Today in Movie History: January 23

There are good movies, there are great movies, and then there are movies that have become an ingrained part of the culture. The greatest movie ever made? You could make the case very easily. The one and only Casablanca went wide today in 1943.

A few years later, Robert Montgomery attempted a strange — and ultimately unsuccessful — cinematic experiment that now sits as an interesting curiosity. The Lady in the Lake, a film noir detective story attempting to show the entire movie from the PI’s point of view, is ultimately far too frustrating a viewing experience to endure, but as an exercise in pushing the boundaries of what the medium can do, it’s invaluable. It opened today in 1947.

We’ll close with The Stepfather, an ordinary thriller in lots of ways, but bolstered by an amazing performance from the great Terry O’Quinn. He helped the film achieve cult classic status, and if you like your grindhouse fare slightly overheated, it’s a tasty treat. It opened today in 1987.


Today in Movie History: January 6

The big opener today took place in 1948, with the release of John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Besides adding another classic to Humphrey Bogart’s resume, it earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Huston’s father Walter. (Huston also directed his daughter Anjelica to an Oscar, the only director to have pulled off such a feat.)

Other notable releases today include the Michael Critchon thriller Coma, released in 1978, and the torture-porn flagship Hostel, released in 2006. The former is good pulpy fun. The latter is one of the ugliest and most irredeemable movies ever put on screen.


Today in Movie History: October 11

Howard Hawks and Humphrey Bogart made beautiful music together, but with To Have and Have Not, the director had to make room for a third wheel. Lauren Bacall, the love of Bogart’s life, appeared with him for the first of four onscreen pairings, and the result was electric.  Bacall’s line, “you know how to whistle, don’t you?” is the stuff of movie immortality, and yes, while Bogie was married at the time, it was clear that these two were made for each other. To Have and Have Not opened today in 1944.

Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre sounds like an (ahem) inconceivable bore. Two characters sitting at a table and talking for 111 minutes? You’re kidding, right? That’s all it is and yet it remains more compulsively fascinating than most would-be blockbusters: a verbal debate for the ages covering life, the universe and everything. Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory hold the screen seemingly without effort, and in their own way, their onscreen chemistry is as fascinating (if less sexually potent) that Bogart and Bacall’s. My Dinner with Andre opened today in 1981

Adam Sandler tends to be more down than up, but even his most ardent critics (and I count myself among them) have to concede that Punch-Drunk Love is a work of genius. Paul Thomas Anderson taps into the angry vein that always lurked below the surface of Sandler’s screen persona, then turns it into a ferocious love story about a put-upon man who finally finds something worth fighting for. It opened today in 2002, and frankly, I’d sit through a thousand of his crappy films just to have this one on the shelf.

We’ll close with a spooky little number called Below that basically reset the classic haunted-house formula on a WWII submarine. As a genre exercise, it’s a minor gem, thanks to stalwart direction from David Twohy and a script co-written by a post-Requiem Darren Aronofsky. With the likes of Olivia Williams, Bruce Greenwood and a pre-star Zack Galifianakis turning in great performances, it’s a terrific treat this Halloween season. It also opened today in 2002.


Today in Movie History: October 3

The Maltese Falcon belongs in that rarefied air of movies that exists solely to be loved by everyone who sees them. Besides signaling the rise of film noir in the 1940s, it made Humphrey Bogart an icon, launched the brilliant career of director John Huston, and turned its titular “dingus” into one of the most recognizable images in cinema. Small wonder it’s considered  one of the greatest films ever made. It opened today in 1941.

Somewhere in Time, Jeannot Szwarc’s time-traveling romance based on a story by Richard Matheson, was roundly panned upon first release. The intervening years have turned it into a cult hit… to the point where fans gather every year at the hotel on Mackinac Island, MI where it was filmed to get their geek on. While technically science fiction, the romance is what sells it, making the fervor and dedication among its fans fairly unique for movies of this sort. And I confess: the romance works quite well, aided by a gorgeous score from John Barry and stars Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, who found the fragility and tragedy in their characters. Somewhere in Time opened today in 1980.

If you just read the basic description of The Trouble With Harry — a black comedy about a corpse that won’t stay buried — then saw director Alfred Hitchcock’s name attached to it, you’d think it was a masterpiece. Sadly, it never play quite as smartly or as amusingly as it should: a meandering affair the ultimately stands far lower on the canon than one would hope. That said, Hitchcock is Hitchcock, and we’re giving it a shout-out here on those merits alone. It opened today in 1955.


Today in Movie History: August 23

No contest as to what we’re starting with today: The Big Sleep Howard Hawks’ adaptation of the famed Raymond Chandler novel, now widely regarded as one of the greatest detective movies ever made. Its status as a staple of film noir hides a few too many twists – who the hell did kill that chauffeur? — but with Humphrey Bogart at the height of his fame playing off of his lady love Lauren Bacall, it’s a slice of heaven for any film lover. It opened today in 1946.

Further down the noir ladder (but not without much to recommend it), there’s Dead Again, Kenneth Branagh’s sumptuous and delightful update on the genre. He plays a Los Angeles PI tracking down the history of an amnesic woman (Emma Thompson), only to realize that he may have met her, loved her and possibly murdered her in a previous life. The flashbacks make for a delicious throwback to the classic era of noir, and while Branagh’s detective is a bit hammy, his earlier incarnation as a stormy composer is positively chilling. All that and a fine dramatic performance form Robin Williams too… Dead Again opened today in 1991.

And because we just can’t say no to the stinky ones, there’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, the film that destroyed the dreams of director Richard Stanley, cemented Marlon Brando’s irrefutable Marlon Brando-ness, and ensured that Val Kilmer would eat lunch in this town again. Yes, it’s objectively awful… but the kind of hypnotically fascinating awful that makes it impossible to look away. It opened today in 1996.