1971: My Recent Unintentional 50th Anniversary Film Festival
Just by coincidence, I’ve found myself watching a surprising number of movies from 1971 lately, way more than I’d expect without doing it on purpose. Also, coincidentally, that’s exactly 50 years ago. So, with that in mind, here are some highlights from my recent unintentional 50th anniversary film festival.
The great Elaine May made her first movie that year, A New Leaf, starring her and Walter Matthau. May made three movies in the ‘70s that make you ask why she only ever made four total, although since her fourth was Ishtar, we know that answer. Matthau plays a spoiled rich man who’s gone broke, but who hits upon a scheme to get rich again by marrying into it, which leads him to try to romance May’s quirky, naïve Henrietta. Matthau’s character is so horrid, but somehow, since it’s Matthau, he’s charming and horrid, and May is pitch perfect as his unrelentingly kind counterpart. You can draw a straight line from Preston Sturges to A New Leaf, and that May didn’t have a chance to equal Sturges’ output is a great shame.
I’ve seen Italian director Luchino Visconti described in multiple places as “the great sensualist,” and with Death in Venice, this is fully on display. I haven’t read the Thomas Mann novella the film is based on, though Roger Ebert was thoroughly unimpressed with the changes Visconti made to Mann’s work. For me, this was a lush, swooning experience, with Dirk Bogarde giving a piercing performance as a sick university professor who develops an obsession with a young boy. For a story so occupied with the idea of beauty, it’s hard to imagine a more enthusiastic director than Visconti.
And then there’s a movie I don’t want to say much about, Sergio Leone’s magnum opus, Duck You Sucker. The movie starts off seeming a bit silly, and rather racist, but it all turns out to be the biggest rope-a-dope I’ve ever seen, beginning with the title itself. It is all-capital-letters GREAT.