A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1970

5. The Man Who Haunted Himself

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“I’m Pelham… I AM!”

Up until the other week, I actually had Hercules In New York, the debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger, as my first entry on this blog piece. However, after watching a clip of the film edited down to around a minute on YouTube I realised I couldn’t justify including it, no matter what nostalgia would have me believe, because it is truly diabolical.

Well, how lucky am I then that whilst on my crusade to watch more Roger Moore films (as a part of the upcoming Bond special podcast) I somewhat accidentally discovered this wonderfully dark psychological-thriller?

(The answer is “very”.)

1970 was an almost “inbetween” year for Roger Moore. By the time this film was released, he was already a household name. Not because he was Bond, James Bond; he was still yet to play 007 for another 3 years! But because of his role in one of the highest rated British TV shows of the 60s, The Saint. Wanting to show he was more than just a camp heroic adventurer, he collaborated with British director Basil Dearden and showcased a rather more serious side to his acting ability.

I’m not much of a Bond fan. When I was younger, I preferred Sean Connery (much to my dads disapproval) although as I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate and prefer Moore’s take on Ian Flemming’s iconic character. But it’s here, and not in the world of secret spy espionage, that I think I have found my favourite film of Moore’s.

Shot like a mystery thriller with elements of the film noir genre about it, copiously straddling various different answers to its myriad of questions before finally drawing the curtain back and revealing what has been going on all along – it plays on the concepts of identity theft, of schizophrenia and psychosis. It spends time developing the story, enhancing the mystery element and finally in getting the best out of and then delivering an exquisite performance from its star actor. Combined with a fantastically early 70s look, a late 60s swing and a very catchy theme tune by Michael J Lewis (that even now creeps into my subconscious every so often and loops around my head all morning) the effort that has gone into it definitely paid off. And it’s infinitely better than Hercules in New York. Sorry, Arnie.

4. The Horror of Frankenstein

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“Anything I bring you will be so fresh it would get past the government meat inspector”

Frankenstein and his wretch have gone through many, many different incarnations. Like characters in the book, endlessly and hopelessly chasing after one another, many famous directors and actors have chased what made Mary Shelley’s classic so encapturing. Whether you’re talking about probably the most famous interpretation by James Whale with Boris Karloff as the monster, or a more light-hearted affair with Mel Brooks’ comedy Young Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus has captured the imaginations of many artists / film makers.

Perhaps none more so than Hammer Horror who, even if not qualitatively, have most definitely quantitatively been chasing that elusive creature. In The Horror of Frankenstein (a remake of their first colour horror film – The Curse of Frankenstein) Hammer Horror favourite Ralph Bates stars as a youthful, early on in his career, Baron Von Frankenstein and a pre-Darth Vader David Prowse as the monster.

It may be unintentionally funny for the most part, but this is a classic Hammer Horror film and one of the first that I saw. It is quite far removed from the classic telling of the story, although the basic principles of the plot are vaguely similar. However, the best bit about the whole film was easily spotting the “goofs” and the huge plastic boobs that all the women had. Classic Hammer Horror. Cheesy, camp, a bit silly and quite entertaining.

3. Beneath the Planet of the Apes

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“The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force!“

Yep, power, naked merciless force and making sure Charlton Heston is the hero in the end regardless of what went down in the rest of the story. That’s the only thing that counts. Probably more so than the first two points, actually.

If you don’t happen to be as much of a fan of the film adaptations of Pierre Boulle’s French novel “La Planète des singes” as me, you might be surprised to know that despite it being Earth all along, there were actually 4 sequels that followed Franklin J Schaffner’s 1968 classic sci-fi blockbuster Planet of the Apes. Not counting Tim Burton’s awful attempt at rebooting the franchise, of course. And not counting the fantastic Rise of the Planet of the Apes either.

Beneath, directed by Ted Post (of Hang Em High and Magnum Force fame), is the first of the sequels and quite possibly the weakest too. It is a crazy mish-mash of ideas that are quite interesting and clever individually (human cults that worship a bomb, the forbidden zone actually being explored a bit further, the various cultures within the Apes society etc) but they come together like Blur covering a Kinks song (pop culture references from the 90s.. hmmm, how about Metallica working with Lou Reed instead? Yeah, that’ll do.)

But if you overlook its (many, many) flaws, it’s a quite decent sci-fi film and a welcome addition to the franchise. The only way to watch it is to immerse yourself in their world and just go with the flow. If there’s no other reason to watch it, then do it so you can watch the excellent two sequels that followed this!

2. Patton

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“There’s only one proper way for a professional soldier to die: the last bullet of the last battle of the last war.”

To be honest, as great a line as that is, I could have picked almost any quote from this Franklin J Schaffner (he of Planet of the Apes fame, as you will have just read) directed Oscar winning biopic of the notorious General George S Patton.

Like the first film on this list, it’s another that I only saw the first time very recently. However, I came very close to giving up on it after 60 minutes into its 170 minute run time. If not for having such a spectacular opening speech delivered with such an assured promise that there was more to come by George C Scott as the unforgiving Patton, I might have done just that. But I stuck with it, and I am so glad I did.

For what is quite an impenetrable film for almost an hour, it sure does get a hell of a lot better. There is a very clear turning point in this film where the characterisation of Patton starts to rapidly develop into this incredible on screen presence. The kind you would expect from a screenplay written by Francis Ford Coppola, just before he started work on The Godfather.

What I find most interesting about Patton is that for a war film, it never really felt anti-war. It has messages about the futility of war, about the bureaucracy and the harshness of war. But it doesn’t condemn it. The fact it is a biopic, and showing you war the way the General did, through eyes that see the glory and pride of war, it’s unlike a lot of other films of its type (or, at least, of its type that I’ve seen) and definitely one of the most interestingly directed too.

1. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage

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“He’s not even Italian and you’re making him risk his life!”

Dario Argento’s first full directorial debut  lands the much coveted place of first on my list of favourite films of 1970. I’m sure Disney are absolutely gutted that The Aristocats hasn’t topped the list.

But Argento’s giallo film fully deserves this spot. It may be a very up-and-down film – the first 20 minutes are excellent, the next 10 minutes quite poor, the following 10 minutes excellent again, and so on – but this decision was never in any doubt in my mind.

As good as the opening speech of Patton was, the scenes here where the protagonist, Sam, an American crime-fiction writer, witnesses a murder in an art gallery in Rome, absolutely tops it. If I may just stereotype an entire nation for a moment; in true Italian fashion, the whole film (but particularly those first few moments) are so incredibly stylish. It oozes cool from every pore.

The whole experience of witnessing the mystery of the plot unravel and then immediately cloud itself in secrecy again is incredibly exciting. It’s like witnessing a director at the very top of his game, and not one who is directing his first feature film. It’s masterful. It’s such a gorgeous film in almost every respect. Every scene is like an incredibly intricately painted portrait of the characters. Even when the plot is slightly letting the film down (the ending is weirdly tiring and disappointing compared to the rest of the film), it’s easy to overlook it and just get wrapped up in this strong visual element.

That is why my first choice on this very long blog post is the first of Argento’s Animal Trilogy (of which I’d also recommend the equally awesomely titled Cat O’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet) and makes this as good a place as any to stop writing, I think!

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