Back in my younger days I had what I believe was a little djinn looking out for the quality of my film exposure. I would turn on the telly at random times, and on some magical occasions, a rare and wonderful film would be just about to start. I never saw a bad film when it happened, either. They were all incredible journeys for my young mind, and they inspired me to look for more like them. I thought I'd share a few of these...they aren't mind-bendingly rare, and in fact, most are common enough that I'd normally not blog about them. In this case, they figure deeply into my overall experience as both a movie watcher and as a person. That deserves a little attention, wot?
This one is very special to me. When I was a kid it came on occasionally, and I savoured every moment each time I watched it...pre-VCR days, don't ya know. In it, Cochran plays a man who returns after many years to the wife and children he abandoned when he was an extreme drunkard. His wife, initially hard and bitter, slowly softens to him as he proves that his reformation is solid and true. He weathers the disdain of the townsfolk, and gradually earns their trust and respect. It's a solid telling of the classic story of redemption and forgiveness, and with a wonderful Max Steiner score (although a bit scavenged from SERGEANT YORK, apparently), you can't help but feel good. It taught me a lot about forgiveness, actually, and it helped in some small way to reconnect with my dad later in life...we're all weak humans, and COME NEXT SPRING is a very much a story for humans.
This is a midnight stumble for me; I woke up at a random moment in the middle of the night, turned on the box, and it was beginning....from the first moment, I was captivated. Based on a short story of the same name by Dorothy M. Johnson (who also wrote The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), it's about an English gentleman on safari in the wilds of America, shooting wild game for, presumably, the collection, back in ye jolly olde. His group of scraggly scouts gets ambushed by Indians, and he's taken captive. Slowly, in true Edgar Rice Burroughs fashion, he rises to the status of man, and becomes a part of the tribe...which makes him an enemy of the other whites. As I said, it's very much like a John Carter of Mars-type story, with the warrior spirit and the (extremely) beautiful princess. Some will complain about yet another story of a white man becoming the king of some other race, but I forgive the world for it's foibles. Especially when the foibles are this exciting!
I thank God for the day I fell upon this masterpiece of kindness and generosity. A much-abused blind girl is discovered alone in a park by a kindly black man while she strings beads for sale to an old businessman. They become friends, and the man becomes gradually aware of the horrible life this girl leads, under the cruel and jealous hand of her fat, aging, prostitute mother (played with appropriately offensive gusto by Shelley Winters). He takes her under his protection and eventually leads her to a better life. I was going through a period of reading stories by black American writers, particularly enjoying the stunning prose of Richard Wright in his autobiography, BLACK BOY. This film hit me with all the full force of a train at that moment...such humanity, such cruelty, such kindness. It really showed that nobody can tell where goodness can be sourced, and how even the smallest kindness and change a person's life forever. I still watch it occasionally in these troubled times, to remind me that the world is still a place ripe with altruistic possibilities.
Another midnight stumble. Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Berger and directed by Arthur Penn (who also directed BONNIE AND CLYDE), it satirically tells the story of a white boy is taken into an Indian tribe after his parents were massacred. Told in flashbacks related by his elderly self, it goes up through his adventurously inept-yet-charmed life, complete with a hilarious General Custer (Richard Mulligan), and Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Corey). It also scores points with me currently, due to a recently-acquired obsession with Faye Dunaway, who is perfectly lovely here. I'm glad this one snuck in under my radar. I'm not much for comedies, especially when they're quite this silly...especially the odd performance of Chief Dan George. It's really a very well-told and charming telling of a period in the American west, and I remember being inspired to travel and be open to adventures after I saw it. Dustin Hoffman has been rising on my actors list recently, with ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and KRAMER VS KRAMER...LITTLE BIG MAN was his first checkmark in the 'good' category for me.
This is a stunner of a cop film, and, though THE GODFATHER is one of my fave films of all time, SERPICO actually beats it. Telling the story of a clean cop trying to stay clean in a police force infested with greed and corruption, Pachino tears up the screen with nobility and determination. He weathers hostility (and eventually violence) at the hands of his "fellow" cops, and endures the damage that his steadfastness brings to his private life. Based on a real story written by Peter Maas, Sidney Lumet takes us into the down-and-dirty of life in 1970's New York like an atom bomb. This is the one film that reminds me, in the current atmosphere of crappy, glossy, unrealistic junk, that films can be realistic. The 70's in general are famous for this, but I believe that SERPICO is one of the most gritty and solid of the bunch. I couldn't admire Pachino more. Along with a host of other fiction, this taught me that there is great value of holding to your truth, and that being respected is far better than being liked...which is entirely counter-intuitive in this generation of platitudinous Facebook "likers".