Mike’s Top Ten of 1974
What I love most about 1974 is that the top ten (and the top ten most people would have for this year, which is even more impressive) has two films on it from two different directors! 40% of the top ten list is two directors. Well, if we’re getting specific… that’s four of my top five for this year. Which is nuts.
But also, this top ten list is great. There’s one movie that absolutely no one has ever heard of that I hold dear for a variety of reasons that will translate to almost no one else, but everything else is just amazing stuff.
And I will repeat what I’ve said in other years from this decade… there’s a lot of cool stuff below the line. Some really cool movies you might not know at first glance that you’ll really enjoy if you give them a shot.
Mike’s Top Ten of 1974
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
The Beast Must Die
The Godfather Part II
The Towering Inferno
A Woman Under the Influence
- The Year Without a Santa Claus
11-20: California Split, The Gambler, Harry and Tonto, The Longest Yard, The Man with the Golden Gun, Murder on the Orient Express, The Parallax View, Phantom of the Paradise, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
Tier two: Airport 1975, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Claudine, Death Wish, Earthquake, F For Fake, Foxy Brown, Freebie and the Bean, The Front Page, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Great Gatsby, The Little Prince, Man on a Swing, McQ, The Odessa File, S*P*Y*S, The Sugarland Express, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Zardoz
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1. The Godfather Part II
“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!”
You know a movie is good when its predecessor is considered one of the five or ten greatest American movies ever made, and a lot of people think this one is better than that.
What a bold continuation to the story. It’s both a prequel and a sequel. It shows young Vito and how he became The Godfather, and then continues Michael’s story. And man, how perfect is this movie? It’s a sequel that won Best Picture!
This is a three hour movie and yet you can sit there and watch it without realizing a minute has past. It’s just riveting, and it’s perfection personified. Career-best performances out of much of the cast, and eminently quotable. You could reference the smallest thing from this movie and people will get it, because of how many times we’ve all seen it. There’s no question what the best movie of this year is.
2. Blazing Saddles
“Hey, where are the white women at?”
This might be the single greatest comedy ever made. I’m not sure there is another movie that is consistently as funny, consistently as brilliant, and consistently as influential as this one. And it’s just the first of two Mel Brooks movies in the top five this year!
But to begin with this one, because this, to me, is the masterpiece. I love The Producers, but I’d still put this over that. And as much as people wanna go with Young Frankenstein, to me this is the greater achievement. It’s just fall-down funny from start to finish.
The plot, for those of you heathens who are missing out: it’s a western genre parody about a corrupt government that wants to build a railroad through a western town, and in order to drive the people (to lower prices for when they buy up all the land), they send a black sheriff. And hilarity ensues.
Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman (how fucking great is Harvey Korman in this movie?), Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens… the great Dom DeLuise cameo… Mongo! I can spend the rest of this entry just spouting quotes from this movie, but I’m gonna save us all time and say — just go watch this right now. Because I might do that after just talking about it.
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
Anyone worth their salt, in recommending the 100 greatest and/or most important American films ever made, must have this movie on their list. And it’s not just a must — they will. Because this movie is so great, so famous, so iconic, and so important, that it’s impossible for this to be overlooked on a list like that.
This is the greatest movie of almost everyone involved’s career (save maybe John Huston). It might just be everyone. It’s a masterpiece on every level.
Nicholson plays J.J. Gittes, a P.I. who is hired by Faye Dunaway to find her missing husband. And this takes him deep into a web of murder, corruption, and water. It’s a fascinating look into Los Angeles history, and one of the most watchable movies ever made. The layers this thing uncovers are just incredible.
4. Young Frankenstein
“There, wolf. There, castle.”
“Why are you talking that way?”
“I thought you wanted to.”
“No, I don’t want to.”
“Suit yourself. I’m easy.”
Mel Brooks and Francis Ford Coppola released two films apiece in 1974, and both have both of their films in my top five. It’s insane.
Parse between them however you like, this and Blazing Saddles are two of the finest comedies ever made. A note perfect parody of the Frankenstein films, with Gene Wilder at his best and Peter Boyle as the Monster. The “Puttin’ on the Ritz” scene is one of the most famous in all of cinema. And how about that Gene Hackman cameo?
If you think any of the shit they put out today is funny, do yourself a favor and watch this movie. This truly proves that they don’t make them like they used to.
5. The Conversation
“We’ll be listening to you.”
Francis Ford Coppola made this and The Godfather Part II in the same year. Possibly the greatest feat of anyone to do that. It’s him and Mel Brooks. I don’t think anyone else comes close, in terms of the comparative quality of their two films. (I’ll allow Spielberg in ’93 with Schindler’s and Jurassic Park, and I’ll allow maybe Hitchcock with Rear Window and Dial M for Murder. After that, no one comes close to those two.)
This was nominated for Best Picture this year (and is part of that John Cazale trivia, where every movie he was in was nominated for Best Picture), and still remains one of the most underrated hidden gem masterpieces of all time.
It’s a movie about paranoia. Gene Hackman is a surveillance expert who is hired to spy on a couple by a businessman. What seems like a simple job of uncovering a couple having an affair soon turns into much more, as he begins to suspect that part of (insert title here) that he overheard while taping them involves talk about a murder plot. This is a plot that sounds straight out of Hitchcock, so much so that Brian De Palma used something similar in Blow Out. It is the ultimate paranoia film, and just a masterpiece. The sound design of this movie is incredible, and the way it lets things settle and remain ambiguous is just wonderful.
If all you know about Coppola is The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, do yourself a favor and watch one of the greatest movies ever made. No matter how early you see this you’re gonna be surprised it wasn’t sooner.
6. A Woman Under the Influence
“Mabel is not crazy, she’s unusual. She’s not crazy, so don’t say she’s crazy.”
I was blown away when I saw this for the first time. I was iffy on Cassavetes and his style when I was younger, and had I not seen this film first, I might have really gotten started on the wrong foot. Cassavetes had a very particular style, and it’s the kind of style that can really turn some people off. It’s very realistic, and the scenes are largely improvised. To me, the person that seems to most capture this style of filmmaking now is Mike Leigh. Just because his movies feel like they’re created during shooting and not on the page. The bigger comp to something like this in recent years for me is Blue Valentine.
This film stars Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk as a married couple. Falk is a construction worker and typical blue collar guy. Rowlands is his wife, who is eccentric She’s a free spirit. Probably mentally unwell. And we watch their marriage. I don’t want to give away the places this goes, but it’s great. (And it’s not plot heavy, so don’t think some crazy shit’s gonna happen. It’s emotionally the places it goes more than narratively.) The best dramatic work of Peter Falk’s career, and, to me, Gena Rowland’s best performance. She should have won the Oscar this year, she’s so good. And this year is stacked for actresses. Three of the five Best Actress nominees are in this top ten. Oh wait… four. Four of the five.
This is a tough film to get through if you’re not sure what you’re in for. Some people find it too heavy. I think it’s a masterpiece. I think — while I wouldn’t go and watch it every week — I think this is one of those movies I want to put on once a year to revisit it, and just watch the brilliance of the performances again and again. This, to me, is Cassavetes’ shining moment (and it’s the only time he was nominated for Best Director, so I guess the Academy felt the same way), and if you’re gonna watch anything of his (and he’s pretty important in film history, so you should), this, I feel, is the place to start.
7. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
“Mom, are we in Arizona yet?”
“If you ask me that one more time, I’m gonna beat you to death. Just sit back there and relax and enjoy life, huh?”
“Life is short.”
“So are you.”
Speaking of Best Actress, Ellen Burstyn won for this movie. And Diane Ladd, also pictured above, was nominated for Supporting Actress, playing Flo the waitress, whose character was so iconic it launched that whole trope.
The film is about Burstyn as a woman whose prick husband is killed in a car accident, so she decides to take her son and start over. She’s gonna travel out west to California to be a singer… what she was gonna be before she got pregnant. Now, of course, things don’t quite work out that way, as she gets stopped in Arizona due to lack of money, and has to become a waitress to pay the bills. And we follow her through different relationships, eventually in one with Kris Kristofferson, and see her start to realize that, you know… things might not be so bad after all.
It’s an incredible film. Oh, and did I mention? Martin Scorsese directed this movie. His only film with a female protagonist (unless you count Boxcar Bertha, which almost feels like a two-hander between Hershey and Carradine), and probably his only film with a strong female character. Maybe strong isn’t the word. But… all the other women in his films feel defined by men. And this is a major divergence from him. And you can tell that by the fact that when people realize this movie was directed by him, they have a moment of surprise and go, “Oh, really?”
It’s a great film. A very strong, if forgotten amongst all the others, entry on his filmography, and one of those movies I can rewatch a bunch, because those restaurant scenes are just great.
“Did you know that Eleanor Roosevelt gave Lou Gehrig the clap?”
Goddamn. This movie. Bob Fosse’s follow-up to Cabaret. A biopic of Lenny Bruce, the most influential standup comedian of all time, starring Dustin Hoffman.
Somehow this gets forgotten between Cabaret and All that Jazz, but this is, in its own right, a really great film. Fosse’s career was bookended by very good films (Sweet Charity and Star 80), but the three in the middle are just straight bangers. They’re all essential films.
There isn’t a whole lot to say here. If Bob Fosse directing a Lenny Bruce biopic starring Dustin Hoffman doesn’t already do it for you, I don’t know what will.
9. The Beast Must Die
“This film is a detective story – in which you are the detective. The question is not ‘Who is the murderer?’, but ‘Who is the werewolf?’ After all the clues have been shown, you will get a chance to give your answer. Watch for The Werewolf Break.”
Okay, I gotta tell you guys a story about this one.
My best friend Nick, who I met on the first day of preschool, would come over at least once a year to my house after I moved away, and stay with us. We’d have these week long sleepovers, and it was something we looked forward to every year from second grade up through college and when we were old enough to travel on our own. On one of these occasions… somewhere toward the end of the run (had to be 2005 or 2006), we were doing as we usually did, staying up til 5:30 in the morning and doing nothing but watching movies and playing video games or online poker. And I was flipping through the channels and saw that Magic was gonna be on TV (it was on AMC at like midnight or 1am). And I said, “Oh shit, you gotta see this. It’s Anthony Hopkins and it’s awesome.” (More on Magic in 1978.) So we watch it and it finishes. And you know, it’s 3 or 3:30 in the morning and we just leave the channel on when it finishes.
We’re about to go on to whatever we were gonna do next, when the intro to this movie came on. It’s the exact intro I quoted above. And you go, “What the hell is this? A werewolf break??” And you immediately have to start watching it once that happens. And we watched the whole movie and loved it, and it’s been one of my favorite movies ever since.
Now, for those of you who have no idea what this movie is, don’t worry, that’s what I’m here for. It’s a blaxploitation horror movie that tells you up front… one of the people in the movie is a werewolf. It’s like Clue but with a werewolf. And just before they reveal who the werewolf is, they are going to stop the film and let you, the viewer, guess who it’s going to be. They literally stop the movie to give you a “Werewolf Break.” Thirty seconds where you can deliberate and make your decision. And then they run the rest of the film and show you who it was. Absolutely amazing.
Calvin Lockhart is awesome as the main guy, and you have Peter Cushing in there, as well as a young Michael Gambon. It’s just a real cult classic, and the kind of movie that’s so forgotten that if it ever comes back to prominence, I’m taking some credit for it, because I don’t know anyone who stumps for this movie as much as I do. It’s fucking awesome.
10. The Towering Inferno
“I don’t know. Maybe they just oughta leave it the way it is. Kind of a shrine to all the bullshit in the world.”
One of the granddaddy disaster movies. Airport, The Poseidon Adventure and this. Those are the three. Earthquake came out a year after this, but it’s not as good and not as remembered. There are three main ones.
Simple premise here — the world’s tallest building has been built, and during the inaugural party up in the penthouse, a fire breaks out due to cut corners and shoddy wiring, trapping all the guests up at the top of the building. So it’s up to the firemen to get upstairs and put out the fire and save all the guests before the entire building comes down and kills them.
The film is loaded with famous people. Think of it like Grand Hotel, except the hotel is on fire.
The cast includes: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Fred Astaire, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn and Robert Wagner. It’s amazing.
Also, that Grand Hotel joke is about as good as this site is gonna get, so let’s all just bask in that one for a minute before we move on, shall we?
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Honorable Mention: The Year Without a Santa Claus
One of the classic Rankin and Bass specials. Snow Miser and Heat Miser are two of the greatest holiday characters of all time. They’re so good that you completely forget what the plot of the rest of the special is about. And honestly, who can argue, with songs like this:
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California Split — Our first of two gambling films in this section. This one is Robert Altman, whose work outside of the top films (Nashville, The Player, etc) gets largely ignored. But there’s some awesome stuff in there. I saw this movie after college and was surprised at how good it was and how it took me so long to see it. It stars George Segal and Elliott Gould as two gamblers who become friends and throw away their money together. It’s Altman, so expect a lot of looseness in the plot. There’s a movie from a few years ago, Mississippi Grind, that reminds me of this one. If you liked that, definitely check this one out. It’s one of my favorite Altman films.
The Gambler — They remade this with Mark Wahlberg a few years ago. That version can’t hold a candle to this one. This movie is great. James Caan plays an English professor who is a gambling addict. That’s the film. That’s all you need. He’s a gambling addict, and we watch him continually make bad decisions that get him deep into debt. It’s… great. James Caan is one of those movie stars whose films are largely forgotten now, but they’re all so great. His 70s work is just astounding, and few films of his are better than this one.
The Longest Yard — Remember the Notre Dame/Miami feud? Catholics vs. Convicts? This is Cops vs. Convicts. Burt Reynolds is a disgraced NFL quarterback who gets two years of jail time. The warden is football-obsessed and wants Reynolds to captain his team. He refuses, and ends up suggesting a game where the prisoners play the guards. It’s one of the great sports movies of all time. Young people now only know the Adam Sandler remake, which is fine… it’s actually one of the watchable Adam Sandler movies, post-2002. But it’s not this movie. This movie is great. Also directed by Robert Aldrich, another notch on his fine resume.
Man on a Swing — Frank Perry again. If you’re going in chronological order with these, you’re already familiar with his movies. I love his work. David and Lisa, The Swimmer, Ladybug Ladybug, Diary of a Mad Housewife. This one is one I came to fairly recently. Cliff Robertson is a driven (bordering on obsessive) detective who is investigating the murder of a young woman. He has absolutely no leads when he gets a call from Joel Grey, a man claiming to be clairvoyant. He has information about the case that he couldn’t possibly have gotten from newspapers or TV. Robertson listens to him, and the more he does, he isn’t sure if Grey really is clairvoyant or is actually the murderer. It’s a really interesting movie. Flawed, but fascinating. I love the story. Granted, the scenes where Grey has his ‘visions’ can be seen as wild overacting today. But if you can overlook that, it’s really a film worth seeing, and quite possibly the last good Frank Perry movie.
The Man with the Golden Gun — Bond again. All the Bond movies will pretty much be in my top ten or top 20. Only five, I think, are not. This is our first one that hasn’t been in the top ten. And they won’t be, save one, for a while. This movie is fun. It’s got a lot to like… Christopher Lee as Scaramanga with his three nipples, that insane sequence where Goodnight gets thrown into a trunk of a car in broad daylight without anyone doing anything, and the car then turning into a PLANE five minutes later. But it’s not one of the franchise’s best. It’s fun, but it’s starting to show how they became more about representing the culture at the time than doing what the franchise did best. While Live and Let Die incorporated blaxploitation, this movie incorporates the kung fu craze into it. Very 70s.
Murder on the Orient Express — More people will know about this now that the Branagh remake has come out, but this is the OG version. Sidney Lumet directing, Albert Finney as Poirot, and a cast that includes Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, Rachel Roberts and Richard Widmark. Basic premise is — Poirot is on a train in which a passenger is murdered. The train is then snowed in for several days, meaning the murderer is one of the other passengers. So while they dig out the train, he interrogates all the passengers and figures out who did it. It’s awesome. Just a fantastic murder mystery with an all-star cast.
The Parallax View — One of the great thrillers of all time and one of the great paranoia thrillers of the 70s. Part of a loose trilogy directed by Alan J. Pakula, starting with Klute and finishing with All the President’s Men. This one is the least remembered of the three, but really effective when you see it. This is one of those movies I want to say as little about as possible just so you can enjoy it fully without knowing everything that happens in it. Here’s the basic premise: Warren Beatty is a newsman whose former girlfriend was one of the witnesses to a political assassination. All of the other witnesses have died and she thinks she’s next. She tells him there’s more to the assassination than was reported, and he starts digging, uncovering what might be a government conspiracy. It’s… great. Put this movie on and just watch it. It’s so good.
Phantom of the Paradise — This is one of the great cult classics of all time. A failure upon release, critically and commercially. But now everyone looks back fondly on this. It’s definitely unique. Not quite Rocky Horror campy, but it’s a very distinct film. A rock opera version of Phantom of the Opera. Paul Williams is a ruthless music producer who steals a composer’s music and gets him thrown in prison, only to have the composer return as a demonic phantom, determined to get revenge. It’s just awesome. One of those movies that will leave an impression on you. (I have a fun history with this one.)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three — This is the fourth movie in this section to have been remade. And unfortunately I feel like most people are more familiar with the remake than they are with the original. Though this one, I think, because it was a direct influence on Reservoir Dogs, I think up and coming film fans find out about this pretty early, somewhat mitigating that. The basic premise is — a group of men take a subway car hostage and demand money for each of the passengers. And the film is largely about the hostage situation and the battle of wits between the leader of the criminals (Robert Shaw) and a transit cop (Walter Matthau). It’s great. The entire ending and wrap-up is amazing. The whole movie is just so, so good.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot — You probably don’t know what this is, but trust me, you’ll enjoy it when you do. This was Michael Cimino’s first feature (which got him the clout to make Deer Hunter). It stars Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges (Bridges was nominated for an Oscar for his performance). Eastwood is a bank robber hiding out as a preacher following a robbery, and Bridges is a cocky, young car thief. Eastwood’s gang (led by George Kennedy) is out to get him because they think he double-crossed them (as he’s the only one who knows where the money is). Bridges and Eastwood hook up to go retrieve the money, and end up getting involved in another heist with Eastwood’s crew. It’s a real fun movie with a genuine sweetness to it. One of those movies you’ll be glad you discovered.
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- Airport 1975
- The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
- Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
- Death Wish
- F For Fake
- Foxy Brown
- Freebie and the Bean
- The Front Page
- Gone in 60 Seconds
- The Great Gatsby
- Harry and Tonto
- The Little Prince
- The Odessa File
- The Sugarland Express
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Claudine is a great rom com starring Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones. It’s a rom com on the surface but has a subtext of the socioeconomic conditions for black people in the 70s. It might not even be a subtext, but either way, it’s really good. She’s a single mother with six kids living on welfare, and he’s a garbage man with whom she starts a relationship. It’s really good and I highly recommend that you see it. It’s nice to see a movie that’s both good, straightforward about race and racial inequality but also not a blaxploitation film, which is what the trend was during this decade. This movie barely missed the top 20 and is one of those movies I want to single out because it’s really good and deserves an audience.
Freebie and the Bean is an awesome cop movie. I had a feeling about this one right as I was turning it on to watch it for the first time. It was directed by Richard Rush, who would later make The Stunt Man, one of the great hidden gems of all time. It stars Alan Arkin and James Caan as two cops determined to bust a criminal they know is guilty but can’t pin anything on. The opening scene is what hooked me. It’s a regular scene of someone taking out their garbage, and then Arkin and Caan show up, dump the garbage into their trunk and then drive away to sift through it, bickering as they look for any kind of evidence that can help their case. That’s the dynamic — they’re impetuous, do borderline illegal things that constantly get them in trouble with their superiors, and bicker all the way through. If you like buddy cop movies like Lethal Weapon, you’ll enjoy this. One of the real hidden gems of the decade that nobody knows about.
Okay, we need to talk about Zardoz. I don’t know what the fuck this movie is, but I fucking love it and make everyone see it because it’s so batshit crazy. First off — Sean Connery looks like this for the entire movie:
That alone should make you want to see it. But after that — it’s about a giant stone head that floats around a landscape, puking guns so that the people below can kill each other. Honestly, that’s really all you need. Juts see it. It’s one of the great campy movies of all time. Watch it with a crowd and some liquor. You’ll enjoy the shit out of it because it’s so crazy.
Still not sold? It was directed by John Boorman after Deliverance. Also, just watch this fucking trailer. How do you not want to see this?
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is one of the great titles in film history. Sam Peckinpah directs and it’s quite literally about people after a dude’s head. The story behind the head is that a Mexican crime boss finds out that his daughter had sex with this notorious ladies’ man Alfredo Garcia, and orders his head be brought back to him for a bounty. Tricky thing is, Garcia is already dead, having died in a freak accident a week before. Though there’s only one guy who knows where the body is buried, and he sets out with his girlfriend to retrieve the head and bring it back so they can get the reward and start afresh. It’s quite good. Warren Oates is the guy looking for the head, and I really like stories of obsessive quests, especially when the characters eventually have a choice of either continuing forward at the expense of their own morality and happiness, or stop where they are and realize they’re perfectly happy where they are. It’s a really good movie. Definitely one of my favorites of Peckinpah’s.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film that I didn’t see for years. I’d always seen clips of it, but never sat to watch it all the way through. As someone who isn’t a huge fan of the horror genre, I kept dragging my feet. Finally, when these lists were coming up, I forced myself to sit down and watch it. And it’s very good. I particularly like that it doesn’t get into the horrific stuff until like 45 minutes into the movie. I also like that because it was made in the 70s, all the stuff before the murder seems kinda fun. Even though it’s probably the equivalent of what it would seem like now, if someone made a movie about a bunch of teenagers traveling somewhere who end up getting murdered. They’re all one-note stereotypes and assholes. But because it’s the 70s, it’s fun. And it doesn’t have ominous, foreboding music that just kills everything. Here, I like that it’s all pretty normal, except for that weird moment with the hitchhiker, and then just BAM, murders. And then it just twists the screws and really scares the shit out of you by keeping you as unbalanced as the girl that’s left alive. And then that scene at the dinner table… man. The low budget here actually helps it. There’s a charm to it because the quality is so shitty. I get why this is considered one of the great horror movies.
Gone in 60 Seconds is so good. I get why people love the Nicolas Cage version. I love the Nicolas Cage version. But this one has some stuff that one just does not have. Namely a 40-minute car chase scene. Same plot — gotta steal a bunch of cars in a certain amount of time. But the Eleanor chase at the end is what makes this a classic. So good. One of the great car movies ever made and a must see for people who like car chases. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is a film by the same author (Mordecai Richler) who wrote the book Barney’s Version that became the Paul Giamatti film from a few years back. If I could describe his style, it’s probably: the bitter intricacies of life as laden upon the Jews. Richard Dreyfuss stars as a guy trying to make a name for himself. He’s a hustler. Very driven, somewhat abrasive. And we see him going about his business, trying to get somewhere. That’s really all you need to know. Nice supporting work by Jack Warden, Randy Quaid and Denholm Elliott. The movie’s very dated but worth a watch, especially because of Dreyfuss, who had a very good run of picking interesting material and delivering fine performances.
Airport 1975 is basically the same movie as Airport. A bunch of people are on board a plane, something happens, and they have to figure out how to land it with nobody dying. In the first movie, they contrived a guy coming on board with a bomb. Here, a small plane crashes into the cockpit, killing the pilots. George Kennedy reprises his role from the first film and now we have Charlton Heston taking the starring reigns. This was his sci fi/disaster period. He had a bunch of these types of movies throughout the 70s. The supporting cast is filled with big names: Karen Black, Efrem Zimbalist, Gloria Swanson (as herself!), Myrna Loy, Linda Blair, Helen Reddy, Dana Andrews, Sid Caesar, Nancy Olson, Larry Storch, Martha Scott, Jerry Stiller, and Erik Estrada. Nine total Oscar nominations out of the cast, and two wins. They just load these movies with famous faces. Earthquake, meanwhile, is a more interesting disaster movie because we at least haven’t seen it before. Also stars Charlton Heston, and I’ll give you one guess as to what it’s about. This also stars George Kennedy and has a supporting cast that includes Walter Matthau, Ava Gardner, Lorne Greene, Richard Roundtree and Marjoe Gortner (yes, that Marjoe, from the documentary). Great effects.
Death Wish is a classic. Weird how it took them 40 years to remake it. It’s perfect for doing again. Charles Bronson stars as a regular guy whose wife and daughter end up on the bad end of a home invasion. The wife is murdered and the daughter gets brutally raped and has a breakdown. Bronson, pissed that he was unable to do anything about this, becomes a vigilante, going out and murdering people trying to commit violent crimes on the street. He (though no one knows his identity) becomes a cult figure around the city, even though the police are after him since what he’s doing is technically illegal. It’s pretty great and spawned a franchise for Bronson. Harry and Tonto is a nice little movie that won Art Carney an Oscar. It’s the same movie as Kotch, made three years before this, and similar to The Straight Story, which was made 25 years after this. Art Carney is an old man living in a run down apartment building that just got condemned. His kids don’t really want him in their home, so he decides to travel across the country with his beloved cat. And that’s the film. Carney is really strong, and there is a hilarious sequence that takes place in a jail with Chief Dan George. Truly, you will laugh your ass off because it’s so good and Chief Dan George is so fucking deadpan. It’s a hidden gem that’s not really that hidden because Carney won Best Actor over Pacino in Godfather II, Nicholson in Chinatown, Dustin Hoffman in Lenny and Albert Finney in Murder on the Orient Express. So people know this exists. Still — it’s great.
McQ is a John Wayne cop movie. Near the end he started veering into more modern type films. He played a firefighter, a Vietnam soldier and two cops. And he felt out of place in all of them. Still, it’s solid. He’s a cop investigating corruption within his department. A 70s cop movie with John Wayne. He looks old and out of shape, but who gives a shit? It’s John Wayne. (And directed by John Sturges!) The Odessa File is a thriller with Jon Voight as a dude who gains possession of a diary that implicates a well-to-do businessman as a former concentration camp commandant. Maximilian Schell plays the guy in question, and it seems like a warm up for his role the year after this, The Man in the Glass Booth, which features a similar plot but is told from the perspective of his character, the accused (and was loosely based on Adolf Eichmann). The most notable thing about this movie? It has a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber. That’s only happened twice. (The other film is Gumshoe, directed by Stephen Frears.) S*P*Y*S is a comedy with Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland as two bumbling spies who are marked as targets by their own agency. And they bumble around, constantly screwing up and causing mayhem, somehow ending up on the run from the CIA, the KGB, the Chinese and terrorists. It’s fun. Definitely lightweight and dated as hell, but fun.
The Sugarland Express is Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical film. He had Duel before this, which is just a tremendous film and one of those TV movies that transcends the medium. But this is the first feature. This got him Jaws. It’s about a guy who is like two months away from getting out of jail and returning to his wife (herself an ex-felon), when he finds out the state wants to take their child away. So he, on the urging of his wife, breaks out and ends up taking a police officer hostage as they make their way back home to their child, eventually being pursued by dozens of police cars and causing all sorts of mayhem. It’s good. And it definitely doesn’t go the way you’d expect a Spielberg film to go. Definitely one of the more underrated of his films, if only because it gets overlooked among the bigger, more notable films. Foxy Brown is a Pam Grier blaxploitation film, and it’s awesome. That’s really all you need to know, isn’t it?
The Great Gatsby is a self-explanatory film. Everyone knows the story, so all you really need to know is who was involved. Here, it’s Jack Clayton directing (he did Room at the Top), based on a script by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, Sam Waterston as Nick, Mia Farrow as Daisy, Bruce Dern as Tom and Karen Black as Myrtle. You should be in from there. And again, there’s The Little Prince. A book we all read in school. Some of us twice (those of us who took French in high school). Everyone knows it, so it’s really just about who made it. Directed by Stanley Donen, it’s got fun cameos by Bob Fosse as the Snake and Gene Wilder as the Fox. It’s very dated, but it’s the only live-action version of the film we have. It’s got a certain amount of charm to it. And finally, on the front of “Films everyone knows so well it’s more about who’s involved than seeing them for the story,” The Front Page is Billy Wilder’s remake of the famous play/film (that became His Girl Friday, for those who only know that version), starring Walter Matthau as Walter Burns and Jack Lemmon as Hildy Johnson. That’s really all you need to know. Wilder, Lemmon, Matthau, The Front Page. If you’re not already in, then we have nothing further to talk about.
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