Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My 100 Favorite Films: From 80 to 71

In this third installment, you may start to wonder about my tastes in film! Keep in mind that these are my favorite movies--not a "best of" list. So, it was inevitable that some guilty pleasures would find their way into this project. (As always, an underlined title means there's a hyperlink to a full review at the Cafe.)

A colorful poster...but
no hint of the plot!
80. You Never Can Tell - A German Shepard named King inherits a fortune following his eccentric owner's death--but then is swiftly murdered. The canine angel asks if he can return to Earth long enough to catch his killer and clear the innocent woman accused of the crime. King is sent back to Earth as a "humanimal"--an animal reincarnated as human—in this case, a private eye named Rex Shepard (Dick Powell). This amusing fantasy was a childhood fave and still holds up well, thanks to a wonderfully inventive premise and a marvelous Powell performance. I can't imagine another human playing a dog playing a human!

79. Advise and Consent - The President (Franchot Tone) clashes with the Senate and his own party on his nomination of a liberal academic (Henry Fonda) to become Secretary of State. His unyielding stance sets into motion a political chess match in which Senators take sides and people become pawns. (The chess analogy is an interesting one: Walter Pidgeon, who fights for nominee Fonda, wears a dark suit; Charles Laughton, who opposes him, wears white). This absorbing look inside Washington politics was made in 1962, but always feels timely--and the entire cast is first-rate.

Jason Robards as Cable Hogue.
78. The Ballad of Cable Hogue - My favorite Sam Peckinpah film is a wistful tale of fate, redemption, and the dying days of the Old West (a recurring Peckinpah theme). Jason Robards, Jr. plays the title character, a drifter left for dead in the desert by his low-life partners. Just when death seems imminent, Hogue finds a spring—a source of water surrounded by an ocean of sand—and this discovery changes his life. Robards is superb and gets outstanding support from David Warner as a would-be man of the church and Stella Stevens as a prostitute (easily her best role ever). However, it's the spirit of the main character that lingers long after the bittersweet ending.

Bond and Flynn as rivals-turned-friends.
77. Gentleman Jim - I'm not sure why this tremendously entertaining biography of boxing legend Jim Corbett has never taken its place as one of Warner Bros.' best films of the 1940s. Errol Flynn, often underrated as an actor, is in fine form as Corbett and he's surrounded by a bunch of veteran scene stealers in Alan Hale, Jack Carson, and William Frawley. Alexis Smith provides a feisty love interest and Ward Bond gives one of his best performances as boxing rival John L. Sullivan. Best of all, though, director Raoul Welsh creates a flavorful portrait of America just prior to the turn of the century. Funny, exciting, and ultimately heartfelt, Gentleman Jim is a classic that deserves more attention.

76. Seven Days in May - John Frankenheimer followed his classic The Manchurian Candidate (1962) with this equally original political thriller. Rod Serling’s taut screenplay interweaves the stories of three men: President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March), whose popularity has plunged as a result of pushing for a nuclear arms treaty with Russia; General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), the influential, egotistical head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Marine Colonel “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas), a key member of Scott’s staff. Part mystery, part suspense film, Seven Days in May unfolds its audacious plot carefully; it's a rare motion picture in which the outcome is always in doubt until the climax. That uncertainty is a testament to Frankensheimer’s craftsmanship as a filmmaker.

75. The Power – Shortly after absent-minded Professor Henry Hallson (Arthur O'Connell) reveals that one of his colleagues at a research center for human endurance has “an intelligence quotient beyond the known limits of measurability,” he is found murdered. When fellow scientist Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) starts investigating, he is not only framed—but finds himself the target of a diabolical “super intellect” that can alter people's perceptions of reality. While I recognize that The Power is a film of many flaws (starting with Hamilton’s bland hero), I always enjoy it immensely thanks to its ingenious premise, Miklós Rózsa’s unique score, and a delightfully wacky twist ending. And while I don’t know many people who proclaim to be fans, I can take solace in the words of film critic John Baxter who hailed The Power as “one of the finest of all science fiction films.”

74. Gargoyles – A delirious guilty pleasure, this 1972 film stars Cornel Wilde as an anthropologist battling the title creatures in a small southwestern desert town. A rare network TV-movie excursion into visual horror, Gargoyles opens with a prologue that explains the ancient creatures are reborn every 600 years to “battle against man to gain dominion of the Earth.” Bernie Casey gives an intelligent performance as the head gargoyle, exuding menace and generating a surprising amount of sexual tension for a network TV movie of the era. The Emmy-winning Stan Winston make-up is marvelous, complete with wings, horns, a pointy chin, white eyes, and vampiric fangs. And yet, I’m hard-pressed to explain my continuing affection for this film…perhaps it evokes a certain amount of nostalgia for the many made-for-TV movies I watched as a teen in the early 1970s.

Sir Wilfrid cross-examines a witness.
73. Witness for the Prosecution - Charles Laughton stars as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a famed London barrister recuperating from a heart attack. Though under strict orders to avoid stressful criminal cases, his pursuit of a forbidden cigar results in accepting a case involving a penniless opportunist (Tyrone Power) accused murdering a middle-aged wealthy widow. One of the finest Hitchcock films not made by Hitchcock, Witness is a clever, witty courtroom drama (courtesy of Agatha Christie and Billy Wilder). However, the film's most entertaining aspect is its unexpected humor--much it of derived from the relationship between the cantankerous Sir Wilfrid and his fastidious nurse, Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester, Laughton’s real-life spouse).

72. Victim – When I first saw 1961’s Victim, I had no idea what it was about. The film unfolds as an engrossing mystery involving blackmail, suicide, and an affluent barrister played by Dirk Bogarde. For the sake of those unfamiliar with this landmark movie, I won’t divulge any more of its plot. At a future date, though, I’ll do an in-depth review and address why it’s one of those rare films that seamlessly integrates a well-told story and social commentary. Bogarde shines in the lead role, though Sylvia Sims manages to upstage him in their potent scenes together near the climax.

71. The Winslow Boy – When a boy is expelled from a British naval academy for theft, his father has only one question: Did he do it? When the son proclaims his innocence, the father sets out to right the wrong—even it means taking on the House of Commons. The compelling story, sharply-etched characters, and sparkling dialogue can all be attributed to Terence Rattigan’s brilliant stage play. Still, this film adaptation stands on its own, anchored by a sensational cast. Robert Donat—who appears well into the proceedings—has the showy role as the son’s barrister and delivers his two big scenes with maximum impact. However, my favorite performances come from Cedric Hardwicke as the never-wavering father and Margaret Leighton as the feminist daughter. Her closing scene with Donat concludes the film on a perfect note.

Next month, I'll count down 70-61, which will include another Flynn film, the first of multiple Sidney Poitier appearances, a Renoir classic, and a Cornel Wilde cult film!


  1. Rick, everyone has their peculiarities in cinematic preferences, but your tastes, while diverse, are most certainly not questionable. Your ongoing list continually includes films that I enjoy immensely or haven't seen, with capsule reviews that have intrigued me enough to seek films out. In this series of 10 films, the Peckinpah film is one I've never seen and which sounds like a movie that I will add to an ever-increasing queue. And I love watching and reading about anything Preminger or Frankenheimer did. As always, an excellent list of movies. Keep 'em coming, please.

  2. I'm really enjoying these posts, Rick. I am so tickled to see "Gargoyles" on this list! I loved that show, and like you, I'm not sure why. Maybe because I collect gargoyles, love the history, love the spookiness -- in the show, I just loved the odd double-echo voices of the gargoyles!

    Some of these I have not seen. Others, like Advise and Consent, Witness for the Prosecution, Victim, and Gentleman Jim are big favorites of mine as well. (I agree with you about Gentleman Jim, and not just because Errol is in it -- it was a very good movie.)

  3. Rick,

    Somehow I missed your earlier selections. I will have to check them out. Interesting that there are two political themed films on this list. Have not seen ADVISE AND CONSENT but SEVEN DAYS IN MAY is along wiht THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE one of my favorite Frankenheimer films. HOUGE is a terrific film as is the Wilder film. GENTLEMEN JIM, while I have not seen it in years, I have seen many times in my youth when it always was on TV.

  4. The only films that I have seen from your favorite classic film list are:

    1. Advise and Consent, for me is the most entertaining of all political movies. Filmed in black-and-white it reminds me of a film noir. The cast is amazing and many of them did their best performances in this film. Walter Pigeon plays the decent Majority Leader, Franchot Tone as the President, Don Murray was wonderful as the senator who is being blackmailed, Lew Ayres as the invisible Vice-President and Burgess Meredith, also has a great cameo. Charles Laughton, gave an amazing performance in his last film, and... don't forget one of my favorite actress's, an older Gene Tierney.

    2. Awesome.. another Charles Laughton favorite. Witness for the Prosecution is a great mystery movie. Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich really deliver in this wonderful film. Loved the surprise ending.

  5. I'm enjoying the lists too. Good choices, Rick. Cable Hogue is my second favorite Peckinpah, right after "Ride the High Country."

    "Gargoyles" I haven't seen since it first aired, but I remember really liking it. It's scheduled to be re-released on DVD on May 17 on the Hen's Tooth label.

    "Gentleman Jim" is a great choice, and in my top five Flynn films.

    Looking forward to the remainder of the list.

  6. What a well-rounded film fan you are!

    "You Never Can Tell" and "The Winslow Boy" are two of my favourites as well. I could watch one right after the other with no visible signs of emotional whiplash.

    Love Ward Bond as John L. There must be something to heredity as my daughter likes Ward Bond today as much as my late father did years ago.

  7. Oh, Rick, we are simpatico in so many areas, but we have such divergent tastes when it comes to film. Yet, I have to admit I haven't seen 7 of the 10 (so the ones I missed might be quite good). I really liked The Ballad of Cable Hogue and thought Robards did an excellent job. Seven Days in May is a rather suspenseful film--why didn't you do a review of it this month? Yet, of the three I've seen I have to say Witness for the Prosecution is my fave. Laughton is hilarious and I love Miss Plimsoll! And, of course Dietrich gives a stunning performance as Christine.

  8. Loved reading all these comments, because, well, I love these movies! Sark, your tastes and mine are often in sync, so I think you'll enjoy CABLE HOGUE. Becky, Kevin, and Freddy (from our FB page), thanks for the supportive comments on GARGOYLES...it really is a creepy made-for-TV flick. John and Kim, SEVEN DAYS doesn't seem to have acquired the same classic status ass MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, but it's every bit as good. I will review it...perhaps in May! Dawn, I love the scene inside Congress (or so it appears) during ADVISE AND CONSENT...it's like we're spying in the offices of our political leaders. Caftan Woman, always nice to hear from a fan of YOU NEVER CAN TELL and THE WINSLOW BOY. Let right be done!

  9. I share a "guilty pleasure" with GARGOYLES...it is really a well done low budget film...and I assume you mean THE WINSLOW BOY by SIR ANTHONY ASQUITH and not the remake!!

  10. Rick, I really enjoy your film lists! "You Never Can Tell" is always fun to see because of its animal references. I love Powell's "horse" friend who carries a feedbag and can outrun a bus. "Advise and Consent" is one of those films that is so captivating that if I see a scene when channel switching I cannot turn away. "The Power" has a fascinating scene at a traffic light that always comes to mind when I think of it. "Witness for the Prosecution" features my favorite performance by Marlene Dietrich. And I love "The Winslow Boy." The cast is remarkable and especially the work of Hardwicke, Leighton, and Donat. I think that it may be the underappreciated gem in your list this month. Bravo, Rick, and looking forward to your next installment!