The Best Discoveries of 2020: The 1970s
So many of the movies I watched from the 1970s were genre movies, leaving just a handful of non-genre films. But I hope you’ll find some movies to check out here. Leisure suits not necessary. (But hey, if you’re into that, go right ahead…)
Brewster McCloud (1970) Robert Altman (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
On the surface, Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) is a young man who’s living in a fallout shelter inside the Houston Astrodome, building a complex set of wings that will allow him to fly. But this is Robert Altman, so there’s much, much more going on beneath the surface (as well as beneath the Astrodome). The women in this film (Sally Kellerman, Shelley Duval, Jennifer Salt, and even Margaret Hamilton singing “The Star Spangled Banner”) are exceptional.
Day for Night (1973) François Truffaut (Criterion Channel)
Everyone who loves movies should see this, one of the best movies about making a movie.
God Told Me To (1976) Larry Cohen (Criterion Channel)
I don’t think there was anything Larry Cohen wouldn’t tackle. New York cop Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) tries to figure out what’s behind a rash of killings in which the perpetrator always confesses, saying “God told me to” kill. Cohen’s fans have understood his bold talent for decades, and now it’s time for everyone to appreciate his fearless type of filmmaking. I almost put this on my sf/horror list, but in many ways Cohen is in a category all his own.
The Laughing Policeman (1973) Stuart Rosenberg (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
More than a police procedural, this Walter Matthau/Bruce Dern movie had been on my to-watch list for years. Matthau plays Jake Martin, a police detective obsessed with finding the man who murdered a group of people on a San Francisco city bus, including his partner. Dern plays Martin’s new partner.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976) Nicolas Gessner (borrowed from a friend)
13-year-old Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) lives in a New England cottage with her father, a fairly well-known poet who’s either locked in his study working or out of town, leaving Rynn alone. Rynn catches the eye of a local creep (Martin Sheen) whose mother (Alexis Smith) rents the property Rynn and her father live in. This is a very dark tale with an absolutely stunning performance by Foster. Like God Told Me To, I almost put this film on my horror list, but consider it more of a thriller.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) Billy Wilder (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
Maybe I’ve just been spoiled from watching so many of the Jeremy Brett episodes from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes that I initially found this film so…ordinary. And from Billy Wilder! Yet Kim Newman called this the best Sherlock Holmes movie ever made, and I’m beginning to think my first assessment of the movie was clouded by my previous Sherlock Holmes experiences. This film was also the inspiration for the hit BBC show Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, so perhaps I am missing something. I’ll definitely go back and watch this and the deleted scenes (almost an hour’s worth).
That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) Luis Buñuel (borrowed from a friend)
Luis Buñuel’s final film begins with a well-to-do Frenchman named Mathieu (Fernando Rey) waiting for his train to depart from the station. When a young woman insists on seeing him, Mathieu dumps a bucket of water in her face. As the train begins to roll, everyone in Mathieu’s passenger car wants to know why he did such an awful thing to such a lovely young girl. Thus begins Mathieu’s story of sexual frustration with a young woman named Conchita (played alternately by Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina), who constantly teases Mathieu, let refuses to allow him to sleep with her. How many times is Mathieu going to fall for Conchita’s tricks? Will there be a reckoning? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
They Might Be Giants (1971) Anthony Harvey (Anchor Bay DVD)
In modern day Manhattan, George C. Scott plays a man who truly believes he’s Sherlock Holmes and that Professor Moriarty is out to get him. Joanne Woodward plays a psychiatrist named (wait for it…) Dr. Watson who seeks to help him. The film is either a complete misfire or pure genius. Whichever it is, I like it.
Not much of a list, right? Well, wait for the genre lists. You’ll see so many ‘70s movies you’ll put on your bell bottoms and slip on your earth shoes.
Next up: The '80s and '90s