The Best of 2017: The 1970s

The Best of 2017 - The 1970sAlthough I consider the 70s my favorite movie decade (after the 40s), it’s surprising how many movies from that era I haven’t seen. Again, some of these could be placed in my neo-noir or international categories, but I decided to put them here. Hope you find a couple to add to your lists:

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Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) Sam Peckinpah
Arrow Blu-ray (UK) (1:52)

I truly believe Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a masterpiece. It’s one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen with one of the most interesting characters in all of cinema. I do not exaggerate. I don’t know of many other actors who could pull off what Warren Oates does here as Bennie, a piano player in a Mexican bar who takes on the challenge of finding the titular Alfredo Garcia for a Mexican crime boss. The film certainly deserves its own separate (and detailed) review, which I hope to do in the following months. It will take me at least that long to check out all the supplements on the recent Arrow release, which include a new audio commentary exclusive to this release by Stephen Prince (author of Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies), another commentary with Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle, and Nick Redman, the 1993 documentary Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron, an audio recording of Peckinpah’s lecture at the National Film Theater, and a separate bonus Blu-ray featuring over 10 (Yes, 10) hours of previously unreleased interview footage. Wow…. But you’ll need a region-free Blu-ray player for this one (and it’s a good excuse to get one!).

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Rolling Thunder (1977) John Flynn
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:35)

Thanks to the guys at Pure Cinema Podcast for introducing me to this film, a very effective revenge movie with William Devane playing Major Charles Rane, an ex-POW returning home from war who’s publicly given a hero’s welcome, but privately gets the bomb dropped on him by his wife (Lisa Richards). Things get worse: a group of thugs invade Rane’s home looking for a set of 2,555 silver dollars (one for each day he was in captivity as a POW in Hanoi, plus one for luck) presented to Rane at a large “welcome home” ceremony.

Rolling Thunder could’ve been a film examining the problem of returning servicemen trying to adjust to civilian life and while Flynn effectively touches on those themes, it’s primarily a revenge film that kicks into overdrive and never looks back. The film includes a very young Tommy Lee Jones as Rane’s war buddy as well as Dabney Coleman and one of my favorite bad-guy actors Luke Askew. Good stuff, recently released as a Shout Factory Blu-ray.

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The American Friend (1977) Wim Wenders
FilmStruck (2:07)

An effective and often fascinating adaptation of one of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels with Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley, an American living in Hamburg, Germany making his money in art forgery schemes. At an auction, Ripley is slighted by a local picture framer named Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) and decides to rectify this disrespect by placing Zimmerman (who has a rare blood disease) in the midst of Ripley’s own criminal activities. Telling you anything further would rob you of a wonderful viewing experience, but I will say that the film contains a great train scene and the onscreen appearance of directors Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller and Gérard Blain. Plus I couldn’t help chuckling when Ripley enters a room and another character exclaims, “Ripley!” Ripley responds, “Believe it or not.”

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That’s Entertainment! (1974) Jack Haley, Jr.
Warner Blu-ray (2:14)

Previously discussed here

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Emperor of the North (1973) Robert Aldrich
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:58)

Many thanks to Gary over at Cracked Rearviewer for suggesting this film in response to my “Train Movies: Why Do We Love Them?” post.

Emperor of the North should instantly go into anyone’s Top 10 Tough Guy movie list. Ernest Borgnine plays Shack, a sadistic train conductor constantly on the lookout for hoboes who might try to hop his train for a free ride in this Depression-era tale. (Think of Shack as Captain Ahab from Moby Dick and you’ve got the character.) A veteran hobo called A-No. 1 (Lee Marvin) manages to sneak a ride on Shack’s train, instantly becoming a hobo legend, but a young inexperienced hobo named Cigaret (Keith Carradine) has also accomplished the feat, thinking that he deserves just as much credit and respect among the local hobo community. The film is an action/adventure picture, social commentary, train picture, and character study all rolled into one with one of the best train fight scenes ever. You’ve gotta see it.

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The Yakuza (1974) Sydney Pollack
Warner Archive Blu-ray (1:52)

The Yakuza is something of a point of convergence for several people, ideas, and historical events. First, it was a film made by Sydney Pollack between two big hits (The Way We Were [1973] and 3 Days of the Condor [1975]). The film was also co-scripted by Paul Schrader (who had lived in Japan) and starred Robert Mitchum, who was – after a career that had already spanned over 30 years – looking for something different. Robert Towne (who scripted Chinatown, which was probably still in some theaters at this point) was called in to tighten up the script.

Mitchum plays Harry Kilmer, a retired detective who travels to Japan (where he once lived and established a serious relationship with a woman) to find the kidnapped daughter of a friend (Brian Keith). The Yakuza combines gangster, noir and melodrama into a stunning, unforgettable film and something completely different for Mitchum and memorable for us.

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Blue Collar (1978) Paul Schrader
DVD (1:54)

I missed this heist film at Noir City in San Francisco, but found the DVD on-on-the cheap. Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto are all workers at a Detroit auto factory, all sick and tired of how they’re treated by the company and their union. They plan to crack the safe at the union headquarters, but let’s just say things don’t go as planned. The guys at Pure Cinema Podcast mentioned that the film was loaded with problems, especially from the three leads. Apparently all three had individually been promised that this was “their” film, creating an enormous amount of tension and resentment. The end result, however, is good, often amazing.

Note: Blue Collar will be available on a Region B Blu-ray in January 2018 from Indicator.

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Junior Bonner (1972) Sam Peckinpah
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:40)

Previously discussed here

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Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) John Carpenter
Shout! Factory Blu-ray (1:31)

I’m not sure how I missed this terrific film from John Carpenter (his second to direct), but I’m glad I’ve corrected this oversight. In South Central Los Angeles, a police precinct is about to be closed, its staff moved to a new location. A small skeleton crew remains during the building’s last few operational hours and a newly promoted lieutenant named Bishop (Austin Stoker) is assigned to keep watch. Should be an easy gig, right? Maybe, if not for a man (Martin West) who witnessed a gang killing and is running for his life, finally seeking asylum at the decommissioned police station, a fact the gang members don’t fail to miss. Oh wait, there’s more: a prison bus with three inmates stops at the station when one of its prisoners suddenly becomes ill. Assault on Precinct 13 gives you everything you could want from an action picture and delivers far more than most: good acting, great action sequences, superb tension, great pacing and nail-biting suspense. This is good stuff.

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The French Connection (1971) William Friedkin
DVD (1:44)

So many people remember The French Connection only for its chase scene (as they should), forgetting that the rest of the film is a gritty, gripping, suspenseful police procedural, perhaps one of the finest ever filmed. Roger Ebert is correct in pointing out that you could think of the entire film as one long chase scene – sometimes slow, some times fast, but there’s always a chase going on. I could – and plan to – say much more about this amazing film – and its DVD/Blu-ray controversy – in a future post.

The Offence (1972*) Sidney Lumet
Kino Lorber Blu-ray (1:52)

Previously discussed here

That’s it for the 70s. Next: The 80s

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