By the early 1950s, movie studio executives realized that television was a real competitor and they needed to take action to bring audiences back into the movie theaters.
The Turner Classic Movies documentary series “Moguls and Movie Stars” includes an episode on the period from 1950 to 1960 titled, “The Attack of the Small Screens.” Cinerama, Cinemascope and 3D were among the innovations the studios tried, but the solution was big stories told on the big screen in powerful ways.
Several of those big stories hit the big screen between 1953 and 1957.
“From Here to Eternity,” 1953, directed by Fred Zinnemann.
“From Here to Eternity” is a prime example of powerful film-making in the mid-1950s.
This Oscar Best Picture winner draws from the deep well of memories and emotions tied to the days before and day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor as well as its immediate impact. It’s a story of romance, ill-fated affairs, ladies of the evening’s hopes for the future, the military life, the masculine lifestyle and occasional cruelty of the early 1940s, all drawn from the 850-page novel by James Jones.
And, of course, it leads to the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to as “a day that will live in infamy,” the day of the surprise attack (at least to most people) on Pearl Harbor.
This film includes one of Frank Sinatra’s finest performances and it’s a non-musical role for the legendary singer. Others in the outstanding cast include Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, a gorgeous Donna Reed and many others in relatively minor roles who would become much better known over the years.
The Oscar Best Picture honor was a great choice by the Academy. Other contenders included “Julius Caesar,” “The Robe” and “Shane.”
“On the Waterfront,” 1954, directed by Elia Kazan.
The strikingly powerful, Oscar-winning “On the Waterfront” featured Marlon Brando’s greatest performance in a career filled with outstanding acting.
This story is about a dock worker who believes he could have been a champion boxer, but now is subject to the whims of a mob-run union* with which his brother has strong ties. Now, he faces major moral decisions.
Brando’s character is pulled in different directions by people including union bosses (including his brother) who want him not to talk to Congressional investigators and by a Roman Catholic priest and a love interest who want him to testify at a hearing.
In addition to Brando, the great cast includes Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger.
This movie won eight Oscars.
Other contenders for the Best Picture award included “The Caine Mutiny,” “Country Girl” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
“Marty,” 1955, directed by Delbert Mann.
The Oscar-winning picture “Marty” was a nice, relatively small movie compared to the other four films that won that award between 1953 and 1957. The competition for the award wasn’t as strong as in some previous years.
The story was adapted for the big screen from a television play written by Paddy Chayefsky. It is a story about a Bronx, N.Y., butcher played by Ernest Borgnine who unexpectedly finds love. He escapes family squabbles and finds the strength to escape from what he believes is a meaningless existence.
Borgnine won the best actor Oscar for his sensitive performance. Also in the cast were Betsy Blair, Joe Mantell and Esther Manciotti.
Other contenders for the 1955 best picture Oscar included “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” “Mr. Roberts,” and “Picnic.”
Around the World in 80 Days, 1956, directed by Michael Anderson.
“Around the World in 80 days” is a rollicking, Oscar Best Picture winning adaptation of the Jules Verne novel. It’s a lot more fun than many Best Picture winners, even though some critics claim it has lost much of its charm over the years.
David Niven heads up the extraordinary cast that includes some new stars in major roles and several existing stars in cameo roles. The other stars in this film included Shirley MacLaine in another breakout role (after winning a Golden Globe award earlier for her part in The Trouble with Harry), the outstanding comic Cantinflas, and Robert Newton. The cameos included Buster Keaton, John Gielgud, Robert Morley, Marlene Dietrich and even Frank Sinatra.
Set in the 19th century, the story is about an Englishman’s bet that he could travel around the world in 80 days. The means of traveling around the world in this pre-airplane and pre-automobile era were by ships, trains, stage coaches, hot air balloon and even elephants.
If you get a chance to see this on the big screen or even a 4K Ultra HD or HD television, go for it..
Other contenders in 1956 included “Giant,” “The King and I” and “The Ten Commandments.”
“The Bridge on the River Kwai,” 1957, directed by David Lean.
I confess “The Bridge on the River Kwai” is one of my all-time favorite films, at least in my top 50. I like it so much that when I saw it was available on 4k Ultra HD, I ordered it.
It is a big screen extravaganza with big messages about the madness of war. Toward the end of the movie, a doctor calls what has happened “madness.” Directed by David Lean, one of the all-time great directors, his “Lawrence of Arabia,” which won another best picture Oscar in 1962, also showed a major character’s descent into madness. More about that in a future post.
The madness here is not just the Japanese forcing British prisoners of war to build a bridge, but a British colonel played by Alec Guinness who persuades the Japanese to let the British control the building of the bridge. The colonel believes that activity will keep up morale for his fellow British soldiers, whom had been ordered to surrender by the British hierarchy.
In the meantime, a former American prisoner of war (played powerfully by William Holden) who had escaped the inescapable island is recruited to join a British team that intends to blow up the bridge.
By the way, there is a great deal of similarity between the POW camp commanders’ warning/welcome to the new POWs in Bridge and the Klingon commander’s warning to Capt. James T. Kirk and Dr. Leonard McCoy in “The Undiscovered Country” when they arrive as prisoners on an icy planet that is known as being an alien graveyard. What the Japanese commander first warns and decades later the Klingon warns is that there are no guard towers because there is no need for them. If you check out the two scenes, you will be struck by the similarities.
In addition to Holden and Guinness, the outstanding cast included Jack Hawkins (no known relation), Sessue Hayakawa, James Donald and Geoffrey Home.
The other contenders included (who didn’t really have much of a chance against Bridge) Peyton Place, Sayonara, Twelve Angry Men and Witness for the Prosecution.
*A personal note: this writer believes unions have done much more good than harm, even though that doesn’t apply to all unions. The writer and his family members have benefited from what his father earned because of his union.
Chase Masterson will be one of the guests at Starbase Indy this weekend in part because this is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and one of her characters eventually became the first lady of the Ferengi Alliance. She also will be bringing her social consciousness.
Masterson’s career has been about more than Star Trek including being the current star of a Big Finish, Doctor Who-related audio series, a jazz singing career and her Pop Culture Hero Coalition, which is working to end bullying. She’s also an author, a producer and has sung on USO tours for the Navy and the Marine Corps. She is a former Indiana resident.
According to IMDB, Masterson appeared as Leeta in 17 episodes of “Star Trek: Deep Space 9,” which ran for seven seasons. The new ”Star Trek Encyclopedia” describes that character as beginning as a Bajoran dabo (game of chance) girl in a bar on Deep Space 9 before eventually becoming the first lady of the Ferengi Alliance.
In addition to Masterson, actors who’ve been involved with Star Trek the Original Series, Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek Enterprise are scheduled to be among the guests at the three-day event, which begins Friday.
Masterson has been described as one of “the hot leading ladies” in 2008 by a film magazine, one of the world’s “50 sexiest women” by Femme Fatales magazine, the “Number 1 Favorite Science Fiction Actress on Television” in a TV Guide online poll, one of the “Top 50 People to Watch in Hollywood” by Sci-Fi Universe Magazine and the “Best Feature Film Producer” by the LA Femme Film Festival.
Masterson says the descriptions don’t bother her.
“I just see those things as a tool to do the work I want to do on-screen or off,” she said in an interview. “The word sexy is a pretty meaningless word.
“What’s really important is what’s on the inside and the heart of the work we do in the short time we’re on this planet. If people say those things and it helps me get another great project off the ground for charity or entertainment, that’s fine with me.”
Masterson founded the Pop Culture Hero Coalition “to take a stand against bullying, racism, misogyny, LGBT bullying, cyber bullying and other forms of hate using pop culture in film and television,” she said. “We make parallels between on-screen heroes and heroes in real life.
“Our motto is, ‘We love super heroes, why not be one.’ We are currently creating an incredible curriculum for schools and we also work in common cause and communities.”
Masterson said she’s seen so much oppression and wanted to do something about using the tremendous power of popular culture fandom.
“It’s really a phenomenon,” she said. “I want to harness that energy for doing good, that’s what the stories are about.”
Masterson’s charitable work also has involved the United Nations, hospice organizations, and the World Health Organization.
The philosophy Masterson espouses is reflected in her feelings about Star Trek.
“I think that Star Trek has a really, really neat message,” she said. “The whole infinite diversity in infinite combinations is something that’s very attractive to all of us. And it’s something that I wish the world would grasp onto as beautifully as the Star Trek fans have. …
”The fans are mostly lovely, truly some of the loveliest people I’ve met. Occasionally there have been ones that crossed the line, but I never let that stop me from being genuine with everyone I meet. …I think Star Trek attracts really lovely people because of what Star Trek’s message is, the message of the show. “
Unfortunately, she said, with this year’s election, there have been many negative actions, contrary to that spirit.
“White supremacy is once again rearing its ugly head and growing in both numbers and in the press,” Masterson said. “There has been a rise in hate crimes to African-Americans and Muslims and the LGBTQ communities and other people since the election by those who feel empowered by (president-elect Donald) Trump. …
“I think they’ve been empowered by his hate speech. …. We have to come to our senses as a country and see that this is not what America was born to be. We were born to be a place of diversity and inclusivity.”
The lack of empathy that not just white supremacists, but everyday people employ in everyday racism and in everyday bias is “disgusting and it’s unChristian, it’s unJesus like, and it’s really embarrassing that our country is being seen this way,” Masterson said.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s future tenant of infinite diversity in infinite combinations is the way the world is supposed to be.
In some ways, Masterson’s Deep Space 9 character reflected her passion about issues related to racism, misogyny and bullying. Her character married a person, Rom, from another world and that led to her becoming the first lady of the Ferengi Federation. Max Grodenchik, a previous guest at Starbase Indy, played Rom.
“He was really so truly lovely as Rom and made me fall in love with him, he was so gentle and sensitive,” Masterson said. “I just appreciated all of that in him as an actor and as a character. …
“I had such a great time working with this extremely talented cast, but the memories that are the ones I cherish the most are ones that happened off-screen. Many times, I’ve had someone who served in the military, particularly oversees, come up to say how much the show meant to them while they were in the service and for those in the Gulf War it was a little piece of home and it reminded them of what they were striving for, which was peace.”
Deep Space Nine has been underrated, she said.
“I don’t think Deep Space 9 gets the respect it deserves,” Masterson said. “It was the Number 1 syndicated show in the world when we went off the air and yet it is seen as the little, runt brother of Star Trek.
“It was difficult for us, not having been the mainstream show that Next Generation was, frankly we feel the stories and characters deserved. A lot of people feel Deep Space 9 was their favorite over any of the other Star Trek.
Chase Masterson’s acting career also led her into “Vienna,” a Doctor Who spinoff. audio series. She had previously worked on audio projects with former Doctors Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy.
Vienna is going into Season 4. Vienna is “an intergalactic mercenary assassin with a heart of gold who always lands on the side of good,” Masterson said. “If I’m hired by a bad guy I will turn that around on him and make it his own undoing.”