I recently saw three films I’d never seen before, two of which I’d never even heard of before, all via TCM. And I want to share. Because I'm in the mood:
Panic in Year Zero. It is one of the most depressing post-nuclear movies I’ve ever seen - and I've seen all of them, at least the ones made before 1990. I'm fascinated by such movies because I think they say so much about the atmosphere of the time the film was made, feelings not just about nuclear war but about other fears, about family, about values... I had never heard of this movie - I'm not sure how I missed it until now. Released in 1962, it's a B movie, super low budget. In Panic in Year Zero, people don’t comfort each other, they don't ban together and try to pool their resources for survival after the nuclear bombs drop - rather, it’s every man for himself. Humans are inherently evil and you better shoot before you get shot. It’s a prepper’s wet dream. One man warns another to be careful as he begins a journey elsewhere, because, “Our country is still full of thieving, murdering ‘patriots.’” That same man forces a visitor to roll up his sleeves before he’ll let him in his house, to prove he’s not a junky - and junkies abound in this film. Two of the three female characters are raped. This movie lacks any hope at all for humans being inherently good. I felt like the movie was a warning, not about nuclear war, but about humans. It’s worth seeing just to see how bleak some people view humanity. I admit that I don't have much faith in humanity anymore, not after Brexit and Trump's election and the Turkish referendum turning their country into a voter-sanctioned dictatorship and the global hard turn to the right. But I just can't get with the every-man-for-himself mentality. I already can't watch Walking Dead because of the gore, but I also can't watch it because of the hopelessness, the lack of any cooperation among people. If the majority of humans are that selfish then, geesh, what's the point in going on? And with all that said - oh, yeah, you gotta see this movie. Then go pet some puppies and hold some babies and watch some sunrises. And, for the record, the film that I think nails what life will be like for those not immediately killed in a nuclear war in the USA: Testament from 1983.
The Great Man (1956), the only screenplay credit for José Ferrer, Mr. Rosemary Clooney. He also starred. It should be a classic film! It’s brilliant! It’s dark, it’s cynical, and I think it’s more relevant now than when it came out. It's almost noir. Everyone is wonderful, the story is awesome, the minor female characters all crackle with sass and wit and savviness, but I think Ed Wynn’s performance deserved a best-supporting actor nomination - he took my breath away with his slowly-building one-scene oh-so-serious performance. Maybe you have to be from a small town to really get that moment. I think the film isn’t better known because of its muddy soundtrack, which makes much of the dialogue hard to hear - and it is a dialogue heavy film. Oh, nephew George Clooney, please pay for the soundtrack to be cleaned up and release this on DVD! If you see it, don't miss the part where a character asks Ferrer's character how drunk she is, and he says, "Fair to middlin'". Such a Southern way of saying it - Ferrer was influenced by that Kentucky wife more than I thought.
Those are the two films I had never heard of. The third film, which I most certainly had heard of: Yentl. I purposely avoided it for years. I had seen only one scene, back when I was 18, with Barbara Streisand and Amy Irving, and thought it looked stupid and horrible. Now, seeing the film at 51 - I actually really enjoyed it, in a way that I never could have when I was young. It’s a directing triumph, at the very least, and it’s shameful Streisand wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. SHAMEFUL. I also now “get” the singing in her head, something I couldn’t grasp at 18. Because, I think, I was 18. No, it’s not the greatest film ever made and it's not even in my top 100 of all time. But it is as good as all the other amazing films nominated that year for awards in some way: Terms of Endearment, The Big Chill, The Dresser, The Year of Living Dangerously (which is in my top 100), The Right Stuff, Tender Mercies, Educating Rita, Testament (another that is in my top 100 - and referenced for a second time in this blog), Silkwood, To Be or Not to Be, WarGames, and on and on. Damn, what a great time for movies that was...