They’re the flicks that stick with you—the movies that “catch” you as you’re flipping channels. Even if you’ve seen them dozens of times already, you’ll stop surfing and often watch until the end, finding things you’ve never picked up before or reveling in favorite lines, scenes, moments.
I’ll continue to update this list with the “catches” of Grin without a Cat readers; let me know your faves and guilty pleasures (movies only, please), at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grin without a Cat
Anything with Gregory Peck, especially on the rare occasion when Captain Horatio Hornblower [1951, directed by Raoul Walsh] shows up on the small screen. He made such interesting choices and I’m always trying to figure out whether he’s acting or just concentrating really, really hard.
Those of us who were conscious in the pre-VCR era know the special thrill of finding out an old favorite would be on TV; we’d stay up all hours! Now when I’m up at 3 in the morning I enjoy the ghastly old Biblical epics; there’s one that I keep seeing one part of, when the Christians are being fed to the lions. The Roman emperor gets very annoyed when they start singing. Deborah Kerr is in the holding pen, waiting for her turn in the arena. This one is definitely not worth staying up for (not even worth flipping to the TV Guide crawl to see what it is), but it’s a hoot and a half — can anyone help me out with the title? Right up there with another family fave: Demetrius and the Gladiators. [1954, directed by Delmer Daves]. They just don’t make ‘em like Victor Mature anymore. Oh, wait, they do. Why didn’t Sly Stallone make a tunic and sandals flick?
EDITOR’S NOTE: I think Deb is referring to Quo Vadis? [1951, directed by Mervyn LeRoy]. My Leonard Maltin book refers to it as a Biblical epic with Deborah Kerr, Robert Taylor and Peter Ustinov — presumably as the Emperor Nero. — A.B.
I’m always “caught” by:
Glengarry Glen Ross, for Jack Lemmon’s breathtaking performance…
The Heist, for its unpredictable story line…and by Cast Away, for one of the more reserved acting accomplishments I’ve seen in a long time.
There is a wonderful line from George S. Kaufman. Some fan gushed that they had seen one of his plays six times. “Didn’t you get it the first time?” Most movies are one and done with me. I seldom watch even a part of them the second time. I have never seen most of the top grossing films. I am a bit eclectic. The film that I’ve sat through the most is Casablanca. I think it is a perfect film. It is the most quotable. Everything else comes second at best. It made me, no forced me, to laugh, cry, feel proud to be an American, feel anguished, and I have watched it at least 12 times completely.
Votes for second place would include in no particular order, Repo Man, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Producers, Whale Rider, Requiem for a Dream, Jesus Christ Superstar, In America, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Station Agent, Life is Beautiful, Safety Last (it gives me the willies watching Harold Lloyd climb with one bad hand), Tender Mercies, The General, Marx Brothers, Moulin Rouge, The Tenant, Repulsion (the two scariest movies I’ve ever seen) and numerous others. Lost in Translation was the only time that I laughed at a Bill Murray movie. It was the only time that I laughed at Bill Murray since he first came to “Saturday Night Live.” He finally left himself alone and played it simple. As Dostoyevsky once said, “Be simple and rediscover the World.”
Casablanca is my ultimate catch.
Anything directed by Brian de Palma (even the duds).
For me the movie that I will watch no matter what, even if I have missed half is Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17. William Holden as Sefton is the perfect anti-hero. Rude, self serving, arrogant — all the things I admire in a person.
The true genius of this movie is how it goes from intense drama as the characters try to survive to near slapstick comedy with the antics of Shapiro and Animal. Each of the characters is multi-dimensional, from the fresh faced kid who isn’t that innocent to the mute Joey with his morose flute.
But to me the best scene, which I have seen hundreds of times is the climax where William Holden confronts the Nazi spy Peter Graves (Security) who has been posing as the all-American fly boy from Cleveland. Much to my wife’s dismay I can do 90% of the dialogue without missing a beat.
The moment that sticks out to me the most is after Sefton has exposed the spy and redeemed himself after being accused of being a spy, another POW says “Brother were we all wet about you.” Sefton replies by striking a match on the other man’s face, lights his cigar and says “forget about it.”
Throughout the movie Sefton displays a mercenary attitude and profiteers off the other POWs. He is more concerned about his comfort then anything else. After he exposes the Nazi spy, rather than there being some crappy apology or all-American group hug he is still in it for himself. The only hint of morality is he can’t allow the spy to continue his work.
Unlike most Hollywood characters his motives are not clear. He acts partly out of self-preservation and partly out of a latent desire to stick it to the enemy and if he profits from it all the better. All too often in the movies we see a character transformed from jerk to prince. In this movie he goes from jerk to jerk with a conscience.
The first three that come to mind immediately are:
The Adventures of Robin Hood with Flynn.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Laughton.
All About Eve with Bette.
One more: Fahrenheit 451.
I’d have to say there is one move about all others that “catches” me — The Shawshank Redemption. I’ll watch it every time! I think it’s Andy Dufresne’s methodical plan to escape from prison and his success at the end. It shows me time and time again that if you are focused you can achieve anything!