The Biggest Romantic Movie of All Time That No One Had Faith In

It’s been a while since I made my last post, but don’t worry I haven’t given up on my AFI Challenge which looks set to take longer than I thought. The truth is I’ve been pretty lazy over the last few months being a man of leisure. But I have managed to catch the ultimate classic movie whilst on my way to Kenya on my first African visit.

The best thing about flying (other than the beaming obvious trip to a destination that is guaranteed to be at least five degrees warmer than London) is I get to catch up on movies I haven’t watched yet as there is pretty much nothing else to do. Despite being a big classic movie fan (who would have thought it) the idea of sitting through more than three hours of Charlton Heston’s overacting in ‘Ben Hur’ doesn’t always fill me with the most excitement. With plane TV screens you feel obliged to watch a movie from start to finish to feel like you are making most of your time in the air. I kind of feel like Malcolm McDowell in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ when his eyes were clamped open when watching the small screen on aircrafts, but with less agony.

I managed to catch some new releases that I wouldn’t dream of watching in the cinema like ‘Southpaw’ which although had an extremely cliché and predictable storyline it had a heartfelt performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Kenya Airways had a questionable classic movie category in their inflight entertainment, which included masterpieces like the intellectually simulating ‘The Hangover’, but I think they used the term loosely to describe anything that wasn’t released within last twelve months. They got it right with two movies – ‘Northby Northwest’ (1959, AFI 1998 #40, 2007 #55) and ‘Casablanca’ (1942, AFI: 1998 #2, 2007 #3) – I’ve seen these bonafide classic movies before, but as I’ve already reviewed the Hitchcock masterpiece I thought I’d re-familiarise regularly with the most famous romantic movie of all time.

7oth Anniversary trailer for ‘Casablanca’

It’s hard to believe that the most iconic on screen romance all time was considered a side project for movie executives at Warner Bros – despite the flick having two of the biggest stars at the time Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman insiders thought it wouldn’t be a hit – there were even rumours that the script was incomplete when filming and so at times the actors had to improvise – with the huge budgets Hollywood films have nowadays this would simply be unheard of.  So why did this film with a relatively straight forward storyline, which was filmed mostly in a bar and one that people that little expectations of become the greatest love story of all time?

casablanca_colorized

Bogart must choose between his former lover and helping her husband

The movie which was directed by Michael Curtiz tells the story of American expatriate (Rick Blaine played by Bogart) who runs a successful casino and nightclub in Casablanca during World War Two. His world turns upside down when his former lover Ilsa Lund (Bergman) comes back into his life after abandoning him without explanation, but this time she is with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) who is a notorious Czech-resistance leader on the run from the Nazis. Blaine must decide whether to help this man escape or to be with the woman he loves.

For me it’s pretty hard to pinpoint what made this black and white classic such a timeless piece that people of all ages flock to see when played at the outdoor cinema at Somerset House every summer over other romantic masterpieces such as ‘It Happened in One Night’ (1934, AFI 1998 #35, 2007 #46)? Bogart’s cool portrayal of selfless Rick Blaine is so memorable and the character is so likable that the AFI voted him as the fourth greatest hero on the big screen – which definitely separates this movie from other romances over the years. The movie is far from cheesy or soppy and although I’m not a huge fan of Bergman (who looks like she is about to burst into tears in every scene) you can’t deny the chemistry between the who main leads. This along with the beautiful theme song ‘As time goes by’ and the famous, sharp and witty one liners (“Here’s looking a you kid”, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, “We will always have Paris” (is this were the silly American romantic obsession with Paris began?),  “Of all the Gin Joints..”) makes ‘Casablanca’ pretty much a perfect movie – the blueprint for all romances that followed over the last 70 years.

The most famous lines from ‘Casablanca’

The movie which is a concise 108 minutes makes this classic pretty easy viewing compared to ‘Gone with The Wind” (1939, AFI 1998 #4, 2007 #6) or ‘Giant” (1956, AFI 1998 #82) where you have to invest your whole afternoon watching is perhaps another reason why people revisit this romance year after year. I give this culturally significant and iconic movie a 5 out of 5.

 

 

 

 

The Original Stylish Sci-Fi

I was lucky enough to hear that The Prince Theatre in Leicester Square was showing ‘Blade Runner’ (#97 on 2007 AFI top 100 list) this weekend so like a sci-fi movie buff I pre ordered tickets to ensure I was able to watch what is hailed as Ridley Scott’s best work (yes, even better than Alien apparently) on the big screen. Obviously I don’t qualify as much of a sci-fi enthusiast to go alone so I dragged my friend Cam who is also attempting to complete the list of the AFI’s top 100 movies of all time, but lacks the focus to get through it because unlike me she probably has more productive things to do with her time.

The Prince Charles Theatre in Leicester Square plays 'Blade Runner'

The Prince Charles Theatre in Leicester Square plays ‘Blade Runner’

It felt like we were in a 1982 time warp when I and Cam spotted the original movie poster outside the cinema – the time-travelling didn’t stop there: When we got into the retro theatre we sat on chairs that were made from the tough brown leather that look liked it was as old as the building, but still durable after all those years of wear and tear and the screen was covered by traditional thick red velvet curtains – the perfect setting for a classic movie. We had our popcorn, coke and seats and were ready to see the awesomeness that is ‘Blade Runner’. As the lights went down and the curtains drew back I looked over to Cam and said ‘Do you have any idea what this is about’ she looks back to me, smiled and replied ‘No’.

1982 cult classic 'Blade Runner' plays again in Central London

1982 cult classic ‘Blade Runner’ plays again in Central London

Sometimes it’s a good idea to go into the movie blind – it can avoid the disappointment of having high expectations that I have suffered a few times when going through the list. Cam’s friend gave her some good advice before she saw the movie with me which was; ‘You’ve seen it all before, but remember this film did it first – which is why it is considered so great!’ That pretty much applies to most of the films that made the AFI 100 movies cut.

I must admit I’m not much of a sci-fi man, I haven’t managed to see the original ‘Star Wars’ (#16 1998, #13 2007) yet, but the plot of ‘Blade Runner’ was pretty familiar: The film is set in Los Angeles 2019 which I guess seemed like a long way away in 1982 – where Rick Deckard played by Harrison Ford must track down and kill four evil genetically engineered Replicants who look like humans but possess superior strength. Obviously he falls in love with an additional one on the way played by icy Sean Young and things get complicated when he must decide whether to save or retire her.

Cult classic – ‘Blade Runner’

What sets this movie apart from the rest is the noir feel it has – ‘Blade Runner’ is very stylised and at times feels like a crime thriller rather than a straight forward science fiction film. I can see that films like ‘Watchman’ (2009), ‘Sin City’ (2005) and even ‘Kill Bill’ (2003) have been heavily influenced by Scott’s innovative piece. The special effects seem ahead of it time and are particularly impressive for an early 80s film although they anticipated evil robot like creatures and flying cars in the noughties, but they couldn’t have imagined a flatter TV screen or colour computer?

Ford who along with Bruce Willis is the epitome of an 80s action star is perfect as the reluctant hero and Sean Young who reminds me so much of Katy Perry in this plays the stiff and disconnected Rachael well – although I will forever associate her as the transsexual dolphin stealing ex-football player in ‘Ace Ventura’ (1994). Perhaps the big surprise for me was Daryl Hannah who I had no idea was in the movie – she is magnificent and terrifying as Pris and probably inspired Quentin Tarantino to cast her in his ‘Kill Bill’ masterpiece.

Ridley Scott speaks about Harrison Ford as Deckard in ‘Blade Runner’

My only issue with the movie is that at times the plot can be too thin – the protagonist seems to conveniently track down the enemy without much of a struggle and the dialogue is not as gripping or as slick as the cinematography and for that reason I’d give it a 3 out 5. Perhaps like Cam I need to see it again to fully see what I missed the first time round or I might view the Blade Runner Sequel instead which seems to be forever in the works.

Have I Seen This?

There are some films on the AFI top 100 movies of all time list that you are certain you haven’t seen, I never heard of ‘Duck Soup’ until I began this challenge more than two years ago. But then there are those films that are so famous, so iconic that you’re not actually sure you have seen before.

I know I have seen bits and bobs of E.T. – the famous scene where Drew Barrymore discovers him for the first time, the part where the forensic team sections off the house where the little boy was hiding E.T and obviously that memorable bike ride. But I’m not quite sure I have actually seen Spielberg’s most personal production from beginning to end which is a criteria I must stick to when completing this challenge. I don’t even remember how the movie started. So my dilemma is should I count these movies as ones that I have seen or re-watch them again?

These films are the ones that I’m not quite sure I’ve seen from beginning to end on the AFI top 100 list:

Film Release year 1998 rank 2007 rank
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 1982 25 24
Jaws 1975 48 56
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937 49 34
The Silence of the Lambs 1991 65 74
Saving Private Ryan 1998 71
Ben-Hur 1959 72 100
Rocky 1976 78 57

I think its only fair to see these films again from beginning to end. One of the films that regularly airs on the Sky Movie channels is Jaws from 1975. It is the celebrating it’s 40 Anniversary this year and remains the blueprint for many of the Horror/Thriller/killer animal movies that have come in droves in the last few decades but have failed to match its critical and commercial success.

Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider & Richard Dreyfuss in iconic Jaws (1975)

I was quite surprised to see the movie to the list; it seemed quite out of place amongst the Film Noir and emotional War movies that the AFI seem to place in high regard. Perhaps they felt that the films cultural significance was too big to ignore and there are only a handful of horror movies that are represented in the top 100.

The plot of Jaws is pretty simple – there has been a sudden increase of fatal shark attacks in New England’s tourist hotspot Amity Island. The Mayor and Police Chief, Martin Brody (played by the late Roy Scheider) come into blows whether to close the beach which is what the latter wants propose or keep quiet to avoid a disruption in the flow of tourists which is was the Mayor wishes to do. As the attacks become more frequent Brody and professional shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) make it their mission to kills the beast themselves.

The storyline is as simple as it get, but what was so unique about this film that should have been a B-list or cult movie but instead turned to be the biggest movie of all time at the time of release was the suspense that Spielberg creates throughout leaving the viewer on the edge of their seats. The same effect used Psycho which also made the AFI list. The sharp one liners like ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’ (which was apparently adlibbed) brings humour to this often tense thriller which has the one of most recognisable theme music along with Hitchcock’s 1960 smash – you know which one I’m talking about.

Lasting impact – The Jaws tourist attraction at Universal Studios

But does Jaws belong on the list of the greatest 100 movies of all time? The film was highly enjoyable and who can deny it’s influence, but the jury is out with me – let me watch all 100+ films and then decide if it is worthy of a spot.

Missed Opportunity 

So here is the list I have been desperately trying to complete last few years and it’s safe to say it has taken over my life a bit; every Sunday night I routinely search the Sky Planner schedule for the next few weeks in hope to record a film that I haven’t seen on my list. This week I haven’t been so vigilant – two films I have been looking forward to watch came on U.K. television this week and I missed them – ‘The Philadelphia story’ (#51 ’98, #44 ’07) and ‘North by Northwest’ (#40 ‘98, #55 ‘07) both staring my favourite classic Hollywood actor Cary Grant. I’m kicking myself!

Cary Grant

Last night just before I prepared myself for the day ahead and after hours of flicking in between forgettable television shows I saw the movie I have been anticipating to watch ever since I started this damn challenge, but I was 20 minutes too late and there was no later showing on BBC4 for one of Hitchcock’s greatest triumphs – it looked so good and had the thrill factor of a James Bond film but the sophistication only the master of suspense could bring, but I refused to carry on watching as I hadn’t seen it from the start – which is a criteria I try to adhere to when completing this task.  So I reluctantly turned my TV off and complained to anyone who would listen to me before going to bed.

Well at least I still have ‘The Searchers’ (#96, #12) recorded on my Sky Box – although I’m not as excited about seeing a Western staring John Wayne – but then again it jumped a whopping 84 places on the 2007 list which means it might like fine wine – better the more times you watch it. I must sit down and have a go soon before someone at home deletes the recording.

In the meantime I’ll just watch the trailer for ‘North by Northwest’ and ‘The Philadelphia Story’ again. The aeroplane scene in ‘North by Northwest’ is perhaps the most iconic image in cinema history!

Do you agree? Or do you think the ‘I’m king of the world’ scene in Titanic is more memorable or maybe Monroe’s dress scene in ‘The Seven year Itch’?

Iconic Titanic ‘King Of The World’ scene

Legendary Marilyn Monroe