Today in Movie History: October 15

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have emerged as two of the premiere satirists of the 21st Century, with a legacy that goes well beyond South Park. One of their greatest creations was Team America: World Police, perhaps the final word on the George W. Bush administration as interpreted through a cast of Thunderbirds-Are-Go-style marionettes. It neatly skewers everything that wanders into its sights — from self-important celebrities to Kim Jong-Il — and whatever magic they put into it was built to last. It opened today in 2004, and it might have been released yesterday.

Billy Wilder’s Sabrina never quite reached the level of his elite masterpieces, and its problem-free tale of rich people in love makes it a trifle out-of-touch. But it makes for fine viewing nonetheless, with Audrey Hepburn at her most adorable as a chauffeur’s daughter and Humphrey Bogart in a rare comedic turn as the fuddy-duddy rich man who isn’t quite sure he’s falling in love with her.  Sabrina opened today in  1954.

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 exist 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 plays 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 still with 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 never 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. (And we’re gonna give a shout-out to Fairuza Balk, who kind of rocked her role in the midst of all the carnage.) It opened today in 1996.

 

Today in Movie History: May 17

One of the great films noir of all time — Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place — opened today in 1950. Featuring a brilliant performance from Humphrey Bogart’s as a potentially murderous screenwriter and noir staple Gloria Grahame as the woman who may have inadvertently helped him get away with it, it holds a punch that most modern thrillers would envy.

The other big release today is the minor but notable She-Wolf of London, part of the Universal horror cycle (though separate from the convoluted continuity of their biggest films). June Lockhart stars as a woman who believes her family curse has caught up to her when a series of grisly murders plague the park near her home. The film opened today in 1946.