PZ’s Five Favorite Movies in 2010

The host of our favorite podcast of 2010 gives you the first of two year-end […]

Mockingbird / 12.13.10

The host of our favorite podcast of 2010 gives you the first of two year-end lists [favorite episode of PZ’s podcast? The one on Giant Crab Movies. Obviously].

These are not movies made in 2010. They are just movies I have come to love in 2010.
They are also redolent with Mockingbird themes, and evoke, well, a Mockingbird way of life.

1) Pollyanna. This is the 1960 Walt Disney version, with Hayley Mills. I love this movie because it’s not “pollyannish”!
Little orphaned daughter-of-missionaries Pollyanna Harrington brings her imputation game to the fractious, captious town of Harrington.
Everyone’s at each other’s throats.
She starts to see the good that is potential in her alienated fellow citizens of every age.
And they all begin to change, before her eyes.
Then something happens, something emphatically not to be “glad about”. What’s going to happen now?
This is a feel-good movie which also has some art to it. (There’s an underwater scene that is purest Disney.) I used to pour contempt (on all my pride and) on this movie. I was wrong.

2) How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. This was created when Mad Men were really mad men. It’s about mad men but is not Mad Men.
Frank Loesser wrote the words and music about young J. Pierrepont Finch, who climbs the ladder of a New York corporation, from window washer to CEO to… Chairman of the Board. The choreography, based on Bob Fosse’s choreography of the Broadway production, is incomparable. That you’ll see in “A Secretary is not a Toy”.
Yet it’s pretty talky, this movie, until the last half hour. Then it begins to get, absurdly, profound.
A number called “The Brotherhood of Man”, which reminds me of the end of “Metropolis”, takes you by surprise. And they really mean it.
Everything about this show is inspired, from Michele Lee to Robert Morris to Mr. Wally Wampers.
But hang on for the end, if you’re willing.

3) War and Remembrance. Ever since “Dark Shadows”, what was not to like about Dan Curtis?
But things got really interesting when he was catapulted to fame through his production of Herman Wouk’s tolstoyan “War and Remembrance”. Following the similar but not quite as good “The Winds of War”, “War and Remembrance” tells the entire story of WWII, employing two intersecting families, the Jewish Jastrows and the Gentile/Christian Henrys, to tell the tale. It works!
Curtis, who had long pioneered the soap opera as art, alternates between the story’s soap opera aspects, which are considerable, and the history, which is epic. But isn’t this true of life? I can read all the news I like, but I’m still looking at my dearest and nearest most of the time.
And not only is this portrait of soap opera in relation to world history quite true to life (or at least as I seem to live it), but there’s some religious meaning that comes out.
Robert Mitchum’s character is a real Christian, and the Episcopal Church makes more than one appearance. (Note how properly the clergy are attired. It’s always Morning Prayer and they’re wearing cassock and surplice, with tippett. Praise the Lord!). Then John Gielgud’s Aaron Jastrow gets de-converted. But he’s then converted. In Theresienstadt. Jastrow becomes a credible Jewish saint.
All of this takes place before the lens of Dan Curtis’ “raking” camera. Curtis said that “The Last Ride of the Dalton Gang”, his television ode to the Western, prepared him for “W & R”. That is, he perfected his shooting style out West, in order to shoot the Western Front.
This movie is 29 hours of wrenching bliss. And it does value religion, quite uncharacteristically for a Hollywood version.

4) House of Dracula. This ‘farrago’, as it is sometimes called, brings together Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula (but he wants to get cured of vampirism), The Wolfman (but he wants to be cured of lycanthropy), The Mad Scientist (but he’s a Christian), and The Hunchback (but she’s a woman, a nurse, even; and she’s only got eyes for The Mad Scientist, who’s a Christian). This is just “one hell of a picture”.
Perfectly, seriously piloted by Erle C. Kenton, of House of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein fame, House of Dracula is perfect. It is perfect in every frame and in every way. Assuming, that is, that you are willing to take it as you find it. This is the movie I think I want to see the day I die.

5) Tobacco Road. Sometimes people will say that this 1941 movie with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews is John Ford’s worst movie.
They’ll say that its uneasy combination of slapstick “comedy” and sudden jerks of emotion — they make you cry three or four times in the course of it — does not work. Plus, the film whitewashes the bitter text of the play on which it is based. These people are right!
But still, see Tobacco Road for its jerks of emotion. When the people at city hall all stand, one by one and finally a great chorus of faithful humble townspeople, to sing “Shall we gather at the river?”; when bewitching Gene Tierney turns bridal and sincerely innocent, and skips across the creek, dressed in white, on the way to her husband; when the voice of Dana Andrews narrates the exquisite opening images of the old decayed plantation; and when the Charley Grapewin hero prays to the Lord to save him — not to mention the old couple’s poignant progress to the poor house, which is as moving as anything Ford ever did — these happen to be so overwhelmingly emotional that they reveal, in the twinkling of an eye, the great issue of life. That issue is love in relation to suffering, and in the case of Tobacco Road, self-inflicted suffering.
I don’t have to convince you. If you’ll just shut your eyes and ears during the slapstick (and there’s a lot), the rest will stay with you forever.

These are just PZ’s faves for the end of 2010. Everyone has their own.
There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This is just one.
But I’ll stand right here behind it, and hope you will enjoy. Each of these movies is available from Netflix and also available to be ordered.

Long Live The House of Dracula, situated, as it is, on Tobacco Road, populated by Pollyanna (Whittier), and Where You Can Succeed Without Really Trying. And when our War’s all over, Dan Curtis will help us to Remember it.