By Bill Anderson
All right, I know these aren't films that "everybody" likes but me. But I needed a provocative title for this group of film comments, and I think this one works pretty well. Here's a list of some films that I eagerly anticipated, but that for one reason or another, severely disappointed me. I mean, I REALLY thought I'd like these films (and I still hold out hope for a small number of them). But I do not like them. Not at all. And I hope I can help you feel better if you don't either.
Writing my list of 50 films to watch again and again was easy compared to this. I found it a simple thing to explain why I like a film, but examining my feelings about disappointing films turned out to be a real challenge in some cases. I'm still not sure I did a very good job with "Bring Up Baby," for example. I don't know why I don't like that film. I just don't like it. When it's on, I want to turn it off. (But I also envy my friends who love it so.) I'd like to enjoy it, but I can't. And the same is true for all the other films on this list.
Remember now, this isn't a list of bad films. You won't find "Plan 9 From Outer Space" here. Or "Caligula." Or any Jim Carrey movie. Or any Barbra Streisand movie. Or even "Ernest Goes to Camp." The films on this list should have been GOOD movies. But they're not.
A Streetcar Named Desire (Brando)
I confess the reason I don't care for this film has nothing to do with the fine production, acting or writing. I'll even admit that my position probably isn't defensible. (But I won't let a small detail like that stop me.) My first exposure to "A Streetcar Named Desire" in any way was the television production starring Ann Margret and Treat Williams. Of course I was quite familiar with the line "STELLA!!!!" and also the line "I've always depended upon the kindness of strangers." Those lines have become part of the popular culture. But when I saw the Ann Margret version, I had no clue whatsoever about the plot of "Streetcar," and I had no idea how these lines figured in the story. So, when I first experienced "Streetcar," I was completely blown away by the power of the Tennessee Williams play. I was so innocent; so gullible. And then I suddenly understood what had been going on back at Belle Rive, and I still haven't gotten over my horror. Oh, poor Ann Margret. Oh golly. Oh no. So .when I tried to watch the Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando version, I knew everything that was going to happen. There were no surprises in store. And I was left with comparing Vivien Leigh's performance to Ann Margret's performance. I know what you're thinking: "This guy's about to say Ann Margret's a better actress than Vivien Leigh." Well, maybe. And also, maybe, I find it easier to believe Ann Margret depending upon the kindness of strangers. Vivien Leigh wouldn't have escaped Belle Rive alive, I think. She's just too delicate. And just a little too nutsy. So I can't buy into the Leigh/Brando movie. I certainly hope the Ann Margret version reappears on TV some day so I can tape it and show it to my friends who are convinced that the Leigh/Brando version is the definitive version.
Why is it that some screen couples seem perfect for each other, and others don't, even though both parties are fine performers? William Powell and Myrna Loy were a delightful screen couple. So were Astaire and Rogers. So are Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Now we all can agree, I think, that Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn were two of the greatest stars in motion picture history. (Hepburn still is, as a matter of fact.) In private life they were in love, and, according to all reports, simply ideal for each other. But for at least this one movie fan, they were all wrong for each other on screen. I could accept the idea, maybe, that he could play her father. But not her lover. And it's basically for this reason that I have never liked a Tracy-Hepburn film. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn? Certainly. Jimmy Stewart and Katherine Hepburn? Of course. But not Kate and that garrulous old Spencer Tracy. Also, if I'm not mistaken, this is the film in which Tracy, while giving Kate a massage, strikes her with a little more force than necessary. Not funny.
Beat the Devil
Let's take a handful of hot chilies, three cups of chocolate pudding, a dozen fresh raw oysters, two tangerines, and a partridge in a pear tree. Fine ingredients all. Then let's put them in a bowl and mix them up and bake a cake. What do we get? A big mess. That's what happened to "Beat the Devil." John Huston directed it, Truman Capote wrote it, and Humphrey Bogart starred in it (along with Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre and Robert Morley). Fine talents all. And when I try to watch the film, I keep thinking, "What IS this?" The film starts in a small seaside town somewhere in Europe, I believe, with the characters running about sharing snappy dialogue concerning exactly what, I cannot fathom. I have seen this sequence on television over the years at least five times. I know this sequence well. But I do not know what happens after, because I never watch more. I have read that the film is a comedy. Well, not only is it not funny, it isn't even interesting. It's confusing. It's unpleasant. It's annoying. It's a big mess.
Breakfast at Tiffany's
A few actresses and actors have the ability to play a wide variety of character types with absolute believability. Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep are commonly-cited examples. Many of our most popular modern film performers, though, may be perfectly suited for specific parts, but really shouldn't try to stretch into roles for which they are not suited. Jack Lemmon, for example, is one of my favorite movie stars with dozens of wonderful characterizations under his belt. But in a minor role in Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet," he was completely out of place, disastrous for the part, and a sad joke. He was as wrong for his part in "Hamlet," as Audrey Hepburn was wrong for her part in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." It's like this: Audrey Hepburn was a princess; a lovely, beguiling, transcendent beauty who graced the silver screen in many memorable roles throughout her all too brief career. It is impossible for me to believe in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" that an Audrey Hepburn character could have married a Buddy Ebsen character at all, much less when she was a child at the time of the marriage. It just couldn't/shouldn't happen. Audrey Hepburn was too dignified, too classy, too frail to be a woman with the past she was supposed to have had in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." And she wasn't the only actor in the movie who was out of place. How about Mickey Rooney as a farcical Japanese photographer? Everything about this film rings untrue for me.
Bringing Up Baby
I think the single overriding factor that makes me dislike this movie is the presence of "Baby," the Katherine Hepburn character's pet leopard. I could never get over the fact that a leopard is a dangerous wild animal, and it bothered me that Hepburn and Cary Grant, two of my favorite performers, were in mortal danger as they acted with that animal. That kind of danger is not funny. I was also bothered by the Katherine Hepburn character; she was too scatterbrained to be believable. Katherine Hepburn looks smart, acts smart, and obviously is smart. She doesn't make a believable airhead. When I try to watch this film, I never crack a smile. What a waste of talent.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Have you ever seen a picture of a 19th Century outlaw? Did he look like Robert Redford? Did he look like Paul Newman? Or, better yet, have you ever seen a picture of a 19th Century outlaw's woman? Did she look like Katherine Ross? And even much better yet, can you picture 19th Century outlaws riding double on bicycles through a lush countryside while B.J. Thomas sings about raindrops falling on their heads? This isn't a western; it's a Hallmark Card. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" stars the three most unlikely outlaws Hollywood had to offer at the end of the 1960's. The two male stars, who were to work together so beautifully a few years later in "The Sting," are not believable, sympathetic, or even interesting in their parts. This was one of the most popular movies of its time, but even when I was young and had no taste, I was astonished by its totally anachronistic look and sound. If you want to enjoy a film that features 19th Century outlaws, try "My Darling Clementine."
Chariots of Fire
Here's a film that seems to affect some people profoundly, but which leaves me completely cold. I've seen it only once, and that was a long time ago. But I'll never forget my total disappointment in the film, coupled with my dismay that I had somehow completely missed the point. I expected to like it very much. That theme music by Vangelis is soul-stirring, and being familiar with the music before I entered the theater, I expected a story every bit as thrilling. But what I got was a lot of running, a glut of pained expressions, and a religious, won't-work-on-the-Sabbath prig, who didn't bother to check the calendar before leading his countrymen to believe he'd represent them in the Olympics. Great painters, poets, playwrights, inventors, mathematicians, teachers, (I could go on) leave the world a better place for their having been among us. Great runners leave us with records that get broken. The guys in this movie ran fast for their day and thought very highly of themselves, but they weren't the great heroes they were purported to be. Maybe I didn't completely miss the point after all.
"Fantasia" is an interesting experiment that doesn't work for me. Apparently Walt Disney wanted to use the talents of his animators to "interpret" some pieces of classical music -- to make the experience a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. So we get alligators dancing and hippos hopping and fairies swirling and demons glaring and dinosaurs roaming and what does any of this have to do with enjoying good music? OK, I confess I like Mickey as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. That episode is a delight. But the rest? It's a misguided attempt to turn wonderful Disney animation into high art. Only once have I not been bored while this film was playing. It was the time I turned off the TV and listened to the audio output through my stereo. Very nice.
"Fargo," by the gifted producer/director/writer team of Joel and Ethan Coen, reminds me of one of their previous films which I enjoyed very much, "Blood Simple." Like "Blood Simple," "Fargo" is a tale of crime gone wrong. This time it's a kidnapping plan that spins horribly out of control, leading to several grisly murders. Also, like "Blood Simple," "Fargo" is a comedy. But this time, for me, the humor didn't work. "Fargo" has been described as something of a warmhearted tribute by the Coen brothers to the wonderful people of their home state, Minnesota. No it's not. It's a nefarious assault on decent people whose main offense against humanity, apparently, is that they are friendly and trusting. And they talk funny. I happened to see this film in Washington, D.C., where others in the audience repeatedly guffawed in superior tones at what were supposed to be silly rubes on screen. Several audience members seemed to consider it their personal duty to laugh loudly and pointedly in sophisticated derision at decent, open and honest Minnesotans. And the way they talk. Maybe having grown up in the South makes me particularly sensitive to accent bigotry. I dunno. But I liked the good people in this film, and it annoyed me that the Coen brothers portrayed them with contempt. Warmhearted contempt is still contempt. You've been away from home too long, guys.
The French Connection
I'll never forget my excitement when I first experienced the chase scene in "Bullitt." I was so tense I couldn't breathe; I squirmed; I shouted; and when that evil black Dodge Charger crashed and burned I felt an overwhelming rush of release. "Bullitt" gave me my money's worth and then some. Time passed, and one day I read that "The French Connection" had a chase scene that was "Better Than Bullitt." Oh wow. I could hardly wait. I wasn't interested in the plot of "The French Connection." I just wanted to see that chase scene. And then I saw it. What a disappointment. I'd come to the film expecting another "Bullitt," and what I got was a dark, grim police procedural about people for whom I had no sympathy standing around endlessly in the cold thinking only about a big narcotics shipment. The bad guys were bad. The good guys were bad. And the chase scene generated no excitement whatsoever. (Maybe if Popeye Doyle had driven a Mustang )
Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
When I read about the upcoming release of this film in 1963, I was 15 years old. I practically salivated in anticipation when I read that virtually every comedic actor in Hollywood was to have a part. What a cast! Everybody from Jimmy Durante to the Three Stooges would appear. Stanley Kramer was the producer/director. Even Spencer Tracey had a major part. Golly, this was going to be good! As a 15-year-old boy in 1963 I looked forward to this movie, I suppose, about like 15-year-old boys in 1997 looked forward to "Men in Black." So when it opened at the Park Theater in Memphis (not the Loews Palace Cinerama theater downtown, which I suppose must have been reconverted to a regular theater by then), I dragged the family to see it, promising everybody they'd love it. I'll never forget my puzzlement and disappointment as we drove home. Nobody had liked it. Not even me. Sure, there were some funny scenes: Jimmy Durante literally kicking the bucket; Jerry Lewis helping to park a car; and um, and um, well, I can't think of any other funny scenes in the movie. (Here's a film-lover's test question: If a Jerry Lewis moment is one of the funniest moments, in a film, what does that tell you about the rest of the film?) This movie is a long, drawn out, depressing tale of greed gone mad, bringing the ruination of good and bad people alike. If you laughed at "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," you might think this film is amusing. Otherwise, like me, you will come away appalled and depressed by the film's bleak outlook on human nature. This one was a major disappointment, and I still haven't forgiven Stanley Kramer for inflicting it on me.
Lawrence of Arabia
Golly, I want to like this movie. I keep reading all the rapturous reviews and I'm told that this is a cinematic masterpiece with unforgettable images and a magnificent score and unsurpassed acting and on and on. Maybe I should have seen it in a theater with a big screen. Maybe then I'd have been blown away by the beauty and the majesty and the awe inspiring desert vistas. But I have never seen it in a theater with a big screen. I've seen it only on TV, and that leaves me with little but Lawrence and his story to consider. And I don't like Lawrence. I don't connect with him; I don't understand him; I don't understand why the Arabs seem to be drawn to him; and I just don't believe him as a character. (What's that business about prancing around and waving arms with white robes blowing in the wind? Lawrence seemed to believe himself a much more impressive human being than I found him to be.) And I don't like the story. The Great White Man, the closest thing to God on earth, brings civilization to the poor unenlightened Arab tribes. Spare me. (Confession: When the movie was released I liked the "Theme from Lawrence of Arabia" when I heard it on the radio. But my appreciation even for that has faded over time.)
The Magnificent Ambersons
This film might have been an achievement on the order of "Citizen Kane" if the studio had allowed Orson Welles to present it as he envisioned it. But they didn't and it isn't. It's a depressing tale about members of an unlikable family who lose everything and meet sad ends. So what's to enjoy? I'm supposed to take pleasure in a story about a callow youth who can no longer live on inherited wealth and must endure the shame of seeking employment? Please, somebody, just shoot him and put us both out of our misery. Oh, sure, many scenes are artfully done, and some scenes are classic examples of the motion picture art. But how am I supposed to enjoy the look of the film when I am completely indifferent to the story?
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
Jack Nicholson is crazy. No, wait, he's not crazy; it's the SYSTEM that's crazy. Yeah, that's the ticket. The SYSTEM has gone crazy and Jack's the only sane guy and of course he's been thrown in the loony bin because he likes to CHALLENGE THE SYSTEM. And then Jack meets Nurse Ratched ("Wretched," get it?), an RN who graduated from the Joseph Mengele School of Nazi Nursing with a Master's Degree in mean. Boy is she ever mean to Jack and all the other inmates who look loony but aren't REALLY. And then Jack takes all the inmates on a school bus ride which is fun and then he takes them on a fishing trip which is even more fun. And then Jack treats everybody to an orgy with prostitutes which is the most fun of all! And the next morning the Stuttering Boy awakens to discover he's neither a virgin nor a stutterer. It's a MIRACLE! But then Nurse Ratched is mean to him so he kills himself. Oooh, naughty Nurse Ratched. (She's so darn cute when she's mean.) And that makes Jack angry so he tries to strangle Nurse Ratched (YEAHHHHH!!) but he doesn't (AWWWW ). And then he gets treated to his very own LOBOTOMY, and the strong, silent Native American guy murders him and throws a sink through a window and escapes the loony bin. What a GREAT story that is! And so full of DEEP MEANINGS too! (As irony often doesn't translate very well onto the Internet, let me be clear. I hated this film from beginning to end. I cannot be entertained and I do not wish to be enlightened by experiencing man's inhumanity to man.)
The Princess Bride
I read the book first; a smart move as it turns out. The book is full of swashbuckling heroes and daring rescues and stunning miracles and sly humor. The book is extraordinarily entertaining. But the movie . Lots of people seem to like this film. But compared to the book (how shall I put this delicately?), the movie sucks. Buttercup looks only like a pretty girl, not the hypnotizing beauty of the book. Fezzik looks only like Andre the Giant, not the world-class strongman of the book. And Westley looks like a wimp. A wimp. A total wimp. The great hero Westley is a wimp wimp wimp. Even his mustache is a joke, and it makes me sick to look at it. I hate this movie. Please read the book.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
OK, this is a ringer. I'm not the only person who doesn't like this one. But lots of people DO like it! And I just don't get it. This film is disgusting, perverted, sleazy, squalid, slimy, repulsive, sickening, filthy, nauseating, and basically just not a good movie. What's that? You say I've identified only a few of the reasons you like it? You say you're going to cross-dress and head down to the midnight show at the local Bijou this Saturday to recite all the movie's lines, shout back at the screen, and throw things at 200 other cross-dressers? How nice. You and I appear to have different tastes. Have a good time at the show. Come straight home. Bye, now.
I can enjoy ( or maybe "appreciate" is the right word) a tragedy if I identify with the tragic hero and if I understand the hero's basic dilemma and if the hero behaves honorably but is defeated by tragic circumstance. Hamlet's a pretty good story, actually. But I cannot identify with the Billy Bob Thornton character in "Sling Blade." He was (regrettably) mentally handicapped. Not only were his actions lacking in reason, they were also mostly predictable. I couldn't understand him. I did identify with the basically decent people who followed the rules and dismissed him from the mental hospital, and I want to scream at them, "Don't do it!" Billy Bob kills Dwight Yoakam in a scene I saw coming from the beginning of the film. Why does Dwight die? Because he's a jerk. Is this film suggesting that it's OK to murder jerks? Does being mentally handicapped make it OK to murder a jerk? Do you wish you were mentally handicapped so you could murder all the jerks you know? Was I the only person who was angry at the girlfriend for not kicking Yoakam out of the house? I've suggested that this film is a tragedy. It isn't, really. It's just a tale in which the folks in charge of a mental hospital do something stupid, leading to a series of predictable, sad events. "Sling Blade" did not entertain me. It made me ill.
Touch of Evil
One of these days soon I'm going to give this one another chance. Orson Welles directed, but before he could edit it according to his vision, the studio took it away from him. The result was a dark, dirty film that has always left me confused and dissatisfied. (And I will NEVER believe Charlton Heston trying to make me think he's Hispanic with his silly little mustache.) The film has recently been re-edited according to notes left by Welles, and even though I'm sure it will still be dark and dirty, it might now be an interesting film. I've tried to watch it in its original form several times, but I still cannot give a synopsis of the story. The film starts with an impressively long crane shot. Heston and wife Janet Leigh cross the border into Tijuana or somewhere and bad things happen. Welles is a fat, disgusting detective who gets killed. And that's all that has stuck with me. Not exactly a ringing recommendation.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka, as played by Gene Wilder, is the grownup stranger all parents warn their kids not to talk to. He's smarmy. He's a little TOO friendly. He's horribly frightening. And to my utter astonishment, he turns out to be deadly. If I were 10 years old and I encountered Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka, I would run screaming from his presence as fast as my terrified little legs would carry me. I certainly wouldn't accept an invitation to visit his hellish chocolate factory where small children are slurped to their demise in giant vats of confection. This is supposed to be a CHILDREN'S film? It belongs on a double-feature bill with "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." What a perverted, hateful movie, and what a dirty trick to play on innocent children.
You Cant Take it With You
Eccentrics don't have to be interesting people -- they often can be just as boring as the next guy. And this film is terribly overpopulated with eccentrics I care nothing about, and that I find more irritating than amusing. Jean Arthur stars as a lovely island of sanity in a household that includes a ballerina that can't dance, a mad bomber, a no-talent artist, and other assorted lunatics. She's in love with Jimmy Stewart, the son of a wealthy industrialist, and she's invited Stewart and his parents to dinner. Knowing she'd be in big trouble if everyone behaves "normally," she's persuaded the family members to be on their best behavior while the guests are around. Unfortunately, Jimmy and his folks show up on the wrong night, and a modicum of hilarity ensues. (I've always suspected that the TV series "The Munsters" was based more on this story than on "The Addams Family.") "You Can't Take It With You," originally a Kaufman/Hart play, was directed by Frank Capra, one of the great figures of the film industry. This film was a pothole on his road to success.