Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My 100 Favorite Films: From 30 to 21

This month’s countdown list features my favorite Hammer horror film and my favorite Disney animated movie. As always, please keep in mind that these films are not what I'd consider the best 100 movies ever made. They are simply one classic fan's favorites. (An underlined title means there's a hyperlink to a full review at the Cafe.)

David Peel, who looks rather pleasant
here, with Yvonne Monlaur.
30. Brides of Dracula – How can Chris Lee be absent in Hammer Films’ best movie—a Dracula entry, no less? It seems downright peculiar, but, regardless, Brides of Dracula is an exciting, intelligent film with surprising depth, a showcase role for Peter Cushing, and a stylish vampire villain. Yvonne Monlaur plays Marianne, a young French woman on her way to a new teaching position in a boarding school. When a coachman abandons her along the way, she accepts an invitation by the elderly Baroness Meinster (the superb Martita Hunt) to spend the night in a nearby castle. She soon meets young, handsome Baron Meinster (David Peel). His mother keeps him in shackles and you can guess why—but Marianne doesn’t. Pretty soon, there’s an outbreak of vampirism at the boarding school and it’s Van Helsing to the rescue. His climatic confrontation with Meinster in a dilapidated windmill sets the stage for the most ingenious ending of all vampire films.

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"
in Parrish.
28. Parrish – Delmer Daves wrote and directed three big screen soaps circa the early sixties, all starring Troy Donahue: A Summer Place, Parrish, and Susan Slade. These films have their detractors, but I don’t even feel obligated to defend them. The first two are exceedingly well made, with engrossing plots, plush scenery, and sumptuous Max Steiner music. Yes, Troy wasn’t a great actor—I get that, but he was a likable, good-looking chap. In Parrish, he and his mother (Claudette Colbert) move to Connecticut to work for tobacco farmer Dean Jagger. While Parrish (Troy) tries to figure out what to do with his life, he romances a sharecropper’s daughter (Connie Stevens), a rich bad girl (Diane McBain), and a richer good girl (Sharon Hugueny). He also has to cope with a villainous tobacco magnate (delightfully overplayed by Karl Malden), who has eyes for Parrish’s mother. It’s such fun that just writing about it puts me in the mood to watch it again.

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.
26. The Flight of the Phoenix – Director Robert Aldrich bookends The Flight of the Phoenix with a wild airplane crash and an exhilarating climax. But it’s the drama in-between that makes the film so fascinating: the friction among the survivors; their audacious plan to reach civilization again; and a brilliant plot twist that comes out of nowhere. Despite the presence of stars James Stewart, Peter Finch, and supporting actor Oscar nominee Ian Bannen, the cast standouts are Hardy Kruger and Richard Attenborough. Kruger creates an unforgettable character as a quiet, bespeckled German who proposes an incredible plan to save the plane crash survivors—he's irritating, childish, determined, and innovative. It’s a well-rounded performance matched by Attenborough’s wonderfully understated turn. As the unassuming man who holds everyone together, Attenborough’s character soothes egos and forges unlikely alliances in the best interests of the group.

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
filmed indoors.
23. Black Narcissus – Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger’s masterpiece follows a group of nuns who are sent to a remote Himalayan village to establish a school and hospital. These new surroundings stir repressed emotions in several of the nuns, ultimately leading to tragedy. Powerful and understated, Black Narcissus is anchored by a brilliant performance by Deborah Kerr and a compelling one from Kathleen Byron (whose acting career petered out all too quickly). Technically, the film is an incredible achievement. Many of the outdoor scenes, to include the stunning tower climax, were filmed inside a studio using “glass shots” and miniatures designed by Alfred Junge. Jack Cardiff’s color cinematography is often touted as the best example of the Technicolor process. Both Junge and Cardiff earned well-deserved Oscars.

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).
21. 101 Dalmatians – Easily my favorite Disney animated feature, it puzzles me that 101 Dalmatians is rarely mentioned among the Disney “classics” like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and Pinocchio. Set in London, the well-known plot traces the courtship and marriage of Dalmatians Pongo and Perdy (and their human “pets” Roger and Anita). It’s a happy home until Anita’s wealthy “friend” Cruella De Vil pays a visit and decides that Perdita’s puppies would make “such perfectly beautiful coats.” When Roger and Anita rebuff Cruella’s offer to buy the puppies, her bumbling goons Horace and Jasper kidnap the pups. It’s a well-paced, entertaining story rich with fully developed characters. Even the puppies get memorable personalities, with my favorite of the litter being the plump Rollie who spouts classic lines like: “I’m so hungry I could eat an elephant” and (a few minutes later) “I’m hungry, Mother…I really am.” Anyone who has loved a dog will appreciate the care with which the animators have captured canine traits. Pongo drags Roger mercilessly on walks, shakes off water vigorously when wet, and sticks his butt in the air when getting playful.

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.


  1. Another fun stroll through your movie-loving mind.

    Even in a great ensemble cast there is usually one outstanding performance, and Kruger definitely owns "The Flight of the Phoenix".

    I never really cared (beyond the score) for "The Magnificent Seven" until I saw "Seven Samurai". When I saw what Sturges was aiming at, I started cutting it some slack and learned to enjoy it.

    "Oh, Pongo boy." I don't know if I really like "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" or if I have learned to like it out of self-preservation when my son has it on a repeat loop. I do know that it is one of my favourite title sequences ever.

  2. Superb batch of ten favorites, Rick, and, unlike previous batches, I've seen all ten of these. These are so good I can't even decide on a favorite among them. ENTER THE DRAGON is a triumphant action film, introducing the U.S. to both Bruce Lee and the kung fu genre. BRIDES OF DRACULA is also my absolute fave of famed British studio, Hammer Films: the always engaging Peter Cushing, Yvonne Monlaur as the captivating Marianne, and, as you mentioned, a wonderfully memorable ending. BLACK NARCISSUS is simply beautiful, a dramatically sound film that's at times sweet and tender and other times intense and a little creepy. Deborah Kerr is a vision (yes, even as a nun, with her red hair hiding in a habit), and Kathleen Byron's performance is amazing. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is proof that vivacious heroes are a necessity in movies such as this, but villains are just as important, as, in my opinion, Eli Wallach steals the film from the rest of the impressive cast. And you described THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER perfectly: a gimmick at face value, but it's just a disguise for a highly entertaining movie that requires repeat viewing. The remainder of the films in this ten-movie section of your 100-movie list are all worthy features and definitely recommended. Looking forward to next month, and sad to see that there will be only two more months of your faves!

  3. 101 Dalmatians is also one of my favorite films. I sometimes find myself saying out loud 'I live for furs...'. I just love Cruella.

  4. Rick, this is an extraordinary and wonderfully eclectic list! "Brides of Dracula" is delightfully atmospheric, especially with the rooftop scenes and impeccable climax. "Beach Blanket Bingo" is sweet and fun and I especially like to see Bonehead have a girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful mermaid. "Parrish" is a fascinating study about how tobacco farming works, in addition to its entertaining back stories. "The List of Adrian Messenger" is very clever and quite a game of cat and mouse (great metaphor there!). "The Flight of the Phoenix" contains one of my favorite plot devices where a group of people are placed together in a confined setting and trying to survive. "The Magnificent Seven" contains one of the most rousing, impressive music scores ever to grace the silver screen. "Enter the Dragon" made martial arts cool and boasts memorable snips of dialogue like "I'll be too busy looking good!" "Black Narcissus" is one of the least known classic films on your list and a personal favorite of mine. Jack Cardiff proves his genius with impeccable cinematography. I can watch "The Long, Hot Summer" each year and not tire of it. Its characters are expertly written and perfectly performed. And I am delighted to see "101 Dalmatians" grace your list. I love dogs and they are so believably portrayed here. But I have never seen Kanine Krunchies for sale and, after the cute commercial the pups watch, I have wanted to try a box for my own dear pet! Another astounding entry in Rick's countdown!

  5. In spite of the lack of Christopher Lee, "Brides of Dracula" is one of the best of the Hammer horror offerings - in what I thought was an extraordinarily perverse twist, David Peel as the vampire even vampirizes his mother, Martita Hunt (surely Freudians would have a field day with this). "101 Dalmatians" is such a sweet movie; it's really about love and courage, and the dogs capture that perfectly!

  6. Still loving these lists, more and more as you get to No. 1. I think I know a couple of the ones to come, but I won't say anything (in case I'm wrong and would look stupid..LOL!)

    I have not seen Enter the Dragon. Other than that, I've seen all of these and liked them, loved some of them.
    Loved: Black Narcissus (magic); Brides of Dracula (stylish!); Adrian Messenger (too cool); Magnificent Seven (you are right, it is better); and Flight of the Phoenix (I could feel they physical discomforts, I swear!)
    Liked: The Long Hot Summer (sweltering in many ways; and Parrish (likeable is a good description for pretty Troy); 101 Dalmations (just plain cute); and Beach Blanket Bingo (the Cafe is responsible for my rediscovering and finding I like these movies!)

    Looking forward eagerly to next installment!

  7. Rick, my favorite movie on your great list of favorites is the film, The Flight of the Phoenix. I really enjoyed the dialogue and the cast. Also, Loved the conflict of the "old" way of thinking vs. the "new" way of thinking.

    Another conflict, that stood out for me was the crew's mistrusts Kruger, because was German. Yet they all work together to survive.

  8. I've never seen some of these, but Beach Blanket Bingo and Parrish are total guilty pleasures, and The Long, Hot Summer is a must-see whenever it comes on! Loved the list.

  9. I've expressed in previous entries what a fan I am of this site and these lists and commentaries. Take this comment as a warning that I may now have graduated to a stalker! Anyone who includes any Funicello/Avalon pairing on a list a favorites movies just simply GETS IT! that is, what so many seem to forget or ignore - movies are, first and foremost, entertainment! And Beach Blanket Bingo is just that! For someone who knows as much about film and film history, it's great that you note the smaller gems so many others discount, simply because they're fun. What better reason to go to the movies?!

    These lists also bring to light how many movies I've yet to see! So, I can only make a couple of brief comments:

    -I too was entertained more by Magnificent Seven than by Seven Samurai, tho the latter is a beautifully crafted film.
    -Aside from the affection I have for classic horror movies, mostly Universal, and the Hammer Draculas I've mentioned in previous posts, this list brought to mind another great enjoyment of my early years, Bruce Lee! Again, an affection brought forth by my brother, with whom I thought I had zero in common with until these comments. It seems he was quite influential in molding my movie taste. bruce Lee was a force on screen beyond storyline. I'll add thatnalthough Enter the Dragon is widely considered the best of his films, my personal favorite is Fists of Fury.
    -Long Hot Summer left me hot and bothered!

    Can't wait to read the next installment!!


  10. Thanks everyone for all the comments. It's a blast to read what other film fans have to say about some of my favorite films. It's rewarding to learn that lesser-known films like LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER and BRIDES OF DRACULA have other admirers. As for BINGO and PARRISH, we fans need to stick together.

  11. You've included some of my very favorite films so how could I not like this list? Makes me want to do my own movie list, though I have a feeling mine would be so idiosyncratic no one would like it but me. But then, yours is pretty eclectic, so maybe I will do it.

    I wrote about THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER this week and THE LONG HOT SUMMER a few weeks ago. I love THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. It's the only movie I ever played hooky from school to see. :)

    I also love BLACK NARCISSUS. What a movie!
    Once seen, never forgotten.


    I'm loving reading about your choices,