Some films fade through time, while others just wait for the right person or the right time to be rediscovered. Sometimes a movie will come along that seemed destined to be little more than an afterthought, until an audience embraces it. For this Examiner, there are five films more people should see – five films that have more of an impact than most people noticed at the times of their original releases. Sometimes a little perspective – and seeing rare moments one probably won’t see again – can go a long way to gain newfound respect for films that deserved it in the first place.
A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957)
Before Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky collaborated to take on television with their 1976 satire Network, director Elia Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg dared to go after it right out of the box. In the decade of television’s debut as a dominant public medium, the duo behind the Oscar-winning On the Waterfront examined how it would make a public figure a dangerous force. That force is Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a drifter who finds success on radio before becoming a popular TV star – and the fame gets into his head. It really gets into his head. Besides Griffith in a powerhouse leading tour de force, Kazan enlists the talents of great actors Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau in a rare non-comic role.
Pennies from Heaven (Herbert Ross, 1981)
Three years after the BBC launched Dennis Potter’s powerful Depression-era story where the characters lip-synch the songs, Hollywood gave it their own spin – with Potter’s help. Steve Martin plays a sheet music salesman trying to survive the Depression and a loveless marriage, and finds hope in the form of a sweet teacher (Bernadette Peters). Great 1930s songs buoy the soundtrack, including the haunting title song, “Love is Good for Anything That Ails You” and Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave” – which gets a great dance number from the scene-stealing Christopher Walken (who plays a pimp). While the film landed 3 Oscar nominations, it was a divisive film which was met with box office disappointment.
Peter’s Friends (Kenneth Branagh, 1992)
How about this for an ensemble cast – Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton and Emma Thompson – in the same film? It did happen once, with help from an American comedienne. This features a group of college friends who reunite for a weekend at the country estate of Peter (Fry) – a songwriting couple (Laurie & Staunton), a writer (Branagh) married to an American actress (co-writer and comedienne Rita Rudner), a lonely woman (Thompson) and a sex-driven woman (Alphonsia Emmanuel) with a boyfriend (Tony Slattery) with connections. While the film has great moments of humor, there are also scenes of powerful drama (especially between Laurie and Staunton). The film’s revelation behind the friends’ get-together is a bit dated, but it still packs an emotional punch.
Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983)
This adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s novel about brothers and gang life was one of two made by the Godfather director in the same year (the other being The Outsiders). It also boasted an excellent ensemble, featuring Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, Chris Penn, Tom Waits, and a very young Sofia Coppola (credited as Domino). Rusty James (Dillon) wants to be like his tough brother The Motorcycle Boy (Rourke), the baddest kid in his town – but getting there may be harder to pull off than he thought. Then again, just trying to understand his returning brother may be more difficult. It’s a black-and-white drama with a percussion-driven score by Stewart Copeland (drummer of The Police), but Coppola managed to pull off a visually stunning work with a great cast to boot.
Whose Life Is It Anyway? (John Badham, 1981)
Before Jack Kevorkian and the case of Terri Schiavo’s vegetative state emerged onto the national stage, the subject of a person’s right-to-die was given an underrated film treatment in 1981. Richard Dreyfuss (The Goodbye Girl) starred as Ken Harrison, a sculptor who gets into a devastating accident – and finds himself paralyzed, never being able to move again. He soon decides he wants to die, but the hospital chief (John Cassavetes) in charge of his treatment is determined to keep him alive. This drama features some of Dreyfuss’ most underappreciated acting, and the subject matter makes the film relevant – even for its dated ’80s look.