Recently I saw on Facebook someone asking folks to talk about movies they’ve seen 5 or more times. There is something to be said for a movie that makes you want to pick it up and watch again (and again) even though there are no real surprises left to be viewed. Although, I guess the best movies, like the best books, have enough depth and layers that a viewer might pick up something never seen before, or that went by fast enough not to significantly register on the first watching.
One of the first movies I ended up seeing five or more times was Young Frankenstein.
The movie features the recently deceased Gene Wilder as the eponymous hero. Gene’s character is the grandson of the infamous creator of the Monster, a patchwork creature put together from dead bodies and rejuvenated/revived/brought to life by the original “mad scientist.” Filmed in black and white and featuring Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Terri Garr, Peter Boyle, Gene Hackman, and many other excellent actors, it was directed by Mel Brooks (who also co-wrote the script). This comedy is filled with hilarious ad-libs and many quotable lines, but it was somewhat accidental that I ended up watching it as many times as I did. After the initial viewing, it just kept on popping up where I was in situations available to watch it again, and since I enjoyed the movie greatly, that’s just what I did.
A second movie I watched repeatedly was one I was far more deliberate about in my viewing. That movie is probably the top of my list of favorite movies – Casablanca.
Now I have to really rein myself in when speaking about this classic title – for example, I wrote a college paper exclusively on the recurring aerodrome beacon motif that director Michael Curtiz uses to such good effect in the film (I know, pretty geeky). Set in the early days of WWII, before the U.S.A. entered the fray, it has a complex plot that is ultimately very satisfying, but what makes the film so enticing are the actors (both the leads and the other 22 speaking parts), the cinematography, and the writing (again, lots of quotable lines). Watch it if you’ve never seen it – you will agree (I believe) with why it is at the top of so many “greatest of all time” film listings.
Interestingly enough, those first two films were done in black and white; the former for effect and the latter due to its age (1942). The next movie(s) I’m going to reference were noted for their state-of-the-art special effects – the Star Wars trilogy (the original 3 movies, now referred to as IV, V, and VI).
I first heard of these when I saw a paperback at a drugstore where the back cover said “soon to be a major motion picture.”
This novelization was pretty good, and I enjoyed it, but like a lot of science fiction books turned into movies, it engendered very low expectations. I was amazed when the movie became such a great hit. Now just to make it perfectly clear, I’m talking about Episode IV – A New Hope; Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back; and Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. These movies redefined for me and a generation what science fiction movies were, and what one could expect from superior special effects. On top of that, it’s a classic coming of age, good vs. evil tale, just coincidentally set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away. I will probably watch Episode VII five times eventually (so far I’ve only seen it twice), but I have no plans to re-watch the “prequel” trilogy. [BTW, copies of that paperback are now going for between $150-$300 on eBay, and no, you cannot borrow mine.]
Speaking of movies that were on the cutting edge of special effects, the next film was literally on that special effects boundary – the movie was begun in black and white, and part-way through it changed to color. You might have guessed by that I’m referring to The Wizard of Oz.
I first saw this when I was five years old, on broadcast television (the film was decades old at that time already). Now I do not recommend this film for every five-year old – I had nightmares after watching this. And while the Wicked Witch was terrifying to me, the nightmares involved the Flying Monkeys. The thought of creatures that could swoop down from above and either destroy me (as they did the Scarecrow) or carry me off really freaked me out. Still, the wonderful music, the drama of the tornado, the magic of Oz, and the overall quality of the film drew me back and I think I might have watched it at least once a year for the next five of six years. Look for the way the filmmakers took the “opportunity” of color movie-making and incorporated it into the plot as the story moves from Kansas to Oz (and back).
I’m returning to another classic black and white film for my final recommendation. The story around my “repeat viewing” of this movie is two-fold: the first is that I genuinely like the movie and probably would have watched it multiple times completely on my own, but the second reason is that my friends Mark and Ginny used to throw an annual Christmas party at their house called “It’s a Wonderful Party.” Yes, the movie is one you might very well be watching this very season – It’s a Wonderful Life.
Now the party was very much like other Christmas parties for the most part: food, beverages, party games, etc. But the party always concluded with the playing of the movie as we all sat around and ate popcorn popped in bacon grease (one of Mark’s specialties – don’t ask, just try it if you have not). The film is officially defined as a “fantasy,” and was director Frank Capra’s personal favorite of all his films, and one he personally showed to his own family every Christmas. It tells the story of a good man who comes to believe it would have been better if he’d never been born, and the efforts of his guardian angel to show him otherwise by taking him to an alternate reality where his community suffered drastic changes due to his absence. The lead, James Stewart, also said this movie was his personal favorite of the films he acted in. Heartwarming, with moments of deep emotion, it can still choke you up at Christmas time with its conclusion.
I might share other titles in the future – I’m sure these five titles are quite likely to match many others’ list of movies seen five or more times, and maybe next time I’ll share some films less likely to be common to a big number of readers of this blog. Until then, Fontana Regional Library has all of these titles if you’d like to either watch them for the first time, or do some “repeat viewings” of your own!