Unforgettable films: Part Three

This is the third, and possibly last, in a short series of posts that are personal to me and to my own memories of unforgettable films. As I mentioned in the first two, I do not assert that any of the following are great films (except where I do just that), or even the best of the genre. However, I will try to explain why I find each one unforgettable.

Before 1968, car chases in films were not the order of the day. They had been popular in the silent era, with the Keystone Cops driving around in pursuit of fleeing villains. There had been some later examples of vehicle chases too, particularly in gangster films. In the winter of 1968, I was 16 years old, and I went to the cinema with my girlfriend to watch the latest film starring Steve McQueen. He was already a big star by then. After first coming to notice in 1960’s ‘The Magnificent Seven’, he had gone on to become one of the coolest leading men in the film industry. If he was in a new film, then I wanted to see it. In ‘Bullitt’, he played a police detective in San Francisco. The film was really good. It had smart clothes, a cool Jazz club, and Frank Bullitt’s urbane and sexy girlfriend, played by Jaqueline Bisset. There were a couple of convincing villains, and a thrilling story about witness protection and high-level corruption. Then there was a car chase. But this was like no car chase I had ever seen. And it would never be bettered, in my opinion. Bullitt is pursuing two elderly but convincing-looking hit men. He begins to drive fast to catch them, and they speed up to escape. What follows is a never to be forgotten roller coaster ride around the winding streets, and up and down the hills of that famous city. Brilliantly filmed from inside and outside of the cars, it is one of my enduring memories in cinema. It left me breathless, and started a trend.
(Part two of this chase follows part one on this clip)

Not for the first time on this blog, I am mentioning a film that still haunts my memories, even though I watched it fairly recently. It had such an effect on me, that not only have I called it ‘one of the best films ever made’, I went so far as to write a review on another site. If you are interested, you can read it here. https://aworldoffilm.com/2014/07/18/everlasting-moments-2008-jan-troell-pete-johnson/
By description, a Swedish film about a woman photographer set before the First World War may not seem the sort of stuff to set pulses racing, or send you scurrying to search it out on Netflix. But you would be wrong. I confess that I like films about photographers. I made that clear with this article too, which also mentions this film

The Camera on Film: Seven Films about Photographers

I enjoy taking photos, and I also love cameras, especially old ones. I like foreign films too, so something combining all of this is almost certainly going to catch my eye. With links to the other reviews, I won’t say much more here. But if you really love cinema, and appreciate heartbreaking performances by talented actors, then allow yourself to be immersed in the magic of ‘Everlasting Moments’ at least once in your life. And yes, I did write that this film was ‘flawless’.

Many years ago, my sadly departed and much-loved old friend, Pete Medway suggested that I might like to accompany him to watch a film, in a central London cinema. I respected his judgement, although I had never heard of the film. After all, he knew me better than most, and was well-aware of my passion for film and cinema. He had known me since 1963, and this was 2002, so our relationship as close friends was well-established indeed. As I had recently bought a laptop, I looked the film up on the Internet. It seemed like my sort of thing. In the original Portuguese language, set in the run-down shanty towns surrounding Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, it sounded like something right up my street. I agreed to meet him outside the cinema for an early showing, and in we went. Perhaps I recall it more fondly because I watched it with my much-loved old friend? That’s a possibility, but I know better. I remember it because it was a truly amazing film. The 2002 film, ‘City Of God’ was like nothing I had ever seen. The terrible conditions in that city, the gangs, the crime, everything was more or less news to me at the time. Standout performances by amateur actors only added to the thrill. Exciting direction was the icing on the cake, and I was spellbound by the visuals, and totally immersed in the story. I can recommend this film without reservation. The scenes stay in my mind, and if you have never seen it, you are in for a memorable treat. Here’s the US trailer. It doesn’t really do the film justice.

Does an English period film really stay in your mind? There have been so many, it hardly seems possible. However, due to the wonderful cinematography of David Lean, and a career-best performance from Sir John Mills, one of these (and others) do remain unforgettable. In an Ireland torn apart by the troubles, a wonderful cast including Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, and Christopher Jones, bring Robert Bolt’s script onto film in a truly unforgettable fashion. The wonderful dramatic scenery of Galway, Mills’ heartbreaking performance, and a marvellous cast of some of our greatest actors, guarantee that this film will never be forgotten. ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ earned Mills an Oscar, and rightly so. It also earned another for cinematographer Freddie Young, again richly deserved. I was around eighteen years old when I saw this at the cinema. Although I have watched it since, that night on the big screen will never be forgotten.

In 1958, Karen Blixen wrote a short story. You may recall her name from the film ‘Out of Africa’, starring Robert Redford, and Meryl Streep. Years later, that story was transferred to a Danish film starring the incomparable Stephane Audran, one of my all-time favourite French actresses. It was released in 1987, but I didn’t get to see it until a few years later, when I bought the VHS. I was not disappointed, to say the least. ‘Babette’s Feast’ is just wonderful. A simple tale of dour Danish folk, entranced by the arrival of a French woman, and the feast that she prepares to thank them for their help. I cannot praise this film enough. The cast is wonderful, the story enchanting, and the cinematography a wonder to behold. If you never thought that you would enjoy a film about a French woman spending her life savings on a lavish meal, think again. It is a memorable wonder. Abandon any prejudices, and wrap yourself up in this heartwarming tale.

Another film that I have featured before, and praised to the hilt. I have yet to find someone else who has watched it, yet I cannot get it out of my mind. Perhaps because I love dogs, this Argentinian film from 2004 is an absolute delight. ‘Bombon el Perro’ (Bombon the dog) is the contemporary tale of a man who takes a prize dog in return for a favour, then spends the film unsuccessfully trying to breed with it. Juan Villegas as the dog’s owner is a complete delight to watch. An itinerant knife salesman who sees his chance for money and fame when he takes ownership of the pedigree Dogo Argentino dog. The dog itself, the titular Bombon, appears to be acting at every turn, just adding to the overall enjoyment of this gem of a film. The scenery and setting of remote Patagonia just piles on the delight, and for me, the enjoyment just kept on coming. A man, a weird-looking dog, and dusty settings in Argentina. Doesn’t sound like much? It is a joy, and a film that I will never forget. Despite this trailer, it is available with English subtitles.

The films of Quentin Tarantino tend to polarise audiences. They either love this ‘enfant terrible’ of cinema, or hate him. I am somewhere in the middle. His version of ‘Rum Punch’ (Jackie Brown) remains as one of my standout films of any decade. I am less interested in his westerns, or his scene-by-scene remakes of modern Chinese classics, like ‘Reservoir Dogs’. However, one of his films made me clap in the cinema, something I had never done before in my entire life. Despite having little interest in Uma Thurman as an actress, and being a little tired of complex crime thrillers, his 1994 film ‘Pulp Fiction’ rewrote the rules, delivering an incredible cinema experience, and showing the world his talent and undoubted love of film and cinema. The individual memories are too many to list, but who can forget Thurman’s dance with Travolta and her killer bob? Or Harvey Keitel’s appearance as Mr Wolfe, ‘The Cleaner’? Ving Rhames, captured by white supremacists and subjected to sexual abuse, only to be saved at the last minute by a then unrecognisable Bruce Willis? The ‘McGuffin’ of the briefcase? I wanted to know what it contained. The memories of this film continue to flood in. I could not forget it, even if I tried hard to do so. And I clapped at the end. In a British cinema too.

I have long been interested in the English Civil War. This long conflict from the 17th century is hardly mentioned these days, but it resulted in the execution of a king, and a complete reformation of British politics and religion, at least for a while. There have sadly been few films made about these wars that divided the country, but one of them has stayed in my mind, since watching it at the cinema when I was only eighteen years old. The Irish actor, Richard Harris, might seem to have been an unlikely choice for the role of Oliver Cromwell, but he tackled it with flair. He was ably assisted by a stellar cast, including Alec Guinness giving a career-best performance as Charles I, and the wonderful Robert Morley as the Earl of Manchester. Credit also to to the brilliant Charles Grey as Essex, and Michael Jayston as Ireton. The film examines the complex politics of the time, and the eventual decline into civil war, with authentic battle scenes. Where it excels, is during the trial and later execution of King Charles, when Alec Guinness delivers a spellbinding performance as the deluded king. A wonderful old-fashioned epic, that remains a personal favourite after all this time.

I have to end on another American film. This is well-known, and I make no apologies for that. The Vietnam War was the war of my formative years. It was on the TV news every night, and I became as used to watching it as I did any soap opera or drama series. The difference was that real people were dying. And they were dying live, as I watched. I got so used to it, I almost forgot it was a real event, so frequent were the broadcasts. To recreate this on film and to make it more convincing, seemed to me to be an almost impossible task. Then along came Oliver Stone, and his enthralling 1986 film, ‘Platoon’. I went to watch this at the cinema, in 70 MM, with some colleagues from my job in the Ambulance Service. It was amazing. Hard to watch at times, yet fascinating. The brilliant cast, including Tom Berenger, the wonderful Willem Dafoe, and even a convincing Charlie Sheen, gave their all in a no-holds-barred examination of the role of the American army in the region. It had it all. Battle scenes, atrocities, the confusion of war, and the spitefulness of man. We left the cinema in the afternoon light, aware that we had seen something very different.

I hope that you have enjoyed this selection. I don’t know if there will be any more like these, but you never now.

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32 thoughts on “Unforgettable films: Part Three

  1. Once again such a stellar line up of films that I love and have hoped to see for a long time. There are also some films that have my interest due to you championing them so we’ll see what happens when I finally get Nextflix. 🙂 I was touched by you talking about your friend. I have a best friend who I’ve known since 1989 and he always recommends good films to me too. City of Gods is one of the ones he got me to see. I’m sorry your mate is no longer around.

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  2. A fantastic write-up Pete, as ever I enjoy the personal touch and you always include a good group of movies which varies. Platoon, City of God and Jackie Brown are all favourites of mine too. And after such high praise, Everlasting Moments will be going on my watch list 🙂 xxx

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  3. Fabulous selection, Pete. There are one or two I haven’t watched and some that I must revisit but yes… Off to catch up with the rest of the posts…

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  4. The car chase scene in “Bullitt” is indeed extraordinary. There are also great car chases in “The French Connection” and “Ronin.” (There is also a briefcase—a McGuffin—in “Ronin,” by the way.) I’m interested in watching the films you mention that I have not seen. “Babette’s Feast” sounds particularly interesting. Have you seen “Like Water for Chocolate?” One of its themes is food. (By the way, I had an opportunity to talk at length with two of that film’s stars.) Finally, I’d like to mention that I saw Richard Harris perform on stage as King Arthur in “Camelot.” I hope you go for a fourth entry in your unforgettable films category. If I engaged in that sort of thing, I would mention, for example, “Midnight Express,” “Brazil,” and “Bonnie and Clyde,” among others.

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    1. I have seen ‘Like Water For Chocolate’, and ‘Jamon,Jamon’ too. The car chases you mention are excellent, it’s just that I recall Bullitt as the first that was so intense.
      So glad you enjoyed these, David.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  5. loved this post, got side tracked by your link to films about photographers (of course!) got double sidetracked into youtube for clips from Madison Bridges and bawled me eyes out lol. Going to order a copy of Everlasting Moments too.

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