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Today in Movie History: December 22

As usual, there’s an eclectic mixture of titles that saw release today, starting with a classic Universal monster picture. Carl Freund’s The Mummy opened in today 1932, featuring Boris Karloff in his second brilliant role for Universal. Today also saw the release of The Mummy’s Curse in 1944: the third sequel of the remake of the original, featuring Lon Chaney, Jr. in the role. (See? Hollywood never had any original ideas.)

After scoring one of his greatest triumphs with Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean followed with Doctor Zhivago, based on Boris Pasternak’s celebrated novel about the advent of the Russian Revolution. Though a step down from Lawrence, it remains a handsome effort from one of cinema’s greatest directors at the peek of his powers. It opened today in 1965.

The Coen Brothers have developed quite a canon of their own, though different from Mr. Lean’s. Two of their best were released today. O Brother, Where Art Thou, a cheeky retelling of The Odyssey set in the Depression-era South, was essentially just an excuse for the Coens to indulge in their deep and abiding love for folk music. Either way, it’s still a hoot. It opened today in 2000. Ten years later, their revamped version of True Grit actually outdid the celebrated John Wayne original, with Jeff Bridges bringing his own distinctive take on the beloved Rooster Cogburn. True Grit opened today in 2010.

Speaking of remakes, Philip Kaufman created one of the best ever when he updated Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the post-Vietnam 1970s. The chilling story of humans replaced by emotionless alien drones speaks volumes to our fears of conformity and the power of the mob, and Kaufman manages the difficult trick of making the story his own without treading on the feet of Don Siegel’s equally terrifying original. This version opened today in 1978.

We’ve had some crappy Bond films released this month, so it’s only fair we celebrate one of the better ones. Sean Connery appear in his fourth outing, Thunderball, which opened today in 1965: it’s a step down from its predecessor Goldfinger but still grand fun for 007 (and, when you adjust the numbers for inflation, still the highest grossing Bond film to date).

Over in the animation department, the Fleischer Brothers released their flawed but interesting feature Gulliver’s Travels in an effort to keep up with that Disney guy across town. The film did decently, but the Fleischers could never quite capture the momentum that Uncle Walt did. It opened today in 1939.

Finally, Mike Nichols’ Boomer-coming-of-age saga The Graduate opened today in 1967. I’m not saying more because I don’t much like the film: whiny and self-indulgent even in the best of times. But it’s worth noting, and I’ll never say boo about the marvelous Anne Bancroft. Don’t go disrupting any weddings, you crazy kids.

 

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