Karyn Gerhard is a senior editor at Alpha Books and an information addict looking for an adventure. This blog documents her explorations into of all those dusty corners of human culture that no one has bothered to clean in years.
We gave ’em a helluva run, didn’t we. -John "Joker" Jackson (Tony Curtis), The Defiant Ones
Well, it’s that time of year again, when we remember the people in the entertainment industry who passed away in the last twelve months. We lost some big names in 2010, as well as the once-stars who fell into obscurity, and character actors whom you’ve seen in dozens of films but never knew their names. Then, of course, there are the people behind the scenes—the directors, writers, and producers. Some of my favorite movies were made by the people who died in 2010. So instead of my usual Food and a Flick format, I’d like to give a final shout-out to the 2010 inductees to the Great Movie Studio in the Sky, and give you my recommendations for their must-see movies.
Must-See Movie: The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) Tony is perfect as a slimy publicist doing dirty deeds for columnist J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) and scamming everyone in sight. Add to that a screenplay by Clifford Odets and the fact that it is filmed on the gritty streets of 1950s New York City, and you have one dark and fantastic movie.
Must-See Movie: Words and Music (1948) Although Lena was in dozens of movies, she never played a character; she just came out, sang an amazing song or two, and then was never seen again. That’s how it is in this musical biopic of Rodger and Hart. She absolutely stops the show with “Lady and the Tramp” and “Where or When.”
Must-See Movie: True Romance (1993) As much as I love Hopper in movies like Easy Rider and Blue Velvet, it’s his performance in this movie that sticks with me. It’s only one scene (with the great Christopher Walken), but he walks away with the entire movie.
Must-See Movie: Little Mary Sunshine (1916) This movie catapulted Baby Marie to stardom and made her the first child superstar. This silent is pretty typical for the time—Mary, an orphan, is befriended by a guy who just lost his fiancee. A bit treacly, yes, but Baby Marie is utterly charming.
Must-See Movie: Lucas (1986) Poor Lucas. He’s the high-school drip in love with a girl who is dating his best friend. Don’t write this off as a teen comedy, though—it’s got more depth and heart than you think. Haim is wonderful as the beleaguered Lucas, and he’s surrounded by a great cast that includes Charlie Sheen, Winona Ryder, and Jeremy Piven.
Must-See Movie: A Face in the Crowd (1957) Neal is stellar as a mousy producer at a podunk radio station who turns a bum (Andy Griffith) into a mega star. She of course falls in love with him and he treats her like dirt. But oh, does she get her revenge against him in the end! The last fifteen minutes of this movie leave me absolutely breathless.
Must-See Movie: The Sting (1973) To me, this is a perfect movie, and is on my list of top five favorite films of all time. Gould is just perfect as Kid Twist, a suave and elegant con man who helps grifters Henry Gondorf (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) pull the big con on a rich gangster (Robert Shaw) who killed their friend. Gould is one of the highlights in this gem of a film.
Must-See Movie: I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can (1982) Clayburgh’s emotional portrayal of a successful woman addicted to Valium, her descent into madness, institutionalization, and her struggle with withdrawal, is just amazing. Dianne Wiest as her therapist is equally wonderful. A raw, intense, and fantastic film.
Must-See Movie: Beetle Juice (1988) Shadix may have had more than 75 roles in his career, but to me he will forever be Otho, the obnoxiously hilarious interior decorator who plays a mean ice bucket. The only thing funnier than Otho in this Tim Burton comedy is Michael Keaton’s Betelgeuse, the dead bio-exorcist brought in to get Otho and the Dietzes out.
Must-See Movie: The Wizard of Oz (1939) Meinhardt only made one movie, but it sure is a memorable one. As Coroner of Munchkin City, Meinhardt had the best line in “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead”: “As Coroner I must aver / I’ve thoroughly examined her. / And she’s not only merely dead / she’s really most sincerely dead.”
Must-See Movie: Kiss Me Kate (1953) Cole Porter’s show-within-a-show is one of the best from MGM’s golden age of musicals. Grayson is the fiery Kate to Howard Keel’s Petruchio, who offstage are feuding ex-lovers. Two bonuses: Ann Miller tapping her way through “Too Darn Hot" and a very young Bob Fosse as Hortensio, one of Bianca’s suitors.
Must-See Movie: Forbidden Planet (1956) Don’t get me wrong, Nielsen’s Frank Drebin (of Naked Gun fame) is great, but I love his earlier, serious film career. Nielsen is the hero, Commander J. J. Adams, in the sci-fi mystery flick. It’s a perfect example of the 50s sci-fi genre, complete with Robby the Robot, and is the prototype for shows such as Star Trek. The story is interesting as well - it’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Must-See Movie: The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) Jeffries was one of the greatest characters actors in the game, and he is at his best in this mostly overlooked gem. Based on actual events, Jeffries plays Lord Queensbury, a half-crazed, hate-filled man who blames Wilde for his son being gay. Wilde sues him for libel, which begins his fall from grace. A daring movie for the time with great performances by Jeffries, Peter Finch (as Wilde), and James Mason.
Must-See Movie: Elmer Gantry (1960) Simmons is tent-revival evangelist Sister Sharon Falconer, who picks up rough, hard-drinking traveling salesman Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster). He becomes her partner in the religion business, but things get messy for Sister Sharon when a minister’s daughter Gantry once deflowered (an amazing Shirley Jones) turns up as a prostitute to expose him for what he is. Simmons’ final scene is an absolute tour-de-force.
Must-See Movie: Georgy Girl (1966) Redgrave is simply infectious as the vivacious but homely Georgy looking to get a little glamour in her life. She fights off the advances of her father’s boss and has to deal with her nasty (but fabulously fashionable) swinging London roommate. Does she get the glamour and romance she’s looking for? You’ll have to watch to find out!
Must-See Movie: Poltergeist (1982) The pint-sized Zelda steals the show with her portrayal of Tangina, the “house cleaner” brought in to get rid of the ghosts who are plaguing a house and have taken a child captive. Her line, “Run toward the Light!” kills me every time.
Must-See Movie: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) The one thing I always remember about Kevin McCarthy is actually something Montgomery Clift said. The two were close friends, so when Monty heard Kevin was considering doing this movie, he told him not to take it. Monty said if he did, he’d be a sellout and would never again be taken seriously as an actor. Kevin took the job and, sure enough, Monty never talked to him again. I wonder if Monty would’ve changed his mind if he had seen the picture, which is one of the best sci-fi flicks ever made—and Kevin is great in it.
Must-See Movie: Airplane! (1982) Although Graves was mostly known for his TV work, I had to include him here, since he appears in one of the best parodies ever made. Graves is hilarious Captain Oveur, an airline pilot on a doomed plane; his conversation with a young boy (“Do you like gladiators, son?”) is priceless. If you want a great double-feature and to see what a brilliant parody this movie is, watch Airport (1970) and then watch Airplane!
Must-See Movie: The Invisible Man (1933) Before she tossed that big blue bauble in the ocean in Titanic, Gloria was a gorgeous starlet with a great career in the early days of Hollywood. This movie is not only one of her best, it’s an iconic horror film, with great special effects and even bits of comedy. And Gloria is just divine.
Must-See Movie: Edwards made so many classics it’s impossible to choose just one. I could choose one of the eight Pink Panther movies, or one of the movies he wrote and directed for his wife, Julie Andrews ( Victor Victoria, S.O.B.), or one of his iconic comedies (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Operation Petticoat), but I’m going with what I think is not only his best drama, but one of the best dramas ever made—The Days of Wine and Roses (1962). Jack Lemmon’s and Lee Remick’s descent into the madness of alchoholism is staggering, and what happens when one tries to clean themselves up is riveting.
We also lost many from the small screen—Barbara Billingsley (The Beaver’s mom, June), Fess Parker (Daniel Boone), James MacArthur (Dano of Hawaii 5-0, John Forsythe (Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty), and Robert Culp (I Spy), to name a few. I could go through all of my favorites of their work, but if I did, we’d be here all night!
It’s been a year of losses, but thankfully they left us an amazing legacy of great movies. Enjoy!