Eighty-fifth birthday wishes to Richard Matheson as we belatedly conclude the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.
Touch of Evil: Beginning with a single, unbroken, three-minute crane shot following a car with a bomb in the trunk until it explodes, this is one of Orson Welles’s best films. Welles directed, adapted Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil, and plays the corpulent sheriff of a spectacularly sleazy Mexican border town; a mustachioed Charlton Heston stars as a Mexican-American cop trying to enjoy his honeymoon with Janet Leigh (and who wouldn’t?) when the explosion changes his plans. Brilliantly shot, written, and acted, it creates a palpable atmosphere of corruption and evil. With Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver, Joseph Cotten, Zsa Zsa Gabor (!), and Mercedes McCambridge (who dubbed the nasty bits for Linda Blair in The Exorcist) in supporting roles of various sizes and a splendid jazz score by Henry (The Pink Panther) Mancini.
2001: A Space Odyssey: Madame BOF is perhaps not the only one whose patience is put to the test by this film’s rather, shall we say, leisurely paced 140-minute running time. But she is too quick to dismiss its technical expertise, its profound script by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (at that time an extremely rare cinematic venture by a world-famous SF writer, who expanded considerably upon his short story “The Sentinel” and, at Kubrick’s insistence, took sole authorial credit for the novel they wrote simultaneously), that famous Strauss theme song, and the sheer ballsiness of MGM in making the damn thing, which render it unique and influential. A huge, featureless black monolith appears at various points in humankind’s development, its purpose initially unknown, and so begins Keir Dullea’s voyage aboard the aptly named Discovery. “Open the pod bay door, Hal.”
Unforgiven: To date, this is my favorite among Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts, and I seem to be in good company, because the Academy awarded it not only Best Picture and Director but also Best Actor (Gene Hackman) and Film Editing. He supposedly acquired the script by Blade Runner co-writer David Peoples (who also copped a nomination, as did Clint for his performance) and stuck it in a drawer for a decade until he thought he was ready to play the part of Bill Munny, who hung up his guns out of respect for his late wife, and only reluctantly picks them up again to support his two children when times get tough. Joined by old pal Morgan Freeman and young gun Jaimz Woolvet, he goes after a bounty offered by a group of prostitutes for the cowboys who defaced one of their own. But things don’t go according to plan, and he runs afoul of brutal sheriff Hackman. Clint dedicated the film to his directorial mentors, BOF faves Sergio Leone and Don Siegel; the heart-wrenching score, guaranteed to choke me up, is by his longtime collaborator, Lennie Niehaus.
Up in Smoke: Although I think one of my brothers started it by bringing home their album Big Bambu, my late father and I shared a perhaps inexplicable fondness for the drug-(dis)oriented humor of Richard “Cheech” Marin and Thomas Chong, who made their film debut in this stoner comedy that made “Low Rider” one of my theme songs in later years. Their next movie (titled, with breathtaking originality, Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie) was followed by the likes of Nice Dreams, Things Are Tough All Over, and Still Smokin’. Those looking for detailed descriptions of and/or penetrating insights into those later films are, at least for now, doomed to disappointment, because I haven’t seen most of them for years. They do all tend to blend together, and quite frankly they’re probably all terrible in hindsight, but this one, at least, stands up to repeated viewings, and since my wife and daughter—who would no more toke up than ski down Everest—love it as well, it’s not just me. In this, they unwittingly smuggle a van made of dope across the Mexican border.
Vertigo: A Hitchcock masterpiece, probably almost neck and neck with Psycho in my book, featuring a stunning James Stewart performance (as an obsessive character whose make-over of a woman is, for Hitch, stunningly self-revelatory) and an absolutely shattering final scene. Say what you want about Kim Novak’s acting, I think she does just fine with her dual role, and as always, Bernard Herrmann’s score is superb; the credit sequence alone is a breathtaking mix of image and music. You’ll catch many nuances after mastering the complex plot, based on a novel by celebrated French crime-writing team Boileau-Narcejac. “I don’t want to get mixed up in this darn thing!”
Walkabout: Erstwhile cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (The Masque of the Red Death) made his solo directorial debut with this unique film. Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run), stunningly beautiful on the cusp of womanhood, and her younger brother (Roeg’s son Lucien John) are forced to embark upon an odyssey through the Australian Outback that intersects with, and in some ways parallels, the titular coming-of-age ritual of Aborigine David Gulpilil. The bittersweet (or, per the somewhat less nuanced response of Madame BOF, “sad”) story is perfectly complemented by the film’s ravishing cinematography, also by Roeg, and its heartbreaking score by the late, great John Barry.
Where Eagles Dare: Quite simply The Greatest Movie Ever Made. Okay, I’m kidding, but it is my personal favorite. Only Alistair MacLean could have concocted this complex tale of triple agents, centering on a commando mission ostensibly to rescue an American general—who knows the details of the D-Day invasion plans—from an inaccessible Bavarian chateau! Only Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, and Mary Ure could play the stalwart leads, who massacre countless German soldiers with only one flesh wound among them! Only Ferdy Mayne, Anton Diffring (Shatter), Donald Houston (The Longest Day), and Derrin Nesbitt could play the nasty Nazi villains! Only Brian G. Hutton (Kelly’s Heroes) could direct the exciting action scenes, including the famous cable-car fight! Only Ron Goodwin could compose the rousing, unforgettable score; I even have the soundtrack album on both LP and CD! I also have a first edition of the novel (based on MacLean’s script, but published before the film was released), and even the Mad magazine parody.
The Wild Bunch: In my opinion, this is director Sam Peckinpah’s greatest achievement, although Tom is free to prefer Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (admittedly one hell of a film). William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sanchez, Bo Hopkins, and Edmond O’Brien are among the members of this aging gang, running out of banks to rob and pursued by ex-member Robert Ryan, railroad man Albert Dekker, and sleazy bounty-hunters Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones. The sanguinary finale is the apotheosis of Peckinpah’s “poetry of violence.” Absolutely superb. Even my Mom liked this, surprisingly. My favorite quote says it all: “When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal—you’re finished.”
The Year of Living Dangerously: I don’t think anybody saw this one and didn’t like it. Reporter Mel Gibson and diplomat Sigourney Weaver mix it up in politically unrestful Indonesia in 1965 to spectacular effect. This exceptional thriller was directed by Peter Weir, is extremely faithful to the excellent novel by Christopher J. Koch (who also co-scripted with Weir), has a score by Maurice Jarre (although I later learned that my favorite piece was written by Vangelis for another film entirely), and co-stars Linda Hunt in her Oscar-winning performance (as a man, yet). Note for trivia buffs—Gibson’s character is the namesake of Goldfinger’s director, Guy Hamilton. Coincidence?
Yellow Submarine: I think you either love this one, as Alexandra does, or hate it, like Loreen and Gilbert. Since the Beatles are my favorite group EVER, you do the math, even though the Fab Four did not voice the dialogue for their animated likenesses. It features a bunch of their best songs (e.g., “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “All You Need Is Love,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Nowhere Man,” “A Day in the Life”), amidst surrealistic Peter Max-style animation, as they try to save Pepperland from the ravages of the Blue Meanies. “O-BLUE-TERATE THEM!”
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