Today in Movie History: June 17

Today starts with Fanny and Alexander, Ingmar Bergman’s swan song about a young brother and sister who have to deal with their monstrous stepfather and in the process blur the distinction between fantasy and reality. It’s as powerful as any of the master’s films and netted Bergman his third and final Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. It opened in the U.S.  today in 1983.

Sound a little sedate? Well, you might try Zulu, Cy Endfield’s gripping rendition of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in which 150 British soldiers fought off an assault by 4,000 Zulu warriors during the war of 1879. You need to get around a fair helping of colonialist horseshit to enjoy it. On the other hand, it represents the breakout role of a little-known television actor named Michael Caine…. someone we suspect you may have heard of. And the Alamo-style assault has influenced a number of movies that followed. (Peter Jackson cited it as a major inspiration for the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers and Monty Python delivered their own uniquely Python take on it in The Meaning of Life.) It opened in the U.S. today in 1964.

Finally, we have Wolf, a lycanthrope movie starring Jack Nicholson and James Spader as publishing industry rivals who revert to a more primal means of resolving their conflict when Nicholson is bitten by a wolf. It sounds like a hot mess — and from Mike Nichols of all people — but the screenplay devotes itself quite seriously to the concept, and it understands how to make its standard-issue point (i.e., beneath the veneer or civilization, we’re all still beasts) with subtlety and grace. Add Michelle Pfeiffer to the mix and you’ve got a werewolf movie worth talking about. It opened today in 1994.

For Zulu, here’s a little compare and contrast: the initial assault from the 1964 film, next to Peter Jackson’s Helm’s Deep and Python’s nefarious leg theft.


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