Movies that Shaped the 70’s
Back in 1970 the silver screen was army green and we sat full attention while our favorite megalomaniacal warrior general, George S. Patton Jr. walked up those steps, out onto the stage in front of the American flag (that filled the entire screen), addressed his troops and gave his unforgettable unapologetic opening speech.
“…now I want you to remember that 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… we will cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks“.
Meanwhile, as General Patton pushed his troops to the edge of Nazi lines, Major Franks Burns was making the most of the Korean War by banging the Head Nurse,Major “Hot Lips” Houlihan in her barracks. Now unfortunately for them and what Major Burns and Hot Lips didn’t realize was that while they were heavily engaged in friendly fire, they were unintentionally broadcasting every grunt and groan of their sexual escapade over the PA system providing quality entertainment for the entire 4077th and movie goers alike.
By 1971 the box office battles had abandoned the fields and moved to the streets of San Francisco where Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan and his trademark .44 Magnum were tracking Scorpio the manic serial killer…
“I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I’ve kind of lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel licky?’ Well do ya, punk?”
Charlie Bucket certainly felt lucky when he peeled open the wrapper of that “scrumdiddlyumptious” Wonka Bar, found the last Golden Ticket and headed off to “everybody’s non-pollutionary, anti-institutionary, pro-confectionery factory of fun!” Unlike bad seeds Augustus, Veruca, Violet and Mike Teevee who were positively rotten to the core… and despite having a sip or two of some Fizzy Lifting drink with Grandpa Joe, Charlie, the poster boy for niceness, proved his honesty by not handing over Wonka’s revolutionary Everlasting Gobstopper to that sketchy Arthur Slugworth. In exchange for his selfless act, the eccentric mischievous genius Willy Wonka hands over the magical candy factory to Charlie and invites his whole family to move in and live happily ever after… An offer too good for Charlie to refuse.
Later that same year and thanks to Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, “offers that couldn’t be refused”, defined a genre. The Godfather soon became the gangster movie all mob movies would be judged against. Don Vito Corleone’s refusal to do business with drug dealing Sollozzo sparked a war that would involve all five major New York crime families, last for years and shake the Corleone family to it’s roots.
“Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day accept this justice as gift on my daughter’s wedding day.”-Don Vito Corleone
1973 started out with four condescending suburban professional men on a weekend river canoe trip that quickly becomes one of the most intensely humbling and disturbing cinema experiences of all time. Plausibility was the key component that made this banjo country flick such a chilling experience. After watching Bobby (Ned Beatty) held down at knifepoint while being violently sodomized by an inbred redneck, I guarantee you’ll never listen to a banjo the same way again and you will undoubtedly think twice about the truck stops you choose along the way. Now “Squeal like a pig!”
1973 may not have been the year of the Dragon, but that didn’t stop Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu film, Enter the Dragon, from becoming the first Asian American pop culture cult classic. Lee’s skill, physical prowess and unforgettable double nunchaku scene had set the tone… from that point on… America was Kung Fu fighting. After being humiliated, punished by Lee’s lightning fast backhand slap down and never once landing a single blow, sore loser scar-faced Oharra, visibly mangled and unable to grasp defeat decides to waste two perfectly good Tsingtao’s, smashes the bottles together and attempts to kill his tormentor. That might of seemed like a good idea at the time, but the second the camera shifted into slow motion, it was clear that his decision was going to prove fatal. Bruce Lee clearly infuriated over the needless waste of beer is finally given the chance to avenge his sister and brings Oharra to the ground, crushes his neck and releases his trademark Death Cry. “Oharra’s treachery has dis-craced us.”
In 1974, Regan MacNeill infected Generation X with the worst outbreak of the heebie-jeebies the world had ever known. Hands down, the Excorcist was (and still is) the scariest movie ever to hit the silver screen. Demonically challenged Regan gave her mother, Father Damien and movie goers alike the most intensely bone chilling ride of their lives as we watched that unforgettably haunting scene when Regan, with her face covered in lesions screamed out obscenities in that deeply disturbing gravely voice while violently jamming herself raw with a crucifix. This film, frightening as the devil itself, taps into your fear with remarkable realism, gets deep with your being and rattles you down to the core like nothing you’ve ever experienced. This film scares the living shit out of you. Never has there been such a film that possessed such ability to haunt it’s viewers even after they’ve left the theater and for the rest of their lives.
As Exorcist induced nightmares subsided, movie goers eventually worked up the nerve to head back into theaters but would soon find themselves never wanting to go back in the water… Motion picture history was being made, theaters were jam-packed and beaches across the country were justifiably deserted. Without warning, terror had declared the beaches of Amity Island harbor it’s feeding ground. It was up to Chief “We’re going to need a bigger boat” Brody, Matt Hooper and salty old sea captain Quint to put an end to the Great White people eater. Below deck Hooper’s scars proved no match for Quint’s unforgettable monologue describing his survival of the gruesome shark frenzied attack on the Naval officers of the sinking USS Indianapolis. “…eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.” Three barrels weren’t enough to finish the job, but that “Son of a bitch” finally smiled long enough for Brody to fire a shot, pearcing the SCUBA tank lodged in monsters mouth and blowing him to Kingdom Come.
The worst Idea award for 1975 goes to, 38 year old, Randle McMurphy (Mac) for attempting to cushion his prison sentence by declaring insanity and getting transferred to a mental asylum. Wisecracking non-conformist McMurphy and his rebellious card-shark skill immediately enters into an intense battle of wits with sexually-repressed Nurse Ratched, winning over viewers and the likes of some of cinematography’s most memorable mental patients like the massively silent, gum chewing “Chief“, Billy B-b-b-bibbit, Cheswick, “hard-on” Harding, Taber and Mister “I bet a nickel” Martini. Underestimating Nurse Ratched’s absolute power, Mac made his second biggest (and last) mistake after flying into a violent rage, locking his hands around Ratched’s throat and attempting to strangle the sadistic nurse for her cruel contribution to the suicide of his new impressionable friend stuttering B-b-b-b-billy B-b-b-b-babbit.
1976 brought us ringside and to the streets of Philadelphia where southpaw underdog, Rocky “the Italian Stallion” Balboa, who needed to prove to himself that he “wasn’t just another bum from the neighborhood” took on the undefeated World Heavyweight Champion (and “Master of Disaster”) Apollo Creed. After intense raw egg drinking training with perpetually disgusted ex-bantamweight fighter, Mickey Goldmill, rib breaking meat locker combination punches, Balboa’s conditioning climaxed along with “Gonna Fly Now” as he ran to the top of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps. In round one, loud mouth Apollo Creed, expecting nothing more than a New Years Day publicity stunt, soon realized he was getting more than he bargained for when Rocky dodges his haymaker, swings, knocks Apollo to the ground and sends the crowd into a complete “Rocky” chanting frenzy that carries the Italian Stallion through all 15 grueling rounds of the most famous shoot-out boxing match in movie history.
“You’ll be able to spit nails, kid. Like the guy says, you’re gonna eat lightning and you’re gonna crap thunder. You’re gonna become a very dangerous person.”-Mickey Goldmill
Since 1977 had such a long list of movies and a short time to watch them… let’s start with Bo (aka the Bandit) Darville’s legendary twenty-eight hour, $80,000, 400 case beer run from Texarkana to Atlanta. With smokies hot on is trail, Bandit made matters personal by taking Sheriff Buford T Justice’s simpleton deputy son’s runaway bride along for ride. In his black trademark Trans Am and in constant high speed police car crashing, road-block breaking pursuit and with the help of his truckin’ CB buddies, life long pal Cledus (the Snowman) Snow and Snowman’s hound dog Fred, the Bandit took us for the most fun-loving, good time, carefree movie ride of our lives.
“There’s no way, NO way that you came from MY loins. Soon as I get home, first thing I’m gonna do is punch yo mamma in da mouth!” – Sheriff Buford T. Justice
Later that same year in a movie far far away from Texarkana, George Lucas had redefined science fiction and ascended movie merchandising to levels never before seen by convincing everyone under age 20 that their Star Wars experience wouldn’t be complete until they’d collected at least 50 action figures… After stumbling upon a distress call from the captured Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker searched out old Ben Kenobi(Obi-Wan) who informed Luke of his Jedi heritage, armed him with a lightsaber (“the formal weapon of a Jedi Knight”) and introduced him to “the force”. Meanwhile, the Evil Galactic Empire’s sinister DeathStar was nearing completion and getting ready to destroy the Rebel Alliance. Along withC-3PO, R2D2 and aboard the Millennium Falcon with the hired help of space pilot/smuggler Han Solo and his Wookie Chewbacca, they set out to free the princess and eventually destroy the Death Star.
Perhaps it was from breathing in all that X-wing Fighter exhaust or maybe remnants from the extinguished Death Star had permeated earth’s atmosphere that had contaminated Gen X… but what ever the reason, everyone (especially Brooklyn Itallian Tony Manero) had contracted a severe case of Night Fever. If only on Saturday night’s, Tony had found a way to break loose from his boring everyday dingy hardware store life. After hours of styling his hair in his bedroom mirror, Tony would leave his dysfunctional home and head out with his buddies to the 2001 Odyssey disoteque where he lit up the already illuminated dance floor to the Super 70’s sound of the Bee Gee’s. Travolta’s lead role as Tony Manero with his wide collared shirts, platform shoes, and revolutionary dance moves had indisputably and overnight led him to be forever known as “the King of Cinema Disco” and had universally become a living icon for Disco itself.
Basking in his Super 70’s stardom, America’s favorite Sweathog turned back the cinematic hands of time to the nostalgic days of doo-wop where blue jeans, tee shirts and black leather motorcycle jackets were all the rage. Leader of the T-Bird’s Danny Zuko gets the surprise of his life when Australian summer love, goody-goody Sandy turns up at Rydell High. While gum chomping “lady with a baby” Rizzo gets knocked up in the backseat of Kenickie’s new car, Frenchy and the other Pink Ladies helped to break virginal Sandra Dee out of her ingénue cocoon. Split after split amidst the pep rally, dances, drive-ins, and a drag race, Danny, finally throws in his greaser towel, shows up at the school carnival in a letterman sweater only to find his sweet little innocent Sandra Dee has transformed into a pelvic thrusting Spandex-clad hottie that any man would be happy to Grease in the back of his hot-rod.
Sandra-Dee wasn’t the only one with silver screen legend to break out from a mousy shell and parade around in tights… No longer able to repress his superhuman powers, Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve in the role he was born to play), compelled by a green glow stick, headed to the North Pole where the crystal gave rise to his “Fortress of Solitude”. After 12 years (2 minutes for viewers), via space age crystal technology, Jur-El, educated Clark about his home planet, power and responsibility’s to the people of earth. Eagerly accepting his duty to fight for truth and justice, Superman flies off to Metropolis, lands himself a job as a mild mannered reporter for the Daily Planet where the man of steel soon develops a weakness for Lois Lane second only to Kryptonite. While our caped crusader was hard at work ridding the city of bad guys, Lex Luther, the world’s greatest criminal mind, was busy hatching his dastardly get rich quick plan to send most of California crashing into the sea. Faster then a speeding bullet, in true comic book super hero style, Superman takes to the sky diverting missiles, allows a would-be train wreck to pass over his back, saves falling Jimmy Olsen from the bursting damn and turns back time to save buried alive Lois Lane.
After the first 20 minutes of persistently terrorizing anonymous phone calls to Jill Johnson, not only were movie goers paralyzed with anxiety, but baby sitting rates were going through the roof and even Ma Bell herself was afraid to answer the phone. “Have you checked the children, lately?”… “Why haven’t you checked the children?” After a series of increasingly creepy calls leading up to a want for “your blood…all over me,” , Jill’s emergency calls to the police finally pay off and the bone chilling calls are traced. “Jill, we’ve traced the calls… They’re coming from inside the house!” Audience’s were glued to the edge of their seats, hearts pounding and wanting to scream out loud… DON’T GO UPSTSTAIRS! One narrow escape and two dead children later, the police capture and institutionalize the maniac crank call killer Curt Duncan until the blood curdling suspense filled terror continues when he escapes several years later and pays homage to Jill Johnson’s own children and their baby sitter.
You didn’t need to lay in bed hippie-notized by your lava lamp, wear bell bottoms or grow up listening to southern rock to appreciate the timeless classics of the 1970’s. In fact, these films weren’t about the 70’s at all – but what they did do, was mark movie making’s creative highpoint. Legendary film maker’s like Steven Speilberg, George Lucas and Frances Ford Coppola explored new story telling techniques that would change the industry forever by taking more risks then their predecessors, stretching boundaries and twisting genre’s.
It wouldn’t be hard to name 50 movie greats to come out of that decade. But, since I had to draw the line somewhere, I went with the films that left the biggest impression me. If you haven’t seen any of the movies mentioned above then sign onto Netflix or get your ass over to Blockbuster.
If you feel strongly about any I’m missing… I would love to hear your thoughts.
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