In no particular order, these are a few films I’d buy in a heartbeat if they were on DVD.
Five Came Back (1939) – Lucille Ball in a very serious film. I haven’t seen this in decades, but I still remember the chilling conclusion, an ending where silence invokes a sense of horror and dread. This film must have had some subliminal influence on me because it wasn’t until I was discussing it one night that I came to realize how close it comes, in several ways, to my one published book, right down to the number of survivors. I had pitched Derelict as sort of a haunted house in outer space, a variation on an Alien theme, but in retrospect it was also influenced by this film.
Five Graves to Cairo (1943) – An early film by Billy Wilder, an excellent little World War II thriller. Franchot Tone is a British soldier, fighting Rommel’s Afrika Corps. The sole survivor of a disastrous engagement, he is saved from death by the owner of a small hotel in the middle of the Sahara. Before he can get too settled in, Rommel himself arrives, setting up base at the hotel. Now Tone must survive by impersonating a member of the hotel staff, a man killed during a bombing raid. Matters go from bad to worse as he discovers that the man he is impersonating was a spy for Rommel.
Tone is excellent. Anne Baxter, as a French woman working at the hotel, is excellent. Famed German director Erich von Stroheim, as Rommel, is excellent. The directing is excellent. The suspense is excellent. Am I being redundant? If you see and don’t like this film, well, two steps back!
Come Back, Charleston Blue (1972) – The sequel to Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), which is already out of DVD. I’m not a big fan of Cotton, but I remember Come Back as all sorts of awesome. Godfrey Cambridge (as Gravedigger Jones) and Raymond St. Jacques (as Coffin Ed Johnson) are just fantastic. C’mon, how can you have the first one available and not the sequel? It’s just not right!
The 27th Day (1957) – An under-appreciated science fiction gem. Just saw this the other day on TCM and I still enjoy it. Five people are brought aboard and alien space craft. The aliens give each of them a weapon capable of destroying all life on Earth. After being returned to Earth, the five believe that all they have to do is remain quiet until the weapon self-destructs, after 27 days, but the aliens then tell the world who they are and what they have. Now they have to run, or risk having that terrible power unleashed.
Certainly it’s a little moralizing and maybe it’s simplistic, but really, wouldn’t you just like to be able to, well, eliminate all men of ill will?
The Satan Bug (1964) – A deadly virus, capable of destroying all life on Earth, is stolen from a research lab. Now, government agents must race to recover the virus before the thief can release it.
From the novel by Alistair MacLean. A lovely little thriller filled with smart characters. This really is about one person trying to out-think the other. It was also a bit of a shocker at the time of its release, as everyone was so focused on the threat of nuclear annihilation, they never considered that a simple glass flask could be just as lethal. Also notable for an excellent soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.
I was going to add Stairway to Heaven (1946), but I just discovered it at Netflix under its original title, A Matter of Life and Death. It’s already on its way to my greedy hands. Like Five Graves to Cairo, I saw this on PBS in San Francisco and found it to be delightful. The amazingly great David Niven plays a British aviator who bails out over the English Channel without a parachute. Next thing he knows, he’s walking onto an English beach, utterly confused as to why he’s still alive. Seems his angel missed him while he was falling through the fog. Now Heaven wants him, to correct for the error, and Niven has to stand trial before God in order to win a second chance at life.
Lovely film, beautifully done. No where near as sentimental as the plot implies. I can hardly wait to see it again.
(And yes, yes, I know that the entire Netflix thing undercuts the “buy in a heartbeat” claim, but I was being rhetorical. I at least have to wait until payday....)