ARTICLES

CLYDE GILMOUR picks the best and worst movies of 1959

In a year when “mature” films were often anything but, Room at the Top was tops for its mature and honest treatment of human relationships

January 2 1960
ARTICLES

CLYDE GILMOUR picks the best and worst movies of 1959

In a year when “mature” films were often anything but, Room at the Top was tops for its mature and honest treatment of human relationships

January 2 1960

In a year when “mature” films were often anything but, Room at the Top was tops for its mature and honest treatment of human relationships

These were the ten worst movies of the year

1 GIRLS TOWN  was the worst

2 MY WORLD DIES SCREAMING 

3 SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR 

4 WOMAN OBSESSED 

5 TREAD SOFTLY STRANGER

6 HERCULES 

7 FIVE GATES TO HELL 

8 RETURN OF THE FLY 

9 CARRY ON NURSE 

10 WHIRLPOOL

These were the ten best movies of the year

1 ROOM AT THE TOP

2 THE NUN'S STORY

3 ANATOMY OF A MURDER

4 PILLOW TALK

5 NORTH BY NORTHWEST

6 THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE

7 ON THE BEACH

8 THE LAST ANGRY MAN

9 A HOLE IN THE HEAD

10 MURDER BY CONTRACT

Movie-makers on both sides of the Atlantic were striving—or pretended to be striving—for greater “maturity” in 1959. Some even made conspicuous progress toward it. But “maturity,” like “sincerity,” is a word with a built-in gimmick for slick showmen who will embrace any virtue likely to yield a fast buck at the box office.

There were a few praiseworthy exceptions but most of the new movies purportedly for grownups seemed to be rooted in the belief that an “adult” in our society is really interested only in adultery. Teenaged promiscuity was also an ultrafamiliar theme. Beady-eyed commercialism appeared to be the dominant creative impulse in these sex-operas, although in some cases this was glossed over by fake piety (as in Girls Town) or by a perfunctory attempt to blame Mom and Dad for all the emotional excesses of their children (as in Blue Denim and A Summer Place).

Television continued to weaken the movie box office. But the smash-hit films, good and bad alike, did better business than ever; the routine assembly-line picture, once the bread and butter of the industry, was becoming harder and harder to sell.

Room at the Top, a British production banned in Saskatchewan, treated sex and several other universal human relationships with a power and honesty far removed from the sleazy hypocrisy of the gimmick-shows. After seeing it three times I have no hesitation in nominating it as the best movie of 1959. (Hollywood's mammoth remake of Ben-Hur was released too late for consideration in this annual roundup.)

One of the most truly “adult” films to come out of the United Kingdom in years, Room at the Top was based on the novel by John Braine, adapted for the screen with skill and devotion by Neil Paterson. The story tells of a devious and ambitious young Yorkshireman (Laurence Harvey) whose all-consuming passion in life is to escape forever from the poverty and degradation he suffered in the industrial slums of his childhood. He finally attains financial security in a joyless marriage with the town tycoon’s vapid little daughter (Heather Sears).

There were many fine things in Room at the Top, including the exciting emergence of Jack Clayton as one of the most subtle and resourceful directors in the profession. Finest of all, in my opinion, was the work of actress Simone Signoret as an unhappily married Frenchwoman who becomes tragically involved with the hero-heel on his ruthless climb to “the Top.”

Hollywood’s The Nun’s Story, No. 2 on my “best” list, grappled honorably with religious perplexity, one of the “adult” but non-sexy subjects now gradually opening up to the movie makers after decades of stress on the formulas of escapism. Audrey Hepburn, shedding at last the startled fawn mannerisms which had become her trademark, vividly portrayed a forceful Belgian girl who tries with all her might to accept the selfless discipline of the convent.

Stanley Kramer’s production of On the Beach, based on the Nevil Shute novel, struck me as being curiously small-scaled in its handling of the story. But the haunting “fallout” of the drama lingers deeply in the mind, and Kramer in my catalogue was the producer of the year for daring to make a movie about the atomic destruction of the human race—and to release it a few days before Christmas. Fred Astaire did well in a non-dancing, non-singing role as a rueful nuclear scientist.

My choice as the top performance by an actor is Paul Muni’s richly detailed characterization of the tough-minded old Brooklyn physician in The Last Angry Man; and the film itself, though flawed in spots, rates inclusion among the ten best.

The Wreck of the Mary Deare, a late arrival, is a suspenseful mystery-at-sea yarn, superbly photographed and tightly edited, with seasoned performances by Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston as skippers enmeshed in a maritime scandal.

Alfred Hitchcock’s latest, North by Northwest, is the most satisfactory film he has made in years. Its ingenious and witty script by Ernest Lehman was one of the handful of notable “originals” at a time when adaptations from “pre-sold” successes were all the rage in Hollywood.

As usual, choosing the worst of the ten worst was no easy task, but on reflection Girls Town became an invincible candidate. It’s a cheap, distasteful sex-and-crime melodrama starring Mamie Van Doren as a Bad Girl who implausibly “mellows” in a reformatory run by nuns.

GILMOUR’S RATINGS OF OTHER STARS AND SHOWS 

BEST ACTOR: Paul Muni in The Last Angry Man.

BEST ACTRESS: Simone Signoret in Room at the Top.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Fred Astaire in On the Beach.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Dame Edith Evans in Look Back in Anger

BEST DIRECTOR: Jack Clayton for Room at the Top.

BEST PRODUCER: Stanley Kramer for On the Beach.

B E ST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: North by Northwest, by Ernest Lehman. 

BEST ADAPTATION: Room at the Top, by Neil Paterson, from the novel by John Braine.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A JUVENILE: Hayley Mills in Tiger Bay

MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER: Horst Buchholz in Tiger Bay. (He is a young veteran of the European screen but this was his first English-speaking role.) 

SHAPELIEST LEGS: Shirley MacLaine's in Ask Any Girl.

LIVELIEST FIGHT SCENE: Frontiersman Clint Walker versus the rowdy soldiers in Yellowstone Kelly.

MOST IMPROVED ACTOR: Rock Hudson, who disclosed unsuspected gifts as a light comedian in Pillow Talk.

BEST SHORT SUBJECT: The Golden Fish.

BEST COLOR PHOTOGRAPHY: Third Man on the Mountain, by Harry Waxman (camera chief) and Georges Tairraz (mountain-unit photographer).

BEST BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY: Operation Amsterdam, by Reginald Wyer.

BEST FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY: Power Among Men.

MOST INTERESTING VILLAIN: Martin Landau as Leonard, master-spy James Mason’s slender and deadly assistant in North by Northwest.

These performances rated big fat zeroes

WORST ACTOR: Steve Reeves, as Hercules.

WORST ACTRESS: Susan Hayward in Woman Obsessed.

These fourteen films were also among his favorites

The Bridal Path 

But Not for Me 

Compulsion

The Five Pennies 

It Happened to Jane 

The Man Upstairs 

The Mouse That Roared

Operation Amsterdam 

Porgy and Bess 

Pork Chop Hill 

Rio Bravo 

They Came to Cordura 

Warlock 

The Wonderful Country

Here are movie moments Gilmour enjoyed in 1959

Ernie Kovacs as the nasty-but-lovable tycoon in It Happened to Jane . . . Joseph Schildkraut as Anne’s saintly but unsanctimonious father in The Diary of Anne Frank . . . Audrey Hepburn as the sorely perplexed heroine of The Nun’s Story, and Peter Finch as the skeptical but friendly doctor she encounters in the Congo . . . Billie Burke as the rich, wacky old lady in The Young Philadelphians . . . Edward G. Robinson as playboy Frank Sinatra’s dyspeptic older brother from Brooklyn in A Hole in the Head . . . Sir Laurence Olivier as the suave and mocking British general in The Devil’s Disciple . . . Sammy Davis Jr. as the Satanic Sportin’ Life in Porgv and Bess . . . Joseph N. Welch, famed American lawyer, in his acting debut as the judge in Anatomy of a Murder . . . Tony Randall as the mildly neurotic millionaire in Pillow Talk . . . the late Paul Douglas as the amiable hillbilly papa in The Mating Game . . . Thorley Walters as the bumbling English colonel in Carlton-Browne of the F. O. . . .Janet Munro as Katie O’Gill in Darby O’Gill and the Little People . . . James Stewart as the jazz-loving defense counsel in Anatomy of a Murder, and George C. Scott as his sardonic legal opponent . . . Danny Kaye as Red Nichols in The Five Pennies . . . Orson Welles as the massive defense lawyer in Compulsion, and Bradford Diliman and Dean Stockwell as the youthful thrill-killers . . . Dean Martin as the ex-drunkard gun-fighter who helps Sheriff John Wayne in Rio Bravo . . . Robert Mitchum as the American-born, Mexican-raised professional gunman in The Wonderful Country . . . Jack Warden as the shrewd GI who knows how to handle civilians in That Kind of Woman . . . Martin Balsam as the henpecked young husband, who finally rebels, in Middle of the Night . . . David Wayne as the TV producer in The Last Angry Man . . . Debbie Reynolds as the amorous farm wench in The Mating Game and as Sgt. Glenn Ford’s flighty bride in It Started With a Kiss.