There are two kinds of people in this world: those who adore Big Trouble in Little China, and deluded, misguided souls who make me sad. John Carpenter’s semi-satirical wuxia mash-up tanked upon its initial release, but found a new audience (as so many 80s films did) on home video. It is currently hailed as one of the cornerstones of Western civilization, thanks to a cunning twist on hero-sidekick dynamics; terrific fight choreography from the late, great Kenny Endoso; the signature role of show-biz warrior James Hong; a thick helping of Carpenter’s signature iconoclasm… and Kurt Russell’s inappropriately overconfident holy fool. Big Trouble in Little China opened today in 1986.
The second and third entries today are both very different and both opened on the exact same day. The Sons of Katie Elder may not be quite as high up the John Wayne pantheon as Stagecoach or The Searchers, but the story of four brothers who return home to avenge the death of their mother comes amid a late-career surge from the Duke that is not lightly dismissed.
If you need something lighter, there’s The Great Race, Blake Edwards’ glorious goof on the early days of motor racing that I confess remains a secret pleasure. Jack Lemmon’s Professor Fate has been a long-time favorite in more ways than one, and when arrayed against Tony Curtis’s irritatingly perfect Great Leslie and Natalie Wood’s earnestly crusading suffragette, his trials and travails have the whiff of slapstick genius to them. Oh yeah, there’s a pie fight too!
Both The Great Race and The Sons of Katie Elder opened today in 1965. Push the button, Max.