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 turn in the lead. On the Waterfront was released today in 1954.
Coming just under the wire at #2 is 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. It opened today in 1978.
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 (it 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.
(Special thanks to our colleague David Cornelius for providing some info for today’s column.)