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Memorable Movies

by David Westheimer


While surfing the net for a movie to watch, I stumbled on the final scenes of Chicago. Dody and I watched it to the end. We’d seen Chicago in a movie theater when it was first released and bought the DVD when it was released. I’ve watched the DVD twice, Dody has watched it three times.

Which got me thinking, what other movies had we seen that we couldn’t forget? Which made me want to list the ten most memorable movies I’d seen. I came up with 12 and couldn’t make up my mind which to eliminate. So here are the 12. (When I thought about it more, the list became even longer but the 12 were the first to surface.)

Here’s my list, in chronological order:

La Grande Illusion — (1937) French. Directed and co-written by Jean Renoir. Erich Von Stroheim plays the commandant of a German fortress-prison in World War I holding captured French officers, two of whom are played by Jean Gabin, an aristocrat , and Pierre Fresnay, a mechanic in civilian life.

The Long Voyage Home — (1940) Directed by John Ford. Adapted from four Eugene O’Neill one-act plays (Moon Of the Caribbean, Ile, Bound East For Cardiff and The Long Voyage Home) about a World War I freighter and its motley crew (updated in the film to World War II). Cast included John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, Barry Fitzgerald, Ian Hunter and Ward Bond.

Henry V — (1944) British. Directed by Laurence Olivier. Shakespeare’s play eloquently transported from the stage of the Globe Theater to the wide open spaces of the screen in a film intended to boost the morale of British troops in World War II. The cast included Olivier in the title role, Felix Aylmer, Robert Helpman and Leo Genn. A memorable scene is the flight of English arrows falling like rain into the wavering mass of heavily armored French cavalry bearing down on the waiting, but unarmored, British soldiers at Agincourt.

La Strada — (1954) Italian. Directed and co-written by Frederico Fellini. Giulietta Masina (Fellini’s wife) plays Gelsomina, a simple-minded peasant girl sold by her mother to a loutish brute who does a strong-man act for donations, played by Anthony Quinn. Richard Basehart also stars. Masina’s performance is the most moving I have ever seen by an actress.

The Seven Samurai — (1954) Japanese. Directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa. Farmers hire samurai to defend them against mounted brigands who plan to attack their village when their crops are in. Early on, when they go to wise a old man to ask what they can do to protect the village, he tells them to hire samurai. When told they are too poor for that, all they could pay samurai was a few bowls of rice, he tells them, “Get hungry samurai.” Toshiro Mifune (my favorite actor) was in the cast.

The Bridge On the River Kwai— (1957). British. Directed by David Lean. Adapted from Pierre Boulle’s novel The Bridge Over the River Kwai (the movie’s title was said “On” instead of “Over” because of a typist’s error), about a British POW’s obsession to complete a railroad bridge for his Japanese captors. Alec Guinness was superb as the British officer. The international cast included William Holden, Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakaya. Only screen adaptation of a novel I’ve seen where I thought the movie might be even better than the book.

Tunes of Glory — (1960) British. Directed by Ronald Neame. The marvelous Alec Guiness again, this time as soldier who returns as a major to command the Highland regiment where he had served as an enlisted bagpiper. (A Scottish friend of mine, retired military, said it wasn’t possible. An officer was never posted to a regiment where he had served as an enlisted man.) John Mills and Dennis Price also had important roles.

Yojimbo — (1951) Japanese. Directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa. Toshiro Mifune, a ronin (masterless samurai) aimlessly roaming, enters a seemingly deserted village and sees a mongrel trotting down a dirt road with a severed human hand. That tells Mifune his services are required. He allies himself with one of the bands fighting for control of the village, eventually killing, Tatsuya Nakadai, a frequent victim of his prowess in many other Mifune pictures.

Where’s Poppa?— (1970) US. Directed by Carl Reiner, adapted from Robert Klane’s novel. Funniest movie I ever saw. In one memorable scene, a man in a gorilla suit and a well-dressed, dignified black lady are hailing a cab. The cab passes her up and picks up the gorilla. Cast includes George Segal, Ruth Gordon, Trish Van Devere and Ron Leibman.

The Sixth Sense — (1999) Written and directed by M. Night Shayamalan. A riveting psychological-suspense film with child actor Haley Joel Osment as a disturbed boy “who talks to dead people.” Bruce Willis at his best as the boy’s shrink. Only one of the twelve I haven’t watched at least twice because once you know its adroitly masked secret you will never be as engrossed in the unfolding plot as you were the first time around.

Chicago — (2002) Directed by Rob Marshall. It has been around in one form or another since 1926 — a Broadway play by Maurine Watkins, made into a 1942 movie called Roxie Hart, with Ginger Rogers; as a musical choreographed by Bob Fosse in 1975, with Jerry Orbach, Chita Rivera, and Gwen Verdon; revived in 1996, with Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking — but never as inventive or exciting as the Rob Marshall production, with all its musical numbers presented as sumptuous fantasies. The best musical I have ever seen. Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah, Richard Gere and John C. Reilly were magical.

Hey, I think I’ll watch it again.


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