Saturday, August 24, 2019

Top Ten Anniversary: All-Time Favorite Movies

List number five in our ongoing series is my (hard-pressed to whittle down) grouping of all-time favorite films. I don't say that they are the best (whatever that is), but they are the ones that have had the most significant and lasting impact on my life and are movies that I cannot turn off if I come upon them on television (when I'm not scheduling a viewing of my own in their entirety.) Even considering that I love all these, there was an attempt to provide a bit of variety (rather than, for example, merely listing ten disaster movies, which are always huge favorites for me.) There's also knowing that some other choices get coverage in other categories so that they aren't totally left out. These are presented alphabetically.
AIRPORT (1970) -- I never liked my stepmother much, but the one good thing she did in the late-1980s was steer me towards this movie. I was instantly in love with it. From the overall look and style to the multi-layered, star-packed story lines, which all come together at once in the climax, it's just a dream movie to me. I think I love every performance in it, though Lloyd Nolan as a curmudgeonly security agent does wear me out a bit and I always find Barry Nelson dull. The females especially (Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, Helen Hayes, Maureen Stapleton and Dana Wynter) each made me into lifelong fans after this. Then there is the wondrously bombastic music by the staggeringly gifted Alfred Newman.
GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) -- It doesn't matter to me at all that this is probably found on many peoples' lists (or that a number of people hate it.) It's just a stunning piece of cinema, especially considering the year in which it was made. That costar Olivia de Havilland is still kicking blows my mind. Producer David O. Selznick (half crazed/obsessed with details) helped forge a masterpiece that could never be equaled in terms of resources used. (One southerner remarked about the train station sequence that if they'd had that many soldiers in the Confederacy, the South would have won the war!) Vivien Leigh's performance is towering... everything anyone could have hoped for in crafting that complex character. Max Steiner's music is unforgettable, too.
MADAME X (1966) -- This could easily have found its way onto the list of Guilty Pleasures, but I feel no guilt about it! Very likely Lana Turner's finest hour as an actress, the glossy, campy melodrama of mother love is nevertheless affecting. She goes all the way to put this thing across. She's ably supported by a rondolet of solid, familiar actors, though the reptilian villainy of Constance Bennett is the most arresting to behold. After seeing this as a child on TV, I knew that any time I saw the name Ross Hunter (producer) on a film, I was more than likely going to adore it... I also learned to get excited if Frank Skinner was behind the score. If I show this movie to someone and they dislike it, the friendship can never progress any further than it has come to that point. Sorry, but that's the way it is!
THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) --Probably no other movie had as much an impact on me as this one. I could never add up the number of times I've seen it, though I typically make myself wait a year in-between these days (with a NYE viewing) so that I don't lose that feeling of seeing it fresh once more. Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine are boisterous in the extreme, albeit very good, but my real faves are Stella Stevens (who taught me to cuss) and Shelley Winters (who taught me to cry.) I have never been on a cruise ship because I couldn't imagine any such voyage measuring up to the topsy-turvy thrills of this film. Truth! Many a bored afternoon at relative's houses was spent lying on my back and staring at the ceiling, wondering how it would be to walk on it if the room were upside down! Like most of the films here, this contains a terrific score, in this case courtesy of John Williams.
THE SEARCHERS (1956) -- My stepfather (with whom I was almost as combative as I was with my stepmother!) is the one who turned me on to this movie at an early age. If this isn't John Wayne's best performance ever, it's damned close as he eschews that wry, in-charge, winking characterization which made him famous and instead presents a driven, almost devastated avenger, searching for a niece who was captured by a terrifying Indian chief named Scar (played by the impressive Henry Brandon.) Enhancing the film are eye-popping shots of Monument Valley, a feisty supporting part from Vera Miles and the rugged yet beautiful charms of one Jeffrey Hunter. That a young Natalie Wood makes a climactic appearance only adds to the fun. Director John Ford truly nailed this one (the final tap being a famed shot of Wayne surrounded by a door frame, still an outsider.)
THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) -- The first movie I can ever recall seeing in a cinema, its charms have never left me. The opening scenes of Austria are so luscious and the film only gets better from there with memorable songs, soothing colors and charming performances from a perfect Julie Andrews, a surprisingly sexy Christopher Plummer and the peerlessly elegant Eleanor Parker as a potential spoiler of their budding (and slightly forbidden) romantic feelings. Practically every number was staged in just the right way with just the right locations. Former editor Robert Wise's direction of a sterling Ernest Lehman adaptation ensured staggering success, artistically and financially. Alfred Newman took the R&H songs and crafted a beautifully orchestrated score.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1958) -- Producer-director Cecil B. DeMille had built a career around elaborate historic and Biblical spectacles and this one (his last as director) was the pièce de résistance. A monumental undertaking, he gathered up a stunning collection of performers to enact the early and middle-aged life of Moses (with Charlton Heston starring, who never looked better than in the opening scenes, and perhaps rarely sillier than in the later ones!) Yul Brynner and Anne Baxter (along with half of Hollywood!) lend more than able support. Virtually every role is played by a familiar and wonderful face. It's unintentionally hilarious time and again, but its striking passion, vivid color and series of effects cannot be denied. Several musical masters worked on the movie's themes.
THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) -- All my life The Poseidon Adventure was my favorite disaster movie with Inferno a close second, but now they are almost neck-and neck as my appreciation for the mammoth production and the stellar cast has grown over the years. Regardless of the fact that the place practically burns down, the movie presents a glamorous, scenic setting in which I want to exist! Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are rock solid anchors for the famous cast, while the languidly goddess-like Faye Dunaway altered the course of my life in her barely-there gossamer gown and bronzed cheekbones. I never get into a scenic elevator without clasping my hands the way she does. (#crazy) John Williams offered up another terrific score. 
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967) -- Talk about a world I want to live in! Dolls ticks off almost every box for a movie to me (it only fails in having no men that I am in any way attracted to.) I love the way it looks, the way it sounds (even the often-rotten songs!) and the squalid route of its thoroughly over-the-top storyline. Barbara Parkins is a whispering dream girl, Patty Duke makes one excellent shrew and Sharon Tate is lovely beyond words (and heinously underrated as an actress.) But my real thrill comes by way of dragon lady Susan Hayward (in for a swiftly-fired Judy Garland) whose every line is a thing of camp beauty, none ever so much as when she is taking on Duke in the ladies room of a banquet hall. A close friend of mine called this movie "boring" once and it took ages to forgive her (if I even actually have...!)
VERTIGO (1958) -- I worship and adore The Birds (1963) and it was really close to edging out Vertigo, but ultimately I had to acknowledge the mesmerizing, mysterious masterwork of the great Alfred Hitchcock. I can never forget seeing this movie for the first time after it had been out of circulation for years. The effect of someone looking and sounding like Kim Novak's Madeleine was a revelation to my teenaged mind. (And it almost ruined me for anything else Novak did by comparison!) It's also neat to see James Stewart in an atypical part as an obsessed, haunted man. There isn't enough I can say about Bernard Herrmann's superlative musical score, which takes the whole thing to another level. (It's clear from this list that the music in a movie means a lot to me in general.) 

There's no one like Julie Andrews. This was one of the many promotional photos taken of her for The Sound of Music, only one of which made its way onto the back of the soundtrack album.
I love this one, too. Even now, she's such a lovely, gracious and sensationally appealing person. 
Jeffrey Hunter (on the set of The Searchers with Ward Bond) has a set of beefy pecs that follow me around the room no matter where I stand! LOL He was just glorious looking and one of Hollywood's most consistently underrated actors. 


Shawny said...

Great list. I’ll have to see Madame X. I missed that one. Vertigo is such perfection. But having seen that great film about Hitch’s relationship with Tippi Hedrin (her name sounds like a geometric shape- tipihedron) I think it was unmemorably called The Girl, you start to realize Vertigo is 100% about sex. From the first shot of a male hand desperately gripping a horizontal bar, to the rush up the phallic mission tower and its two murderous ejaculations, the film is extremely thorough in its portrayal of male impotence. I think what makes the film so great is that if one is to believe the thesis of The Girl, that Hitch was a sociopathic sex obsessed manipulator, then you can see how personal and how painful a revelation Vertigo really is. I used to love GWTW but now it’s just hurtful embarrassing to me. That’s just me. I realize movies can be more than one thing to us. Like your guilty pleasure list we can love flawed films. The Searchers is one that I hated from the first time I saw it. It’s just too weird for me. At a fundamental level, I don’t understand it. So that’s why I never liked it. I of course love The Poseidon Adventure. As a child it actually had me playing a little game with myself, assessing a lot of rooms for their visual potential if they were upside down. That would lead me into trying to find the best place to hold on and survive the capsizing, and then the best route to get out by climbing up. Churches were the most treacherous because of the high ceilings, but had great visual interest upside down. The 10 Commandments is pretty funny nowadays. I still will watch it. I have to be in s rare mood to get through TSOM, though I’m oft singing the music in my head. And one thing I find funny in Airport is how when Jean Seberg is acting opposite another actor and the two are in the same shot, she moves her head funny in tandem with the other actors words. Is there a word for that in the acting world? I see it every now and then and it makes me smile.

Dan said...

My home town had a classic movie palace with what was thought to be the biggest screen in Pennsylvania. That is where I saw Airport, Poseidon Adventure, Sound of Music, Gone With the Wind, as well as Jurassic Park and Star Wars. Alas, that theater is no more.

GWTW may be ultimate movie of the classic era. I strongly recommend the book 'Memo from David O Selznick', a collection of letters, telegrams, etc. from the producer. Most of the book deals with GWTW, naturally, and his fastidiousness as a producer is remarkable. Did you know he insisted the women in the cast wear undergarments of the period? He was convinced it help them feel more like Southern belles.

Embarrassed to admit I have never seen The Searchers. The only John Wayne movies I've seen in which I truly enjoyed his performance are The Quiet Man, The Shootist, and Stagecoach.

Ten Commandments I've always found laughably overwrought. So many of the scenes look like tableaux vivant. The nipple contest between Brynner, Heston, and Baxter is a lot of fun.

Two movies that are not exactly favorites but that just knocked me out the first time I saw them are Manchurian Candidate (the Sinatra version, of course) and Night of the Hunter. When I heard that line "Why don't you pass the time playing a little solitaire?", I really, truly felt a chill in my spine.

I think I would pick Rear Window over Vertigo, although it is close. Rear Window I first saw at the Uptown in DC, another old movie palace, this one still going strong. During the scene when all you can hear are the footsteps making their way to the trapped Jimmy Stewart, there was a hush in the theater I have never experienced before. Marvelous!

J-Dub said...

Nice work! I tried to do a list like this once, and I just couldn't get down to ten!

Martin said...

Great list, a lot of these are favorites of mine as well.

P.S.: I love your writing style, your thoughts come across so well. They reflect a lot of what I love about these films, and I'm sure that's true for a lot of your fans, Poseidon!

David Kenilworth said...

Dear Poseidon,

Thank you for acknowledging Eleanor Parker in your Sound of Music retrospective.

9 Dec 2013 was truly a dark day when Miss Parker was taken from us.

Might I ask that you do a retrospective of Bracken's World? Miss Parker had top billing, but was basically an ensemble cast member, and left after 16 weeks (to be married to Carl Betz!). Mr. Dennis Cole took over some of her administrative duties. The series was retooled and renewed for a second season, but was cancelled after 15 episodes, having lost its "Valley of the Dolls" patina in favor of "Hollywood realism".

I would love to give you input. I have the whole series on DVD, and can recite some of the episodes by heart.


David Kenilworth

Poseidon3 said...

Shawny, if one is in the right mood (for glossy, hyper-dramatic tear-jerking), I cannot recommend "Madame X" enough. I sort of knew that "Vertigo" was Hitch's most personal film (and surely he had plenty of suppressed sex issues) but I appreciate some of the symbolism that you've pointed out here. OMG...! I was EXACTLY the same way about visualizing the upside-down rooms and "strategizing" about how best to survive a capsizing (probably from seeing people crushed by a heavy piano! LOL) Maybe Jean was waiting for her cue and reciting their lines in her head! LOL Hilarious observation that I'll have to keep an eye out for. We have a (stupid) woman here who mouths along with people as their speaking as if she knows the precise words they're going to say, so I always make certain to pepper my speech with terms I don't think she'll know, just to throw her off! ha ha!

Dan, that movie screen sounds like it was wonderful. Sad to know it's gone. YES! I did know about the GWTW undergarments thing... Ann Rutherford said, "But Mr. Selznick... no one will ever see these or know that they're there" and he said, "YOU'LL know..." I thought that was brilliant and I've used that mindset in the theatre so many times. In fact, for Mamma Mia!, the costumer keeps bringing me in expensive clothes when I am used to using thrift or clearance items on stage. She told me, "You are MONEY... I want you to have clothes that say this..." Thus my $90.00 polo shirt for one scene! LOL "The Searchers" isn't for everybody, but oh that scenery and oh that Jeffrey Hunter! LOL I love it's sort of bleak, serious, driven tone, rather rare for that time. As I say, it's near impossible to really pick ten films out of all the ones I adore and I like and appreciate the ones you mentioned, too!

J-Sub, exactly... I so adore "The Three/Four Musketeers" (1973/74), "Planet of the Apes" and a host of other flicks, so the list is hardly complete... Thanks!

Martin, thank you! And I deeply appreciate your compliment of my writing style which I fear must make anyone professional positively CRINGE thanks to my punctuation, sentence structure and so on... I was going to be a journalism major and did in fact read that one book all about proper writing, but it has since drained from my mind and now I write conversationally (and am told authoritatively! Ha ha ha ha!) Thanks again.

David, I truly adore Eleanor Parker, in fact she's got TWO tributes here, but I've never once seen a single episode of "Bracken's World," so at this juncture I'm not in a position to pay any tribute to it. Maybe someday... Thanks!

Gingerguy said...

Oh Poseidon if I had only known you as a child! It took me until my 30s to figure out that any time I saw the name Ross Hunter as producer on a film, it was going to be a glorious fashion show and a place I wanted to immerse myself in, from Nancy Kwan singing "I enjoy being a girl" to the fabulous Lana Turner in Madame. I just watched it recently and still thrill to Constance Bennett's evil Mother in law with hair to dye for. You ticked off lots of mine here and for all the same reasons. VOD is probably still the most quoted movie in my life. I remember staying up late on a work night to watch it at 2:00 a.m. with a couch full of female roommates and screaming with joy. Movies can be our friends forever and it's great to read this blog and get so much background on these perennial favorites

Forever1267 said...

I need to see "Vertigo" a third time, because I just don't quite get the mastery everyone else sees. Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, Rope, Psycho, Shadow of a Doubt, the Birds, North by Northwest OTOH....

This is another recommendation that I must see Madame X. With Madonna's album, that title has come up online and in conversation. And I just must see this!

Great list. All might not be great film, but they are all definitely Great Movies!!!

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, we'd have been too much together and arrests might have been made. HA HA! I love your spelling of "to dye for!" Hysterical... Movies have been my friends for my ENTIRE LIFE. They never let me down. The characters always say and do what I know they're going to say and do. Unless there has been editing, which is why I NEVER watch a movie on commercial TV. Thanks!

Forever1267, it's possible that "Vertigo" just casts a spell over certain people. I'm a dreamer at heart, so I easily buy into the hypnotic mood of it, with the twisty drive through the streets, the misty riverbank, the MUSIC ever playing... If you see "Madame X" you must report back with your reactions on the tribute page. :-)