You’d think they’d release a movie like The Ten Commandments closer to Passover, when it might be more pertinent. But back in the 1950s, release dates worked differently, and films often had months or even years to play in theaters before moving on (and frankly, with the exception of network television, there was nowhere else to move on to). Hence, Cecil B. DeMille’s grand epic opened in the fall, on its way to making the not-at-all-Jewish Charlton Heston the go-to cinematic Moses for all time, and finding the ideal story for the directors dedication to sheer visual scale. I confess that I prefer The Prince of Egypt for humanizing the story, but it’s hard to argue with the powerful punches this one packs in abundance. The Ten Commandments opened today in 1956.
Walt Disney prepared for his classic Snow White by testing techniques in various shorter films, and though animated features became a going concern afterwards, he and his team never abandoned the shorter format. This sometimes led to the release of anthology films, which packaged several shorter stories into a single feature. Among the best of them is The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, presenting Disney versions of both The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Wind in the Willows for the public’s approval. Neither is perfect, but both have their share of exquisite moments, topped by a terrifying version of Ichabod Crane’s encounter with the Headless Horseman. It opened today in 1949.
Normally, a film like Breakfast at Tiffany’s would be much higher on this list. It’s a perfect film in many ways, aided by an irresistible performance from Audrey Hepburn at the top of her game. Unfortunately, it also contains Mr. Yunoshi (Mickey Rooney), and while we don’t blame the Mickster for an act of systemic racism, his horrific caricature of a character is too ugly to ignore. Not cool guys. Seriously. Breakfast at Tiffany’s opened today in 1961.
We’ll close with Nosferatu the Vampyre, Werner Herzog’s haunting remake of the silent horror classic. Though it can’t match the Murnau original, it still finds some potent, chilling material, with a sense of growing decay and an apocalyptic doom that only Herzog could deliver. And of course, there’s Klaus Kinski’s turn as the vampire: casting so perfect it’s downright creepy. Nosferatu the Vampyre opened today in 1979.