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Category: Missing Title Reviews

Thief of Bagdad, The (1924)

Thief of Bagdad, The (1924)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“I am less than the slave who serves you — a wretched outcast — a thief.”

Synopsis:
In ancient Bagdad, a thief (Douglas Fairbanks) — aided by his trusted companion (Snitz Edwards) — vies against other suitors — including an Indian Prince (Noble Johnson), a Persian prince (Mathilde Comont), and an evil Mongol prince (Sojin) — to win the heart of a princess (Julanne Johnston). When his true identity is revealed, he embarks on a magical journey, while his competitors set out to seek the rarest treasure possible to bring back to the princess.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cross-Class Romance
  • Douglas Fairbanks Films
  • Fantasy
  • Raoul Walsh Films
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Silent Films
  • Thieves and Criminals

Review:
Peary only lists two films with silent-era swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks in his GFTFFThe Mark of Zorro (1920) and The Black Pirate (1926) — thus curiously neglecting what may be Fairbanks’ most celebrated movie, The Thief of Bagdad. 40-year-old Fairbanks is at his most fit here, leaping across the screen in bare chest, clambering up and down ropes, standing on his head to shake stolen coins out of his kerchief; he perfectly embodies the title character’s scampish romanticism and unending thirst for adventure. However, it’s William Cameron Menzies’ truly astonishing sets — Baroque, fantastical environments which literally dwarf Fairbanks and his supporting cast — that make this film a must-see spectacle; combined with creative special-effects (including, of course, a flying carpet), we really feel we’ve entered into the magical world of ancient Bagdad and its environs. The film’s primary downfall is its length: at 2 hours and 20 minutes, it goes on for a bit too long; meanwhile, those offended by culturally insensitive depictions of “Asian menace” will be discouraged by the presence of sexy Anna May Wong as the evil accomplice to a Mongol despot (Sojin) with plans to take over Bagdad by force. However, it’s easy enough to ignore these concerns while marveling at the consistently innovative visuals, and appreciating just how athletically impressive Fairbanks really was.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Douglas Fairbanks as the Thief of Bagdad
  • William Cameron Menzies et al.’s truly magnificent sets and art design

  • Impressive special effects

Must See?
Yes, as an iconic silent film.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Adventures of Prince Achmed, The (1926)

Adventures of Prince Achmed, The (1926)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“Where is the magic lamp?”

Synopsis:
Prince Achmed accidentally trades his sister to a wicked magician in exchange for a flying horse, who takes him to the island of Wak-Wak, where he falls in love with a bird princess named Pari Banu. When demons steal Pari Banu away from Achmed, his only chance to rescue her is with the help of Aladdin’s magic lantern.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Animated Features
  • Folk Tales, Fairy Tales, and Mythology
  • German Films
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Silent Films
  • Witches and Wizards

Review:
Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed — considered to be the first surviving animated feature film — is a classic example of a Missing Title which Peary can’t be blamed for omitting from his GFTFF, given that it wasn’t restored and made available for viewing until 1999. While it clearly holds an indubitable place in cinema history, it also happens to be an enormously enjoyable fantasy film, one which maintains interest from beginning to end simply from the sheer, giddy inventiveness of its groundbreaking animation. Working in a self-made studio on the property of a benefactor, Reiniger — just 23 at the time — collaborated with her husband, Carl Koch, to create this “silhouette film” by cutting intricate jointed silhouettes out of black paper, then painstakingly moving them across artfully conceived backdrops to create the illusion of motion (much like stop-motion animators would do with clay).

Reiniger was a consummate storyteller, using as her inspiration the Arabian folk tale collection One Thousand and One Nights — but one gets the feeling she could have chosen just about any source material and created a similarly breathtaking masterpiece. Indeed, while the episodic story itself is reasonably compelling, it’s Reiniger’s artwork which really holds one’s attention: watch the intricate movements and interactions of the characters with their environment and with each other, as objects and people shift shape, and the landscape is kept in constant motion; it’s simply a fascinating process to see unfolding. Sadly, the film didn’t earn enough money to satisfy her benefactor, who considered his patronage a monetary investment; add to this the complications of an approaching World War, and it’s unfortunately easy to see how Reiniger’s promising career became compromised. With that said, she continued to make shorter silhouette films throughout the rest of her life, and fans can now easily view many of them — including a commercial for Nivea (!), as well as numerous European fairy tale adaptations. However, Prince Achmed (her only feature) remains her undisputed masterpiece.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lovely, intricate animation




Must See?
Absolutely; this historically ground-breaking animation gem should be seen by all film lovers.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Historically Relevant

Links:

London After Midnight (1927)

London After Midnight (1927)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“Honest, Sir James — they’re dead people from the grave! Vampires is what they are!”

Synopsis:
A detective (Lon Chaney) tries to help solve the mysterious death of a man found shot with a suicide note. Five years later, when the man’s body is found missing, Chaney returns to his house, which is now inhabited by two mysterious vampire-like creatures (Lon Chaney, Sr. and Edna Tichenor).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Lon Chaney, Sr. Films
  • Silent Films
  • Tod Browning Films
  • Vampires

Review:
In his Alternate Oscars book, Peary nominates Lon Chaney as one of the Best Actors of 1927/1928 for his work in both Laugh, Clown, Laugh and London After Midnight — yet the latter title has been a notorious “lost film” since 1967, and thus unavailable for viewing except in the form of a “creative reconstruction” using stills and relying upon the screenplay to flesh out the storyline. It’s highly possible that Peary remembers seeing the film in revival sometime before the final (known) print was burned in an electrical fire in MGM’s vaults — but of course his selection remains maddeningly difficult to verify, given that it’s impossible to actually see Chaney in action. (Stills of his gruesome make-up don’t quite count.)

However, I’m reviewing it briefly here simply given that it would most certainly be considered a “Missing Title”, if only a copy is ever found! Regardless of whether or not it’s a great movie — and many insist it’s actually not — its fame as perhaps the most sought-after lost film makes it automatically a “must see” for film fanatics, at least for the time being. Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935) was a remake, and similar spoilers abound, so I once again won’t say much about the plot — except to note that, from the reconstruction, it looks like a reasonably enjoyable, darkly comedic whodunit which any fans of Chaney’s work would likely want to see. (He plays both the detective investigating the murder, and the odd-looking man who has come to live in the deceased victim’s house.)

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lon Chaney’s incredible make-up

Must See?
Yes, if it ever emerges, simply for its curiosity value!

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977)

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“I like him. He treats me like I’m a real person.”

Synopsis:
A mentally disturbed teenager (Kathleen Quinlan) is placed by her concerned parents (Ben Piazza and Lorraine Gary) in an asylum, where she works with a compassionate psychologist (Bibi Andersson) hoping to help her overcome her delusions.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Kathleen Quinlan Films
  • Literature Adaptation
  • Mental Illness

Review:
Kathleen Quinlan’s memorable performance in this adaptation of Joanne Greenberg’s bestselling semi-autobiographical novel is reason enough to label it a Missing Title from Peary’s book. 23-year-old Quinlan convincingly portrays a fiercely independent teenager (Deborah) beset by mental turmoil, who slowly allows herself to trust in the guidance of her new therapist (Bibi Andersson); this situation sounds ripe for cliche, but it’s handled with a remarkable level of honesty and respect, and bolstered by fine, nuanced performances from both actresses. Indeed, the film itself remains a surprisingly welcome addition to the sub-genre of movies taking place within mental asylums. Other than its unrealistically happy ending (and an inevitable compression of events taking place over several years), most of what we see happening on-screen feels refreshingly authentic. We witness a case of horrific abuse, and tentative friendships forming between the inmates (who are likely to be cordial with each other one minute, then unaccountably violent the next). We also see moments of genuine compassion on the part of the caretakers — most noticeably in the minor character of “McPherson”, who handles one particular scene (undressing Quinlan from her restraints) so naturally that you can’t help believing in him as a real character.

Much has been made about the assessment of Deborah as schizophrenic, a label the character herself uses several times throughout the screenplay; while this would appear at first glance to be a correct diagnosis (given that Deborah is plagued by unwanted voices and visions), experts ultimately determined that she probably suffered from extreme depression and somatization disorder rather than schizophrenia (which would explain why she could attempt to heal herself without the assistance of medications). Regardless, her intrusive visions are nicely handled by director Anthony Page; we see her slipping into her alternate reality at strategic times, but this is never overplayed. Overall, nearly everything about this film worked for me — thus, I’m labeling it a Missing Title, and recommending that film fanatics check it out.

Note: Susan Tyrrell is nicely cast as one of the inmates; that was a fine, no-brainer choice. Watch also for Sylvia Sidney as an inmate Deborah becomes friendly with.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Kathleen Quinlan as Deborah
  • Bibi Andersson as Dr. Fried
  • Susan Tyrrell as Lee
  • Norman Alden as McPherson
  • An effective cinematic portrayal of mental disturbance

Must See?
Yes, simply for Quinlan’s break-through performance.

Categories

  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links:

I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955)

I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“I’m the looking glass you created to see yourself in!”

Synopsis:
Raised for a life in show business by her overbearing mother (Jo Van Fleet), Lillian Roth (Susan Hayward) finds fleeting fame in Hollywood but descends into alcoholism while suffering through a string of unhappy marriages.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
  • Biopics
  • Downward Spiral
  • Richard Conte Films
  • Susan Hayward Films

Review:
Based on Lillian Roth‘s memoir of her descent into life-threatening alcoholism (and eventual recovery through AA), this musical biopic afforded Susan Hayward yet another opportunity to portray an aspiring female artist struggling against a seemingly insurmountable host of personal demons. According to TCM’s article, Hayward lobbied strongly for the part, citing her previous work in both Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) and With a Song in My Heart (1952) as evidence that she was well prepared to tackle such a role. She succeeded in her entreaty, ultimately earning the fourth of five Oscar nominations for her work here, with Peary himself nominating her in his Alternate Oscars as one of the Best Actresses of the Year (thus prompting me to check this film out as a potential Missing Title). However, as with Annie Get Your Gun (1950), I’m afraid a strong lead performance isn’t enough to make the film itself must-see.

While I don’t quite agree with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum that it’s “truly dreadful”, the film — directed by Daniel Mann — never really redeems itself as anything other than a standard episodic biopic, marching steadily along a predictably chronological pathway. In addition, having recently read Roth’s memoir, I couldn’t help noticing how (inevitably) white-washed this Hollywoodized adaptation ultimately is; for instance, while Richard Conte is suitably malicious as the most abusive of her many husbands, the real-life loser he represents was at least 10 times worse. With that said, the movie may remain of minor interest to film fanatics due to Roth’s erstwhile status as a fleeting starlet (she’s probably best remembered for her memorable supporting work in Love Parade and Animal Crackers). However, for those truly interested in her sordid life history, you’re better off simply reading her much-harder-hitting memoir instead.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Susan Hayward as Lillian Roth

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look simply for Hayward’s performance.

Links:

Calamity Jane (1953)

Calamity Jane (1953)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“Looks like Calamity’s been holding out on us, carrying concealed weapons.”

Synopsis:
Sharpshooter Calamity Jane (Doris Day) bets Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel) that she can bring famed showgirl Adelaid Adams to the small town of Deadwood, but accidentally recruits Adams’ personal maid Katie (Allyn Ann McLerie) — an aspiring singer — instead. When Katie learns that Jane is secretly in love with Lieutenant Gilmartin (Philip Carey), she helps Jane present herself in a more feminine fashion; meanwhile, both Hickok and Gilmartin fall in love with Katie, causing romantic tension all around.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aspiring Stars
  • Character Arc
  • Doris Day Films
  • Howard Keel Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Musicals
  • Singers
  • Strong Females
  • Westerns

Review:
Like Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Calamity Jane is a popular ’50s-era musical which Peary fails to include in his GFTFF, but lists in his Alternate Oscars — in both cases, nominating the female lead as one of the Best Actresses of the Year. While I don’t believe AGYG is ultimately “must see”, I would argue that Calamity Jane is, simply for its status as a cult favorite. Indeed, the film remains memorable and provocative simply due to its surprisingly strong gay subtext: much like Preston Sturges was able to get away with an astonishing amount of sexual innuendo in his The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) by playing carefully within the bounds of the Production Code, the screenwriters here present a resolutely heterosexual storyline (Jane is shown right away as being smitten with a man) which nonetheless possesses a definite undercurrent of homosexual playfulness.

For instance, there’s a rather astonishingly bold moment when “Calam” has just arrived in “Chicagee”, and is wandering ogle-eyed down the street in her buckskins and a cap; suddenly a beautiful lady looks at her and winks — deliberately and flirtatiously. Calam, naturally, is simply befuddled — but what did that woman mean, precisely? Did she really believe Calam was a man? Meanwhile, when Calamity first sets eyes on McLerie, she calls out, “Goshamighty, you’re the prettiest thing I ever seen!” (And once again, McLerie mistakes her for a man.) Later, Day and McLerie set up house together… And so it goes.

Subtext aside, Day’s character remains refreshingly atypical simply for her unapologetically straightforward, no-b.s. approach to life — as indicated so clearly in the following verbal exchange:

Hickok (looking at a photo of Adelaid Adams): She’s charming, lovely figure… Everything that a woman oughta be!
Jane: Looks like a fat, frilled up, side of undressed beef to me!

Although Jane eventually buys into more traditional feminine ideals of beauty (simply to catch her man), she never loses a shred of her spunk or personality.

With that said, I’m actually not sure how I feel about Day’s performance overall; I prefer many of the other fine performances she gave throughout her career — including her portrayal as Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me (1955), and her trio of comedic performances with Rock Hudson. However, for the reasons stated above (as well as a toe-tapping score of songs, and solid supporting performances by both Keel and McLerie), I do believe Calamity Jane is worth a look by all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Doris Day as Calamity Jane
  • Allyn Ann McLerie as Katie
  • Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickock
  • A fine roster of tunes by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster

  • A fascinating “layer” of gay subtext (if one chooses to “read” it that way)

Must See?
Yes, for its cultural relevance as a strongly subtextual, toe-tapping musical.

Categories

  • Cult Movie

Links:

Legend (1985)

Legend (1985)

“As long as unicorns rule the earth, evil can never come to the pure of heart.”

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

Synopsis:
A young forest dweller (Tom Cruise) shows the girl he loves (Mia Sara) where the world’s last unicorns are, accidentally unleashing a battle with the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • Fantasy
  • Ridley Scott Films
  • Tom Cruise Films

Review:
I hesitated for quite a while before deciding to designate Ridley Scott’s Legend a Missing Title from Peary’s book. It isn’t all that compelling a movie, but its status as a cult favorite (probably not evident yet to Peary back in 1986) is now clear — and its truly impressive, other-worldly special effects finally convinced me that it’s earned a certain niche in cinematic history. The brief synopsis given above just about covers the gestalt of the extremely basic hero-myth storyline: Cruise loves Sara, who opens a Pandora’s Box of evils when she can’t resist wanting to touch a unicorn, thus allowing the minions of the Lord of Darkness access to said unicorns, and setting in motion a battle between good-and-evil, with Sara as the romantic pawn (Curry wants her for his evil bride). Will Cruise come to the rescue, with the help of his fairy/elven friends? What do you think?

This film, however, is all about the magical universe it presents — and to that end, it’s hard not to be impressed. Twenty years before the emergence of Peter Jackson’s (clearly superior) Lord of the Rings trilogy, Scott and his team crafted a remarkably haunting mystical landscape which Richard Scheib of the Moria review site refers to as “sumptuously textural” and “achingly beautiful”; filled with eerily “realistic” creatures, including elves and fairies and Tim Curry’s horrifically gruesome Lord of Darkness (those horns!). Scheib, a clear fan of the film, calls the movie (which was lambasted by most mainstream critics) an “extraordinary synthesis of production design, cinematography, editing and effects” — and it’s actually hard to disagree with this specific assessment, given that he doesn’t try to make any claims about the narrative. Regarding the performances, Cruise isn’t all that memorable, but Sara is lovely and fine in her screen debut (she’s perhaps best known for playing Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend the following year), and Curry’s performance is a stand-out.

Note: In 2002, Legend was released on DVD in two different versions: the original, shorter, American theatrical release (with a synthesized score by Tangerine Dream), and the longer director’s cut (with a score by Jerry Goldsmith). I watched the original — trying to remain faithful to the version Peary might/would have seen around the time he was writing GFTFF — and loved the score, but took a brief look at the other version and liked Goldsmith’s score just as well, in a different way. In my opinion, the “score” (ha) is ultimately even between the two.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness
  • Mia Sara as Lili
  • Rob Bottin’s astonishingly effective make-up design
  • Ethereal cinematography

  • Magical special effects

Must See?
Yes, as a cult movie with truly impressive make-up and effects.

Categories

  • Cult Movie

Links:

Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“A man never trifles with gals who carry rifles — oh, you can’t get a man with a gun.”

Synopsis:
A scraggly sharpshooter named Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton) becomes famous in the Wild West Show put on by Buffalo Bill Cody (Louis Calhern), but finds that her enormous crush on her performance partner (Howard Keel) is disrupted by their ongoing rivalry.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Battle of the Sexes
  • Betty Hutton Films
  • Edward Arnold Films
  • George Sidney Films
  • Howard Keel Films
  • Musicals
  • Rivalry
  • Strong Females
  • Westerns

Review:
Peary doesn’t list this infamously troubled musical (plagued by production concerns, and then out of circulation from 1973 until 2001) in his GFTFF — but he does nominate Hutton as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book, so I decided to check it out as a potential “Missing Title”, and review it here. Sadly, I don’t believe it is “must see”. Despite a rousing score of hummable classic tunes by Irving Berlin (including “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun”, “Doin’ What Comes Naturally”, “I Got the Sun in the Morning”, “Anything You Can Do”, and “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, to name just a few), the storyline itself simply fails to engage. As in Calamity Jane (1953), the story centers on a rough-and-tumble female sharpshooter who must “clean herself up” and become more “feminine” in order to attract the man she loves (indeed, the narrative parallels are downright uncanny); however, while Doris Day’s Calamity Jane is a memorable three-dimensional character with plenty of personality and sass, Hutton’s Annie is simply hyperkinetic and somewhat annoying.

This is not necessarily the fault of Hutton, who invests her character with as much energetic enthusiasm as she gave to just about every other role she played; I believe the fault lies primarily with the narrative, which portrays tomboyish Annie as instantly infatuated with Keel’s “Frank Butler” (presumably for comedic value). Her slack-jawed reaction upon viewing him (repeated several times) simply comes across as cartoonish. Meanwhile, the subplot involving Annie’s “adoption” as the honorary daughter of Chief Sitting Bull (J. Carrol Naish) is not only silly, but leads to a number of downright offensive scenes with Native Americans. (Yes, I know, it’s all part of how things were perceived during that era — but that doesn’t stop it from being utterly unappealing.) In sum, while Hutton’s performance is worth a look, and the film itself was one of the most popular musicals of its time, this one is simply recommended rather than Must See.

Note: Check out Wikipedia’s article for more information about the film’s troubled production history; it originally starred Judy Garland, who became too ill to continue, and was ultimately fired by MGM.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Betty Hutton as Annie Oakley
  • A host of fine, rousingly performed Irving Berlin tunes

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for one-time viewing simply to see Hutton in her most (in)famous role — and to enjoy the score.

Links:

Send Me No Flowers (1964)

Send Me No Flowers (1964)

“That’s one heck of a guy you’ve got there, Judy. When they made George Kimball, they threw away the mold!”

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

Synopsis:
A hypochondriac (Rock Hudson) mistakenly believes his doctor (Edward Andrews) has determined that he only has three weeks left to live, and — with the help of his best friend and neighbor (Tony Randall) — tries to find a new husband for his wife (Doris Day).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Death and Dying
  • Doris Day Films
  • Rock Hudson Films
  • Tony Randall Films

Review:
My dear collaborator and friend, writer93_99, argues in his response to my review of Pillow Talk (1959) that all three of the comedies Doris Day and Rock Hudson made together — Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back (1961), and Send Me No Flowers (1964) — could/should be considered must-see for film fanatics, given that they represent the inimitable duo at various stages of their onscreen romantic career together. Inspired by his confidence, I recently re-watched Send Me No Flowers, and was tickled to find that it’s actually my favorite of the bunch. It remains likely the best film ever made about hypochondria, given that it takes this wonderfully ripe premise to its “logical” conclusion, and exploits every comedic possibility along the way. And while Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back were crafted from the same deliciously cynical mold (with Hudson and Day simultaneously duking it out and falling in love under false pretenses), the deception in Send Me No Flowers is much gentler: Hudson really DOES believe he’s about to die in three weeks’ time, so any deception (at least for the first hour or so of the film) is unintentional.

Hudson and Day are both in peak comedic form (as usual) — but it’s co-stars Tony Randall and Paul Lynde who really steal the scenery in this one. Lynde wasn’t in many big-name movies (most viewers will recognize him simply from his work on “Hollywood Squares”), but his role here as an earnest cemetery plot salesman is flat-out hilarious:

Lynde: As you can see, we suggest the entire family all go out and select the final resting place together. The kids love it; they have a ball.

Hudson: You see, I’d rather my wife didn’t know about this.
Lynde: You want to surprise her.
Hudson: Yes.
Lynde: Well, this’ll give her a real thrill! It makes a very thoughtful gift.

Hudson (with astonishment): You really enjoy your work, don’t you?
Lynde: I sure do. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. [pauses, then explains] I like people.

Note that, in addition to his early scene-stealing interaction with Hudson, Lynde’s character plays an unexpectedly important role in the film’s denouement as well.

Meanwhile, Randall proves why he was such an essential element in all three of the Day/Hudson films: his consistently maudlin reaction to Hudson’s morbid situation convincingly grounds the entire affair. The thinly-veiled “connection” between the two men (best friends, neighbors, and…? where IS Randall’s wife, anyway?) has been duly noted (indeed, it’s hard to miss); check out the infamous bed-sharing scene, for instance. Yet it’s all simultaneously so “innocent” — and Hudson’s adoration of his wife so clear — that audiences at the time were likely comfortable with the film as the heteronormative experience it was more broadly meant to be.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Tony Randall as Arnold
  • Paul Lynde as Mr. Akins
  • Rock Hudson as George
  • Doris Day as Judy
  • Julius Epstein’s marvelous script
  • Frank De Vol’s hilariously melodramatic film score

Must See?
Yes, as a most enjoyable comedy featuring fine performances throughout.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Towering Inferno, The (1974)

Towering Inferno, The (1974)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“For what it’s worth, architect, this is one building I figured would never burn.”

Synopsis:
A fire chief (Steve McQueen) collaborates with the architect (Paul Newman) of a burning high-rise to help save the hundreds of people inside.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Disaster Flicks
  • Ensemble Cast
  • Faye Dunaway Films
  • Fred Astaire Films
  • Jennifer Jones Films
  • Paul Newman Films
  • Richard Chamberlain Films
  • Steve McQueen Films
  • William Holden Films

Review:
It’s not clear to me why Peary left out this blockbuster disaster flick — which deservedly won Oscars for both best cinematography and best editing — from his GFTFF, given that it remains one of the best of this distinctive (albeit overly and badly populated) genre. Despite its nearly three-hour running time, The Towering Inferno — unlike oh-so-many of its would-be imitators — never lags, providing thrill after thrill, and keeping us consistently engaged in the fates of its cast members from the opening scenes. Newman and McQueen are both excellent (and appropriately stalwart) in critical leading roles:


and several other Big Names (Fred Astaire, Jennifer Jones, William Holden):

are given worthy supporting roles. Meanwhile, the film’s very premise — a wealthy playboy (Richard Chamberlain, giving a truly hiss-worthy performance):

cuts costs by ordering inferior materials, which ultimately compromise the structure’s integrity — is gripping through-and-through, given how feasible this type of high-level corruption could easily be. Holden’s role — as Chamberlain’s father-in-law, and the building’s financier — is particularly interesting to watch, as he comes to acknowledge his own implicit participation in the eventual manslaughter, and is crushingly humbled.

Be forewarned, however, that TTI (as it’s affectionately referred to by its cult fans) really isn’t for the faint of heart. Nice people die throughout this movie — several times, badly, of horrible deaths. Certain images eerily evoke 9/11; the comparison is undeniable. Indeed, if you possess even a shred of fear about dying in a fire one day, stay far, far away from this film, as it presents this possibility in all its visceral horror. Actually, I’m seriously tempted to label TTI a “horror flick”, given the sheer potency of its death scenes, and the way in which Fire is posited as an outrageously powerful Monster, capable of causing unspeakable harm to those in its wake. Be sure to read TCM’s article for plenty of interesting background information about the film’s production (and infamously sticky inter-cast relations) — or go straight to the source and check out this impressive website (19 years old! beware of some dead links…) dedicated exclusively to the film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Truly impressive special effects

  • Stirling Silliphant’s surprisingly smart screenplay

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance as one of the best of the early big-budget, big-cast, big-money-making disaster flicks.

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Historically Relevant
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

Links: