Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What I Watched This October, Part 2: Stephen King's Eight Favorite Movies

In mid-September, Stephen King wrote a short article for the British Film Institute in which he named (and briefly wrote about) his eight favorite favourite films.
There was some cool stuff in there, and of the eight I'd only seen three.  Not a terrific batting average, so I decided that as part of my Halloween-season viewing, I'd try to get caught up.
King listed them in no order, although he did specify which of the eight would comprise his top two.  We will save those for last, and talk about the rest in alphabetical order, beginning with:
This is one of the three films on King's list that I had previously seen.  I didn't get much out of it.  I certainly wouldn't say I thought it was a bad movie; I just thought it was kind of unmemorable.  But, then, I saw it under non-optimal conditions: a tiny television, in a house where an exceptionally disruptive child was in full-disrupt mode.  I was hanging out moreso than watching a movie.  Don't get me wrong; that's fine.  I like hanging out.  I also like watching movies.  The two don't always mix, and I suspected even at the time that mixing them was doing The Changeling no favors.

I'm sure it wasn't, but having watched the movie a second time free of such issues, I find that the movie still doesn't entirely work for me.  It's got some good moments, and is by no means a bad movie, but it doesn't get under my skin the way I wish it would.

The story is about a music composer whose wife and daughter die in a horrific car accident.  Months later, he's trying to get his life back together, and accepts a position teaching at a college.  He moves into a house recommended to him by a historical society, and soon discovers that it is haunted as fuck.  He isn't scared by this, though; he is intrigued by it, and soon figures out that whatever spirit resides there needs his help.  So he becomes a sort of investigator-for-hire working on behalf of the spirit, which leads him to a senator's sordid family history.  (King in Danse Macabre calls the movie "an odd combination of ghosts and Watergate.")

It's an odd mixture of moods, none of which are done much service by fairly routine direction and other technical aspects.  None of it is bad; it's just a bit uninspired, for my money.  I think this is aspiring to be the classy version of something like The Amityville Horror, which is an honorable enough ambition.

So why do I feel The Amityville Horror is by far the scarier and more compelling of the two films?

It need not be a competition, of course, between those two films or between either of them separately with any other film.  The task set to me is to judge The Changeling on its own terms.  And I find it to be merely okay.

But that's just me!

King, in Danse Macabre, on "the most frightening sequence" in the film: "The heroine (Trish Van Devere) has rushed off to the haunted house her new friend (George C. Scott) has rented, thinking he may need help.  Scott is not there at all, but a series of small, stealthy sounds leads her to believe that he is.  The audience watches, mesmerized, as Trish climbs to the second floor, the third floor; and finally she negotiates the narrow, cobwebby steps leading to the attic room where a young boy has been murdered in particularly nasty fashion some eighty years before.  When she reaches the room, the dead boy's wheelchair suddenly whirls around and pursues her, chasing her screaming down all three flights of stairs, racing along after as she runs down the hall, to finally overturn near the front door.  The audience screams as the empty wheelchair chases the lady, but the real scare has already happened; it comes as the camera dwells on those long shadowy staircases, as we try to imagine walking up those stairs toward some as-yet-unseen horror waiting to happen."
Steven Spielberg is my favorite director, so I'm delighted for my favorite author to have one of his films on his best-ever list.  Personally, I doubt Duel would even crack my top eight among Spielberg's films, but don't let that make you feel as if I don't love it.  I love it plenty.

I can't recall precisely when I encountered this movie for the first time.  I think it might have been on TBS or some other cable channel, but I equally think it might have been on a family vacation to Gulf Shores, either on cable or as part of the VHS-rental binges we often conducted.  That latter option is 100%-certainly how I saw Jaws for the first time, so Duel might well have been part of that.

But I think was at home, late one night on cable, and I say that because I feel a certain way about the film: I feel as if it is mine.  I feel as if I discovered it; I feel as if I was, for a certain amount of time, the only person in the world who knew about it.  Not literally, of course.  I wasn't dumb enough to think that.  It's just how it felt.

That feeling still comes to mind as a sort of reflex, and I like that about it.

But enough about me and my weird feelings.  Let's talk briefly about Duel, which is a great Steven Spielberg movie, but is also a great Richard Matheson movie.  He wrote the screenplay based on his own short story, and it's an economical wonder.  You can watch a movie like this and feel -- especially if you've been bought into auteur theory -- it's purely a director's showcase.  However, somebody wrote those scenarios, and that somebody was Richard Matheson.  No slough, he.

Duel is also a great Frank Morriss movie.  Morriss was the editor, and without him, this movie is nothing.  Morriss would late be nominated for two Oscars (Romancing the Stone and Blue Thunder), and is still working to this day.

It's also quite a showcase for cinematographer Jack A. Marta, who'd been shooting film for over forty years by the time this assignment came down the pike.  It earned him an Emmy nomination; he lost, but won in a separate category the same year.

Lest you think I'm interested in minimizing Spielberg's contributions, however, let me assure you that is not the case.  This is astonishingly good work from a director who was a mere 25 at the time.  He'd been working in series television for the past few years, and it had clearly proved to be productive time for him.  Looking at the film now, you see the work of somebody who, quite simply, had a near-perfect command of the language of cinema.  All of the blockbusters that followed over the course of the next decade or so seem inevitable based on Duel; you watch it and wonder how the guy could possibly have failed.

The story, for those of you who don't know, involves a businessman who is driving through California on his way to a crucial client meeting.  He gets tried of being stuck behind a laggardly tanker truck, so he passes it.  The trucker doesn't take too kindly to the suggestion that he's going too slow, and begins violently harassing the poor businessman.  Some of what follows seems unlikely, but back in those days (if not still today), there probably were still sections of the country that were essentially a wasteland with a two-lane road running through them.

But dwelling on issues like that is not what this movie is all about.  This movie, quite simply, is an extended nightmare, an existential crisis in vehicular form.  What is this world we're living in?, the movie seems to ask.  How can any of this be possible?

Well, fact is, the worst is always waiting around the corner, at least potentially.  One day, we find it.  That's just how it is.

King on Duel, from Danse Macabre:  "In this film, a psychotic trucker in a big ten-wheeler pursues Dennis Weaver over what seems to be at least a million miles of California highways.  We never actually see the trucker (although we do see a beefy arm cocked out of the cab window once, and at another point we see a pair of pointy-toed cowboy boots on the far side of the truck), and ultimately it is the truck itself, with its huge wheels, its dirty windshield like an idiot's stare, and its somehow hungry bumpers, which becomes the monster."
I never saw this, but I remember seeing commercials for it and being creeped out by them.  It's not exactly the easiest movie to find nowadays, but I scored a relatively cheap copy of the DVD off of eBay.
The movie is light on logic, to say the least.  It's about as realistic and believable as your average Harry Potter movie, but that's okay.  Like Duel, this functions more or less as an extended nightmare, and for all its illogic, there is something fundamentally truthful about the film.
The story is about a young man who is on a cross-country trip delivering a car to somebody.  He's so sleepy he can barely keep his eyes open, so he decides to pick up a hitch-hiker to help him stay awake.  It works.

The movie is very well-made, although I'd argue that C. Thomas Howell is a bit oatmeal in the lead role.  That's counteracted by Rutger Hauer playing the titular villain.  Apart from Hauer, other King-movie figures such as Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jeffrey DeMunn show up (as well as The Mist composer Mark Isham, who contributes a very good synth score), so that's fun.
If you've never seen it, I'd say this is well worth a watch.  I certainly enjoyed it.
That lady is demonstrably NOT Peggy Cummins.  Weird.
I've been hearing the name Jacques Tourneur for years without ever having seen one of his films.  Well, now I've seen Night of the Demon.

I didn't love it, per se, but to be honest, I dozed through a bit of it.  I had to get up early today, and by "early" I mean noon-thirty.  Hey, YOU stay up most nights until six or seven, noon'll be early to you, too.  Anyways, I don't think I missed anything major.

I definitely enjoyed the movie, which has great dialogue, above-average performances, a moody musical score, and ... below-average creature effects.  Let's just say they don't work especially well and leave it at that.

The movie is based on an M.R. James short story titled "Casting the Runes," and I assume the story is similar to the movie in that part of the plot involves passing a scrap of paper with runes written upon it to another person.  If the person takes the runes from you -- knowingly or otherwise -- then the curse passes to them.

So all of a sudden, that bit in "Science Fiction / Double Feature" where the narrator sings "Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, and passing them used lots of skill" made sense.  Well, sort of; close enough for me to get that it's a pun which only works if you know Night of the Demon.

By the way, you will commonly find this movie referred to as Curse of the Demon.  Here's the deal with that.  The original British release was titled Night of the Demon and runs 95 minutes, whereas the American release was cut down to 82 minutes and was retitled Curse of the Demon.  There's probably information somewhere that clarifies why these changes were undertaken, but I've got done that research.

So we're all on the same page, I watched Night of the Demon.  The DVD I bought contains both versions, but King specified Night, not Curse, so that was the one I watched.  It's the one I'd have watched anyways, though; I don't need no stinkin' whittled-down American edit when an unmolested British cut is available to me.
This movie came out in 1986 (the same year as The Hitcher), but I was never aware of it until at least the late nineties.
Terry O'Quinn became kind of a big deal via Lost in the early-to-mid '00s, and at that time, I was excited to see it happen.  I'd loved him in Millennium.  But apparently a great many people thought of him then primarily as The Stepfather, and it kind of strikes me now as a little strange that I wasn't at least cognizant of those movies.  How does a series of films manage to become notable in that way without me knowing them (if not my experience then at least by reputation)?
It's a puzzler.
In any case, King is evidently quite taken with the first film.  Having seen it now, I can't honestly say that I am.  It's not bad, though; a little silly at times, but also occasionally quite involving.  Terry O'Quinn is fantastic; he's playing a true psycho, but I can get pretty close to believing that in the pre-internet era, a guy might could actually get away with what he does a time or two.  Shit, it might still be possible.  That's genuinely unsettling, and the fact that O'Quinn is so very likeable at times makes it all the more so.  Then, in the moments when his mask slips, he's flat-out terrifying.
The film also benefits from a sympathetic performance by Jill Schoelen as Stephanie, the stepdaughter.  She becomes suspicious about her new "father," and much of the movie hinges on her work.  She acquits herself pretty well.  She's got a nude shower scene toward the end, which is pretty icky considering her character is 16.  Schoelen herself was older, but still, that's iffy at best.  However, the film is an equal-opportunity thing in terms of its nudity: if you ever wanted to see Terry O'Quinn's ass and/or cock, well, I got a movie recommendation for ya, pal. 
There are two sequels to this, neither well-regarded.  Both sound insane.  Neither are getting viewed in this dojo anytime soon.
I'm glad I saw The Stepfather, though.  It's not bad.  And if you know any women who despised their stepfathers, I think you might want to consider recommending this one to them.  They might get a kick out of it.
Oh, by the way: the movie was written by Donald E. Westlake, who is one of Stephen King's favorite writers.
Like The Changeling, I'd seen Village of the Damned; like that film, I saw this one under less-than-good movie-watching circumstances.  In fact, I saw them under the same circumstances.
Village of the Damned made a slightly better impression upon me, though.  And this time, on the rewatch, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It's a non-nonsense 77-minute sci-fi flick in which you can absolutely see the roots of King tales like Under the Dome and The Tommyknockers, and even The Stand to some extent.  Sleeping Beauties, too, maybe.

The story takes place in Midwich village in England, where one day everyone falls asleep at the same time.  They are out like lights for several hours, and when they wake up they are essentially none the worse for the wear.  A few weeks later, it is discovered that every woman in the village capable of bearing children has become pregnant.  Even the ones for whom it should be impossible thanks to not taking part in the sort of activities that get one pregnant are, indeed, quite pregnant.  They give birth on the same day: all to children who grow over the next few years into blonde-haired children of unimaginable intellect who can also seemingly control others with their minds.

The movie was based on a novel -- The Midwich Cuckoos -- by John Wyndham.  Wyndham also wrote The Day of the Triffids, itself an influence upon Stephen King.  I've really got to check out some of this guy's books one of these days.

The movie was directed by Wolf Rilla, who never topped it and is notable mainly for this one film.  But hey, that's better than most directors manage; you make a movie people are still talking about 57 years later, you did alright.

The star is George Sanders, who is excellent in role of an older man who, having married late in life never expecting to have a child, is rather thrilled by the prospect.  As such, he maintains a level of enthusiasm for "his" child that is, shall we say, not met by the other "fathers" of Midwich.  This will turn out to be quite important to the story.

I'm also kind of a fan of the 1995 American remake, which was directed by John Carpenter.  It's honestly not that good a movie; in fact, if you told me it's Carpenter's worst, I'd not argue with you much.  And yet, I enjoy it.  Make of that what you will.
King's second-favorite film of all time, at least circa September 2017, is Les Diaboliques, from French master Henri-Georges Clouzot.  It's based on a novel (Celle qui n'était plus, or She Who Was No More) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, the rights to which Clouzot managed to obtain before Alfred Hitchcock -- who was very keen to get them -- did.  (Hitchcock would later get the rights to a different Boileau-Narcejac novel, D'entre les morts [or Among the Dead], which is better known under the title Hitchcock gave it: Vertigo.  So let's not feel too bad for Hitch.)
I'd never seen this, though I had seen the dreadul remake that starred Sharon Stone, Isabel Adjani, Chazz Palminteri, and Kathy Bates.  Not a bad cast, but somebody foolishly assigned Jeremiah Chechick to direct; he's best known for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, so ... yeah.

Anyways, Les Diaboliques is a hell of a movie, so if you like movies like this but have not seen THIS movie, you are urged to do so.  Am I going to tell you a damn thing about it?  I am not.

I'll tell you these things, though:

  • You occasionally see the title given as Diabolique.  Hell, my Blu-ray copy gives it as that title.  King in his article says Les Diaboliques, and so does the title on the film.  So that's the title, god damn it!  Not fucking Diabolique!  That's an adjective; Les Diaboliques is a noun (translated in the subtitles as The Devils).  Big difference, and one that ought to be honored by any halfway decent translator.
  • The cast is superb.  The lead is Véra Clouzot, the wife of the director.  She's great.  She died at age 46 of a heart attack.  Funny life, ain't it?
  • Madame Clouzot spends much of the last section of the film in a very sheer nightgown.  Let's say only that this leaves little to the imagination in terms of certain parts of the anatomy.  I would not normally bring up such a factoid, but it is quite shocking to see nudity of this nature in a film from the fifties.  Maybe not in non-Hollywood films, for all I know, but since that's my most common frame of reference, I kind of couldn't believe what I was seeing.
  • It makes sense that King is a big fan of this movie.  You can hear echoes of it in works such as "1922" and "A Good Marriage," and maybe others I'm not immediately thinking of.
  • The movie ends in an on-screen bit of text asking people who have seen the movie not to say anything about what they've just seen.  I'm honoring that.  There's a pre-echo here of the marketing campaign for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, which makes me think that ol' Hitch must've liked what he saw from this movie, and thought, hey I could do that, too.  And indeed he could.
  • Clouzot's previous film to this had been a huge hit called Le salaire de la peur, which is known to Americans as The Wages of Fear.  It would be remade in 1977 by William Friedkin as Sorcerer, which both was and was not a more successful remake than the American Diabolique.

Speaking of which...
King's all-time favorite movie is William Friedkin's Sorcerer, which has been considered a failure for much of its existence.  It's a remake of The Wages of Fear (by Henri-George Clouzeau), and its reputation has begun improving in recent years, to the point where many people consider it to be as much a masterpiece as the two acknowledged Friedkin masterpieces, The French Connection and The Exorcist.  Few people get one; fewer people get two.  If you get three, your name probably deserves to be canonized among the artists in your medium, so it may be that the time has come for Friedkin's to be up there among the greats.
I'd never seen this movie.  I have been wanting to ever since a great piece about it appeared at Dog Star Omnibus.  King's article put me over the edge.
And having now seen it, there's no doubt about it: this is a hell of a film.  Sorcerer -- or, as I am currently thinking of it, Life Is Insane Horseshit: The Movie -- is one that I'd deeply love to hear more expansive remarks from King about. 
I won't go into my own potentially expansive thoughts very far, but a few things merit mentioning:
  • I think the ideal way for anyone to see this movie for the first time is to know as little about it as possible.  All I knew was what I learned from Dog Star Omnibus, and my memory is so shit that I'd forgotten most of that.  So in essence, I had no clue what was going to happen during this movie, and that ended up being just fine with me.
  • I don't know for sure, but the bridge-crossing sequence(s) may be among the top ten scenes ever filmed.  Seems deeply irresponsible to have done it if it's as close to real as it looked; but -- I assume -- since everyone survived, it's hard to fling huzzahs at 'em for doing it.
  • Some of the story confused me.  The assassin guy, for example.  What was up with that dude?
  • Tangerine Dream provided an excellent score.  You could almost argue that this movie was the moment when the eighties began, based purely on that score.  Or maybe something else had previously earned that distinction, I dunno.  Not that it matters.  All that matters is that this rules.
  • The movie came out a week after Star Wars, thus ensuring its doom.  But how it wasn't a critical and awards darling is a pure-D mystery to this blogger.
  • The ending is perfect.  PERFECT.
  • Is Roy Scheider the most underrated movie star in Hollywood's history?  If not, he's on the shortlist.
  • I will never go to a jungle.  Fuck That Shit: The Movie.  I assume enormous spiders were lurking on the outskirts of every scene, except maybe -- MAYBE -- the ones on the river.  But even if they weren't, this place looks horrible.  Sorcerer is not a horror movie, but it's so frequently dread-inducing that it may as well be.

I don't know what else to say.  It's a masterpiece and you should see it.

Here's what King had to say about it way back in Danse Macabre: "I must admit here that I not only liked John Frankenheimer's Prophecy, I actually saw it three times.  The only bad movie to equal this score in my personal pantheon is the William Friedkin movie Sorcerer.  I liked that one because there were a lot of close-ups in it of sweaty people working hard and laboring machines; truck engines and huge wheels spinning in soupy mud and frayed fanbelts on the giant screen.  Great stuff.  I thought Sorcerer was marvelous fun."

But also, evidently, a bad movie.

I can't endorse that, but the "marvelous fun" bit?  I'll endorse the fuck out of that.


And with that, I bring part two of this record of materialistic joy to an end.  Part three -- and perhaps even a part four -- shall follow in a day or two.

Oh, by the way, while we're here, how about indulging a list of my eight favorite movies?  I'm not sure they actually are; I don't maintain a formal list.  But these are the best eight movies that spring immediately to mind, so they'll do.  I list them in no order except alphabetical:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey 
  • American Graffiti
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Fantasia
  • The Searchers
  • Schindler's List
  • Vertigo
  • The Wizard Of Oz

Oh, so many which I omitted.  So, so many.  But if I gotta pick eight, then early in the morning on Halloween 2017, those are the eight I go with.


  1. Ha, I did the same thing when I saw this list. I thought the Changeling was ok, I like atmospheric horror but this didn't do it for me. I also hate horror movies that people have to be detectives and go use the microfiche to find out why they are haunting. Fart noise to that.
    Night of Demon I had to turn off, because it annoyed me that nothing was happening and the score sorta irked me.
    The Sorcerer was very good. I love how that truck from the crossing scene and poster looks a a devil face it even has the smoke stack devil horns! Yea Roy is the best.
    I love the Hitcher, love that they stuck with that ending.
    I haven't seen Les Diaboliques yet. The other 2 are classics.
    Speaking of which, I just got the new Matheson Best of audioboook.
    Steve typically likes terrible movies so I thought this list was pretty

    1. Yeah, Uncle Steve's movie recommendations always get a quint from me. But he went a long way toward redeeming himself with this list; not a movie on it I didn't like, and a few I loved.

  2. Solid list of favorites! Yours, not King's. Well, King's, too.

    I like The Changeling quite a bit, but it's been a few years. Plus, I was scared of that one as a kid, so I have that personal relationship with it.

    Duel - what can you say? Just perfect. Nice breakdown.

    Never actually saw The Hitcher, or Night of the Demon. I think I've seen The Stepfather but not in forever.

    Sorcerer rocks. Well, you know what I think of that one already!

    I saw Les Diaboliques but not in so long, I really need to. I think I might have inherited that as part of my Dead Man's DVDs collection, I'll have to check.

    Village of the Damned - I did catch that one once when I was making a sweep through the classics. I don't recall much about it, though. I should line it up for a From Novel to Film. Triffids, too. (Target completion date: 2085. Not for lack of interest!)

    Maybe King was retconning his Danse Macabre opinion with his 2017 one. Can't blame him - I change my mind on movies all the time or upon further reflection. And a film like Sorcerer, if I was in print saying it was a bad movie, I'd want to correct the record as definitely as possible.

    1. I was scared of The Changeling as a kid too! Enough so that just hearing the name conjures up a bit of that childhood dread! I've seen bits and pieces in the intervening years, but have never sat down to watch the entire thing again. Part of me wants to, just to be reminded of what I was so afraid of... but another part of me knows that rewatching it will destroy the mystique that has been built up in my head, and I'm not sure I want to let go of that...

    2. McMolo, I hear ya regarding the 2085 completion date. Boy, do I.

      You ever seen the Carpenter remake of "Village of the Damned"? I could probably get an answer to that by checking the comments on a different post, but I'm lazy.

    3. Joseph, I hear YOU regarding the not-wanting-to-let-go-of-the-mystique thing. I've personally never found that things that scared me as a kid let go of me, though; not completely. In fact, it's typically been the opposite for me; in moments, a movie like "Poltergeist" time-warps me right back to being a kid for a nanosecond.

    4. I have seen Carpenter's, yeah, only within the last 5 years or so. Only once, though. Dawn made me watch it because she couldn't believe I hadn't seen it. I enjoyed it, from what I remember.

  3. I love what you said about discovering Duel on cable television and feeling like you had come across something unique that no one else knew about! I have very similar memories of first seeing Duel the same way: stumbling across it while flipping through the channels as a kid and not being able (or wanting) to change the channel. Just being sucked in and enthralled immediately.

    I think that's one of the hallmarks of Spielberg, and one of the things that makes him such a great director: his movies draw you in, hold onto you, and don't let you turn away until the credits roll. The ability to outright captivate an audience is a criminally underappreciated skill-- especially because people like Spielberg and King do it so well that they make it look easy, when it's actually not easy at all.

    I also mourn for this generation of kids who will never have the pleasure of stumbling across movies this way. On-demand viewing is great in a lot of ways, but there is something to be said for flipping through the channels and coming across something that catches (and keeps) your attention-- especially when those are movies that you might never actively pick out and watch if you had other options to choose from. I wonder how many things that I love I might have missed out on if not for randomly stumbling across them out of sheer chance. (This goes for movies, TV shows, music, and even books that I found while browsing for nothing in particular.) I think the on-demand generation is missing out on something that, in my own life and experience, expanded my horizons of interest in interesting, unexpected, invaluable ways.

    1. You make a good point about Spielberg's (and King's) ability to draw an audience in. It's a rare talent.

      It's undoubtedly true that channel-surfing was a fun part of the era in which we grew up. But kids of today will feel precisely the same way about some other form of entertainment-finding; they'll have different experiences, but the same feelings. They will absolutely have conversations just like this one later in their lives.

  4. Any Internet site I find that extols the virtues of Duel will get a positive comment from me. My wife hated it, but this is one of the few times where I think she's dead wrong and not at all sophisticated about horror. That movie fucking rocks. And to think it didn't even get a theatrical release in the U.S.! Makes me wonder what other really good made-for-TV and straight-to-DVD releases are out there languishing. I'm sure they exist; Slumdog Millionaire only narrowly escaped that fate, and that's an Oscar winner for Best Picture (maybe not a masterpiece, but it's certainly a quality film, in my opinion; it was directed by Danny Boyle, for goodness' sake). And it's all the unknowns that make it great. Who is the driver? Did Dennis Weaver run over his dog? What's the deal with the wife's storyline that goes nowhere? Is she involved somehow?

    I second Roy Scheider, although I only know him from Jaws and The French Connection.

    I really need to watch The Changeling. My best friend in high school had a major boner for that movie, and it never really did it for me. Lady in White, though, was another story.

    I'd love for you to elaborate on your favorite movies list. Seems like 2001 is a title that almost every actor puts on their Favorites list on Rotten Tomatoes. I tried watching it a few months ago, knowing it was going to be very different, with almost no dialogue. I got less than an hour in before I felt myself starting to drift, then I never got back to it. Also, The Searchers... I can appreciate it as a major influence, and the artistry of it, and as proof that John Wayne wasn't actually a one-trick pony, and even read a book about its making, but it leaves me cold as a viewer. I feel like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a much better story that achieves all of those things. Fantasia: haven't even tried to watch it since I was a kid, but it was boring as hell back then. Elaborate, if you don't mind.

    1. Regarding the subplot in "Duel" that deals with Mann's wife...

      This is the backbone of the movie. Mann has somehow failed to adequately protect his wife at a party the night before, and has seemingly caught a bit of hell from it. In other words, his manhood has been impugned. So along comes a truly manly man -- drives an enormous truck, wears cowboy boots, allows nobody to run roughshod over him -- who literally tries to take Mann's life. It's not hard to imagine that the guy at the part who "practically raped" Mann's wife was a macho type in some way, too.

      So in other words, this whole movie is a little bit like one of the comic-book ads where the 90-pound weakling is getting sand kicked in his face, and then has to figure out a way to become a real man.

      In other thoughts:

      * I didn't like "Slumdog Millionaire" much at all. It was okay, but I forgot about it the moment it ended. That's been true of a lot of the Best Picture winners of the past decade or so.

      * Other great Scheider performances include (obviously) "Sorcerer," "2010," and, from what I've been told, "All That Jazz" and "Blue Thunder."

      * "2001" is not something I can elaborate on well briefly, and I don't have the time to go in-depth. So I'll settle for saying it's one of the small handful of movies that perfectly expresses my spiritual side. Plus, from a technical standpoint, movies don't get better. (It's dated in some of those aspects, but still works, I'd argue.)

      * "The Searchers" is about as compelling a depiction of loneliness as any I've ever seen. Ethan goes through years of hard work (including damn near selling his own soul) to keep his family together, but in the end finds he's better off staying outside of it.

      * "Fantasia" is the best animated film ever produced, bar none. It's extraordinarily ambitious, and incredibly beautiful. As with his company's first few feature-length animated films, this is Disney saying, "Hey, we don't have to settle for what we are; we can be more than that. Let's BE more than that!" The movie flopped, so Disney's pitch kind of fell on deaf ears, and there's arguably never been another animated film like it. But the message holds true, and the movie has never really gone away, so maybe someday...

  5. I appreciate the insights. Slumdog worked for me, although I don't think I've seen it a second time. How do you feel about Danny Boyle? I feel that 28 Days Later was an incredibly prescient and disturbing variation on the zombie movie, several years before zombies really came back in a big way. Trainspotting isn't a favorite particularly, but it's definitely unique and energetic and well-done. I also really liked 127 Hours, although the culminating scene is just as bad or worse than the degloving in Gerald's Game, and takes significantly longer. Blech.

    Interesting comparison, and a good one, with those old comic book ads. I'm still glad you never see the driver's face.

    2001 is one of the most-discussed movies ever, with analysis continuing to be written to this day, so I'm not surprised you don't have much to add without going deep. I'd never fault a movie for being dated technically. I'll probably give it another try. I do love A Clockwork Orange, I feel compelled to say so my credibility on Kubrick isn't completely shot.

    I'm certain I'd have a more mature take on Fantasia if I watched it now. And now I've got a desire to re-watch The Searchers. Anyway, thanks again for humoring me.

    1. Certainly!

      I'll eventually write a long series of posts about Kubrick's entire filmography for this blog. You can't understand "The Shining" without being relatively well-versed in Kubrick's films, so it's in-bounds.

      I am not a huge Danny Boyle fan, but I've got nothing against him. "Trainspotting" is one of my favorite movies, and I love "28 Days Later," but beyond that, I'm a bit indifferent to his work.

      I'm glad, too, that you never see the driver's face in "Duel." That would be a different movie altogether. That would be "The Hitcher," one might even argue. And "The Hitcher," while good, is no "Duel."

  6. I'll preface this by acknowledging that this is pretty much the definition of reaching, but you sparked a question that I'm honestly surprised never occurred to me.

    (Of course, it's possible that the answer is "Yes," and I just never encountered the source of that answer. In that case, file this under "Everyone already knew this, and Will is late to the party.")

    King is an acknowledged fan of DUEL, which was produced in 1971 and based on a Matheson story published in the same year. King's story "Trucks" was published in 1973.

    Is it possible that King read "Duel" and/or saw the movie, noticed that you never really see the driver, and asked, "What if it was actually the *truck* all along?!" Did he then sit down at his typewriter, take that "What if?" to 11, and roll with it?

    Nah, probably not. But it's still an interesting thing to wonder, I think, when the most F of King's AQs is undoubtedly, "Where do you get your ideas?" Ideas can come from anywhere, and it's cool to think that a legend planted a seed that the then-journeyman cultivated.

    1. Oh, I don't think that's reaching at all. In fact, I had the same idea while watching the movie, and considered writing it into this post, but decided to avoid it so as not to get bogged down.

      My only hesitation in doing so was in being unclear as to whether King would have seen the movie prior to writing "Trucks." He MIGHT have seen it on its initial broadcast, but it's equally possible that he didn't see it until years later, on cable or home video or something. If I had to guess, I'd speculate that the short story was not inspired by "Duel" (or at least not by the movie).

      Either way, I'd bet that both "Duel" AND "Sorcerer" informed some of his decisions when he directed "Maximum Overdrive."

  7. Making my way through this list currently. Just watched Duel and really enjoyed it, also saw The Changeling and thought it was fantastic. Next I think I'll check out The Hitcher next