Son of the 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen

Son of the 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen

by Richard Crouse

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781550228403
Publisher: ECW Press
Publication date: 09/01/2008
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Richard Crouse is the host of "Reel to Real" on the Independent Film Channel and has written six books on pop-culture history, including "The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen" and "Reel Winners." He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Read an Excerpt

Son of the 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen


By Richard Crouse

ECW PRESS

Copyright © 2008 Richard Crouse
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55490-330-6


CHAPTER 1

"I've met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my time, but you ... you're 20 minutes."

LORRAINE MINOSA (JAN STERLING) TO CHARLES TATUM (KIRK DOUGLAS) IN ACE IN THE HOLE


ACE IN THE HOLE (1951)

Billy Wilder, the storied director of Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend, was at the top of his game in 1951. His film, Sunset Boulevard, despite earning the ire of Hollywood insiders — MGM head honcho Louis B. Mayer suggested Wilder be tarred, feathered and horsewhipped for portraying his profession with such a jaundiced eye — was a huge hit, nominated for 11 Academy Awards, taking home three, including one for Wilder in the category of Best Writing, Story and Screenplay.

Perhaps it was the success of that film, despite the backlash from the industry, which gave Wilder the courage to go ahead with a film that was sure to alienate a powerful group of Tinseltown insiders — the Hollywood press. Ace in the Hole, his scathing exposé of shady journalism, put him at odds with the frontline scribes who would write about the movie and hopefully stir up interest with audiences. Their rejection of the film doomed it to failure.

"Fuck them all," Wilder said after the movie tanked. "It is the best picture I ever made."

Wilder picked up the idea for Ace in the Hole from a 20-year-old radio writer named Walter Newman. Newman pitched the director a treatment called The Human Interest Story based on the 1925 case of spelunker Floyd Collins, the self-proclaimed greatest cave explorer ever known. Collins had been investigating a Kentucky cave in hopes of turning it into a profitable tourist attraction when a 27-pound rock collapsed on his foot, trapping him in a narrow, wet hole. He remained wedged in the space for 17 days, before he succumbed to starvation and exposure. The part of the story that grabbed Newman was the media circus that grew around the event.

Collins was pinned in an inaccessible fissure only 150 feet from the mouth of the cave, so he was able to banter back and forth with rescuers and journalists. William Burke "Skeets" Miller, a cub reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal played up the story in a series of dramatic articles, turning the local misfortune into a national event. His melodramatic reportage earned him a Pulitzer Prize and drew tens of thousands of people — disaster tourists — to the area, turning this unfortunate set of circumstances into the third biggest media event between the World Wars (next to Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight and his son's kidnapping).

In the film Kirk Douglas stars as Charles Tatum, a former ace reporter now on the skids. "I can handle big news and little news. And if there's no news," he says, "I'll go out and bite a dog." Tatum has been fired from every major newspaper in the country, and in a desperate bid to rebuild his sidetracked career he offers his services to a small Albuquerque, New Mexico, daily. Outside the editor's office hangs an embroidered sign that reads "Tell the Truth."

"Wish I could coin 'em like that," Tatum says to a secretary. "If I ever do, will you embroider it for me?"

Assigned to covering rattlesnake hunts and other small town news, one day Tatum stumbles across the story he thinks will vault him back to the big time. In the nearby Mountain of the Seven Vultures, Leo Minosa, an ex-GI, has been trapped by falling debris while hunting for artifacts. Tatum seizes the chance to cover the story, recalling another reporter who "crawled in for the story and crawled out with a Pulitzer Prize."

Tatum spices the story with histrionic hokum ("Ancient Curse Entombs Man!") to create a national buzz for his scoop, but it isn't until he conspires with a corrupt sheriff (Ray Teal), the GI's wife (Jan Sterling) and a gutless contractor (Lewis Martin) to prolong the story by keeping Leo buried under the rubble that the movie reveals its true dark heart.

Cynical, bitter and uncompromising, Ace in the Hole is a no-holds-barred indictment of yellow journalism, unfettered greed, ambition and opportunism. Other films have tread the same ground, 1957's A Face in the Crowd and from 1976 Network to name a couple, but neither of those movies has the same cutting edge, the underlying flavor of arsenic.

Wilder wastes no opportunity to pour vitriol on the idea that human suffering can be treated as a spectator sport. Even the carnival trailers at the scene are used as a metaphor. Their name? S&M Amuse-ment Services.

In the lead role of Tatum, Kirk Douglas personifies ruthless ambition coupled with a complete disregard for humanity. His indifference for the safety of the trapped man is a microcosm of the larger issue regarding the warped relationship between the American media and its public. He's a sociopath who gives the people what they want — vivid human interest stories — no matter what the cost.

Douglas's work here rates among his best, alongside Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful, Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory and Mark Robson's Champion for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Douglas drips with confidence, chewing up and spitting out the dialogue. In his hands Tatum is a despicable character, but he's a compelling one.

When a group of big-time reporters descend on his story, trying to find a way to muzzle in on his scoop, it's a moment with the kind of zippy dialogue that could only exist in a Wilder noir — and Douglas makes the best of it.

"We're all buddies in the same boat," says one frantic correspondent.

"I'm in the boat. You're in the water," Tatum spits back. "Now let's see you swim, buddies."

It's great stuff and Douglas seems to relish every manic, brutal syllable.

Ace in the Hole was (predictably) beaten up by the press and despite winning an award at the Venice Film Festival, failed to find an audience in 1951. Paramount, ignoring Wilder's contractual right of title and final cut, went behind his back and re-released an edited version of the film titled The Big Carnival, which didn't fare much better than the original. Disheartened by the movie's failure Wilder played it safe for the next few years, mostly adapting Broadway plays for the screen.

In 1997 the film was remade as Mad City by politically charged filmmaker Costa-Gavras, but audiences didn't get a chance to see Wilder's original unsung masterpiece again until it earned a limited theatrical release in 2002. This time critics lobbed laurels at the 50-year-old film, praising its prescient view of the out-of-control tabloid media. Critical response to the re-release led to a handsome DVD package from Criterion in 2007.

"It was a totally uncompromising film at a time when the movies were said to be totally compromised," wrote Maurice Zolotow in Billy Wilder in Hollywood. "It is shocking even now."


Availability: On Criterion DVD

"A child can be so many things — warmth, love, laughter — and sometimes a child can be ... heartbreak."

— NARRATION FROM THE TRAILER OF A CHILD IS WAITING


A CHILD IS WAITING (1963)

Filmmaker John Cassavetes disowned the final cut of his 1963 film A Child Is Waiting after producer Stanley Kramer wrestled control of the movie away from him and did a re-edit. "I didn't think his film — and that's what I consider it to be, his film — was so bad," said Cassavetes, "just a lot more sentimental than mine."


Cassavetes had a reputation for being uncompromising. He raised the money for his first film, Shadows, during a radio appearance to promote another picture. Booked on Jean Shepherd's Night People to pump up a 1957 Martin Ritt film called Edge of the City (costarring Sidney Poitier), Cassavetes instead railed against Hollywood movies, particularly the one he was there to promote, and said that if everyone listening sent him one dollar he could make a "real" film. The radio show netted him $2,000 which became the seed money for his directorial debut. From that point on he did things his way or not at all.

Working with Kramer on his third picture, Cassavetes clashed with the producer, and his stars Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster who both wanted more structure on set (and less improvisation) than Cassavetes was willing to provide. Kramer, a seasoned director and producer with an impressive list of credits like Judgment at Nuremberg and The Defiant Ones, exerted pressure on the director to deliver a slick movie, even going so far as to order reshoots of scenes he dubbed too grainy.

"My God," said Cassavetes, "you damn Hollywood people. All you can think of is smoothness of camera. What we want is to get some rough edges in here."

Cassavetes may have felt stifled by Kramer's interference, but the resulting picture, even in its edited and altered state, still feels like a Cassavetes film — intelligent, devoid of self pity and socially aware.

Dr. Matthew Clark (Burt Lancaster) runs the Crawthorne State Mental Hospital (modeled on the Vineland Training School in New Jersey), a state institution for mentally challenged children. His authority is challenged by Jean Hansen (Judy Garland), a former music teacher who is skeptical of Clark's strict methods. She feels that love, not rules or discipline, is all the children need to lead happy, productive lives.

After becoming emotionally involved with 12-year-old Reuben Widdicombe (Bruce Ritchey), a troubled boy who has been abandoned by his parents, Hansen goes behind Clark's back and asks the young patient's parents to come and visit, thinking it will help calm the young-ster's behavioral problems. Surprisingly, however, Sophie Widdicombe (Gena Rowlands) agrees with Clark, that it would be too disruptive for Reuben to see his parents.

As she is on her way out, Reuben catches a glimpse of her and chases her car. The encounter has severe emotional repercussions on Reuben, who, distraught, runs away from the institution. When Clark finds the child and returns him to the hospital the next morning, Hansen, realizing she was wrong to take matters into her own hands, tenders her resignation.

Clark refuses to let her go, asking her to stay on-board at least long enough to help stage the institute's big Thanksgiving show for the parents. In the ending that rankled Cassavetes, Reuben's father arrives at the hospital to cart his son off to a private school, but is so moved when he hears Reuben recite a poem onstage that he changes his mind, deciding that the institutional life is the best way for his boy to function.

"The difference in the two versions is that Stanley's picture said that retarded children belong in institutions and the picture I shot said retarded children are better in their own way than supposedly healthy adults," says Cassavetes in Cassavetes on Cassavetes. "The philosophy of his film was that retarded children are separate and alone and therefore should be in institutions with others of their kind. My film said that retarded children could be anywhere, any time, and that the problem is that we're a bunch of dopes, that it's our problem more than the kids'. The point of the original picture that we made was that there was no fault, that there was nothing wrong with these children except that their mentality was lower."

"We had just come up from New York," Gena Rowlands told me in 2008. "I don't think we had ever heard the fact that the director didn't have the final cut. To us it was an assumption that he did. We found out the hard way. So there was a great deal of controversy about that."

That being said, A Child Is Waiting is still a powerful drama that draws on the humanity that Cassavetes brought to all his directorial efforts as well as Stanley Kramer's socially aware stance. The result is a film that, while dated, is a provocative and moving study of the predicament of mentally challenged children.

Written by Abby Mann, who also penned Judgment at Nuremberg and later Ship of Fools, and shot in the loose style that was Cassavetes' trademark, A Child Is Waiting has an almost documentary feel. Much of the authenticity of the film comes from the fact that — save for Bruce Ritchey who played Reuben — all the children in the film were patients from the Pacific State Hospital in Pomona, California.

A Child Is Waiting isn't pure Cassavetes, but it is a fascinating mix of his singular emotional density as filtered through the Hollywood studio system. "I thought the picture was pretty terrific from either point of view," said Rowlands, "I liked John's better, but I didn't hate Stanley's."


Availability: Out of Print VHS

"Son, this is a Washington, D.C., kind of lie. It's when the other person knows you're lying and also knows you know he knows."

— ROBERT A. LEFFINGWELL (HENRY FONDA) IN ADVISE & CONSENT


ADVISE & CONSENT (1962)

Director Otto Preminger almost pulled off what could have been one of the great casting coups of the 1960s when he offered civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. a role in his politically charged drama Advise & Consent. Preminger, the mercurial director of Exodus and Saint Joan, thought King would be perfect for the role of a southern Senator, despite the fact that no African Americans were serving in Senate at the time. King gave the offer some thought, but declined, fearing the backlash and possible harm to the Civil Rights movement.

Even without King, Preminger still assembled an impressive cast — Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton (in his last film role), Gene Tierney and Kennedy insider Peter Lawford — to portray former New York Times congressional correspondent Allen Drury's Pulitzer Prize—winning novel about the ratification of a secretary of state and the dirty little secrets that people in public life must keep hidden.

As the action gets underway a political firestorm is looming. The ailing U.S. president (Franchot Tone playing a thinly veiled Franklin Delano Roosevelt) has nominated a self-proclaimed "egghead" and former Communist Party member named Robert A. Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) for the office of secretary of state. He's not only a former commie, but also an outspoken intellectual with the reputation of having "more enemies in Congress than any other man in government."

A small group of Capitol Hill loyalists — including Fred Van Ackerman (George Grizzard as a character based on Joseph McCarthy), a junior senator from Wyoming — struggle to line up the necessary votes to secure Leffingwell's post, but they face massive opposition from powerful, entrenched players like Seabright Cooley (Charles Laughton) who hates Leffingwell's politics almost as much as he hates the man himself.

Political battle lines are drawn as a full frontal attack is launched on the character and credentials of the new nominee.

Preminger spends the first twenty minutes of the film introducing the characters and making sure the viewer understands just who these people are and where they are coming from. It's a risky move that threatens to kill the movie's momentum before it even gets started, but once Laughton opens his mouth the story takes off like a rocket, and you'll be glad you know who's who.

The film's title is a play on the United States Constitution's Article II, Sec. 2, cl. 2, which says that the President of the United States "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consults, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States . . ." Preminger dropped much of the satire contained in the book — he didn't bother with a liberal peace organization called COMFORT: The Committee On Making Further Offers for a Russian Truce, for instance — but he did keep the book's controversial gay subplot.

In its day the film was praised for its homosexual storyline in which one of the senators visits a gay bar. Today the gay content seems dated, but what still feels fresh is its portrayal of how Washington works. Post-Watergate we're used to seeing the unsavory inner workings of Capitol Hill on the big screen, but Preminger lifted that curtain in 1962, showing off the soft underbelly of the Senate complete with corruption, malice and pettiness.

At the same time the film doesn't judge its characters. No one is portrayed as an all out hero or villain — despite a couple of star-turn performances by Laughton and Fonda. Instead Preminger allows the story to be the star.

Advise & Consent is talky and slow paced, but fascinating in its ability to gradually draw the viewer into the intrigue of the political process.


Availability: On DVD


"Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate; our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

— AKEELAH (KEKE PALMER) IN AKEELAH AND THE BEE


AKEELAH AND THE BEE (2006)

Akeelah and the Bee plays like Rocky crossed with Good Will Hunting. A spelling bee movie — is there a stranger genre? — which came hot on the heels of the hit documentary Spellbound and the drama Bee Season, Akeelah and the Bee is a story designed to make you cheer for the underdog.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Son of the 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen by Richard Crouse. Copyright © 2008 Richard Crouse. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction     xi
Ace in the Hole (1951)     1
A Child Is Waiting (1963)     4
Advise & Consent (1962)     7
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)     9
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)     11
Amphibian Man (1962)     13
The Astronaut Farmer (2006)     17
Baadasssss! (2003)     19
La Belle et la Bete (1946)     23
Bigger Than Life (1956)     25
Black Christmas (1974)     27
Bloody Mama (1970)     32
Richard's Favorite Advertising Taglines for Horror Films with Christmas Themes     33
Roger Corman Appreciation Society: Richard's Favorite Appearances of the Director on Film, Part One     38
Boom! (1968)     39
The Boondock Saints (1999)     42
Bride of the Monster (1955)     45
The Brothers Grimm (2005)     50
The Brown Bunny (2003)     52
Caged! (1950)     55
The Cameraman's Revenge (1912)     58
The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)     60
Ciao! Manhattan (1972)     63
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)     68
The Crime of Dr. Crespi (1935)     71
Richard's Favorite CastingStories     74
Day of Wrath (1943)     77
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Deepa Mehta     79
Dear Frankie (2004)     80
The Descent (2005)     81
Downtown 81 (1981)     83
The Duellists (1977)     86
El Topo (1970)     89
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Ron Mann     93
Evil Roy Slade (1972)     94
Fantastic Voyage (1966)     96
Richard's Favorite Mad Movie Science     100
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)     102
F for Fake (1974)     107
Flame (1975)     109
The Game (1997)     112
The Girl from Mexico (1939)     116
Godspeed You! Black Emperor (1976)     119
Grey Gardens (1975)     121
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Albert Maysles     124
The Heart of the Game (2005)     124
Hearts of the West (1975)     126
The Hidden Fortress (1958)     128
The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)     130
Idlewild (2006)     133
I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname (1967)     135
The Intruder (1962)     139
Roger Corman Appreciation Society: Richard's Favorite Appearances of the Director on Film, Part Two     142
I Woke Up Early the Day I Died (1998)     143
The Junky's Christmas (1993)     146
Killer of Sheep (1977)     148
The Killing (1956)     150
The Last Laugh (1924)     153
The Little Kidnappers (1953)     156
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Ken Loach     159
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)     159
Maidstone (1970)     162
Marie Antoinette (2006)     164
Martin (1977)     167
Mayor of Sunset Strip (2003)     169
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: John Sayles     173
Microcosmos: Le peuple de l'herbe (1996)     173
Richard's Favorite Big Bug Movies     175
The Monster Squad (1987)     177
Narc (2002)     181
Night Moves (1975)     183
On Dangerous Ground (1952)     185
One from the Heart (1982)     188
Richard's Favorite Actors Turned Singers     193
Operation Kid Brother (1967)     196
The Painted Veil (2006)     198
Panic in the Streets (1950)     201
Park Row (1952)     206
Passport to Pimlico (1949)      209
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Thelma Schoonmaker     211
Performance (1970)     211
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)     215
Planet of the Vampires (1965)     217
Plein soleil (1960)     221
Pulp (1972)     223
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Peter Greenaway     224
The Rebel (1961)     227
Respiro (2002)     229
Rififi (1955)     231
The Roaring Twenties (1939)     233
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Stuart Gordon     237
Rolling Thunder (1977)     238
Safety Last! (1923)     241
The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)     243
Serenity (2005)     245
Seven Thieves (1960)     247
Sherman's March (1986)     249
Stalker: A Film by Andrei Tarkovsky (1979)     251
My (Three) Favorite Movies You've Never Seen: Danny Boyle     253
Straight to Hell (1987)     255
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Charles Dutton     258
Sullivan's Travels (1941)     258
Switchblade Sisters (1975)     262
Tampopo (1985)     264
Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (1994)      265
Titicut Follies (1967)     267
Twentieth Century (1934)     269
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Lloyd Kaufman     271
The Twonky (1953)     271
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Herschell Gordon Lewis     274
Venus in Furs (1969)     275
Viva la muerte (1971)     277
The Well (1951)     279
We Were Strangers (1949)     281
My Favorite Movie You've Never Seen: Nick Broomfield     286
When the Wind Blows (1986)     287
The Wild Dogs (2002)     289
Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965)     291
The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964)     295
Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)     297
Bibliography     301

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