My July Movie Picks, Part Two

Elvis Presley Meets a Nun, a Classic Jane Eyre, the Dawn of the Spaghetti Western, and Much More.

Paul Zahl / 7.19.21

John Glover and I have annotated a list of films playing on Turner Class Movies in July 2021. Making the list is my favorite movie, as well as other “cool” movies that I saw when they came out during my childhood. Did they all stand the test of time? Mmm … There are a few more nominees for worst movies in the list, but there are also some masterpieces. Who knew that Elvis acted and sang in one of the best movies about the Ecumenical Movement of the 50’s and 60’s? All times Eastern and subject to change. 

July 21, 8:00 pm, Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

A rock star’s personal appearance turns a small town into a disaster area. This movie musical works pretty completely, mainly because of great songs and terrific performances. From a 12-year-old-boy’s perspective — which is when I saw it, in Lake Placid, NY, the weekend it opened — Bye Bye Birdie is all about Ann Margret. She is absolutely delightful, cute, and winning. “How Lovely to Be a Woman”, etc. But Dick Van Dyke is great, too, as well as Rita Moreno. Not to mention Paul Lynde as the drily humorous father of Ann Margret. It all kind of builds to the big dance number at the end, which is captivating and seductive. Though slow in spots, this is a terrific movie.

July 22, 12:45 am, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis is a masterpiece, and that statement requires no defense. Just see it and you’ll know. The movie solidly rings with feeling, most of it touching and beautiful, though some of it (accurately) despondent, as in “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Meet Me in St. Louis begins well, travels well throughout, and ends perfectly. Plus, everyone — all the generations, from dear grandfather to a high-strung little girl — is provided for.

July 23, 2:00 am, Change of Habit (1969)

Who would have thought that one of the best movies about … the Ecumenical Movement of the ’50s and ’60s, would star Elvis and Mary Tyler Moore (as a nun)? But it did and it does! John Zahl (aka JAZ) opened my eyes to this gem and I’ve been sold ever since. Plus, the songs are pretty great. (One of the them “Rubberneckin,” has been highlighted appreciatively by David Zahl here.) Stay up and see Change of Habit. 

July 25, 11:45 am, The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)

Anybody reading this remember Morris West? He was an Australian novelist who specialized in stories about the Roman Catholic Church. West was incredibly successful and very widely read. But now, today? Anyway, The Shoes of the Fisherman is an excellent thriller about a most unusual choice for the Pope — a choice that works theologically and also plot-wise. (There is even a direct Hans-Kung figure in the novel and movie.) I think that almost all the followers of Mockingbird will find this movie interesting. And the ending, which is pretty great, in fact is a surprise and a fulfillment. Catch this movie.

July 25, 10:00 pm, Jane Eyre (1944)

Some people think Orson Welles directed Jane Eyre from the background. I doubt it, though it does carry, visually, something of an Orson Welles feel. In fact, this is an excellent Hollywood adaptation of Mary Zahl’s favorite novel on earth. (I basically agree with Mary about Charlotte Bronte’s book.) Here is a feminist tale in the best sense, to my way of thinking. And Bronte was always sympathetic to Evangelical Anglicans. Oh, but why is that? Well, because she was one!

July 26, 3:45 am, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Jacques Demy, the director of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, is probably worth a lifetime of study, let alone enjoyment. For what it’s worth, he is in my top five movie directors. Demy was a romantic optimist, let alone a high artist, visually and musically. This film is probably his masterpiece. I could write a book about Umbrellas — plus I actually saw it near to when it first came out — and in Paris, no less. (The umbrella shop still exists at 13 Rue Du Port, Cherbourg and is marked with a plaque commemorating the film.) Let’s just say that the good triumphs, and the last scene justifies the word “luminous.” Or better, “transcendent.”

July 27, 4:15 am, The Searchers (1956)

This is my favorite movie, as maybe you know. There was a period when one marched out alone, to what used to be called “revival-houses” (in Manhattan), to re-watch The Searchers about once every month. The movie contains everything. But most of all, it contains high and noble emotion to the nth degree. That’s all I want to write right now. “I’ll take you home, Debbie.”

July 29, 12:30 am, The Last Picture Show (1971)

We thought we were so cool to pick up on this movie when it first opened. Like, we “got” it. Like, we realized it was really hip and “liberal” even though it was about small-town Texicans (sic). I mean, Cybill Shepherd on the diving board, and that early scene in the car. And even Ben Johnson was there, of John Ford fame. But hey, The Last Picture Show is really not that great. It’s a cliché from start to finish, and only a half-truth about the human condition. See it for … the scene in the car, and maybe Cybill Shepherd in her early days. But then, switch it off and watch Ben Johnson in Rio Grande. There you will see nobility and altruism … and God.

July 29, 2:45 am, Bonnie and Clyde (1967) 

This one is in the same category, for my money, as The Last Picture Show — but worse!

When it came out, we thought it was so cool — and especially that one scene near the end, between Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. (I’m not talking about the supposedly “balletic” shoot-out.) Or rather, we thought we were so cool, and knowing, to be watching it. But looking back on it now, Bonnie and Clyde feels gratuitously bloody, even a little kinky and sadistic. I do not recommend this famous movie.

July 31, 2:30 am, Piranha (1978)

I like Piranha. (And not just because my Dad was a world’s authority on piranhas and we grew up with them in the house — ones he had personally caught and stuffed.) I like Piranha because it is clever, subtle, engrossing, gross, funny, disgusting, ironic and it references a ton of other movies in its genre. Or, to sum it up: I like Piranha because it was directed by Joe Dante! Joe Dante, whom I admire enormously and whom I feel honored to know as a “soul brother” in the film, made a little masterpiece when he directed Piranha. Another friend, Chuck Collins, knowing my admiration for Joe Dante and his films, actually once visited, with his family, the somewhat shuttered state park in Texas where Piranha had been filmed. He later gifted me with a huge original poster for the movie. That enormous poster is now one of my prized possessions. See Piranha, if only for yours truly.

July 31, 8:00 pm, A Fistful of Dollars (1967)

Here one just wants to give thanks for a rich and original childhood. While living with a French family one summer, the elder brother of our menage decided to drive us all downtown, in Paris, to see A Fistful of Dollars. The movie had just come out. He told us it was a new kind of movie — an Italian Western! None of us knew who Clint Eastwood was, nor had I ever even thought that there could be such a thing as an “Italian” Western. (The term “spaghetti western” was not yet current.) So we drove downtown with Olivier (Roux-Devillas). I thoroughly enjoyed myself — while wishing, inside, that it was a little more “arty.” But that ending! (Wasn’t it supposed to be a take-off of director Akira Kurosawa?) Anyway, I was on the ground floor of an international phenomenon that we didn’t yet know or understand. Seeing it now, I think A Fistful of Dollars is a little, maybe, over-wrought — a lot of sound and fury over not so much. But you may disagree. Let me know what you think.