Twelve films. A few classics, some that are very good, and the rest that are fun to watch. I reached far back for a few of these. I will explain the film and why it makes my list.
The Lady From Shanghai (1948) Orson Welles swung and missed, he failed to get a box office home run, but he got a classic instead. Welles adapted the novel and produced/directed the film under the watchful eye of Columbia head Harry Cohn. The film was re-shot and edited by order of Cohn, who took the project away from Welles. A murder mystery of lust and greed, ending with the famous shootout in the funhouse maze of mirrors, while not the film of Welles’ vision, it is still a damn fine one. Co-starring Welles’ wife at the time, Rita Hayworth.
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) The best of James Stewart’s family films during the 1960s. The film has a certain adult coyness inside of a coming of life film mainly centered on Stewart’s children. Stewart turns in one of his steadiest performances without it turning into sentimental goo. Stewart plays a harried husband/father who instead of a romantic getaway with his wife (Maureen O’Hara), is convinced to his family, the maid and extended family, on a month long vacation to the beach. The house is a wreck, his son-in-law is out of work and his prospective employer visits to bird watch. There is nothing relaxing about this adventure, not even the voluptuous young woman next door, or the growing pains of his children.
The Pawnbroker (1964) Starring Rod Steiger and directed by Sidney Lumet. A grim and sad film about a man (Steiger), an educated German-Jew, who had his life taken from him by the Nazis, his wife raped, his children dead, living the war in a concentration camp. Now he operates a pawnshop in East Harlem, essentially dead to the world, cold and unfeeling, immune from any kindness or friendship around him. The pawnshop is used by hustlers, something Steiger’s character is repulsed by, and won’t go along with it. A confrontation occurs and an employee of the pawnshop is murdered. The film was one of the first American films to depict the Holocaust. It was criticized by various groups including the Catholic League of Decency for nudity. It is a very frank film and most every character is flawed. Seeing it, you cannot forget it.
Seconds (1966) A terrifying thriller starring Rock Hudson as a man who becomes another man’s fresh start in life. For various reasons, people want to shed their identity and assume a new life, and part of that is getting a physical transformation through surgery. Hudson plays the “new” man, but discovers he’s made a mistake and wants yet another new identity. The organization he paid handsomely for this new beginning, has second thoughts, and intends to use his corpse to help someone else start a new life, by faking their death. Directed with more than a touch of reality by John Frankenheimer. This is not exactly science fiction, it is more of a societal horror film. The film was a bomb when released, audiences stayed away and it wasn’t the career boost that Hudson hoped. It is a cult film that would be a major hit today.
Hell in the Pacific (1968) An American flyer (Lee Marvin) and a Japanese soldier (Tostiro Mifune) are the only ones on as island during World War II. The two men battle each other, play tricks and set traps and generally cause grief to each other, but gradually, they learn to cooperate and help each other as food and water are scare. They even develop a respect for one another, short of friendship, until the war invaded their peace.
5 Card Stud (1968) Dean Martin cranks out a ton of movies in the 1960s, some were hits, but most made a brief splash and were gone. 5 Card Stud was better than most of the films he made during his superstar cool period. Martin had leading roles in 30 films during the 1960s, in addition to a weekly variety show, making records and his nightclub career. Busy guy. This mystery Western was hardly Agatha Christie, but it had a certain charm and grit. Martin co-stars with Robert Mitchum, a fast-gun toting preacher, and Inger Stevens. Directed by veteran Henry Hathaway, the film is not your usual Western.
The Candidate (1972) Robert Redford is a boyishly handsome liberal lawyer convinced to take on the veteran incumbent U.S. Senator. The film’s realism makes it feel like a documentary, it’s intentionally unpolished and feels like you are eavesdropping on the action. Redford’s character matures before your eyes, in the beginning he doesn’t have a clue, naively believing his ideology will substitute for campaign presence. At first, he wants to get his ideas out there, to challenge the incumbent. Then, as he gains ground, he as to seriously get into the race, and that’s where the compromise enters the story. The script won an Academy Award. This film is almost 50 years old, but the machinations of the campaign, then and now, are fairly close.
Breezy (1973) The first film Clint Eastwood directed that he did not appear. Starring William Holden as a middle-aged man who reluctantly engages in a relationship with a hippy girl. It already sounds like a Woody Allen film, but it delves into deeper character issues including his inability to feel comfortable in the relationship. He doesn’t just feel old, he feels out of step with life. She doesn’t bring him the traditional vitality that older men get from younger women, he gains an awareness of who he really is. Holden had settled into roles of unhappy, weary men with no recognizable place in the world.
The Three Musketeers (1973) Directed by Richard Lester and starring a cast of thousands including Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Raquel Welch (who won a Golden Globe for the role) and Faye Dunaway, this film has great attention to detail, excellent sword fighting and great humor. Two sequels were made but this film is by far the best and most exciting. For me, this film always seemed like the Marx Brother with swords. There are been numerous versions of the classic story, but I have always liked this one the most.
The Passenger (1975) Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Jack Nicholson, it’s one of Nicholson’s best films, and one that few have seen. The film takes place in Spain where a reporter (Nicholson) switches identities with a dead man. Nicholson tries to become this new identity while his old identity is now the dead man. Nicholson’s character soon learns the dead man had far more adventure in him than Nicholson’s character realized when he switched places. Their stories are now intertwined with disastrous results. Smartly made and a quietly paced story bubbling with trouble. The camera work and visual composition are wonderful.
The Black Bird (1975 ) George Segal had a brief but successful period as a leading man. He preferred comedy and he made some interesting choices. The Black Bird was a farce, and a sequel to The Maltese Falcon (1941). Sam Spade’s son takes over the detective agency and get involved in many attempts to possess the falcon. This time it is played for laughs, with Segal on the short end of the jokes and problems. Not much is known about this film, it has been out of circulation for many years. It is a silly film, similar to other Segal films of this time period.
Throw Mamma From the Train ( 1987) Starring Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito, it was DeVito’s first time directing. In the 1980s, these goofy comedies were released by the dozens as every comedian got a film deal or a television series deal. Writer Larry Donner (Crystal) has writer’s block. His ex-wife stole an idea of his and turned it into a best seller. He teaches a writing class where wannabe writer Owen Lift (DeVito) devises a plan where he kills Donner’s ex-wife while Donner bumps off Lift’s obnoxious mother. The plan goes awry, Donner’s ex-wife disappears and Donner is instantly a suspect. He hides out at Lift’s house but is reluctant to kill mama. In the end, they all escape on a train to Mexico, where Donner is determined to throw mama off the train, but in the end, Donner is pushed off the train. His ex-wife resurfaces to great fanfare, Donner is forced to finally give up his hatred for his ex-wife, and decides to use the adventure with Lift and his mother for his book.
These are my films, a neat dozen entertaining films, each with something to offer. Comedies, dramas, a Western, a war film, a noir and one odd love story.