head-on to leave a habitable world for our descendants.
If you’re expecting the typical thrills of a 1950s American science fiction/monster movie, you’ll find them in Creature from the Black Lagoon. But you’ll also find excellent technical elements (creature design, score) as well as increasingly relevant socio-political commentary. At the end of its 79-minute running time, you’ll be glad that you took a trip to the Black Lagoon.
Jack Miller, contributor | My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
Early this month, I spent some time going through films featured on the “Columbia Noir” sidebar of the Criterion Channel. One of the little gems that I encountered there was Joseph H. Lewis’s tidy, 65-minute gothic thriller My Name Is Julia Ross, which Will Sloan describes as “a silver bullet of a B-movie.” This underrated item stars Nina Foch as a down-on-her-luck Londoner who applies for a job position as a live-in housekeeper to a wealthy family, only to be drugged by them on the first night and taken to the coast of Cornwall. Julia wakes up the next morning in the bedroom and clothing of the rich family’s deceased wife, and the family members proceed to gaslight her by trying to convince her that she’s mentally ill.
Like the film I wrote about last month, Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964), My Name Is Julia Ross may be seen as a kind of “women’s picture noir” — pulpy material that nevertheless displays a great deal of empathy toward its female protagonist. Broadly speaking, the film belongs to a special group of ’40s Hollywood films (among them Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Cukor’s Gaslight) that detail young women being entrapped or lied to. The themes dealt with here remain prescient to this day, and the amount of entertaining plot twists that Lewis is able to squeeze into the movie’s brief running time is a testament to the high levels of artistry that Hollywood was putting into even its cheaper productions during the period.
Michaela Owens, Editor | One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) and The Lovebirds (2020)
Like so many others during this pandemic, I’ve found myself turning to beloved films for comfort lately, including one of my favorite Disney features, One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Oddly enough, although I definitely saw this film as a kid, I didn’t fall in love with it until I revisited it about five years ago and thought, “Oh my god. Was this film always this cool?” The animation takes my breath away, with its cluttered spaces, messy coloring, and detail after clever detail. The world that is created is so vivid and lived-in, and each character, no matter how minor, has their own personality. There is a coziness and a warmth to this film that envelops me every time I watch it, which is kind of weird when you consider that its main plot involves adorable puppies being kidnapped so a crazy woman can make them into a coat… But that’s Disney for you. Also, I will never get over the fact that Rod Taylor is the voice of Pongo.
Although I’ve been sticking to more familiar films this month, I was thrilled to finally see Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae’s new comedy, The Lovebirds, which came out on Netflix last Friday after its April theatrical release had been nixed. Nanjiani and Rae are a couple on the cusp of breaking up when they suddenly become unwitting accessories to a murder. Thinking they have no other choice but to go on the run and solve the case to clear their names, they’re able to figure out where their relationship went wrong and find their way back to each other. While The Lovebirds‘s premise is centered around a murder mystery, that part is actually (intentionally?) weak. I didn’t care what answers they found, to be honest — I was too busy swooning over Nanjiani and Rae’s incredible chemistry and investing in their characters’ romantic troubles. That’s the thing about this film: it is much more a rom-com than it is a mystery or an action comedy. Some may find this disappointing, but Rae and Nanjiani are so dazzling here, and their jokes are so deeply funny, I never minded. This is exactly the kind of content I want to indulge in right now.
Warning: this trailer has adult language.