Wow! Only five films on a desert island. Some years ago when I attempted to do a similar list of Desert Island Disc, only with ten films, it was difficult enough. There were always more movies I wanted to take with me than would fit on the list. So what does this blogathon do? Cuts it down to five! An impossible task! I know I wanted a Woody Allen film on the list, but which one? Then what about film noir? A western? The Marx Brothers? Billy Wilder? Hitchcock? Scorsese? Chaplin? Ford? Wyler? Keaton? The list goes on and there is really no solution. It’s impossible!
That top ten list never was never finalized. I kept changing the films attempting to fit in others left off. It happened over and over again. When I started to make this list it happened again. I thought about it, wrote down titles that I would definitely want to include and then find myself changing them again and again and again!
On this occassion though I did set a few rules. Only one film per director. Therefore, the all Woody list was out! One film per genre and no more than one film per decade. The rules helped but in truth not that much. In some cases the rules created frustration. I mean, how do you choose between The Apartment, Some Like it Hot or Double Indemnity for a Billy Wilder film? So what did I do? I did what I do best, I procrastinated!
I did think about it once in a while since the blogathon was originally announced and would come up with a few films, and then put those thoughts aside, deciding to watch a movie instead. Now with only a couple of days before the blogathon, I ran out of procrastination time.
The films I finally came up with are favorites. Billy Wilder sadly did not make the cut. While these five films are favorites, all are not necessarily favorites in the same way. One in particular is a favorite in a sentimental way. This one particular film is not even my real favorite of the director, but there is something in the film that resonated in other ways, meaning if I were stuck on an island I would want the memories with me that this film brings along. Others are just pure favorites, they have that magical repeat watching factor that make them never seem boring. If you’re stuck on a desert island you do not want a film you are going to get bored with!
That all said, here are the five films I chose…for now.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Bogart has been one of my favorite actors ever since I first became a film lover. In the beginning, he was always on the wrong side of the law like in Angels with Dirty Faces and The Roaring Twenties. Later he switched sides and went to the right side of the law. However, he never lost that cynical anti-hero touch of a man who always went his own way. He lived by his own code which was somewhere in the middle. While Bogart’s Sam Spade did not physically look like Chandler’s version, for me, Bogart is Sam Spade.
Spade is partners with Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) in the detective agency of Spade and Archer. When a new client, the beautiful Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) comes in asking for their help. Cowan, a man who thinks with the hormones inside his pants zealously volunteers to take the assignment. The payoff for his enthusiasm is he gets himself bumped off.
Spade dedicates himself to finding out who killed his partner, after all, “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”
There is much more to the story that investigating his partner’s death. There’s lies, deceit, sex and betrayal. There is also a supporting cast of Greenstreet, Lorre and Cook who would become seminal supporting players in noirs to come. The Maltese Falcon contains all the good things one expects in a classy crime film.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
Not Woody Allen’s greatest film or even my top favorite. That would be Annie Hall. However, Manhattan Murder Mystery is that film I mentioned earlier that “resonates in other ways, meaning if I were stuck on an island I would want the memories with me that this film brings along…” How? In a couple of ways. It reunited Woody and Keaton, the best male/female teaming since Tracy and Hepburn. There is also The Thin Man connection, that’s evident. Woody and Diane are a neurotic 1990’s version of Nick and Nora Charles. Additionally, and here’s the personal part, years back I lived in the same neighborhood where Woody and Diane’s characters apartment is located. Watching the movie was like being back in the old neighborhood. I was home. Whenever I feel homesick for New York City, I watch Manhattan Murder Mystery first, then with Annie Hall, Manhattan and Broadway Danny Rose. Add in Hannah and Her Sisters and I could do an all Woody 5 Films on an Island List.
Rear Window (1954)
This is my favorite Hitchcock film, not an easy task in itself to select. It’s also one of my favorite films of all time. A permanent top-fiver on every list I ever made. It never gets bumped. Maybe not so surprisingly I have written about Rear Window twice before. Rear Window gets to the roots of movie watching, and still photography, for that matter. For anyone who is an avid filmgoer, it is no great revelation that watching movies is an extension of voyeurism; after all, what are we doing but looking into the lives of others. Observing, in a socially acceptable way, as opposed to peeping into the windows of neighbors or strangers. We are all, to an extent, curious to know what other people are doing, it’s human nature. However, most people can keep these voyeuristic tendencies limited to the socially accepted variety. Alfred Hitchcock was well aware of this trait in humans and he suckers us into compliance right from the beginning with the casting of James Stewart. Who better than Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Straight Lace to lure you into peeping in on your neighbors and making you think there is nothing weird about it. You may not like hearing it but yes, if you like watching movies you are a voyeur! Rear Window is also smart, funny, tense, meticulous and intriguing.
The Gold Rush (1925)
Absolutely for me my favorite Chaplin film. Like Hitchcock it was not an easy choice to select a favorite. On another day, I could easily have selected City Lights, Monsieur Verdoux, Modern Times or even a short like The Immigrant. But for pure laughs, I just love this film. It’s filled with iconic images like the “dance of the dinner rolls,” the boiling and eating one of his boots for dinner, and waking up one morning after a fierce snowstorm to find the cabin teetering on the edge of a cliff. These images are at times poignant, sweet and always laugh out loud funny. They are embedded in our cinematic file cabinet as deeply as Bogart and Bergman’s final goodbye in Casablanca or Rocky Balboa running up the steps as the soundtrack plays “Gonna Fly Now” in Rocky.
The Godfather Epic (1977)
Okay, I may be cheating here a bit. But only a bit. The Godfather Epic as you may know is a re-edited version of the first two Godfather films. Originally made for NBC television in 1977 and called The Godfather: A Novel for Television. It’s also known as The Godfather Saga. Francis Coppola made a series of reedited versions so it can get confusing.
Individually, the first two Godfather films are dark brilliant works of cinematic art filled with three dimensional characters and story telling. Today, they are practically considered one film. On the surface, it’s a gangster film like so many others. However, there are layers that go much deeper. It’s a story about family, immigrants, organization, power, greed, ceremony and respect. Francis Ford Coppola took what was basically a commercial pulp novel and found new levels of complexity unrealized in the original work.
When he agreed to make the second film, Coppola just didn’t take Paramount’s money and dish out a piece of second rate movie making. It’s breathtaking in its scope with its dual storyline and in depth characters. I found the Ellis Island scenes fascinating. My grandparents came through Ellis Island and I always imagine them going thru a similar process as young Vito Corelone. And I know people whose last name was changed because the Ellis Island ‘reception committee’ could not understand these “foreigners.” There were Italian immigrants who, believe it or not, ended up with German sounding last names or something else as strange considering their background.
Watching the two films in chronological order is just as fascinating. A family history unfolds and to some extent, America’s. If you have not seen The Godfather films, first you should be ashamed of yourself, next you should watch the two original films first before taking the time to watch this version.
Monday, May 16th is National Classic Movie Day, a day to celebrate and appreciate classic films. I am a little early with my contribution but so be it. Rick, of the Classic Film and TV Café, is hosting the second Blogathon for this special day. It called the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon. You will be to check out all of the fantastic contibutots to this event on Monday at the link I will post below on that date.