On to the 1962 list, the year of Algerian and Rwandan independence, The Cuban Missile Crisis, Marilyn Monroe’s death, Paula Abdul’s birth, The Man In The High Castle by Phillip K. Dick, and Bob Dylan’s first album. As always, disclaimers, methodologies and previous years’ lists can be found at The Big List.
17. Dr. No – The first James Bond film is also one of my least favorite. They hadn’t quite got the formula down by this point, and it really shows. There’s a weird slow dullness about the film that you don’t find in any of the later Bonds. Sean Connery is great, of course, and Ursula Andress is prototypical as the first Bond girl, with the fascinating name “Honey Ryder”.
16. Days Of Wine And Roses – Blake Edwards directed this TV movie (play?) about a pair of married alcoholics, played by Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Both actors are terrific, and there performance is the best part of the film. It’s one of those depressing social commentary films about how alcoholism destroys people’s lives. True enough, but not especially entertaining or enlightening.
15. Hatari! – Like John Ford with Mogambo, Howard Hawks went to Africa and made a mediocre movie meant to be more entertaining than it really is. John Wayne and Red Buttons capture animals for a living in a totally desexualized safari world that’s shattered when a cute reporter (Elsa Martinelli) shows up (along with a Frenchman) and destablilizes everything. Wayne reluctantly falls for Martinelli, and Buttons suddenly realizes that their boss (Michèle Girardon) is hot and falls in love with her. The Frenchman and a German start a rivalry and some fights over one of the girls (yeah right) and the whole thing goes on while they’re all trying to capture monkeys, giraffes (scary), rhinos and take care of baby elephants (Henry Mancini did the score, and had a big hit with “baby Elephant Walk”). It’s better than Mogambo, but not as good as the African Queen or White Hunter Black Heart.
14. Ride The High Country – Early Sam Peckinpaugh film which I capsuled here. A user at imdb claims this is the best western they’ve ever seen. I suppose that’s possible, like if it’s the only western they’ve ever seen or something. It’s a fine movie though.
13. Mutiny On The Bounty – I just wrote about this and the 1935 version here. The film co-stars Richard Harris, but I didn’t recognize any English Bob or Dumbledore in the film. Age is a terrible thing. Maybe if I had been looking for him. . . .
12. To Kill A Mockingbird – The guys at Filmspotting (né Cinecast) really love this movie and I have no idea why. It’s a classic example of Mississippi Burning Syndrome, wherein the tragic and heroic struggles of minorities against racism, etc are epitomized by the experiences of lovable, non-threatening white people. Gregory Peck gives an iconic yet dull performance as Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer who tries to defend a black man accused of raping a white girl while teaching his kids that racism is bad. I’m not a big fan of social problem pictures in general; I’d rather films not tell me things that I already know an treat it as if they’ve accomplished some tremendous social good in doing so. This should be Tom Robinson’s tragic story, instead, he’s an abstraction, a tool of social instruction from Atticus to Scout.
11. Lolita – I think if you combine this film and Adrian Lyne’s (the #65 film of 1997) you’d have a pretty decent film of Vladimir Nabokov’s ode to pedophilia. This one is Stanley Kubrick version, starring James Mason (one of the all-time great underrated actors) as Humbert Humbert, Shelly Winters as the annoying woman he marries to get close to his dream-girl and Peter Sellers as Claire Quilty, the man who knows Humbert’s secret and torments him for it. This is much funnier than Lyne’s version, but the early 60s censorship necessarily mutes the sexuality which seems to lessen the impact of the film as a whole (though Kubrick is to be admired for what he did manage to put across despite the restrictions, which, admittedly, weren’t what they used to be and this film helped degrade a little more). Lyne’s film is much more sexually explicit, but is totally lacking in humor. All things considered, this film is better than that film, but I don’t think there’s yet been a great film of Lolita, which would require more balance between perversion and satire than either film has achieved.
10. An Occurance At Owl Creek Bridge – This short film of an Ambrose Bierce story, one of my favorite things I ever had to read and or watch in high school was edited to be the last episode ever of The Twilight Zone. It was directed by Robert Enrico as part of a three-part anthology of Bierce stories. I don’t recognize any of the actors, or any of Enrico’s other films, so I have no idea if he did anything else this interesting. A Civil War soldier is about to be hanged from a bridge when the rope snaps. He plunges into the river and makes his escape, or not. The film is a fine example of the expressionist black and white cinematography to be found in the best Twilight Zone episodes. If I remember correctly, the forest scenes are reminiscent of Kurosawa’s Rashomon. Which itself would have made a fine Twilight Zone.
9. Hell Is For Heroes – Don Siegel World War 2 action film starring Steve McQueen and lots of other famous people, including an out of place Bob Newhart, which I capsuled here. An interesting comparison could be made between this and Cy Endfield’s Zulu (#4, 1964). Both involve small groups of soldiers out numbered and surrounded by an enemy they must hold back for a day. But whereas Endfield (a victim of McCarthyism) has a collective hero, the Siegel clearly positions McQueen as the savior of his squad, despite (or rather because of) his independent, idiosyncratic and even anti-social behavior. Considering Siegel went on to create the fascist classic Dirty Harry, I think it’s safe to guess that his politics were the opposite of Endfield’s.
8. Harakiri – Another recently seen film, capsuled here. Tatsuya Nakadai stars as a ronin who indicts a clan, and by extension the entire samurai system for the poverty and tragedy of his son-in-law’s life and eventually forced suicide. A beautifully shot black and white film by Masaki Kobayashi. I’m presently halfway through his ghost story anthology Kwaidan, which is even more beautiful. I don’t know that either film is as good as his Samurai Rebellion (#11, 1967) which has the same anti-samurai message as Harakiri, isn’t quite as intense, but isn’t nearly as slow either.
7. The Longest Day – Multi-director Hollywood epic telling of the Normandy Invasion featuring a massive cast of just about every star you can think of from the era: John Wayne, Richard Burton, Red Buttons, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Mel ferrar, Jeffrey Hunter, Curt Jürgens, Peter Lawford, Roddy McDowell, Robert Mitchum, Sal Mineo, Edmund O’Brien, George Segal, Rod Steiger, Arletty, and Robert Ryan. It starts off pretty slow, but once the invasion gets going it ranks with the best of conventional war films. Highlights include Red Buttons’s scene as a paratrooper who gets caught on a church steeple and can only watch the action below, some sweeping camera movements as the Allies attack a large building overlooking a bridge (I can’t remember the name of the town) and a much better version of the blowing up of a bunker on the Normandy beach than the one in Saving Private Ryan. In SPR, it’s pretty much Tom Hanks alone who saves the day, in this film, it’s a whole lot of soldiers working together and getting themselves killed in the hope of saving other people. Just another reason to hate Saving Private Ryan.
6. My Life To Live – Anna Karina once again stars in a Jean-Luc Godard film, giving perhaps her best performance. I have some comments about it here where I rank it my least favorite of all the Godard movie’s I’ve seen. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still great. Less a story about a prostitute, it’s a series of variations on the theme of a film about a prostitute. It’d make a great double feature with Fellini’s Nights Of Cabiria, which tells a similar picaresque story of a gold-hearted whore. You can find a lot of the differences in the two directors in the different ways in which they tell their hooker story: Godard as the intellectual trying not to be romantic, Fellini as the romantic trying not to be intellectual. There’s a real Dmitry and Ivan thing going on there, I think.
5. Jules And Jim – Speaking of opposing sides of coins, here’s Godard’s friend-turned-nemesis François Truffaut’s film about three friends in turn of the century Europe. Jules (German, played by Oskar Werner) meets Jim (French, played by Henri Serre) in Paris. They become friends and both fall in love with Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). Catherine marries Jules, time passes. After World War I, they meet again in Germany, where Catherine decides she’d rather be with Jim, or not. Basically, it’s about three people, all in love and hate with each other for 25 years or so. It’s a very fine film, strengthened by great performances from Werner and Moreau and the director’s obvious love for the characters. I haven’t seen it in years and really should again. As is, I think it’s overrated relative to Truffaut’s first two films (The 400 Blows and Shoot The Piano Player) which I love and have seen multiple times each.
4. Sanjuro – Akira Kurosawa’s sort-of sequel to his classic Yojimbo is lighter and funnier than that apocalyptic horror movie adaptation of Dashiel Hammet’s Red Harvest, and also funnier than Kihachi Okamoto’s film Kill! which uses the same source novel as Sanjuro, Shugoro Yamamoto’s novel Peaceful Days. Kurosawa’s film, like Yojimbo before it, plays as a satire of samurai films, but whereas Yojimbo’s satire was biting and nihilistic, Sanjuro’s is playful and parodic. Toshiro Mifune is back playing the nameless ronin. This time he finds himself involved with a group of neophyte samurai trying to stamp out the corrupt element of their clan and rescue an old couple and a girl. Tatsuya Nakadai and Takashi Shimura co-star, as they usually do. The final scene is hilarious, shocking and very prescient.
3. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – One of the most successful of the John Ford-John Wayne Westerns, and probably the one where Ford makes his theory and ideology of the West most apparent, even if nobody got it. The story is a flashback told by Jimmy Stewart’s character, an aged senator famous for having killed the eponymous notorious outlaw (Lee Marvin). Turns out maybe he didn’t kill him after all. Stewart came to town as a lawyer representing the forces of civilization and order and progress. When he proves unable to defeat the interestingly named outlaw, he requires the assistance of John Wayne, a gunfighter of questionable legality who calls Stewart “pilgrim”. Westerns, especially Ford’s Westerns, are about the creation of civilization out of chaos. This Western is perhaps the best at examining what exactly it takes to create that civilization and the ways in which we lie to ourselves (in our myths and history books, which are often the same thing) about how order is created.
2. Lawrence Of Arabia – On the opposite end of the historical spectrum is David Lean’s epic story of TE Lawrence’s adventures in the Middle East during World War I. I don’t know how historically accurate it is, but I don’t expect it really matters. Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence is simply one of the most fascinating characters in film: a slight, bookish, more or less obviously homosexual aesthete who somehow managed to unite various Arab tribes and launch a successful guerilla war against the Turkish Empire. Lawrence is in love with the desert, becomes convinced of his own genius, proves to be the bravest and strongest man in the film and ultimately accomplishes nothing more than the reapportionment of the Middle East between britain and France, the consequences of which you can see on the evening news every day. Visually the film is wall-to-wall beautiful desert landscapes filmed under remarkably difficult conditions. The uniformly great supporting cast includes Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn and Claude Rains.
1. The Manchurian Candidate – An in an upset we’ve got perhaps the most perverse Cold War satire ever, John Frankenheimer’s story of a GI brainwashed by the Chinese to assassinate a Presidential candidate. Laurence Harvey plays the GI, Angela Lansbury his arch-conservative mother (or is she?), and James Gregory her Joseph McCarthy-esque husband. Frank Sinatra plays the film’s ostensible hero, one of the soldiers captured along with Harvey who suspects something may be wrong when he has terrible dreams about ladies at a garden party. he meets Janet leigh on a train in of the greatest scenes in all of film history:
Rosie: Maryland’s a beautiful state.
Marco: (Looking away) This is Delaware.
Rosie: I know. I was one of the original Chinese workmen who laid the track on this stretch. But nonetheless, Maryland is a beautiful state. So is Ohio, for that matter. (She lights her own cigarette.)
Marco: I guess so. Columbus is a tremendous football town. You in the railroad business?
Rosie: Not anymore. However, if you will permit me to point out, when you ask that question you really should say, ‘Are you in the railroad line?’ Where’s your home?
Marco: I’m in the Army. I’m a major. I’ve been in the Army most of my life. We move a good deal. I was born in New Hampshire.
Rosie: I went to a girls’ camp once on Lake Francis.
Marco: That’s pretty far north.
Marco: What’s your name?
Marco: (He finally looks at her) Pardon?
Rosie: No kidding, I really mean it. Crazy French pronunciation and all.
Marco: (He looks away) It’s pretty.
Rosie: Well, thank you.
Marco: I guess your friends call you Jenny.
Rosie: Not yet they haven’t, for which I am deeply grateful. But you may call me Jenny.
Marco: What do your friends call you?
Marco: (He looks at her) Why?
Rosie: My full name is Eugenie Rose. (He looks away) Of the two names, I’ve always favored Rosie because it smells of brown soap and beer. Eugenie is somehow more fragile.
Marco: Still, when I asked you what your name was, you said it was Eugenie.
Rosie: It’s quite possible I was feeling more or less fragile at that instant.
Marco: I could never figure out what that phrase meant: more or less. (He looks at her) You Arabic?
Marco: (He reaches to shake her hand) My name is Ben, really Bennett. Named after Arnold Bennett.
Rosie: The writer?
Marco: No, a lieutenant colonel who was my father’s commanding officer at the time.
Rosie: What’s your last name?
Rosie: Major Marco. Are you Arabic?
Marco: No, no.
Rosie: Let me put it another way. Are you married?
A lot of good Unseen movies this year. I’ve had Le Procès de Jeanne D’Arc waiting on the tivo for many months now and have yet to get around to watching it. I want to see La Jetée quite a bit, but I really think there should be a deluxe DVD set that includes it along with 12 Monkeys. Aside from that there’s an Ozu, a Tarkovsky, a Polanski, an Antonioni, a Fellini and a Buñuel (also currently on the tivo) all needing to be seen:
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?
An Autumn Afternoon
Le Procès De Jeanne D’Arc
Carnival Of Souls
Knife In The Water
The Exterminating Angel
My Name Is Ivan
The Lonliness Of The Long Distance Runner
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Requiem For A Heavyweight
The Miracle Worker
The Birdman Of Alcatraz
Advise & Consent