55 minus 10: Ten old-ish movies I’ll rewatch and rewatch

Posted: 7 August 2019 in 55 minus, movies, one-offs
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OK, on the past few Fridays, I’ve written about stuff I like re-reading or rewatching, about individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies I’ll happily rewatch.

I’d planned on doing two more… on this Friday and next Friday… and then realised that I was rapidly running out of days to do it if I want to finish on “55 minus 1” next Friday. Especially since, if plans go to… well, go to plan… I’ll be in Edinburgh on Friday 16th, and no doubt I’ll use that entry to write about that, and maybe some thoughts on blogging in general.

Yeah, now we’re into the final ten, that earlier schedule seems… less than ideal.

But I enjoyed doing them, far more than I expected to, so somehow I’m going to fit three more sets of ‘this is what I like, and recommend’ into the run: one today on slightly – but only slightly ‘less old’ movies I’ll happily rewatch; one on podcasts I listen to again and again; and – since I just thought about podcasts and I don’t think I’ve written about them before, one on the podcasts I currently regularly listen to.

So, today, let’s talk about the ‘less old’ movies.

When I did the previous two posts, I deliberately limited the movies in them to films released before I was born, so I never saw them – never could have seen them – in a cinema.

There are, were, plenty of good movies, of course, released after I was born but before I could probably or realistically have seen them – and/or remembered seeing them – in the cinema. I was born in August 1964, and none of the movies listed in the aforementioned posts were released after July 1964.

OK, now everyone differs, of course; some people swear blind they remember stuff from when they were three years’ old. Some folks say they have no clear memories before the age of about six.

Me? My earliest memory is being hugged by a relative. I remember her as huge, and she had a dark blue house coat. That’s it. That’s my earliest recollection. Auntie Dora. She was my grandmother’s cousin as I recall. She also died when I was about three. And as first memories go, it’s not the most impressive, be fair.

And it’s not even a clear memory. An impression of ‘being safe’ is about the only additional information I have to disclose.

But my clear memories? They start at about five years’ old. And the first film I remember seeing in the cinema was released in late 1969. Which fits.

I probably saw a movie or two before then, but I don’t remember it. And while that movie’s not in the list that follows (it was Paint Your Wagon, if you’re curious) I think it’s reasonable to add an entirely arbitrary couple of years to the arbitrary ‘time period’ and limit the movies below to movies released between August 1964 and the end of 1971.

So here are ten movies – released between August 1964 and December 1971 – that I’ll rewatch for the pure, unfettered pleasure of watching actors act their stocks off, a story that keeps you engrossed, dialogue that flies off the screen, and cinematography that almost makes you moan in delight . Of course there may be, probably will be, spoilers, but come on; they’re 50 years old; you don’t get to whinge about it.

(As with last Friday’s post, I’ll end each movie below with a line of dialogue that I like from the movie.)

OK then. In no particular order:


Planet Of The Apes, 1964

Given my interest in science fiction, and the movie itself, there was no way this wasn’t going to go on the list. In fact, when I first thought ‘how about some ‘old-ish’ movies, rather than just ‘old’, ie before I was born, this was the movie I was thinking about including. Oddly, I came across the story before seeing the film. Marvel Comics did an adaptation of Planet Of The Apes in comic book form. Except back then, they didn’t bother to get the image rights to the actor, so my first introduction to astronaut George Taylor didn’t look anything like Charlton Heston. But I didn’t know that at the time. I just loved the story, loved everything about it. I was probably too young to appreciate the cynicism inherent in the character, and the journey he as a character makes; I was too enthralled by the world created within the pages of the comic.

A team of human astronauts crash onto a planet, far from Earth, somewhere after the year 3000, where the dominant species is one of talking apes; their society has castes, based on the type of ape they are – chimpanzees are the scientists, orangutans the politicians and leaders, gorillas the army. All bar one of the astronauts are killed shortly after arrival and… Oh, other humans? They, we, are there, mute and hunted. We’re not treated as pets, we’re regarded as pests. And with Taylor’s arrival, well, the brown smelly stuff hits the round whirly thing.

All of that I got from the comic book.

And then I saw the movie.

And was captivated from the very first moments. Again, I’m unsure how old I was when I saw the movie, but now I got the cynicism, now I got saw the journey Taylor goes through, now I saw him as a reflection of a ‘civilised’ man faced with what he sees as an utterly uncivilised society. I’ve seen Planet of the Apes lord knows how many times, and every single time I get something new from it. Every single time, I notice an allusion I’ve previously missed. And the final scene never fails to hit hard, no matter how often I’ve rewatched it. There’s not a bad performance in the movie, and there’s no lesson, no warning – not really; a shocking movie on a shocking subject, that hits home every time. A classic.

Dr. Zaius: You are right, I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself.


My Fair Lady, 1964

Released October 1964, so it slides in, just. Pretty sure I saw this for the first time at school, one of those ‘last day of the school year’ things. Oh, I’m a sucker for a great musical, beautifully produced, and the only thing that stopped me including Guys and Dolls in the previous posts was the presence of Marlon Brando in the movie… shudder. Well, with My Fair Lady, they got pretty much everything right. I don’t even have a problem with Marnie Nixon’s dubbing for Audrey Hepburn. Never seen Julie Andrews in the role, so no idea whether she would have been better as Eliza, but Hepburn is magnificent in the role. Rex Harrison and Wilfred Hyde-White are gloriously old-fashioned, as the roles call for. And the songs. My heavens, the songs. Almost every one is an ear worm, every one of them has a tune you could whistle (even out of tunedly, as I do) and Stanley Holloway is… well, he’s Stanley Holloway. I’ve never actually seen Pygmalion on stage, so I’ve no idea how much of the dialogue is direct from the original stage play, but this is simply a masterclass of ‘how you do a musical’ on screen. (My only problem with it, as others have identified, isn’t with the movie, but with the plot of the musical itself. She should never have gone back to him at the end…)

Eliza Doolittle: The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.


2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968

As with Planet of the Apes, there was simply no way this could not be on the list. I’ve given up wondering whether I watch it now merely to enjoy the movie as a movie or whether it’s so I can sit their slack-jawed at the mastery of the medium of film, the sheer imagination slapped onto the screen, the wonderful cinematography, the special effects that haven’t’ dated (some have, but not many), or just to marvel at the conviction every actor brings to their role. Some changes from the novel, sure, but none that harm the movie, and a couple that flat out improve the story. Everything in this movie has a purpose. There’s not a wasted line, a wasted scene, a wasted shot.Ambitious, sure. Over-ambitious, occasionally. But what a movie, what a score, what a set of performances. Oh, and what a perfectly reasonable sounding, yet homocidal, computer in the form of HAL, voiced by Douglas Rain. Oh, and the monolith. What a wonderful cinematic image: flat, black, unknowable.

Three parts in this movie: pre-humans, followed by that jump cut from tossed bone to space-ship, The mundanity of space travel, followed by a thriller… and a psychedelic show leading towards a very strange hotel room before…. The End.

The story certainly wasn’t the first sf I’d come across where aliens would be… different to humanity, in ways we couldn’t predict. But to be so different, so unknowable. If you’ve not seen this movie, you’ve missed out. If you’ve seen it, there’s more to see.

(Not for nothing, but the sequel, 1984’s 2010: The Year We Make Contact, is also flat out excellent, but for very different reasons.)

HAL: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.



In The Heat Of The Night, 1967

I loathed this movie when I first saw it. I hated the racism of one of the lead characters, of the entire town in which it’s set. I saw it purely as a whodunnit, and nothing more than that. I wanted the lead characters to like each other…

I was young. I’m no longer young. I was immature. I don’t think I’m as immature now. I was an idiot. OK, I’m still an idiot, but not about this movie. I missed how necessary the brutality of the racism was to the story, how inherent the dislike of the protagonists are to the characters themselves, how the step by step revelations bring the strengths – and weaknesses – of all the characters to the fore. Poitier was never better (with the possible exception of the same year’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, which almost made it into the list but just didn’t make the cut), and Rod Steiger is wonderfully repellent. The true respect they show for each other as actors throughout the movie, and as characters only at the end…. it’s a privilege to watch. As a study of people who really don’t like each other but have to live with each other, work with each other, and obey the niceties and not-so-niceties of the time, it’s a wonder. Oh, and it’s a pretty good whodunnit police procedural as well.

Chief Gillespie: I got the motive which is money and the body which is dead.



The Lion In Winter, 1968

There’s nothing like an accurate retelling of history to make a great movie. And this is nothing like an accurate retelling of history. But it is a great movie. Based on a stage play, which for once is odd to me, for the scenery, and the settings, both inside and out, are so much a part of the movie, that for once it’s difficult to imagine the story without it. It’s Christmas 1183, and Henry II (a delightfully over the top, but necessarily so, Peter O’Toole) has summoned his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine from prison, and his three sons, to his castle for Christmas, and to decide the succession. Katharine Hepburn is regally… Well, she’s Katharine Hepburn, she was rarely anything else. The sons, played by Anthony Hopkins, John Castle and Nigel Terry are distinct characters, each with their own plans. Timothy Dalton as Philip II of France plays a significant role as well. And it’s completely fiction. There was no Christmas family get together at Chinon in 1183. But the performances, the direction and the script – gods alive, the script! – take hold of you from very early on, and don’t let your attention wander for one iota.

There’s not a single character in this movie who trusts another single character, and it’s a genuine pleasure to watch the plots, the arguments, the fury, and the reluctant admiration most have for the others. As characters, you understand. As actors, the trust they have for each other is immediately apparent, and lasts throughout. In some of the scenes, some of the scenery chewing scenes, one doesn’t know quite how this actor or that actor, managed to not be acted off the screen… and then a second later, it’s the other actors who are witness to fury and passion and fantastic acting.

It’s one of my favourite movies, and it’s historical nonsense, but a great, great movie.

Henry II: I’ve snapped and plotted all my life. There’s no other way to be alive, king, and fifty all at once.



Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, 1969

I’ve no idea when I first heard of Butch Cassidy. Nor of The Sundance Kid. I was fascinated by the old west as a kid, and read every western novel, watched every tv western. So I’ve no doubt I was aware of them before I saw this movie, knowing that there were more legends than accuracy in the telling. And to be fair to the movie’s makers, they didn’t even pretend that this was an accurate retelling of the story of the two outlaws. I suspect they reached back to a line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and went with ‘This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend’. And boy, did they ever. Butch and Sundance – played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford – are easy going, ruthless only when necessary, and portrayed less as outlaw protagonists than as outright good guys who just happen to be bank robbers. But this movie is about friendship and two men whose way of life, whose lives, are coming to an end. Whoever Robert Parker and Henry Longbaugh were, whatever they were like, you can lay odds they were nothing like the Butch and Sundance portrayed; no more than Etta Place was the demure schoolteacher played by Katharine Ross.

But as I say, they don’t pretend it’s anything other than a story about the old ways of the West slowly dying, and as a story about that, it’s fantastic. I’d say that the ending – a classic of a movie ending – pretends to be the truth no more than the rest of the movie, but you know what? That’s not true; in the last few minutes, there’s some truth showing on screen. Whether it’s what happened, I don’t know. But the legend becomes the fact.

Butch Cassidy: Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.



The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, 1965

From lighthearted fare to something less affable. Less affable? That’s unfair. There’s no amiability in this movie, no kindness, no gentleness. Nothing but unfairness. This is about as blunt and hard as you can get, and Richard Burton portrays the doomed agent Alex Leamas with exactly as much cynicism for life, for his work, for his job, as required. Exactly as much. For he’s a spy, playing dirty, under orders from ‘Control’, the same ‘Control’ television viewers got to barely know from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

But here he’s at the peak of his power and authority, and he sets Burton’s character a nasty task, which Burton only semi-reluctantly agrees to: to pretend to defect so he can leak disinformation. His contempt for the job comes to the fore, and you’re never quite sure, for much of the movie, how much of it is pretended. This is a world where people don’t tell you ‘don’t trust anyone, including me’; they take it as a given that that’s the case. For they don’t trust anyone either. And a man who never trusts can never be betrayed, only disappointed. You care about the characters in spite of them, not because of them, and the ending, the inevitable ending, is less depressing than satisfying in a way that unsettles.

Alec Leamas: She offered me free love. At the time, that was all I could afford.



El Dorado, 1966

Another western, but this one absolutely light-hearted in tone, deliberately so. A semi-remake of Rio Bravo (also starring John Wayne, but with Dean Martin in that one, Robert Mitchum in this), but based on Harry Brown’s novel The Stars In Their Courses, this one is tailor made for the roles Wayne wanted as he got just a bit older. James Caan is superb at the young man who can’t – not won’t, can’t – use a gun, but needs to win a fight, and Charlene Holt lights up the screen every time she appears. The plot is a fairly simple one: gun for hire (Wayne) with an old injury turns down a job out of professional courtesy for the local sheriff, an old friend, later hears someone else took it, and goes to help his mate… who’s now a drunk. That’s pretty much it, and you can guess how it goes from then on. Along the way, Wayne’s character picks up Caan’s.

The movie’s set pieces are what raise this from just another western to something I’ll happily rewatch whenever it’s on telly. The staging for each is immaculate, the gun play exactly what you want in an western, and Mitchum plays ‘vulnerable’ surprisingly well. I’ve heard that Mitchum was told ‘there’s no plot, there’s just characters’, and that’s unfair, but not hugely so. It’s an enormously fun movie, from start to finish, and after seeing this, it’s a damn pity Wayne and Mitchum never acted together again.

Sheriff J. P. Harrah: What the hell are you doin’ here?
Cole: I’m lookin’ at a tin star with a… drunk pinned on it.



M•A•S•H, 1970

Not for the first time, I was introduced to a movie I then came to love by my big brother. Mike loved this movie and sat me down to watch it. And I’m not sure which of us was more delighted that I shared his huge enjoyment of it. Based on the original novel, and sticking very close to it (which understandably the ensuing tv series ran away from fairly quickly), this is a fantastic movie about the dark humour necessary to survive a war while remaining relatively sane. I’d add the relatively, since the movie – and novel – makes clear these are brilliant war-zone doctors, yet as people there’s something missing in all of them.

If you’ve only seen the TV show, you’ve a shock coming your way when you encounter Sutherland’s Hawkeye, Gould’s Trapper John and Tom Skerritt’s Duke (a character omitted from the show). You do discover the origin of ‘Hotlips O’Hoolihan’s nickname, but some of the stuff that goes on stresses that these people – all of them – are under incredible pressure, and how they deal with it…? Well, maybe you’d have to be there to understand. Because I’ll happily appreciate it as a viewer without understanding it in the least.

These aren’t people I’d like to know, but they’re people I’d want as my doctors. The movie is entirely episodic, and the better for that, showing the chaos of war zone emergency surgery, punctuated by the pauses that never last.

Altman made a fantastic movie, which is funny, heartwarming (honestly!) And chaotic as hell. Recommended without hesitation.

Hotlips O’Houlihan: [to Father Mulcahy, referring to Hawkeye] I wonder how a degenerated person like that could have reached a position of responsibility in the Army Medical Corps!
Father Mulcahy: [looks up from his Bible] He was drafted.



Fiddler On The Roof, 1971

Ah, what can I say about Fiddler of the Roof that others haven’t said with more wit, eloquence and heart? No idea. But it’s one of my favourite scripts, and it’s one of the best translations from stage-to-screen of any musical I’ve seen. A couple of songs have been cut, as have a couple of sub-plots, and more than a couple of characters. But it works beautifully. The score is, as you’d expect, wonderful. And the central performances – hell, every performance – is spot on.

But of course it’s Topol’s movie; as Tevye the milkman, in a place and time when that meant delivering milk out of the barrels into each home’s jugs frmo a horse and cart, he’s just about perfect. His discussions with God are a combination of philosophy and self-serving whinging. And they’re perfect. He’s a man who lives by tradition, and will not break it. But he’ll bend. And bend some more. And bend some more. Each time swearing this far but no more until he find he cannot, or will not, bend once again. Norma Crane as his long suffering wife is heartbreakingly good.

I find, as I get older, my ‘favourite’ song from the show changes. Where once I thought it ‘ok’, Topol’s and Crane’s rendition of Do You Love Me? is now one of my favourite pieces of any movie.

I watched it was some young, non-Jewish, children recently, kids of close friends. While some of the background required explanation, and the occasional jewish tradition needed explaining, the explanations were as pebbles to a mountain. They ‘got’ the movie, loved the songs, and cared for the characters. So will you.

Young Jewish Man: Rabbi, may I ask you a question?
Rabbi: Certainly, my son.
Young Jewish Man: Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?
Rabbi: A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!


Something different tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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