1974 in Movies

Movie reviews for movies I’ve seen that were released theatrically in 1974.

1. Chinatown, directed by Roman Polanski (10/10)

Somewhere on facebook I wrote an eloquent three-part explanation of why this is perhaps the best American movie of the decade. Unfortunately, it’s facebook, and finding it is pretty much impossible (read: time-consuming). So the non-eloquent version:

  • This film is a great stylistic homage to the original noirs but it is also
  • A great tonal homage to the original noirs but it is also
  • Very much a reflection of how Americans were feeling about their role in society and government post-Watergate: their sense of powerlessness and a general inability for the average person to even understand what the corruption was actually about (due to its mundanity)
  • And it is all these things and more combined seamlessly into a mystery so that you don’t really notice the rest if you don’t pay attention.

2. Effi Briest, directed by Ranier Werner Fassbinder (10/10)

One of the best-directed movies of all-time. Just an absolute stunner.

3. The Godfather Part II, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (10/10)

I prefer this film as a whole to the original, but like the original’s ending better.

4. Blazing Saddles, directed by Mel Brooks (10/10)

One of the best comedies ever made. I am biased.

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, directed by (10/10*)

When I was younger, this was one of the all-time great horror movies. I have not watched it since, not wanting to lose the illusion.

6. The Conversation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (10/10*)

Seen at the absolute height of my conspiracy movie phase.

6. The Parallax View, directed by Alan Pakula (10/10*)

The same can be said for this film, which I used to love above most ’70s movies.

8. Angst essen Seele auf aka Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, directed by Ranier Werner Fassbinder (9/10)

I have lost my review. My eloquence is failing me at the moment. A must-see though.

9. General Idi Amin Dada: a Self Portrait, directed by Barbet Schroeder (9/10)

I don’t think another dictator has ever allowed himself to be so fully exposed as Amin allows here. It’s incredible. We don’t see much of what he did, it’s mostly him, and it’s scary. The guy is just nuts (as one expects). It is extremely disturbing to see how “normal” he seems though. It’s hard to reconcile that with the man responsible for 300,000 deaths. I doubt we will ever see anything like this movie again, as dictators usually do not allow a filmmaker to film them without final cut.

10. Thieves like Us, directed by Robert Altman (9/10)

There are no typical movie gangsters in this film. They are petty cons; the supposedly smartest turns out to be an angry drunk, the novice is the only one who appears to know what he wants out of life or have any kind of moral sense, and the wise old one is foolish.

Just as with the characters, the film avoids traditional bank caper flick cliches: there is very little action and much more focus on the boredom in between (a little like the French Connection, that way).

The result is a far more interesting and meaningful film than your average bank heist / gangster film.

Note: I have not seen the first movie based on the book.

11. Young Frankenstein, directed by Mel Brooks (9/10)

Hilarious and one of his best films.

12. A Woman Under the Influence, directed by John Cassavetes (9/10)

This is a powerful drama about mental illness that benefits from Cassavetes’ near complete rejection of traditional Hollywood methods. And though the acting is, at times, too much, it’s insanely nuanced compared to Tennessee Williams’ takes on the subject, for example. Falk in particular forces us to ask ‘what is mental illness?’ as he has issues of his own. We also get a bit of a time capsule back to a time when this stuff really, really wasn’t understood – not that it’s that well understood now – and how people were just completely unable to cope with this kind of thing.

A powerful film, if a little dated and a little overlong.

13. Les ordres, directed by Michel Brault (9/10)

Another fine documentary by Brault.

14. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any More, directed by Martin Scorsese (8/10)

A near-great Scorsese film, with strange and wonderful allusions to the Wizard of Oz.

15. The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, directed by Werner Herzog (8/10)

My review for this is missing. I am disappointed. The story itself is utterly fascinating and Herzog, as always, tells it in a way that doesn’t seem predictable.

16. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, directed by Sam Peckinpah (8/10)

I watched Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia yesterday. This is a film that many people have said is shit while Ebert has maintained it as a masterpiece. Being a Peckinpah fan, I had to see it. So I did. I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, but it’s a fascinating film that has certainly been underrated.

here are so many little interesting things Peckinpah does that add to the film. At first it’s like it’s some kind of foreign film, when you don’t hear English for the first five minutes you wonder whether you got the right version. Then a little later it’s a bit of a bizarre romantic road movie…well, kinda. Then it turns into a revenge film. Ebert says it’s about getting the job done, no matter what. This seems to be pretty accurate. There’s a lot going on here for a movie that appears to be a ’70s revenge action movie.

Peckinpah, as you may know, was fascinated by violence. And though this is only apparent in some of his films, it is quite apparent in this film. (Well, that would make sense now wouldn’t it…way to state the obvious, Riley.) Bennie is a man who threatens violence but doesn’t seem like he’ll use it. In fact, at first he’s all talk. He’s quite weak. But like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Straw Dogs, he is compelled to resort to violence. However, with Warren Oates’ Bennie, it becomes almost his raison d’etre for the rest of the film. This all starts from greed and envy, incidentally. Or that’s how I see it. Ebert compares this film to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. There are definitely some major similarities.

Anyway, it’s fascinating. I think it’s been wrongly maligned and, if you like Peckinpah, I would check it out. If you don’t like Peckinpah, you’ll hate this though.

17. Black Christmas, directed by Bob Clark (8/10)

The birth of the slasher.

18. California Split, directed by Robert Altman (8/10*)

Seen before I really knew Altman.

19. The Man with the Golden Gun, directed by Guy Hamilton (8/10*)

When I was younger, this was my candidate for the best bond movie ever (after I got over Live and Let Die).

20. Dark Star, directed by John Carpenter (8/10)

I have seen the review of this, I swear. I know it is somewhere. This is an entertaining and creative film with no budget to speak of.

21. Inserts, directed by John Byrum (7/10)

This is a reasonably interesting movie that feels too much like a play.

22. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, directed by Ted Kotcheff (7/10)

I have lost my review. I have never read the novel.

23. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, directed by Joseph Sargent (7/10)

I have perhaps seen this film too many times to be objective.

24. Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Sidney Lumet (7/10)

A decent adaptation of a mystery I am glad I haven’t read. Read the review.

25. Zardoz, directed by John Boorman (5/10)

The overall idea, and many of the other ideas within – though there are far too many – is very strong and appealing.

Unfortunately, Boorman seems to have been determined to make some kind of statement (very after-the-fact) about the hippies and so the entire film is filled with characters who look hilariously dated. In fact it comes off looking like the ’60s equivalent of a ’50s “this is what the future will look like” sci-fi film (even though it was made in the mid ’70s).

The script doesn’t help (Boorman should have gotten help with the dialogue) and the excessive use of mirrors and lighting tricks is also just too much.

That being said, there really is something here and this movie literally begs for someone to make a harder sci-fi version of it now. Hopefully somebody will.

26. Rhinoceros, directed by Tom O’Horgan (5/10)

This movie has a bit of a reputation as being one of the points where the American film renaissance got out of control. And certainly it seems that these guys missed the point of the play a little (though I have never read it, it’s pretty obvious). Was there this much slapstick in earlier productions? I highly doubt it. That being said, the slapstick is sometimes quite funny. They had a difficult question about whether or not to show the Rhinoceroses and I don’t know that they picked the right answer. It would be interesting to see how someone with a direct experience of fascism / nazism / communism might have made this movie. Still not a disaster. Just an entertaining mess.

27. Sweet Movie, directed by Dusan Makavejev (5/10)

I’m sure this was positively shocking in 1974, but unfortunately the internet has sort of hardened us to this kind of stuff. I found that the film worked as a convention breaker for its first half or so, but frankly it becomes less and less interesting the more off-the-wall it gets (never a good thing). There was some wit in the semblances of plot in the stories at first but the longer they run the more the whole thing seems to have run away from the original (at least narrative) ideas. I’m sure this is at least part of the point but it doesn’t make for a particularly engrossing film. I get it: bourgeois are prudes. I got it a long time ago. Do I now have to get beaten over the head with it? Apparently.

I don’t mean to say “don’t see this.” This is certainly one of the more unique art films of the ’70s and, unlike some of the boundary-pushing crap of the ’70s, it is actually clear that there is intelligence and wit behind this (compare it to some Greek or Italian “horror” movies, for example) but it just stopped working for me. It’s art, but it’s not great art.

28. Swept Away, directed by Lina Wertmuller (4/10*)

Seen in a politics class in university (I know, it’s odd). Can’t say that I wanted to pay attention to it at the time. Liked her other movie (that we watched at the same time) more.

29. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, directed by John Hough (4/10)

Another movie I swear I reviewed at the time. Only for car-chase movie aficionados.

30. Caged Heat, directed by Jonathan Demme (2/10)

Maybe I thought I was being nice to Demme by not writing a review of this incoherent Girls-in (and out of)-Prison movie.

31. Impulse, directed by William Grefe (1/10)

I wish I had written down my thoughts for this one. Great.