If we’re talking Westerns, the line forms behind John Ford, who not only made John Wayne a star, but set the visual lexicon for the entire genre. And if you want to see Ford at his best, look no further than The Searchers, a masterpiece in a career full of them and still widely considered the greatest Western of all time. Wayne plays a bigoted Civil War veteran who spends long years on the hunt for his niece (Natalie Wood) captured by Indians. Despite the horrendous Native American stereotyping, it has the courage to examine the bigotry of Wayne’s anti-hero, and to suggest that he might not be on the side of the angels after all. The film opened today in 1956.
If you’re looking for lighter fare, try The Love Bug Disney’s ubiquitous live-action comedy about a sentient Volkswagen Beetle, and the zany mayhem that ensues when he joins the racing circuit. It opened in 1969, and earned points back in the day for being partially filmed in my hometown of Riverside, CA.
Finally, we have Evil Dead II, the sequel to Sam Raimi’s cult hit The Evil Dead. Raimi and his team were reluctant to revisit the first movie and did so only after subsequent projects failed to provide the opportunities they’d hoped for. Faced with what he thought was the end of his career as a director, he went absolutely bananas… and allowed the sequel to outstrip its predecessor for sheer Looney Toons dementia. The film now stands as an incontrovertible horror classic, and Raimi? Yeah, he’s done okay for himself. Evil Dead II opened today in 1987.