The Big Heat (1953) – You always enjoy seeing personal favorites receive the recognition they deserve, and this hard-boiled noir starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin is long overdue. Director Fritz Lang proves that in the hands of a genius, the limitations of the Production Code meant nothing when it came to conveying sadism or a good man desperately trying to hold on to his soul. Ford was a very special actor who’s also overdue for recognition. Nobody slow-burned like Glenn Ford. Nobody.
El Mariachi (1992) – For good or bad (mostly bad), this $7000 wonder put overrated director Robert Rodriguez on the map.
Faces (1968) – With this fascinating and somewhat overrated drama, writer/director John Cassavetes probably started the now tired and clichéd attack on suburban America. We’re all unhappy, living in quiet desperation, and kinky moral hypocrites donchaknow. Oh, and gay. Don’t forget how gay we all are — especially us Christians.
Hester Street (1975) – Carol Kane was nominated for an Oscar, and one of the writers is Joan Micklin Silver, who wrote one of my favorite novels (“Chilly Scenes of Winter”), that was later turned into one of my favorite under-appreciated movies of the same name. Why haven’t I seen this?
The Iron Horse (1924) – The epic that put John Ford on the map. Prior to this, however, the now legendary director directed dozens of features, sometimes as many as three or four in a single year. One of the reasons films are so bad today is because directors might do a film every couple of years. Directors from the Golden Age learned through doing… and doing… and doing.
The Kid (1921) – Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece still makes me laugh and cry.
The Lost Weekend (1945) – Still powerful depiction of alcoholism, though I never quite buy the happy ending.
The Negro Soldier (1944) – One of many films director Frank Capra produced during the war, this one to promote racial tolerance in a military that was still segregated.
Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-1940s) – Fayard and Howard Nicholas were two of the greatest show-stoppers of the thirties and forties. Their specialty numbers (seen mostly in Fox musicals) were always the most memorable part of anything they appeared in. According to the Registry, these home movies are a rare look at life in the black community during the Great Depression.
Norma Rae (1979) – My eighth favorite left-wing film of all-time.
Stand and Deliver (1988) – We’ll never see the sequel when, after his triumph, teacher Jaime Escalante is pushed out of teaching by bureaucrats and the teachers’ union mentality that demands no one make bad teachers look bad. Edward James Olmos (one of our greatest living actors) should’ve won the Oscar for what is one of the best performances of the eighties. Moreover, one of my favorite moments in all of movie history comes when an excited secretary informs Escalante that computers have finally arrived at the school. In a perfect deadpan that says so much, he responds simply: “Yep. That’ll do it.”
Twentieth Century (1934) – This is heresy, but I can’t stand this “masterpiece.” Director Howard Hawks, writer Ben Hecht, stars John Barrymore and Carole Lombard… All the pieces are there, but the non-stop yelling drives me batty. I’ve never made it past the first hour.
War of the Worlds (1953), Porgy and Bess (1959), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), I, An Actress (1977), Allures (1961), Bambi (1942), A Computer Animated Hand (1972), Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963), The Cry of the Children (1912), A Cure for Pokeritis (1912), Fruit Cake Factory (1986), Forrest Gump (1994), Growing Up Female (1971).
In the box set that contains the six original MGM Tarzan films starring Johnny Weismuller and (hubba hubba) Maureen O’Sullivan, a documentary is included about “Cheetah,” who at the time was believed to be in his seventies. He was living in captivity on Florida in middle class luxury. No monkey ever had it so good.
For my money, these six films represent the greatest adventure series ever, and there’s no “lost” film I want to be found more than the original cut of “Tarzan Escapes,” which is visceral enough as is but, before the re-editing, caused people to run out of the sneak previews.
It’s unfortunate the later, sillier entries (including those starring Weismuller at RKO) undermined the franchise as a whole, tarnishing the original six. There’s really nothing else like them. Pure adventure, plenty of action, intelligent storytelling. “Tarzan Escapes” is every bit as good as “Gunga Din,” “King Kong (1933),” “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
LAST NIGHT’S SCREENING
Boardwalk Empire – Season One (2011): Hoping to review the upcoming DVD release of HBO’s 1920s-era gangster saga release this week.
SCOTTDS’ EPIC LINKTACULAR
CLASSIC PICK FOR THURSDAY, DECEMBER 29
Between 1pm and 7:45pm ET, TCM broadcasts all three chapters of “That’s Entertainment,” which represents nearly seven hours of pure pleasure. Usually I’m not a fan of films or documentaries wrapped around clips and the like, but these are so well done you don’t even think of it that way. The era of the MGM musical was Hollywood at the height of its artistic powers.
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