TOP TEN Great Unknown ’70’s Movies!

This is now updated to include ten great undiscovered films from the 70’s…and thanks to Amazon, they are all available to view at home on DVD or blu-ray! As you know, I have a passion for crazy wild exploitation movies, grindhouse films. My last post is all about that in case you haven’t seen it. But I also love what is for me the golden era of cinema – movies from the 70’s. This is the decade of The Exorcist, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Network, Carrie, and so many more….classic movies that are as timely and relevant today as when they were first produced.
Here is a list of 10 movies that are part of that classic era, but you probably have never heard of them. They are all worth checking out.

10-Electra Glide In Blue. The music Producer James William Guercio was most well known for his work with Chicago in the early 70’s, but this little-seen gem of a movie is his masterwork. “Do you know that Alan Ladd and I are the same height?” That’s Arizona highway patrol motorcycle cop John Wintergreen’s come on line to every girl he meets, and Robert Blake’s cocky swagger in the lead role is on full display here. Don’t hold that real-life Blake stuff against this movie, which is a terrific whodunnit in a time of social upheaval in America. If you think “Easy Rider” is the high water mark of the hippie era, think again, this is the one. Beautifully made mystery with a much larger purpose…

9-The Last Detail. If you ever wanted to see Jack Nicholson letting it all hang out, in 1973 he did just that, playing a shore patrol officer named Buddy Buddesky, who had one job to do: bring in oafish Randy Quaid to serve his time in the brig for a petty crime. Their cross-country trip, along with fellow guard Otis, is a master class in tearing up the screen. The poster for this film included a single shot of Jack with a navy cap on, offering up such classic dialogue as: “I AM THE MOTHERFUCKING shore patrol, motherfucker! I AM the motherfucking shore patrol! Give this man a beer.” This movie is hilarious and very poignant as well.

8-The New Centurions. This 1971 LA police drama is based on the first novel by Officer Joseph Wambaugh, who brought a new authenticity to his behind-the-scenes fictionalized account of his first year on the LAPD. George C. Scott plays Sgt. Kilvinski, and you had to follow “Kilvinski’s Law”: “if a dude uses his fist, you use your stick. If he uses a stick you use your gun.” This is a great character-driven police action drama…you know, what the early 70’s were very good at!

7-The Last of Sheila. One of my favorite films of all time. A classic “whodunnit” written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim. Yes, THAT Anthony Perkins and THAT Stephen Sondheim. In real life they were great friends and both loved puzzles. So they wrote one, directed by Herbert Ross. Movie Producer James Coburn invites a Director, Writer, Starlet, Agent, and a hanger on or two to spend a week on his yacht off the French Riviera. The reason? To play a game…but there is something far more serious at play…Dyan Cannon, James Mason, Racquel Welch and Richard Benjamin co-star in one of the best mysteries ever, with plenty of twists and lots of tongue in cheek pokes at Hollywood. If you’ve ever heard of the legendary Super Agent Sue Mengers, wait until you see Dyan Cannon’s take on her…to quote the movie, “Cut. Print. Perfect!”

6-The Late Show. Director Robert Benton would go on to win an Oscar for “Kramer Vs. Kramer”, but this late 70’s film noir look at LA is a neglected gem. Art Carney stars as a broken down gumshoe struggling to make rent. He gets a new client, Lily Tomlin, who needs help finding her cat. What happens next is one of the best tales of Hollywood noir ever, with terrific acting and a ton of recognizable faces in small roles. If you only know Art Carney from The Honeymooners, his performance here is amazing, and Lily Tomlin is also outstanding. Poignant, touching, full of action and twists, and oozing with the smell of Hollywood glitter and grime.

5- The Hospital. George C. Scott was on a roll in the 70’s, starting the decade by winning Best Actor for Patton, then acting in a number of tough, gritty films. THIS undiscovered gem is the setup for 1976’s classic “Network”, as both scripts were written by legendary writer Paddy Chayefsky. This 1971 Chayefsky script looks at the world gone mad through the eyes of a Hospital, and George C. Scott is the guy trying to hold it together. Co-Star Diana Rigg was just coming off her acclaimed performance as the Bond girl in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”…and yes, it was acclaimed! Scott’s acting and a terrific script make this one of the great, angry movies of the 70’s…

4-The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Robert Mitchum was cinema’s TOUGH GUY – he didn’t take anything from anybody ever. Eddie Coyle is a down-on-his-luck mobster looking to make a few bucks to tide his wife over while he goes upriver. But nothing is easy with friends like Eddie has. Lots of great action, terrific supporting acting from Peter Boyle, and a gritty, anything goes performance by Mitchum as a guy looking for one last score…

3-The Mack. How can I forget the golden era of blaxploitation, when everyone from “Superfly” to “Shaft” and “Cleopatra Jones” were breaking box office records for movies with a black protagonist and an urban sensibility? This 1973 blaxploitation classic stars Max Julien as Goldie, just out of prison and eager to return to the top of the pimping game! Richard Pryor is hilarious as his buddy Slim…you can see the superstar waiting to get out as Pryor owns every moment he is onscreen!

2-The Laughing Policeman. By the mid-seventies, the world was a dirty, crime-ridden place, and in San Francisco, Detective Walter Matthau has to find the guy who boarded a city bus late one night and opened fire on the passengers. he isn’t helped by his partner, the very caustic Bruce Dern, who has a way of inflaming every situation he is in. This is post-Dirty Harry, and the citizens hate the cops almost as much as the cops hate them. Great line of dialogue here: Bruce Dern explaining how good a lawyer is: “he could get a sodomy charge reduced to ‘following too close.'” This is the world weary, grimly determined Matthau, a much better Actor than he was given credit for…

1-“O Lucky Man!”- imagine a modern day retelling of Candide, starring Malcolm McDowell as a young coffee salesman looking to conquer a world gone mad. Seriously, IMAGINE IT. McDowell did this film after “A Clockwork Orange”, and he conceived the story as well. It’s directed by Lindsay Anderson, who gave Malcolm his first role ever in “If…”, the incendiary look at teenage rebellion in Britain’s schools. “If…” won the Palme d’or at Cannes during the French student riots of 1969, and is worth checking out as well. Back to “O Lucky Man!”, which is one of my favorite films of all-tim. It is a sweeping epic of youthful ambition that runs headfirst into the moral muck of the real world. The movie includes Alan Price’s outstanding soundtrack, some of which is performed live in the film. And look for Helen Mirren in a very youthful role as well. I have no proof of this, but there is a scene in Seinfeld that, to me, makes very specific reference to a scene in “O Lucky Man!” A true masterpiece.

Let me know what you think!

Categories: 70's Cinema, Grindhouse, Movies

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. But wanna comment on few general things, The website style and design is perfect, the written content is rattling superb : D.


  2. These are some pretty good selections, JR. I think I saw about seven of them in first-run. BTW, I assume you’ve read Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, an excellent look at 70s filmmaking and pop culture.

    I especially loved The Hospital, which I posted about on Suite 101:

    I also loved O Lucky Man! Lindsay Anderson is sadly overlooked these days. I must admit I’ve never seen The Mack. But that’s why God invented Netflix, right?

    Hope you and Alex are well. Have a great New Year’s.


    • Barry, thanks for the comments, and for the link, I can’t wait to read it!
      There is a great documentary about blaxploitation movies, and The Mack is a great example…not a great movie, but REALLY captures the time, and Richard Pryor is great!


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