Today in Movie History: October 24

The original version of The Manchurian Candidate set the standards for eerily plausible Cold War paranoia, involving brainwashed U.S. soldiers unwittingly doing the bidding of their communist masters in the heat of a presidential campaign. It was pulled from release following the assassination of JFK, and it’s not hard to see why: its power is absolutely terrifying. It opened today in 1962, and in light of our current political situation, it may pay to give it another look.

The 1960s saw a slow revision of the western as a genre, as the likes of Sergio Leone took it in a different, darker direction and even stalwarts like John Ford found undercurrents more in keeping with the time than their previous work. That came to a head with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a breezy, almost comedic romp marked by a growing sense of doom as the two title outlaws (Paul Newman and Robert Redford at their very best) search for frontiers that may no longer exist. The film opened today in 1969 and is still considered one of the best Westerns ever made.

Despite a stellar run on the stage, the 1978 film adaptation of The Wiz is generally regarded as a dud. It’s too long, too slow and takes too much time to get its concept across: though a great director in his own right, Sidney Lumet may not have been the right man for the job here. But the songs remain a hoot and some sure-fire casting keeps it from being a complete disaster. It opened today in 1978.

Today in Movie History: September 8

There’s only one movie today, but we’re guessing you’ve heard of it. Following the success of North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock acquired the rights to a Robert Bloch potboiler loosely based on the Ed Gein serial murder case. Paramount — who found the book morally repulsive — refused to give him the budget he wanted, so he shot it in black and white on the Universal lot using the crew of his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show. He gave up his fee in exchange for owning a piece of the print, and — freed from normal studio constraints — he was able to push the boundaries of the crumbing Hays censorship code in ways none of his previous films did.

The film was Psycho, and today it sits on the short list of the greatest movies of all time. Above and beyond the copious sex and violence (scandalous for the time), it shattered narrative conventions (killing off the protagonist 30 minutes into the picture), explored deep currents of Freudian psychology, and more or less invented the slasher genre out of whole cloth, all while ensuring that none of us ever took a shower again without just a little hesitation. It opened today in 1960. The horror genre is still trying to catch up.

Speaking of which… while it’s not quite ready to challenge Psycho for its place at the top of the heap, Andy Muschietti’s amazing adaption of Stephan King’s It shares are release date with it. Featuring a talented cast of young actors and Bill Skarsgard’s singularly terrifying clown, it opened just one year ago, but may be on its way to becoming a horror classic.