Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My 100 Favorite Films: From 60 to 51

After five months, we reach the halfway point of my countdown of personal favorite films. If you're reading this series of posts for the first time, allow me to clarify that these are not what I'd consider the best 100 movies ever made (though some of them are). These films are simply one classic fan's faves. (An underlined title means there's a hyperlink to a full review at the Cafe.)

60. The Solid Gold Cadillac – Judy Holliday is sublime as Laura Partridge, a (very) minority stockholder in a major corporation who keeps questioning the company’s crooked board members during its public meetings. To keep her from badgering them, the board members hire Miss Partridge as their Director of Shareholder Relations—a “do nothing” job until she decides to make something of it. This delightful comedy teams Holliday with Paul Douglas, whose warmth is a perfect complement to her bubbly persona. Fans of Born Yesterday may disagree, but I think the underrated Solid Gold Cadillac is easily Holliday’s finest film.

59. O Lucky Man! – A lengthy tale of a young ambitious man seeking meaning in life, this Lindsay Anderson film is an acquired taste. I think it’s an underappreciated one-of-a-kind gem mixing sharp satire, impeccable performances, and an awesome score by Alan Price (who was a founding member of The Animals). Price’s songs, which serve as a Greek chorus, are so catchy that I scoured used record stores (I was a college student!) the day after I saw the film in search of its soundtrack (I found it). Malcolm McDowell reprises his role as Mick Travis from Anderson’s earlier If; the later Britannia Hospital is related, but not really a sequel. Helen Mirren and Ralph Richardson headline a great supporting cast, in which several performers play multiple roles.

Bond battles Oddjob.
58. Goldfinger – My favorite 007 film has everything going for it: a terrific villain, the first of the memorable henchmen, a strong heroine, clever gadgets, another fine John Barry score, and an ingenious plot. Plus, it boasts Sean Connery giving his best performance as Bond (it helps that 007 is emotionally invested this time around…after Goldfinger murders Jill Masterson). It also features my favorite line of dialogue in a Bond film. While strapped on a slab with a laser heading toward his private parts, 007 tells Goldfinger that he won’t talk. The villain’s famous retort: “I don’t want you to talk, Mr. Bond. I want you to die!”

Lee contemplates his next move.
57. Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) – Bruce Lee’s most traditional martial arts film recycles the vintage plot of two martial arts schools pitted against one another. In this case, the setting is Shanghai 1908 and the basis of the conflict is nationality—the bad Japanese school wants the good Chinese school closed. It’s a thin premise and, overall, the film can’t compare with the slicker Enter the Dragon. Still, it features my favorite Bruce Lee performance and the fight scenes are masterpieces of balletic violence.

56. The Fearless Vampire Killers (aka Dance of the Vampires) – I consider this cult classic a stylish parody of Hammer Films’ fangs-and-damsels formula. One’s affection for it will depend, in part, upon familiarity with the Hammer approach. All the expected ingredients are present: attractive women in low-cut attire, a Transylvanian setting, a Gothic castle, garlic hanging from the ceiling of a beer haus, a hint of eroticism, and a well-prepared vampire hunter. To this mix, Polanski adds a dash of the unexpected: a bumbling love struck assistant, a Jewish vampire, a gay vampire, and a darkly humorous ending. It’s also one of my favorite “snow movies.”

The other hand spells "hate."
55. The Night of the Hunter - Charles Laughton’s only directorial effort is a haunting, poetic film that explores themes ranging from the battle between good and evil to the propensity of Nature to protect the innocent. The film also provides Robert Mitchum with his finest role as Harry Powell, evil incarnate disguised as a preacher (what makes the character even more chilling is that Harry believes he has a special relationship with the Almighty). Laughton’s striking use of shadows and silhouettes recalls the Expressionistic German films of the 1920s (e.g., The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). I suspect much of the credit for the brilliant lighting belongs to cinematographer Stanley Cortez, a skilled craftsman who labored in routine films except for this one and Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons.

Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue.
54. A Summer Place - Fans of Delmer Daves’ glossy New England soap opera are sharply divided between those who revere it as a classy, nostalgic sudser and those who regard it as camp. I hold the former view, for in spite of occasional plunges into overwrought drama, A Summer Place evokes genuine warmth with its tale of old love rekindled and young love flaming for the first time. Thematically, Daves’ films are always more complex than they first appear. In A Summer Place, forbidden love and innocent love are explored through a subtle form of voyeurism; everybody seems to be secretly watching everyone else. No review of a Summer Place would be complete without mentioning composer Max Steiner's haunting, lyrical musical score.

McDowell as H.G. Wells.
53. Time After Time - This ingenious concoction of science fiction, thriller, and romance comes from the fertile imagination of Nicholas Meyer (The Seven Per Cent Solution). David Warner plays Jack the Ripper, who uses H.G. Wells’ time machine to escape from London in 1893 to San Francisco in 1979—with Wells (Malcolm McDowell) in hot pursuit. Watching the two turn-of-the-century intellectuals in a contemporary setting is fascinating. Much of the film’s humor is derived from Wells’s attempts to fit in. He eats at a “Scottish restaurant” called McDonald’s. He boldly discusses his ideas on “free love” to bank employee Amy Robbins (a marvelous Mary Steenburgen), who is amused by his old-fashioned values. In contrast, Warner’s killer adapts to his new environment quickly and smoothly. In an eerie scene, he flips through several TV channels filled with violent images and informs Wells: “I belong here completely and utterly. I’m home. Ninety years ago, I was a freak. Now, I’m an amateur.”

52. Where Eagles Dare – Set in the white-capped mountains of Austria, Where Eagles Dare sends seven special forces soldiers to rescue a U.S. general being held captive by the Nazis. But this is no routine mission: the soldiers must break into an impregnable mountaintop castle, there appears to be a traitor among them, and their squad leader seems to trust no one—except the blonde agent hiding in the barn. Most of the plot takes place in the first ninety minutes, including some unexpected twists that reveal the true nature of the mission. The last hour consists of a series of explosive action sequences, the highlight being a fight atop a cable car leading from the mountain castle to the village below. Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood are the stars of this perfect popcorn movie—one of my favorite flicks to watch on snowy day.

51. To Sir With Love - In a role seemingly tailored for him, Sidney Poitier plays Mark Thackeray, a young engineer looking for a job. Unable to find one in his chosen profession, he accepts temporary employment as a teacher in an inner-city London school. It’s a bleak situation—the students are out of control, most of the teachers are burned out, and the school reflects the poverty of the surrounding neighborhood. Thackeray’s initial attempts to reach his students fail miserably, but he eventually makes a difference in their lives. Cynics criticize To Sir, With Love as simple-minded and obvious. Perhaps, it is, but the story is put across with such conviction and professionalism that it’s impossible to ignore its many charms. In particular, a subplot involving an attractive student (Judy Geeson) who develops a crush on Thackeray is handled impeccably. The film’s theme, sung by Lulu (who plays one of the students), became a huge pop hit. Director James Clavell must have recognized the song’s potential—it’s heard repeatedly throughout the picture.

Next month, I'll count another ten, including films featuring Vincent Price, Elizabeth Taylor, two Hayley Mills, Toshiro Mifune, and millions of nasty ants!


  1. These films look like a lot of fun!

    Although, I must say, it would have been difficult to come up with an ordered list of top 100 films! I have trouble finding a top 15, not because I couldn't think of 15 great films, but because I'd have trouble finding an order for them!

  2. Another solid list and 10% of your 100! I must shamefully admit that I've never seen TIME AFTER TIME, despite the exceptionally cool plot (I've already added it to my Netflix queue). GOLDFINGER is terrific and always a great film to recommend for people interested in seeing a Bond film; the same can be said for FIST OF FURY and film buffs looking for a Bruce Lee flick. I like the soaps, and though I'm not a Troy Donahue fan (his perpetual expression was easily captured in the still you've included), Sandra Dee always gets a thumbs up, and A SUMMER PLACE is quite good. I also liked TO SIR, WITH LOVE immensely, and THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER features superb direction, wonderful cinematography, and a wickedly delightful performance from one of my favorite actors. Thanks, Rick!

  3. The influence of film part 1: My husband always refers to McDonalds as The Scottish Restaurant. Always.

    It's fun to share your list.

  4. Emmy, if I sequenced my list right now, it would probably be different. It's pretty much a snapshot in time, though the top 20 or so have held steady for several years. Sark, always nice to hear that someone likes A SUMMER PLACE and TO SIR WITH LOVE, two films which seldom get their due respect. Caftan Woman, that's one of my favorite lines in TIME AFTER TIME and I have made the same remark.

  5. Rick, another fascinating post of favorite films. Like you, I think Judy Holliday and Paul Douglas are excellent in "The Solid Gold Cadillac." I love "The Night of the Hunter." There is a scene where Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish sing a duet of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," where she is rocking in a chair inside with a rifle over her lap and he is outside pondering his next move. It is quite disturbing because this "preacher" means to harm children, if necessary. "Where Eagles Dare" is quite tense because of the isolated setting, made even more so by the confined cable car. Excellent choices again, Rick. And Sark, I think you would love "Time After Time."

  6. You have much more civilized favorite movies than I do....my list would include WAY too many films with John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, and Clint Eastwood.

  7. Any favorite film list that has "Time After Time" on it is OK with me. My dad and I saw it at a national sneak preview a week or two before it opened. They were handing out fake newspapers tied to the film, with the front page headline saying something like "Ripper Murders in San Francisco." Inside was a bunch of information about the film, including a whole sidebar on the Rozsa score. I think I still have it somewhere.

    The Ron Goodwin score matched to the airplane flying over the snow capped mountains in that credit sequence of "Where Eagles Dare" make that one of my favorite opening titles ever. the rest of the film was not a let down either. A great favorite of mine.

    I've never seen "O Lucky Man" and always wanted to. Just one that got away from me. And Malcolm McDowell is a great favorite of mine, so I really need to make amends on that one.

    Can't wait to see the rest of the titles.

  8. Toto, that may be my favorite scene in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. Nathanael, thanks for stopping by! Kevin, loved your story about the TIME AFTER TIME promo newspaper. I remember going to WHEN DINAOSAURS RULED THE EARTH and getting a booklet that translated to English what the cave people were saying. I kept that for many years...perhaps hoping it would escalate in value!

  9. Rick, I'm a little behind in participating -- I love these lists of your faves. The only ones I have not seen are The Solid Gold Cadillac (I don't know why - love Judy Holliday), O Lucky Man (again, love Malcolm McDowell)-- have to rectify those omissions! I like all the others -- really, really like Fearless Vampire Killers and Summer Place -- really, really love Night of the Hunter, To Sir, With Love and Time After Time (I am a sucker for Jack the Ripper books and movies, H.G. Wells and time travel -- this had them all! Plus, I was completely chilled by the statement you quoted above, "Ninety years ago, I was a freak. Now I'm an amateur." Scary...

  10. "Goldfinger" is my favorite James Bond film, a great combiation of dark humor, sex, action ad gadgets. "The Night of the Hunter" just makes you wish Laughton had directed more films with an devilish performance from Mitchum. "The Fearless Vampire Killers", and I just mentioned this over at my place on a comment, I need to see again. It's been a long time. Really the same for "Time After Time" and "To Sir, With Love," it been too long to even comment since I have seen them. Your list may give me the kick I need to revisit some of these. Great job!

  11. Rick, this is a great list of films. My favorites from your list are: The Night of the Hunter and Time After Time. Can you imagine watching both film in the same evening ? :o