We’re starting with something from the “everything old is new again” file. The Marx Brothers had their share of comedy classics, but many consider their greatest work to be Duck Soup. It highlights the absurdity of authoritarian governments, with the boys’ rollicking chaos presented as a counterpoint to the methodical, planned chaos created by despotic regimes. Can’t imagine why that might have any resonance these days… It opened today in 1933.
On a much lighter note, The Little Mermaid arrived at a time when its parent company was still trying to find a path to the future. With this film, those concerns vanished. It launched the Disney Rennaissance in the late 80s and early 90s, and today ranks as one of their unabashed triumphs. Granted, they replaced the melancholy beauty of Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale with something more crowd-pleasing (and if this is your only exposure to the story, you owe it to yourself to look up the original immediately). But that’s part and parcel of Disney, and it’s hard to grumble too loudly when the magical songs from Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman get going. It opened today in 1989
We’ll close with a couple of winners from 007. Like Disney, James Bond endured some time in the wilderness before hitting upon what the producers hoped was a magic bullet in Pierce Brosnan. It didn’t quite work out that way — I consider Brosnan a great Bond whose Bond movies weren’t all that great — but 1995’s Goldeneye stands as the exception. As a heartfelt effort to update the character, it sets the stage for greater advances to follow, and while it still feels dated, director Martin Campbell scores several crackerjack action sequences that serve it well. It opened today in 1995.
A decade later, those little pebbles became a full avalanche with Casino Royale, which took far more chances and reaped far greater rewards than the timid 007 films preceding it. With Daniel Craig, the franchise found the perfect Bond for a post-9/11 era, and in Eva Green it gained one of the best Bond girls yet put on screen. (To say nothing of Mads Mikkelsen launching a decade of memorable villain roles with his cool-as-a-cucumber baddie here.) Add to that the last of the “official” Ian Fleming novels finally adapted for the movies, and the series finally got the shot in the arm it so desperately needed. Casino Royale opened today in 2006.