The Third Hundred
Greatest Films

Summaries - Part 6





The Third Hundred Greatest Films
Summaries - Part 6
(Links to Comprehensive Film Reviews)
Selection Criteria

M (continued)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Starring: Monty Python troupe (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin)
Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
The silly, chaotic, sick joke-filled and zany Monty Python troupe, a close modern equivalent to the Marx Brothers, first appeared in their late 60s BBC-TV show, Monty Python's Flying Circus. Afterwards, the group compiled a retelling of the show's sketches for the big screen in And Now For Something Completely Different (1971). This was their second film and first feature-length film - a raucous, anarchic retelling of the Middle Ages legend of King Arthur (Chapman) and his quest, that skewered medieval action epics, mythology, war, religion, the Arthurian legend, Camelot and more. The opening credits in this popular, outrageous, and original cult film slowly give way to mock Swedish titles, and drift into ravings about the moose and its virtues, before grinding to a halt with: "We apologize for the fault in the subtitles. Those responsible have been sacked." The opening credits resume, but still with odd credits added for everything from "Moose Costumes" to "Moose trained to mix concrete and sign complicated insurance forms," which is followed by another apology: "The directors of the firm hired to continue the credits after the other people had been sacked, wish it to be known that they have just been sacked. The credits have been completed in an entirely different style at great expense and at the last minute." Their style of humor was best exemplified by the comically-gruesome encounter with the unbelievably persistent Black Knight (Cleese), who still insists on fighting ("It's just a flesh wound") after his limbs have been hacked off by King Arthur. Many fans can instantly recite many of the memorable scenes, vignettes and set-pieces, such as the "Bring Out Your Dead" scene, or the rude, taunting Frenchman, a bloodthirsty killer rabbit, and the tree-shaped Knights who say "Ni." Over the years, the troupe's popularity would grow with additional Monty Python films, such as Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982), and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983), and increased popularity of their PBS-TV show in America. A stage adaptation of the film, Monty Python's Spamalot, debuted in Chicago in late 2004 and shortly after debuted on Broadway in early 2005. No Academy Award Nominations.
 

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Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Russell Streiner
Director: George A. Romero
One of the most important and influential horror films of all time - George Romero's ultra-low budget debut film shot in grainy black-and-white with an unknown cast reinvented the genre. The film was actually improved by its crude "drawbacks," since they lent a documentary feel and reality that made the film all the more horrific. The screenplay was taken from an unpublished short story Romero had written called Anubis, so-named after the Egyptian god of the dead. In the simple yet brutally relentless plot of claustrophobic horror, the 'living dead' (re-animated corpses) mysteriously rise from the grave for no known reason (though there are vague references to radiation from a fallen satellite), forcing a group of seven strangers to take refuge from the shuffling, hungry, flesh-eating zombies in an isolated Pennsylvania farmhouse. A capable black man (Jones) assumes leadership as the army of corpses repeatedly try to enter the house during a terrifying siege, amidst both unspoken racial and generational tensions between him and a less capable, older white family man (Hardman). The images of the film are haunting, from the opening scene in the cemetery, where flighty female lead Barbra (O'Dea) is teased by her brother Johnny (Streiner in an uncredited role): "They're coming to get you, Barbra!" before being attacked by one of them, to the shot of the zombified little girl consuming her mother (often taken to be a social metaphor for the late 1960s youth of the nation rebelling against their elders). Meanwhile, news and radio reports from the mass media emphasize the panic and threat. The tragic ending comes from the actions of real mindless zombies -- living lynch mobs. While initially considered drive-in schlock, the film gained in popularity and critical respect, and raised Romero to great heights as a horror filmmaker. He would go on to make a zombie trilogy with the successful Dawn of the Dead (1978) and the lesser Day of the Dead (1985), before remaking his own Night of the Living Dead (1990) in color and with subtle changes to the plot, including a reworked beginning and ending. Director/writer Dan O'Bannon's unofficial satirical 'sequel' The Return of the Living Dead (1985) was likewise sequeled in Ken Wiederhorn's The Return of the Living Dead, Part II (1988) and Brian Yuzna's Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993). No Academy Award Nominations.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Starring: Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara, Edward Ivory, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens
Director: Henry Selick
AKA: Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. A charming, ground-breaking, macabre fantasy-musical film in its use of computers to aid the complex, painstaking stop-motion animation process. This is the first full-length stop-motion animated film, based on the parodic poem of the same name by visionary producer Burton, written when he was a Disney animator. This original, fanciful yet twisted tale is about a bored, depressed and skeletal Jack Skellington (Sarandon with Elfman supplying his singing voice) with shy rag-doll Sally (O'Hara) as his understanding and loyal girlfriend from afar. Jack grows weary of his repetitive role as the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town with its pagan holiday. When he discovers the enchanting, radically-different Christmas Town and its leader Santa Claus (Ivory), he becomes obsessed with trying to capture the town's joy. His well-meaning but disastrous mission to steal the holiday puts Santa Claus into jeopardy when he is kidnapped and tortured. An extraordinary achievement, from its wonderfully realized set designs -- like the dark, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-ish and The Night of the Hunter-ish Halloween Town and the round, bright Christmas Town (based on Seuss' artwork, reminiscient of Whoville) -- to the jazzily unorthodox lyrics by Oingo Boingo's Elfman ("And since I am dead / I can take off my head / And recite Shakespearean quotations"). The film was largely ignored in its initial release, but gained a dedicated following on video release that grew quickly, enabling Tim Burton to produce another stop-motion animated film James and the Giant Peach (1996), based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name and also directed by Henry Selick. Academy Award Nominations: 1, Best Visual Effects.
 

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The Palm Beach Story (1942)
Starring: Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Rudy Vallee, Robert Dudley, William Demarest
Director: Preston Sturges
A hilarious, zany, marital screwball comedy by writer/director Preston Sturges - it was his last romantic comedy and one of the last, classic screwball comedies. The witty, nonsensical film of mistaken identities and deception was a satire on sex as an asset. The farcical plot effectively skewered the idle rich (millionaires) and the pursuit of money, with its story of a penniless, separated couple living on Park Avenue. [Whether coincidence or not, the couple share the same names as MGM's squabbling cartoon characters Tom (cat) and Jerry (mouse).] The film begins with a deliberately puzzling, freeze-frame pre-credits opening sequence that finally makes sense by the film's closing. Its premise is that a pretty, but penniless, fortune-hunting, scatter-brained wife Gerry (Colbert), who is at odds with her unsuccessful designer-inventor husband Tom Jeffers (McCrea), may travel to Florida (on a raucous train ride with the tipsy Ale and Quail Club) to obtain a divorce, and with her beauty, ingenuity, luck and appealing charms live the 'good life' there and obtain monetary support ($99,000) from stuffy, multi-millionaire, yacht-owning suitor John D. Hackensacker (Vallee) and his eccentric, carefree, man-crazy sister Countess Centimillia (Astor) to bankroll her struggling husband's career. Sturges' original title for the film was Is Marriage Necessary? - to emphasize his challenge to the sacredness of marriage. It was the fifth of eight films that Sturges wrote and directed for Paramount Studios between his most prolific years from 1940 to 1946: The Great McGinty (1940), Christmas in July (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1942), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), and The Great Moment (1946). The film is literally full of choice, timeless, quotable lines of dialogue, but lacked Academy Award nominations (as with many of Preston Sturges' other classic comedies). No Academy Award Nominations.
Patton (1970)
Starring: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Karl Michael Vogler, Michael Bates
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
The epic film biography, shot in 70 mm. widescreen color, of the controversial, bombastic, multi-dimensional World War II general and hero George S. Patton. The larger-than-life, flamboyant, maverick, pugnacious military figure, nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts," was well-known for his fierce love of America, his temperamental battlefield commanding, his arrogant power-lust ("I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life"), his poetry writing, his belief in reincarnation, his verbal abuse and slapping of a battle-fatigued soldier, his anti-diplomatic criticism of the Soviet Union, and his firing of pistols at strafing fighter planes. The bigger-than-life screen biography is most noted for its brilliant opening monologue by Patton (Scott), delivered before a gigantic American flag to the off-screen troops of the Allied Third Army ("No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country"). The story was based on two books: Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier's Story by General Omar Bradley (portrayed by Malden). As a result of Francis Ford Coppola's breakthrough win for Best Adapted Screenplay as co-screen writer, he went on to write and direct The Godfather (1972). Although Scott portrayed the famous general perfectly and it became his archetypal film, the role was also considered by Burt Lancaster, Rod Steiger, Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum and John Wayne. The subject matter was remade as a TV-movie entitled The Last Days of Patton (1986), also with Scott in the lead role. Academy Award Nominations: 10, including Best Original Score--Jerry Goldsmith, Best Cinematography (Fred Koenekamp), Best Visual Effects. Academy Awards: 7, including Best Picture, Best Director--Franklin J. Schaffner, Best Actor--George C. Scott (who refused to accept the award), Best Adapted Screenplay (Francis Ford Coppola, Edmund H. North), Best Art/Set Decoration, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing.
The Piano (1993)
Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Sam Neill
Director: Jane Campion
New Zealand director/screenwriter Jane Campion's third feature -- a compelling, disturbing, erotic and psychosexual costume drama about a mute mail-order bride, a refined European woman named Ada McGrath (Hunter), who travels with her spiteful 9-year-old daughter Flora (Paquin) from 1850s Scotland to the New Zealand wilderness for an arranged marriage with patriarchal British emigrant landowner Alisdair Stewart (Neill). Upon arrival, her prized possession, a piano, is insensitively left on the desolate coastal beach and later rescued-sold to a coarse, illiterate and tattooed Maori settler (Stewart's overseer) named George Baines (Keitel). The headstrong Ada is left despondent, and artistically and emotionally frustrated without the outlet of her piano-playing. Although she is repulsed by George, she is offered a blackmailing sexual deal with him to slowly buy back the piano and give him a series of piano lessons. Soon, their relationship is transformed into a torrid love affair and sensual/emotional liberation for the two, while she never consummates her marriage with the shy Alisdair. Campion's Academy Award nomination as Best Director made her only the second woman in Oscar history to be nominated in the category. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Picture, Best Director--Jane Campion, Best Cinematography--Stuart Dryburgh, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 3, Best Actress--Holly Hunter, Best Supporting Actress--Anna Paquin, Best Original Screenplay--Jane Campion.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
A thought-provoking and engrossing science-fiction film classic - a loose adaptation (by formerly blacklisted Michael Wilson and Rod Serling) of the Pierre Boulle novel La Planète Des Singes (Monkey Planet), about four NASA astronauts, including Colonel 'George' Taylor (Heston), who have traveled for centuries in cyrogenic suspension. After a crash landing on an Earth-like planet, they find themselves stranded in a strange and remote place dominated by English-speaking simians who live in a multi-layered civilization. The apes dominate society, and humans (who possess few rights) have been reduced to subservient mute slaves and are even hunted as animals. In danger of being castrated or lobotomized, Taylor cries out the memorable: "Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" The apes in this exciting and engaging action thriller include archaeologist Dr. Cornelius (McDowall), his scientist fiancee Zira (Hunter) - an 'animal psychologist,' and malevolent, arrogant, government orangutan leader Dr. Zaius (Evans). This Vietnam War, Cold War and Civil Rights era film makes many subtle points about race, animal rights, the establishment, class, xenophobia and discrimination. The film is most noted for its twist ending when George rides down a beach on horseback in the Forbidden Zone with beautiful mute cavewoman Nova (Harrison), and suddenly he stops when he sees something, and dismounts to stare upwards; as the camera pans forward toward Taylor, through a spiked object, he exclaims: "Oh, my God! I'm back, I'm home. All the time, it was..." He drops to his knees: "We finally really did it." He pounds his fist into the sand and rails against Earth's generations almost 2,000 years earlier that had destroyed his home planet's civilization with a devastating nuclear war: "You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! Goddamn you all to hell!" The full object comes into view as the camera pans backward - the spiked crown of a battered Statue of Liberty buried waist-deep in beach sand. This film was also a pioneer in modern movie marketing, spawning not only four sequels and a 2001 remake (and two television series spinoffs), but also action figures and other similar merchandising, foreshadowing later merchandising for Star Wars (1977) and the Indiana Jones series. Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Costume Design, Best Original Score--Jerry Goldsmith. Honorary Special Oscar for Makeup Effects--John Chambers (only the second makeup artist to receive an honorary Academy Award before an official category was created).
Poltergeist (1982)
Starring: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O'Rourke, Beatrice Straight, Zelda Rubinstein, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins
Director: Tobe Hooper
A memorable supernatural horror film from co-producer/co-writer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper (better known for his cult horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)). This was Spielberg's first smash hit as a co-producer, paired with Frank Marshall (who later produced Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)). Its classic 'haunted house ghost story' is fascinating to watch, with extraordinary special effects created by George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic team, from a screenplay by Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor. It was released at the same time as another suburban tale with otherworldly visitors: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and can also be interpreted as a threatening, scarier version of director Spielberg's pre-E.T. film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Compared to both films, Poltergeist is the dark flip side for Diane and Steve Freeling (Williams and Nelson) in the Cuesta Verde housing development, with ordinary objects that turn threatening (for example, a suburban tract dream home, a backyard tree, a favorite doll, a closet, and a TV screen). The famous poster reflected one of the more memorable, spookier moments of the film, with young 5 year-old Carole Anne (Heather O'Rourke) pressed against a television showing nothing but white noise, saying, "They're here."There were two, less successful sequels in subsequent years: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) and Poltergeist III (1988). Many filmgoers have been intrigued by the seemingly-tragic legacy of the film, with the unexpected deaths of star Dominique Dunne (in her last film role before her tragic murder by her live-in boyfriend) and O'Rourke (who died six years later just before the second sequel's release). Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Original Score--Jerry Goldsmith, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Effects Editing.
The Producers (1968)
Starring: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Christopher Hewett, Dick Shawn
Director: Mel Brooks
Director Mel Brooks' debut film is a zany, often brilliant spoof comedy about Broadway productions and the Nazis that some consider in bad taste. A desperate, bankrupt, wild-eyed, hustling Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Mostel) greedily pairs up with his timid and high-strung auditor/accountant Leo Bloom (Wilder in his first starring role). Together, they concoct an illegal 'sure-fire' scheme to make a million dollars from investors by producing the worst, most tasteless play ever made - a perverted Busby Berkeley romp offensively named Springtime For Hitler. Their plan backfires when the flop is actually a surprise hit. Although certain elements are now tame and have lost some comedic shock value since the late 60s, such as a cash-strapped Max being a gigolo for old ladies, the film is still daring, audacious and subversive. The lighthearted satire of Hitler, reminiscent of Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940), with such lyrics as "Don't be stupid, be a smarty -- come and join the Nazi Party!" couldn't easily be produced today. (The studio would never have released Brooks' without the intervention of Peter Sellers, who convinced executive producer Joseph E. Levine to release it, the only compromise being a change from the original title Springtime For Hitler to The Producers.) The film's immense popularity would not only launch Brooks' and Wilder's careers, but also lead to the wildly popular 2001 Broadway musical adaption of the same name starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (as Bialystock and Bloom respectively), with 13 Tony nominations and 12 wins including Best Musical. Lane and Broderick would appear in the poorly-received 2005 film version as well. Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Supporting Actor--Gene Wilder. Academy Awards: 1, Best Original Screenplay--Mel Brooks.
Pygmalion (1938)
Starring: Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfrid Lawson, Marie Lohr, Scott Sunderland, David Tree
Directors: Anthony Asquith (with Leslie Howard)
The non-musical film version of George Bernard Shaw's 1912 stage play, a socio-economic drama based on the Cinderella story, but actually taken from the Greek myth of Pygmalion - about a sculptor who fell in love with a marble statue of his own making. A bullying and smug bachelor, Professor Henry Higgins (Howard) of phonetics and linguistics makes a bet with Colonel George Pickering (Sunderland) that he can turn an impetuous Cockney 'guttersnipe' flower girl from Convent Garden, Eliza Doolittle (Hiller in her first screen role) into a lady within six months. To do so, he must transform her thick-accented voice, by coaching her to speak proper English with elocution lessons, teaching her manners, and drilling her so that she will be educated. "We were above that in Convent Garden...I sold flowers. I didn't sell myself. Now you've made a lady of me; I'm not fit to sell anything else." "I'm a good girl, I am." At a tea party, in her first public testing, she blurts out, "Not bloody likely." However, she makes a spectacular debut at the Ambassador's reception, proving him right. In the process of teaching her, Higgins falls in love with her, although she is attracted by an upper class gentleman named Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Tree), and finds she cannot return home to Higgins. The Broadway musical remake that was inspired from this film, Lerner and Loewe's 1956 production, also led to the famous film musical My Fair Lady (1962), that would walk away with eight Oscars (out of twelve), including Best Picture. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Picture, Best Actor--Leslie Howard, Best Actress--Wendy Hiller. Academy Awards: 1, Best Screenplay.
 

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Repulsion (1965)
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux
Director: Roman Polanski
A distubing, tense, frightening psychological horror thriller and one of Roman Polanski's best films - his second feature film (after Knife in the Water (1962)) and his first in English. A macabre tale about a beautiful, timid, young blonde manicurist named Carol Ledoux (21 year-old Deneuve) from Belgium. The film basically takes place in a single location -- Carol's tiny London (Kensington) apartment -- which she shares with her older, sexually-liberated sister Hélène (Furneaux), who is involved with a married boyfriend, a salesman named Michael (Hendry). While they are away on holiday in Italy, Carol suffers a several mental breakdown with hallucinations and nightmares, one after the other. She imagines such harrowing images as a phantom rapist, and giant cracks appearing from the walls with hands emerging from them to grope her (borrowed from Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946)). A film's tagline declared: "The nightmare world of a virgin's dreams becomes the screen's shocking reality." The film revolves around the deterioration of the sexually-repressed, claustrophobic, and paranoid Carol (brilliantly acted by Deneuve), and leads to two brutal murders. The film borrows many elements from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), such as sexual voyeurism and subtle auditory hints, and derives much of the suspense and dread  from the use of everyday sounds (such as dripping water, the ticking of a clock, a ringing telephone, etc.). Often called one of the first English "New Wave" films, the film was controversial in both its graphic depictions of rape, but also featured the first orgasm 'heard' on the British screen. No Academy Award Nominations.
The Road Warrior (1982) aka
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston, Max Phipps, Virginia Hey, Vernon Wells, Kjell Nilsson, Emil Minty
Director: George Miller
Writer/director George Miller's imaginative, post-apocalyptic action sci-fi (western) film about a burned-out, ex-cop named "Mad" Max (Gibson in a star-making role) (his last name from the first film in the trilogy, Rockatansky, is never uttered). In this comic book-styled B-film, the road warrior wanders the barren, lawless highways of an Australian outback wasteland in his black interceptor along with his dog. Living only to survive while dealing with anarchic crazies and violent road gangs, his main mission in life is to acquire enough precious petrol to keep nomadic. He agrees to help save a besieged, oil-producing colony (established as a small fuel depot at a refinery) from a crazed, marauding wasteland warlord, the evil Humungus (Nilsson), by promising to help the refugee community of survivors with a rush for the coast in a tanker-truck in exchange for gas. The entire film has the same formula as The Magnificent Seven (1960) or a Sergio Leone 'spaghetti western', with Gibson providing the Clint Eastwood "Man With No Name" legendary hero - or anti-hero role. This film is best known for its non-stop car action and amazing stuntwork in its dazzling climax, as well as its stark, naturalistic depiction of a post-apocalyptic future that nearly every film has imitated ever since. This sequel film, superior to the original even darker revenge film, Mad Max (1979) was followed by a nuclear post-apocalyptic sequel, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), memorably featuring a co-starring role by rock star Tina Turner. No Academy Award Nominations.

 
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