I heard from two people asking about films I left off my overlooked 70’s classics list, and so I have come up with ten more overlooked films to share. Yes, I own every one of the movies I write about.
10-Night Moves. “Maybe he would find the girl. Maybe he would find himself.” Gene Hackman worked a lot in the seventies, in classics like “The French Connection” and in many smaller films, like this action drama from 1975, directed by Arthur Penn, who also did “Bonnie & Clyde.” Hackman is a small-time private eye trying to hold his marriage together while tracking down a young runaway, played by a very naked Melanie Griffith. This is a moody film noir with a twisty plot and great performances. It’s a perfect example of a bygone era when films took time to play out, and you didn’t have to stick an action poker in the audience’s eyes to get their attention. Also a bygone era when the acting was as important as the explosion.
9-Scarecrow. Hackman again, this time with Al Pacino. What a matchup! This is a beautiful slice-of-life movie about two drifters heading cross-country to open a car wash. Naturally, there is much more to this character study…this is an example of a pure actor’s movie, and the performances are amazing. Don’t go in expecting car chases, but it’s got some very dramatic action as well…
8-The Heartbreak Kid. The original comedy classic, directed by Elaine May, starring Charles Grodin as a guy who falls in love on his honeymoon. May’s daughter Jeannie Berlin is the betrayed bride, and Cybil Shepard is the woman Grodin falls for. Her father is brilliantly played by Eddie Albert – “there’s HONESTY in this broccoli?” Hilarious and bittersweet.
7-The Seven Ups. Right after Roy Scheider co-starred with Gene Hackman in “The French Connection”, he starred in this gritty gritty gritty NY crime actioner. This has a legendary chase sequence through the west side of New York, before New York was cleaned up…absolutely terrific 70’s cop thriller.
6-The Phantom Of The Paradise. A modern-day re-telling of “The Phantom Of The Opera”, directed by Brian DePalma. He went on to make “Carrie”, a movie that catapulted him to star status, but this is a beautifully-made, hilarious and touching tale of Winslow Leach, a songwriter who makes a pact with the wrong person. Paul Williams won an Oscar for writing the song “Evergreen” with Barbara Streisand, but here he writes the entire score AND stars as Swan, the head of DEATH Records. “Tasty, Winslow, tasty”, he sneers as he steals more of the songwriter’s music. But Winslow won’t let him get away with it, and becomes the Phantom who haunts the Paradise. As a line forms for the opening night, an obnoxious record manager looks at a list and screams, “this creep gets no comps!” Also, Jessica Harper sings “Old Souls”, the haunting ballad that is the centerpiece of the film. Cannot recommend this highly enough.
5-Darker Than Amber. You’ll have a hard time finding this brutal film noir from 1970, but I read they are going to make a film based on the books that follow Travis McGee, a private eye/bon vivent, here played by Rod Taylor. Travis McGee is too cool for school, but even he didn’t imagine the viciousness of a gang that drugs lonely guys and robs them aboard cruise ships, using the gorgeous Suzay Kendall as bait. Many of the cuts of this film truncated the legendary cruise ship fight scene, but you can find copies online, and the uncut version is absolutely terrific. And brutal. This was directed by Robert Clouse, who went on to make “Enter The Dragon” with Bruce Lee.
4-The Twelve Chairs. Between “The Producers” and “Blazing Saddles”, Mel Brooks made his hilarious fable set in 1920’s Russia. A couple of hapless crooks are seeking the twelve chairs, where legend has it rare jewels were sewn into the fabric. Frank Langella stars with Dom Deluise, and this is one overlooked comedy treat. You see so much of Mel Brooks’s humor in this, and you can see how this would lead to the raucous “Blazing Saddles” two years later.
3-Charley Varrick. Walter Matthau stars as a small-time bank robber who accidently robs a bank full of mob money. The mob doesn’t like that, by the way. They send Joe Don Bakler to get thier money back, but they don’t know Charley Varrick very well. This is a great overlooked b-movie actioner with A-list talent in front of, and behind, the camera. Directed by Don Siegel, who made “Dirty Harry”, this is a terrific action film with the great Walter Mattheau.
2-Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia. I love Sam Peckinpah. He was crazy. He was a drug-crazed drunk, a bad combination most of the time, and a bad combination here. That said, Peckinpah directed such masterpieces as “The Wild Bunch”, “Straw Dogs” and “The Getaway”, all of which were acknowledged as classic 70’s cinema. So what does he do? He follows them up with a movie about a hit man who travels with a dead man’s head. Makes sense. Warren Oates stars in this somewhat flawed but riveting film. They don’t make them like this anymore, do they? No, they really don’t.
1-The King Of Comedy. OK, this is 1982, but Alex thought it was the seventies, so it’s on here. If you haven’t seen this criminally-overlooked Martin Scorsese masterpiece, you must get it RIGHT NOW. I will wait. Go. If you watch the 1976 classic “Network”, you know that Paddy Chayefsky predicted what would happen to nightly news in an era when ratings are all that matters. Well, “King” predicted our current tabloid obsession with people who have no talent other than being famous. Robert DeNiro is the luckless comic Rupert Pupkin, who needs to be a star, but doesn’t have the time to hone his craft. Jerry Lewis, in an absolutely brilliant performance, plays late night talk show host Jerry Langford, who becomes Pupkin’s path to stardom. This movie is so brilliant, it’s impossible to find the words to describe it. Johnny Carson’s Producer Freddy DeCordeva has a small part as Langford’s Producer. As Jerry Langford walks the streets and jokes with fans, a woman on a payphone grabs him to talk to her husband. He begs off and moves along, and she screams at him, “you should get cancer. I hope you get cancer!” Also, DeNiro’s performance is revelatory, and Sandra Bernhard is brilliant in her first screen role. A masterpiece.
Let me know what you think!