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Today in Movie History: April 12

On the list of great directors whom the Academy shafted, Alfred Hitchcock is pretty high. The only film of his that won Best Picture was  Rebecca, a solid though hardly groundbreaking slice of Gothic based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Hitch didn’t even win Best Director that year — it went to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath — and he had to settle for living vicariously through his producers. The film itself opened today in 1940, and Hitch went on to have the last laugh with the whole “greatest director of all time” thing.

We’re still not ready to let Mel Gibson out of the penalty box for his anti-Semitic meltdown, but it’s hard to deny the power of the movie that made him a star. Conceived as a biker exploitation film, the original Mad Max rewrote the book on stunts, car chases, and action sequences in general, and even the lauded Fury Road — a better movie in every respect — can’t match the adrenaline-charged grit that director George Miller’s inaugural effort produced. It opened today in 1979.

We’ll close with Ladyhawke, Richard Donner’s medieval romance about a pair of lovers (Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer) cursed by a jealous bishop hoping to destroy them. Every night, he turns into a wolf. Every morning, she turns into a hawk. All seems lost until plucky thief Matthew Broderick inadvertently reveals a path to redemption. It reeks of 80s style (the soundtrack is infamous), but the remainder of the film is strong, smart entertainment. It opened today in 1985.

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