Today in Movie History: October 17

For a supposedly quiet month, October is chock full of terrific movies. We’ll start with Bullitt, a movie that’s less a classic in and of itself than a classic car chase with a movie wrapped around it. The rest of the film is boilerplate cops-and-robbers stuff, but when Steve McQueen gets behind the wheel of that Mustang, something magic happens. Bullitt opened 50 years ago today in 1968.

Animal movies are tough to pull off, and most are relegated to the direct-to-video section of your local Disney Store. One glorious exception is The Black Stallion, a boy-and-his-horse story that manages to be stirring, emotional, heartfelt and exciting without once compromising its integrity with undue schmaltz. Terri Garr and Mickey Rooney turn in great supporting performances, but the film ultimately belongs to Kelly Reno, as the shipwrecked boy who develops a unique bond with the horse who survived disaster with him. Credit also goes to director Carroll Ballard, who went on to helm another pair of great animal movies: Never Cry Wolf and Fly Away Home. The Black Stallion opened today in 1979.

A couple of Best Picture winners opened today as well, only one of which has had time for a proper evaluation. That would be Around the World in 80 Days, a faithful, yet unduly bloated and laborious version of the famed Jules Verne novel. It’s a sight better than that dreadful Jackie Chan thing from a few years ago, but in a year that included the likes of The Searchers, The King and I, The Ten Commandments, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Forbidden Planet…. epic fail, Academy. It opened today in 1956.

The other Best Picture winner that opened today is Birdman: certainly an intriguing choice for the top Oscar and quite possibly an honorable one as well. It’s far too soon to view it in terms of the rest of the canon, but with Michael Keaton anchoring the film with the performance of his life, it’s an interesting look regardless. It opened today in 2014.

We’ll close with The Color of Money, Martin Scorsese’s fascinating not-quite-a-sequel to The Hustler which finally nabbed Paul Newman that elusive Oscar he’d been seeking his whole career. Tom Cruise tags along as the young stud learning under the careful tutelage of Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson, and the hubris lurking around the edges never quite gets strong enough to shake the foundations. the Color of Money opened today in 1986.

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