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My Favorite Movies

It's an eclectic lot. I can't say I like "all love stories" or "all science fiction films." Like my book collection, it's whatever hits my fancy at the time. But the following are those that I tend to watch over and over again.

Airplane (1980)
They were serious, and don't call them Shirley! Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers literally were off to a flying start with this dead-funny laugh-out-loud spoof of disaster films, with the basic plot taken from Airport's Arthur Hailey's novel Runway Zero-Eight, which became the film Zero Hour. Robert Hays stars as hapless Ted Striker, who's had a "drinking problem" ever since his plane was shot down in "the war," chasing his girlfriend (Julie Hagerty) onto a commercial flight where half the passengers and all the crew are about to be struck down by food poisoning. Plus there's a little dying girl headed for a heart transplant aboard. The lampoons come fast and furious in this 1980s classic that fathered a whole series of film spoofs, including Top Secret, The Naked Gun and Hot Shots and gave Leslie Neilsen a whole new career in comedy.

Airport (1970)
My dad was on jury duty in Providence when this was released and, when they dismissed court early one day, rather than coming straight home, he stayed downtown and saw this movie instead—probably because Dean Martin was one of the headliner. He came home raving about it enough to convince my mom and I to see it, whereupon we decided Dad was right. The granddaddy of the spate of disaster movies that began in the 1970s, it still pleases even if the potboiler abortion subplot seems rather trite today. Among the stellar cast, big pluses are Helen Hayes' twinkly portrayal of Ada Quonsett, the perpetual stowaway who can't know what she's getting into when she sneaks on a flight to Rome, and George Kennedy's bravura performance as the larger–than–life cigar-chompin' Joe Patroni. (Apparently everyone else loved Hayes, too, as she won an Academy Award for her performance.) Besides, the movie holds a sentimental note: it was, I believe, the last film to be shown at Providence's big old Majestic Theatre, the very last of the movie palaces in that location, now the Trinity Square Repertory Playhouse.

The Andromeda Strain (1971)
My best friend Sherrye and I managed to see this twice in an era when neither of us had a driver's license, let alone a car, each with a father who thought paying to see a movie for the second time was an absurd waste of money. Two months later I managed to see it a third time by convincing my parents that, by golly, they still hadn't seen it. What's the draw for me? I guess the first couple of times it was the tension; now it's simply the familiarity—and the fact that I still enjoy the hell out of David Wayne and Kate Reid. Almost thirty years later Reid's "Not with my alabaster body" remains in my vocabulary, along with the occasional clenched-teeth version of "I'm not nervous!" Paula Kelly as Nurse Karen Anson is also a favorite.
Some casting/name trivia: David Wayne plays Dr. Charles Dutton, originally Charles Burton in the Michael Crichton novel. A year later Wayne co-starred in the series The Good Life. His name on the series? Charles Dutton. Also, Ken Swofferd, who co-stars as Wayne's lab technician in the film, later co-starred with him on the 1975 series Ellery Queen.

Auntie Mame (1958)
"Live, live, live—life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!" The inimitable Rosalind Russell at her best in this film based on the Patrick Dennis novel, the hilarious story of eccentric Mame Dennis, the woman of the world who loses her heart to her late brother's son, vowing to "open new windows" for the boy—despite the hardfisted practical cynic who controls young Patrick's money. Filled to the brim with memorable scenes—the dinner party for Gloria's parents, the fox hunt, Mame's disastrous stage debut and career working as a Macy's salesgirl—and equally memorable characters—the vain Nora Charles, the gallant Beauregard Jackson Burnside, mousy Agnes Gooch, and Ito the unflappable butler. You haven't lived until you've loved Auntie Mame...

Big Jake (1971)
Not considered one of John Wayne's best efforts, this film about an estranged rancher tracking down the outlaws who kidnapped his grandson nevertheless remains my favorite Wayne flick—perhaps if just for the title character's companion collie, who always seems to know what to do simply on the command of "Dog!" (Jack Major of the Providence Journal used to refer to this film as "John Wayne and the killer collie." <g>) Wayne film regulars Maureen O'Hara as Jake's strong-willed wife (she tells her critically-injured son he cannot die because she forbids it) and Bruce Cabot as an aging Native American tracker (the two Western veterans have some nostalgic scenes together) add a familiar touch to the cast, which includes Wayne's sons Patrick and Ethan and Robert Mitchum's son Christopher, and Richard Boone as the properly malicious bad guy. Oh, and a Weatherwax collie as "Dog," of course.

The Bishop's Wife (1947)
When I was small I recalled a magical Christmas movie that ended with a sermon about an empty stocking, but I couldn't find it for years. If cable television did anything positive, it returned this marvelous Christmas tale back into public viewing: Cary Grant plays an angel named Dudley who comes to earth to help a beleagered Bishop (David Niven) only to fall in love with the bishop's wife (played by a luminous Loretta Young). Monty Woolley is also delightful as a cynical history professor who is a friend of the family. Plus simply divine Christmas scenes including the magical skating scene and Debbie's snowball fight: my favorite (considering how long it takes to put icicles on the Christmas tree): Dudley hanging every icicle perfectly on the bishopric's tree with one wave of his hand. Maybe I'll ask for angelic help this year...

Cheaper By the Dozen (1950)
Adapted from the autobiographical tale written by two of the Gilbreth children, this is the charming, nostalgic, and sometimes downright funny story of motion study expert Frank Gilbreth, his wife Lillian, and their twelve red-headed offspring. Gilbreth applies his motion study methods to raising a dozen kids during the "Roaring 20s," down to shortcuts for taking a bath—and having the children's tonsils removed. Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy are perfect as Frank and Lillian Gilbreth; watch for Martin Milner in an early role. Favorite scene: the local representative from Planned Parenthood shows up at the Gilbreths' door. Needless to say, she's in for a shock...

A Christmas Story (1983)
Now that TNT has decided to run this charming film endlessly on Christmas Eve for the past two years, there's probably no one in the country unfamiliar with the saga of Ralphie and his unrelenting quest for the Holy Grail—or in his case, a Red Ryder BB gun. I grew up 25 years later than Master Ralph, but the upcoming charms and disappointments of the Christmas season seemed so familiar I felt like I was home again. Full of memorable sequences, including the "major prize" to the tongue on the flagpole to "the F-star-star-star word" to the furnace fights to the mind-bending visit with Santa Claus. The only fly in the ointment: Melinda Dillon's ridiculous modern frizzy haircut, which ruins the meticulously-crafted 1940 atmosphere.

The Court Jester (1956)
Danny Kaye has done a multitude of funny movies, but this is The One, the ultimate in Kaye comedy. His sterling co-stars include Glynis Johns as the very fetching Maid Jean, a young Angela Lansbury, a "bewitching" Mildred Natwick, and Basil Rathbone—yes, the Basil Rathbone—as the villain. Kaye sings, dances, swordfights, and cuddles the infant heir to the throne of England all with equal aplomb as Hubert Hawkins, the player turned revolutionary with the followers of the Black Fox, championing for justice against the false king. Watch for the hysterically funny accelerated knighting sequence, not to mention the infamous tongue-twisting "The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle" routine. Just remember: they broke the chalice from the palace...

Galaxy Quest (1999)
My husband and I and a group of about fifteen friends went to see this movie on New Year's Day, 2000. I was so smitten that during the roll of the credits my first comment was "When's it coming out on video?" Reviews keep citing the Star Trek/SF links and saying it's a perfect movie about science fiction fandom. Nonsense, it's the perfect movie about fandom, period, whether you like SF, soap operas, or sitcoms. In the end, it's the much-maligned fans who actually make the difference. As someone not a big fan of Tim Allen, my biggest surprise was how much I really enjoyed him in this movie, which is as much the tale of the redemption of Jason Nesmith as it is a laugh-aloud spoof. Warning: you'll have to watch it a couple of times simply to get all the inside jokes. Such an ordeal. <g>

The Homecoming (1971)
My birthday present to myself every year is watching this low-key but luminous made—for—television Christmas story that eventually served as a pilot for The Waltons series. No screaming Santas, rufous reindeer, presumptious presents, or dizzying decorations, just simple family preparations for the holiday and a growing uneasiness as the icy night grows later and a father doesn't return home from employment 28 miles away. Full of memorable, wonderfully-filmed and framed scenes (one of my favorites is Elizabeth's "puppies!" sequence) and such warm and real characters that you feel as if you've been invited in for a glass of eggnog (or in the case of the Baldwin sisters, a sip of "the Recipe"). A particular delight is William Windom, who lends a good-natured twinkle to the role of rascaly but good-hearted poacher Charley Snead.

The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Tom Clancy's thriller about the officers of a Soviet submarine crew in charge of a new type of noiseless craft who are attempting to defect to the United States, despite the efforts of the Soviet navy—not to mention their US counterparts, who have been hoodwinked into thinking the sub captain has gone off his rocker and plans to shoot missiles at the East Coast is brought to vivid life in this exciting production. Sean Connery is splendid as Captain Marko Ramius, while Alec Baldwin, while a bit "pretty boy" to be Clancy's rugged CIA-allied military writer Jack Ryan, does an excellent job trying to defuse the potentially deadly confrontation. Other notable cast members: James Earl Jones, Jeffrey Jones, Daniel Davis, Fred Thompson, Tim Curry, Courtney Vance as sonarman "Jonesy," and (my favorite, of course) Sam Neill as Ramius' second in command, who wishes to live in Montana and own a recreational vehicle. Catch Gates McFadden (Star Trek: the Next Generation) in a cameo role—oh, and don't miss "Stanley." :-)

Isn't It Shocking? (1973)
Darn right it's a TV movie. This was one of the better offerings when, back in the early 70s, ABC began cranking out 90-minute television movies every Tuesday night. Just starting in his tenure on M*A*S*H, Alan Alda stars as the sheriff of a tiny New England town that has had as its problem for years only that the young people are leaving it in droves for Boston. Then elderly residents start dying at an alarming rate, leaving Alda and his weird secretary (Louise Lasser, complete with her Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman hairdo) to figure out what's going on. This is an offbeat, alternately funny and creepy movie, with veteran co-stars including Will Geer, Lloyd Nolan, Edmond O'Brien, and the inimitable Ruth Gordon as "Crazy Marge Savage."

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
Saw this for the first time in eighth grade and haven't come aboveground since. Wonderful old-fashioned "they don't make 'em like they used to" adventure epic with the usual Hollywood cast: young sexy hero (at the time, believe it or not, Pat Boone, who even gets to strip to the waist—several times in fact), curmudgeonly scientist, attractive female love interest, stalwart supporting actor, comic relief (in this case, a pet duck named Gertrude), and of course our dastardly villain (the malicious Thayer David in fine form). (Also interesting in that the female love interest turns out not to be for our young hero—he already has a fiancee waiting at home!) The main fun is watching James Mason and Arlene Dahl snipe back and forth; c'mon, didn't you guess they were made for each other?

Jurassic Park (1993)
"You saw this film in the theatre how many times?" Never mind, you wouldn't believe me. Let's say that Sam Neill had a real lot to do with it. <g> Heck, I don't even like dinosaurs. However, by the magic of computer animation and special effects, the dinos in this movie are so real you might expect to be able to walk up and pet them. (Well, the triceratops, anyway. I'm not sure anyone would like to pet some of the more...ahem, destructive ones.) If you're in the mood, it's dark and exciting, and Jeff Goldblum gets all the good lines. And by the time you've seen this as many times as I have, you'll have fun picking apart all the silly inconsistencies—like where Laura Dern got that leaf from.

My Favorite Year (1982)
One of my favorite movies, of course. Mark Linn-Baker is Benjie Stone, fledgeling TV comedy writer, who's just landed a plum position on the hit series of 1954, King Kaiser's Comedy Cavalcade. When fading movie swashbuckler Alan Swann, played to sozzled perfection by a delightful Peter O'Toole, shows up on the set, he's almost canned from that week's episode—until Benjie agrees to babysit him until showtime. Filled with charming comedy performances—check out Lainie Kazan as Benjie's doting mother (who's remarried to a Filipino boxer)—with a beautiful recreation of 1954 New York City and the Golden Age of Television. The story is loosely based on experiences a young Mel Brooks had with guest star Errol Flynn while working on Sid Caesar's variety series.

101 Dalmatians (1961)
Forget how well Glenn Close chews the scenery; the cartoon original of this Disney film is still the best. Opening with a jaunty male narration one soon finds out is from a lonely Dalmatian named Pongo who seeks companionship for both himself and his human "pet," Roger, the film moves at a quick trot to the introduction of one of Disney's most flamboyant villains, the fur-loving, wildly eccentric Cruella DeVil, who plans a terrible fate for the "stole-n" puppies of Pongo and his mate Perdita. Told from the dogs' point of view—didn't you always wonder why your terrier always barks at sunset? <g>—this version is "barks and tails" ahead of the live-action remake.

The Right Stuff (1983)
All I can say is it's lucky we have this on DVD or the video would have been worn out by now. Philip Kaufman's look at the early days of the U.S. space program is decidedly offbeat and in the name of a good scene there are historically inaccurate facts—not to mention that many were taken aback by the occasional use of boyish "toilet humor." And brother is Kaufman hard on the press, Wernher von Braun, and President Lyndon Johnson! Get into the story and let the magic take ahold of you instead: the wonderful exhiliration of men "pushing the edge of the envelope" and flying fast jets or going into space for the first time, some wondrous cuts (the one from the aborigine campfire to John Glenn's capsule is a particular favorite), Dennis Quaid's infectuous grin, and just the whole glorious concept of human beings exploring the universe. By the end you may be chanting along with the closing narration like we do.

1776 (1972)
If it's Independence Day—or any day—it's time for Peter Stone's upbeat retelling of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Removed from their historical pedestals, the Founding Fathers become ordinary men, who suffer from the heat, gout, jealousy, pride, and envy. Although historians may quiver at the liberties taken with the actual events—Jefferson's wife, for instance, was at home, sick, at this time, not bouncing about with "Tom" in Philadelphia—the film brings to our understanding some of the momentous decisions that these men had to face. Musical moments range from the bouncy "My Name is Richard Henry Lee" and the lyrical "He Plays the Violin" to the haunting pair "Momma, Look Sharp" and "Molasses to Rum to Slaves." William Daniels as the "obnoxious and disliked" John Adams and Howard DaSilva as the at once sage and saucy Benjamin Franklin are nothing short of perfect in their roles.

Spaceballs (1987)
Okay, if you look at it logically, most of the jokes are dumb, many scatological, some situations are just plain stupid, and a couple fall flat. Chill out...who cares? This is a senselessly silly spoof on Star Wars with blatant smack–in–your–face jokes and you might as well just sit back and enjoy the giggles. If nothing else you can oogle Bill Pullman (or Daphne Zuniga, depending on your preferences). Favorite part: the "short-short" version at the end (Joe Straczynski seems to have gotten inspiration for a fifth season Babylon 5 sequence from this as well). Not to mention the command to "comb the desert." (Of course it was what you expected! It's a Mel Brooks movie, after all.)

Twister (1996)
The tornadoes and other storm SFX steal the show from this fun but ultimately absurd adventure/drama about a motley collection of tornado chasers led by Jo Harding, the obsessed leader of the group who saw her father "eaten" by a tornado when she was a little girl. Jo and her companions are eager to get a new invention, "Dorothy" (just one of several Wizard of Oz references in this film), into the funnel of a tornado when her soon-to-be ex-husband, an "instinctive" tornado chaser, and his new fiancé turn up with the divorce papers for her to sign. Naturally hubby can't resist the chase and his astonished girlfriend is dragged along for the ride. (Some people despise Jami Gertz' Melissa as being ridiculous; I think she's a pretty good sport for having been corralled with this bunch of crazies!) Film despises scientists who accept "corporate sponsorship," as if only scientists who are in it for the research rather than the money are the "real" researchers, all sorts of inconsistent and improbable things happen...but in the end it's all rather entertaining, especially with Aunt Meg (whose gravy "is practically a food group"), Dusty, Preacher, and the rest of the group. One out for cows!


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