And then there are the games, which are far over my head, and the questions such as how many of the top 100 movies have you seen? (I was 99 because I still haven’t seen the Lord of the Rings) or what character from The Waltons I most resemble.
Recently however, a longtime friend challenged me to answer this question – “What movie changed the way I look at life?”
That got me. It’s a good question. I think it’s safe to say, at least in my case, that movies, and, to a lesser extent, at least at that time in my life, television, were perhaps the strongest cultural influence to which a kid from Purcell, Oklahoma was exposed. Television programming was such that local stations ran old pictures all the time, we had a local theater and a drive in and I had access to big city first run houses as well.
I sat down and worked hard on this list, mostly for myself. And, if this is indeed correct, it looks like movies stopped taking on a substantial role in my life as I was entering college.
Take this exercise yourself and send me a copy. What better way to get to know each other?
These are alphabetical:
Ace in the Hole – I became a journalism major after seeing this movie – I wanted to be Chuck Tatum (regally played by Kirk Douglas), not the drunk, loutish, has been Chuck Tatum, but the guy who could sit down at an old Underwood a pop out a coherent story in minutes. I’m still trying to accomplish that. Of course, this movie offers a pivotal example of Billy Wilder cynicism and, for better or worse, that has stayed with me as well.
Blazing Saddles – The first R rated movie to which I was ever allowed to see with my parents. Race jokes? Fart jokes? Endowment jokes? Crudity, even at that time in my life, didn’t appeal to me – and it isn’t necessarily the specific jokes that made laugh, although I quote it all the time – I love this picture’s unrepentant naughtiness and the unapologetic manner in which it is delivered. I had never seen anything like it and, if you think about it, what has topped it since?
Duck Soup – Do I need to explain this? Absurdist humor, gleeful patter and Harpo swimming in that lemonade tub. Every time I watch I catch something new – Groucho, in the middle of the final climactic battle, takes a boater off a hat rack and says “This is the last straw!” I try to be Groucho every day of the week. And fail.
It’s a Gift – Is W.C. Fields forgotten? I remember during a 1970s renaissance of the irascible writer/actor, Walter Matthau, no slouch himself, called Fields the silver screen’s greatest comedian. From Fields, one understands the comic potential of domesticity, society and family. And, in this instance, a blind man and some light bulbs.
Sleeper – I was with my family to see this “G” rated comedy. And, when Woody Allen is being spoon fed upon his awakening in the new century, my father was doubled over. I’d never seen that before. When people tell me they don’t like Woody Allen, I’ll deliberately quote lines from this.
Pinocchio – Come on, watch it and don’t cry. Fathers and sons, pure hearts, true friendship and life affirmation. I only read later that the movie represents the penultimate of Disney’s hand drawn craftsmanship. Actually, when people ask my favorite song, I always say “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Real life should be like this.
True Grit – Heroism. Redemption. Humor. American determinism and southwestern chivalry. And John Wayne. I have never investigated this, but True Grit was released in 1969 with an “M” rating which during, in its year-long year run, was changed to a “G.” Check the posters! An adult film that kids loved. Of course, the book would introduce me to the written words of Charles Portis, my favorite author. I still quote it.
Twilight’s Last Gleaming – This slot could be filled with The Parallax View, The Manchurian Candidate, or Three Days of the Condor. They are all paranoid grown up thrillers, but somehow this Robert Aldrich/Burt Lancaster collaboration from 1977 carried the idea that there were darker forces at work in America the furthest. It blew me away. It isn’t been seen or discussed much anymore, and I think it has been held back deliberately because of its jaw dropping ending, although very recently Olive Films released a fabulous Blu-ray. This one not for the faint of heart.
Way Out West – Suppose the whole world had to stop for one hour per year and watch this movie together? While other American comedies have found translation rough going, Laurel and Hardy spread happy malfeasance to the darkest corners of the globe. And, of course, if that wasn’t enough, Stan and Ollie stop in the middle of the proceedings to perform a two or three minute dance that is my favorite scene in any movie anywhere.
A Wedding – I knew that everyday life was funny from a young age, but A Wedding was a major revelation as it validated to me that we were all in one big comedy, No movie ever influenced me more and, from that time, I was first in line to every Robert Altman movie that followed. Some say he translated his message better with Nashville and MASH but this one I saw with the two dearest friends I’ll ever have and the light bulb, in 1978, went off over all our heads.
I’m dying to read your lists – I’ll print them here.
Available on Disc
For years Film Comment ran a column in which a director or actor would list their “Guilty Pleasures” movies that were remembered fondly even though they pretty much stank on ice. This 1976 remake of the Howard Hawks/Humphrey Bogart classic is totally wrongheaded from the outset, Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles transplanted to jolly old London? Nuts. But here’s the deal, Marlowe was played, as was he in 1974’s period masterpiece Farewell, My Lovely, by Robert Mitchum, with that fabulous hair and weathered face and cynical delivery and it’s such joy to see this lion in winter that you can’t stop watching. There’s also a lot of nudity from Oklahoma’s own Candy Clark and Richard Boone, who never made enough movies for me, plays Lash Kanino and Oliver Reed and James Stewart show up and I saw it in the theater about five times. The Big Sleep is out on DVD from Timeless Media.
Every week Warner Archive releases absolute treasures and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Several lately are worth mentioning. In 1970, MGM released a film version of Elmore Leonard’s novel The Moonshine War, starring those two bastions of southern acting Alan Alda and Patrick McGoohan. It was a major flop and was never on TV or VHS. Finally, WA released this gem and, surprise, it’s pretty wonderful. Leonard’s standard plot and characters remain righteous to the book and Richard Widmark becomes of the great Leonard bad guys of all time, and playing his equally odious partner in crime is the Lee Hazelwood, Oklahoma’s own, who maybe never was in a movie again.
Three years later, MGM went to the hillbilly well again with a picture called Lolly Madonna XXX. Now this I saw in the theaters and it holds up well, and what a cast – Robert Ryan, Rod Steiger, Season Hubley and a very young Oklahoma boy named Gary Busey.
Also from Warner Archive is another treasure rarely on TV and never on VHS. It’s called The Lusty Men and it’s a sort of rodeo noir directed by the great Nicholas Ray and starring Mitchum, again, and Susan Hayward. This is a terrific lost movie and kudos to Warner Archive for its release. WA also recently put Out of the Past on Blu-ray as well!
Those of us who love our classic films just can’t wait for the next wave from Twilight Time monthly releases again – all restored in marvelous Blu-ray. First and foremost is Sam Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite, starring James Caan and Robert Duvall. TT co founder Nick Redmond is a Peckinpah genius and his contribution to this disc is essential.
Also from TT is the home video debut of an oddball picture from the 70s Che, about that Che, starring Jack Palance, one of the world’s great South American actors directed by that noted ethnic Richard Fleischer. Actually, it’s very engaging. Also on the slate this month Salvador, an important picture from Oliver Stone that unleashed James Woods on an unsuspecting audience.
I’ve always said that Frederick Forsyth was an author well treated by the movies, from The Day of the Jackal, to The Fourth Protocol; TT this month releases the author’s The Dogs of War, a crackerjack movie starring Christopher Walken and directed by John Irvin.
Finally, Lou Diamond Phillips played Richie Valens in La Bamba, which is painstaking restored by Twilight Time as well.
What do you remember about The Midnight Special? I think back to Friday nights, when it aired weekly, and the fabulous music it featured. Remember the first ever video that aired, Elton John and Kiki Dee singing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart?” The entire set is now available from Time Life Home Video and is a must own.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s glorious Cinderella is currently selling out the Broadway Theater in New York but most of us of a certain age remember falling in love with a young, beautiful Lesley Ann Warren in the title role. The Shout! Factory has released this version on a wonderful DVD and it is both nostalgic and cogent at the same time.
Finally, the Cohen Media Group has released Nightcap, a late masterpiece from the French Hitchcock Claude Chabrol. It’s killer.
Finally, this past spring, I stumbled on to a fabulous genre paperback novelist who happened to be from my home state. His name is Clifton Adams, and he’s long gone, but I wrote a piece about him for The Daily Oklahoman. See it here.
Until next time… see you at the flickers!
- Bud Elder