Today in Movie History: July 28

Three big movies today, and I’m choosing to start with Animal House, the seminal frat-house comedy that unleashed a torrent of raunchy imitators, none of which had one-tenth of its iconoclasm, wit or gut-busting ability to make us laugh over and over again. Its credentials are unimpeachable, from director John Landis to writers Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman to a fantastic ensemble cast topped by a star-making turn from John Belushi. (Also, as a former member of a high school marching band, I’m always filled with subversive glee at the final scene.) It opened today in 1978.

The subtext of On the Waterfront always bothered me a bit. It celebrates a snitch, after all, and the tarnished legacy of director Eli Kazan — who ruined lives when he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee and never expressed remorse for it — makes that uncomfortable. Divorced from the queasy political subtext, however, it’s brilliant storytelling, topped by Marlon Brando’s justly celebrated (and Oscar-winning) turn in the lead. On the Waterfront was released today in 1954.

We’ll close with Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, one of the (*ahem*) curiouser entries in Uncle Walt’s canon. The animation is second to none and the character design reflect the strengths of Disney at its best. But the source material is just too subversive for a company like The Mouse’s to truly grasp (Disney had a similar problem with Peter Pan), and the film’s willingness to rest on happy nonsense misses what makes Lewis Carroll such an indispensable classic. It opened today in 1951.


Today in Movie History: June 20

In 1974, Universal Pictures handed the adaptation of a dreadful little potboiler to an untested director with just a couple of films under his belt. The production was plagued by accidents, delays and cost overruns. The script was a mess, the cast cantankerous, and the main selling point depended on special effects that just didn’t work. It looked for all the world like a disaster from the get-go.

And then it hit theaters.

The movie was Jaws, the director was Steven Spielberg, and every summer blockbuster since then — every single one — owes its very existence to it. It opened today in 1975, and we’re betting that the merest mention of its name is enough to make you want to pop it in and watch it all over again. Like right now.

Moving only slightly down the classics scale, we find The Blues Brothers, a jumped-up Saturday Night Live sketch that somehow morphed into one of the funniest movies of all time. Its secret lies in a strange kind of sweetness, carefully hidden beneath smart-aleck snark and heightened by the singular chemistry between stars Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. If you strip away the irreverence, the cynicism, the spectacular car wrecks and the Illinois Nazis, this is a movie about singing and dancing: giving people who hate musicals a musical they can truly love. All that and Ray Charles too? (And James Brown and Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway and…) How can you not love this movie? The Blues Brothers opened today in 1980.

Oh and Batman and Robin opened today in 1997. We won’t speak of it further because OH MY GOD.