You may have seen or participated in the Facebook meme where someone calls on you to post posters for 10 movies that made an impression on you. I was tagged by a friend, so I figured I’d replicate my list for the blog.
Captain Blood (1935) was the movie that sparked my interest in old films. Based on the Rafael Sabatini novel (which is even better) it has doctor Errol Flynn falsely convicted for an uprising against James II, transported to the brutal life of a plantation worker in the Caribbean, then leading a breakout to become a pirate captain.It’s a glorious swashbuckler that established Flynn as a star. I’ll never forget watching it on the big screen in college and hearing a gasp sweep through the audience when we got a closeup of him smiling into the camera.
I caught Crack in the World (1965) during college vacation. Years later I remembered it as an apocalyptic film, a disaster movie on a global scale. Rewatching in my twenties, I discovered it was drawing-room SF, or more precisely board room SF: the end of the world (a botched attempt at tapping Earth’s core as a power source starts ripping the planet in two) appears second-hand, as Dana Andrews and his worried colleagues sit around a conference table watching stock footage of ruined cities. The romantic triangle (Andrews/younger wife Janette Scott/colleague Kieron Moore) is given at least as much screen time as any actual world saving. So the film taught me that my memories aren’t always accurate, which is why I always try to watch movies for my film books, if I can.
Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) shows how society’s perception of old movies can be just as misguided. John Wayne’s name embodies military heroism and right-wing “pro-American” attitudes in movies (I’ve known people who think Wayne himself embodies military heroism even though he opted to stay in Hollywood rather than enlist). Here, Wayne is certainly heroic as a career Marine but the movie portrays him as a dumb lug completely unfitted for civilian life; John Agar, who’s going to serve for the duration of the war, then return home and get out of uniform, is unambiguously the type of man America needs, not career soldiers. It’s a great movie (except the ever-talentless Agar) but if it was made today, people would be shrieking about how it disrespected the troops.
I saw Ball of Fire (1941) in college and it launched me on a lifelong crush of Barbara Stanwyck (I watched it again recently and it holds up well). She’s tough, no-nonsense, flirtatious, beautiful and probably won’t be any less so even after she falls in love with Gary Cooper (or whoever). She wasn’t my first movie crush, but she’s one of the top ones.
I walked out of 1977’s Star Wars in a daze, as did everyone I saw it with (a large group — we’d all heard it was something special). From the moment the Imperial destroyer appears on screen and keeps appearing (it was so. damn. big) there’s not a moment when I felt bored or uninterested. Great special effects, a fun pulp story, a classic villain with James Earl Jones’ voice, what’s not to love? I certainly kept loving it the seven or eight times (maybe more) I saw it in the theater over the next few months. And the last time I watched it, it was still awesome. And no, it will never be A New Hope to me.
The remaining five next week.
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