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Today in Movie History: November 17

We’re starting with something from the “everything old is new again” file. The Marx Brothers had their share of comedy classics, but many consider their greatest work to be Duck Soup. It highlights the absurdity of authoritarian governments, with the boys’ rollicking chaos presented as a counterpoint to the methodical, planned chaos created by despotic regimes. Can’t imagine why that might …

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Today in Movie History: November 8

It’s a big day in more ways than one, so let’s get to it. For 45 years, Shakespeare’s Henry V belonged firmly to Laurence Olivier, whose 1944 version was considered definitive. Intended to rally the British nation during World War II, it offered a fairy-tale atmosphere of inevitable victory and proved so potent that no one dared make another version of …

Sissy Specek as Carrie

Today in Movie History: November 3

Stephen King understands bullies as few others before him, which is one of the reasons why his terror tales hold so much power. His first novel, Carrie — inspired by experiences in high school — taps into the fear, alienation and rage of being the constant target of abuse, and in the hands of director Brian De Palma, it became one of …

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Today in Movie History: October 23

We’re normally inclined to start with horror movies this time of year and we have a couple of tasty grindhouse numbers to close things out. But neither of them hold the enduring power of Dumbo, one of Walt Disney’s most beloved creations. Along with Snow White, it was the only one of Disney’s early features to turn a profit, and while …

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Today in Movie History: October 18

Musicals don’t come any better than West Side Story, a brilliant re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that freed the genre from the opulent event pictures that had dominated it in the 1950s. Robert Wise kept a steady hand on the tiller during a deeply troubled production — co-director Jerome Robbins suffered a breakdown midway through, though his stunning choreography remains …

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Today in Movie History: October 5

You’d think they’d release a movie like The Ten Commandments closer to Passover, when it might be more pertinent. But back in the 1950s, release dates worked differently, and films often had months or even years to play in theaters before moving on (and frankly, with the exception of network television, there was nowhere else to move on to). Hence, …

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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 …

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Today in Movie History: June 22

It’s a close call for the top spot today — there’s some big ones — but we’re going to go with Kermit and the gang making their feature film debut with  The Muppet Movie. The irreplaceable Jim Henson turned directing duties over to James Frawley, but the former’s fingerprints are all over it, bolstered by brilliant songs from Paul Williams …

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Today in Movie History: June 21

I tend to disapprove of nihilism in the movies, since it usually comes across as smug posturing from arrogant directors who have no real experience with true human darkness. That doesn’t apply to Roman Polanski, a man who has gazed into the abyss from both sides and knows its secrets the way few of us ever will. Nowhere is that better showcased than with Chinatown, his …

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Today in Movie History: June 15

It’s a big day today, and we’ll start with the most recent. Amid all the hubbub over 2008’s The Dark Knight, it’s easy to forget just what an amazing job its predecessor, Batman Begins, did after Tim Burton’s singular-but-flawed vision and the depressing crassness of the Joel Schumacher Batman films. Bat-fans were hungry for the kind of lean, grounded tale that Christopher Nolan …