Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Lee Marvin Week (Day 4)

(The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962) The last of the John Ford 1001 film entries

This is the West. When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend.

Education is the basis of law and order.

John Ford has certainly done his share of building the legend of the West in his films, so it’s interesting that he seems to want to show the man behind the curtain in his final great Western. (Hint: It’s not the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, it’s actually John Wayne). This film reminds me a bit of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven as a Western myth buster. I’m just glad our civilization has evolved to destroying people’s lives with law books and red tape instead of six-shooters. Note: I’m not sure if I’m being sarcastic or not.

All that aside, I think the film holds up quite it holds well.

Jimmy Stewart is perfect in his role as a man who’d rather wave a law book than a gun (He’s really too old for his role, but I’m not complaining). John Wayne usually plays John Wayne and luckily his role of Tom Donavan calls for…John Wayne (Also too old, and I’m still not complaining) And I’d put the supporting cast of this film up against most any other: Andy Devine (as the wonderfully bumbling lawman), Edmond O’Brien, Lee Van Cleef, Strother Martin, Woody Strode, John Carradine, Denver Pyle and Vera Miles.

Seems like I’m forgetting someone. Oh, yeah. That would be Lee Marvin who plays Liberty Valance.

Liberty Valance is a psychopath. Just the name puts fear in the eyes of all who here it. He uses his whip on Jimmy Stewart during a holdup. (If you beat on Jimmy Stewart, you got to be a hell of a bad guy!) There is also a memorable scene when Lee and his gang destroy a newspaper office and nearly kill newspaperman Edmond O’Brien.

You could see why Marvin was cast as nasty villains because he’s so damn good at it! In fact, he’s so good in these type of roles that it’s somewhat surprising that he ever got cast in later lead roles. (Even his later good guys weren’t completely good.) Out of all the prominent cast members that I’ve mentioned above, Lee Marvin is the one you’ll probably most remember from this movie and certainly the one you’ll least like to see in your nightmares.

Quotable Lee Marvin

“Stand and deliver!”

“Why don’t you get yourself a fresh steak on me.”

“I live where I hang my hat.”

“You gotta choice dishwasher, either you get out of town or tonight you be out on that street alone…you be there…and don’t make us come and get you.”

“All right dude. This time, right between the eyes.”

“You got two hands hashslinger. Pick it up!”

Tomorrow: Day Five of Lee Marvin week!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Lee Marvin Week (Day 3)

(Bad Day at Black Rock, 1955) A 1001 film entry.

The basic plot: An outsider named Macready takes a train into a Western town called Black Rock, circa 1945 to find a Japanese man named Komoko, but everyone he meets in the town is hostile and seems to be harboring a dark secret.

Bad Day at Black Rock is a very difficult film to pigeonhole. It looks like a Western. The few Black Rock residents we see are mostly dressed like cowboys. The chief power in the town is a man called Reno Smith, a Western name if I ever heard one. But its 1945, Not 1885! The town seems so slight that it reminded me of the fake town the townspeople built in Blazing Saddles to fool Slim Pickens. And Macready (played by Spencer Tracy) is wearing a suit, sort of like he jumped out of an episode of Mad Men. It also has a film noir flavor, with the mysterious town harboring a great secret But since it’s in glaring Technicolor it can’t be film noir! It’s also a talky film with a lot of action or is it an action film with a lot talk? The cast is top notch. Tracy as the one-armed hero, Robert Ryan and Ernest Borgnine as the heavies determined to do what is necessary to take care of Macready. Also look for character actor extraordinaire Walter Brennan as the good hearted doctor/mortician. Another example of the ying and yang of this movie. It can also be viewed as an existential theatrical piece (as someone else pointed out, it's sort of like Sartre’s No Exit). I mean twelve people live in this town and there’s only one girl! Overall, I like the fact that I can’t easily place this movie. It’s bugging me. But it’s well acted and well done. A good edition to the 1001 movie list.

Favorite pushed me too far moment: One armed Spencer Tracy has finally had enough of big bully Ernest Borgnine and uses martial arts on him to kick the crap out of him. As the doc Walter Brennan says afterwards, “Man, oh man.”

Second favorite pushed me too far moment: Aging doc Brennan smacks tough guy Lee Marvin across the face with a fire hose knocking him out cold.

This cast looks somewhat familiar to me: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan will reunite twelve years later for The Dirty Dozen.

Speaking of Lee Marvin:
Lee is sort of teamed with Ernest Borgnine here as one of Reno Smith’s subordinate accomplices. But where Borgnine is a portly bully, Marvin (as Hector) seems to be the one more likely to take a life without thinking of it for a moment. He dresses like a cowboy and acts like a cowboy. The scene where he tries to twirl his six-shooter (poorly) would be more amusing if he wasn’t such an asshole. This ranks as much more sinister heavy than Lee plays in The Wild One and foreshadows his most dastardly villain in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Quotable Lee Marvin

(To the one-armed Macready) You look like you need a hand.

You all the time guessing ain’t you boy?

(First pretending to diagnose the problem with Doc’s Hearse and then violently ripping the wiring out.) Yeah, It was the wiring.

Tomorrow: Day Four of Lee Marvin week!

Monday, August 29, 2011


Lee Marvin Week (Day 2)

(The Wild One, 1953) Not a 1001 film entry, but a pretty iconic film

Picture Marlon Brando (as Johnny) rolling down the street in a leather motorcycle jacket. He’s the leader of a motorcycle gang who drives into a town and creates havoc-maybe not exactly havoc, but this guys are kind of disruptive and definitely annoying. His “tough guy” gang includes the future Jerry the dentist from The Dick Van Dyke Show and the future Mr. Kimball from Green Acres, not exactly ideal tough guys, but I’m willing to suspend disbelief on this one. Johnny and the gang deal with the town cop’s pretty daughter (“I don’t make no deal with cops,” Johnny says after discovering who her father is), locals who want to take justice into their own hand and a rival motorcycle gang.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this movie and figured it would be pretty dated.
Here’s some of Brando’s dialogue after the cop’s daughter asks him if his gang goes on picnics.

Johnny: Picnics? Man you are too square!
I have to straighten you out.
You don’t go one special place. That’s cornball style.
You just go. (Snaps fingers)
A bunch gets together after all week. It builds up.
The idea is to have a ball!
If you’re gonna stay cool, you gotta wail.
You gotta put something down. (Snaps fingers)
You gotta make some jive!
Don’t you know what I’m talking about?

A little antiquated, but I can still dig it.

Of course the most famous quote of the movie is his response to the question of what he is rebelling against.

Johnny: What have you got?

Should it be in the 1001 movie book? It’s a true relic of the era and certainly an interesting role for Brando. Yeah, put it in the damn book, it seemed a little better than I remembered it. One personal problem though: The older I get the less I sympathize with these rebels. What exactly do they want? (As a character in the film asks) Why can’t they just behave themselves and act like decent citizens…My God, I’m about to grab a shotgun and start yelling at kids to get off my lawn at any moment!

One hit wonder: I was curious about Mary Murphy, who played the nice girl who at least to a degree tames Johnny. I found out that she died in 2011 year at the age of eighty. The Wild One was by far her biggest and only important film role. So it goes.

But what about Lee Marvin?

Marvin plays Chino, the leader of the rival motorcycle gang and seems to have a lot of fun with this role. He rides into town and immediately tries to pick a fight with Johnny.

He’s wearing a black and white striped shirt, cap and riding goggles and has a stogie sticking out of his mouth at all times. Did I mention he’s having fun? Even hamming it up a little. Pick a fight with Johnny? Doesn’t faze him. Cops pick him up to go to jail. Doesn’t faze him. He seems to be perfectly fine with everything-just waiting for that moment when he has the opportunity to vandalize something. This is easily the most lighthearted of the heavies he played on this list. Well, if Lee’s having a ball who am I to criticize? Storm the Bastille!

Quotable Lee Marvin

(Sarcastically) What are you doing in this miserable gully Johnny, my love?

(Even more sarcastically) Let’s go inside and have a beer and I’ll beat the living Christmas out of you.

(With the greatest amount of sarcasm that Lee Marvin can muster) Now ladies and gentlemen…this lovely young lady over here…shall hold this beautiful object signifying absolutely nothing…Watch closely… See how the timid maiden of the hill clutches the gold to her breast. . and see how she fights back a tear as her hero lies bleeds to death in the street..

Tomorrow: Day Three of Lee Marvin week!

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Day one of Lee Marvin week!

At our annual library book sale, I found myself looking around for DVDs to purchase for the purpose of viewing for this 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die blog. I found The Dirty Dozen (not on the 1001 list, but I wanted to see it anyway) and then I found Point Blank (on the list) and then I found The Big Red One (also on the list). I realized by an odd coincidence, the movies I found all had Lee Marvin in them. Later that week, I was watching the 1946 version of The Killers. The bonus disc contained the 1963 version that starred none other than Lee Marvin.

So I decided to track down other Lee appearances on the 1001 list (The Big Heat, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and some that aren’t (The Professionals, The Wild One) and just blog on Lee movies this week.

And bring along any of today’s action heroes or any of yesterday, for that matter. Feel free to stack ‘em up against Lee. My money’s on Marvin.

Lee Marvin Week (Day 1)

(The Big Heat, 1953) A 1001 film entry

When I first got the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, I went down the list and noticed there were an awful lot of black and white film noirs. Well, it’s a good thing I like the genre. A commentator on one DVD stated something to the effect that there really aren’t any bad film noirs, as even the lesser ones are still interesting in some way. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but it is a genre that I’ve enjoyed visiting and re-visiting...

Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat features Glenn Ford as an honest cop who tries to blow the lid off a crime organization and the get the goods on the crime boss that is running the unnamed town in the film because a) Glenn’s a good cop and b) he’s out for revenge.

And I would certainly rank this higher than just “the interesting” category of the genre. Glenn (Jonathan Kent) Ford is really a better leading man than I gave him credit for and Gloria (Violet Bick) Grahame is a plus in any film.

But this week it’s all about Lee Marvin. So lets look at Lee.

You can’t miss it when you first see that lanky but tough amble, that deep voice, those penetrating eyes and that black hair. Wait a minute. Black hair? I thought Lee Marvin was born with gray hair! Guess not. Well, the hair hue doesn’t feel quite right, but I guess I’ll get used to it.

But he’s a tough guy right? The toughest, right? And the meanest, right?

But in his first scene, his girlfriend Gloria Grahame actually makes fun of the way he sucks up to his boss and does every thing to please the boss man. And she’s right! He really is quite the suck up. Hmmmm. This isn’t the “I don’t give a shit about anything or what anybody thinks” Lee Marvin I’m used to. But since he is an underling to the big crime boss, I’ll let it pass. But that’s not Lee Marvin.

His next big scene is in a bar where he is getting rough with a lady who he accuses of cheating him. Now, that’s more like it! Then he confronts cop Glenn Ford and….apologizes to him? And makes nice with the girl? Okay dark haired man, what have you done with the real Lee Marvin? That’s just not Lee Marvin!

Just as I am about to give up on Lee for this picture, we see Lee accusing his girl of going off with Ford the cop. Then he…(SPOILER ALERT FOR THE FILM’S DEFINING MOMENT) throws hot coffee in her face and disfigures her. Now THAT’s Lee Marvin!

And I love the character name: Vince Stone. How badass is that?
Lee Marvin as Vince Stone! Badass. Very badass.

Quotable Lee Marvin

(Before throwing the coffee) Oh you pig! YOU LYIN’ PIG!

(After throwing the coffee) I’ll fix you and your pretty face!

(With Glenn Ford’s gun pointing at Lee’s face) Go on, shoot! Shoot! SHOOT!

Tomorrow: Day Two of Lee Marvin week!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NETWORK (1976) vs. ROCKY (1976)

I remember the 1976 Oscar race coming down to two movies. With all due respect to Taxi Driver, All the President's Men and Bound for Glory, the two major candidates were Network and Rocky. Rocky ended up winning Best Picture and Director and Network won three of the four acting awards plus Best Original Screenplay. But which won should have really won Best Picture that year?

The case for Network: Watching Network again for the first time in many years I'm struck by how modern it seems. Sensationalism in news and reality shows (Network had a group of revolutionaries with their own television show called the Mao Tse Tung Hour) is pretty much the norm for media today. I think Paddy Chayevsky’s screenplay for Network is a towering literary achievement. The performances by Faye Dunaway and William Holden and Robert Duvall are all strong. Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight were nominated for Oscars (Straight even won) for basically one scene apiece. And Peter Finch as newscaster Howard Beale is nothing short of astonishing. Director Sidney Lumet brought it all together in what I think is his finest film. It’s funny, relevant and who that sees it can forget “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more?” I thought Network was really a superb film all the way around. I’m having doubts Rocky can go the distance on this one.

The case for Rocky-Maybe the ultimate crowd pleaser picture. Also, the ultimate underdog picture. And the character of Rocky Balboa? What movie goer doesn’t know who Rocky Balboa is? The music? Gonna Fly Now may have been what won Rocky the Oscar in the first place. How could you vote for something else with that inspirational music playing in your head? And the final fight scene is exciting even after repeated views. A memorable movie-no doubt. But was it really enough to beat Network?

While I’m thinking this over, I’ll reminisce about some of the other movie titles that came out in 1976 that did not make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die cut.

1. The Bad News Bears, If you were thirteen when this movie came out, you pretty much had to go see it.
2. The Big Bus, I know I saw this. It seemed like it was about this giant bus and you could do all these things on this bus like bowling. And it was like The Love Boat, only a bus and…whose idea was this anyway?
3. Bound for Glory, I wouldn’t have pictured David Carradine as Woody Guthrie. Still don’t really.
4. Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, Not the most memorable of Robert Altman’s movies, but you know, this one may warrant a second look.
5. Car Wash, I certainly didn’t hear the song “Car Wash” enough in late 70’s!
6. The Enforcer, Callahan and Lacey?
7. Futureworld, It had been a long time since I had seen this one. I thought, “Yeah, the sequel to Westworld was actually pretty good.” After viewing it a couple of years ago….eh, not so good.
8. The Gumball Rally, A strange multi-car race around the world. Like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with lesser known stars. Though I do remember Raul Julia was in it.
9. King Kong, I was surprised to see that this infamous remake actually did pretty well at the box-office.

10. Lipstick, One of the Hemingway sisters gets raped and the other one guns down the rapist. I think that’s what happens.
11. Logan's Run, Yes, when I saw this movie I too thought thirty was old. Hah! There is no sanctuary!
12. Marathon Man, Hoffman-Olivier-Schesinger-Goldman. Top line thriller. Consider this one for the next 1001 Movie edition, why don’t you?
13. Murder by Death, Main draw today would probably be to see Truman Capote act.
14. The Omen, I actually owned the book on this one. But little did I know at the time it was just a novelization! I feel had!
15. The Pink Panther Strikes Again, The best of the Pink Panther movies was The Return of the Pink Panther, though it’s easy to get them confused.
16. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, I admit when I think of this movie, the first thing I think of is the infamous Playboy pictorial featuring Sarah Miles. If you can overlook that, and I admit it’s hard for me to do, it’s a pretty good film.
17. The Shootist, Fitting farewell for John Wayne.
18. Silent Movie, I’m guessing Mel Brooks being the last filmmaker to have a major studio finance a non-talking picture of his is a record that may last forever.
19. Silver Streak, First and best Wilder/Pryor teaming. Of course, I didn’t see their last couple of films, but I still feel pretty safe in that assertion.
20. That's Entertainment Part 2, Old MGM musical clips on the big screen may have worked in 1974, but by 1976, the time had passed.

The final decision: Howard “The Mad Prophet of the Air Waves” Beale defeats Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa by a TKO in the 10th round. We'll have the details on the 11 o'clock news as soon as we make them up.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Beat the Devil (1953)

Trying to view all the films on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list can make you forgetful at times. I actually watched this film several months ago, but forgot to make a post. Well, better late than never.

But do I have anything to say about it?

I do know Beat the Devil is mentioned in the movie about Truman Capote, Infamous. In Infamous, Capote (played by Toby Jones) impresses the locals with stories of how he beat Humphrey Bogart in arm wrestling during his work on Beat the Devil. I’m not sure what my point is other than recommending Infamous.

But what about Beat the Devilitself? It’s a strange little caper movie to be sure. It had a low budget feel to it that made it seem unlike a John Huston film to me. Despite its oddness, I found the whole thing lightweight, but enjoyable. And a very interesting cast including Bogart, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Gina Lollobridgida and Jennifer Jones.

And Truman’s writing? Adopted from a novel, I thought the screenplay was very sharp and the quick retorts made Mr. Bogart and associates that much more fun to watch.

That's about it for this one.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Why do Boxer, Clover and Benjamin have descriptions of greater depth than the other animals?

Did the rebellion on Jones’s farm happen too soon for the animals to have a workable system in mind for when they took over?

Oh, hello. I was just doing some studying with my niece Krista. She’s entering high school and is trying to come up with questions on her assignment for George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

How much foreshadowing is there in Clover’s mentioning to Boxer that he should take it easy?

It just so happens the 1954 animated version of Animal Farm is in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, so although I'm certainly happy to help her with her assignment, I’m also glad to get a chance to view a movie I haven’t seen in at least twenty years.

How much abuse will the animals tolerate under the dictator pig Napoleon before they rebel?

Despite its lighter moments, I find this film difficult to sit through at times. It isn’t because the film isn’t good-in fact it’s very good. It’s just that seeing bad things happen to animated animals can really be upsetting.

Do the humans begin to respect Napoleon more because he is becoming more like them or are they merely opportunists?

The DVD copy in our library is in the children’s section next to Bob the Builder and Dora the Explorer. I’ve got to think there was a cataloging mistake somewhere down the line.

If Snowball had run off Napoleon, would the outcome have been different?

If Snowball had run off Napoleon, would the outcome have been different? Hmmm.
Good question. Does absolute power corrupt absolutely? Do we have movie references to help us answer this question? Michael Corleone? Charles Foster Kane? How about well..I’m sure you can come up with other examples. Anyway, back to the books for now, cause school is about to start and I haven’t even started Old Man and the Sea yet!

Signing off for now and don’t forget, “Four legs good, two legs baaaaaaddddd!

Sunday, August 14, 2011


1974 revisited
When I was 11, I practically begged my dad to take me to see Blazing Saddles. (For the record, there were three movies I remember pleading with my father to take me to around that time: The Exorcist, Blazing Saddles and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.) Well, he took me and I loved the movie, of course. What kid that saw this in 1974 didn’t love the famous “campfire farting scene?” If you don’t know the scene I’m talking about, all I can say is: What kind of film buff are you, anyway?

I do remember my dad’s favorite part was Harvey Kormann’s constant references to his name: Hedley Lamarr.

History repeats itself: I’ve been talking this movie up with my 14-year-old niece Krista for about a year now. She’s looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about. Tonight’s the night. Wait, it’s coming on now…

We’ve finally watched it. I did have to explain to her who Hedy Lamarr and Cecil B. Demille were and why Cleavon Little signing “I Get a Kick Out of You” is funny and I tried to point out as many intentional anachronisms as I could, but she seemed to get most of it and even declared it ” hilarious.” Ah! A new generation that can appreciate a good campfire farting scene. Glad to do my part for the youth of America.

Back to 1974
A lot of movies that came out in 1974 that had an impact on me. Some good-some bad. Here are a few that did not make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die cut.

1. Airport 1975
1974 will always be to me the year of the disaster movie. The stewardess is flying the plane! If you are wondering who uttered this line, it was Sid Caesar. If you aren’t wondering, it was still Sid Caesar.

2. Big Bad Mama
I believe this is the one with Angie Dickinson equipped with big hair and an outrageous Southern accent and William Shatner being hammy (as hard as that is believe!) Not to be confused with Bloody Mama, that was Shelley Winters.

3. Dark StarPre-Halloween John Carpenter. I just wish I remembered more about it. Will put on my rewatch list.

4. Death Wish
Okay, Charlie Bronson was no master thespian, but I just happen to like Charlie Bronson, Okay!

5. Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry
Some say the weak link to the 70’s anarchist car trilogy (Two-Lane Blacktop and Vanishing Point being the others.) I prefer to call it the weak link in the Susan George trilogy (Fright and Straw Dogs being the others). So I use to kinda like Susan George! Give me a break-I was 12!

6. Earthquake
The second leg in the 1974 disaster trilogy. This one’s main appeal was the gimmick of Sensurround, which I experienced in two theaters. It seemed to consist of a lot of noise and not enough much shaking either time. But any movie with former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner as a gay psycho has at least got that going for it!

7. Emmanuelle
It’s not porn, it’s erotica!

8. The Four Musketeers
Really the second half of The Three Musketeers. I saw this one without seeing the first one and you really need to see the first one to understand what’s happening in the second one.

9. Harry and Tonto
Art Carney really won the Oscar over Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Albert Finney and Al Pacino…for Harry and Tonto?

10. Herbie Rides Again
I remember little about this one except that the original is better. Dean Jones, where art thou?

11. The Island at the Top of the World
I think I thought this movie was cool at the time. I was probably mistaken.

12. Lenny
Oh, 1001 movie book. How can you leave out Lenny? It may be brutal, but it's memorable
13. The Longest Yard
Oft quoted if you grew up in the 70’s. Probably Burt Reynolds’ best movie that doesn’t have the word deliverance in the title.

14. The Lords of Flatbush
Should have made Perry King a star; Made Sylvester Stallone a star instead.

15. Macon County Line
Mostly remember going to see this with my brother when he worked at a newspaper. Can you say free passes, baby! (Or was that Return to Macon County?)

16. The Man with the Golden Gun
A pretty fun James Bond flick. Though Connery purists may scoff, I’m cool with Roger Moore as J. B.

17. Murder on the Orient Express
You don’t really see these type of celebrity filled whodunits anymore.

18. The Towering Inferno
The third leg of the 1974 disaster trilogy and my favorite of the three. You know, Faye Dunaway and William Holden were in this film and Network. It’s only taken my thirty-five years to make that connection.

19. The Trial of Billy Jack I’m a Billy Jack fan, but this was one too many.

20. Zardoz People seem to have mixed feelings about this Sean Connery sci-fi flick. Though there’s seems to be no debate about Sean’s questionable wardrobe. (Below)

1974 revisited one more time
While I was stuck in 1974, I’ve decided to see one more film from that year.

I wanted to watch something completely the opposite of Blazing Saddles. I chose the John Cassavetes’ film A Woman Under the Influence. The only thing I remember about this when it came out was that it was nominated for a lot of awards and critics loved it and that I didn’t really want to see it at the time. (I was 11! I wanted to see Blazing Saddles and The Towering Inferno!)

I’ve seen it now and it was indeed a contrast, if not the polar opposite of Blazing Saddles. I had always thought it was about a woman who was an alcoholic. It isn’t, though she can drink up a storm when she wants to. I think Cassavetes’s films are interesting overall. If you aren’t use to his more naturalistic filmmaking style the results can be quite jarring. The scene that struck me the most was where the husband (Peter Falk) and a few of his co-workers are having dinner prepared by Falk’s wife (Gena Rowlands). I kept expecting some exposition in this scene and then the movie would move on. It didn’t. It stayed with the meal. And it stayed with the meal (spaghetti, by the way). Every cut just lead to something else happening at another part of the table. A co-worker began to sing. A co-worker spilled his food all over himself. Then we see Rowlands begin to talk to some of them and flirt a little bit (I think it was flirting). Finally after about a twenty-minute scene Faulk yells at Rowlands to “Sit your ass down.” The scene struck me as strange, but I it stays with you and I admit was effective.

Gena Rowlands got many accolades for her performance, including an Academy Award nomination. Peter Falk (who died recently as of this writing) is almost as good in a very dramatic role. If you just know him from Columbo or The In-Laws, you might want to check this out.

One thing Blazing Saddles and A Woman Under the Influence do have in common is that the leading character sings a version of “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Now there’s a question you’re unlikely to see on Jeopardy!

Well it’s time for me to stop playing with my pet rock and my Duncan yo-yo.
I’ve enjoyed by trip back to 1974. I’m sure I’ll return.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


1973 film #3

The first Academy Awards presentation I can remember was the one for films released in 1973. It was an important year in my moviegoing life. I was finally old enough to go see movies of more grown-up fare. When I think back on that year in movies, the three films that stand out in my memory are: The Sting, American Graffiti and The Exorcist. All were popular. All were critically successful for the most part. All were nominated for Best Picture of 1973. And they weren’t at all alike.

The third candidate: The Exorcist.

What was the buzz on The Exorcist?: This was the movie everyone was talking about in 1973. The devil possesses the body of a twelve-year-old girl and two priests try to cast the demon out.

Being under thirteen, I begged my father to take me to see it. He thought I might regret it, but took me anyway. It’s certainly a movie experience I’ll never forget, though I had a lot of trouble sleeping with much comfort the next week.

The Music: Who can forget that scary tubular bell theme? Why it’s ringing in my head as we speak!

MAD magazine reference (the true arbiter of seventies movies value): In the name of research, I went back and read my copy of “The Ecchorcist” from my September 1974 MAD magazine. It ends with the devil agreeing to leave the body of the girl if he signs a six-picture deal. Speaking of that…

Sequel to avoid: The Exorcist II: The Heretic Upon release this highly anticipated sequel was immediately labeled a disaster of epic proportions and has been on much worst film of all-time lists. I’ve honestly never seen it, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

But should it have won Best Picture? I’ll be honest. I was pretty much ready to call American Graffiti the Best Picture of 1973. But upon further review, I think the The Exorcist should really get some consideration.

Part of the problem in thinking about this film for me is my initial reaction to it which was that it scared the crap out of me! Forget the quality of the movie; I’m too busy hiding under by bedcovers to care! Then there were bad sequels and cheap knockoffs. Movies about possession or something similar became commonplace. There were also the parodies. I remember the memorable Saturday Night Live skit with Richard Pryor as the Priest and Larraine Newman as the possessed girl.

But looking back at the original, I can think of few movies that built suspense as well as this one. I’m not sure this would even be able to be made this way today, because some might find it gets to the more gory scenes at too slow of a pace. I would disagree. I know where the plot is going and it’s the progression of said plot that builds the story to its suspenseful conclusion.
I also really loved the character of Father Karras and his struggles with faith and life. And let’s just say I found his final moment in the film very moving.

It also strikes me as coming down clearly on the side of faith over science. The priests seem to know everything and medical science doesn't seem to know squat.

So, the final nominees for best picture of 1973 are The Sting, American Graffiti and The Exorcist

And my winner is…I’ll be damned, it’s The Exorcist!

Since 1973 was such an important movie-watching year for me, here is a list of some of the movies I’ve seen released from that year that didn’t make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die cut.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
The fifth and final leg of the original Planet of the Apes brings back memories of diminutive singer Paul Williams singing a romantic ballad on The Tonight Show decked out in full ape makeup.

Charlotte's Web
Most memorable voice: Paul Lynde as Templeton the rat.

Cinderella Liberty
It’s been so long that I’ve seen this that all I can remember about it is that Marsha Mason had long hair.

The Devil in Miss Jones
Half of the most infamous pair of films of the 70’s, Deep Throat being the other.

May seem a little dated today, but I still think the last supper with Dixie cups is kinda groovy.

Jesus Christ Superstar
The major problem with this version of Jesus Christ Superstar is that the song performances aren’t very good. See it on stage instead.

The Last Detail
Attention 1001 movie editors: This Hal Ashby comedy with Jack Nicholson as a foul-mouthed sailor on leave might be a good addition to the next edition.

Lost Horizon
Maybe the most infamous musical of all-time. Liv Ullman and Peter Finch saw better days.

Magnum Force
Harry’s back and he’s dirtier than ever. C’mon, if you’re a movie fan, you gotta see Magnum Force. The subsequent Harrys after you have my permission to skip.

My Name is Nobody
One of those spaghetti westerns that was "sort of" directed by Sergio Leone.

O Lucky Man!
When I think of this movie, I think of my friend who took a date to this movie only to have her begin punching him after he left the theater. I guess she wasn’t looking for something different.

The Paper Chase
Though some may have more vivid memories of the series, I still really like the original movie.

Paper Moon
Another film I’m surprised isn’t in the 1001 movie book. But, like many, I haven’t seen in awhile and may not hold up as well as I think it might.

Robin Hood
My son liked this Disney cartoon version of the legend and I’ve had to watch it more than once.

Save the Tiger
All right. This one I haven’t actually seen. I just know that at the time Jack Lemmon won an Oscar for this over Al Pacion in Serpico, Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail, Robert Redford in The Stingand Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris. I remember saying at the time, “What the hell is Save the Tiger?” Now all these years later, I still ask, “WHAT THE HELL IS SAVE THE TIGER?”

Probably the prototype of a low-budget, early seventies, indie-type, character study picture with big stars in humble roles (Gene Hackman and Al Pacino in this case). I’ve seen this again recently and it wasn’t bad, but honestly didn’t blow my away.

Sisters Hey, this movie had me at Margot Kidder as Siamese Twins!

Soylent Green Famous for Charlton Heston’s line, “Soylent Green is people!” My favorite part of this movie is Edward G. Robinson’s somber and peaceful death scene.

A Touch of Class
Glenda Jackson won the Oscar for this, but like Save the Tiger, has anybody actually seen it?

Walking TallFor lack of a more acceptable term, I called this 70’s movie genre…redneck movies. Maybe they were a counterweight to blaxpotation movies of the same era. Burt Reynolds was in most of them, but a few of them, like Dixie Dynamite, Sixpack Annie and High-Ballin’ were Reynoldsless.

The World's Greatest Athlete One of those 70’s Disney comedies. A sports franchise is trying to recruit a Tarzan-like native to be on their sports team from what I remember without looking up a plot synopsis. The comedy highlight that I recall was someone dumping a can of trash over Howard Cosell.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


1973 film #2

The first Academy Awards presentation I can remember was the one for films released in 1973. It was an important year in my moviegoing life. I was finally old enough to go see movies of more grown-up fare. When I think back on that year in movies, the three films that stand out in my memory are: The Sting, American Graffiti and The Exorcist. All were popular. All were critically successful for the most part. All were nominated for Best Picture of 1973. And they weren’t at all alike.

The second candidate: American Graffiti

What was the buzz on American Graffiti?: The second major film of the 1973 Best Picture nominees was American Graffiti. The tagline of the movie was “Where were you in 62?” Apparently the answer for director George Lucas was cruising the streets looking for chicks or someone to race.

I remember liking the movie quite a bit when I first saw it. The montage of characters was apparently a new concept, but I didn’t know it was radical; I just liked how the puzzle pieces of characterization all fit together eventually.

I remember at the time people talking about individual scenes such as the wheels coming off the police car, underage Toad trying to buy some liquor, or just that elusive search for the blonde in the T-bird.

Though set in 1962, the film helped bring back a revival of interest in the fifties and led to a couple of popular TV series with a couple of Graffiti stars, Happy Days with Ron Howard and Laverne and Shirley with Cindy Williams. I won’t blame the movie for that, however.

The Music: American Graffiti led to a revival of music from that era in 1973 and 1974. In fact, the soundtrack album had several spin-off records if I remember correctly.

MAD magazine reference (the true arbiter of seventies movies value): MAD’s Graffiti satire was called “American Confetti” The opening frame of the satire features the cast of American Graffiti standing next to Jimmy Stewart! Stewart says he’s there just so the audience will see someone in this movie that they recognize!

Sequel to avoid: More American Graffiti. I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that in this case, more is definitely less.

But should it have won Best Picture?: Today, the movie still seems really fresh. Great characters: Candy “Has anybody ever told you you look like Connie Stevens” Clark as the bleach blonde and Charles Martin “I’d like a pint of Old Harpers” Smith as Toad (and still one of the great screen couples of all-time). Richard Dreyfus as Curt, probably the character most could identify with. Ron Howard and Cindy Williams were the couple who were trying to work out their differences. Paul Le Mat as John Milner, the cool guy with the cool car, unfortunately he’s saddled for most of the night with thirteen-year-old Mackenzie Phillips. Putting the cool guy with an underage, obnoxious girl who he can’t seem to get rid of is one of the film’s brightest ideas. And of course, let us not forget Wolfman Jack as the DJ that makes a commentary on the proceedings.

The multi-character plot fits together well. It’s funny. The characters are great and Suzanne Sommers doesn’t have any lines.

And right or wrong, when I think of ’62 teenage life, I think of American Graffiti.

So despite the case you could make for The Sting, innovative story-telling and characterizations pulls American Graffiti ahead of The Sting by the length of a yellow hot rod.

Tomorrow I will watch THE most talked about movie of 1973.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

THE STING (1973)

1973 film #1

The first Academy Awards presentation I can remember was the one for films released in 1973. It was an important year in my moviegoing life. I was finally old enough to go see movies of more grown-up fare. When I think back on that year in movies, the three films that stand out in my memory are: The Sting, American Graffiti and The Exorcist. All were popular. All were critically successful for the most part. All were nominated for Best Picture of 1973. And they weren’t at all alike.

The first candidate: The Sting

What was the buzz on The Sting?: When it was released, The Sting had a lot going for it. It had the sure-fire team of Paul Newman and Robert Redford playing con men, as well as the presence of their Butch Cassidy director George Roy Hill. It had a clever con story about Newman, Redford and associates pulling a major league con on big-time racketeer Robert Shaw. (I like the names in the movie too; Newman as Henry Gondorff, Redford as Johnny Hooker and Shaw’s character, Doyle Lonnigan) The setup to the con is fun to watch: I suppose my favorite scene is watching Paul Newman cheat Robert Shaw in a poker game or perhaps the one where phony bets are being placed on a non-existent horse race strictly to lure Shaw in. The supporting cast is notable too: Eileen Brennan, Ray Walston, Harold Gould and good ole Charles Durning.

The Music: But for my money, when I think of The Sting, I think of the music of Scott Joplin. The ragtime music featuring The Entertainer wasn’t even written in the era of the movie is based (1936), but it really fits it perfectly. I can’t imagine the movie without it. And I still have the original soundtrack record album on glorious vinyl!

MAD magazine reference (the true arbiter of seventies movies value): I believe the MAD magazine version was called “The Zing,” though I might be wrong. I do remember it changed the famous Newman/Redford promotional image to the image of two even bigger crooks: Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew! Yes, MAD never missed an opportunity for a good Nixon joke.

Sequel to avoid: The Sting 2. They couldn’t get Newman or Redford for any Sting sequel so instead they got…Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis? Huh?

But should it have won Best Picture? A solid, fun movie. I can see why the Academy gave it seven awards (though interestingly no acting awards). Perhaps the other two movies on my list will prove to be dated and I’ll have to stick with The Sting. I could do worse.

I'll look at American Graffiti tomorrow.

Monday, August 8, 2011


You know us bloody yanks are still pretty obsessed, or at least fascinated, with movies about the English monarchy. We even give our most coveted awards to these films at times. Of course, the latest is the Oscar winner for best picture The King’s Speech. If you haven't seen it, it is all about the elocution lessons of the stuttering King George the VI at around the time of World War II.

I will bend over backwards to not criticize this movie. I keep asking for films that aren’t based on comic books, video games and might instead be aimed at ‘gasp’ adults! So I’m not going to nitpick at a film that not only fills my request, but actually drew crowds as well. It was almost universally critically praised, in fact. I should be happy, right? Well, I am happy. I can’t say I’m ecstatic, but I’m happy enough. All right, already. I thought similar stories have been told on screen before, OK? That’s my only criticism. But I’m not complaining mind you. It’s well done. And I’m just grateful for any movie that wasn’t originally based on something I might have first read when I was three. Just smile and be happy.

The Queen is an interesting film. I would have thought that a movie about how the royal family deals with the death of Princess Diana, well, that there wouldn’t be a movie there. It’s to the screenwriter and filmmakers credit that there is, even though I’m guessing most of what the Royals may have said behind closed doors is pure guesswork on the screenwriter’s part.

And of course Helen Mirren(who won an Academy Award-You know us bloody yanks and our awards) and Michael Sheen as Prime Minister Tony Blair are very good in their roles. I also really liked American James Cromwell as the perpetually grumpy Prince Phillip. That’s just the way I always pictured the old boy.


Thursday, August 4, 2011


It’s been thirty years since the release of Stephen Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is an almost unanimously beloved film by audiences and critics alike. However, there are exceptions…

I’m on the phone with noted New York film critic Simon Johnson, who was one of the few critics who disliked this movie at its release.

Me: First of all, thank you for joining me. So has time changed or at least tempered your view of Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Simon Johnson: Is it overly succinct to just say that “No, it hasn’t.”

Me: You still haven’t come around, I see. So let’s rehash what your problem with it is.

Simon Johnson: I believe my original article said “Unlike Lucas’s Star Wars, which at least scraped the corpses of some decent representations of celluloid past, Raiders of the Lost Ark unearths the remains of a long discarded adventure genre and revives it as a hulking, feral pastiche that should have remained underground and forgotten.”

Me: You further stated that Raiders of the Lost Ark was the beginning of the end. Do you still believe that?

Simon Johnson: If you want to be technical, it could more accurately be described as the end of the end. Jaws threw the body in the coffin. Star Wars slammed the lid. Raiders of the Lost Ark nailed it shut.

Me: Would you embellish please.

Simon Johnson: Right. Let’s explore today’s film of choice, shall we? Spielberg-Lucas or, really I just call them Lucasberg. I can’t tell the difference really. Lucasberg loved the old Republic serials of the 30’s. But I’m sure even they would admit that they were poorly made. So what we have here is a reproduction of a copy that wasn’t all that good in the first place.

Me: But don’t you think Spielberg just used those as a blueprint and made it into something uniquely his own?

Simon Johnson: That seems to be the common view. And the common view is misguided.

Me: But what about all those iconic scenes like Indiana being chased by a giant boulder?

Simon Johnson: If that thrills you, I suggest you go to Disney World and see the Indiana Jones stunt show. I prefer to see a movie.

Me: So this is the first time you’ve seen it in thirty years. Please restate some of the specifics of your criticisms.

Simon Johnson: There’s too many to name, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t want to take up too much of your time or mine either, for that matter. Let’s take the villains, the Nazis. I saw more depth from Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes. Cardboard cutouts are indeed easy to kill. What else? The introduction of the snakes. He doesn’t like snakes. And later we have the inevitable snake scene. A little foreshadowing is good. An overabundance can be fatal.

It's also interesting that the DVD release has renamed it Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Is that so the audience won’t get it confused with Pee Wee Herman and the Raiders of the Lost Ark?

What else? Oh, I like the way they plaster a map on the screen every time they change countries. Not being over patronizing to our audience are we?

Oh, the exposition scene at the school where they go on about why they are searching for the ark in the first place. Not only is it confusing, it’s so slow, I began to nod off with its tediousness! I know you need to get the ark. Get on with it! It made me actually miss the mindless action.

Me: What about the music?

Simon Johnson: Yes, let’s not have anything of consequence happen in this movie without cranking up the theme song. Certainly the images and the character development aren’t enough to allow me to know how to think, so I can see the need for the John Williams clash of symbols every few minutes to tell me when something of significance is happening.

Me: Well, what about the scene where the guy in Cairo spins his weapon only to be disposed of with one shot by Indiana? That always gets a big laugh.

Simon Johnson: Glad you brought that scene up. Indicative of American arrogance, I’m afraid. It’s that type of behavior that has allowed the spread of Colonialism to go practically unchallenged for hundreds of years. But what the heck! Those Nepalese or Egyptians are just a bunch of towel heads who can’t do anything but jump, shout, laugh or shoot a rifle repeatedly in the air while chanting, right? Calling them one-dimensional is an insult to other one-dimensional characters.

Oh, and what about the choice of the naming the main character after an American state? Practically screams out. “I’m an American. I can do whatever I want!” It has more arrogance than a Jane Austen novel!

Me: Jane Austen?

Simon Johnson: If you aren’t sure what I’m referring to, I think you need to read some Edward Said and get back to me on that issue.

Me: Ok. Lets’ see…What about Karen Allen? You’ve got to like Karen Allen.

Simon Johnson: I do. She’s the film’s true hidden treasure. And what did they do with this valuable commodity when they made the next film?

Me: They dumped her.

Simon Johnson: They dumped her.

Me: Yes, I think I actually agree with you on that point. I do have one more question for you. It’s a general one. Why don’t film critics ever change their mind? I see things all the time I feel differently about over time or change my opinion because of my mood or maybe I just see something in second viewings that I didn’t see the first time.

Simon Johnson: I guess that is the chasm that separates someone like me from someone like you. A work of art is what it is. Andrew Sarris changed his mind once. We almost had to kick him out of the club.

Me: Thank you for joining me.

Simon Johnson: A pleasure, I’m sure. Since next year is the anniversary of Porky’s, I’m sure you’ll be dialing me up again.

Me: That was Simon Johnson, acerbic, opinionated and controversial as always.