|David Peel, who looks rather pleasant|
here, with Yvonne Monlaur.
29. Beach Blanket Bingo – I ignored the Beach Party movies for most of my life…but finally realized what I was missing about 15 years ago. Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor, the portrait of an innocent age that never existed except on celluloid. Regardless, I now always enjoy an annual trip to the beach with Frankie, Annette, and the gang. The best of the series is easily Bingo. Donna Loren sings her best song. Frankie tries to make Annette jealous with Deborah Walley, while Annette tries to make Frankie jealous with John Ashley. Bonehead dates a pretty mermaid while Linda Evans’s Sugar Kane calls him Boney. Paul Lynde cracks jokes while South Dakota Slim just acts creepy. And, best of all, there’s Eric Von Zipper, who tells Sugar that he likes her—and when Eric Von Zipper likes someone, they stay liked!
|Diane McBain as the "bad girl"|
27. The List of Adrian Messenger – John Huston’s 1963 mystery is best known for its gimmick: several famous stars make cameos in heavy make-up. While trying to spot the stars is undeniably fun, the gimmick disguises the fact that The List of Adrian Messenger is a highly-entertaining, crafty film that starts as a mystery and evolves into a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game. In the opening scenes, author Adrian Messenger provides a list of ten names to his friend Anthony Gethryn (George C. Scott), a former MI5 operative, and asks him to quietly find out if the ten people on the list are still alive. Gethryn agrees to undertake the assignment. A few days later, a bomb explodes aboard a plane carrying Adrian as a passenger. Based on a 1959 novel by mystery author and screenwriter Philip MacDonald, The List of Adrian Messenger borrows the killer’s motive from another famous detective novel (no spoilers here!). But the “why” is only part of the fun in The List of Adrian Messenger. It’s the “how” that differentiates it from other mysteries. Among his many skills, the murderer, played delightfully by Kirk Douglas, is also a master of disguises. That provides the opportunity for Douglas to don a number of incredible “looks” designed by make-up master Bud Westmore. Thus, the killer appears as a pointy-chinned priest, a short mousey man, a white-haired elderly villager, and others.
|James Stewart learns a little detail|
he wishes he hadn't learned.
25. The Magnificent Seven – At the risk of offending Kurosawa fans, I’ll confide that I prefer this Western remake of The Seven Samurai to the original film. Don’t get me wrong—The Seven Samurai is an impressive cinematic achievement and certainly the more important of the two films. I just don’t find it as entertaining as John Sturges’s crisp, energetic Western. Yul Brynner stars as the down-on-his-luck gunfighter hired by a small, poor Mexican village to defend it from bandits. My favorite part of the film (no surprise to Café regulars) is when Yul recruits the rest of the reluctant heroes—played by the likes of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, and James Coburn. Toss in Eli Wallach as the despicable outlaw and Horst Buchholz as a young whippersnapper and you’ve got one of the all-time great casts. As an added bonus, Elmer Bernstein provides an incredible music score, capped with the rousing title theme.
24. Enter the Dragon – In the early 1970s, Bruce Lee, frustrated with the lack of decent roles, decided to take the “Clint Eastwood path” to Hollywood stardom. He left the U.S. and returned to Hong Kong to make a couple of inexpensive martial arts films. Two worldwide smashes later, Hollywood came calling—offering the lead in a James Bond-style martial arts adventure. Warner Bros. hedged its bets by casting a well-known American actor (John Saxon) and an African American real-life karate champ (Jim Kelly). Still, Enter the Dragon was clearly tailored for Lee, who plays a martial artist hired to infiltrate a super villain’s island fortress by participating in a fight tournament. A near-perfect action film, Enter the Dragon never takes itself too seriously and showcases Lee’s natural charisma and humor. It’s interesting to ponder Lee’s career arc had he lived longer--would he have alternated polished films like this with his own more personal pictures (e.g., Way of the Dragon)?
|The bell tower climax--yes, it was|
22. The Long, Hot Summer – This engrossing trip into William Faulkner's South stars Paul Newman as drifter Ben Quick, the son of a barn burner (which makes one instantly unpopular). Ben arrives in the small hamlet of Frenchman's Bend, Mississippi, where bigger-than-life Will Varner (Orson Welles) owns just about everything. Varner, who recently recovered from a heart attack, is obsessed with getting "some more Varners" in the way of grandchildren. His weak-willed son Jody (Tony Franciosa) isn't making much progress with his pretty, but somewhat flighty wife Eula (Lee Remick). So, Varner is determined that his smart, headstrong daughter Clara (Woodward) get married. And if it's not to her long time, would-be suitor Alan (Richard Anderson)...than it may as well be to that ambitious "big stud horse" Ben Quick. The near-perfect cast brings these colorful characters to life, to include Angela Lansbury as Varner's mistress. The lively exchanges between Newman and Welles are a joy to behold (Varner to Ben: "I've been watching you. I like your push, yes. I like your style. I like your brass. It ain't too dissimilar from the way I operate.") But the heart of the film is the sparkling chemistry between Newman and Woodward; they were married the same year the movie was released. My favorite scene is an exchange between them in a general store, which goes from playful to surprisingly enlightening.
|Pongo and Perdy get married with|
their owners (in background).
Next month, we reach the Top 20 as this countdown nears its conclusion. The next ten movies will include appearances by Gene Tierney (but not Laura), Cary Grant (in a non-Hitchcock role), an eccentric Scotland Yard inspector, and perhaps the longest sword fight on film.