With the Biograph Theatre’s 40th anniversary celebration on Saturday, February 11, in mind, my instinct to promote good movies has been reawakened.
The 139 movies on the entire list all played at Richmond’s Biograph during my 139-month stint as its manager. For convenience the list has been broken up into three posts. Two weeks ago I posted the first 40 titles from the list. Last week I posted the second group of 40 favorites. This week’s post covers the remaining 59.
Hopefully, this effort represents a fair overview of the sort of movies that were staples at art houses and revival theaters during what was the Golden Age of Repertory Cinema. Let’s say that was from 1966, or so, through about 1981.
The Biograph opened in February of 1972 and closed in December of 1987, two months shy of its 16th anniversary. After it closed, both the 20th and 30th anniversaries were celebrated with lively parties open to the public. After this year’s celebration next month you’ll either be telling stories about being there, or you’ll be hearing stories from those who were. At this writing tickets are still available.Title, (Release Year), * Indicates a Richmond Premiere
“Midnight Cowboy” (1969): Color. (1969): Directed by John Schlesinger. Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Brenda Vaccaro. Note: For its unflinching exposure of characters usually in the shadows, this then-X-rated view of street life was a breakthrough in its day.
“Monterey Pop” (1968): Color. (1968): Directed by D.A. Pennebaker. Performers: Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and Papas, Otis Redding. This music festival documentary established the genre.
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1974): Color. Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle. Note: The previously unearthed, humorous parts of King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail are revealed.
“Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” (1953): B&W. Directed by Jacques Tati. Cast: Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud. Note: Tati’s whimsical films establish a category of their own. In this one the ever bumbling Mr. Hulot, Tati’s disheveled everyman, visits a wacky seaside resort.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939): B&W. Directed by Frank Capra. Cast: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains. Note: This idealistic take on down-and-dirty politics in Washington may seem corny. Does it still make you cheer for Smith? Of course it does.
“My Dinner With Andre” (1981)*: Color. Directed by Louis Malle. Cast: Andre Gregory, Wally Shawn. Note: Is it better to spend your life searching the world over, to find universal truths? Or, is it best to know one city, perhaps a neighborhood, absolutely.
“My Man Godfrey” (1936): B&W. Directed by Gregory La Cava. Cast: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Eugene Pallette. Note: This Screwball Comedy proves that the genre was at its best during The Depression, while laughing bitterly at class warfare’s absurdities.
“Napoleon” (1927): B&W. Directed by Abel Gance. Cast: Albert Dieudonné, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daële. Note: The tale of resurrecting Abel Gance’s masterpiece from the ash heap is almost as fascinating as this ancient film is eye-popping.
“Nashville” (1976): Color. Directed by Robert Altman. Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Karen Black, Shelley Duvall, Keith Caradine. Note: An offbeat, cynical look at 1970s American society, as seen through the window of the country music industry.
“Network” (1976): Color. Directed by Sidney Lumet. Cast: Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden. Note: The future of cable television’s soon-to-be-seen excesses in bad taste is anticipated with chilling accuracy. Both Finch and Dunaway won Oscars.
“Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1962): B&W. Directed by Robert Enrico. Note: Based on an Ambrose Bierce story about the Civil War, this stylish short French film originally appeared to American audiences as an episode of The Twilight Zone in 1964.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975): Color. Directed by Milos Forman. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito. Note: This zany look inside the walls of the loony bin offers the viewer plenty of laughs to wash down the indignities and tragedies.
“On the Waterfront” (1954): B&W. (1954): Directed by Elia Kazan. Cast: Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger. Note: The Academy threw eight Oscars at this gritty classic that asks — who deserves loyalty and what constitutes betrayal?
“Papillon” (1973): Color. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Cast: Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Jory. Note: Wrongly convicted, Papillon ends up in a hellish penal colony in French Guiana. Impossible as it seems, escape is all he can think about.
“The Passenger” (1975)*: Color. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider. Note: Set in North Africa, a bored reporter suddenly decides to assume a dead gunrunner’s identity. The unusual last scene is quite memorable.
“Paths of Glory” (1957): B&W. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou. Note: In the trench warfare stalemate of WWI, the search for glory becomes a fool’s errand. Blame-shifting trumps mission. Loyalty evaporates.
“Performance” (1970): Color. Directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg. Cast: James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg. Note: A cruel gangster on the run hides out from trouble in a strange, drug-filled mansion with a faded rock star and his girlfriends.
“Phantom of the Paradise” (1974): Color. Directed by Brian De Palma. Cast: William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper. Note: This campy rock ‘n’ roll version of “The Phantom of the Opera” throws in some Faust and lots of laughs. It’s strange but it works.
“The Philadelphia Story” (1940): B&W. Directed by George Cukor; Cast Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart. Note: Although the typical screwball plot that mocks the filthy rich may seem ordinary, the dialogue and performances are anything but.
“Point of Order” (1964): B&W. Directed by Emile de Antonio. Note: This documentary was made with kinescope footage from the famous televised Army-McCarthy Hearings in the Senate in 1954. Welch to McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”
“The Producers” (1968): Color. Directed by Mel Brooks. Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Dick Shawn. Note: Brooks’ first feature film laughed at Nazis in a way never imagined. Mostel and Wilder are so audaciously funny it ought to be illegal.
“Psycho” (1960): B&W. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam. Note: Nervous Norman tries to be a good boy, but his demanding mother is hard on him. Misfortunate Marion is tired and wants to take a shower. Uh-oh…
“Putney Swope” (1969): Color and B&W. Directed by Robert Downey Sr. Cast: Stan Gottlieb, Allen Garfield, Archie Russell. Note: This strange but hilarious send-up of Madison Avenue was Downey’s effort to crossover from underground films to legit.
“Rancho Deluxe” (1975): Color. Directed by Frank Perry. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, Elizabeth Ashley, Slim Pickens. Note: A duo of cattle rustlers in a pickup truck search for fun in modern day Montana in this offbeat and funny update of cowboy movies.
“Rashoman” (1950): B&W. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori. Note: This mystery, set in the Middle Ages, is told with flashbacks from different perspectives. Thus, the complicated nature of truth is examined.
“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955): Color. Directed by: Nicholas Ray. Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo. Note: Yes, this teens-in-trouble melodrama is somewhat overwrought. Still, Dean’s way of inhabiting a character remains fascinating to watch.
“The Red Balloon” (1956): Color. Directed by Albert Lamorisse. Cast: Pascal Lamorisse, Sabine Lamorisse, Georges Sellier. Note: Using little dialogue, this utterly charming 34-minute French fantasy follows a boy and his balloon friend along the streets of Paris.
“Repulsion” (1965): B&W. (1965): Directed by Roman Polanski; Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser. Note: A beautiful young woman with the dead rabbit in her purse wallows in paranoia and descends into madness. You won’t forget this one.
“The Return of the Secaucus Seven” (1979)*: Color. Directed by John Sayles. Cast: Bruce MacDonald, Maggie Renzi, Adam LeFevre. Note: Before “The Big Chill” (1983), perhaps a better film with much the same hippie-days-reminiscing hook was produced.
“Rollerball” (1975): Color. Directed by Norman Jewison. Cast: James Caan, John Houseman, Maude Adams. Note: Crush individuality in a future with a few corporations running everything; combine hockey, roller derby and cage-fighting. You get Rollerball.
“Roman Holiday” (1953): B&W. Directed by William Wyler. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck. Note: A bored princess runs away, looking for adventure. She falls for an American journalist. Everyday story? No, but this modern fairy tale has oodles of style.
“Sabrina” (1954): B&W. Directed by Billy Wilder. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden. Note: A lightweight romantic comedy, but don’t worry about how silly the plot is. With Hepburn’s striking visage lighting up the screen, who cares?
“Seven Beauties” (1975)*: Color. Directed by Lina Wertmüller. Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Fernando Rey, Shirley Stoler. Note: Caught in a war, what, if anything, will captives refuse to do, if they want to survive? This drama/black comedy takes you there.
“The Seven Samurai” (1954): B&W. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, Yoshio Inaba. Note: When bandits terrorize a peasant village in 16th century Japan, samurai warriors are recruited to fend them off. An epic ensues.
“Slaughterhouse 5” (1972): Color. Directed by George Roy Hill. Cast: Michael Sachs, Ron Leibman, Valerie Perrine. Note: “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote about his character. In WWII in one minute, on another planet the next.
“Spellbound” (1945): B&W. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Leo G. Carroll. Note: Something is fishy at the mental institution and somebody is covering it up. The spooky dream scenes were designed by Salvador Dali.
“Stagecoach” (1939): B&W. Directed by John Ford. Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell, Andy Devine. Note: With this saga that throws travelers together, to face peril, Ford made a star of Wayne and created a template for all Westerns to follow.
“Stage Door” (1937): B&W. Directed by Gregory La Cava. Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Lucille Ball. Note: The wisecracks bounce off of every surface in this Screwball Comedy about would-be actresses living in a boardinghouse.
“Stalag 17” (1953): B&W. Directed by Billy Wilder Cast: William Holden, Otto Preminger. Note: In a WWII German prison camp, most of the captives plot to escape, endlessly, except for one cynical sergeant who trades with the guards. Is he the traitor?
“State of Siege” (1972)*: Color. Directed by Costa-Gavras. Cast: Yves Montand, Renato Salvatori. Note: An American undercover agent who teaches the police in Uruguay brutal interrogation techniques is captured and put on trial by guerrillas. Who are the villains?
“A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951): B&W. Directed by Elia Kazan. Cast: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden. Note: After directing this Tennessee Williams masterpiece on Broadway, Kazan adapted the play set in New Orleans to the silver screen … Stel-lah!
“The Stranger” (1967): Color. Directed by Luchino Visconti. Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anna Karina. Note: Mastroianni is brilliant as Arthur Meursault, the detached protagonist of Albert Camu’s story of crime and punishment set in Algeria.
“Sunset Blvd.” (1950): B&W. Directed by Billy Wilder. Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim. Note: For a young struggling writer, down on his luck, why not coast for a while? Why not facilitate the batty fantasies of a rich old movie star?
“T.A.M.I. Show” (1964): B&W. Directed by Steve Binder. Performers: the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Lesley Gore and more. Note: Rare concert footage of young pop stars.
“Taxi Driver” (1976): Color. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Cast: Robert DeNiro, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Boyle, Jodie Foster. Note: This amazing portrayal of an alienated veteran’s decent into madness is still as eye-popping and haunting as it was 36 years ago.
“The Thin Man” (1934): B&W. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy. Note: This is the first of a series of six films about the sleuthing, drinking and wisecracking of dashing detective Nick Charles and his comely sidekick/wife Nora.
“The Third Man” (1949): B&W. Directed by Carol Reed. Cast: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli. Note: This elegant film noir mystery, set in crumbling post-war Vienna, is pleasing to the eye and stylishly cynical. Hey, no heroes here, but great music.
“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969): Color. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Cast: Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Gig Young. Note: A Depression era melodrama about desperate characters participating in a dance marathon contest that borders on torture.
“A Thousand Clowns” (1965): B&W. Directed by Fred Coe. Cast: Jason Robards, Barbara Harris, Martin Balsam. Note: A social worker investigates the rules-bending circumstances in which a boy lives with his iconoclastic uncle, an unemployed writer.
“To Have and Have Not” (1944): B&W. Directed by Howard Hawks. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan. Note: In Bacall’s debut, Bogie is a cynical American expatriate who gets dragged into taking sides in WWII. Plot sound familiar?
“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962): B&W. Directed by Robert Mulligan. Cast: Gregory Peck, Brock Peters, Robert Duvall. Note: A perfect adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about little girl learning from her father’s battle for justice and dignity.
“Touch of Evil” (1958): B&W. Directed by Orson Welles. Cast: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh. Note: This noir-ish, crime melodrama, set on both sides of the American/Mexican border, is so chock full of weird characters it feels like a cartoon.
“Traffic” (1971) Color. Directed by Jacques Tati. Cast: Jacques Tati, Marcel Fraval, Honoré Bostel. Tati’s last feature has Mr. Hulot battling with gadgets to do with motor vehicles. Tati’s films are physical comedies and his sense of humor is like no one else’s.
“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948): B&W. Directed by John Huston. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt. Note: Three down-on-their-luck drifters, almost strangers, throw in together to prospect for gold in Mexico. Problems ensue.
“Wait Until Dark” (1967): Color. Directed by Terrence Young. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna. Note: This taut thriller pits brave and blind Audrey against the vilest of hoodlums in her apartment. Warning: Don’t let anyone reveal the spoiler!
“Who’ll Stop the Rain?” (1978)*: Color. Directed by Karel Reisz. Cast: Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld, Michael Moriarty. Note: A merchant marine reluctantly agrees to mule some heroin back to the USA for a journalist friend. It turns out to be a woefully bad idea.
“Wild Strawberries” (1957): B&W. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin. Note: Traveling to accept an honorary degree, an old doctor dreams and reminisces about the turns in the journey his life has taken.
“Wise Blood” (1979)*: Color. Directed by John Huston. Cast: Brad Dourif, Harry Dean Stanton, John Huston. Note: An adaptation of a Flannery O’Connor story about an Army vet, self-styled street preacher’s wacky efforts to fit into a world of shadows and scams.
“Z” (1969): Color. Directed by Costa-Gavras. Cast: Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Irene Papas. Note: A political assassination’s cover-up in Greece spawns a compelling based-on-truth whodunit, with sudden plot twists, all told at a furious pace.Tha, tha … that’s all folks!