Archive for the ‘B100’ Category

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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Bradley’s Hundred #81-90

Continuing the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

The Shining (1980): Never mind what Stephen King says, this is perhaps the best adaptation of his work. Jack Nicholson is terrifying as the alcoholic novelist serving as the winter caretaker in a remote hotel, Shelley Duvall is vulnerable as his wife and the mother of their precognitive young son, and the blood pouring from the elevators and those two creepy little girls are unforgettable. Yeah, Stanley Kubrick (who co-scripted with novelist Diane Johnson) made some changes from the book, but the result is an excellent film that succeeds completely in its own right. “Here’s Johnny!”

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: Perhaps my favorite of Martin Ritt’s diverse and high-quality films, adapted from John le Carré’s breakthrough novel by Paul Dehn (Goldfinger, Murder on the Orient Express). Drunken spy Richard Burton romances librarian Claire Bloom as his life is going to pieces, and decides to accept an offer from the other side (represented by Oskar Werner), but all is not what it seems. With Rupert Davies as George Smiley and fab black-and-white photography.

Star Wars (aka A New Hope): First and best of the series, although the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, is a close second. Yeah, we all saw this fifty-seven times when it came out, and it’s still a great film, even if it did help to set in motion the Decline of Cinema as We Know It by ushering in the era of the mega-box-office-blockbuster. Mentored by Obi-Wan “Old Ben” Kenobi (Alec Guinness), farm boy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) allies himself with interstellar smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to rescue Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and joins the rebellion against the evil Empire, represented by Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) and Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) aboard the Death Star. Throw in a “walking carpet” (Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca), two droll droids (Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Kenny Baker as R2-D2), groundbreaking special effects that didn’t need to be fixed in George Lucas’s special edition, and an awesome score by John Williams, and stir.

The Sting: I do not hold against this film the fact that it took most of the Oscars for which The Exorcist was nominated that same year; after all, William Friedkin had quite rightly swept all of the major awards with The French Connection just two years earlier, though it was rather hard luck for author-producer-screenwriter William Peter Blatty—but I digress. (Yeah, I know, as usual.) This reunites Paul Newman and Robert Redford with George Roy Hill, their director on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, while throwing in a much more upbeat story (courtesy of screenwriter David S. Ward, who later wrote and directed the surprisingly funny Major League) about Depression-era con men, with good period settings, a superb Scott Joplin ragtime score, memorable villains in gambler Robert Shaw and corrupt cop Charles Durning, and a stellar supporting cast. “Ya folla?”

Stop Making Sense: Director Jonathan (Silence of the Lambs) Demme’s concert movie documents Talking Heads, playing at top strength and peak performance through the absolute cream of their repertoire to date, as they toured for their Speaking in Tongues album. Lead singer/composer David Byrne, who conceived the show, and Demme manage to make things visually interesting as well. I can honestly say this movie changed my life. I’d heard it was great, but resisted seeing it because I was unfamiliar with, and had a completely wrong impression of, the Heads’ music. But during my sojourn in Cambridge for the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course, it happened to be showing at a repertory cinema, and I said what the heck. I walked in a one-band man (not that I only liked one, but the Beatles overshadowed everybody else), and came out a Heads fan for life. Then they split…

Strange Days: I stand by my contention that this is a Blade Runner for the ’90s, and that like that film it will be better regarded in retrospect…someday. (Maybe now that director Kathryn Bigelow got the Oscar for The Hurt Locker, it will get some of the attention it deserves.) It ain’t often you find a film that is so bleak, pessimistic, and unrelenting in its depiction of a dystopic near-future world and its new technology, yet manages to end on a redemptive and (sob) romantic note. Ralph Fiennes is superb as the sleazy but ultimately sympathetic protagonist, Lenny Nero, who can’t let go of his love for opportunistic bitch Juliette Lewis, and Angela Bassett is a real revelation as the woman to whose own love he is blinded, in a role that should have made her the first female action hero. (It’s a great tragedy that, for whatever reason, Bassett did not play Storm in the X-Men movies.) My admiration for this film is no surprise given the involvement of co-writer James Cameron, Bigelow’s then-hubby; the photography, music, and acting are also uniformly excellent.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): Literally from the first second, this outstanding film (one of the great New York movies of all time) grabs you and doesn’t let go, as the main-title theme representing the finest hour of composer David Shire (ex-husband of Francis Ford Coppola’s sister Talia) brilliantly evokes its subway setting. Walter Matthau, surprisingly effective in a dramatic role, is the transit authority cop who must suspend his disbelief when he learns that four heavily armed men have hijacked a subway train and are holding the passengers hostage for a million-dollar ransom. Taut negotiations ensue between Matthau and the hijackers (including Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, and Hector Elizondo) as their craftily conceived plan is carried out. The New York atmosphere and attitude are palpable, the supporting cast and dialogue are excellent, and the ending is a neat zinger. Twice remade, although why I don’t know, and as small a change as it is, I think the latest version, with Denzel Washington and John Travolta in the Matthau and Shaw roles, loses something by calling itself The Taking of Pelham 123. That’s Hollywood. Adapted from John Godey’s novel by Peter Stone (1776), and directed by Joseph Sargent (Colossus: The Forbin Project), whom I affectionately call “Big Joe,” this is that rare film I’ll watch at the drop of a hat.

The Thing (from Another World) (1951): Although jettisoning the central conceit of its source material, John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?”—i.e., a shape-shifting alien that can impersonate any of the characters, which later became the raison d’être of John Carpenter’s gory but great 1982 remake—this is a seminal SF classic. Producer Howard Hawks reportedly ceded directorial credit to his erstwhile editor, Christian Nyby, for union purposes, but his style is everywhere evident, particularly in the fast-paced, overlapping dialogue, male-dominated cast (led by genre mainstay Kenneth Tobey), and strong yet feminine leading lady (Margaret Sheridan). James Arness, later of Gunsmoke fame, is imposing but hardly recognizable as the vegetative alien who is unwittingly defrosted at an Arctic base and then makes mincemeat of the military personnel.

The Third Man: Probably the best Orson Welles movie not directed by the Big Guy (as it were) himself, this quintessential Cold War thriller was made just as that conflict was beginning, and set in post-war Vienna. It’s directed by Carol Reed, who almost makes one forget those damned dancing fishmongers in Oliver!, and written by Graham Greene, the unchallenged king of the thinking man’s spy story until the era of John le Carré, Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor), and Len Deighton. Featuring longtime Welles collaborator Joseph Cotten (whom I’ve never liked, but never mind) as Western writer Holly Martins; Alida Valli (later seen in Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil) as the heroine; Welles as remorseless racketeer Harry Lime, whom they both love in their own way; Trevor Howard as Calloway, the British military cop trying to nail him; Bernard Lee, best known as M in the James Bond films, as Howard’s right-hand man; and a superb zither score by Anton Karas.

This Is Spinal Tap: Rob Reiner’s hilarious “rockumentary” (actually a “mockumentary”) brilliantly skewers both the Beatles and heavy-metal bands, with script and songs co-written by the leads: Christopher Guest (who not only made a cottage industry out of creating such similar films as Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, but also gets to go to bed with Jamie Lee Curtis every night), Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer (The Simpsons). Includes such toe-tappers as “Sex Farm” and “Big Bottom,” plus cameos by everyone from Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) to Ed Begley, Jr. Rather than quote the obvious line here, I’ll simply say, “You can’t dust for vomit.”

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Bradley’s Hundred #71-80

Continuing the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

Notorious: One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best, probably in his top five…but let’s not get any more hung up on numbers than we already are at the moment. Offering eye candy for everyone, be they male or female, gay or straight, it stars Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, who lock lips in a memorable marathon kissing scene. He’s a debonair government agent trying to stop Nazi spy Claude Rains; she’s the womanly weapon he recruits to infiltrate the villain’s household, all the while dying inside because he loves her himself; and the imposingly-named Madame Konstantin is yet another of the domineering mothers populating the Hitchcock oeuvre. Classy and classic thrills.

On the Beach (1959): I will concede that the Australian anthem “Waltzing Matilda” is overused in this adaptation of Nevil Shute’s apocalyptic novel, but that doesn’t stop it from opening up my tear ducts every time. U.S. submarine commander Gregory Peck, dissolute (but willing to be redeemed) Ava Gardner, scientist and race-car enthusiast Fred Astaire (in an early dramatic role), and naval officer Anthony Perkins (just before being doomed to type-casting in Psycho) are among those Down Under, coping with the end of the world in their own ways as they await the arrival of a cloud of fallout from the nuclear war that has killed the rest of humanity. Stanley Kramer directed.

Once upon a Time in America (C’era una Volta in America): Adapted from Harry Gray’s obscure novel The Hoods (which, thanks to my pal Gilbert, I now own but have yet to read) by something like seven screenwriters, this complex tale of the Jewish Mafia jumps from time period to time period, echoing The Godfather Part II, and stars Robert DeNiro, James Woods, and Elizabeth McGovern, with a heart-rending score by Ennio Morricone. The uncut, three-hour-and-forty-five-minute version of this film may be Sergio Leone’s masterpiece (much as I love his spaghetti Westerns), but beware the butchered version first released in the States, which removed an hour and a half and, worse, destroyed Leone’s exquisitely crafted structure by placing the events in chronological order.

Once upon a Time in the West (C’era una Volta il West): Not my favorite Leone Western (which is probably a toss-up between For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), this nonetheless reveals increasing riches with each subsequent viewing. And while it doesn’t have Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name, it does have Henry Fonda spectacularly cast against type as the cold-hearted, blue-eyed villain; Charles Bronson as the taciturn, revenge-seeking hero (who, in fact, has no name, other than “Harmonica,” but never mind); Claudia Cardinale as the ex-whore seeking respectability and security (aren’t we all?); Jason Robards as an enigmatic bandit; Jack Elam, the late Woody Strode, and Some Guy You Never Heard Of as the three luckless gunmen who await Bronson’s arrival in the long, almost wordless credit sequence; a story co-written by Dario Argento (!) and Bernardo Bertolucci; and one of Maestro Morricone’s best scores.

The Philadelphia Story: I’m not normally a fan of screwball comedies, since the characters so often make one another miserable (see, as a prime offender, Hitchcock’s one outright comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), and I’m not even sure this is classified as one, although leads Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant also co-starred in one of the most famous, Bringing up Baby. In any event, this follows another of their shared efforts, Holiday; both were directed by George Cukor and based on plays by Philip Barry. Kate and Cary are, shall we say, unhappily divorced socialites, although initially only Cary realizes that what they need is to get re-hitched ASAP. Kate, alas, is prepping to wed a stuffy guy who is Cary’s polar opposite, so Cary sticks around and strikes up an alliance with reporter James Stewart, sent to cover the wedding with Ruth Hussey. Love and laughter ensue. Delightful.

Psycho (1960): Perhaps Hitchcock’s best film, with Vertigo neck and neck and Rear Window not far behind. Faithfully adapted by Joseph Stefano (who tried to take all the credit) from Robert Bloch’s novel, with a superb performance by Anthony Perkins as mother-obsessed motelier Norman Bates. Lovely but larcenous Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stops for the night en route to hooking up with beau Sam Loomis (John Gavin, later our ambassador to Mexico), but when she steps into the shower, things take an unexpected turn. In glorious black and white, with Vera Miles and Martin Balsam, plus Bernard Herrmann’s unforgettable, oft-imitated “screaming strings” score.

Rear Window (1954): James Stewart is a wheelchair-bound photographer who passes the time by observing his neighbors across the way; Grace Kelly (Hitch’s favorite heroine, and no wonder) is at her most breathtaking as the fashion model who loves him; Thelma Ritter is his wisecracking nurse; and Raymond Burr is the man who may have murdered his wife. This was adapted by Hitch’s frequent collaborator, John Michael Hayes, from the story by Cornell Woolrich; its only real weak link is that all-time champion block o’ wood, Wendell Corey, as Stewart’s police detective friend.

The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max II): That rare sequel that completely outshines the original. Mel Gibson is back in a post-apocalyptic road movie featuring one of the most nail-biting chases ever. I literally jumped out of my seat at one point—I’ll let you figure out which one. In a desert wasteland infested with murderous freaks, Max strikes up an uneasy alliance with a small outpost of normal people refining that most precious of commodities, gasoline. Still haunted by the murder of his family in the first film, Mad Max unexpectedly regains some of his humanity along the way.

Seven Samurai: Much as I admire all of Akira Kurosawa’s work, I consider this by far his finest achievement, all three and a half hours of its uncut form (which, believe me, flies by). The plot will be familiar to those who have seen the American remake, The Magnificent Seven, as a septet of down-on-their-luck swordsmen accept a few handfuls of rice as payment for protecting a village of farmers from greedy bandits. A masterpiece; both the action and the human drama have no parallel, with an outstanding cast headed by Kurosawa’s regular stars, Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune.

1776: I’ve gotta hand it to Sherman Edwards for having the chutzpah to think that the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence would make a good Broadway musical, but by gum, he was right, as it’s probably my favorite after Guys and Dolls, with Kiss Me, Kate running third. He wrote the music and lyrics (Mom played in the orchestra of a local production when I was a kid, which is how I was introduced to the show), and found an excellent collaborator to write the book in Peter Stone, whose screen credits include Charade and the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Stone also wrote this rousing film adaptation, featuring original cast members William Daniels (in the role of his career as John Adams), Howard Da Silva (Benjamin Franklin), and Ken Howard (Thomas Jefferson). The songs are great and the script is said to be very historically accurate.

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Bradley’s Hundred #61-70

Continuing the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

Laura: Closer to the spirit than the letter of, and decidedly superior to, Vera Caspary’s novel, Otto Preminger’s noir masterpiece is highlighted by David Raksin’s unforgettable title song, delectable dialogue, and a superlative cast: Gene Tierney, luminous in flashbacks as one of the world’s loveliest murder victims; Dana Andrews as the cop who, understandably, falls in love with the girl’s portrait; Clifton Webb in the role of his career as her acerbic mentor, Waldo Lydecker; Vincent Price in a pre-horror icon performance as her spineless boyfriend; and Rebecca’s Mrs. Danvers, Judith Anderson, in one of her patented evil-woman turns.

Local Hero: A unique and delightful comedy from writer-director Bill Forsythe. Peter Riegert is a smooth-talking oil-company executive sent from Houston by boss Burt Lancaster to acquire some property for a refinery in a Scottish coastal village. His interactions with the eccentric locals, who believe the deal is going to make them all rich, are just priceless. Trust me on this one; lots of fun.

The Longest Day: Perhaps the greatest World War II film ever made, this gargantuan, star-packed epic based on Cornelius Ryan’s bestseller details the planning and execution of D-Day. The amazing international cast includes Henry Fonda, Christian Marquand, Robert Mitchum, Wolfgang Preiss, Robert Ryan, and John Wayne. It’s so realistic that officers who had been on the beach at Normandy were shown the film and swore it utilized actual combat footage, but it didn’t. Still stirring and impressive after repeated viewings; forget the overrated Saving Private Ryan. For you trivia buffs, Richard Burton has a scene in a pub with Donald Houston, whom he would kill in the legendary cable-car fight in Where Eagles Dare seven years later, while Sean Connery went from a few lines in this to international stardom in Dr. No. “The bridge—in forty-five minutes.” MWAH!

The Magnificent Seven: Surprisingly, this Western (in every sense) remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai works. In the hands of director John Sturges, with Elmer Bernstein’s classic theme song spurring them on (as it were), the seven—Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz, and Brad Dexter—defend penniless Mexican peasants from brutal banditos Eli Wallach and friends (in most cases at the cost of their own lives).

The Maltese Falcon (1941): The film that justifiably solidified Humphrey Bogart’s stardom. John Huston’s directorial debut, which he adapted almost verbatim from Dashiell Hammett’s first and best novel (of which this is the third version, believe it or not), it features a stellar cast (Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook, Jr., Barton MacLane, Ward Bond, Jerome Cowan) enacting some of the most delicious scenes ever put on film. One pet peeve: Bogart describes Cook’s character as being “about twenty,” when at thirty-eight he was nearly twice that!

Monty Python and the Holy Grail: I consider the Pythons’ first full-length narrative their greatest achievement, co-directed by the two Terrys, Gilliam and Jones. The members of the troupe get to display their chameleonic natures by playing multiple parts, most notably the Knights of the Round Table who follow King Arthur (Graham Chapman) in his quest for the Holy Grail: Lancelot (John Cleese), Galahad (Michael Palin), Robin (Eric Idle), and Bedevere (Jones), with Gilliam as Arthur’s “trusty servant, Patsy.” I can quote distressingly large bits of this one from memory, or close enough. “Bring out your dead!”

Murder on the Orient Express (1974): Subsequently remade for TV (no, I didn’t subject myself to the ordeal), this paved the way for star-studded Agatha Christie adaptations for years to come, but none enjoyed the advantage of Oscar-nominated Albert Finney, who in my book (as it were) could have stepped off the page as her fastidious Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. The ever-versatile Sidney Lumet displayed a rare period flavor, in tandem with Finney’s fellow nominees: screenwriter Paul Dehn (Goldfinger, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), composer Richard Rodney Bennett, cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, and costume designer Tony Walton. Sadly, and perhaps inexplicably, only Ingrid Bergman took home a statue for the film despite its stellar cast (Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Casell, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York). Suspects abound when hated American bad guy Richard Widmark is stabbed to death in the Calais Coach.

Mysterious Island (1961): You can keep your Jasons and your Sinbads; this is my favorite Ray Harryhausen film. It has a much more solid script than most, rather than being just a flimsy excuse for the awesome stop-motion animation effects, and so what if the giant crab, bees, Phororhacos (try spelling that one three times fast [and you thought it was just a chicken]), and nautiloid cephalopod weren’t in the book? It’s otherwise surprisingly faithful. Herbert Lom is a satisfactory Captain Nemo; Bernard Herrmann’s score is one of four he composed back-to-back for Harryhausen.

A Night at the Opera: To me, the Marx Brothers’ two best films were the first ones they made at each of their major studios, i.e., The Cocoanuts for Paramount and this for MGM. Alan Jones is a tolerable Zeppo-substitute (he even looks like him), and his duet with Kitty Carlisle is much more bearable than the musical interludes (read “intrusions”) in other Marx films. Of course, the fact that the story is set in a musical milieu (the opera is Verdi’s Il Trovatore) also makes the tunes more organic than elsewhere. Sig Ruman makes an excellent foil for the brothers; in all, this is a delight.

The Night Stalker (1972): On its first telecast, this was the most-watched TV-movie in history, and rightly so. Richard Matheson adapted The Kolchak Tapes, a then-unpublished novel by Jeff Rice (who, in an interesting twist, subsequently novelized Matheson’s sequel, The Night Strangler, as a companion volume when his book was finally published in the wake of the film’s success). His teleplay superbly mixes wit and horror, while still taking its subject matter of a vampire on the loose in modern-day Vegas with, dare I say it, deadly seriousness. But its greatest achievement is his interpretation (which differs substantially from Rice’s) of wisecracking reporter Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin—who was born for the part—in the aforementioned sequel and the eponymous series (aka Kolchak: The Night Stalker) that followed. Dan Curtis produced; John Llewellyn Moxey (Horror Hotel) directed; the stellar supporting cast includes Simon Oakland (who co-starred in the series) as Kolchak’s perennially harried editor, Tony Vincenzo; Carol Lynley as his girlfriend; Claude Akins, Kent Smith, Ralph Meeker, and Larry Linville as various law-enforcement types; and Barry Atwater as the feral vampire, Janos Skorzeny.

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Bradley’s Hundred #51-60

Continuing the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

Horror Express (aka Panico en el Transiberiano [Panic on the Trans-Siberian Express]): One of those little gems I stumbled onto years ago and started telling everybody about. Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Telly Savalas star in this nifty Italian-Spanish co-production about an alien intelligence that hops from body to body and leaves its victims bleeding from every facial orifice. Wow! This reportedly came about because the producer got a good deal on the model train used in Nicholas and Alexandra. It’s unusual and action-packed, with a high body count and great lines (“Monster?! We’re British, you know.”). On a sadder note, Lee apparently talked Cushing into making this to help take his mind off the grief he suffered for the rest of his life over the death of his wife, Helen.

Horror Hotel (aka City of the Dead): Great ’60s British chiller about New England witches, directed by John (The Night Stalker) Moxey, with Christopher Lee in a supporting role. Story credit went to Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky, whom scriptwriter George Baxt claimed wrote only one scene—the worst! A college student disappears after traveling to the Raven’s Inn in secluded Whitewood to research witchcraft; when her boyfriend and college-professor brother investigate, they find more than they bargained for. With spooky chanting and a slam-bang climax.

I Love You to Death: Knowing how my wife shares my affection for this highly underrated black comedy from Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill), I bought it for her as an anniversary gift.  This is ironic in that it concerns a philandering pizzeria proprietor (Kevin Kline) whose wife (Tracey Ullman) decides to kill him, but neither she, her vengeful mother (Joan Plowright), nor the two stoners (William Hurt, Keanu Reeves) she brings in to do the job can carry it out successfully. The cast is uniformly hilarious, especially Kline, and the fact that the film is based on a true story just adds to its offbeat appeal. Why it didn’t do better is an absolute mystery to us both. “I’m an Italian—I cannot make love to a woman with a German shepherd watching!” (A slight paraphrase.)

Ice Station Zebra: Howard Hughes reportedly watched this movie over and over and over during his reclusive last days. He could have done worse. Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, and the great Patrick McGoohan (see “Dutch Master”) star in this exciting Alistair MacLean yarn about an undersea voyage, ostensibly to rescue the survivors of a fire at the titular installation—but we know better. Directed by John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape), with a superb score by Michel Legrand, excellent submarine sequences, and nail-biting Cold War tension throughout. At one time, I actually memorized a ten-minute scene from this film, and could recite it given the proper provocation and sufficient time to bone up on it beforehand, but now I’m too rusty.

In the Heat of the Night: This adaptation of John Ball’s first Virgil Tibbs novel won Oscars for Best Picture, Actor (Rod Steiger), and Adapted Screenplay (Stirling Silliphant); director Norman Jewison was also nominated. Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is a big-city black cop passing through a small, sweltering Southern town who is first suspected of, and then helps local sheriff Steiger solve, a murder while staying one step ahead of racist rednecks. Interestingly, although Poitier returned as Tibbs in two less satisfying sequels, They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (one of the more memorable lines from the original) and The Organization, neither utilized Ball’s six sequels as their source, but were written directly for the screen. This also spawned a long-running eponymous TV series.

It’s a Gift: What I consider the definitive W.C. Fields film. As with the Marx Brothers (see A Night at the Opera in our next installment), I feel his early work at Paramount, which seems to have been THE place for comedy in the 1930s and ’40s, was far superior to his later (albeit worthy) efforts at Universal, and this is the quintessence of that early work, an undiluted dose of Fields at his most brilliant. Virtually plot-free (which for once is a blessing in my book, as it gives Fields the liberty to concentrate on his unique comic sketches), the film depicts the trials and tribulations of grocer Harold Bissonette (“Open the door for Mr. Muckle!”) and his hateful family, most memorably an extended sequence in which the long-suffering Fields tries to get some sleep on a porch swing and is tormented by everyone from fruit-bearing Baby LeRoy to a pesky insurance salesman seeking the ever-elusive Carl LaFong (“capital L, small a…”). They don’t get any better.

It’s a Wonderful Life: Earning my Maudlin Man nickname, I cry at regular intervals every time I see this film, which is probably my second favorite after Where Eagles Dare (now there’s a pair). I watch it every Christmas Eve, when my wife makes me stay up all night wrapping presents, and have indoctrinated my daughter into the cult as well. Frank Capra’s masterful storytelling style has never been put to better use than in recounting the trials and tribulations of George Bailey (James Stewart, also never better), whose efforts to keep a small-town building and loan association afloat leave him wishing he’d never been born. Enter Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers), Angel Second Class (he hasn’t won his wings yet), who grants his wish by showing him what a poorer place Bedford Falls would be without him. You can’t watch this for five minutes without tripping over another memorable moment, brilliant character and/or delicious line; I practically know them all by heart now. Lionel Barrymore is the splendidly hissable villain, and I’d trade the entirety of Donna Reed’s remaining career for her role as Mary, the quintessential girl-next-door-turned-wife. A superb score by Dimitri Tiomkin. “My wild Irish rose…” BANG! “I’m all right, I’m all right!”

Jaws: Once upon a time, Steven Spielberg made movies that really scared people, as demonstrated by this and Richard Matheson’s Duel (see “Bradley’s Hundred #21-30”). This one’s pretty damn near perfect and spawned three sequels (so far) of varying quality; ironically, Matheson’s original script for Jaws 3-D was disastrously re-written by Carl Gottlieb, who had adapted this with author Peter Benchley. When a great white shark starts snacking on the inhabitants of Amity Island, threatening the tourist trade that is the community’s lifeblood, an uneasy triumvirate mobilizes to stop it: water-hating Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), freelance shark-hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), and ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss). John Williams outdid himself with the stellar score. Everybody quotes, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” but my favorite line is Scheider’s frustrated, “That’s great! That’s just great! Now where the hell are we?”

Kelly’s Heroes: Quite coincidentally, this group includes a disproportionate number of my absolute favorites. Clint Eastwood was reunited with Where Eagles Dare director Brian G. Hutton for this humorous caper film with a World War II setting and a Vietnam-era sensibility, filmed in Yugoslavia. The members of Clint’s platoon have been getting the short end of the stick since they hit the beach at Omaha, so when they learn of a fortune in Nazi gold kept in a bank behind enemy lines in occupied France, they decide to do a little extracurricular activity. With a stellar cast (Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Donald Sutherland, Carroll O’Connor), excellent dialogue courtesy of the late Troy Kennedy Martin, an outstanding score by Lalo Schifrin, and a Leone/Wild Bunch parody.

Kiss Me Deadly: Robert Aldrich, in his finest genre-subverting style, turns a typically hackneyed Mickey Spillane novel into the ultimate Cold War SF parable. Ralph Meeker is dazzling as the brutish Mike Hammer, a not-overly-principled private eye who slaps those of both sexes around (and admittedly takes his share of lumps in the bargain) while following a trail of bodies that leads from slain asylum escapee Cloris Leachman to a mysterious metal box, whose contents smell of Armageddon. Repo Man contains a direct visual homage to this film—just one of many, I presume.

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Bradley’s Hundred #41-50

Continuing the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

The Godfather: My Dad and I avoided this for many years, he because he thought it glamorized the Mafia (I don’t think it does; it’s just a good movie about bad people) and me because I thought I couldn’t take the violence. We finally caught the ten-hour TV version of parts I and II and saw what we’d been missing, though in retrospect I feel that is not the best form in which to see them. Quite simply a masterpiece, with its slow building to climactic crescendos of violence, one of my three favorite Brando roles (A Streetcar Named Desire and Apocalypse Now being the other two), and a star-making cast—yes, even James Caan is good. I also admire The Godfather Part II very much but, unlike many, don’t find the scenes with Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone to be as compelling as this (albeit without faulting his performance). “Leave the gun; take the cannolis.”

Goldfinger: The third and, in my opinion, best of the James Bond films, with Sean Connery at his peak. Features Gert Frobe (whose voice was inexplicably dubbed, although he spoke English fluently) as Auric Goldfinger, Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore (“I must be dreaming”), and Harold Sakata as Oddjob, with Shirley Bassey singing the best of her three Bond theme songs, stunning faux Fort Knox sets by Ken Adam, one of John Barry’s best scores, and a stunning climax.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo): Arguably Sergio Leone’s best spaghetti Western, featuring the unforgettable trinity of Clint Eastwood, a really nasty Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes, and Eli Wallach “in the role of Tuco.” The Civil War is just an inconvenience for those three as they search for a fortune in gold, with an unforgettable climactic three-way shootout in a cemetery. And dig that crazy Ennio Morricone theme song, surely one of the most recognizable pieces on earth. Several of us were able to hear the Maestro conducting selections from this score at Radio City Music Hall, which was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Great Escape: Turafish considers this The Greatest Movie Ever Made. I won’t go that far, but it’s right up there. Director John Sturges, composer Elmer Bernstein, and cast members Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn are reunited from The Magnificent Seven for this true story co-scripted by James Clavell. During World War II, the Germans decide to place all of their rotten eggs in one basket by herding their most troublesome prisoners into a single camp. Naturally, this leads to a legendary, albeit only partly successful, mass breakout led by “Big X” (Richard Attenborough). The theme song is unforgettable and the cast (also including James Garner, James Donald, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, and Gordon Jackson) is unparalleled.

Groundhog Day: This brilliantly conceived comedy reunited Bill Murray with Ghostbusters co-star/co-writer Harold Ramis of SCTV fame, who here assumes the director’s chair. While covering the titular holiday, arrogant weatherman Murray is forced to relive the same day over and over in snowy Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and essentially learns to be a better person—earning Andie MacDowell’s love in the process—as the various permutations are worked out with impeccable logic, leading to a satisfying conclusion. Featuring Chris Elliott (also seen in The Abyss). “BING!”

Gunga Din: Old-fashioned adventure of the kind they don’t make anymore, although Sergeants 3, with John Sturges directing the Rat Pack in a Western version, was surprisingly good. Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. are three British soldiers serving in 19th-century India, who run afoul of a Thuggee cult led by Eduardo Ciannelli. Sam Jaffe plays Rudyard Kipling’s eponymous water-carrier, who saves the day at the cost of his life, and Joan Fontaine is the fiancée whose engagement to Fairbanks the others repeatedly try to scuttle; great score by Alfred Newman.

The Guns of Navarone: Immortalized by the very youthful Alexandra as Guns Forever Known. Considering the subsequent and steady decline of director J. Lee Thompson’s career, this is astonishingly good, the first of the Alistair MacLean adaptations and one of those that holds up the best. Stalwart Gregory Peck, formidable Anthony Quinn, and dubious David Niven join Irene Papas and commandos Anthony Quayle, Stanley Baker, and James Darren on the usual impossible mission on a German-held Greek island during WWII. Not many action films make me mist up, but this one has a beautifully reflective coda, featuring the softer side of Dimitri Tiomkin’s majestic score, that gets me every time. Despite being directed by Guy (Goldfinger) Hamilton, the belated sequel, Force 10 from Navarone (with Robert Shaw and Edward Fox in the Peck and Niven roles, plus Harrison Ford and Barbara Bach), is vastly inferior, I’m sorry to say, so stick with the original.

A Hard Day’s Night: The Beatles’ first and best-loved movie, directed in pyrotechnical prototype-MTV style by Richard Lester and featuring a plethora of their best early songs, including two of my favorites, “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Better,” plus the title tune, “All My Loving,” “And I Love Her,” and “She Loves You” (do I detect a pattern here?). Since I regard the Fab Four as the group to end all groups, with Talking Heads a relatively close second, I can forgive the fact that this doesn’t really have much of a story, other than trying to get the boys onstage for a TV special. “How do you find America?” “Turn left at Greenland.” With Victor (Help!) Spinetti.

Help!: Unlike most Beatlephiles, I prefer this to A Hard Day’s Night. Also directed by Richard Lester, it actually has a plot, and one loopy enough to suit my bizarre sensibilities, as the cult of Kali tries to turn Ringo into a human sacrifice. The great songs include “Ticket to Ride,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “The Night Before,” “I Need You,” and the title tune. With Leo McKern as Klang (“Hold?”), Eleanor Bron (“Is not the Beatle with the ring, he!”), Victor Spinetti (“With a ring like that I could—dare I say it?—rule the world.”), and Lester regular Roy Kinnear.

High Noon: Along with For Whom the Bell Tolls, this is probably my favorite Gary Cooper movie, although there’s some stiff competition (most notably Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Meet John Doe). Coop is Marshal Will Kane, who’s ready to retire from gunslinging and enjoy some wedded bliss with Quaker bride Grace Kelly (who wouldn’t be?). There’s just one hitch: Frank Miller, a desperado whom Kane put away, is out of prison and headed back on the noonday train to exact a little vengeance, accompanied by several like-minded killers. Kane has no death wish, but he’s too much the pro to leave the town to Miller’s tender mercies, even though Grace is ready to leave him if he doesn’t have sense enough to head for the hills. Will the populace rally to his aid? The answer plays out (in real time) in this suspenseful classic directed by Fred Zinnemann.

P.S.  My bad—TCM’s Kurosawa retrospective is not over.  This Tuesday 3/30 at 8:00 PM you can still see Dersu Uzala, Kagemusha (my favorite among his post-Mifune films), and Ran.  But don’t forget about Justified.

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Bradley’s Hundred #31-40

Continuing the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

The Exorcist: William Friedkin’s followup to his masterpiece, The French Connection, was adapted by William Peter Blatty (who also produced) from his novel, with the underappreciated Max Von Sydow in the title role. Like Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in The Third Man, he’s not onscreen a whole lot, but his presence overshadows everything. Ellen Burstyn is the movie actress on location in Georgetown when her daughter (Linda Blair) is possessed by the demon Pazuzu; Jason Miller is the priest who tries to help while undergoing a crisis of faith; Lee J. Cobb is the deceptively distracted detective investigating an ensuing murder. The victim, Burke Dennings, was based on and supposed to be played by J. Lee Thompson, who had directed Blatty’s John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! (to say nothing of The Guns of Navarone), but got cold feet and was replaced by Jack MacGowran. The latter is perhaps best known for joining Roman Polanski in the title roles of the latter’s spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers (aka Dance of the Vampires). “Dimmy, why you did this to me?” The so-called “Version You’ve Never Seen” was re-edited and rereleased in 2000.

Fantastic Voyage: I make no claim for this as any sort of masterpiece, but by gum it’s fun, and was a boyhood favorite on The 4:30 Movie. A scientist is wounded while escaping from behind the Iron Curtain, and a medical team must remove a blood clot from his brain to save his life, but the only way to do that is from the inside. So security man Stephen Boyd, pilot William Redfield, medicos Arthur Kennedy, Raquel Welch, and Donald Pleasence, and the submarine Proteus are miniaturized and sent into his bloodstream to destroy the clot with a laser beam, while military men Edmond O’Brien and Arthur O’Connell exude concern outside. And well they might, for the mission is jeopardized not only by the dangers of their unusual environment (e.g., antibodies that understandably cling to Welch’s wetsuit), but also by the presence of an unidentified saboteur, who seems determined to kill the patient at the cost of his or her own life. Sure, the physics of the miniaturization spiel are ludicrous, but the filmmakers did go out of their way to make the interiors (as it were) realistic, and reportedly got high marks from the medical community. Relax and enjoy!

The Fellowship of the Ring: I loved all three parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but this one in particular stands out among my most memorable filmgoing experiences. Growing up, I was a little put off by my brother Stephen’s fanatical devotion to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, so I stuck with my Edgar Rice Burroughs and Raymond Chandler and whatnot. As I have yet to get around to reading the books, my daughter and I were both Middle-earth neophytes when I took her to see this, although she has become a devotee. At any rate, director/co-writer Peter Jackson’s magnificent evocation of Tolkien’s creation quite overwhelmed me. I found this tale of the disparate band united to locate and destroy a dangerous ring by turns exciting, amusing, and moving, with a uniformly excellent cast and outstanding music (by Howard Shore), cinematography, and special effects. Don’t miss it.

The Flight of the Phoenix: Probably the best adaptation of The GREAT Elleston Trevor’s work (see “The Other Titan, Part II”), although compared to The Quiller Memorandum, that ain’t saying much. Director Robert Aldrich had a knack for subverting or prefiguring particular genres; the latter talent is in effect here, anticipating the star-studded disaster films of the 1970s but with much more depth and substance. James Stewart is brilliantly cast against type as the burned-out pilot who crashes in the Sahara, represented here by the Arizona desert that Elleston first visited as the film’s technical director, and later made his home. Stewart and the rest of the all-male cast eventually construct a new, mini-plane from the wreck of the old one (hence the title) and fly to safety—a premise that Elleston, a flight engineer for the RAF in WW II, makes eminently plausible. Written by Aldrich’s frequent collaborator, Lukas Heller, this features Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Kruger, Ian Bannen, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, and Christian Marquand in the cast.

The Fog (1980): I know I’m in the minority (again) here, but I think this highly underrated film is John Carpenter’s best. It’s certainly more original than Halloween; filled with atmosphere and a terrific Carpenter score, it still scares me, plus it’s got Jamie Lee Curtis! On the anniversary of its founding, the California community of Antonio Bay is menaced by leprous ghosts who come under cover of a glowing fog that can move against the wind, and represent the sins of the town fathers come back literally to haunt them. Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh (Jamie Lee’s lovely mother, courtesy of pater Tony Curtis), and Adrienne Barbeau (Carpenter’s then-spouse, memorably trapped in an isolated lighthouse radio station) are among those battling the boogeymen.

For a Few Dollars More (Per Qualche Dollari in Piu): Spaghetti-Western godfather Sergio Leone really hit his stride with this bounty-hunter epic, the second and possibly best in the “Dollars” trilogy that began with A Fistful of Dollars (Per un Pugno di Dollari) and ended with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo). It features the unbeatable team of Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name and Lee Van Cleef (who seemed to bring out the best in Clint) as vengeful colleague Colonel Mortimer, with an unforgettable Ennio Morricone score and a gloriously protracted final shootout.

For Whom the Bell Tolls: Those who know me well will tell you I’m not the biggest fan of Ernest Hemingway. Novels and films like A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises annoyed the hell out of me with their whiny, self-pitying, self-destructive characters. But this—ah, now this is something different: noble, self-sacrificing partisans trying to blow a vital bridge during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. With Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman (“Where do the noses go?”) at her loveliest, both reportedly hand-picked by Hemingway himself, as Robert Jordan and Maria; Katina Paxinou and Akim Tamiroff (reteamed twelve years later in Orson Welles’s Confidential Report [aka Mr. Arkadin]) as Pilar (“much woman”) and the treacherous Pablo; Sam Wood (the director, oddly enough, of A Night at the Opera) in charge; and one of the most powerful endings I can remember.

The French Connection: Swept the major Oscars, and rightly so. Gene Hackman is unforgettable as abrasive but tenacious New York cop “Popeye” Doyle, with Roy Scheider as his partner and their real-life counterparts, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, in supporting roles; Fernando Rey plays “Frog One,” the man behind the huge heroin deal they hope to bust. This is one of the few movies I will watch at the drop of a hat: the performances, dialogue (officially adapted by Shaft creator Ernest Tidyman from the nonfiction bestseller by Robin Moore, author of The Green Berets, although I believe a fair amount of it was ad-libbed), and music (by Don Ellis) are uniformly excellent. Director William Friedkin really captures New York’s gritty atmosphere, and Popeye’s frantic automotive chase of an elevated train carrying a sniper has yet to be equaled. John Frankenheimer’s sequel, in which Hackman follows his quarry to France, is outstanding.

Gandhi: Ben Kingsley’s outstanding performance and uncanny resemblance to his subject, Richard Attenborough’s direction, and John Briley’s script—all justified Oscar winners—make this a Best Picture worthy of the name. I’ve seen this many times, and on each viewing I’m impressed all over again by what a high-quality film it is. Gandhi’s story is, of course, inspiring and tragic, and the cast is equally impressive, e.g., Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen, Ian Charleson, and playwright Athol Fugard. “I know a Christian. She drinks blood!”

Ghostbusters: That rare comedy I enjoy watching repeatedly. Bill Murray (“Important safety tip—thanks, Egon.”) is at his most likable, co-stars Dan Aykroyd (“Get her!”) and Harold Ramis (“Print is dead.”) turned in a superb script, Ivan Reitman’s direction is solid, the special effects and Ray Parker, Jr.’s, theme song are great, and it even has Sigourney Weaver (“You are so odd.”)! What more can you ask for? Murray et al. hire Ernie Hudson (“Tell him about the Twinkie.”) to help them cope with an infestation of spooks that seems to be centered on Weaver’s New York City apartment. Rick Moranis (“Yes, have some.”), Annie Potts (“We got one!”), and William Atherton (as the nasty EPA guy who reportedly has no, uh, let’s skip it…) are among those along for the ride.

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Bradley’s Hundred #21-30

Continuing the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

Dead Calm: This is among the best thrillers in recent memory, directed by Phillip Noyce, who later went on to make the Tom Clancy movies Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger and the justifiably lambasted Ira Levin adaptation Sliver. The underrated Sam Neill and the formidable Nicole Kidman play a couple taking a long voyage on their sailboat to purge the pain of losing their child in a car crash. In the middle of the ocean, they encounter another vessel from which terrifying psycho Billy Zane is fleeing after some never-fully-explained event. When he kidnaps Kidman, leaving Neill aboard the sinking ship he quitted, an absolutely nail-biting nautical adventure ensues.

The Deep: As mentioned, I have a prejudice for underwater films, and since the characters in this film rarely poke their heads above the surf, I love it! Peter Benchley’s followup to Jaws was directed by the eclectic Peter Yates. Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset (memorable in the famous wet T-shirt) play a vacationing couple who seek sunken treasure in Bermuda, joining forces with local curmudgeon Robert Shaw and squaring off against nasty villain Louis Gossett, Jr. With Eli Wallach as a wily boozer, spectacular underwater cinematography, and a superb John Barry score.

The Defiant Ones (1958): Another socially conscious classic from director Stanley Kramer (On the Beach, Inherit the Wind). Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier are escaped convicts shackled together by a length of chain. Curtis is a racist cracker and Poitier is, well, you know, so they find they’re their own worst enemies. The supporting cast (e.g., Theodore Bikel, Charles McGraw, King Donovan, Claude Akins, Whit Bissell, and Lon Chaney, Jr. in one of his best non-horror roles) and gritty black-and-white photography stand out; Poitier’s plaintive wailing of “Long Gone” is unforgettable.

The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil’s Bride): One of Hammer’s best. Director Terence Fisher is in top form, and Richard Matheson’s superb adaptation streamlined the oft-verbose Dennis Wheatley’s novel into an action-packed 95 minutes. Christopher Lee actually gets a decent hunk of screen time in a rare heroic role as the Duc de Richelieu, with Charles Gray as the memorable, Aleister Crowley-inspired villain, Mocata, and a dynamite James Bernard score. Unfortunately, although this and Michael Carreras’s vastly inferior The Lost Continent were meant to kick off a series of Wheatley films, both bombed and the idea went down the toilet. Soon after, Fisher suffered the first of several accidents that prevented him from directing both Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and Lust for a Vampire; in his later years, his health was so bad he was uninsurable and thus could not work, leaving the studio’s last two Frankenstein films, …Must Be Destroyed and …and the Monster from Hell, a final legacy in 1980. “Yes, Simon. He is the one we must thank.”

Die Hard: Bruce Willis is a fish-out-of-water New York cop trapped in the unfinished upper floors of a Los Angeles office building during a Yuletide attack by faux terrorists led by Alan Rickman (whose character is the namesake of “Silent Night” composer Hans Gruber). There is an interesting dynamic between page and screen at work here: the novel on which Die Hard is based, Roderick Thorp’s Nothing Lasts Forever, was actually a belated sequel to Thorp’s The Detective, filmed with Frank Sinatra twenty years earlier, but any connection between the two was eliminated from the film. Conversely, Die Hard 2 was based on an entirely unrelated novel, 58 Minutes, by Walter Wager, whose work was also filmed as Robert Aldrich’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming and Don Siegel’s Telefon. The underappreciated Bonnie Bedelia shines as Mr. Willis’s semi-estranged wife.

The Dirty Dozen: Robert Aldrich directed this unconventional and influential war movie, based on E.M. Nathanson’s fine novel. Lee Marvin has the unenviable task of trying to forge twelve convicts into a viable fighting unit for a suicide mission in occupied France on the eve of D-Day. The superb cast includes Donald Sutherland, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, Jim Brown and Clint Walker among the dozen, plus Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, and Ralph Meeker.

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: One of the few absolutely perfect films in existence. I wouldn’t change a single frame. Based on the novel Red Alert by the pseudonymous Peter George, who co-wrote the script with Terry Southern and director Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick set out to make a serious film on the subject of an accidental nuclear conflict (like Fail Safe, released the same year by Sidney Lumet with a virtually identical premise), and rightly decided a black comedy would be more effective. Sterling Hayden is demented General Jack Ripper, who unilaterally orders a nuclear attack on the Soviets he believes are threatening our “bodily essence”; George C. Scott has one of the best roles of his career as gung-ho General “Buck” Turgidson. Peter Sellers superbly plays three parts: President Merkin Muffley, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and the title role; his intended fourth, Major “King” Kong, was finally played by Slim Pickens, supposedly because Sellers had broken his leg (though some say he didn’t think he was up to playing it anyway). “You’re gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.” Superb.

Duel: Based on a real-life incident that happened to the legendary Richard Matheson and his friend and fellow genre writer Jerry Sohl on the day of the JFK assassination, this early TV-movie effort from Steven Spielberg was adapted by Matheson from his eponymous short story, originally published in Playboy. It’s a virtual one-character story about an average guy (Dennis Weaver, whose character is appropriately named “Mann”) who runs afoul of a sadistic and unseen trucker during a drive through the desert that turns into a taut cat-and-mouse game. It’s simply super stuff.

Dune (1984): One of the underdog films I have most vigorously championed over the years. I remember when it came out, many critics said that if you hadn’t read Frank Herbert’s source novel, you’d never understand it, but my future wife and then-fourteen-year-old sister-in-law and I had no trouble. I’ve read the book since then, and feel that in spite of the inevitable streamlining (which would be reduced if writer-director David Lynch could reconstruct a true director’s cut, rather than that televised abomination from which he rightly removed his name), it does Herbert’s brilliant work justice. The real star is Lynch’s evocations of four distinct worlds. In a nutshell, it’s the story of how Emperor Shaddam IV (José Ferrer) meddles in the battle between House Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow, Francesca Annis, Kyle MacLachlan) and House Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan, Sting, Paul L. Smith) for control of the desert planet Arrakis (aka Dune), source of a mind- and space-altering spice, and how said battle affects the very fate of the universe. Brad Dourif, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Virginia Madsen, Everett McGill, Patrick Stewart, Dean Stockwell, Max Von Sydow and Sean Young are among the cast; the splendid score is by Brian Eno and Toto.

Ed Wood: Right from its teaser and credits—clever variations on Criswell’s opening monologue and the cartoonish tombstones in Plan 9 from Outer Space—and its demented bongo-driven main title theme by Howard (The Lord of the Rings) Shore, this is a masterpiece. In glorious black-and-white, director Tim Burton celebrates legendary no-budget auteur Edward D. Wood, Jr., specifically the three films he made with the fading Bela Lugosi before and after his death (Glen or Glenda?, Bride of the Monster, and Plan 9). The chameleonic Johnny Depp, who starred in Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow, among others, is the eternally optimistic Wood (“It’s uncanny!”), with Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie, Bill Murray, and Sarah Jessica Parker among the pathetic oddballs in his orbit. Martin Landau (“Pull ze strings!”) and makeup man Rick Baker won Oscars for recreating Lugosi, but the public stayed home in droves. Pearls before swine.

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Bradley’s Hundred #11-20

Continuing the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

Blade Runner: As is often the case, I prefer the original version, with the narration and quasi-happy ending that bothered so many, to the subsequent director’s cut (of which I believe there are now at least two), but no matter how you slice it, this is still one of the most amazing films ever made. The titular operative (Harrison Ford) is brought reluctantly out of retirement to track down a group of deadly androids with a built-in lifespan, played by Rutger Hauer (never better as Roy Batty), Brion James, and the up-and-coming Daryl Hannah and Joanna Cassidy. Questions of identity permeate his encounters with these Replicants, their creator (Joseph Turkel), and his niece (Sean Young). Loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, whose work was later adapted—with varying degrees of success—into Total Recall, Screamers, Impostor, Minority Report, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly, and Next. The real star is Ridley Scott’s evocation of overpopulated 21st-century Los Angeles; the top-notch supporting cast includes Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, and William Sanderson. “It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.”

The Bridge on the River Kwai: No offense to Lawrence of Arabia, but I think this is David Lean’s greatest film. It swept the major Oscars (obviously excepting Best Actress) and deserved all of them. William Holden and Oscar-winner Alec Guinness are at their stellar best as, respectively, an American who leads a demolition team back to the Japanese POW camp from which he’s just escaped, and the British colonel who wages a war of wills with the commandant (Oscar nominee Sessue Hayakawa) and ends up taking too much pride in the bridge his men are building. Originally omitted from the credits in favor of Pierre Boulle (author of Planet of the Apes), who wrote the novel, blacklisted screenwriters Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman received posthumous Oscars in 1984. The ending is somewhat different from Boulle’s but, not surprisingly, more cinematic. With Jack Hawkins, James Donald, André Morell, and a superb Malcolm Arnold score.

A Bridge Too Far: I’m one of the few people who really liked this adaptation of Cornelius (The Longest Day) Ryan’s bestseller. A financial failure, it dramatizes the equally ill-fated Operation Market-Garden, in which paratroops attempted to seize three bridges in occupied Holland that would have enabled the Allies to cross the Rhine into Germany; the title tells it all. The wonderful score is by John Addison, and I don’t see how you can dislike a film with Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Kruger, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Maximilian Schell, and Liv Ullmann. Well, okay, admittedly we have to put up with James Caan, Elliott Gould, and Ryan O’Neal (three of my least favorites), too, but still.

Carnival of Souls (1962): I was one of the first to spread the gospel about this no-budget stunner starring Candace Hilligoss (who also appeared, but whose head did NOT end up on a platter, as a friend dutifully corrected me, in Del Tenney’s Curse of the Living Corpse). Shot in Kansas, it features Hilligoss as a young woman who emerges from the river after the car in which she was a passenger plunges from a bridge, and begins to experience strange visions and other odd occurrences. Moving to a new town to take a job as a church organist, she is drawn to a dilapidated carnival fairground nearby. A unique and truly creepy film that scared the hell out of me when I was a nipper. The director, Herk Harvey (who previously made industrial films), plays “The Man.”

Casablanca: An outstanding score and cast, plus one of the most quotable scripts and unforgettable collections of minor characters ever, place this in the top echelon of the cinema. Humphrey Bogart runs Rick’s Café Americain in the titular city during the early hours of World War II, sticking his neck out for nobody (demonstrated by the fate of Ugarte, played by Peter Lorre in one of his briefest but most memorable roles) and nursing a heart broken by a love affair in soon-to-be-occupied Paris. Suddenly, up pops the breaker herself, in the heart-melting form of Ingrid Bergman, who turns out to have been married all along to the presumed-dead Resistance leader Paul Henreid. The problems of three little people add up to much more than a hill of beans in Bogart’s best-known film, featuring Claude Rains as the corrupt (but not TOO corrupt) Inspector Renault, Dooley Wilson as piano-playing Sam (who performs the unforgettable “As Time Goes By”), Conrad Veidt as nasty Nazi Major Strasser, and Sydney Greenstreet as Rick’s competing nightclub owner, Signor Ferrari.

Casino Royale (1967): It all started when producer Charles K. Feldman snapped up the rights to Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel (which, for trivia buffs, was originally dramatized for television on Climax!, with Barry Nelson horrifically miscast as an American [!] James Bond and Peter Lorre as the villain, LeChiffre). The rights to the rest were then bought by the team that has since produced the official series, which by the time this was made encompassed five films. Realizing he could not compete with Sean Connery (and who could?), Feldman decided to make this a spoof, though ironically more of the novel remains amid the gags than in some of the later “adaptations.” And what a spoof it is (albeit widely despised), combining the work of five directors, including John Huston (who plays M) and Val Guest; comic geniuses Peter Sellers (as baccarat expert Evelyn Tremble), Woody Allen (as Bond’s hapless and traitorous nephew, Jimmy), and Ronnie Corbet of Two Ronnies fame; distinguished actors such as David Niven (as Bond), Deborah Kerr, William Holden, and Charles Boyer; the formidable Orson Welles as LeChiffre; a host of references to the earlier Bond films, including a golden girl, a villain named Dr. Noah, and the stunning Ursula Andress; cameos by everyone from George Raft to Peter O’Toole and Jean Paul Belmondo; and a score that includes Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Oscar-nominated “The Look of Love” and the title song (a Word-Man fave), played by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

Citizen Kane: Often called the greatest movie ever made; pretty damn good either way, and shows Orson Welles at his best. Given carte blanche after his many successes on stage and radio, Welles directed, co-wrote (with Herman J. Mankiewicz), and stars as Charles Foster Kane, a self-centered newspaper magnate based on William Randolph Hearst, whose efforts to sabotage the film helped prevent it from being a success at the time. Although some of the cinematic techniques used here had been pioneered by others, Welles’s mastery of the form is undeniably brilliant, and the film remains as a bittersweet reminder of what he was capable of, given the money and the opportunities.

Colossus: The Forbin Project: This was criminally mishandled by Universal, which didn’t know what to do with a film about a computer taking over the world in the wake of 2001: A Space Odyssey, although the brilliant novel by D.F. Jones predated Kubrick’s movie. Eric Braeden had appeared on The Rat Patrol as Hans Gudegast, but was forced to change his name to something a little less obviously German in order to secure the lead role of Dr. Charles Forbin, the inventor of Colossus. The idea is to take the decision to launch The Bomb out of the hands of fallible humans, and give it to a supercomputer that will make judgments coldly and rationally, based on facts rather than emotions. But no sooner is it switched on than Colossus detects a Soviet counterpart called Guardian, and together, with their metaphoric finger on the nuclear trigger, they assume control of the world. I’ve prayed for years that someone will film the remainder of Jones’s trilogy, The Fall of Colossus and Colossus and the Crab. Both Braeden and director Joseph Sargent are still alive, but screenwriter James Bridges is gone, and since this was a financial flop, I’m not holding my breath.

“Crocodile” Dundee: At once an adventure, a comedy, and a romance, this film makes effective use of Australian star Paul Hogan’s considerable charm. Hogan co-wrote the film and four years later married his bewitching co-star, Linda Kozlowski…a native, I might add, of my Mom’s hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut, to whom he remains wed even now. She’s Sue Charlton, a Newsday reporter who goes Down Under for a story on Outback phenom Mick Dundee, and when she brings him back to New York, he finds himself as much a fish out of water as Sue was on his turf. With a wonderful score by Peter Best and a supporting role for go-to Aborigine David Gulpilil of Walkabout fame. The surprisingly good “Crocodile” Dundee II reverses the formula: Mick and Sue run afoul of Colombian drug lords in New York, and return to Australia for a showdown on Mick’s terms; I anticipate finally seeing “Crocodile” Dundee in Los Angeles with some trepidation.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951): One of the three seminal SF films to open the 1950s (the others being Destination Moon and The Thing), and one of several superb genre films directed by Val Lewton alumnus Robert Wise, this features a true sense of the 1950s’ Cold War paranoia. Michael Rennie has the best role of his career as Klaatu, who lands on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in his flying saucer, accompanied by a towering, death-beam-wielding cyclopean robot, Gort. Before he can deliver his vital message, Klaatu is gunned down by a trigger-happy solider; after recovering from his wounds, he escapes from Walter Reed military hospital and poses as a human to learn more about our nutty race. His encounters with widow Patricia Neal and her young son prove fateful as the truth of Klaatu’s mission and abilities becomes clearer. “Klaatu barada nikto.”

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Bradley’s Hundred #1-10

As mentioned earlier (see “My Filmic Valentine”), this will kick off the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.  And now, let the games begin…

The Abyss:  I regard this as writer/director James (The Terminator, Aliens, Titanic, Avatar) Cameron’s greatest achievement, although admittedly I have an unreasoning bias in favor of films set underwater.  I also consider it a tear-duct-stimulating love story, although it is more obviously an SF action-adventure movie.  Its only flaw, in my opinion, is that the benign nature of its aliens makes this more like Close Encounters of the Third Kind underwater than Alien underwater, which took some of the edge off it for me.  Estranged spouses Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio are uncomfortably brought back together aboard an underwater oil-drilling rig when something brings down a nuclear sub nearby.  Turns out to be extraterrestrial visitors, which makes the military team led by Michael Biehn and sent down to check out the sub more than a mite nervous.  A hurricane cuts the rig off from the surface, leaving the cast in various types of peril.  As usual, Cameron went all-out to ensure that the underwater scenes were state of the art, and created some groundbreaking CGI effects for the scene in which the aliens manifest themselves in a tentacle made of seawater.  I find the story and characters much more satisfying than those in his later films, and actually prefer the original theatrical version to the director’s cut that was later made available.

The Adventures of Robin Hood:  For my money, this is not only Errol Flynn’s best film, but also the best swashbuckler, and the best sword fight, in Hollywood history.  Flynn is backed up by one of the greatest casts Warner Brothers could assemble, with Basil Rathbone enjoying one of his best roles as Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Claude Rains deliciously duplicitous as King John, and even Olivia de Havilland, whom I normally loathe, luminous as Maid Marian.  That’s to say nothing of such supporting cast members as Alan Hale, Patric Knowles, Eugene Pallette (among the funniest men on the screen), and Ian Hunter; absolutely stunning color photography, which doubtless helped make this Warner’s most expensive film to date; and a rousing Erich Wolfgang Korngold score.  Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) co-directed with William Keighley, reportedly to beef up the action.

Alien:  This might have been Ridley Scott’s masterpiece if he hadn’t outdone himself completely with Blade Runner just three years later.  When the mining spacecraft Nostromo is diverted from its course by the computer, “Mother,” the crew is prematurely awakened from hypersleep and ordered to investigate a distress call from a storm-swept planet.  There they pick up an unwanted passenger that systematically destroys most of the crew until Sigourney Weaver, in her star-making role of Ripley, dukes it out in the tense climax.  Still packs a punch after many repeated viewings; superb special effects and a stellar, as it were, cast:  Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, the especially ill-fated John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto.  Spawned three sequels (not counting those Alien vs. Predator spinoffs), all of which I enjoyed in their own right, not least because each film in the tetralogy has a distinctly different flavor.  Not to be viewed while eating!

The Andromeda Strain (1971):  This faithful adaptation of Michael Crichton’s early bestseller is another one-two punch from The Haunting’s knockout writer-director team, Nelson Gidding and Robert Wise.  A satellite containing an incredibly lethal space germ lands in a New Mexico town and the fun begins, with most of the action set inside a mammoth underground lab with a nuclear-destruct device.  Taut and absorbing, with rare lead roles for Arthur Hill, James Olson, David Wayne, and Kate Reid, whose character was a man in the novel.  In an interview, Wise told me he deliberately did not cast major stars (or Raquel Welch-style babes) in their roles, so that the audience would more readily accept their characters as scientists.  In 2008, A&E remade this as a bloated, totally superfluous miniseries.  “Have a look at his buttocks.”  “That’s not funny.”

Apocalypse Now:  For me, this and Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket are the only Vietnam films worth having.  I hated The Deer Hunter, and although I enjoyed Platoon, I didn’t go nuts over it the way some people did.  While filming in the Philippines, director Francis Ford Coppola entered his own “Heart of Darkness” with this modernized version of the Joseph Conrad tale, with Marlon Brando as the renegade Colonel Kurtz (“…the horror, the horror…”) and Martin Sheen, replacing Harvey Keitel, as the assassin sent to terminate him.  I love Keitel, but Sheen seems perfect in this part.  Robert Duvall has a memorable role as a surfing-enthusiast colonel, as does Dennis Hopper as an eccentric photojournalist, and even Harrison Ford pops up in a supporting role in the opening scenes.  Songs by The Doors, including “The End” (heard, ironically, at the beginning); Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” is used to brilliant effect during a helicopter attack.  Again, I prefer the original version to the expanded Apocalypse Now Redux cut, although that has its points of interest.

Arsenic and Old Lace:  A great movie in its own right, and also a sentimental favorite, for my wife and I co-starred in this venerable Broadway comedy in high school, although she played my aunt, so forget any passionate clinches.  (Actually, we were just friends at the time, but never mind.)  Cary Grant—who, let’s face it, is the guy every guy wants to be (and, yes, I had his role)—is Mortimer Brewster, a marriage-hating dramatic critic whose conversion by new bride Priscilla Lane (an effective proselytizer, I might add) is interrupted by the revelation that his two eccentric aunts have poisoned eleven lonely old men, and had them buried in the cellar by a second nephew who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt.  Further complicating things is the arrival of a third and final nephew, the villainous Jonathan (Raymond Massey, standing in for Boris Karloff, who was still performing in the play; alas, this takes some of the bite out of the in-joke about his character resembling Karloff), with his cringeing assistant (Peter Lorre) and another body in tow.  Frank Capra directed, and as always has filled his cast with memorable character actors, including James Gleason in one of his innumerable police detective roles, Jack Carson as a beat cop and aspiring playwright, and the inimitable Edward Everett Horton (another of the funniest men ever to appear on the screen, in my opinion) as the emissary of Happy Dale, the rest home to which Mortimer hopes to commit Teddy.  Just a delight.

The Big Chill:  Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s hilarious yet often touching film boasts a stellar cast and a superb Motown score.  The use of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” over the main titles sets the tone, as it were, perfectly.  Out-of-touch college chums Tom Berenger (“Look out for the stick shift—ohhhh!”), Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum (“Just good investigative journalism.”), William Hurt, Kevin Kline (“Be right back, baby!”), Mary Kay Place, and JoBeth Williams gather over a weekend to mourn their suicidal friend, and end up renewing their old ties (and values).  Sure, it rips off John Sayles’s The Return of the Secaucus Seven.  So what?  It’s great!

The Big Lebowski:  I’d like to think that my friends and I were in the vanguard of those who have made this hilarious and endlessly quotable Coen Brothers film a cult favorite.  Jeff Bridges stars as The Dude (aka Jeff Lebowski), a mysteriously well-off unemployed stoner whose home is invaded and his rug defiled by thugs trying to collect on a debt run up by the wife of a rich man also named Lebowski.  When the other Lebowski refuses to make good on The Dude’s losses, he and his bowling buddies (John Goodman, in a role reportedly modeled on John Milius, and Steve Buscemi) embark upon an increasingly outré quest to achieve some sort of justice.  (“Dude, he peed on your rug?”)  Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Sam Elliott, and Ben Gazarra are along for the ride.  The characters, the interplay among them, and the dialogue are all priceless here.

The Big Sleep (1946):  Sublime, with Humphrey Bogart as the best of the screen’s Philip Marlowes (although the competition is admittedly a mixed bag, at best).  Very few liberties are taken with Raymond Chandler’s complex first novel; most involve tailoring it to the team of Bogie and soon-to-be fourth and final wife Lauren Bacall, which had been introduced by Howard Hawks in To Have and Have Not.  In fact, reshooting before this film’s general release was done to add some of that unique chemistry, and to offset Lauren Bacall’s poor reviews for Confidential Agent.  (The earlier preview version of The Big Sleep is available, and makes for a fascinating comparison.)  Hawks directs at the epitome of his noirish yet wisecracking style; Dorothy Malone’s few minutes as an antiquarian bookseller are probably the best in her career; Max Steiner scored it—and some guy named Faulkner (one of my all-time favorite authors) co-wrote it!  What’s not to like?  In 1978, after Robert Mitchum had starred in one of the best Marlowe movies, Dick Richards’s moody period-set Farewell, My Lovely, the aptly named Michael Winner remade this with Mitchum, but inexplicably reset it in contemporary London.  Even a supporting cast that included Jimmy Stewart and Oliver Reed couldn’t salvage that mess…

Black Sunday (1960; aka La Maschera del Demonio [The Mask of the Demon]):  This is the first film Mario Bava directed single-handed—after “assisting” Riccardo Freda uncredited on I Vampiri (The Vampires, aka The Devil’s Commandment) and Caltiki, il Mostro Immortale (Caltiki, the Immortal Monster), both of which he photographed—and the first horror film of Italy’s venerated scream queen, the ironically British-born Barbara Steele.  Sadly, neither ever equaled, let alone surpassed, this classic, and they never collaborated again.  Babs has a dual role as a vampire witch executed in 1630, with a spiked mask hammered onto her face, and her lookalike descendant, whom she possesses when a careless doctor accidentally revives her 200 years later.  One of Bava’s few directorial efforts in black and white, this movie simply oozes atmosphere and is a cult favorite.

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