How about something a little different? Well, let’s serve a Movie Burger!
This fun little meme was created by Lindsey over at The Motion Pictures, based on a popular book tag. Do check out Lindsey’s excellent choices. But now for mine! And, just to shake things up, I am going to make this a talkie burger.
Bottom half of bun: The first film in a series that you love
Flash Gordon (1936)
My childhood was filled with cliffhanger serials from the 1930’s and 1940’s and Flash Gordon was always a favorite. I am particularly partial to the middle entry in the series (Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars) but this is the one that started it all.
If you have never met Flash, you are in for a treat. Equal parts goofy, exciting and wildly imaginative, it tells the story of a handsome polo player (yes, really) named Flash, a random airline passenger named Dale and the zany Dr. Zarkov as they try to save Earth from Ming the Merciless of the planet Mongo. The best part, without a doubt, is the character of Princess Aura, Ming’s imposing and independent daughter who also happens to have a thing for polo players.
Olympic swimming champ Buster Crabbe is sensational as the sincere (though slightly dense) Flash. Charles Middleton plays Ming is all his quavering voiced glory. Priscilla Lawson is a middling actress but there is something wonderful about her in the role of Aura. The 1980 remake cannot compare, even if it did boast a soundtrack by Queen.
Burger patty: A long film (2.5+ hours) that you’ve watched and enjoyed
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
I love long movies! I mean, loooooooong movies. I have a special fondness for the mega-epics of the 1960’s and Lawrence is the epic to end all epics. It’s also my all-time favorite sound film.
At three and a half plus hours, Lawrence can seem a bit intimidating. At its center, though, is Peter O’Toole’s stunning performance as the complicated and conflicted Lawrence. The movie also has a tightly centered focus (unlike most biopics, which tend to flit around from year to year) that keeps driving its protagonist toward an impossible moral knot.
What is most appealing, at least to me, is how real it all is. I don’t mean that it is perfect history. I mean that the desert is the desert, the sun shines brightly and the characters walk through honest-to-goodness stone cities and cloth tents. Modern films are taking on a glossy CGI sheen (it reminds me of the studio-bound films of the Golden Age) and they are often big and beautiful but I miss the shimmering heat caressing the sand. In the words of Alec Guinness’s character, Prince Feisal, I long for the vanished gardens of Cordoba.
Cheese: A so-bad-it’s-good film that you love
Iron Eagle (1986)
If there’s one thing I love more than long movies it’s bad movies! What to choose, what to choose?
Classic? Plan 9 from Outer Space
Obscure? Quest for the Mighty Sword
A big budget bomb? Krull
A cheapie? Swamp Diamonds
In the end, I chose Iron Eagle because there are few films that manage to get so many thing hilariously
wrong right. Hoo boy. Where to start with this one?
Premise: An Air Force brat’s dad gets shot down over the Middle East. With no rescue forthcoming, said brat decides to take matters into his own hands. He is aided by his posse of teens, tweens and a scenery chomping Louis Gossett Jr. They manage to steal two fighter jets and fly off on the rescue– with no one in charge noticing. I’m not kidding. These kids get the planes with less effort than it takes the average person to rent a car.
Aided by his Queen mixtape (Queen seems determined to figure into this article) and his mentor, our brat manages to save the day and shoot down… wait for it… David Suchet!
Yes, Hercule Poirot plays the ace pilot baddie! My British TV-loving heart skipped a beat! Plus, I had a marvelous time exclaiming “Mon ami!” and “My little grey cells!” after his already hilarious dialogue.
On a side note, Sidney J. Furie directed Iron Eagle. It’s about as far from his stylish espionage classic, The Ipcress File, as one can get, I think.
Lettuce: A short film (less than an hour long) that you love
Oliver the Eighth (1934)
Another childhood favorite. I was raised on a steady diet of classic Hal Roach and Laurel and Hardy were, without a doubt, the highlight. This little 27-minute gem is one of the most quoted films within my family circle.
The plot involves the boys answering a personal ad from a wealthy widow. The incomparable Mae Busch is seeking out Olivers to murder and poor Mr. Hardy is her latest target. Aided by her equally mad butler (Jack Barty), she invites Oliver to her mansion, planning to cut his throat as he sleeps.
Of course, Stan bumbles into the mix and chaos ensues. It’s all great fun, though darker than most Laurel and Hardy vehicles.
Nice weather we had tomorrow!
Tomato: A film of average length that you either loved or hated, depending on whether you love or hate tomatoes
Mmm! Tomatoes… Not a fan of the pale fast foot rendition but I do love a good-quality (preferably home-grown) tomato.
12 is a film of the very highest quality. It is a reimagining of the classic Twelve Angry Men. The original was a core sample of characters and prejudices in mid-century New York. 12 is a cross-section of modern Russia. The accused is a young Chechen who is on trial for killing his adopted father, a Russian officer. Eleven of the jurors vote for a speedy conviction but one holdout wishes to give the boy a chance.
Director Nikita Mikhalkov has long been a favorite of mine. I was utterly enthralled with the way he took an American classic and infused it with the spirit of Russia. Each juror has a fascinating tale to tell. They are rich, poor, corrupt, honest, humorous, humorless, generous in spirit and closed-minded. The ensemble cast is flawless, the score by Eduard Artemev is haunting (you can hear it in the trailer above) and Mikhalkov’s moody cinematography creates a downtrodden but optimistic atmosphere.
Sauce: A film you didn’t expect to love
State Fair (1945)
It’s a well-known fact that I hate musicals. Can’t stand ’em. The song cues are my cue to get up and make a cup of tea. So when I was at a friend’s house and she put on State Fair… well, I was polite. At least it had Dana Andrews.
Anyway, imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed the thing! The movie has a relatively low song count but I didn’t mind the songs that were included. I liked the characters, I liked the setting, I loved the mincemeat scene…
Did it change my mind about musicals? No. Since then, I have suffered through some titles that shall remain nameless and I have managed to narrowly avoid having Les Miserables inflicted on me. State Fair is an exception to the rule but I love it all the same.
Top half of bun: The last film in a series that you dreaded watching, because you didn’t want the series to end
Is this cheating? The series is question is only a two-parter (three if you count Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo but I don’t. So there.) but it really made an impact. In any case, I don’t watch many series films so this is the best I can do. That is, unless you want me to cover Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. No? Well, all right then.
The first film in this series, Yojimbo, was a cheeky send-up of Japanese adventure films… with a nice tribute to The Glass Key thrown in for good measure. It was remade (without authorization) as a Fistful of Dollars. So I guess you could say that the spaghetti western was invented in Japan.
Yojimbo had a twisted sense of humor, dark as night. Sanjuro is lighter but our titular hero (played by Toshiro Mifune) is more at-odds with himself and his mercenary way of life. In the first film, to put it simply (and to paraphrase Pauline Kael), Sanjuro kills the bodies he is supposed to guard. He does this because they annoy him and because they are nasty people. In the sequel, Sanjuro is helping a gang of brash young samurai stay alive and he is none too eager to have more blood on his hands.
Tatsuya Nakadai plays the villain once more. (He would later play the hero of the tale when the source story was remade under the direction of Kihachi Okamoto.) In fact, many actors from Yojimbo return for Sanjuro, albeit in totally different roles.
This series displays the lighter side of director Akira Kurosawa. Enjoy!
There you have it! My talkie burger.