Drive a Crooked Road
I'm not making any great claims for this noir-ish drama, but I think it's surprisingly good. I almost deleted it without watching it, and I'm glad I didn't. It stars Mickey Rooney as a mechanic who drives race cars on weekends. There isn't much in his life apart from cars; he lives alone in a rented room, and is a bit of a misfit at work, with little or no experience with women. A couple of crooks decide he's the driver they need for a bank robbery they're planning, and convince the girlfriend of one of them to lure him into the job. He falls for her, she begins to regret the deception. It's a genuinely affecting story, and Mickey Rooney does a really fine job. The beauty is played by Dianne Foster, of whom I hadn't heard before, and she is indeed a beauty, and also a good actress.
Part way through this one I found words like "masterpiece" running through my mind. In the end I don't think superlatives of that order are justified, but it's still very good, and something anyone who likes Alec Guinness really should see. He plays a double role, sort of a nice guy and his evil twin. AG1 is John Barratt, an umarried teacher of French at "a provincial university" in England. On holiday in France he encounters AG2, Jacques De Gué, a wealthy Frenchman and a scoundrel. De Gué substitutes Barratt for himself, planning to exploit the fact that there are now two of him to commit a crime. Barratt suddenly finds himself in possession of great wealth, a chateau, a wife, a child, and a mistress.
It's a bit of a struggle to ignore the huge implausibility of this, but if you can manage it you get a fascinating hour or so of Barratt trying to accept the situation, and then to remedy what he begins to realize is his double's mistreatment of everyone around him. What prevents the movie from attaining that "great" status I was considering for it is that it fails to develop some of the more interesting aspects of Barratt's situation--for instance, the religious elements that appear briefly--and it ends too abruptly. In general I don't think it explores the situation as fully or deeply as it might. But, like I said, still very much worth seeing. The black-and-white cinematography is excellent. Guinness of course is superb, especially as Barratt, and it's interesting that he's less convincing as the scoundrel; I think that says something about the man himself.
I'm curious now about the Daphne du Maurier novel on which it's based; according to some of the reviews at TCM, it's considerably more complex.
The billing given to Bette Davis in the poster is misleading. Her role is relatively small, though memorable: if you're a Downton Abbey watcher, imagine the dowager countess as genuinely corrupt and malicious.
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
When I saw that this one was two-and-a-half hours long I considered deleting it without watching it. I tend to be impatient with the sort of drama of the mundane that it promised to be, unless it's done with the greatest skill and preferably somehow bringing in themes that transcend the psychological or social. But I decided to try it anyway, and I'm glad I did.
I suppose most people around my age have heard of the novel on which this movie is based. I've never read it, but I have a vague idea that it exposed the frustrated conformity of the middle class or something. The protagonist does have to deal with the question of whether to tell his boss a possibly unwelcome truth or to flatter him--whether to be a yes-man or not--but that wasn't what made the movie interesting to me. More so is his basic situation: he's a World War II combat veteran facing the challenges of workaday domestic life, including a wife who thinks he's cowardly for not being more aggressive in pursuit of a better job and more money.
It's a little stiff, and not terribly subtle, and not without cliches, at least as viewed from the vantage point of 50 years of criticism of the middle class, but it's better than its limitations, I suppose because the major characters themselves are pretty convincing. How it compares to the novel in those and other respects I can't say.
One minor thing that intrigued me was that already in 1955 the absorption of children in television programs was seen as a problem.
Also, it's hard to imagine a 33-year-old today being as mature as the protagonist (but then Gregory Peck was 40 when the film was made).