Man of La Mancha

Man Of La Mancha. United Artists 1972.

Before watching the movie:

I think this is the way most people have experienced Don Quixote.  I’ve read some of the book, but despite the new translation I was using, the stilted nature of it still sometimes overpowered the comedy, which itself sometimes felt a little too much like “mental illness is funny!” It’s at the same time amazing how modern it feels at over 400 years old and yet how basic the storytelling can be at times, because it’s had 400 years to become part of the way we always tell stories.

But the grandeur of the way Man of La Mancha interprets the book is enticing and accessible. Everyone has heard at least a few bars of “The Impossible Dream”. It’s a classic showtune ballad. The romance is probably more feel-good in this take as well.

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The Late Show

The Late Show. Warner Bros. 1977.

Before watching the movie:

I picked this up because I was curious why there was a talk show highlights compilation on the fiction movies shelf.

Art Carney and Lily Tomlin sold me. Apparently it has a reputation as a drama with a lighter tone, but it’s positioned like a noir farce, so I’m interested in trying it.

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Million Dollar Duck

Million Dollar Duck. Walt Disney Productions 1971.

Before watching the movie:

There’s a tendency for the family comedies Disney made in the 50s-70s to blend together, unless they reached you early enough to trigger nostalgia. At this point, it’s hard to say if that’s the classics rising to the top, or one generation passing their nostalgia to the next.

This is not one of the well-known ones. At least, I only learned about it by finding it on a shelf. It stars Dean Jones, but so does almost every movie Disney made back then. Disney’s stable of reliable actors reminds me these days of the contract system of the Golden Age of Cinema, where actors contracted to do so many movies of whatever kind they were assigned to with the same studio before they were free to leave or renew their contract, which also created a kind of repertory effect.

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All the President’s Men

All the President’s Men. Wildwood Enterprises 1976.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve always felt that the Watergate wiretapping investigation was the single moment that America lost popular faith in its government. Perhaps that’s a naive view of history before it. Certainly the Vietnam War was a black eye for the nation. And I know there were other scandals gaining headlines between the Civil War and the Great Depression. Not long ago I covered a movie about political corruption from the 30s.

I will certainly grant that corruption has been around as long as there has been power to abuse. But if I had to point to one reason why pretty much anyone will tell you they’re all crooks in Washington, I’d say it was the CREEP coverup revelation. That was, in my mind, when the spin broke down and we saw the President’s New Clothes. The day a sitting president resigned in disgrace to avoid impeachment was the day we stopped believing that as a whole, our leaders had our best interests at heart. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve developed as someone who was born almost two decades later, having lived in a world where no substantiated political scandal has yet compared.

After watching the movie:

When the Washington Post’s newsroom signs young reporter Bob Woodward to cover a burglary at the Watergate hotel, it’s a simple police story. But as he covers the legal proceedings, he finds that they were assigned counsel but turned out to have private counsel they couldn’t have had a chance to hire themselves. Following that mystery leads to uncovering a meeting with a someone who works for the Special Advisor to the President. As the story grows, younger Carl Bernstein joins with Woodward to help pursue and report the case. Everything about it indicates deep corruption, but no source will go on record, and hardly anyone will give any information at all. There are plenty of hints that this is something big, but hints and hearsay don’t make concrete journalism, and the harder they push, the higher the pushback comes from.

This doesn’t play much like a movie. It’s more a methodical presentation of events. It seems almost as clinical as the case studies Sherlock Holmes would prefer Watson write. Despite dealing with the very heart of what makes our free society work, there’s next to no emotional investment asked for by the narrative. The duo fight through cold trails to get their facts, but we don’t get any kind of personal level of narrative conflict, just the professional challenge. This is almost excusable by the fact that we as the audience know how things turned out.

The end seems very abrupt. I’d consider the story beat it concludes on to be the beginning of the third act. After a major reversal, they get back on their feet and roll up their sleeves… and then it’s over, and all their vindication comes from an epilogue told in headlines. Perhaps this decision came from realizing the movie was already reaching two and a half hours in length.

Perhaps due to the limitation of scope of the story told, there doesn’t seem to be time in those two and a half hours to really explore the gravity of just how big the conspiracy was. It’s a gut punch to learn how much of the government was in on the election interference, but then everything wraps up with all the mess of that handled off camera.  This further leaves the impression that nothing really matters in this movie about uncovering very important things.

Ultimately, this story isn’t as concerned with the erosion of democracy as it is with journalistic integrity. Journalists will say that journalistic integrity is key to democracy, but in this case, the report could only be made after the damage had been done. The scheme worked, all the papers could do was refuse to let it stick. And by the narrative shown here, even that was a long shot.

 

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Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? Lorimar Productions 1978.
Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? Lorimar Productions 1978.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t remember how I originally came across this movie. Maybe I was looking up Robert Morley, maybe something else referenced the title, I don’t remember. But I do know that when I heard the title, I had to look it up to see if it was a real movie. And then I read the description and had to see it. And then it was not available online, so it ended up being a Christmas present. Which I am now watching.

I look forward to a globetrotting romp through culinary masterpieces, and also murder.

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National Lampoon’s Animal House

Animal House. Universal Studios 1978.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure how I’m going to sympathize with the troublemaking fraternity here, aside from everyone else being bullies. They have fun and don’t hold with stuffy rules, but I’m pretty sure they also go beyond harmless mischief. The Dean would have to be really petty (which he probably is anyway) to put them on whatever “double-secret probation” is for only silly college pranks like stealing mascots.

I’m probably too mature for this movie, but I’m not sure I was ever the kind of person who’d aspire to be the Deltas. Continue reading

The Sting

The Sting. Universal Pictures 1973.
The Sting. Universal Pictures 1973.

Before watching the movie:

What caught my attention was the Norman Rockwell/Saturday Evening Post style of the poster. Being a 70s movie, that may have little to do with the content of the movie and more with the state of movie poster art in the 1970s, but it suggests a throwback to the nostalgic view of the 1930s the movie is set in.

The synopses I’ve seen paint it as a dysfunctional duo of con men looking to steal a fortune from a mobster with a gambling scam. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen Robert Redford in anything yet, and I’ve been meaning to for a long time. I get the impression this is a high-stakes comedy, which is one of the best, or at least most respectable kinds.

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