Ten Best Hollywood Alcoholism Movies

Hollywood alcoholism movies date from 1914 to the present day. Days of Wine and Roses, The Lost Weekend, Leaving Las Vegas, The Morning After, Come Back Little Sheba, Playhouse 90, The Country Girl, The Pilot, Under the Influence and Shattered Spirits are the best films.

It's not a pretty subject, but alcoholism has been portrayed in Hollywood movies since the earliest days of the silent cinema. In 1914, the silent movie version of Jack London's 1913 autobiogaphical novel John Barleycorn was released to theaters by W.W. Hodkinson. Featuring Elmer Clifton, Antrim Short, Matty Roubert, Viola Barry, Hobart Bosworth and Elmo Lincoln, John Barleycorn graphically depicted one man's titanic battle with the bottle.

Here are ten outstanding movie and television productions where alcoholism is the central theme. One for the Hollywood road?

Days of Wine and Roses (Warner Bros., 1962)

Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick play Joe and Kirsten Clay, a young married couple who descend into the depths of alcoholism. Joe is a public relations man in San Francisco, whose constant drinking leads to his firing from several jobs and an eventual stay in the hospital. Realizing he has a problem, Joe seeks help from Jim Hungerford (Jack Klugman) of Alcoholics Anonymous. But wife Kirsten refuses outside help, always going back to the booze and eventually dooming their marriage. A very strong, potent movie, with Jack Lemmon's wild, maniacal trashing of his father-in-law's (Charles Bickford) greenhouse as he searches for a hidden bottle of liquor rating as one of the most famous scenes in Hollywood history. In a bit of a twist of life imitating art, both Jack Lemmon (1925-2001) and Lee Remick (1935-1991) later sought treatment for a drinking problem. Days of Wine and Roses earned five Oscar nominations, including Lemmon and Remick for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively.

Great line: "This is the way I look when I'm sober. It's enough to make a person drink, wouldn't you say? You see, the world looks so dirty to me when I'm not drinking. Joe, remember Fisherman's Wharf? The water when you looked too close? That's the way the world looks to me when I'm not drinking." - Lee Remick as Kirsten Arnesen Clay

Director: Blake Edwards

On DVD: Days of Wine and Roses (Warner, 2004)

Promotional still: Jack Lemmon trashes a greenhouse in Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

The Lost Weekend (Paramount, 1945)

Ray Milland plays Don Birnam, a struggling writer who attempts to give up the booze so he can pen his one great book. But when faced with mounting social pressures, Birnam retreats to the bottle, disappointing both his girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman) and his brother Wick (Phillip Terry). The Lost Weekend remains a powerful. groundbreaking movie, with Ray Milland delivering an outstanding performance as the drunk on a four-day bender who populates seedy bars, desperately searches for opened pawnshops and eventually ends up in Bellevue Hospital. The Lost Weekend garnered seven Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Picture, Best Actor (Milland), Best Director (Billy Wilder) and Best Screenplay (Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder). According to one source, the liquor industry offered Paramount Pictures $5 million not to release the movie.

Great line: "He won't accept our help. Not Don, he hates us. He wants to be alone with that bottle of his. It's all he gives a hang about. Why kid ourselves? He's a hopeless alcoholic." - Phillip Terry as Wick Birnam on his "lost" brother 

Director: Billy Wilder

On DVD: The Lost Weekend (Universal, 2001)

Leaving Las Vegas (United Artists, 1995)

Nicolas Cage stars as Ben Sanderson, a motion picture executive down and nearly out in Los Angeles. Sanderson has lost his job, family and self-respect, deciding to head to Sin City where he plans to commit suicide via the bottle. Sanderson meets – or nearly runs down – a Las Vegas prostitute named Sera (Elisabeth Shue), and the two form an uneasy relationship. "Leaving Las Vegas is one of the best films of the year, deserving many Academy Award nominations," reported Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times. Leaving Las Vegas earned four Oscar nominations, with Nicolas Cage winning for Best Actor. Cage had researched his role by engaging in binge drinking and interviewing hardcore alcoholics. American novelist John O'Brien (1960-1994), author of Leaving Las Vegas (Watermark Press, 1990), commited suicide (gunshot) two weeks after filming began on his book. O'Brien's father Bill called Leaving Las Vegas his son's suicide note.

Great line: "We both know that I'm a drunk. And I know you are a hooker. I hope you understand that I am a person who is totally at ease with that. Which is not to say that I'm indifferent or I don't care, I do. It simply means that I trust and accept your judgment." - Nicolas Cage as Ben Sanderson to Elisabeth Shue

Director: Mike Figgis

On DVD: Leaving Las Vegas (MGM, 2000)

Promotional still: Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

The Morning After (ABC-TV, 1974)

Dick Van Dyke plays Charlie Lester, a business writer/public relations man whose battle with alcoholism wreaks havoc in his personal and professional life. Originally telecast as an ABC Movie of the Week on February 13, 1974, The Morning After also features Lynn Carlin as Charlie's wife Fran and Don Porter as his boss Rudy King. The Morning After is difficult to watch as Van Dyke's Charlie spirals out of control, continually embarrassing his family, wrestling with his wife over the car keys so he can go out and buy more booze and jeopardizing his relationship with his employer. The John Lennon/Paul McCartney song "Yesterday" is Charlie's favorite, and one can't help thinking how appropriate that compostion is to the movie: "Yesterday, All my troubles seemed so far away, Now it looks as though they're here to stay..." And Charlie does have major "troubles," as witnessed in the final scene where he is glimpsed as an unshaven, disheveled bum wandering down on the beach with his wine bottle tucked into a brown paper bag. Dick Van Dyke, a recovering alcoholic in real life, earned an Emmy nomination for his gut-wrenching performance.

Great line: "Say goodbye to your liver!" - Dick Van Dyke as Charlie Lester, trying to joke with his party guests as he serves drinks

Director: Richard T. Heffron

On DVD: Not commercially available

Come Back, Little Sheba (Paramount, 1952)

Based on the successful Broadway play by William Inge, Come Back, Little Sheba stars Burt Lancaster as Doc Delaney, a chiropractor who regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Doc lives with his slovenly wife Lola (Shirley Booth), a former beauty who pines for their lost dog Little Sheba. When college student Marie Buckholder (Terry Moore) rents a room at the Delaney home, a nervous Doc becomes upset, objecting to the intrusion and later to Marie's jock boyfriend Turk Fisher (Richard Jaeckel). Doc later falls off the wagon, threatening his wife with a butcher knife in the kitchen, where he is disarmed by two of his AA sponsors. "The screen version of Come Back, Little Sheba...makes as poignant and haunting a drama as was brought forth upon the stage. For this we may also be grateful to Burt Lancaster and Shirley Booth, who contribute two sterling performances in the picture's leading roles," reported Bosley Crowther of The New York Times. Veteran stage performer Shirley Booth won a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar in what was her motion picture debut.

Great line: "Alcoholics are mostly disappointed men." - Burt Lancaster as Doc Delaney

Director: Daniel Mann

On DVD: Come Back, Little Sheba (Paramount, 2004)

Promotional still: Burt Lancaster, Shirley Booth, Richard Jaeckel and Terry Moore in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)

Playhouse 90/"The Days of Wine and Roses" (CBS-TV, 1958)

Writer J.P. Miller's haunting The Days of Wine and Roses was first telecast over Playhouse 90 on October 2, 1958. Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie play Joe and Kirsten Arnesen Clay, young newlyweds whose lives are devasted by mutual alcoholism. Miller had based his teleplay on an uncle, whom he had later described as "a real lush." Charles Bickford is here (just as in the subsequent 1962 movie), playing Ellis Arnesen, as is the famous greenhouse scene where Cliff Robertson (like Jack Lemmon four years later) goes chemically ballistic, destroying the place while searching for a hidden bottle of whiskey. Broadcast live, with the exception of the AA scenes which were taped in order to afford a change of wardrobe, The Days of Wine and Roses represents a great triumph from the Golden Age of Television. Playhouse 90's theme music fits The Days of Wine and Roses like a glove. "Live from Television City in Hollywood....Playhouse 90."

Great line: "My name is Joe Clay, and I am an alcoholic." - Cliff Robertson as Joe Clay at a meeting of the Thirtieth Street Group of Alcoholics Anonymous

Director: John Frankenheimer

On DVD: The Golden Age of Television - Criterion Collection (Criterion, 2009)

The Country Girl (Paramount, 1954)

Bing Crosby stars as Frank Elgin, a fading alcoholic actor who is hired by director Bernie Dodd (William Holden) for his new Broadway musical. But Frank's dependence on booze and his wife Georgie (Grace Kelly) for support threaten the production. "An execptionally well-performed essay on an alcoholic song man, with Bing Crosby carrying on a bottle romance, The Country Girl is a show business story that has depth and movement," observed Variety. Based on the 1950 Broadway play by Clifford Odets, The Country Girl garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Crosby), Best Actress (Kelly, won) and Best Screenplay (George Seaton, won).

Great line: "The last time we talked, Mr. Dodd, you reduced me to tears. I promise you, it won't happen again." - Grace Kelly as Georgie Elgin to William Holden 

Director: George Seaton

On DVD: The Country Girl (Paramount, 2004)

Lobby card: William Holden, Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby in The Country Girl (1954)

The Pilot (Summit, 1980)

Cliff Robertson plays Mike Hagan, an alcoholic airline captain whose drinking threatens the lives of his crew and passengers. Robertson's Hagan likes to slip into the bathroom during flights, where he sneaks drinks from his hidden flask of liquor. When a flight attendant (Kitty Sullivan) suspects Hagan of drinking in flight, she goes to her superiors who launch an investigation. One of Hagan's co-pilots, Jim Cochran (Frank Converse), already knows of Hagan's problem, and vows never to fly with him again. Cliff Robertson, a real-life pilot and aviation buff, is riveting as the airline skipper whose love of flying is overshadowed by his out-of-control drinking, which includes downing nearly a fifth of whiskey a day.

Great line: "I want to control it." - Cliff Robertson as Mike Hagan to Milo O'Shea's Dr. O'Brian on his desire to control his drinking, but not completely quit

Director: Cliff Robertson

On DVD: Not commercially available

Under the Influence (CBS-TV, 1986)

Andy Griffith stars as Noah Talbot, a chronic alcoholic whose precoccupation with booze threatens to destroy his health and his family in this made-for-TV movie first telecast on September 28, 1986. Season Hubley, Paul Provenza, Keanu Reeves, Joyce Van Patten and Dana Andersen play family members caught up in Talbot's deadly web of chemical dependency. In one memorable scene, a hospitalized Talbot begs one of his sons to bring him some alcohol in order to ease his withdrawal symptoms. Under the Influence was nominated for an Emmy Award for its music composition.

Great line: "You just had to do it. You just had to do it! You bastard!" - Keanu Reeves as Eddie Talbot on finding his dead father, slumped over a table and surrounded by empty liquor bottles

Director: Thomas Carter

On DVD: Not commercially available

Shattered Spirits (ABC-TV, 1986)

Martin Sheen stars as the alcoholic Lyle Mollencamp, a real charmer and party guy whose life begins to disentegrate. His wife Joyce (Melinda Dillon), along with the rest of the family (Roxana Zal, Matthew Laborteaux, Lukas Haas), bear the brunt of Lyle's descent into the bottle. Shattered Spirits, first telecast on January 6, 1986, was made in cooperation with several organiziations, including the National Association of Children of Alcoholics. Martin Sheen is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Great line: "When this family gets spruced up, we look like an ad for the phone company." - Martin Sheen as Lyle Mollencamp 

Director: Robert Greenwald

On DVD: Shattered Spirits (Allumination, 2002)

Ten More Alcoholism Movie and TV Production Favorites

  • I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955)
  • My Name Is Bill W. (1989)
  • Under the Volcano (1984)
  • Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947)
  • The Betty Ford Story (1987)
  • License to Kill (1984)
  • A Star Is Born (1954)
  • Clean and Sober (1988)
  • Bad Santa (2003)
  • Leave It To Beaver/"Beaver and Andy" (2/13/60)

Half sheet poster: Susan Hayward in I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955)

Images Credit

  • All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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Ten Best Al Capone Movies

Al Capone movies are legendary in Hollywood. The Untouchables, Al Capone, Capone, Scarface, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, The Scarface Mob, Alcatraz Express, Frank Nitti: The Enforcer and Road to Perdition are the best Capone movies.

The notorious Al Capone (1899-1947) ruled the Chicago underworld during the Roaring Twenties. Big Al later ran afoul of the tax man in 1931, serving part of his seven-year prison stretch for income tax evasion at infamous Alcatraz Island. Capone died of complications from neurosyphilis at his Palm Island, Florida, home on January 25, 1947.

Here are ten movies featuring Al "Scarface" Capone that no film fan should ever miss. The screening room at the Lexington Hotel, Capone's old Chicago headquarters, is now open, with Geraldo Rivera as your genial host...

The Untouchables (Paramount, 1987)

Robert De Niro winningly plays Al Capone in this $20 million crime drama that also stars Kevin Costner as U.S. Treasury agent Eliot Ness. Set in 1930, the film is centered on Ness and his Untouchables, who work tirelessly to bring down the ruthless Capone and his criminal empire. One of the most memorable scenes – and certainly an extremely violent one at that – takes place at a gangster banquet where a baseball bat wielding Capone brutally eliminates one of his fellow mobsters who failed to protect a liquor warehouse from the police. The baseball loving Al didn't appreciate his own "players" exhibiting individualism over teamwork – as the bloody result so graphically illustrates.

Director: Brian De Palma

Review: "As Capone, De Niro's going for a broad, theatrical style of acting. He creates a satire on the idea of Capone. With his chest puffed out in front of him, he's a petty despot – Il Duce in spats. But because the crime boss is supposed to represent the force of evil in the film, the absence of any real violence in his characterization is a crucial miscalculation." - Hal Hinson, The Washington Post (6/3/87)

On DVD: The Untouchables Special Collector's Edition (Paramount, 2004)

One sheet movie poster: The Untouchables (1987)

Al Capone (Allied Artists, 1959)

Rod Steiger has the title role of Alphonse Gabriel Capone, charting his rise from New York City transplant to unchallenged czar of the Chicago underworld. Fay Spain plays Maureen Flannery, Capone's love interest and the widow of a man he murdered, with Nehemiah Persoff as Johnny Torrio, Murvyn Vie as George "Bugs" Moran, Robert Gist as Dion O'Banion and Joe De Santis as Big Jim Colosimo. Steiger excels in the "Scarface" role, effectively capturing the gangster's many moods, from violent hoodlum to charming benefactor. The final scene, in which the big shot Capone is attacked while an inmate at Alcatraz, serves as the movie's crowning sense of justice.

Director: Richard Wilson

Review: "A tough, ruthless and generally unsentimental account of the most notorious gangster of the prohibition-repeal era, Al Capone is also a very well-made picture. There isn't much 'motivation' given for Capone, at least not in the usual sense. But the screenplay does supply reasons and they are more logical than the usual once-over-lightly on the warped youth bit." - Variety (1959)

On DVD: Al Capone (Warner Bros., 2009)

Rod Steiger in Al Capone (1959)

Capone (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1975)

Ben Gazzara enters the gangster cinematic sweepstakes, ably playing Al Capone in this somewhat forgotten entry from the Gerald Ford era. Susan Blakely plays Iris Crawford, Capone's main fictional squeeze. "There should be a law against women drinking," Capone tells Iris. "Well, I think there is," Iris smugly replies, correctly referring to the 18th Amendment that ushered in Prohibition. A parade of actors portray real-life gangsters, including Sylvester Stallone as Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti, Harry Guardino as Johnny Torrio, John Cassavetes as Frankie Yale, Frank Campanella as Big Jim Colosimo, John Orchard as Dion O'Banion, Carmen Argenziano as Machine Gun Jack McGurn and John Davis Chandler as Hymie Weiss. Don't look to Capone for the historical facts – Frank Nitti, for example, is seen giving the eulogy at Big Al's funeral despite having died four years earlier. But for a good, violent gangster romp, Capone may just fit the bill, pallie.

Director: Steve Carver

Review: "Sad to say, 'Capone' isn't much fun. There's one good laugh and a lot of violence. And if you're ready for it, there is even a brief outdoor love scene in which Al Capone and his new girl friend run dreamily past soft-focus trees and flowers...But too much of the movie is devoted to a deadingly repetitious series of scenes in which men in overcoats drive up in cars and machine gun gangsters coming out of restaurants." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (4/18/75)

On DVD: Capone (Fox, 2006)

Lobby card: Ben Gazzara and Susan Blakely in Capone (1975)

Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (United Artists, 1932)

Paul Muni plays Antonio "Tony" Camonte, an extremely violent hood who claws his way to the top of the underworld. The principal character may be Antonio Camonte, but there's little doubt as to who producers had in mind when they filmed this baby during the Great Depression. Mr. Camonte shares the same initials with one Alphonse Capone, who was about to depart to the big house to serve an eleven-year sentence for income tax evasion upon the movie's release on April 9, 1932. Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, Osgood Perkins, C. Henry Gordon, George Raft and Boris Karloff appear in supporting roles. It's an over-the-top performance by Muni, featuring prominent use of the Thompson submachine gun – a.k.a. "tommy gun," "bean shooter" and "Chicago typewriter." Two of Capone's thugs visited the film's screenwriter Ben Hecht in Los Angeles, demanding to know if the movie was about their boss. When told that it wasn't, they were still curious as to why the picture was titled Scarface. "If you call the movie Scarface, people will think it's about Capone and come to see it. It's part of the racket we call show business," Hecht informed the two torpedoes. Satisfied, the bent noses left the hotel. 

Director: Howard Hawks

Review: "The slaughter in 'Scarface, the Shame of a Nation,' the Howard Hughes gangster production which was launched yesterday at the Rialto, is like that of a Shakespearean tragedy, for after the smoke of machine guns and pineapple bombs has blown away and the leading killer has gone to his death on the gallows, the only one of a group of principal characters left is a blonde with carefully plucked eyebrows—she who had been the mistress of two underworld giants." - Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times (5/20/32).

On DVD: Scarface (United Artists, 2007)

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1967)

The infamous February 14, 1929, St. Valentine's Day Massacre garners the Hollywood treatment in this heavy-handed film presented in docudrama fashion. Jason Robards Jr. plays a swaggering, Irish-looking Al Capone, who orders the bloody hit on Bugs Moran's North Side Gang. A fine supporting cast appears, with George Segal, Ralph Meeker, Jean Hale, Clint Ritchie, Frank Silvera, Joseph Campanella and Bruce Dern filling the ranks of gangsterhood. When a newspaper reporter suggests that maybe cops were responsible for the massacre, Bugs Moran (Meeker) replies, "You must be new to this town, mister. Only Al Capone kills like that." Look for bit player Jack Nicholson, who appears as a gangster named Gino.  

Director: Roger Corman

Review: "The only theatrical value and commercial purpose of this luridly publicized picture, which opened at the Warner and the 68th Street Playhouse yesterday, appear to me to be the callous horror and the morbid fascination of the terminal scene, in which those seven members of the Moran gang are trapped and mowed down by Capone machine-gunners in a North Side garage. For those who like blood and twitching bodies, there is plenty of that in this scene." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (7/27/67)

On DVD: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Twentieth Century-Fox, 2006)

One sheet movie poster: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967)

The Scarface Mob (Desilu, 1959)

The Scarface Mob is actually a compilation of ABC-TV's The Untouchables (1959-63) two-part pilot episode, which was first telecast via the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse on April 20 and 27, 1959, with host Desi Arnaz introducing each segment. The edited movie was later released to theaters in 1960-62. Eliot Ness (Robert Stack) and his band of Untouchables move in on the Capone gang, hoping to crush Big Al's hold on the Chicago underworld. Neville Brand portrays a sneering Al "Scarface" Capone, with Bruce Gordon as Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti. Also appearing are Keenan Wynn, Pat Crowley, Barbara Nichols, Bill Williams, Joe Mantell, Peter Leeds, Robert Osterloh and Paul Picerni. One scene proved to be particularly racy, at least for 1950s television, whereby several Capone thugs pay a visit to Ness' innocent girlfriend Betty Anderson (Pat Crowley), breaking into her apartment, ripping open her blouse and leering at the "merchandise." I Love Lucy this wasn't.

Director: Phil Karlson

Review: "Originally the opening installments in the TV series, this crime drama of the Aspirin age still looks pretty good in feature form." - Steven H. Scheuer, Movies on TV (1984)

On DVD: The Untouchables - Season 1, Vol. 1, includes feature movie version of the pilot a.k.a. The Scarface Mob (Paramount, 2007)

One sheet movie poster: The Scarface Mob (1962)

Alcatraz Express (Desilu, 1961)

Alcatraz Express is the feature-length version of the two-part The Untouchables episode "The Big Train," first telecast over ABC-TV on January 5 and 12, 1961. The edited movie was later released to theaters in 1962. With Walter Winchell providing the snappy narration, Alcatraz Express opens in 1931, with Al Capone (Neville Brand) having been convicted of income tax evasion and sentenced to an eleven-year prison stretch at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta. Capone's cash bribes have made his stay in the Atlanta pen pretty comfortable, but when it becomes known that Big Al and other top name criminals are now headed to Alcatraz, the Chicago gangster and his mob conspire to spring him loose during the train journey. The old Untouchables gang is here, with Robert Stack as the tight-lipped Eliot Ness, Abel Fernandez as Agent William Longfellow, Nicholas Georgiade as Agent Enrico Rossi, Steve London as Agent Jack Rossman and Paul Picerni as Agent Lee Hobson. Bruce Gordon plays Frank Nitti and Gavin MacLeod appears as gangster Three-Fingered Jack White. Watch Ness and his boys engage in a Wild West shootout with mobsters in a small desert town.

Director: John Peyser

Review: "It still looks like a TV show, but manages to whip up a good amount of suspense." - Steven H. Scheuer, Movies on TV (1984)

On DVD: The Untouchables - Season 2, Vol. 1, includes the original two-part episode "The Big Train" (Paramount, 2008)

Frank Nitti: The Enforcer (ABC-TV, 1988)

This made-for-TV movie stars Anthony LaPaglia as Frank Nitti (1881-1943), one of Al Capone's top lieutenants and the front man for the Chicago Outfit. Like his boss, Nitti was later found guilty of tax evasion and sent to infamous Alcatraz Island for a little 18-month government-sponsored "vacation." Vincent Guastaferro plays Capone, with Trini Alvarado, Michael Moriarty, Michael Russo, Hank Azaria and Bruce Kirby in support. LaPaglia as the feared "Enforcer", lights up the small screen, with Guastaferro's Scarface appearing as second banana.

Director: Michael Switzer

Review: "Al Capone may be the most famous Chicago mobster, but his successor, Frank 'The Enforcer' Nitti (Anthony LaPaglia), was just as ruthless. This biopic goes to great lengths to accurately trace Nitti's rise to the top of the Windy City's underworld, amid corruption, betrayal and violence. The result is an engrossing glimpse into mob life in the early 20th century." - TV Guide (2009)

On DVD: Frank Nitti: The Enforcer (Direct Source, 2006)

Road to Perdition (DreamWorks, 2002)

Good ol' Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan Sr., a hit man for the Chicago Irish mob seeking revenge for the murder of his wife and youngest son. Anthony LaPaglia plays Al Capone, whose single scene was axed in the final cut. In the subsequent DVD, however, the sequence was restored in the deleted scenes section. Paul Newman, Tyler Hoechlin, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law and Stanley Tucci also appear in this classic gangster tale with plenty of bleak, film noir atmosphere.

Director: Sam Mendes  

Review: "Filmed in a harsh winter of rain, snow and chilling darkness, Road will be long remembered for the artistry of cinematographer Conrad Hall. There are breathtaking scenes of shootouts and bank robberies, complimented by Thomas Newman's evocative score." Peter Travers, Rolling Stone (8/1/02)

On DVD: Road to Perdition Widescreen Edition (Universal, 2003)

One sheet movie poster: Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition (2002)

The Untouchables (Paramount Television, 1993-94)

This syndicated television series stars Tom Amandes as fabled Treasury agent Eliot Ness. Appearing in 15 episodes is William Forsythe, who plays the role of Al Capone with hot-headed, tommy gun relish. The series wrapped up its two-season, 42-episode run with the two-part segment "Death and Taxes," telecast on May 15 and 22, 1994, with Forsythe's Big Al eventually running afoul of both. Also look for Paul Regina as a sinister Frank Nitti in 15 episodes.  

Director: Tucker Gates, Vern Gillum, Charles Robert Carner, Steve De Jarnatt, Eric Laneuville, et al.

Review: "First installment in Paramount's latest attempt to mine the 'Untouchables' cash cow looks great, sounds trite. Figuratively speaking, at least, it's a return to black-and-white television. Problems may be that the story of Eliot Ness and Al Capone has been told so often, it's already part of the national consciousness." - Todd Everett, Variety (1/12/93)

On DVD: Not commercially available

The Untouchables: Capone Rising

  • The Untouchables: Capone Rising, a prequel to the 1987 Brian De Palma movie, is now in pre-production. Nicolas Cage, slated to play Capone, had earlier withdrawn from the film.

Images Credit

  • All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
  • Top image: Half sheet movie poster style A: Rod Steiger as Al Capone (1959)

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

Ten Best Big Band Movies

Big band movies are great entertainment. New York New York, The Glenn Miller Story, The Fabulous Dorseys, Orchestra Wives, The Benny Goodman Story, Hollywood Hotel, The Gene Krupa Story, Las Vegas Nights, Reveille with Beverly and Swing Kids are the top swing music films.

The heyday of the big band era of the 1930s and '40s was a special time in music history. Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Chick Webb, Harry James, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Xavier Cugat and the Dorsey Brothers were just some of the big name swing artists leading the charge.

Here are ten big band movies that no fan of swing music should ever miss. Are you "In the Mood?"

New York, New York (United Artists, 1977)

Robert De Niro plays fictional bandleader Jimmy Doyle, who after V-J Day in 1945 forms his own orchestra. Joining the temperamental Jimmy in the band is his talented girlfriend/wife Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli), with the two carrying on their rocky romance amidst the constant travel, petty jealousies and artistic clashes of their entourage. Robert De Niro, the consummate method actor, learned to play the saxophone for his role as the egotistical, womanizing Jimmy.

Liza Minnelli as the perky girl singer Francine, of course, was already set in the music department from day one, with her rousing rendition of "New York, New York" one of the picture's true highlights. There are plenty of big band tunes in this one, including Tommy Dorsey's "Song of India," which kicks off the movie at a raucous New York nightclub where boozy, delirious patrons are celebrating the end of World War II.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Review: "The movie's a vast, rambling, nostalgic expedition back into the big band era, and a celebration of the considerable talents of Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (6/23/77)

On DVD: New York, New York Special Edition (MGM, 2005)

Insert movie poster: New York, New York (1977)

The Glenn Miller Story (Universal, 1954)

James Stewart has the title role of Alton Glenn Miller (1904-1944), the fabled big band leader whose plane went missing over the English Channel in December 1944. There's more Hollywood hokum than actual Miller biography in this film, but the performances and especially the music will surely entertain both Glenn Miller and big band fans. June Allyson plays Helen Berger Miller, with a toothy Harry Morgan as Chummy MacGregor and Charles Drake as Don Haynes. Many of the Glenn Miller standards are here, including such gems as "String of Pearls," "Pennsylvania 6-5000," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "In the Mood," "Tuxedo Junction," "At Last" and of course the band's signature song "Moonlight Serenade."

Director: Anthony Mann

Review: "Sweet is the word the modern swingsters would apply to the type of music played in the Thirties and early Forties by the late Glenn Miller and his band. And that is the word, beyond question, for the picture that has been made by Universal-International about the bandsman, his wife, his music and career." - Bosley Crwother, The New York Times (2/11/54)

On DVD: The Glenn Miller Story (Universal, 2003)

One sheet movie poster: The Glenn Miller Story (1954)

The Fabulous Dorseys (United Artists, 1947)

Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey suspended their sibling feud long enough to play themselves in this big band Hollywood biopic, with Janet Blair and William Lundegan in key supporting roles. Look for an impressive contingent of other big band artists, including Paul Whiteman, Charlie Barnet, Bob Eberly, Henry Busse, Helen O'Connell, Mike Pingatore, Stuart Foster, Art Tatum, Ray Bauduc and Ziggy Elman. The Fabulous Dorseys serves up such big band standards as "Tangerine," "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" and "Green Eyes," all of which make up for the movie's weak storyline and the Dorsey Bros', mediocre acting.

Director: Alfred E. Green 

Review: "Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey are topnotch popular band leaders. That much we knew before seeing the story of their battling career acted out yesterday on the screen at Loew's State in 'The Fabulous Dorseys.' The picture naturally stresses their musicianship, with the result that Tommy's trombone and Jimmy's saxophone stand out from the dialogue, which is just as well. Whether the film is a fairly accurate account of their rise from humble beginnings we don't pretend to know, but it seems they were always scrapping as kids and the passing of years did not cool their tempers any." Bosley Crowther and Thomas M. Pryor, The New York Times (5/30/47)

On DVD: The Fabulous Dorseys (Quantum Leap, 2004)

Lobby card: The Fabulous Dorseys (1947)

Orchestra Wives (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1942)

George Montgomery stars as Bill Abbot, a trumpeter for the fictional Gene Morrison Orchestra, with Ann Rutherford as his romantic interest. As the title implies, the plot centers on the musicians and their bickering wives, the latter of whom almost tear the band apart. Glenn Miller plays bandleader Gene Morrison, with the rest of the Miller orchestra plus the Modernaires (Tex Beneke, Johnny Best, Ray Eberle, Billy May, Al Klink, Marion Hutton, Skippy Martin, Paul Tanner, Bobby Hackett, Ralph Brewster, et al.) along for the Hollywood party.

Glenn Miller and his band had arrived by train in Hollywood on March 17, 1942, beginning work on Orchestra Wives six days later. Johnny Best performed the trumpet work for George Montgomery while Chummy MacGregor tickled the ivories for Cesar Romero. Later, Ray Eberle quit the band, saying that Glenn Miller had failed to pay him for his appearance in Orchestra Wives, with Miller claiming that Eberle's contract hadn't called for any extra compensation for doing the picture. Orchestra Wives opened on September 4, 1942, featuring such Miller hits as "At Last," "Serenade in Blue," "(I've Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo," "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Moonlight Serenade."

Director: Archie Mayo

Review: "Hep cats and other such fauna who are 'sent' by Glenn Miller's honeyed swing will be the most likely recipients of Twentieth Century-Fox's 'Orchestra Wives,' which was wafted into the Roxy on wings of song and little else yesterday. For once more the Hollywood tailors have draped the shivering shoulders of a popular band with a trifling little story which is as ridiculous as a zoot suit and has no more shape or distinction than one of those forbidden garbs. Mr. Miller and his assorted virtuosos are killers when it comes to making jive, but it takes more than wind and willingness to support a ninety-seven-minute film." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (9/24/42)

On DVD: Orchestra Wives (Twentieth Century-Fox, 2005)

Three sheet movie poster: Orchestra Wives (1942)

The Benny Goodman Story (Universal, 1956)

Steve Allen has the title role of Benny Goodman (1909-1986) – a.k.a. the vaunted "King of Swing" – in this spirited Hollywood biopic. Donna Reed plays Alice Hammond and Berta Gersten appears as Mama Goodman, with cameos from musicians Harry James, Ben Pollack, Teddy Wilson, Stan Getz, Ziggy Elman, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa and vocalist Martha Tilton. Although Steve Allen was already an accomplished musician and songwriter, the comic/actor/television host had to take instruction from Sol Yaged in order to convincingly mime the clarinet for the cameras.

Universal paid Benny Goodman $25,000 for the movie rights to his story, with Goodman also collecting another $10,000 for his role as consultant and for his musical contributions to the soundtrack. The movie, which chronicles the life of Goodman from age nine up to his historic 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall, features plenty of tunes, including "Let's Dance," "Goody, Goody," "Stompin' at the Savoy," "And the Angels Sing," "One O'Clock Jump," "Avalon," "Sing, Sing, Sing," "Don't Be That Way" and "Moonglow."

Director: Valentine Davies

Review: "Benny Goodman's swing music is so much a part of the familiar sounds of our times that just to hear it as Benny and his bandsmen used to play—and still do—is an experience of multiple charms...It's this music, delivered in abundance and in the genuine Goodman style, that makes the movie, 'The Benny Goodman Story,' at all worth going to see...Steve Allen, the TV actor who makes his screen debut in the role of the fictitious Goodman...is so tense and taciturn—or so timid and temperate—that the only personality he projects is that of an amiable wallflower. It isn't Benny—and it isn't good. Mr. Allen has picked a fine way to crimp his popularity on TV." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (2/22/56)

On DVD: The Benny Goodman Story (Universal, 2003)

Half sheet movie poster style B: The Benny Goodman Story (1956)

Hollywood Hotel (Warner Bros., 1937)

Dick Powell, Rosemary Lane and Lola Lane head the cast of this wacky musical comedy, with Powell playing Ronny Bowers, a saxophonist in the Benny Goodman Orchestra who wins a ten-week movie contract with Miracle Pictures in Hollywood. The big attraction in the film of course is Benny Goodman, whose clarinet wails as he leads his orchestra in such spirited tunes as "Hooray for Hollywood," "California Here I Come," "Let That Be a Lesson to You" and "Sing, Sing, Sing." Look for Goodman band members vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, drummer Gene Krupa and trumpeter Harry James. Raymond Paige and His Orchestra also appear, along with Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons, Hugh Herbert, Ted Healy, Glenda Farrell and Frances Langford.

Director: Busby Berkeley

Review: "Hollywood Hotel is a smash musical entertainment, with a lively and amusing story and some popular song numbers." - Variety (1937)

On DVD: Hollywood Hotel (Warner, 2008)

One sheet movie poster: Hollywood Hotel (1937)

The Gene Krupa Story (Columbia, 1959)

Sal Mineo has the title role of Gene Krupa (1909-1973), the popular jazz/swing drummer who plied his talents for such bandleaders as Red Nichols and Benny Goodman, later forming his own orchestra in 1938. Susan Kohner, James Darren and Susan Oliver also appear, with Red Nichols, singer Anita O'Day and comic Buddy Lester playing themselves. The movie candidly delves into Krupa's struggle with alcohol, drugs and fame, but on the whole Hollywood "artistic license" appears to be the order of the day. Gene Krupa himself provided the off-screen drumming, and one can't help but admire his immense talent playing the skins. Among the featured tunes are "Cherokee," "Memories of You" and "Royal Garden Blues."

Director: Don Weis

Review: "Columbia's film biography of the king of hot jazz drummers arrived yesterday at the Forum with Sal Mineo in the title role, some dandy musical sequences and a plot that, however authentic, plays like a familiar success story. As we meet the gifted Mr. Krupa here he is an out-of-town lad who conquers the jazz world, makes a bad mistake and finally comes back from oblivion to the right girl and the big tune." - Howard Thompson, The New York Times (12/26/59)

On DVD: The Gene Krupa Story (Sony, 2004)

Lobby card set: The Gene Krupa Story (1959)

Las Vegas Nights (Paramount, 1941)

Constance Moore, Bert Wheeler and Phil Regan head the cast of this musical, with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and the Pied Pipers as the principal attractions. Frank Sinatra fans can view an uncredited Ol' Blue Eyes in his motion picture debut (earning $15 a day for the effort), singing his dreamy version of "I'll Never Smile Again" as a vocalist for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. The Dorsey band also performs "Song of India," "The Trombone Man Is the Best in the Land" (with a manic drum solo by Buddy Rich), "Shadow Waltz," "On Miami Shore," "Dolores" and "Cocktails for Two." The movie's storyline involves an old vaudeville act who purchases a decrepit building and tries to turn it into a swinging nightclub, but watch this one for the big band music.

Director: Ralph Murphy

Review: "On account of Tommy Dorsey and his band being hopefully but vainly involved, there may be some mild jitterbug interest in Paramount's 'Las Vegas Nights,' which settled heavily upon the screen of the Paramount Theatre yesterday. But from every other possible source of friendship, its expectation of favor is virtually nil. For there is precious little humor, little life, little anything save an excess of dullness in this labored musical show about a troupe of indigent entertainers adrift in the Nevada gambling town." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, (3/20/41)

On DVD: Not commercially available

One sheet movie poster: Las Vegas Nights (1941)

Reveille with Beverly (Columbia, 1943)

Ann Miller stars as Beverly Ross, the spunky host of an AM radio show that caters to servicemen, with William Wright, Dick Purcell, Franklin Pangborn and Larry Parks also on board. Get set for big band/pop music in this baby, with appearances by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra ("Take the 'A' Train"), Bob Crosby and His Orchestra ("Big Noise from Winnetka"), Count Basie and His Orchestra ("One O'Clock Jump"), Frank Sinatra ("Night and Day"), the Mills Brothers ("Sweet Lucy Brown"), Freddie Slack and His Orchestra featuring Ella Mae Morse ("Cow-Cow Boogie") and the Radio Rogues ("Wabash Moon"). Made for $400,000, Reveille with Beverly was a big box office hit, particularly with the troops, raking in over $2 million. Look for Ann Miller's big, spectacular "Thumbs Up and V for Victory" number.

Director: Charles Barton

Review: "'Reveille With Beverly' opened with a thud yesterday at the Abbey. Dedicated to the hepcat element, which seemed to have stayed away in large numbers, it is a cheerless series of musical numbers strung together with a tired little story guaranteed to produce a severe case of ennui in record-breaking time. One by one, between smiles by Ann Miller, Duke Ellington, Bob Crosby, Count Basie and Freddie Slack stand up to wave their batons over some noisy demonstrations which resemble nothing so much as the left-over numbers from some old musical short subjects." - Theodore Strauss, The New York Times (4/24/43) 

On DVD: Reveille with Beverly (MarsRising, 2010)

One sheet movie poster: Reveille with Beverly (1943)

Swing Kids (Buena Vista, 1993)

The sleeper in the genre, Swing Kids stars Robert Sean Leonard and Christian Bale as teenagers in 1939 Nazi Germany who use banned American swing music as a form of rebellion. Also in the cast are Frank Whaley, Barbara Hershey, Tushka Bergen, David Tom and Noah Wyle. Swing Kids' soundtrack is loaded with big band tunes, including "Bugle Call Rag" (Benny Goodman), "Taint What You Do (It's the Way That Cha Do It)" (Jimmie Lunceford), "Harlem" (Teddy Foster) and "Goodnight, My Love" (Benny Goodman). "No one who likes swing can become a Nazi," Frank Whaley's Arvid proclaims. What a wonderful thought...

Director: Thomas Carter

Review: "'Swing Kids' is a bad idea whose time has not come. It's 'Cabaret' as Col. Klink might have envisioned it, a nutty anti-Nazi a go-go for teenagers, set to American music... 'Swing Kids' is another daft idea from Disney on the order of 'Alive,' the movie about really bad airline food. It's a moralistic muddle with only one message: If Disney wants to make movies about Germans, it should restrict its efforts to German shepherds." - Rita Kempley, Washington Post (3/5/93)

On DVD: Swing Kids (Buena Vista, 2002)

Ten More Big Band Movie Favorites

  • Sun Valley Serenade (1941)
  • Dancing Co-Ed (1939)
  • That's Right - You're Wrong (1939)
  • Hi-De-Ho (1947)
  • Hollywood Canteen (1944)
  • Birth of the Blues (1941)
  • Beat the Band (1947)
  • Thousands Cheer (1943)
  • Hi, Good Lookin'! (1944)
  • Best Foot Forward (1943)

Movie herald: Sun Valley Serenade (1941)

Images Credit

  • All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
  • Top image: Half sheet movie poster style A: The Benny Goodman Story (1956)

Copyright © 2013 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

Steve McQueen in Papillon (1973): Movie Trivia & Fun Facts

Papillon (1973) is one of Hollywood's greatest adventure movies. Amazing Papillon movie trivia and fun facts encompass Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Anthony Zerbe, Henri Charriere, Franklin J. Schaffner, Devil's Island, French Guiana, Louis Dega and Ali MacGraw.

Franklin J. Schaffner's Papillon thrilled movie audiences in 1973. Steve McQueen has the title role, playing a resourceful prisoner who mounts several escape attempts from the brutal French Guiana penal institution better known as Devil's Island. Here are 21 amazing Papillon movie trivia items and fun facts...

1. Papillon is based on the 1969 book of the same name by Henri Charriere (1906-1973). Known as Papillon ("the Butterfly") in the Parisian underworld, Charriere had been sent to French Guiana in 1931 following his conviction for the murder of a pimp. Charriere had always maintained his innocence, and later made his successful escape from French Guiana in 1945.

Steve McQueen in Papillon (1973) - Heritage Auctions

2. Henri Charriere had begun writing his memoirs in July 1967. By early 1968, he had completed his work, written in longhand and housed in 13 spiral notebooks. The manuscript was then typed by several volunteers in Venezuela, where Charriere was now a citizen, and mailed to Paris literary agent Jean-Pierre Castelnau. In June 1970, Papillon was published in France by Robert Laffont, eventually becoming an international bestseller.

3. Charriere's memoirs have always been suspect, with many charging his book is largely fiction. One doubter was Papillon director Franklin J. Schaffner, as quoted by actor Don Gordon: "Schaffner told me that he never believed half the things he (Papillon) said in the book, that Charriere was a lying son-of-a-bitch."

4. The movie rights to Papillon were purchased by European producer Robert Dorfmann for $600,000. Dorfmann had originally envisioned French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo in the title role.

5. Steve McQueen was very wary when approached to play Papillon, changing his mind several times. Finally, McQueen consented to do the movie at a salary of $1.75 million (later upped to an even $2 million) along with a hefty percentage of the movie's gross.

6. Franklin J. Schaffner, who had won an Academy Award for the World War II epic Patton (1970), collected a salary of $750,000 for his services on Papillon.

7. Dustin Hoffman had caught wind of Papillon and was looking for a serious role in the production. Since no significant role existed at the time for Hoffman, producers basically created the co-starring role of Louis Dega, the frail, bespectacled counterfeiter of National Defense Bonds Series 1928. The consummate professional, Hoffman immersed himself in the history of French Guiana's penal colonies, reading everything he could find in the New York Public Library. Hoffman earned $1.25 million for Papillon.

8. Papillon proved to be a bear to make, initially budgeted at $4 million but eventually escalating to $14 million. Raising additional cash proved to be a problem. Don Gordon, a friend of Steve McQueen who plays Julot in the film, later recalled: "From what I understand, the producer would take a couple of reels of film, get on an airplane, go back to France, show them the reels of film, get money, get back on an airplane, and bring it back on a lease."

9. Producers had originally wanted to film Papillon in French Guiana, where the infamous prison had once stood. That idea, however, was quickly abandoned when it was discovered that many of the original buildings were either in ruins or had been reclaimed by the jungle.

10. Honduras, Guatemala and the Cayman Islands were all considered as location shoots. Winning out in the end, however, were Spain and Jamaica. An actual replica of the original prison at French Guiana was constructed in Spain. Visiting the set one day was the real Papillon – Henri Charriere. Ali MacGraw, Steve McQueen's girlfriend (and later wife), was present on that day, and later described Charriere as "quite a charming character, but with a huge ego." Charriere died in Madrid on July 29, 1973, and never viewed the final print of Papillon.

11. Steve McQueen shut down the production for five days when he learned that other cast and crew weren't receiving their per diem living expenses, like himself and Dustin Hoffman were. The shutdown cost producers $250,000.

12. That's Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman actually wrestling a crocodile in the movie, "shot" by Vic Tayback who plays a guard. The "wounded" 22-foot croc used in the scene had been temporarily drugged with its deadly jaws wired shut. McQueen jumps on first, followed by a wary Hoffman.

13. Steve McQueen's love for Red Stripe Jamaican beer proved to be a problem. In order to mask the actor's weight gain, costumer Kent James outfitted McQueen in bigger and baggier prison clothes.

14. Papillon begins in a French prison yard populated by naked convicts, where screenwriter Dalton Trumbo plays the stern commandant, launching into his speech: "As of this moment, you are the property of the Penal Administration, French Guiana. After serving your full terms in prison, those of you with sentences of eight years or more, will remain in Guiana as workers and colonists, for a period equal to that of your original sentences. As for France, the nation has disposed of you. France has rid herself of you altogether. Forget France, and put your clothes on." The scene was actually shot at a school yard in Las Matas near Madrid, Spain.

15. Memorable scene: The assembled convicts are marched through the cobbled streets (not in France, as depicted, but actually in Fuenterrabia, Guipuzcoa, just across the border in the Span­ish Basque country) in a long procession down to the harbor, guarded at all times – both front and back – by soldiers and policemen with drawn, bayoneted rifles. "You'll' be back, Papillon. Don't worry. You'll be back," a well-dressed woman calls out. "No, you won't," answers Julot softly as he marches to the right of Papillon.   

16. Newly arrived on French Guiana, Dega bribes a trustee 2,000 francs so that he and Papillon can remain on Saint Laurent and given easy jobs. A guard hears Dega's name mentioned, introduces himself and states that his family lost everything in Dega's National Defense Bonds forgery scheme. He then assigns both Dega and Papillon to Kilo 40, a brutal work camp where cons cut and move logs in crocodile-infested waters.

17. On his first escape attempt, Papillon is sent to Reclusion on Saint Joseph, where the policy is total silence. Here he endures two years in solitary confinement in cell #234.

18. Anthony Zerbe plays Toussaint the Leper Chieftain. On Pigeon Island, the hideously deformed Toussaint offers Papillon a puff on his cigar, which the escaped con accepts. "How did you know I have dry leprosy, that it isn't contagious?" an amused Toussaint queries. "I didn't," Papillon replies.

19. Papillon debuted on December 16, 1973. Reported Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice: "Schaffner has really made an exhilarating movie out of the most dangerously depressing material."

20. Papillon was a hit, grossing $22.5 million at the American box office, earning the #4 position on the list of the top moneymaking movies of 1973.

21. The film ends with the narration: "Papillon made it to freedom. And for the remaining years of his life, he lived a free man. This, the infamous penal system in French Guiana, did not survive him."

Additional Reading & Top Image 

Copyright © 2011 William J. Felchner

Mara Clara Finale Review

A review on the last episode of Mara Clara

Mara Clara's finale is one of the most emotionally compelling last episodes on Philippine television. It features the conclusion of these storylines: 

  • Mara and Clara's exchange to prevent being hurt by Clara's crazed biological father known as Gary.
  • Susan (Mara's pseudo-mother) gives birth to twins that belonged to Gary, yet he did not believe them to be his twins.
  • The Amante-Alvira-Gary love triangle.

And since this is the finale, one person from the series would die and it would most likely be Gary.

As for the ending itself, it is summarized in these words: 

  1. Amante and Alvira visit Gary at an abandoned warehouse with no cops.
  2. Mara gets locked up in a water tank by Gary after arguing with the antagonist for a while.
  3. Alvira was forced to choose between Amante or Gary, because Gary can only tell Alvira where Mara is unless she shoots Amante.

The climax arrived when Amanthe fought Gary and ended up falling down a few storeys from the building where they fought; Amante falls towards the ground but is only hurt, not dead. Then, Alvira wants Gary to kill her out of pity since this has caused Gary's obsession towards the young woman. As she was about to be shot, Gary fires a shot, but Clara takes the shot in exchange of Alvira. Because of this action, Susan attacks Gary with a pipe until she eventually stabs the crazed man with a stick. Gary dies due to the said pipe impaling, Clara was shot in the arm and survived. Mara was eventually saved, right before Clara took a bullet for Alvira. 

After the climax, Clara was placed inside a mental institution for treatment because of her behavior disorder. 

Time passed, the epilogue sets in: 

  • Susan gives birth to twins.
  • Mara and Clara are in total friendship once more.

And eventually, they all lived happily ever after. It is a wonderful ending that can compel even the hardest of hearts. The actors have placed a lot of effort (especially for Kathryn Bernardo/Mara) replicating a dramatic scene with their own artistic flavour. The action scenes weren't much, even for the finale; in the words of some directors in an art class: "It's good, but not good enough", they could've hired trainers to do some fight scenes with basic grappling arts, given Amanthe is a "Privileged" man who can afford classes instead of a pistol, but we have to understand also that budget plays a role towards the finale. Overall, it's above average. The series ended with a bang, but the writers and producers could've developed the ending more to be an explosive and heartwarming closure to one of Philippine TV's best drama series'.

Himala (1982): Movie Review

Himala is one of the best Filipino films ever created. It was released during the period considered as the second golden age of Philippine movies. It was a tremendous critical and commercial success. The film premiered at the 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival where it swept 9 out of 11 awards including Best Actress for Nora Aunor, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture. It also bagged awards in the 1982 Catholic Mass Media Award. In the international scene, the film was awarded with the Bronze Hugo prize at the 1983 Chicago International Film Festival. It also became the first and to date, the only Filipino film to be included in the “Competition Section” of the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival.

Himala (“Miracle”) is a Filipino film directed by the late Philippine National Artist Ishmael Bernal in 1982. Written by multi-award winner screenwriter Ricky Lee, the movie is based on a true incident of a teenage girl in Cabra Island in the province of Occidental Mindoro between 1966 and 1967. The movie’s heroine is played by Philippine superstar Nora Aunor whose portrayal of Elsa is considered by most Filipino critics as the best of her career.

Plot. The movie is set in the small arid town of Cupang. The people believes that the drought they are experiencing is the product of a curse placed upon the town for driving away a leper years before.

During a solar eclipse, a local young woman named Elsa claims to see an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary atop a barren hill. Elsa then begins healing local residents and creates her “Seven Apostles” which includes her friends Chayong and Sepa and entrepreneur Mrs. Alba. Her miracle healing spreads around and soon pilgrims and tourists start arriving in Cupang to visit Elsa. Elsa’s house bears a big sign “Elsa loves you”. Because of the influx of tourists and patients, business in the town booms as people sell religious articles and offer accommodation. Around the same time, Elsa’s childhood friend Nimia, now a prostitute, returns and establishes a nightclub for foreign tourists, which is later ordered closed by the Seven Apostles.

Orly, a filmmaker, also arrives in Cupang to make a documentary about Elsa. One day, Orly confesses to the town’s Catholic priest that he has seen two drugged youths rape Elsa and Chayong on the hill. He holds a heavy guilt because he just filmed the incident instead of helping the two victims. Later, Chayong hangs herself because of shame, though what happened to her and Elsa was never revealed to the townspeople.

A cholera epidemic soon inflicts the people of Cupang and many have died including the children of Sepa. Elsa blames herself and stops healing; the authorities also quarantine her house.

Elsa then stars to show signs of pregnancy. Mrs. Alba then concludes that it is “Immaculate Conception” and proclaims Elsa to be truly blessed. As the same moment, thunders roar and a heavy downpour wets the dry landscape of Cupang. The people rejoice and are convinced that the curse has been lifted and that Elsa’s miracles have come back. Mrs. Alba and the people rush to Elsa’s house and called her out. Elsa then commands her followers to call everyone to assemble on the hill.

The sick, tourists, foreigners, media men and businessmen gather on the hill. In front of her congregation, Elsa finally professes that everything has been a lie – that there are no miracles, no sightings of the Virgin Mary, and the miracles that happened are only products of their invention. In the middle of her speech, a gun fires and hit Elsa in the chest. A stampede ensues, throwing everyone into a mass hysteria and many are badly injured.

Elsa breathes her last while Orly and other reporters capture her dying moments. The crowd cries and gravitates toward her after her death is announced. Her followers lift her lifeless body overhead, in a crucifix position, and take her to a waiting ambulance. The crowd wails more as they touch her body. Sepa then proclaims to the crowd that Elsa is a saint, a martyr for the world’s suffering. She leads the congregation in praying the Hail Mary on their knees going up the hill as the ambulance carrying Elsa drives away.

Watch "Himala" movie trailer here.

Commentary. Himala, for me, is one of the best Filipino films ever created. It was released during the period considered as the second golden age of Philippine movies. It was a tremendous critical and commercial success. Its achievement can be attributed to three main factors – its technical aspects, the lead actress Nora Aunor, and the storyline.

French-trained director Ishmael Bernal masterfully produced Himala using long single-shots. Right from the start, Bernal has created a perfect setting for the film. He portrayed here a Third World rural life against a backdrop of superstitious and fanatic small sleepy community. The movie opens in a depressing darkness of an eclipse which sets the tone of the movie’s supernatural theme. Bernal then slowly infuses the harsh realities and ugliness of backward village life. The details are very rich and events were perfectly timed. Its subtlety and the unfolding of subplots, along with intriguing visuals, draw audience from beginning to end. And in the final scene, when Elsa was shot and the people still believed in her despite the lies, was enigmatic and awe-inspiring.

Nora Aunor as Elsa was very brilliant, an actress of legendary proportions. She gave a sensitive and polished low key performance. But more than her acting, she struck as someone ordinary but believable. She depicts the image of a common Filipina, and along with her impressive talent, she knows how to draw mass sympathy. While watching the film, you do not see an actress, but someone like a neighbor talking to you, like a common person who can engage you in a natural but powerful way. Ms. Aunor has done countless award-winning portrayals, but as Elsa is her best.

Lastly, Himala succeeds in the commonality of its storyline. The movie is far from being mind-boggling that pieces have to be fitted in order to understand it as a whole. The story is explicit from the very beginning. It is about a poor community and the hope that a lying lass has brought to it. Though the film is centered on the issues of religious faith and faithlessness, it actually speaks about desires and yearnings. Elsa longs for attention and respect, Orly the filmmaker for prestige, Nimia the prostitute for trust and happiness, the sick for healing, Mrs. Alba and the businessmen for wealth, and the townspeople for hope and redemption. The sad truth depicted in the film is how people grab even the smallest opportunity just to satisfy that desire, but then suddenly breaks upon a little failure. And in the end, we invent things to fill in every longing in our heart.

Reception.  The film premiered at the 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival where it swept 9 out of 11 awards including Best Actress for Nora Aunor, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture. It also bagged awards in the 1982 Catholic Mass Media Award.

In the international scene, the film was awarded with the Bronze Hugo prize at the 1983 Chicago International Film Festival. It also became the first and to date, the only Filipino film to be included in the “Competition Section” of the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival.

In 2008, Himala won the Viewer’s Choice Award for the Best Film of all Time from the Asia-Pacific Region in the CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

Himala is best remembered for Elsa’s (and Aunor’s) most famous speech delivered on the hill:

 

"Walang himala!! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga himala! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga sumpa at ng mga diyos..." ("There is no miracle!! The miracles are in people's hearts, in all our hearts! We make the miracles! We are the ones who make curses, gods...")

Ten Best Hollywood Movie Execution Scenes

The best Hollywood movie execution scenes include such grisly fare as Hang 'Em High, The Green Mile, Papillon, The Execution of Private Slovik, The Great Escape, In Cold Blood, Schindler's List, Murder in Coweta County, The Dirty Dozen and The Passion of the Christ.

Capital punishment is very much alive and well in the movies. Here are ten infamous movie execution scenes from the vast archives of Hollywood history. Warning: These are not for the squeamish.

Hang 'Em High (1968) - A Swinging Time in the Old West

As befitting the movie's title, United Artists' Hang 'Em High features a mass execution on the gallows in 1889 Oklahoma/Indian Territory. Pat Hingle as Judge Adam Fenton – a.k.a. the "Hanging Judge" – orders the execution of six men. Amidst a lighthearted, carnival atmosphere, the condemned are marched up the gallows, hooded and, with a nod from the judge looking on from an upstairs window, sent packing into eternity feet first by Schmidt the Hangman (Bert Freed). When asked if he has a final request, one impatient prisoner (Paul Sorensen), fed up with a long-winded speech by the condemned Francis Elroy Duffy (Michael O'Sullivian), spits out his cigar and answers, " Yeah, tell him to shut up and let's get this over with." And of course rancher Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood) is nearly lynched by vigilantes in another scene, but survives the attack to become one of Judge Fenton's U.S. marshals.

Six condemned men on the gallows in Hang 'Em High (1968) - United Artists

The Green Mile (1999) - Delacroix's Wild Ride in the Chair

The Green Mile, the 1930s Stephen King prison flick starring Tom Hanks as guard Paul Edgecomb, features three execution scenes in the electric chair. The most gruesome one by far involves the hapless Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter), who literally fries in the chair after sadistic little runt Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison) purposely fails to follow proper procedure. The botched execution is like something out of the supernatural, as the condemned cooks in the chair, emitting sparks and acrid smoke while the guards frantically try to up the voltage in order to hasten his death.

Eduard "Del" Delacroix literally fries in the electric chair in The Green Mile (1999) - Warner Bros.

Papillon (1973) - Execution in French Guiana

When it was first introduced in 1792, the guillotine was touted by its French backers as a more humane means of capital punishment. In the movie Papillon, prisoners Henri Charriere a.k.a. Papillon (Steve McQueen), Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman) and other assembled guests are "treated" to a live demonstration of the guillotine at the infamous penal institution in French Guiana circa the 1930s. The struggling condemned man is brought out by the guards followed by a priest reading Scripture. His head is quickly placed in the wooden frame, the silent command is given with a nod and the razor-sharp blade comes barreling down, neatly separating the head from the torso.

The Execution of Private Slovik (1974) - Death by Firing Squad

In this NBC-TV movie Martin Sheen plays the real-life Private Eddie Slovik (1920-1945), who on January 31, 1945, was executed in France by the U.S. Army for desertion. Of the 49 American soldiers condemned to death for desertion during World War II, Slovik was the only one to actually be executed. The  execution scene is harrowing, with the scared, befuddled Slovik, repeatedly muttering the Hail Mary and Our Father, strapped to a post, read his death sentence, black hooded and then shot by an Army firing squad. When the attending doctor pronounces that the moaning Slovik is still alive, a disgusted Catholic chaplain Father Stafford (Ned Beatty) calls out, "Give it another volley if you like it so much."

Martin Sheen and Ned Beatty, right, prepare for the firing squad in The Execution of Private Slovik (1974) - NBC-TV

The Great Escape (1963) - Shot While Trying to Escape

After busting out of "escape-proof" Luft Stalag III, British POWs Bartlett (Richard Attenborough), MacDonald (Gordon Jackson), Cavendish (Nigel Stock), Haynes (Lawrence Montaigne) and 46 others are eventually recaptured and driven to a remote field. Ordered out of the truck in order to "stretch their legs," the men then hear the click of a heavy machine gun, which is mounted in the back of another vehicle. The order is given by a German SS officer, with all 50 prisoners summarily executed. Oberst von Luger (Hannes Messemer), the commandant of Luft Stalag III, later has the unpleasant task of informing the ranking British officer that the men were shot while trying to escape. The execution scene is a bloodless one, brilliantly staged with only the echo of the machine gun reverberating off the surrounding mountains, signaling the POWs' inglorious end.

In Cold Blood (1967) - The Kansas Gallows

Truman Capote's haunting "non-fiction novel" In Cold Blood features real-life convicted killers Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) awaiting their turn on the gallows. Hickock goes first, followed by Smith, who sums up his miserable life while a hard rain beats outside his death row cell. The executions were filmed at the Kansas State Penitentiary, with an actor playing the state's official hangman. 

Robert Blake as Perry Smith awaits the hangman's noose in In Cold Blood (1967) - Columbia Pictures

Schindler's List (1993) - Dead Nazi Walking

SS Captain Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) – Nazi evil personified – acts as one of Hitler's "Final Solution" executioners in occupied Poland. Goeth's idea of "amusement" is grabbing a sniper's rifle and picking off concentration camp inmates from his balcony. The monster Goeth is later executed for war crimes during one post-war scene, with soldiers violently kicking away a stool as the noose tightens around his neck. In actuality, the real Amon Goeth, age 37, was hanged in Poland on September 13, 1946. The execution was botched twice – the rope wasn't long enough – with the third try finally accomplishing the grisly job.

Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in Schindler's List (1993) - Universal Pictures

Murder in Coweta County (1983) - Andy Griffith Gets the Chair

Based on a true story of the late 1940s, this CBS-TV movie features Andy Griffith as John Wallace, the most powerful man in Meriwether County, Georgia. When a tenant farmer named Wilson Turner (Robert Schenkkan) makes off with one of Wallace's prized dairy cows which he believes he was owed as compensation, Wallace and three of his cronies pursue the man into neighboring Coweta County, where Wallace savagely beats the man to death. Coweta County Sheriff Lamar Potts (Johnny Cash) takes up the case, eventually bringing Wallace to justice. The scene in which Andy Griffith's Wallace is executed in the electric chair is one of the most chilling sequences ever staged for television. Griffith, sporting a shaven head and a pseudo-Christian defiance right to the end, is strapped in the chair and fitted with a skull cap. Andy Griffith was a long way from Mayberry in this harrowing TV movie.

The Dirty Dozen (1967) - Lee Marvin Goes to a Hanging

Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) is invited to a hanging while stationed in England during World War II. U.S. Army MPs with a clergyman in tow escort the condemned soldier Private Arthur James Gardner (George Roubicek) to the gallows as he pleads that he didn't mean to kill the woman. The order is given and the trap door released, sending Pvt. Gardner into eternity. Later, Major General Sam Worden (Ernest Borgnine) asks Major Reisman how he liked the show. Reisman replies that it was a hell of a way to die, with General Worden commenting that more than a few souls he knows deserve the same fate.

The Passion of the Christ (2004) - The Crucifixion

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ features one of the most brutal execution scenes ever filmed. The final hours of Jesus Christ (James Caviezel) are depicted in harrowing detail, including the actual nails being hammered into his wrists. There's perhaps no more gruesome a death than crucifixion as practiced by the Romans, with The Passion of the Christ horrifying many moviegoers. The production proved to be an especially difficult shoot for James Caviezel, who was accidentally whipped twice and struck by lightning during the Sermon on the Mount scene. The actor also suffered a separated shoulder when the 150-pound cross fell on him. 

James Caviezel as Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ (2004) - Icon Productions

Ten More Memorable Movie Execution Scenes

  • The Victors (1963). A U.S. Army soldier (James Chase) is executed for desertion – think Private Eddie Slovik – as Frank Sinatra sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the background. 
  • Dead Man Walking (1995). Convicted murderer Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) is executed in Louisiana by lethal injection.
  • Billy Budd (1962). Billy Budd (Terence Stamp) is hanged for the murder of the sadistic John Claggart (Robert Ryan).
  • The Chamber (1996). Convicted killer Sam Cayhall (Gene Hackman) is executed in Mississippi's gas chamber.
  • Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005). Anti-Nazi resistance leader Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch) goes to the guillotine in 1943.
  • Cromwell (1970). England's Charles I (Alec Guinness) is publicly beheaded by a black masked executioner in 1649. "Behold, the head of a traitor!"
  • Let Him Have It (1991). Convicted murderer Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) is hanged at London's Wandsworth Prison in 1953.
  • Paths of Glory (1957). Three French soldiers (Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey, Joe Turkel) are executed for cowardice by firing squad in World War I.
  • The Hoodlum Priest (1961). Father Charles Dismas Clark (Don Murray) witnesses the execution of one of his young charges in the electric chair.
  • Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman (2005). Britain's most prolific hangman Albert Pierrepoint (Timothy Spall) executes a reported 608 people from 1933 to 1955. Among his victims as depicted in the movie are Nazi war criminals Irma Grese and Josef Kramer a.k.a. the Beast of Belsen.

Three French soldiers prepare for execution by firing squad in Paths of Glory (1957) - United Artists

Top Image

  • Half sheet movie poster: Hang 'Em High (1968) - Heritage Auctions

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

TV's The Big Valley: Interesting Facts & Television Trivia

ABC-TV's The Big Valley ran from 1965 to 1969 with Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Long, Peter Breck, Lee Majors and Linda Evans in the starring roles. Here are some interesting facts and TV trivia concerning The Big Valley and the Barkley clan of Stockton, California.

The Big Valley ran on ABC-TV from 1965-69, generating 112 episodes. Barbara Stanwyck heads the clan as matriarch Victoria Barkley, with Richard Long (Jarrod Barkley), Peter Breck (Nick Barkley), Lee Majors (Heath Barkley) and Linda Evans (Audra Barkley) rounding out the regular cast.

Set in California's San Joaquin Valley of the 1870s near Stockton, The Big Valley debuted on September 15, 1965. Along with Gunsmoke (1955-75) and Bonanza (1959-73), The Big Valley is considered to be one of the Big Three in TV westerns. Here is a potpourri of interesting facts and TV trivia surrounding The Big Valley...

1. Charles Briles appeared in eight first season episodes as youngest brother Eugene Barkley. His character was later written out of the show – the storyline had him away attending law school – when the 19-year-old Briles was drafted into the United States Army in June 1965.

2. Richard Long's lawyer character – with offices in Stockton and San Francisco – was named Jarrod Thomas Barkley. The middle name of Thomas came from his deceased father, Tom Barkley. Tom Barkley's avenger was an old cuss named Handy Random (James Whitmore), who appeared as a hired gun specializing in range wars in "The Death Merchant" (2/23/66).

Cast of The Big Valley, l-r: Richard Long, Lee Majors, Linda Evans, Barbara Stanwyck, Peter Breck - ABC-TV

3. Jarrod, Nick and Heath Barkley had all served in the Union Army during the Civil War (1861-65). Nick had been a captain, Jarrod had been stationed in Washington, D.C. where he had been in intelligence and Heath had saw action at Chickamauga.

4. The idea for The Big Valley began with Lou Edelman, a producer on The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1960-62). For two years Edelman had tried to interest the TV networks in a western series starring Miss Stanwyck, but his efforts came to no avail. In late 1963 Edelman sold the property to the producing team of Jules Levy, Arthur Gardner and Arnold Laven, who struck a deal with ABC in late 1964 to bring The Big Valley to television.

5. Barbara Stanwyck originally voiced misgivings about playing Victoria Barkley. As originally conceived by Lou Edelman, Stanwyck's proposed character was just a little too tame for her. "I'm a tough old broad from Brooklyn," she informed the producers. "Don't try to make me into something I'm not. If you want someone to tiptoe down the Barkley staircase in crinoline and politely ask where the cattle went, get another girl. That's not me."

6. Like many television shows of the era, The Big Valley was cranked out in assembly line fashion. Each hour-long episode (with commercials) was filmed in approximately six days, averaging 12 pages of script per day. The series was in production for nine months every year, followed by a three-month hiatus. Hours on The Big Valley set were long, with cast and crew usually up at four in the morning, with filming sometimes lasting until nine at night.

7. Said Barbara Stanwyck of The Big Valley's production schedule: "We do twenty-six shows in twenty-six weeks, twenty-six very fast movies, and no one bothers counting the hours. The script is here, the cameras are there, and you are here. Late afternoons you feel you're so hot and tired – particularly on those hot locations – that you just can't do a thing. But somehow you always do. At night, you have a pot of soup and go to sleep. It's a brutal life."

8. Hollywood stuntmen were used extensively in The Big Valley – producers couldn't risk serious injury to the show's stars – particularly during the many fight and bronc-busting scenes. The stuntmen are rather easy to spot, with the camera going into a long shot during the violent fracas and then returning to a closeup view of the actor in the tamer proceedings. Nick Barkley's numerous saloon fights serve as a fine example of a stunt double being employed for Peter Breck and his flowing dark hair.

9. Barbara Stanwyck, by virtue of her vast Hollywood experience, was considered "the Queen" on the production. One time, when an assistant director was unable to bring order to the set, Queen Barbara (all 5'3" of her) stepped up and yelled "Qui-et!" in her booming, trademark voice, whereby the sound stage fell into dutiful silence.

10. Barbara Stanwyck had taken young Lee Majors under her wing during the show's first season because of his lack of experience. When Majors and guest star Peter Haskell returned late from lunch one day, Stanwyck lit into Majors, reminding him of her passion for punctuality.

11. Barbara Stanwyck also lent her experience to Linda Evans. During rehearsal, when it was determined that Evans' character, Audra, needed more presence in a scene, Stanwyck told the young actress that she would show her the inside ropes in achieving that goal. "As the rehearsal went on," Evans recalled for People magazine in 1990, "I waited for an explanation from Stanwyck about 'presence,' but she didn't say anything. I had to walk in this door and walk into the scene, but she didn't come over. Finally the director said, 'Action!' She came over behind me just as we were supposed to walk in the door. I thought, 'When is she going to tell me what to do?' Then, as I opened the door, she picked up her boot and kicked me in the butt! I went flying onto the set with my eyes wide open and she said, 'Now, that's presence.'"

12. Cast members of The Big Valley appeared on the cover of TV Guide twice: February 26, 1966 and July 20, 1968.

13. The Big Valley premiered on Wednesday night, September 15, 1965, with the episode "Palms of Glory. Network competition in the 9-10PM (ET) time slot was Green Acres and The Dick Van Dyke Show on CBS and Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theater on NBC. Preceding The Big Valley on ABC in the 8:30PM time slot was Gidget starring Sally Field. The Big Valley moved to Monday nights, occupying the 10-11PM (ET) time slot, in July 1966. And there it stayed until its final episode on May 19, 1969.

Peter Breck and Linda Evans in a 1966 The Big Valley promotional still - ABC-TV

14. Variety previewed The Big Valley on September 22, 1965: "The Big Valley registers on the home screen as Bonanza in drag. It's a direct variation on the proven theme only with a femme (Barbara Stanwyck) at the head of the clan, a daughter included in the offspring, and of course, the name is changed to Barkley...There is good reason to expect it to command a respectable audience. The acting is strong, the cast attractive, and the production coffers opened wide, at least on the preem (premiere)."

15. Deceased The Big Valley cast members are Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990), Richard Long (1927-1974), Peter Breck (1929-2012) and Napoleon Whiting (1910-1984). Whiting played the Barkleys' black servant/chef Silas in 36 episodes.

The Big Valley Top Image

  • Lee Majors and Linda Evans in The Big Valley - ABC-TV

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

Ten Best Mission: Impossible TV Episodes

CBS-TV's Mission: Impossible ran from 1966-73. Operation Rogosh, The Town, Two Thousand, The Legend, The Photographer, The Freeze, The Visitors and The Killer are the best TV episodes.

CBS-TV's Mission: Impossible ran on the small screen from 1966 to 1973. Created by the late Bruce Geller (1930-1978), Mission: Impossible debuted on September 17, 1966, with Steven Hill as Dan Briggs, Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter, Greg Morris as Barney Collier, Martin Landau as Rollin Hand and Peter Lupus as Willy Armitage heading the cast. In later years, Peter Graves as Jim Phelps took over the reins as the leader of the Impossible Missions Force (I.M.F.), with Leonard Nimoy, Lesley Ann Warren, Sam Elliott, Lynda Day George and Barbara Anderson also appearing as regular operatives.

During its seven-year run the I.M.F. battled hostile foreign governments, international drug cartels, renegade scientists, banana republic dictators, traitorous spies, ruthless hit men and organized crime a.k.a. "The Syndicate" in 171 hour-long segments. Here are ten Mission: Impossible episodes that no M.I. TV fan should ever miss. Good morning, Mr. Phelps...

"Operation Rogosh" - October 1, 1966

Dan Briggs and the I.M.F. must locate hidden vials of a deadly toxin planted in the Los Angeles area by Iron Curtain operative Imry Rogosh (Fritz Weaver). In order to crack the political mass murderer, the team stages a phony car accident, with Rogosh awakening "three years later" in his own country where he stands accused of being an American agent. Briggs plays Rogosh's inept defense counsel, with Cinnamon Carter posing as his girlfriend and Barney Collier as a fellow prisoner. A classic episode featuring one of the I.M.F.'s patented sting operations with a bit of a twist and improvisation, as Rogosh later spies a chair whose underside bears a marking from a Los Angeles company, tipping him off that he is being tricked into revealing the locations of his secreted vials containing biological warfare agents.

Teleplay: Jerome Ross

Director: Leonard Horn

TV Guide, February 11, 1967: Steven Hill, Barbara Bain and Martin Landau of Mission: Impossible (Triangle Publications, Inc.)

"The Town" - February 18, 1968

While on his way to meet Rollin Hand for some skiing at a mountain resort, Jim Phelps stumbles on a domestic plot to kill a Soviet defector in Los Angeles. After being hit by nerve gas at a small-town drugstore, the local doctor (Will Geer) injects Jim with the paralyzing drug curare, later telling a concerned Rollin that his friend has suffered a stroke. Jim manages to convey a desperate SOS to Rollin via the blinking of his eyes. Now on to the plot, Rollin surreptitiously summons Cinnamon, Barney and Willy, who come into the town of Woodfield under various ruses, ready to free Jim and prevent the political assassination in L.A. An interesting episode as there is no set mission, but merely an improvised one, with Rollin mobilizing the team in short order. "Mrs. Phelps?" Rollin telephones Cinnamon, knowing that the line is bugged. "Speaking," Cinnamon coolly answers, playing along like a pro.

Teleplay: Sy Salkowitz

Director: Michael O'Herlihy

"Two Thousand" - September 23, 1972

Vic Morrow plays Joseph Collins, an American physicist who plans to sell a cache of nuclear grade material to foreign interests. In order to locate the secreted plutonium, the I.M.F. have Collins arrested, later feeding him phony media stories about an impending war in the Middle East. The phony war begins, with Collins drugged and artificially aged. When he wakes up, Collins is led to believe 28 years have passed and the year is now 2000. According to a prisoner nearby – Barney Collier, playing his assigned role – all inmates are terminated at age 65, giving Collins pause as he is two days away from his 65th birthday. Collins now pleads his case that he is a vital asset, as the military needs nuclear physicists and enriched plutonium in order to continue the war. The final scene is priceless, as the bearded Collins wanders outside, realizes that he has been grandly duped, and breaks into maniacal laughter as the present day police arrive to cart him away. 

Teleplay: Harold Livingston

Director: Leslie H. Martinson  

"The Legend" - February 11, 1967

The I.M.F. head to South America where escaped Nazi war criminal Martin Boorman is rumored to be alive. Boorman, aided by his confidante Frederick Rudd (Gunnar Hellstrom), General von Cramm (Gene Roth) and other surviving Nazis, plan to resurrect the Third Reich. Dan Briggs and his team discover that there is no Martin Boorman – just a dummy in a room and a crude recording – with Rudd as the real power behind the planned Nazi resurgence. This segment is quite a stretch but entertaining nonetheless, with the I.M.F. later exposing Rudd and leaving him to the wrath of his fellow Nazis. "Is that you, Rudd?" the Martin Boorman recording repeatedly asks from a darkened room. Well, it fooled this band of less-than-bright National Socialists.

Teleplay: Mann Rubin

Director: Richard Benedict

TV Guide, May 4, 1968: Greg Morris, Peter Graves, Barbara Bain, Martin Landau of Mission: Impossible (Triangle Publications, Inc.)

"The Photographer" - December 17, 1967

Anthony Zerbe guest stars as David Redding, an embittered American traitor who holds a secret code that will launch a deadly attack of pneumonic plague on the United States. Redding is a fashion photographer, with Cinnamon reporting to his studio for modeling work. Phelps and his team trick Redding into revealing the code by staging a phony nuclear attack as seen from the periscope of his backyard bomb shelter. They also spring another surprise on the traitor, fingering his friend Alex Morley (John Randolph) as the man responsible for betraying Redding's father.

Teleplay: William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter

Director: Lee H. Katzin

"The Freeze" - December 23, 1968

Albert Jenkins a.k.a. Raymond Barret (Donnelly Rhodes) was the brain behind an armored car heist several years ago. Barret, who is about to be released from prison while doing time on a lesser charge, plans to recover the hidden loot once the statute of limitations runs out on the crime. The I.M.F. is tasked with locating the secreted cache of $10 million before the statute expires. When falsely told that he has an incurable disease before his release from prison, a desperate Barret seeks out the services of a pioneering physician (played by none other than Jim Phelps) whose specialty is cryogenics. Resorting to blackmail, Barret "forces" the good doctor to freeze him, later awakening in "the future" where he leads both the I.M.F. and his angry associates to the ten million smackers.

Teleplay: Paul Playdon

Director: Alexander Singer

"The Visitors" - November 27, 1971

Steve Forrest plays Edward Granger, a wealthy publishing magnate who is controlled by the syndicate. In return, Granger protects the mob-controlled politicians in the state. In order to expose Granger before the upcoming elections, Phelps and his team appeal to his interest in UFOs and immortality, later convincing him that Casey (Lynda Day George) and company are extraterrestrials endowed with magic healing powers. The final scene where a dying Granger tries to make his way to a phony "healing machine" is unforgettable.

Teleplay: Harold Livingston

Director: Reza Badiyi

"The Killer" - September 19, 1970

The I.M.F. must stop Eddie Lorca, a professional contract killer who has flown into Los Angeles to carry out his latest hit. Lorca operates by random choice, often throwing a pair of dice to determine his hotel room number and other incidentals. The I.M.F. manage to set up Lorca at the Bower Hotel, where Dana (Leslie Ann Warren) acts as a messenger for Lorca's mysterious employer Scorpio. Robert Conrad turns in a lethal performance as the hit man, who is duped into believing that Scorpio has double crossed him.

Teleplay: Arthur Weiss

Director: Paul Krasny

TV Guide, January 22, 1972: Greg Morris, Peter Graves, Peter Lupus, Lynda Day George of Mission: Impossible (Triangle Publications, Inc.)

"The Mercenaries" - October 27, 1968

Colonel Hans Krim (Pernell Roberts) leads his own mercenary army in Africa. Krim is sitting on a fortune in gold bars, which is used to pay his soldiers and fund his various military operations on the Dark Continent. The I.M.F. moves in, with Rollin Hand enlisting in Krim's army and Jim and Cinnamon posing as missionaries/gunrunners. Especially entertaining is the high-tech sequence where Barney and Willy literally drain Krim's hidden cache of gold bars, heating the vault to a high temperature, converting the gold into a molten state and then recasting the precious metal back into their own bars. When the gold goes missing, Major Jan Gruner (Skip Homeier) and the other mercenaries in Krim's employ turn on their boss, thus sealing his doom.

Teleplay: Laurence Heath

Director: Paul Krasny

"The Emerald" - January 21, 1968

The I.M.F. must recover a missing emerald that contains top secret information. In possession of the gem is international arms dealer Victor Tomar (William Smithers). Also in pursuit of the emerald is enemy agent Yorgi Petrosian (Michael Strong). Employing a high-tech cheating device, Jim and Rollin get into a poker game with the principals aboard the S.S. Queen of Suez, with Rollin relieving Tomar of the gem during a monster round of betting in which he secretly deals himself a straight flush. There's more than meets the eye in this winning episode that ranks as one of Mission: Impossible's greatest gambling dramas.

Teleplay: William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter

Director: Michael O'Herlihy

Ten More Mission: Impossible TV Episode Favorites

  • "Underwater" (11/6/71)
  • "Encore" (9/25/71)
  • "Submarine" (11/16/69)
  • "The Killing" (2/28/68)
  • "The Legacy" (1/7/67)
  • "The Execution" (11/10/68)
  • "The Seal" (11/5/67)
  • "Homecoming" (10/10/70)
  • "The Slave" Parts I and II (10/8/67 and 10/15/67)
  • "The Council" Parts I and II (11/19/67 and 11/26/67)

Top Image

  • Leonard Nimoy, Greg Morris, Leslie Ann Warren, Peter Lupus, Peter Graves of Mission: Impossible (CBS-TV)

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Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

Ten Best Jesse James Movies

Jesse James movies are legion in Hollywood. Jesse James, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, American Outlaws, The Long Riders, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James, I Shot Jesse James, Alias Jesse James, The True Story of Jesse James and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter are the top films.

The infamous Jesse James (1847-1882) remains one of the Old West's mythic outlaws. Confederate guerilla, train robber, bank robber and killer, James was a featured character in a number of motion pictures dating back to Hollywood's Silent Age.  

Here are ten Jesse James movies that no western film fan should ever miss. Some are good, some are so-so and some are just plain strange...

Jesse James (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1939)

Tyrone Power claims the title role, with Henry Fonda (Frank James), Nancy Kelly (Zerelda "Zee" Cobb), Randolph Scott (Marshal Will Wright), Henry Hull (Major Rufus Cobb), Slim Summerville (Jailer), Brian Donlevy (Barshee) and John Carradine (Bob Ford) along for the ride in this $1.6 million western. It's mostly fiction, as Jesse and brother Frank turn to robbing trains after an evil railroad agent murders their mother. Jesse later takes a mortal shot to the back from fellow gang member Bob Ford. "It's just like I always told you: I hate the railroads... and when I hate, I've gotta do somethin' about it," Jesse tells his future bride Zerelda.

Director: Henry King, Irving Cummings (uncredited)

Review: "It is historically inaccurate, since aside from their names and Bob Ford, it gets almost nothing right, but it is a very enjoyable film that moves along well and has a surprisingly bleak view of the price of the outlaw life." - Andrew Allen, History on Film (2010)

On DVD: Jesse James (20th Century Fox, 2007)

Insert movie poster: Jesse James (1939)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Bros., 2007)

Brad Pitt stars as Jesse James in this $30 million outing based on the novel by Ron Hansen. Other principals include Mary-Louise Parker (Zee James), Brooklynn Proulx (Mary James), Dustin Bollinger (Tim James), Casey Affleck (Robert Ford), Sam Rockwell (Charley Ford) and Sam Shepard (Frank James). Brad Pitt's Jesse James is a grizzled, depressed, confused but still murderous outlaw in his final days, with Casey Affleck's Bob Ford out to collect a reward and win fame by eliminating the man he once idolized. The movie earned two Oscar nominations: Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins) and Best Supporting Actor (Affleck).

Director: Andrew Dominik

Review: "'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford' will drive a lot of people to distraction, if they’re even attracted to it in the first place. A meditation on celebrity, 19th Century frontier fan boys and the myths America feeds to its young, this superbly realized adaptation of Ron Hansen’s novel runs about 160 minutes, and while there aren’t many individual acts of violence, they are painful and, more importantly, carry a moral consequence." - Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune (10/4/07)

On DVD: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner, 2008)

Advance one sheet movie poster: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

American Outlaws (Warner Bros., 2001)

Colin Farrell plays Jesse James, with Scott Caan (Cole Younger), Ali Larter (Zee Mimms), Gabriel Macht (Frank James), Gregory Smith (Jim Younger), Kathy Bates (Ma James) and Timothy Dalton (Allan Pinkerton) also on hand. Filmed in the Texas Hill Country, American Outlaws is more hip comedy/action than historical movie, with Farrell and his young guns taking up arms against a corrupt railroad baron. Kathy Bates has a field day as ol' Ma James.

Director: Les Mayfield

Review: "You can tell Colin Farrell is the star of the drab new Western 'American Outlaws' by the fact that he's the only one who's bothered to partially shave before the slaughter begins. As Jesse James, he hops on a steed, puts the reins in his mouth and shoots with a pistol in each hand. Though by the end of that sequence, his 5 o'clock shadow is about to strike 9. Irishman Farrell is Hollywood's new 'it' toy – according, at least, to Joel Schumacher, who directed him in last year's soggy boot-camp drama 'Tigerland.' But with a bland performance here, he's more persuasive as the next-big-thing-in-waiting." - Wesley Morris, San Francisco Chronicle (8/17/01)

On DVD: American Outlaws (Warner, 2001)

The Long Riders (United Artists, 1980)

The ultimate "brothers" movie, The Long Riders features four sets of siblings in the featured roles: David Carradine (Cole Younger), Keith Carradine (Jim Younger), Robert Carradine (Bob Younger); James Keach (Jesse James), Stacy Keach (Frank James); Dennis Quaid (Ed Miller), Randy Quaid (Clell Miller); and Christopher Guest (Charlie Ford), Nicholas Guest (Bob Ford). A tough, gritty oater, this $10 million effort traces the origins of the James-Younger Gang, highlighted by the disastrous 1876 Great Northfield Minnesota Raid where the boys are ambushed by the God-fearing townsfolk while trying to rob the local bank. The sight of the gang all decked out in their identical gray dusters and galloping down the trail is classic Hollywood western.

Director: Walter Hill

Review: "The Long Riders is striking in several ways, not the least of which in casting actor brothers as historical outlaw kin, but narrative is episodic in the extreme." - Variety (1980)

On DVD: The Long Riders (MGM/UA, 2001)

One sheet movie poster: The Long Riders (1980)

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (Universal, 1972)

The bungled 1876 James-Younger Great Northfield Raid is the focus of this western, with Cliff Robertson (Cole Younger), Robert Duvall (Jesse James), Luke Askew (Jim Younger), R.G. Armstrong (Clell Miller), John Pearce (Frank James) and Matt Clark (Bob Younger) manning the principal roles. Robertson and Duvall are excellent in their respective outlaw characters. The film is a sympathetic portrayal of the James-Younger Gang, with the greedy railroads as the true villains.

Director: Philip Kaufman

Review: "Philip Kaufman's 'The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid' is a lovely, odd sort of middle Western. That is, it's neither conventional Western fiction nor completely documented fact, although it makes full use of history and is as crammed with the artifacts of 19th-century America—everything from dolls to a working calliope—as an especially splendid Third Avenue Shop." - Vincent Canby, The New York Times (6/15/72)

On DVD: The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (Universal, 2007)

The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James (NBC-TV, 1986)

This made-for-TV movie stars Kris Kristofferson (Jesse James) and Johnny Cash (Frank James), focusing on the final years of the James boys' lives. Also on hand are Marcia Cross (Sarah Hite), Gail Youngs (Anna), David Allan Coe (Whiskeyhead), Andy Stahl (Liddil), June Carter Cash (Mother James), Darrell Wilks (Bob Ford) and Willie Nelson (General Jo Shelby). Filmed on location in Tennessee, The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James was first telecast over NBC-TV on February 17, 1986.

Director: William A. Graham

Review: "This is a surprisingly fine motion picture. Well written with far more attention to historic detail in firearms, clothing and even saddles than I would have expected, excellent writing and fine acting from all involved." - skoyles, The Internet Movie Database (6/9/07)

On DVD: The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James (Lions Gate, 2003)

I Shot Jesse James (Lippert, 1949)

One of many confessional movies of the era with "I" in the title, this western features Reed Hadley in the role of Jesse James. Also in the cast are Preston Foster (John Kelley), Barbara Britton (Cynthy Waters), John Ireland (Bob Ford) and Tom Tyler (Frank James). Once again sneaky little coward Bob Ford ends Jesse James' life in St. Joseph, Missouri, shooting him in the back and collecting a $10,000 reward. The outdoor scenes were shot at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, California. "I... I want to tell you something I ain't never told anyone. I'm sorry for what I done to Jess," a repentant Bob Ford tells Cynthy Waters in his final line. Well, this is a confessional movie.

Director: Samuel Fuller

Review: "I Shot Jesse James is a character study of the man who felled the west's most famous outlaw with a coward's bullet. It's an interesting treatment that doesn't overlook necessary plot and action." - Variety (1949)

On DVD: Eclipse Series 5 - The First Films of Samuel Fuller (Eclipse, 2007)

Alias Jesse James (United Artists, 1959)

A little "funnin'" never hurt anyone, and in this nearly forgotten comedy western Bob Hope plays insurance agent Milford Farnsworth, who sells a $100,000 life insurance policy to a stranger. The buyer turns out to be none other than Jesse James – played with gusto by Wendell Corey. The hapless Farnsworth is sent west by the home office in order buy back the policy, but ends up getting robbed and set up as the fall guy in Jesse's scheme to fake his own death and collect the insurance money. Rhonda Fleming (Cora Lee Collins), Gloria Talbott (Princess Irawanie), Jim Davis (Frank James), Will Wright (Titus Queasley) and Mary Young (Ma James) are also along for the ride. A fun role for Bob "I'm not Jesse James" Hope.

Director: Norman Z. McLeod

Review: "...Mr. Hope strives valiantly to kid all the Western clichés. And he is professionally amiable about his trade. Falling into this gag bag are the traditional train robbery, the saloon drinking bit with tough, bearded hombres, the gun duel between the bad man and Jesse James and the climactic street battle between the James gang and our wacky hero, who happens to be aided at this juncture, through small, cute bit roles, by practically every noted Western hero and heroine in films and television." - A.H. Weiler, The New York Times (5/18/59)

On DVD: Bob Hope MGM Movie Legends Collection (MGM, 2007)

Lobby card: Alias Jesse James (1959)

The True Story of Jesse James (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1957)

Robert Wagner stars as Jesse James, with Jeffrey Hunter (Frank James), Hope Lange (Zee), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Samuel), Alan Hale Jr. (Cole Younger), Alan Baxter (Remington), John Carradine (Reverend Jethro Bailey), Rachel Stephens (Anne James) and Biff Elliot (Jim Younger) also dotting the western terrain. The movie follows the murderous exploits of James and his gang, using flashbacks to try and rationalize their outlaw behavior. And this is Hollywood, so don't put too much stock in the "true story" gracing the movie's title.

Director: Nicholas Ray

Review: "It is a remake of the Henry King production with Tyrone Power. Oddly enough, it is more accurate than the original but less enjoyable." - Andrew Allen, History on Film (2010)

On DVD: The True Story of Jesse James (20th Century Fox, 2007)

Half sheet movie poster: The True Story of Jesse James (1957)

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (Embassy, 1966)

Just by the title one strongly suspects that this entry is not your run-of-the-mill western. John Lupton, who starred as Indian Agent Tom Jeffords in ABC-TV's Broken Arrow (1956-58), plays Jesse James opposite Narda Onyx's Dr. Maria Frankenstein. The plot – such as it is – features the Missouri outlaw on the lam, where he takes refuge in a castle. The owner of said castle is Dr. Frankenstein's granddaughter, whose experiments turn Jesse's wounded sidekick Hank Tracy into a zombie. Also on hand are Cal Bolder (Hank/Igor), Estelita Rodriguez (Juanita Lopez), Jim Davis (Marshal McPhee), Steven Geray (Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein), William Fawcett (Jensen) and a body count of eight. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter was paired at movie theaters with Embassy's Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966), making for a fine time at the old picture show. Perhaps your future husband "treated" you to this sensational double feature?

Director: William Beaudine

Review: "The title pretty much tells the story, as two historical characters – one real, one fantasy – collide in an awful mess of a plot that has Jesse James seeking medical help for his shooting buddy from the most unlikely doctor in town. The story, the acting, the dialogue – it's all a mess..." - Christopher Null, AMC Filmcritic.com

On DVD: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (Alpha Video, 2004)

Five More Jesse James Movie Favorites

  • Frank & Jesse (1995)
  • Young Jesse James (1960)
  • The James Brothers of Missouri (1949)
  • Best of the Badmen (1951)
  • Days of Jesse James (1939)

One sheet movie poster: Days of Jesse James (1939)

Image Credits

  • All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
  • Top image: Lobby card: The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)

Copyright © 2013 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

Ten Best Billy The Kid Movies

Billy the Kid movies are a Hollywood western favorite. The Left Handed Gun, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Billy the Kid, Young Guns, Billy the Kid Returns, The Kid from Texas, Young Guns II, Chisum and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula are among the top films.

Henry McCarty (1859-1881) – a.k.a. William H. Bonney, Henry Antrim and Billy the Kid – remains one of the Old West's mythic outlaws. In 1911, the first movie based on his life was released by the General Film Company. Titled Billy the Kid, this early, silent effort was directed by Laurence Trimble and starred Tefft Johnson in the title role.

Here are ten interesting Billy the Kid movies that no western film fan should ever miss. Draw, pardner...

The Left Handed Gun (Warner Bros., 1958)

Handsome, blue-eyed Paul Newman stars as Billy the Kid in this well-received western. Also on hand are John Dehner (Pat Garrett), Lita Milan (Celsa), Hurd Hatfield (Moultrie), James Congdon (Charlie Boudre), James Best (Tom Folliard), Colin Keith-Johnston (Tunstall) and John Dierkes (McSween). The movie, centered in New Mexico Territory during the Lincoln County War, provides a sympathetic portrayal of Billy the Kid, who after his mentor is murdered vows revenge against the killers. Originally set to star was the ill-fated James Dean, who was killed in an automobile crash on September 30, 1955. Newman had earlier played Billy the Kid on TV in "The Death of Billy the Kid," telecast on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse (7/24/55).

Director: Arthur Penn

Review: "The Left Handed Gun is another look at Billy the Kid, probably America's most constantly celebrated juvenile delinquent. In this version he's Billy, the crazy, mixed-up Kid. The picture is a smart and exciting western paced by Paul Newman's intense portrayal." - Variety (1958)

On DVD: The Paul Newman Collection (Warner, 2006)

Promotional still: Paul Newman as Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun (1958)

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (MGM, 1973)

Kris Kristofferson plays Billy the Kid opposite James Coburn's Sheriff Pat Garrett in this violent oater. Set in New Mexico Territory in 1881, the movie centers on Pat Garrett's attempt to bring in the escaped Billy, who was once the lawman's saddle buddy. The final confrontation comes at Fort Sumner, where Billy falls to Garrett's gun. Richard Jaeckel (Sheriff Kip McKinney), Katy Jurado (Mrs. Baker), Chill Wills (Lemuel), Barry Sullivan (Chisum), Jason Robards (Governor Wallace) and Bob Dylan (Alias) also grace the production. "How's Jesus look to you now, Bob?" the Kid asks, aiming a loaded shotgun at R.G. Armstrong's Ollinger character. 

Director: San Peckinpah

Review: "Sam Peckinpah attempted to have his name removed from 'Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.' I sympathized with him. If this wasn't entirely his work, he shouldn't have had to take the blame. And even if it was, the less said the better. It's a movie that exists almost entirely on one note – a low, melancholy one – and achieves what I thought would have been impossible for him Peckinpah: he's boring." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (5/23/73)

On DVD: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid Two-Disc Special Edition (Warner, 2006)

Billy the Kid (MGM, 1941)

A rather mature-looking Robert Taylor stars as Billy Bonney, a budding gunslinger who seeks revenge when his beloved employer is killed in New Mexico Territory. Also on hand are Ian Hunter (Eric Keating), Brian Donlevy (Jim Sherwood), Mary Howard (Edith Keating), Gene Lockhart (Dan Hickey) and Lon Chaney Jr. (Spike Hudson). Billy the Kid earned an Oscar nomination for Best Color Cinematography. The movie ends with the epilogue: "Thus, as the ways of law came to the last frontier, the last of the men of violence found his peace." Translation: Crime doesn't pay.  

Director: David Miller, Frank Borzage (uncredited)

Review: "The magnificence of Robert Taylor, which is always something special to behold, falls into pale inconsequence alongside the glories of the great outdoors in Metro's flashy Technicolored Western, "Billy the Kid," which hit the Capitol yesterday. Apparently, this is not exactly as it was intended to be, for a great deal more is seen of Mr. Taylor than of anything else in this film—Mr. Taylor in a forbiddingly black and shiny cowboy suit; Mr. Taylor at medium distance flashing a roguish smile; Mr. Taylor's face in intimate closeup with his power-blue jaw set firm and his steely eyes looking about sharply for any movements at all untoward. But somehow a lot of Mr. Taylor is scarcely able to compare with even a moderate amount of stunning outdoor scenery—with the coral and copper-colored monoliths of Monument Valley, their tops wreathed in billowing mists; with deserts stretching off into pink distance and red cattle grazing on the rolling plains. And the scenery is by far the most spectacular part of this bulging film." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (6/20/41)

On DVD: Billy the Kid (MGM, 2009)

Reissue one sheet movie poster from 1955: Billy the Kid (1941)

Young Guns (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1988)

Emilio Estevez plays Billy the Kid, the leader of a band of "young guns" who are out to avenge the murder of their benefactor in New Mexico Territory. Riding with Billy are Kiefer Sutherland (Doc Scurlock), Lou Diamond Phillips (Jose Chavez), Charlie Sheen (Dick Brewer), Dermot Mulroney (Dirty Steve Stephens) and Casey Siemaszko (Charley Bowdre). Also on hand are Terence Stamp (John Tunstall), Terry O'Quinn (Alex McSween), Jack Palance (Lawrence G. Murphy) and Patrick Wayne (Pat Garrett). Western movie fans will love the shootouts in this picture, along with the great New Mexico scenery. Young Guns won a Bronze Wrangler from Western Heritage Awards for Best Theatrical Motion Picture.  

Director: Christopher Cain

Review: "The clubby atmosphere of 'Young Guns,' the new Brat Pack western, is so thick as to be almost suffocating. Directed by Christopher Cain, it's like a Western-style dress-up party for Hollywood kiddies, horses and guns included." - Hal Hinson, Washington Post (8/16/88) 

On DVD: Young Guns Special Edition (Lions Gate, 2003)

Billy the Kid Returns (Republic, 1938)

Roy Rogers has a dual role in this one, playing himself and the reincarnated double of Billy the Kid. The storyline has Wade Boteler's Sheriff Pat Garrett, who just disposed of the real Kid, asking Roy to take the deceased's place in a range war pitting homesteaders against fat cat ranchers. Roy's sidekick Smiley Burnette as Frog Millhouse is along for the ride, with the two singing a few western tunes, including "Trail Blazin'," "Sing a Little Song About Anything," "Born to the Saddle" and "When the Sun Is Setting on the Prairie." Billy the Kid Returns premiered at Los Angeles' Orpheum Theater on September 5, 1938, with Roy Rogers himself in attendance.

Director: Joseph Kane

Review: "Roy plays himself and the famous "kid" with whom he is confused. Lots of songs in this one." Ed Stephan, fullmoviereview.com (2010)

On DVD: Roy Rogers 20 Movie Pack (Mill Creek Entertainment, 2006)

The Kid from Texas (Universal, 1950)

Audie Murphy, America's most decorated soldier of World War II, plays Billy the Kid in this fictionalized version of the Old West legend. Gale Storm (Irene Kain), Albert Dekker (Alexander Kain), Shepperd Strudwick (Roger Jameson), Will Geer (O'Fallon), William Talman (Minninger) and Frank Wilcox (Sheriff Pat Garrett) are also in the mix. The baby-faced Murphy's a bit uncomfortable before the cameras, but he carries off the role as well as could be expected.

Director: Kurt Neumann

Review: "An excellent but none-too-accurate story, given strong production, and featuring Audie Murphy, in his first starring role. Murphy's a bit wooden, but he delivers. Entertaining." - Wrangler, The Internet Movie Database (10/10/98)

On DVD: Not commercially available

Young Guns II (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1990)

In this sequel to Young Guns (1988), Emilio Estevez reprises his role as Billy the Kid, with Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips also returning. In this outing, Billy sets his two cohorts free and they head to Mexico with the law hot on their trail. "Just remember, Pat. You'll never be me. You'll always be the man who shot Billy the Kid!" Estevez tells William Petersen's Pat Garrett.

Director: Geoff Murphy

Review: "'Young Guns II' is yet another revisionist version of the Billy the Kid legend, which has taken on mythic qualities in such films as 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,' 'The Left-Handed Gun' and 'Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,' not to mention an opera by Aaron Copland... As played by Emilio Estevez, Billy is a fresh-faced innocent who looks youthful even in the company of his fellow gang members, who include Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips and Christian Slater." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (8/1/90) 

On DVD: Young Guns II (Warner, 2009)

One sheet movie poster: Young Guns II (1990)

Billy the Kid (MGM, 1930)

Former University of Alabama football star-turned-actor Johnny Mack Brown stars as Billy the Kid in this early sound western, with Wallace Beery (Pat Garrett), Kay Johnson (Claire Randall), Karl Dane (Swenson), Wyndham Standing (Jack Tunston) and Russell Simpson (Angus McSween) also in the cast. Filmed in New Mexico, Arizona and California, this version once again has the Kid avenging the murder of his boss, with Pat Garrett on his trail. Of special note are the pistols used by Brown in the movie, which were the actual guns owned by the real Billy the Kid. They were on loan from the private collection of legendary western film star William S. Hart.

Director: King Vidor

Review: "This early version of the violent legend includes some comic characters and bears only occasional resemblance to the controversial life of the young man who killed men in revenge for the murder of his employers Tunston and later McSween." - Sanderson Beck, Movie Mirrors (2000

On DVD: Not commercially available

Chisum (Warner Bros., 1970)

Geoffrey Deuel – in his motion picture debut – plays Billy the Kid in this big western starring John Wayne in the title role. Wayne as John Chisum gets caught up in New Mexico's Lincoln County War, hooking up with both the Kid and Glenn Corbett's Pat Garrett. Also on hand are Forrest Tucker (Lawrence Murphy), Christopher George (Dan Nodeen), Ben Johnson (James Pepper), Andrew Prine (Alex McSween), Bruce Cabot (Sheriff Brady) and Patric Knowles (Henry Tunstall). "I made you a promise, Mr. Tunstall. Now I'm making myself a promise. It says in the Bible, 'The candle of the wicked shall be put out.'" a vengeful Billy the Kid declares. And that means gunplay, pardners.

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Review: "Young Geoffrey Deuel cuts a personable swath as Billy the kid, and several other hardies such as Ben Johnson, Glenn Corbett and Richard Jaeckel pitch in accordingly, with Pamela McMyler and Lynda Day as fetching ornaments." - Howard Thompson, The New York Times (7/30/70)

On DVD: Chisum (Warner, 2007)

Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (Embassy, 1966)

Chuck Courtney plays Billy the Kid opposite John Carradine's Count Dracula in this camp classic filmed at the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, California. Also on board for the Old West/Gothic bloodbath are Melinda Plowman (Betty Bentley), Virginia Christine (Eva Oster), Harry Carey Jr. (Ben Dooley), Bing Russell (Red Thorpe) and Roy Barcroft (Sheriff Griffin). This one was double-billed with another far-out Embassy Pictures entry, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966), starring John Lupton and Narda Onyx. Gunslingers, vampires, lawmen – can't we all just get along?

Director: William Beaudine

Review: "Neither this movie or its companion piece (Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter) are considered classic, but this one is generally considered something of a camp classic and the other is considered a tiresome bore. Actually, this one would probably be considered a tiresome bore as well if it weren't for the presence of John Carradine, who had last assayed the role of Dracula in two Universal movies from the forties." - Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings (3/7/06)

On DVD: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (Cheezy Flicks, 2005)

One sheet movie poster: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)

Five More Billy the Kid Movie Favorites

  • Billy the Kid in Texas (1940)
  • I Shot Billy the Kid (1950)
  • The Law vs. Billy the Kid (1954)
  • Billy the Kid Outlawed (1940)
  • Billy the Kid Wanted (1941)

Images Credit

  • All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
  • Top image: Lobby card: Kris Kristofferson, center, as Billy the Kid in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)