The Scarlet Claw - One of the best of all Sherlock Holmes films, this smart little mystery finds Holmes and Watson chasing a “phantom” over the marshes of Canada. The murderer, a former thespian, is a master of disguises—which sets the stage for several tense sequences. Nigel Bruce adds just the right amount of humor in this one and director Roy William Neill keeps the atmospheric proceedings moving at a snappy pace. This is easily my favorite Basil Rathbone Holmes film, to include the more expensive 20th Century-Fox pictures.
|Roland Toutain and Jean Renior.|
68. The Road Warrior – Originally called Mad Max 2¸ this sequel surpasses the original in every way. Whereas 1979’s Mad Max drowned in a bleak view of a post-apocalyptic future, The Road Warrior creates a mythic portrait of its hero and presents a world with a glimmer of hope. It also doesn’t hurt that it features some of the most exhilarating chase scenes ever filmed and a star-making turn by Mel Gibson. It’s a near-perfect action film and the thematic parallels with Shane (see below) don’t hurt either.
67. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner – It’s easy to find flaws in this not-very-controversial film about a young interracial couple who plan to marry despite the objections of both sets of parents. I suppose that audiences in 1967 might have been more shocked if the groom-to-be wasn’t a handsome, educated do-gooder played by Sidney Poitier. But even if it’s simplistic, this last pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn is a heartfelt, impeccably-acted tale of love and understanding. It always leaves me with a good feeling.
65. The Dirty Dozen – A recurring motif among my list of favorite movies is what I call the “Robin Hood theme” in which disparate characters come together to form a team. I don’t know…there’s just something entertaining about watching a bunch of folks bond en route to saving a village, overthrowing an evil prince, or defeating the Nazis. That leads us to The Dirty Dozen, which finds the defiant, but effective, Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) faced with a dubious mission on the eve of D-Day. He must train twelve hardened military convicts to go behind enemy lines and assassinate a group of German generals cavorting in a well-guarded chateau. With an amusing first half and an exciting second half, The Dirty Dozen plays to the strength of its terrific cast, which includes Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, John Cassavetes, Robert Ryan, and Ernest Borgnine.
|Edward Fox as The Jackal.|
|Gene Tierney and Vincent Price.|
The Charge of the Light Brigade – Often criticized for its historical inaccuracies, this Warner Bros. classic is nonetheless a top-notch historical action film. Against the backdrop of the Crimean War, Errol Flynn and Patric Knowles play brothers vying for the affections of Olivia de Havilland. An early scene informs us that Olivia’s character, though engaged to Flynn, has secretly fallen in love with Knowles. This knowledge causes us to empathize with Flynn’s British officer as his emotions evolve from disbelief to anger to understanding. I think it’s one of Flynn’s finest performances. The climatic charge, directed by Michael Curtiz, is an incredible sequence (although it resulted in many complaints over the mistreatment of horses).
61. Shane – I’m a sucker for a good tale of redemption and Shane is one of the best. Alan Ladd plays the former gunslinger who unexpectedly finds a home when he stops at a struggling farm. Shane fills a void in the life of each family member. For Joe, Shane is a “man’s man” willing to work or fight beside him—whether it’s a barroom brawl or the war against a villainous cattle baron. For the wife Marion, Shane is the attentive suitor, who notices the little things that her reliable, but bland husband never does. And for little Joey, Shane is a substitute father who takes time to bond with him—something his busy father has had little time to do. Like many of the great Westerns, the importance of family triumphs over all.
Next month, I’ll reach the halfway point of this list with two Malcolm McDowell movies, two films with snowy settings, a colorful Judy Holliday classic, and the only feature directed by a classic film star.