Silent Running (1972) – A full 5 years before Star Wars this was quite a gentle SciFi film but quite ahead of it’s time. It could have been set in a remote mine or Arctic station as isolation and corporate orders were key themes. Douglas Trumbull had worked on the special effects for Kubrickon 2001: A Space Odyssey and this was his directorial debut. The Valley Forge ship on which it was set was named after a Civil War encampment and national park and was basically a floating botanical garden which cultivated plants for the replanting of earth following a long nuclear winter. The crew receive instructions to destroy the giant greenhouse “pods” and head home. Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) decides this is not for him and well, the rest is worth watching. There is a horrible Joan Baez soundtrack which I recommend you stick your fingers in your ears for. It’s got a great feel to it and I bet hippies loved it.
The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) – Sam Peckinpah’s bawdy tale of an uneducated prospector cum chancer called Cable Hogue, (an excellent Jason Robards), who is left to die by ex-partners only to find the only source of water on the long stagecoach route across the desert. What follows is an enchanting mix of comedy, kindness, romance, friendship, forgiveness and salmon pink “all-in-one” dirty underwear. There are plenty of high points in the film from when he feeds coach passengers Desert Surprise stew full of rattlesnakes and scorpions on nailed down plates to the final irony of the motor car ending his business and his life. The stand out scene is actually a song sung by Hogue and Hildy over scenes of relative domestic bliss and one suspects the two characters at their happiest together. There are a few songs in the film but Gerry Goldsmith’s Butterfly Morning is the stand out piece, you can imagine Joan Baez murdering it but Stevens has a lovely uncomplicated voice and it is a bit that always gets rewound in my house. I believe this is Peckinpah’s best film and one of his favourites by all accounts.
Imagine the Jonas brothers then imagine them having long hair, jam-jar specs and a liking for extreme violence.
Slap Shot (1977) – Paul Newman said that following the making of this film he was constantly being told off by his missus for his language. If you’ve seen the film you can probably appreciate why. It’s a tale of a steel town, minor league ice hockey team in the throes of a terrible run, morale is poor and although there is some talent, everyone is going through the motions. Two things then happen, the local steel mill announces its closure and the club sign three brothers from the Iron League. Imagine the Jonas brothers then imagine them having long hair, jam-jar specs and a liking for extreme violence and, gentlemen, I give you The Hansons. When they finally get the chance to play, they kick the shit out of everyone, the fans love it and results improve. I suppose you would describe it as a sports drama with plenty of laughs rather than a comedy but I think it’s a great example of the great blue collar stuff that came out of the US in the 70’s
Big Wednesday (1978) – This is a great coming of age, surfing / Vietnam film with cool stars, cooler music and the beautiful Patti D’Arbanville and Lee Purcell. Cat Stevens wrote a love song to Patti, “Lady D’Arbanville” incidentally. Three surfing gods, William Katt (Jack), Gary Busey (Leroy) and Jan Michael Vincent (Matt) go from care-free teenagers to soldiers / draft dodgers and parents in a 15 year span which also charts changes in music, fashion and surfing. The best “rites of passage” movie ever made and it made me want to move to California and become a surf bum but I was 15 and I wasn’t allowed. I did buy a Cal-look Beetle once though, it wasn’t the same. Neither was the surfing in Rothwell Beck.
The Duellists (1977) – Director Ridley Scott made the recent Robin Hood confusion-fest as well as G.I. Jane, but he also made The Duellists so he’s OK with me. Set in the Napoleonic wars two French officers of similar rank (rank is an important theme in the film) travel Europe with the French army and engage in a series of duels. They are separated by years, driven by an initial slight and distilled by fierce pride. If you can get beyond the fact Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel are supposed to be Frenchmen yet speak with AmDram Shakespearian English accents then you will love this. Keitel’s Feraud is the more aggressive and base, Carradine’s D’Hubert the gentleman soldier. The duels are realistic and brutal but the conclusion highlights how archaic the practice was. No one really wins.
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