Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Uncovering Murder in My Family Tree


In doing family history research, you sometimes stumble upon a story that somehow wasn't really passed down through the generations.  Such was the case for me recently.  I was simply looking for an obituary for my great uncle John Wesley Terrell, who was born a century before me. Often you can find keys to siblings, spouses and birth/death dates in an obituary.  But I found something much more -- the story of my great uncle's conviction for first degree murder.

As Lowell Thomas would say,  here is the REST of the story about my great uncle John Wesley Terrell.

His daughter Lucy was married to a guy named Melvin Wolfe. They split up, and Lucy moved home near the town of Petroleum, not far from Bluffton. Wolfe and his buddies then undertook to harass his soon-to-be ex by repeatedly passing by John Terrell's house, yelling out taunts.  John had enough, and lay in wait with his shotgun along the side of the road on a Sunday afternoon. When Wolfe and his buddies went by, John shot him. Accounts in the newspaper said the blast nearly took off Wolfe's leg.

Wolfe's friends took him to the nearby town doctor. But John Wesley wasn't done. 

John showed up at the doctor's office, gun still in hand. He broke  through the door to the surgery room where Wolfe was laying on a table, pushed his gun through the door and fired his shotgun again. This time, as the newspaper recounted, the blast nearly decapitated Wolfe.

John was indicted and tried first degree murder. The trial was covered extensively in Fort Wayne and Muncie newspapers. The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the conviction because of an error in the asserted date of the crime caused by the pre-printed sheet that was used for the indictment. Terrell v State, 75 N.E. 884 (Ind. 1905).

Meanwhile, another proceeding commenced, and John was found insane and sent to the asylum in Richmond, where he remained for four years. 

Great uncle John Wesley Terrell died of natural causes in 1916 at age 64 while visiting his now remarried daughter in Muncie. Even in death, his story made the front page of the Muncie Morning Star.

Thursday, August 20, 2020


With fans not able to attend the 2020 Indianapolis 500 due to the threat of Covid-19, the Speedway has invited fans to leave messages in a bottle outside the track to be read in 2021. I’m too far away and my message is perhaps too long. But here is my message in a bottle for the Indianapolis 500 and its place throughout my life.


I found my love of racing through two much older brothers who took me at age 4 to my first race at Funk's Speedway, a high-banked track in Winchester, Indiana. At age 5, they introduced me to the Indianapolis 500, listening to Sid Collins on a crackling Philco radio.

It took more than a decade before I attended my first 500, marching around the 2 ½ mile oval on Race Day morning with my high school band. A few years later, I was sitting with a college buddy under plastic sheets in the Turn 2 infield, surviving three days of rain.  

My professional career got its first bump as a reporter covering the month of May. My stories won my first professional awards.

A few years later, I was attending graduate school and living in Speedway, just blocks from the track. I took my 70-year-old mother to her only 500. Not long after, the scourge of Alzheimer’s took her memory of that race and of me. But it could not touch my memory of that day with her.

For a decade, I worked in the Dr. Thomas Hanna Medical Center on Race Day morning. Later, I cooked hot dogs and picked up trash at the track to raise money for my children’s high school bands.

Each of my three children (and several nieces and nephews) attended their first 500 with me. All are now grown, living in distant cities with careers and children of their own that keep them from attending the race. But those memories are with me each time I walk into the Speedway.

Now I’m retired. But Race Day is still my Christmas, birthday and Fourth of July all in one. I arrive early to walk the grounds and watch the throng of people as the grandstands slowly fill. As pre-race ceremonies begin, I make my way to my seats at the top of Turn 3. The rhythmic thump from the Snake Pit sweeps over theTurn 3 stands like a wind bringing memories of my infield partying days, when so much was new and most of life's experiences lay in front of me.

Convertibles and trucks roll by filled with service men and women. Drivers who were once young and brave circle the track in vintage race cars. They have memories, too.

Sounds. Colors. Cheers. A flyover. The mournful playing of Taps and mighty singing of Back Home Again in Indiana leaves a lump in my throat and maybe a tear or two in my eyes.

Then those words, and the engines roar to life.

This year I will sit at home. For the first time, I will watch the race live on television. My head will fill with memories –  of brothers now gone, of children now grown with their own lives, of days sitting sometimes in rain, but most times soaking up glorious sunshine of an early summer day. Of speed beyond comprehension, of courage and daring, of tragedy and ultimate triumph – all those memories of a lifetime of days in May.

And a race runs through it.*


*Thanks for the inspiration to Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 1-10



1.    Casablanca:  Nearly 80 years since its release in 1942, this movie only keeps being appreciated more and more, generation after generation. It is quite simply the perfect movie. Humphrey Bogart is Rick, the American with the mysterious past now operating Rick’s American, the gathering spot for people of all kinds in the early years of WWII. Then, “of all the gin joints, in all the world, she walks into mine.”  (The term “gin joints” was improvised by Bogart, who thought the scripted “cafés” was too bland). The “she” is Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman. After a torrid love affair with Rick in Paris, she has arrived in Casablanca with her husband, Victor Lasso (played by Paul Henreid), a critical person in the resistance to the Nazis. They are seeking exit visas to neutral Portugal, while Nazi Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt) seeks to return him to Germany. The incredible supporting cast includes Claude Raines, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakaal and Dooley Wilson as Sam.  The movie is filled with memorable scenes and lines, and one of the great concluding scenes ever filmed. The movie is also fascinating for the cast, many of whom had actually fled the Nazis. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”


2.    Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb):  Made in the time of fallout shelters, duck and cover drills and MAD, the aptly named moniker for the nuclear policy of Mutual Assured Destruction, Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy is a masterpiece of Cold War insanity. Peter Sellers remarkably played three characters -- President Merkin Muffley,  visiting British Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and Dr. Strangelove himself, who does not appear until the final reel. When American Col. Jack Ripper (Stirling Hayden) goes mad and sends his bomber group to attack Russia, the American’s learn from the Russian Ambassador of Russia’s irreversible secret Doomsday Machine. The movie includes one of the most iconic scenes in any movie:  Actor Slim Pickens as Air Force Major T.J. “King” Kong, cowboy-riding an atomic bomb to start nuclear Armageddon.“You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room.” 

3.    Lawrence Of Arabia: The greatest bio pic ever made. No actor has ever made a more amazing on-screen debut than Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence. The direction and cinematography are stunning, most memorably the scene of Lawrence setting out into the desert against a rising sun. Spectacular. In addition to O’Toole, the supporting cast is stellar, including  Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains and Arthur Kennedy. “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”


4.    To Kill a Mockingbird: Rarely does a great book become a great movie – but this is one that has become legendary both as a novel and a film. Gregory Peck brings the wise and principled Atticus Finch to life, raising his children, ridding the town of mad dogs, and most importantly defending Tom Robinson, a black man wrongfully accused of rape. It’s lessons of prejudice and compassion resonate today. Robert Duval makes his film debut as Boo Radley.  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


5.    Blade Runner:  Ridley Scott’s vision of near-future Los Angeles is as much a star of this movie as Harrison Ford, who plays blade runner Rick Deckard, a type of bounty hunter after escaped androids. In my opinion, it is the best science fiction movie ever made. Based loosely on Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” the movie explores what it really means to be human. Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, William Sanderson and Daryl Hanna are outstanding in supporting roles. Hauer, playing lead replicant Roy Batty, improvised the “like tears in rain” line as part of his memorable concluding soliloquy. “It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?”


6.    The Godfather:  Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent movie of the family and the Mafia (although the term is never used) in post WWII America. Every aspect of this movie is perfectly done to tell the story of the Corleone Family. Marlon Brando gives his greatest late-career performances as the Godfather. But he is surrounded by great performances from Al Pacino (whom the studio wanted to replace until they saw rushes of the restaurant scene), James Caan and John Cazale as the Corleone sons, Robert Duvall the near-adopted son, and a host of others.. The music and the cinematography create the backdrop for the brutal story. And there is that perfect opening scene and powerful concluding baptismal montage of blood and death.  “I believe in America.”   


7.    Psycho: Hitchcock’s greatest masterpiece.  It is difficult for many to appreciate how stunning Hitchcock’s Psycho was to audiences in 1960. Halfway through the movie, the star is killed. The shower scene had America taking tub baths for a decade. And the conclusion truly shocked audiences. Oh, and that violin music!  “A boy's best friend is his mother.


8.    Wizard of Oz: Witches, munchkins, flying monkeys, a scarecrow, a cowardly lion, a tin man and Judy Garland magically singing “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow.” It’s the movie we watch over and over. Although not a big hit when first released, it is undisputedly one of the best dozen movies ever made.


9.    Silence of the Lambs:  Anthony Hopkins gives a great performance as one of the most nuanced evil men in the history of movies – Hannibal Lecter a/k/a Hannibal the Cannibal. But this movie is far more than a single great performance. Jody Foster’s performance as FBI novice agent Clarice Starling is subtler, but every bit the match for Hopkins. If you haven’t seen this for a while, watch it again with an eye toward the movie-making talents. It is perfection. An example is the funeral home scene where Agent in Charge Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) leaves Starling to fend with the local good ‘ol boys from the local sheriff’s department, and how it is used to uncover aspects of Starling’s character and her past. And the music is spot on. Silence of the Lambs is the only film in Oscar history to win the “Big 5”:  Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director (John Demme), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally). “I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner.”


10.  Rear Window:  Hitchcock hits my Top 10 again with this movie about a photographer confined to his apartment with a broken leg with nothing better to do than watch the neighbors – even though Grace Kelly is prancing around the apartment in her negligée. The marvel of this movie is how Hitchcock was able to make an engrossing thriller with one set. 



Friday, June 5, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 11-20

11.      Maltese Falcon: The greatest of all noir detective films. Humphrey Bogart is perfect as Sam Spade. Mary Astor is the fem fatale. An incredible cast brings the supporting cast to life, which carries the movie as much as Bogart; Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook Jr. and Gladys George as Spade’s wise secretary. And of course, at the center of it all is the Bird – the jewel encrusted black bird of legend. “It’s the stuff dreams are made of.”


12.  On the Waterfront:  Marlon Brando gives perhaps his greatest performance in this story of corruption, violence and power on the 1950s New York waterfront, written and directed by Elia Kazan. Great supporting cast includes Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb and Eva Marie Saint. The scene in a taxi between Brando and Rod Steiger, playing his older brother, is among the best scenes in any movie. “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”


13.  In the Heat of the Night:  Still timely – unfortunately. A powerful movie about race and prejudice in 1960s Sparta, Mississippi. A businessman is found murdered, and of course the first suspect is a well-dressed black man waiting for a train. But the black man turns out to be Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia detective played by Sidney Poitier.  This is not the sanitized television show. The explosive relationship between Tibbs and racist Sheriff Virgil Gillespie, played by Oscar winner Rod Steiger (same guy who played in On the Waterfront), is at the heart of the film. “Gillespie: Virgil—that's a funny name for a nigger boy that comes from Philadelphia! What do they call you up there?  Tibbs: They call me Mr. Tibbs!


14.      Citizen Kane:  Most film critics rate Citizen Kane as the greatest movie ever made. It certainly is one of the most important due to its incredible array of technical innovations, but it is a movie I more often than not pass over when it is on television. Nevertheless, you have to give young Orson Wells his due. “Rosebud.”


15.      Chinatown:    Set in 1930s Los Angeles, Detective Jake Gittes (impeccably played by Jack Nicolson) is hired by the fem fetale played by Faye Dunaway to follow her husband, the chief engineer for the L.A. Water Company. Sounds almost boring. But the job takes Jake down a twisted path of water rights, murder and family secrets.  Roman Pulanski, who saved the most delicious small roll for himself, directed, and John Huston is deliciously evil as Noah Cross, whose greed and sins are at the heart of the film. “You're a very nosy fellow, kitty cat. Huh? You know what happens to nosy fellows?”


16.      Bonnie & Clyde: Warren Beatty not only played the title role as Clyde, but was also instrumental in bringing the film to the screen. It was a long, tortured path to get the movie made, but in the end, well worth the effort. Faye Dunaway, who was far down on the list of potential actresses to play Bonnie, was perfection. The supporting cast of Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, and Michael J. Pollard excelled. Filmed in black and white, and set to the bluegrass music of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, it was like nothing movie-goers had seen before. Most people remember the final bloody scene that ended the movie, but for me, the scene that made the movie was Bonnie’s homecoming with her mother on the stark Texas landscape. The haunting role of Bonnie’s mother was played by a local woman who just showed up to see the movie being shot.


17.      The French Connection: A gritty crime drama that captures the rawness of New York City in the early 1970s. Gene Hackman is perfect as the quirky Popeye Doyle, who, along with sidekick Roy Scheider, is tracking down a heroine supplier to the entire city. The movie is punctuated by one of the great car chases through crowded New York City streets, perhaps second only to the chase scene in Bullitt.


18.      The Graduate: Dustin Hoffman plays to perfection a young college graduate, uncertain about his future, who carries on an affair with an older family friend, Mrs. Robinson (perfectly played by Anne Bancroft) – until he falls in love with the woman’s daughter. The music of Simon and Garfunkel becomes an added character central to the entire movie. I first saw the movie as a graduating senior in college, which may explain why it is so high on my list. “I want to say one word to you. Just one word.  . .  Plastics.”


19.      Apocalypse Now – Redux:  The story of the making of Apocalypse Now is worthy of its own movie – and in fact there is one:  the remarkable documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, filmed by Eleanor Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s wife. But setting aside the disease, delays, attacking rebels, and a serious heart attack for star Martin Sheen, all of which are detailed in the documentary, there were the budget and length of movie issues with the studio and distributors. The result was that a huge chunk of the original movie (49 minutes) was cut out to keep the released version of the film to 2 ½ hours. Twenty-two years after the original release, Francis Ford Coppola added 49 minutes and re-released the film as Apocalypse Now – Redux. The new version added an extended sequence as the boat transporting Sheen up river stops at a decaying French plantation. It also included newly recorded dialog by the film’s original actors for the plantation scenes a new music score. To me, these added scenes help the movie make sense. Without them, the movie is missing a critical element. 


20.      Gone with the Wind:  Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, stunningly played by Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, set against the backdrop of the Civil War era south. The sweeping romance suffers a bit today from changing perspectives, but this film was big budget Hollywood at its best. Hattie McDaniels as Mammy cut through the sometimes saccharine characters of Ashley (Leslie Howard) and Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). Over 80 years later, the scenes of the wounded a disintegrating Confederate Army and the burning of Atlanta, done without CGI computerized special effects, remain among the great movie scenes ever filmed.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 21-30


21.      West Side Story: Glorious. The story of Romeo and Juliet updated to 1950s New York City. Instead of the Capulets and the Montagues, the battling families are youth gangs of Puerto Rican Sharks and American Jets (“When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way.”). The star-crossed lovers are played by Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony. All of this is set to the stunning music of Leonard Bernstein. In my opinion, the best musical ever made.


22.      Patton:  George C. Scott becomes General George Patton in this remarkable biopic. The opening scene of Patton giving his address to the troops in front of an oversized American flag, is one of the two best opening scenes in film. “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”


23.      African Queen:  Another Bogart movie, this time with Katherine Hepburn. Filmed in Africa by director John Huston, this film tells the story of a determined woman who convinces a low-life captain of a decrepit boat carrying the moniker “African Queen” to battle hippos, leaches and river currents to attack a German boat during WWI. In the process, it becomes a wonderfully unexpected love story.


24.      The Godfather Part II:  The best sequel ever made. It continues the Corleone saga started in The Godfather, adding at both ends of the story. It carries the same richness of the original. “I've always taken care of you, Fredo.”


25.      Dog Day Afternoon: Based on a bizarre real-life1972 bank robbery, it is the story of Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) and an attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank to get money for a sex change operation for Sonny’s “girlfriend.” A silent alarm brings the cops and sets up a standoff on a sizzling summer afternoon. Al Pacino is unforgettable. “Attica! Attica! Attica!”


26.      North by Northwest:  In this Alfred Hitchcock movie, we are not always sure who are the good guys, but who cares? Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason are delicious in a movie of an ordinary man caught up in international intrigue. Hitchcock works his magic with Cary Grant dodging a crop duster that attacks him on a lonely road, and in the climactic scene played out on the faces of Mount Rushmore.


27.      The Searchers:  Director John Ford teamed up with actor John Wayne in 24 movies, but none approached The Searchers. In 2008, American Film Institute named it the best western ever made. And with good reason.  Wayne later won the Best Actor Oscar for True Grit, but this is his best, most complicated, most nuanced performance, playing a growingly bitter man searching years for his kidnapped niece, played by Natalie Wood.


28.      Fargo: The Coen Brothers quirky filmmaking is on view in this black comedy / drama about the kidnapping of the daughter of a wealthy car dealership owner, arranged by her husband. Frances McDormand won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of a pregnant police chief investigating the crime. William H. Macy as the husband and Steve Buscemi as one of the kidnappers, give great performances. Ironically, the movie is set in Minnesota, not North Dakota – and you’ll never look at a wood chipper the same way again.


29.      2001: A Space Odyssey:  Stanley Kubrik’s look at the near future, the distant past, and our destiny in the stars. Mesmerizing imagery and a movie that will leave you talking long into the night on what does it all mean.


30.      Some Like It Hot:  Hiding out from New York gangsters after witnessing a murder, jazz musicians played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dress in drag and join an all-girl band, including singer Marilyn Monroe, for an escape trip to Florida. Attracted to Marilyn, Curtis dons another alter ego as a wealthy playboy, while Lemmon finds himself fending off the advances of millionaire Joe E. Brown. Then the gangsters show up.  Just fun.

Monday, June 1, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 31-40


31. Key Largo:  Humphrey Bogart as veteran trying to recover from the war; Loren Bacall as the widow of Bogart’s wartime buddy; Lionel Barrymore as her wheel-chair bound father-in-law and innkeeper of the Largo Hotel, Edward G. Robinson as the gangster Johnny Rocco and Claire Trevor as Rocco’s boozy girlfriend. All of them locked together during a tense hurricane in the Florida Keys. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. “Just like Bogie and Bacall . . . Sailing away to Key Largo.”


32. Stagecoach: Director John Ford and John Wayne, a good-hearted prostitute, a drunk doctor, a gambler, Indians and the cavalry riding to the rescue, all against the backdrop of Monument Valley. Before any of these were clichés, there was Stagecoach, the iconic American western.


33. Schindler's List:  Steven Spielberg’s tour de force about the Holocaust. Based on the true story of industrialist Oscar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson), who could not save them all, but was determined to save as many Jews as possible from death in Hitler’s Concentration Camps. Spielberg’s girl in the red coat is one of the true moments of genius in the history of film.



34. Pulp Fiction: This is Quentin Tarantino’s crown jewel. The movie revived the career of John Travolta, caused everyone to see Bruce Willis in a different light, and made superstars of Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman. Told out of chronological order, it pulls the audience in to put the story together. It is filled with unforgettable scenes and genius dialog. “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee!"


35. M*A*S*H:  Before the more sanitized television show, there was perhaps the best anti-war movie ever.  Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) is bloody, irreverent, profane and laugh-out-loud funny – all with the while showing the personal cost and insanity of war. “Suicide is painless.”


36. Young Frankenstein:  Mel Brooks strikes again in what I believe is the best comedy ever made. The movie is filled with memorable performances by Gene Wilder (“That’s Fron-ken-steeen”), Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle and Gene Hackman. The genius script was written by Brooks and Wilder. Also noteworthy, Brooks tracked down and used the original laboratory props from Bride of Frankenstein. “What knockers!” “Oh, thank you, doctor.”


37. Network: Peter Finch gives one of the great supporting performances in the history of film as lunatic broadcaster Howard Beale, who decides to improve ratings by committing suicide live on his final news broadcast. But the movie is much more than a single performance, offering a seething commentary on modern society. William Holden and Faye Dunaway, are outstanding. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”


38. The Hours:  This movie won’t make many people’s lists, but it is a film that touched me deeply. It follows three women who are touched by Virginia Woolf’s book “Mrs. Dalloway.” The movie deals with choices about suicide and life, but in the end, is remarkably life affirming. The movie is filled with shining performances by Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Ed Harris. Not a choice for a romantic dinner and a movie. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”


39. 42nd Street:  A 1932 backstage musical about producing a Broadway show made during the height of the Depression. Nearly 90-years later, the closing number of 42nd Street, choreographed by Busby Berkeley and featuring performances by Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, is in my opinion, the finest single musical number ever put on film. "You're going out there a youngster, but you're coming back a star.”


40.  The Apartment:   Made in 1960, The Apartment tackled what was considered a largely taboo topic of corporate executives and their mistresses. Jack Lemmon is a insurance junior exec who allows his apartment to be used by his boss, Fred MacMurray, for his illicit affair with young Shirley MacLaine. Somewhere along the line, Lemmon finds a backbone and falls in love with MacLaine. If you have overlooked this movie, put it on your MUST WATCH list.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

My TOP 100 MOVIES: 41-50

Now I move into my top 50 movies. For my reasons for each selection, check out the link to my blog, below.


41.      Witness:  Studied in film schools as the perfect script, this is a fascinating story of a Philadelphia detective who ends up in Amish country in Pennsylvania, injured and hiding from the dirty cops who killed his partner. But he is also protecting the 8-year-old Amish boy, Samuel, who is the only witness to the killing (Samuel is played by Lukas Haas, who received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Ryan White, then recently played astronaut Michael Collins in First Man). The movie is so rich in texture, from the rousing barn raising to Harrison Ford witnessing Kelly McGillis sponge bath. Danny Glover, usually the good guy, is excellent as the bad cop. The cinematography and Maurice Jarre’s music are nearly magical.  Eli Lapp (the Amish elder overseeing Ford’s character trying to milk a cow): “I don't think you've ever squeezed a teat before.” John Book (Harrison Ford): “Never one that big.”


42.      E.T.:  Steven Spielberg changed our movie view of aliens forever in this surpassingly brilliant movie of ET, the extra-terrestrial, left behind by mistake by his fellow travelers, but found by Elliott, the 10-year-old boy with whom he bonds.  “E.T. phone home.”


43.      Metropolis: In my opinion, the best silent movie ever made. A futuristic vision of man and machine that still stands up nearly a century after it was made.


44.      Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck’s classic of a desperate family traveling from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to California is transformed in John Ford’s film that is equal to the novel.  Henry Fonda gives a legendary performance as Tom Joad, but the heart and soul of the movie are provided by Jane Darwell as Ma and John Carradine as a preacher who has lost his faith


45.      An American in Paris: Gene Kelly and 18-year-old Leslie Caron star in this musical about an ex-patriot American artist of modest talents who finds love with a French girl. Set to the music of George Gershwin, the movie concludes with a 17-minute ballet sequence that cost nearly half of the film’s budget – and it was worth it.


46.      Jaws: In 1975, a young Steven Spielberg brought Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel to the screen, and going to the beach was never quite the same again. Oddly, troubles with operation of the giant mechanical shark meant that much of the movie was filmed with techniques that hid the shark from view, which added to the sense of terror. So, too, did John Williams unforgettable score. “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”


47.      Anatomy of a Murder:  The best courtroom movie ever made. Period. Otto Preminger masterfully directs the movie. The movie was shocking for the time with its frequent use of the direct language of rape, including“panties,”“sexual climax,” “penetration” and “spermatogenesis – so much so that Chicago’s mayor Richard Daly banned it from Chicago theaters.  Jimmy Stewart is a low-key lawyer defending an Army officer for the murder of the man who raped his wife. Duke Ellington’s jazzy score sets the tone, supported by a stellar cast including Lee Remick, Eve Arden, Arthur O’Connell and George C. Scott. Most interestingly, the roll of the wise and sometimes frustrated trial judge is played by Joseph N. Welch, the real-life lawyer famous for his confrontation with Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy Hearings. “For the benefit of the jury, but more especially for the spectators, the undergarment referred to in the testimony was, to be exact, Mrs. Manion’s panties. I wanted you to get your snickering over and done with. . . . There isn’t anything comic about a pair of panties which figure in the violent death of one man, and the possible incarceration of another.”



48.      Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:  Paul Newman and Robert Redford play these train-robbing buddies who find fun, romance, adventure and ultimately an untimely end in Bolivia while trying to escape the law. “Who are those guys?”


49.      The Bridge on the River Kwai:  British prisoners of war led by  Alec Guinness are tasked with building an essential bridge for their Japanese captors, while escapee William Holden is sent back to the jungle to blow up the bridge. A indictment of the folly and insanity of men who fight wars. “Madness. Madness.”


50.      L.A. Confidential:  One of the best noir movies ever, set in the seamy side of Los Angeles in early 1950s. A brutal shooting at the Nite Owl Diner sets in motion a chain of events the exposes the underbelly of corruption and brutality in the L.A. Police. Spectacular performances by Russel Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito and James Cromwell.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

My Top 100 Movies: 51-61

My Top Movie List – Day 4.  Here are the films from 51-60.

51. Treasure of the Sierra Madre:  A down and out American played by Humphrey Bogart joins two other desperate Americans  in a search for Mexican gold in the Sierra Madre mountains. They  end up fighting Mexican bandidos, the Federales and each other.  John Huston directs.  “We don’t need no badges”

52. Star Wars:  George Lucas’ space opera exploded into movie legend. Luke, Leah, Hans, Chewy, Obi-Wan and of course Darth Vader. Forty-five years later, the franchise is still going strong. “Luke, I am your father.”

53. . American Graffiti: A decade after the fifties died, this film captured the essence of an era through a single night of cruising, gangs, drag racing and rock ‘n roll. Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfus, Harrison Ford and Wolfman Jack. “Where were you in 1962.”

54. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:  Some love is eternal, even in a world where memories of affairs gone bad can be erased.  The movie effectively uses time skipping, drawing the audience in to the love affair and breakup of Kate Winslet and Jim Carey, in his in finest movie role.  “How happy is the blameless vestal's lot? The world forgetting, by the world forgot: Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned.”

55. Modern Times / City Lights:  No list of best movies is complete without a nod to Charlie Chaplain and the Little Tramp. These two are Chaplain’s best.

56. King Kong:  Only five years after the first talkie, and three years after the Empire State Building was completed, Merian Cooper brought to the screen the king of all monster stories. Nearly 90 years, two remakes and countless imitations, this 1933 film remains unequaled. Fay Wray remains timeless. “’Twas beauty that killed the beast.”

55. The Last Picture Show:  When I first saw this stark black and white movie about people in a small Texas town that the world had passed by, I was a sophomore in college. I knew it was outstanding film making and great acting, but I didn’t really “get it.” Decades later, I sat down and watched the entire movie again – and I did get it.  Everything, from Ben Johnson’s Academy Award-winning performance as Sam the Lion to Cloris Leachman’s haunting portrayal as a sad, lonely coach’s wife. From the pool party to the pool hall, every line and every frame of this movie is a gem.

58. Atonement: A glimpse of  love by a precocious young girl who tells her elders about what she thought was an assault, turns the world of everyone involved upside down. Decades later, when the little girl is a successful writer, she is interviewed about her latest book, written as atonement for her sins.  

59. Das Boot:  German movie about a U-Boat crew during WW II. The movie captures the tensions and claustrophobic conditions of a crew serving on a German U-Boat. One of the most remarkable movies about men at war ever made.

60. From Here to Eternity:  Based on Norman Mailer’s best-seller, this movie deals with romance, bullying, prejudice, hubris and hatred on an Army base in Hawaii leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Montgomery Cliff is outstanding as the championship boxer who won’t fight. The love scene with waves crashing over Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr remains among the most sensual in all  of film.