Category Archives: Other Movies

(0078X) Papillon

PapillonDecember 16, 1973 | 2 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A superior period prison escape movie — although I was curious about the casting.

What did I get? Like its main characters, Papillon is, at first glance, tough-minded and uncompromising — an impression that cloaks a core of sentimental mush. It’s a gripping and involving movie that uses everything in its filmic arsenal to convey what for most viewers is an unimaginable gauntlet of cruelty and pain, but the fissures in its originating text undermine the movie’s coherence. Schaffner’s contributions are similarly divided: his acceptance of the truth of the story allowed him to deliver a powerful movie, but he might have been a touch less naive about the material.
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(0077X) Serpico

SerpicoDecember 9, 1973 | 1 week at #1

Seen by Martin before? Yes

What did I expect? A classic gritty NYC movie from the 1970s.

What did I get? Along with The French Connection and Sidney Lumet’s own Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico stands as one of the canonical glories of the gritty New York-based cinema of the 1970s. Frank Serpico became one of the great Pacino roles, even as it offered a preview of the actor’s outsize mannerisms. For his part, Lumet miraculously wrung out of the historical Serpico’s messy and complex story something like an urban fairy tale.
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(0076X) Robin Hood

Robin HoodNovember 11, 1973 | 4 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A fairly good Disney cartoon.

What did I get? The first animated feature that Disney greenlighted after Walt’s death in 1966, Robin Hood proved to be startling evidence of the soundness of his methods — even if the decade to follow would yield few high points for the company. It’s an immensely enjoyable product, every frame a testament to a great entertainment juggernaut in its maturity. It’s a challenge to convey just how unfussy, lively, and effective the rollicking hijinks of the movie are — and to imagine the enormous skill and professionalism behind the movie’s raucous fun. The animators of our present era would do well to study the deceptive ease of this charmer.
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(0075X) The Way We Were

The Way We WereOctober 21, 1973 | 3 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A meretricious, nostalgic love story with some big “issues”

What did I get? They meet at a fancy Ivy League college. He’s an athletic WASP who hails from the affluent reaches of society and appears to have all horizons open to him. She’s an “ethnic” urbanite with an ignominious job who habitually pricks his easy sense of himself. They fall in love, of course. It doesn’t end well. The movie featured a strain of music that had people humming for months. That’s Love Story, yes, but it’s also The Way We Were — for The Way We Were is Love Story for smart people.
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(0074X) Mean Streets

Mean StreetsOctober 14, 1973 | 1 week at #1

Seen by Martin before? Yes

What did I expect? An invigorating portrait of young toughs in New York

What did I get? Mean Streets is about as near to legendary as movies get. It was made with no profile and opened to no fanfare; it heralded the arrival of one of our country’s great popular artists; it served both as a repository of previous filmic history and as a pointer for the way forward; it deals with a setting, Greenwich Village in the early 1970s, that the intervening time has rendered magical, alluring, forever lost; and it provided a working template for American filmmakers for decades to come (for some reason, 1998’s Rounders sticks in my mind as the most obvious benefactor). That the legend exists, there can be no doubt. How accurate is it? We shall see.

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(0073X) High Plains Drifter

High Plains DrifterAugust 26, 1973 | 1 week at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A groovy, disturbing western? Not much clue.

What did I get? Forging an authentic movie of ideas out of what eventually ceases to be a “regular” western, Clint Eastwood continues to impress: High Plains Drifter is a gnomic and deeply unsettling allegory with meanings coming out the wazoo. In fact, it’s as rich an allegory as I have ever seen committed to film, suggesting a western written by Jean-Paul Sartre and directed by Ingmar Bergman — but even that astonishing description fails to capture its distinctively American directness of address. This is quite a movie — arguably Eastwood’s greatest.
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(0072X) American Graffiti

American GraffitiAugust 19, 1973 | 7 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? Yes

What did I expect? A better version of Happy Days.

What did I get? A teen hijinks movie niftily masquerading as a thoughtful character study, American Graffiti introduced George Lucas’s considerable narrative gifts to the world. Everyone my age (42) and younger experienced the shock of discovering that the dude who made Star WarsStar Wars! — had started out with this bittersweet, nostalgic love letter to youthful misadventure, but in truth, Lucas’s overwhelming command of the medium, penchant for trite profundity, and implacable lust for mindshare are everywhere evident. Like Star Wars, it’s an incredibly appealing contraption of surfaces; like Star Wars, its depth/lack of depth was central to its appeal.
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(0071X) Enter the Dragon

Enter the DragonJuly 22, 1973 | 4 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A crude but awesome kung fu movie.

What did I get? Released posthumously, Enter the Dragon materialized in 1973 calculated to deliver, honor, and ratify the legend of Bruce Lee — all in one fell swoop. To say that the Chinese martial arts were ripe for exposure on American shores is an understatement; Lee promptly became the form’s patron saint. Not half as kinetic, jarring, or hyperbolic as I was fearing, Enter the Dragon is a breezy cauldron of mayhem, even if it does represent some form of cross-cultural slumming. Artfully crude yet brimming with relaxed assurance and wit, the movie’s dirty little secret is that the fights are almost the least of it.
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(0070X) Lady Ice

Lady IceJuly 15, 1973 | 1 week at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A cheesy heist movie!

What did I get? I was looking forward to Lady Ice, by all appearances a slinky, suspenseful, and cheeseball caper movie starring the usually splendid Donald Sutherland. Boy, was I disappointed; it calls to mind the phrase “justly forgotten.” Sweaty, plodding, poorly lit, and poorly mic’d, Lady Ice is basically a 90-minute episode of, I don’t know, Vega$ — only without the zazz. Curiously, Elmore Leonard has written precisely this sort of caper several times, even using the same setting of Miami, but Elmore knows what he’s doing.
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(0069X) Live and Let Die

Live and Let DieJuly 1, 1973 | 2 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? Yes

What did I expect? A cracking good Bond movie.

What did I get? With the transition from Sean Connery to Roger Moore, James Bond crossed that small but critical distance from “rogue” to “rake.” As close to a blaxploitation movie as you can come with a foppish British fancy-pants at its core, Live and Let Die is good on the local color but lazy in the plotting. The ratio of action to exposition approaches infinity; were they afraid of Moore’s ability to deliver dialogue? Less taciturn than epigrammatic, Bond seldom engages in conversation, unconsciously letting the audience in on the movie’s synthetic essence.
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