Monday, April 28, 2014

Five Film Favorites: Guilty Pleasures

E.G. Marshall, Angie Dickinson and Marlon Brando in "The Chase"
by F.T. Rea

When it comes to categorizing movies for the purpose of making a list, well, there’s practically no limit to the number of possibilities. Favorite Western Movies or Film Noirs are among the most obvious genres. They've already been touched upon by the Bijou Baclkight. While creating a category for Guilty Pleasure movies is a bit more of a reach than some of the other categories previously covered in a Five Film Favorites column, I suspect a lot of film aficionados have their own equivalent of such a list, even if they haven‘t written it down.

OK, when it comes to movies, what’s a Guilty Pleasure?

For the purpose of this piece, it’s a favorite you think is good, but it's flawed. Perhaps it‘s not the director’s or the top-billed actor’s best work, but you still love it. It has a watch-ability factor that makes it just as satisfying to see, over and over, as the revered movies we all consider to be great films. So my list of five Guilty Pleasures is made up movies that may fall short of what I'd consider "greatness," but for some reason they have a special appeal to me. Each of them is way over-the-top in some way, but it doesn‘t bother me, I forgive them with ease. With each viewing they reliably distract me from boredom or a bad mood.

Also important is that even if I catch only half of them, or less, they always deliver. Maybe some readers would rather call such fare Comfort Movies. When it comes to my favorites in this category, I’m ready to watch any of them the next chance I get.

In alphabetical order, here is my quintet of guilty pleasure films:
  • “The Chase” (1966): Color. 135 minutes. Directed by Arthur Penn. Cast: Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Angie Dickinson, E.G. Marshall, Robert Duvall, James Fox. Note: A rich oil man owns the town, but when a local bad boy (Redford) escapes from prison it tests the loyalties and reveals the motives of a group of morally-challenged adults, some of which are drunk and armed. All of which sets up a scene in which Brando, the independent-minded sheriff, gets beat up by the mob. (Nobody plays getting his ass kicked better than Brando.) This overwrought melodrama puts America's booming postwar suburban lifestyle in a particularly bad light.
  • “Phantom of the Paradise” (1974): Color. 92 minutes. Directed by Brian De Palma. Cast: William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham. Note: This rock ‘n’ roll version of “The Phantom of the Opera” is a campy satire about the dark side of the pop music business that throws in some “Faust” and a dab of “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” just for laughs. Yes, it’s strange mix, maybe at times a little moody for a comedy, but it works. Although the critics didn‘t go for it, the music received Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations. In its initial release it flopped at the box office, but eventually became somewhat of a cult favorite.
  • "Rancho Deluxe" (1975): Color. 93 minutes. Directed by Frank Perry. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, Elizabeth Ashley, Slim Pickens, Harry Dean Stanton. Note: Thomas McGuane’s script puts a pair of cattle rustlers/hippie opportunists in a pickup truck in Montana. One has a wealthy, white-bread family; the other is a Native American with no connection to status. To put off adulthood as long as possible they shoot the local cattle baron’s cows, chop them up in the field with a chainsaw and sell the fresh meat on the black market. Then they party. Throw some early Jimmy Buffet music into this offbeat send-up of cowboy movie clich├ęs and you get a stylish, absurd ’70s Western.

John Williams and Audrey Hepburn in "Sabrina"
  • “Sabrina” (1954): B&W. 113 minutes. Directed by Billy Wilder. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, John Williams. Note: A lightweight romantic comedy that resembles a fairy tale. The plot has zillionaire brothers both falling for the chauffer’s daughter, once she gets a French makeover. Yes, Bogey is over twice Hepburn's age, but don’t worry about how unlikely the story is, with Audrey’s striking visage lighting up the screen, who cares? The screenplay was adapted from Samuel A. Taylor’s play, “Sabrina Fair,” which was a Broadway hit in 1953. The movie was nominated for five Oscars, but only won for its Edith Head costumes.
  • “Touch of Evil” (1958): B&W. 112 minutes (restored version). Directed by Orson Welles. Cast: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, Akim Tamiroff, Dennis Weaver, Marlene Dietrich. Note: This crime melodrama, set on both sides of the American/Mexican border, is so chock full of weird characters it feels like a cartoon. There are several uncredited walk-ons. Casting Heston to play the lead -- a wooden, Mexican drug enforcement official, who’s an officious chump -- was a stroke of genius. It opens with a famous, three-minute-twenty-second tracking shot that sets the tone for a offbeat film some consider the last of the notable film noirs of their original era.

The last two titles I cut from the longer list, to get this one down to five, were: "A Day at the Races" (1937) and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945).

What movies should I have put on the list, instead of those I did?


  1. Terry, you consider "Sabrina" flawed? Or, for that matter, "Touch of Evil"? I guess "Rancho Deluxe" is flawed enough to be considered flawed, but just barely. Personally, I look at "The Terminator" as a guilty pleasure. I can't *not* watch "Crazy, Stupid Love" whenever it is on, but the only part that is flawed for me is the ending -- which I don't watch.

  2. Well, Dan, I certainly wouldn’t say "Sabrina" or "Touch of Evil" are bad movies. Just flawed. Perhaps the flaws I see would be overlooked by others, since in both cases they reveal long-held prejudices of mine.

    To me, most of the popular romantic comedies of the ‘50s and ‘60s belong to a flawed genre that relies too heavily on cuteness and tired formulas. Awkwardly, they are trapped forever somewhere between the end of the Screwballs like, "Philadelphia Story" or "Sullivan’s Travels" and the more liberated films of the early '70s like, "Harold and Maude" or "Play It Again, Sam." So I put "Sabrina" in with that lot. With “Touch of Evil” I just consider any movie with Heston in it to be flawed, at the very least. Like I said, I've watched both of them lots of times.