Films to Remember

THE ONE AND ONLY GENUINE ORIGINAL FAMILY BAND (1968)

Michael O’Herlihy directed this delightful Disney musical from a screenplay by Lowell S. Hawley adapted from the book, THE FAMILY BAND: from the Missouri to the Black Hills 1881-1900 by Laura Bower Van Nuys. Walt Disney Productions released it when this type of film was simply going out of style and was not particularly well received by critics. If this film had been produced by MGM in the forties it would have been declared a classic musical and perhaps gone down in history alongside SINGING IN THE RAIN, but it alas has become almost forgotten. A wonderful script that details a large Missouri family in 1888 where all the members play an instrument and sing, it also tackles the conflicts surrounding the re-election of Grover Cleveland and his rival Benjamin Harrison. There is much to compare what is happening in this picture to the political landscape of today. The wonderful score is by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (Oscar winners for MARY POPPINS) and the cast includes Walter Brennan, Buddy Ebsen, Leslie Ann Warren, John Davidson, Janet Blair and in her first feature film, Goldie Hawn (billed as Goldie Jeanne Hawn). The barn dance sequence is one of the best choreographed pieces of staging that I’ve ever seen with everyone moving so fast it takes your breath away. When I was a child I’d memorized the entire score from playing the LP over and over again and while re-watching it I found that I still remembered the songs. The film was originally supposed to have been 156 minutes long, but when Radio City Music Hall demanded that 20 minutes be cut, the studio cut it to 110 minutes and that’s the version that exists to this day. I’m hoping that some day Disney decides to restore this wonderful, old fashioned film to the length it was originally meant to be. This is one of the last films that Walt Disney himself had had a hand in creating before he died. Rated G.  ***** 5 STARS  

 

THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971)

Peter Bogdanovich directed this film from a screenplay he co-wrote with Larry McMurtry from whose novel of the same name this movie was based on. This is a film which takes place in the small fictitious town of Anarene in northern Texas in 1951 and details the coming of age of a small group of teenagers and the adults they come in contact with. It beautifully captured the desolation and boredom that many of these people felt and the small joys that come their way in this very enclosed environment. Shot in black and white which was very unusual for the time, it was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning for Ben Johnson (Best Supporting Actor) and Cloris Leachman (Best Supporting Actress). The exceptional cast also included Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Sam Bottoms, Cybill Shepherd and the luminous Ellen Burstyn. In 1998, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and was chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry.  ***** 5 STARS


WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972)

Peter Bogdanovich directed this film from a screenplay he co-wrote with Buck Henry, David Newman and Robert Benton and was his attempt to pay homage to the screwball comedies of the 1930s especially BRINGING UP BABY and the old Bugs Bunny Cartoons. He completed succeeded with this film, making two major hits in a row with the very different THE LAST PICTURE SHOW the year before. The premise concerns four identical plaid overnight bags, each containing very different items. One has igneous “tambula” rocks that have certain musical properties, one is filled with precious jewels, one with woman’s clothes and a large dictionary, and one with top secret government files. Of course the bags get completely  mixed up, characters identities are confused, a hotel room burns down, the Mafia somehow gets involves and there is one of the most spectacular chases throughout the hills and Chinatown of San Francisco which is really quite hilarious. The brilliant cast included Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, Madeline Kahn (in her film debut), the hilarious Kenneth Mars, Mabel Albertson, Michael Murphy, Philip Roth, Sorrell Booke, Stefan Gierasch and Liam Dunn. I lived at the time in the Richmond District of San Francisco only five blocks away from where the famous plate glass scene was filmed on Balboa between 22nd and 24th Avenues which took almost two weeks to film. This is a film to enjoy and relish in all its silliness and fun. ***** 5 STARS

 

SOLANUS CASEY (2011)

This extraordinary documentary details the life of Father Solanus Casey, a modern day mystic, healer, prophet and intercessor. Because he was unable to grasp fluent Latin and considered a slow learner, he was not allowed to hear confessions or preach publically by his superiors and relegated to being the doorkeeper at his Capuchin monastery. He accepted all of this in a spirit of true humility and never complained about his predicament. What ended up happening however was though he was unable to hear confessions, he gave personal council to over 250,000 people in the course of his life. He was able to tell if someone was going to live or die, and many people were spiritually or physically saved through his prayers. When the move to canonize him was started in 1988 they had to exhume his body and found him to be incorrupt (not necessarily a sign of sainthood I should point out), though the coffin was half filled with water. More than twenty thousand people showed up at his funeral and people continue to this day to be healed when praying to him for intercession. My own mother once prayed to him that I get a job and within 48 hours I had a job managing a senior’s apt. community in Los Angeles that I held for 13 years. This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, causing me to view it again almost immediately. There is so much food for thought in this extraordinary film that I anticipate I will view it many more times in the future. It is readily available from Ignatius Press and Amazon. Lastly, I can’t begin to recommend this film any more strongly than I already have. ***** 5 STARS  

 

EDITH STEIN: THE SEVENTH CHAMBER (1996)

Marta Meszaros’ film based on a screenplay she co-wrote with Roberta Mazzoni and Eva Pataki is based on the life of the famous Jewish philosopher Edith Stein, who converted to Catholicism and became a Carmelite nun in the early 1930s, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Because of Hitler’s relentless pursuit of the Jews of Europe in the 1930s and throughout World War II she was removed from the convent for her own safety along with her sister Rosa (who also converted and became an extern Sister) and moved to a convent in Echt in the Netherlands. The Germans however caught up with them, threatening the entire convent if they didn’t give the two Sisters up and sent them first to the camps of Amersfoort and Westerbork. It should be noted that when Edith was in Westerbork a Dutch official was so impressed with her sense of faith and peace, he offered her an escape plan that she promptly turned down. She is quoted as saying, “If somebody intervened at this point and took away my chance to share in the fate of my brothers and sisters, that would be utter annihilation.” She and Rosa were then deported to Auschwitz where they were sent to the gas chamber immediately upon arrival. 


This is an extraordinary film detailing one of the great Saints of the 20th Century. Canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1998, she came to be known as St. Benedicta of the Cross. Portions of the film though historically accurate are told in a non-linear fashion, often using direct quotes from her own writings explaining her utter despair at what was happening to her own family, who being very traditionally Jewish, did not approve of her conversion, let alone becoming a nun. The film also goes into great detail of how hard it was for her as a woman in her forties to endure the incredibly hard work given to novices who are often times very young women. She was also a very famous teacher/author with many books on philosophy in print throughout the world and was repeatedly told that this was a worldly success that must be renounced until one of her superiors insisted she be allowed to continue her writings much to the blessings of us all. It should be pointed out that Maia Morgenstern (Mary In THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST) gives one of the greatest performances of all time and should have won the Academy Award, however the film received scant attention in the United States at the time of release. It is however one of the reasons Mel Gibson cast her in his film and is now readily available from Ignatius Press and other outlets such as Amazon. If you’ve never heard of Edith Stein now is your chance to correct that and experience one of the great films of all time. ***** 5 STARS   

 

BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE (1972)

Milton Katselas’ film based on Leonard Gershe’s play and screenplay is a highly enjoyable film which made a successful transition from stage to screen in this adaptation. Goldie Hawn as Jill Tanner, a free spirit running away from her past and Edward Albert as Don Baker the blind young man living next door who forces her to come to grips with her feelings are both outstanding as is Eileen Heckart in her Academy Award winning role (Best Supporting Actress) as Don’s overly protective mother. It’s an old fashioned story and very indicative of the time it was made, when young society was questioning many of the accepted moral codes of the day back in the sixties/seventies era. It utilized its San Francisco locations very well while not loosing any of the qualities that made it so endearing to New York stage audiences at the time. This picture started off the career of Edward Albert and helped to solidify Goldie Hawn’s star power with both the fans and the Hollywood film studios and became a career highlight for stage/film veteran Eileen Heckart. **** 4 STARS    

 

​THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT (1964)

This delightful film directed by George Roy Hill from a screenplay by Nora Johnson & Nunnally Johnson and based on Ms. Johnson’s novel of the same name was one of the delights of my childhood. A story that centers on two young girls on the cusp of adulthood but very much still children had a poignance and sincerity of heart that is almost never seen anymore in films that deal with young people. This film is very much a dramatic comedy with outstanding performances from the two young leads, Merrie Spaeth and Tippy Walker who truly own this film despite that the top billed stars are Peter Sellers, Paula Prentiss and Angela Lansbury. Originally the studio had sought Haley Mills and Patty Duke to play the roles but they were committed to other projects thus these two unknown gems were cast. A story that details the joy of youth and very much the tragedies, it has some of the funniest sequences ever committed to celluloid while these two young girls navigate the social order at school and stalk a concert pianist that they adore. Also providing wonderful support are Phyllis Thaxter, Bibi Osterwald and Tom Bosley. Voted one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review, it was also the official entry of the United States at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival. ***** 5 STARS

 

​​GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (1967)

Stanley Kramer’s film based on a screenplay by William Rose was unusual in its day because it dared to deal with interracial romance and marriage in a most positive light while still addressing the fact that the miscegenation laws were still on the books in 17 states when the film was shot. About two weeks after the film was completed the Supreme Court struck down the miscegenation laws in the U.S. with Loving vs. Virginia and Spencer Tracy died. This was the ninth pairing of screen legends Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy who starred alongside Sidney Poitier, Katharine Houghton (Ms. Hepburn’s niece, explaining the resemblance), Cecil Kellaway, Beah Richards, Roy E. Glenn, Virginia Christine, and Isabel Sanford among many fine actors. This in many ways is a highly idealized version of a difficult situation, even for the parents of Joanna Dreyton (Houghton), whose father, Matt Drayton (Tracy) is the editor of San Francisco’s leading newspaper and whose mother, Christina Drayton (Hepburn) owns a high end art gallery, all the while espousing very liberal views (for the time). Though the character of Dr. John Wayde Prentice Jr. played by Sidney Poitier has the qualities of twelve exceptionally good men rolled into one and is acknowledged at one point as such, it is up to Matt to explain that all it really comes down to is the love between these two young people and that if it is half the love he felt for his wife at their age, they then have his blessing.  It was not known for sure at the time of production what exactly the Supreme Court was going to do, and Matt does explain that even if the miscegenation laws are overturned it will be years before people will accept their marriage.  The production was fraught with tension and concern over Spencer Tracy’s health, and the film was put into production only after Katharine Hepburn and Stanley Kramer both put up their salaries to guarantee Tracy’s health after the studio could not obtain insurance for him. All lead actors are insured against the probability of illness or death to protect the studios’ investment. It was felt that Columbia Pictures really did not want to make the film, fearing fallout from the southern states but Ms. Hepburn and Mr. Kramer’s actions derailed that action.  Nominated for ten Academy Awards including in all acting categories, it won two Oscars, for Katharine Hepburn as Best Actress (the second of her eventual four Oscars) and for William Rose for Best Original Screenplay. **** 4 STARS

 

GYPSY (1962)

Mervyn Leroy's film was an adaptation of the Broadway musical with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee. The role of Mama Rose is considered one of the quintessential roles for a woman in musical theatre having been originated on Broadway by Ethel Merman, it has also been played by Bernadette Peters, Patti Lupone (Tony Winner for this role) and Bette Midler in a 90’s film remake. In the 1962 film version the role was played quite splendidly by Rosalind Russell who was supported by Natalie Wood as Louise (later known as Gypsy Rose Lee), Karl Malden as Herbie Sommers and a very young Ann Jillian as Baby June (who became the actress June Haver later in her career). I have never been very fond of this show though it boasts one of the best scores in musical theatre history and since there is so much talk of Barbra Streisand ending her film career with the role of Mama Rose I decided to revisit the original film. It’s a very well made film with it’s story of the ultimate stage mother battling to get her kids seen and onstage of the best vaudevillian houses in 1930’s America. What happens is what often occurs in show business, compromise and extreme disappointment and the success that comes is not necessarily to the benefit of those characters involved.  Both tragic and entertaining, it revisits a world that few even in the theatre remember anymore, so for that it’s worth viewing and reacquainting yourselves with the extraordinary actress Rosalind Russell. *** 3 STARS (FOR THE FILM) ***** 5 STARS (FOR THE SCORE)         ​​​

 

LOST HORIZON (1973)

Charles Jarrott’s film was originally filmed by Frank Capra in 1937 and based on the classic James Hilton novel of the same name but this time presented as a musical with a screenplay by Larry Kramer, music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David. This was the brainchild of producer Ross Hunter who was claiming at the time of the film’s production that it was the finest of the 46 films that he’d produced. What transpired was a flop of monumental proportions with both critics and public panning the production and ending the theatrical film career of Mr. Hunter and the collaboration of Mr. Bacharach and Mr. David, though it’s questionable if this film was the sole reason. Musicals were going out of style what with the studios having lost hundreds of millions of dollars with oversaturating the marketplace with them after the success of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. The original novel has always been one of my favorites and though I remember as a sixteen year old being very disappointed with the picture, I was always quite taken with the score and the very fine cast of actors who were assigned their respective roles. The story of a mythical land called Shangri-La, which is so isolated by the Himalayas that people virtually die trying to find it and where the way of life and philosophy have created a type of utopia on earth is highly attractive. Even with a misbegotten production that should have probably been filmed somewhere other than Los Angeles where the smoggy skies become occasionally evident, still has this remarkable story as its basis and shouldn’t be ignored.  The cast included Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Michael York, Olivia Hussey, Sally Kellerman (with a lovely singing voice), George Kennedy, Bobby Van, John Gielgud, James Shigeta and Charles Boyer as the High Lama. If for nothing else, this film reminded me that a truly definitive version of the book should be made, for even in Frank Capra’s version, which is far superior, they took liberties with the original plot. *** 3 STARS

 

MAME (1974)

This film directed by Gene Saks with a screenplay by playwright Paul Zindel and based on the Broadway musical with a book by Jerome Lawrence and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, was Lucille Ball’s last theatrical film. Essentially a film that by and large catered to all of Ms. Ball’s weaknesses and none of her strengths, proved to be a major disappointment upon it’s initial release in 1974. Based on the book Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis which was later adapted into a Broadway play and an excellent film starring Rosalind Russell, who continues to this day to be the definitive role model for actresses playing the role. Angela Lansbury had a triumphant Broadway success with the part, winning the first of her five Tony Awards for the role. Though not considered a big enough film star at the time of filming, I’ve aways said that if the producers had waited a few years after she became such a big TV star with MURDER SHE WROTE, the role probably would have been hers, but who knew.   

 

Revisiting this film recently I’ve come to the conclusion that despite certain problems, it is still quite entertaining and in many ways very well made. Yes, Lucille Ball’s voice should have been dubbed and the diffusion (a special lens) used on Ms. Ball’s close-ups could have been achieved through careful lighting, the film has a certain charm despite an overall static effect in its execution. Though it’s a shame original director George Cukor (MY FAIR LADY) became unavailable due to a one year delay in production (after Ms. Ball sprained her ankle in a skiing accident), it still has a lovely score along with beautiful sets and costumes. Stage originals Bea Arthur (Vera Charles) and Jane Connell (Agnes Gooch) acquit themselves very well and are supported by Kirby Furlong, Bruce Davison, Robert Preston and Joyce Van Patton. And again it proves why Lucille Ball was universally loved in this country (U.S.) for though she would have been perfect for the role fifteen years earlier, she still looked fantastic and proved to be a very lovable and effective Auntie Mame. *** 3 STARS (FOR THE FILM) **** 4 STARS (FOR THE SCORE)


UMBERTO D. (1952)

Victorio De Sica’s beautiful, heartbreaking film detailing an impoverished senior citizen, Umberto Domenico Ferrari, played beautifully by Carlo Battisti, desperately trying to keep his room in a boarding house and his struggle to make ends meet in post World War Two Rome with his little dog for companionship. A cast of predominantly unknown and non-professional actors lends credence to a story that represented life for all too many Italians after the war. Supposedly De Sica’s favorite film, it ends very much with his desperate situation up in the air but with a ray of hope and possibility. **** 4 STARS


​40 CARATS (1973)

Milton Katselas’ film was based on the Broadway play written by Jay Presson Allen with a screenplay by Leonard Gershe, tells the age old story of how life and its circumstances, particularly that of age don’t always reconcile with the needs of the heart. A lovely story of a forty year old woman who meets and falls in love with a twenty two year old man wise beyond his years is for the romantic in all of us. Beautifully cast with Liv Ullmann, Edward Albert, Gene Kelly, Binnie Barnes and Deborah Raffin in her film debut, this film was not particularly popular when first released, but seen anew today I found it delightful and quite refreshing.  Starting off in Greece and seguing to New York City, it utilized its locations quite well, helped by a very compelling story and likeable cast. **** 4 STARS

 

THOSE CALLOWAYS (1965)

A Walt Disney Production of a film by Norman Tokar with a screenplay by Louis Pelletier based on
the novel SWIFTWATER by Paul Annixter this film follows the trials and tribulations of a Vermont family as they attempt to establish a refuge for the Canadian geese that fly over their property every year. With the town council siding with a wealthy property developer to turn the area into a recreational resort for duck hunters, you have plenty of conflict between the environmentalist minded Calloway family and the rest of the community. Though this film is basically formulaic Disney fare it’s still pretty enjoyable, though my opinion of it today is quite different than when I first saw it at age nine. It has a wonderful cast that includes Brian Keith, Vera Miles, Brandon de Wilde, Walter Brennon and a very young Linda Evans. Location filming in New England helped to add to the authenticity of this film’s overall impact and should be enjoyed by families looking for an old fashioned, somewhat clichéd movie to enjoy together. *** 3 STARS         

 

PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969)

Joshua Logan’s film based on the Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical with an adaptation by Paddy Chayefsky with which Alan Jay Lerner based the final screenplay is an over produced but never the less somewhat enjoyable, somewhat amoral film with one of the most beautiful scores to ever grace the Broadway stage. Considerably changed from the original Broadway production to perhaps bring it more in attune with the fashion of the times (namely the 1960s), it was filmed with no expense spared and apparently turned Clint Eastwood off to big time, wasteful Hollywood filmmaking. Written before Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe wrote MY FAIR LADY, it bears absolutely no relation to their far more famous work, but is very much to their credit for having created at least musically a masterpiece. Even though the film fails in many respects, it has some genuinely funny moments and when the gold mining town of No Name City sinks into the ground just as the town’s preacher is telling the townsfolk that they are about to be swallowed up into the bowels of Hell for their sins, it’s really funny.  Filmed before the age of CGI, the set of No Name City built in the wilderness of Oregon had to be rigged to actually sink into the ground, almost sinking Paramount Pictures financially when the film failed at the box office. However, it’s worth giving it a second chance for those of you who may have seen it and for the many of you who haven’t, if nothing more than for Lee Marvin’s marvelous portrayal of Ben Rumson (whose singing voice was not dubbed and yet gets to sing the beautiful Wand’rin’ Star) and it’s truly glorious score. Clint Eastwood who acquits himself quite well in the singing department and Jean Seberg (whose singing was dubbed) bring a certain charm to this film, along with Ray Walston (TV’s MY FAVORITE MARTIAN), Harve Presnell with his glorious voice and Alan Dexter as the Parson. ***** 5 STARS FOR THE SCORE *** 3 STARS FOR THE FILM   

 

BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)

If ever there was a film that represented the era it was filmed in it is this one. Very much a film of the 1960s, George Roy Hill’s film from an original screenplay by William Goldman and starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross is an awful lot of fun while featuring one of the most popular songs of the era, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head by composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David. Over glamorizing a story of outlaws, it never the less is very enjoyable while not perhaps being a terribly accurate portrayal of the time in which it took place, namely the wild west of the 1890s. **** 4 STARS

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)

This film directed by Alexander Mackendrick from a screenplay by Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman and Mr. Mackendrick from a novella by Mr. Lehman starred Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Martin Milner and Susan Harrison. The film tells the story of a powerful newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker (portrayed by Mr. Lancaster and based on Walter Winchell) who uses his connections and his relationship with a publicist played by Mr. Curtis to destroy his sister’s relationship and engagement to a man he deems unsuitable for her. A hard hitting and disturbing portrait of the corrupting influence of power, it was not a tremendous success when originally released, but is now considered a classic. Note that there is a provocative jazz score by Elmer Bernstein that is considered groundbreaking for its’ time and beautiful black and white cinematography by James Wong Howe. **** 4 STARS

 

THE PUMPKIN EATER (1964) 

Directed by Jack Clayton this film stars Anne Bancroft whose character leaves her first husband and takes her four small children to remarry what turns out to be a serial philanderer played by Peter Finch. The film’s screenplay was by Harold Pinter (Nobel Prize winner for Literature) adapted from the novel by Penelope Mortimer of the same name. Considered one of Ms. Bancroft’s greatest performances (and was expected to win her a second Oscar) it is utterly tragic in presenting at times a rather unsympathetic character who is not easily defined. Considered very daring for its time, with its lead character having an abortion to supposedly save her failing marriage. A fine but disturbing film of marital discord also features a very young Maggie Smith in a small but memorable role in the beginning of the story. **** 4 STARS

 

TWO FOR THE ROAD (1967)

Stanley Donen’s comedy drama from an original screenplay by Frederic Raphael that starred Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney detailing a couple’s twelve year relationship and marriage is unique in that it is told in a non-linear fashion, which at times can be a bit confusing but is never the less a joy and pleasure to watch since it all makes sense in the end. A sparkling score by Henry Mancini and beautiful location filming in the south of France only add to this films’ many charms. **** 4 STARS

 

SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY (1971)

John Schlesinger’s groundbreaking film from an original screenplay by film critic Penelope Gilliatt and starring Glenda Jackson, Peter Finch and Murray Head is a wonder to behold in its’ execution and daring exploration of a three sided relationship. Peter Finch plays a successful Jewish doctor in London who happens to be gay and very much in love with young artist Murray Head, whose character is also having an affair with a business woman played by Glenda Jackson. Even by today’s standards this film feels groundbreaking in its’ approach to a very peculiar but fascinating situation with extraordinary dialogue by Ms. Gilliatt. I would highly recommend this film but for adults only, though frankly most children have seen far worse in today’s era of no holds barred cinema. ***** 5 STARS

 

THE BAD SEED (1956)

Directed by Mervyn Leroy and based on the Broadway play by Maxwell Anderson that was based on William March’s novel THE BAD SEED, it proved unusual at the time that Jack Warner chose to star the same cast that had originated the roles in New York. Essentially a thriller/horror film detailing the possibility of psychotic behavior being passed on from one generation to the next. In this case the psychotic is an eight year old girl who through the course of the film manages to murder two people, while having already murdered a neighbor at a former residence for a total of three. When her mother Christine comes to realize that she’d been adopted and that her birth mother had been a notorious serial killer she realizes that no amount of love or wholesome upbringing is going to change this child’s character. Excellent performances by Nancy Kelly as Christine, the horrified mother of a psychotic child, Patty McCormack as Rhoda, Satan’s little apprentice and Eileen Heckart in a stunning performance as the heartbroken mother of a child who was murdered by Rhoda. This film sounds horrific and it is, but is done in exquisite taste and was a huge hit on the New York stage, garnering Ms. Kelly, Ms. McCormack and Ms. Heckart Oscar nominations for their extraordinary work in the film. **** 4 STARS                

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