The Picture Show

John W. Pinkerton

I don’t know that movies have affected me any more than others, but I know they have had some effect.

The picture show was big when I was growing up.  You got a movie, a cartoon, a Movietone newsreel, and air conditioning all for very little.  I remember getting into the theatre for a dime when I was a kid.

I don’t remember my first movie, but I do remember an early one: Randolph Scott playing Red Ryder.  I specifically remember the quality of a shot of Red Ryder riding fast across the prairie.  I was impressed by the sharpness of the picture on the screen and the quality of the silver shades.

I do remember the first time I saw movies as more than entertainment: Viva Zapata (1952).  It was the first time I had ever seen Marlon Brando.  In the final scene of the movie, Mexican soldiers who had set a trap for Zapata  killed Zapata with so much gunfire that the hero died deader than anyone I had ever seen then or since then on the screen.  There was no coming back from that.  But his white horse managed to escape the fort and gallop off into the hills.  Even as a kid I recognized the symbolism.  Wow, I remember walking away from the theatre thinking that the movie had changed my view of movies forever, and I guess it did.

Brando went on to make many of worst and some of the very best movies in history.  On the Waterfront  (1954) and The Fugitive Kind  (1959) were two of my favorites.  The bad ones are too numerous to mention.

Humpfrey Bogart was an actor I was indifferent to until The African Queen (1951).  It’s still worthy of watching.  John Wayne was never a favorite of mine until The Quiet Man (1952).  I still love this movie, and it remains strong today.  Jack Lemon was a crowd favorite for a long time: I guess The Days of Wine and Roses (1962) was my favorite.  Paul Newman made a lot of good films, but my favorite is Hud (1963).

Then there’s Jack.  Although there are a lot of Jack’s movies I really admire, my favorites are the small role he played in his first major motion picture Easy Rider (1969) and the main roles in Chinatown (1974) and One Flew Over the Cucoo’s Nest (1975) and The Shining (1979).

Other actors in favorite roles, although little noted in some cases, are the following.  Jim Belushi in Retroactive (1997): Jim plays a bad guy who is surprisingly believable in a bad movie.  Brad Pitt in Kalifornia (1993): Pitt plays his part as a bad guy so well I realized that he could either actually act or was a world class sleaze ball.  William Hurt in Body Heat (1981): good movie in which  he plays a  believable sucker.  Blood Simple (1985): a Coen brothers’ picture which features my favorite bit player Emmet Walsh.  This movie was called the best B-movie of the year.  Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996): great movie in which she plays the role of a sheriff which is believable and easy to relate to.   Meryl Streep in Ironweed (1987): bad movie but as she sings a song as a derelict in a bar, I realized that she had actually earned her Oscars.  Jimmy Dean in A Rebel Without a Cause (1955): I guess I was just the right age, freshman in high school. Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980): a great movie that was so real it made me uncomfortable. Ben Johnson in The Last Picture Show (1971): a movie and a role and a setting I could relate to.

When I was in college, I saw a couple of movies  which knocked my socks off in a little theatre just off campus.  The first was Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963) which I never understood, but the wackiness of the visual images was impressive and once again changed my view of what a movie is.  The other was Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) at the end of which I stood at the back of the theatre watching the credits roll over atomic explosions as the song “We’ll Meet Again” accompanied the images.  Wow!  This was also my introduction to Peter Sellers who played several roles and Slim Pickins in the role of a lifetime.

Of the old Western stars, my favorite was Bob Steele.  He was just a simple man doing daring things when life forced him to do them.  I didn’t care much for Roy Rogers or Gene Autry.  I never understood the appeal of Autry in the movies, but he did go on to be a good owner of  the LA Angels.

The Misfits (1961): one Hellava movie.  For it’s three stars, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, and Clark Gable this was their last movie and perhaps the best for all three.  They all died shortly after its completion.  They were all mature actors and actress and gave believable performances in a rather sad story.

Best Christmas movie ever has got to be A Christmas Story (1983).  Darren McGavin was recognizable as the dad and the little boy looked and acted just like my nephew at that age.  Best musical ever has got to be Little Shop of Horrors (1986).  By the way I found a copy of The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), a Roger Corman film which featured a barely recognizable Jack Nicholson.  Best sports movie has got to be Tin Cup (1996).  Best action movie (I can’t really classify this as a Western.) has got to be The Wild Bunch (1969).  I left before the movie was over to remove the blood from my shirt.  Best horror movie ever has got to be The Thing (1951).  This movie was remade in 1982: not nearly as good.  I remember in ‘51 leaving my seat to hide behind another seat near the back of the theatre.  Of course this might have been because I was only nine years old.  By the way, James Arness (Gunsmoke) played the thing.  The Big Easy (1987) has got to be my favorite romantic movie.  Best buddy movie has to be The Man Who Would Be King (1975)  with Sean Connery and Michael Caine playing the buddies.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: I can’t think of one without the other.  They each made their share of bad and good movies.  The one in which they were at their best was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966).  At all cost, avoid Boom (1968) in which they both stink up the joint.

Peter O’Toole in Murphy’s War (1971) is probably my favorite O’Toole movie.  He played the unlikely hero who fought a singular battle against the evil Nazis, much better than the Indiana Jones saga.

I remember years ago Linda and I were standing in line for tickets for On Golden Pond (1981).  There were a couple of mature couples ahead of us and one grey-haired gentleman spoke loudly with the obvious purpose of embarrassing his wife,  “The last movie I saw was Old Yeller.”  His spouse slapped at him as she shushed him much to his delight.  I’m afraid I’ve become that old fellow.  It has been a number of years since I’ve been to a theatre to see a movie.  I now have a 46 inch widescreen flat TV, not quite the same experience as the theatre; I’m not likely to jump out of my seat as I did in a theatre when the tiger jumped out of the jungle dark in Apocalypse Now (1979), but close enough for an old guy.

As I said, I’m not sure what effect the movies have had on me, but I’m sure it was a positive one.


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