Top Ten List for My Birthday #1

I have been writing this blog for over ten years now, and I have resisted putting up a list of my favorite films for that whole time. As the Borg say “Resistance is Futile!” 

This year I am marking another year in my sixth decade of life. I did several birthday posts in the past and enjoyed them immensely. The last two years my heart has just not been into it. This year however, I am trying to push my way back into normalcy, but I don’t have the energy to generate 63 things for a list. So what I am going to do is a ten day countdown of my favorite films.

Every year when I have posted a top ten list, I always point out that it is a combination of quality and subjective enjoyment that creates that list. Those are the guiding principles here as well. I will not claim that these are the ten greatest movies ever made, although I know several of them would be deserving of a spot on such a list. Instead, these are my ten favorite films as it stands at the moment. In a month, I could reconsider or remember something that I have tragically left off the list, but for this moment here is how they rank.

#1 The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

I’ve had a few people who indicated surprise that “Jaws” was not in the number one position. Apparently, you have not read the stand alone page on this site that identifies this as my favorite movie. The reasons it ends up in that place of honor are coming, let me first tell you about the film.

“The Adventures of Robin Hood” starring Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland is one of the most beautiful films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. As an early all color feature, they literally used every color camera that existed in town to make the movie. The story was developed originally with another actor in mind, but studio politics and the successful paring of the two stars in a previous film resulted in the decision to cast Flynn. There was never a more perfect match between character and actor. The insouciant Flynn and the Devil-may-care Robin of Locksley were made for each other.

I have a healthy respect for films made in my lifetime. Seven of the ten films that appear on the current list were produced and released after the date of my birth, but I have always felt an affinity for the Hollywood of the past. The studio heads may have been tyrants, but they were also titans who took risks. The “factory” that created dreams is a mythology I romanticize and wish I could have seen up close. I have never made it a secret that I am a sentimentalist, I love movies that stir me, touch my heart or make me cry. Robin Hood does all of those things. The sentiment that all men should be free and treated fairly, the loyalty to the crown and country, and the passion and sacrifice inspired by love are all abundant in this movie. What is also abundant are the characters and plethora of actors that fill those roles. It is no surprise to me that Claude Rains appears in three films on my top ten list. He is the only actor who is in more than one film on my list, and he is the epitome of the golden age. 

Probably everyone who reads a site like this can remember the movie that made them fall in love with movies. This is the one that did it for me. As much as I love “Jaws”, I might not ever have seen it if I were not the movie fanatic that Robin Hood turned me into. So like your first love, the pattern of your life may be imprinted by that experience and I freely confess it here. This film, filled with the artifice of Hollywood, and the glamour of the studio system, is in my veins and it is the plasma that keeps me coming back. 

I hope all of you have a film like this somewhere in your heart.

Previous Posts on The Adventures of Robin Hood

A Love Letter to a Movie Classic

Academy Conversations TCM: The Adventures of Robin Hood

Centennial Screening Olivia De Havilland

Sunday Screening of Robin Hood

TCM Film Festival Day Two

Normally, I am pretty good about posting on the day of an event or maybe a day later. The Festival kicked my ass a little since I also went to see the Avenger’s movie on opening night and have suffered from exhaustion as a result for four days. I will begin catching up right now.

Pink Panther Cartoons on the Big Screen

This was a delightful program that ran the opening credits of the original film, and then followed up with a selection of shorts that were created subsequently. Most of the material was shown on television in the seventies as kids programming but it was nice to see it on the Big Screen and to hear a bit of history as well. Animation Historian Jerry beck lead us through some of the development of the shorts and provided context. He was at one point joined by Larry Mirish, the son of Producer Walter Mirish, who added to the context and provided some insider insight as well.  The daughters of Animation Director Friz Freleng were in attendance and were also briefly introduced. I was fortunate that I’d seen the cartoons before because I ended up dozing off for two of them after the late night followed by an early start.

One of the animation directors also joined the conversation and displayed a cartoon he drew while waiting and then a series of rough sketches, as would have been used to storyboard the cartoon shorts.

Charge of the Light Brigade

I am an Errol Flynn fan. This movie has virtually no connection to the historical event that is referenced in the poem by Tennyson. It does however have the spirit and that was enough to make it entertaining. This is the film that introduced Flynn’s pencil mustache and cemented his stardom. It is also the second of nine movies that Flynn made with Olivia deHavilland. We were given some background on the movie by a film historian and then treated to a reading of the poem by actor Casey Campbell.  I don’t have that rendition but I did find this:

The studio provided a print, so we actually were watching a film as opposed to a DCP, it looked great. David Niven has a small part in the movie and it is the source of his title for his own autobiography, “Bring on the Empty Horses”. As will be noted by many, the film notoriously wasted horses in battle scenes that used trip wires which lead to the death of a couple dozen horse. It lead to a long chilly relationship between Flynn and director Michael Curtiz, and eventually produced standards for animal treatment in the movies.


The Set-Up

This is a boxing movie that also qualifies as Film Noir. It was introduced by TCM Czar of Noir Eddie Muller, who’s father was a famous boxing journalist. A boxer a little long in the tooth is being set up to take a dive by his sleazy manager. The problem is that he is not informed so the manager can keep all of the money he gets from the local gangster who is paying off.

The crowds and venue all feel authentic to the times. Boxing was a widely viewed sport that has changed dramatically since other entertainment options came on the scene after World War Two. I know as I drive around town, that there are former arenas that had weekly fights here in L.A., those days seem to be gone, but maybe I just don’t come in contact with that culture because it has shrunk. Anyway, the film is shot in real time, so the whole thing follows an eighty minute period of time, including four rounds of boxing. Ryan was a boxer at Dartmouth College and he looks good in the film. Amanda attended this screening with me and she seemed to really appreciate the gritty look and feel of the movie, as well as it’s fairly depressing ending.

This was a second film in a row to be based on a poem. A lengthy (16,00 word) piece that appeared in the New Yorker, the poem featured a black boxer who was fighting prejudice as well as his opponent. That is mostly excluded except for some brief references to black boxers on the card with Ryan’s character. A local rap artist contacted Muller and was invited to present part of the poem as a lead in to the film. Unfortunately, he neglected to print a copy of the segment he planned on performing and an embarrassing few minutes passed while he sought it out on his cell phone. The reading was great but it was clear this was an impromptu moment from a non-professional.

Three Smart Girls

I am pretty sure this is my first Deanna Durbin film. She was an actress who was noted for her sensational singing voice. trained for the opera but diverted from the stage by a movie career she did not really want, Durbin left Hollywood at the age of 28 or so. She made just over twenty films in a dozen years, and she was a Shirley Temple rival at the box office. In this movie she is not the lead but her character has all the emotional high points and when she starts singing, everything else in the film feels irrelevant.

The story involves the children of divorced parents plotting to stop the marriage of their father to a gold digger. The children have not seen their Dad in ten years and travel from Switzerland to New York to carry out their plot.  Mistaken identities and subterfuge follow and the story reaches a climax with a song in the police station.

The movie was not deep but it was delightful.

The Creature From the Black Lagoon

This is a well known horror film from the 1950s. I’ve seen it on TV over the years and I remember being frightened by it as a child and slightly bored by it as an adolescent. This screening was anything but boring, it was a real treat.

To begin with, the movie was introduced by TCM fan and one time Guest Programmer Dennis Miller. I missed the pool side screening of “Them” which he introduced with actress Illeana Douglas, I’m sure that was a hoot. He basically talked about his love for old movies and his appreciation of the fact that some of the actors in these movies are still around. He gave a shout out for Olivia de Havilland sleeping in Paris that night but also visualized the star of this movie, Julie Adams, coming across this and seeing herself in that white bathing suit and saying, “yeah, that’s me alright”. It was a cute piece of warm imagination. He also joked about the fact that it is basically “The Shape of Water” before they learned how to hide the costume zippers.

I heard a number of people titter and guffaw at moments in the film, as if they were creaky and so old fashioned as to be unbelievable. They seemed to be responding to the movie as camp. Like Mr. Miller, I’m willing to give people credit if they seem to be trying to sell the story and these actors and technicians do. Miller’s joke about having to have two different actors play the creature, one for the underwater scenes and one for the land sequence, is amusing, but he was not disparaging of the film.

Sometimes the dialogue is a little old fashioned and yes the sexist sensibilities of the fifties are on display, but none of that takes away from the drama and horror of the story. One of the things that made this screening so great was that it was presented in 3D. The movie looked great and there were two or three moments where the 3D did it’s job in making us jump and be engaged with the story.

The Exorcist

I mentioned in the post about “The Producers”, that a Mel Brooks interview is basically just setting him loose on the audience. Well it is not to far a leap to say that the experience is almost the same with director William Friedkin. I’ve been at some previous presentations with Friedkin and he is a fearless raconteur. He enjoys the moment, shares good details and takes his time in telling his own stories. Host Ben Mankiewicz did ask questions and the audience did as well, but Friedkin often used those as jumping off points for observations about the context of the movie or details that were fascinating but tangential.

He discussed his casting of Mercedes McCambridge as the voice of the demon possessing the little girl in the story. Her commitment to the vocal performance included some method acting that I would imagine would not go down well with today’s actors. He was asked about a rumor that one of the on screen performers became a serial killer and was the inspiration for Friedkin’s film “Cruising”. Mankiewicz was quick to dismiss the story but in turn was shocked when Friedkin confirmed it. The tech in the hospital scene was Paul Bateson, who was convicted of one murder but believed to have committed several more.

The screening was of the updated version of the movie from 2000. So it contains the “spider walk” sequence and the modified ending of the movie. The spider walk was the only thing that I think added to the film, the other scenes and inserts don’t feel necessary to me.

Centennial Birthday Screening of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) In Honor of Olivia de Havilland

It has already been said and you can find the page link above, this is my favorite movie. Any time you get a chance to see your favorite movie on the big screen, you should jump at it. Tomorrow night will be Amanda’s turn and I will get to see my second favorite movie the day after the first. This is a fortuitous set of circumstances as we get ready to celebrate the Independence Day weekend. I only wish we could have seen my wife’s favorite (The Right Stuff) last night. It would have been perfect.

Olivia de Havilland turns 100 on July 1, and is the last remaining major female star of the Golden Age of Hollywood. If I were not on the road, I would return to the Egyptian on Saturday for the American Cinematique presentation of “Gone with the Wind”. Havilland is the last surviving cast member of one of the greatest American films ever and whether you like it or not, it is a cultural milestone.

The word “luminous” might very well have been invented to describe her presence on the screen in the films she made with Errol Flynn. Her face radiated life and positive energy and she was a truly beautiful woman. No wonder that both Guy of Gisborne and Robin of Locksley fell in love with her almost at first sight.

Oh, by the way she is also a spectacular actress. Her Melanie in GWTW may be the role she is forever remembered for but but watch her on the screen in this moment of nobility in Robin Hood, and you will be moved by her words as well as her looks.

Imagine how the world has changed in the span of her lifetime. She was in her early twenties when “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was made, that was before World War Two, in the Depths of the Depression. Jet aircraft did not exist, trips to the moon were the stuff of fiction, special effects consisted of paintings on glass and stuntmen with padding being shot with dull arrows to achieve the desired effect. She won two Academy Awards, was nominated five times and starred with Errol Flynn in eight movies in a six year period.

Happy Birthday Lady Marian , from one of the Merry Men of Sherwood.