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It’s amazing that this movie was made in 1946. It’s remarkable that the country could face such subject matter so soon following the end of World War II.
Three veterans return home to a small town from the war, and each encounters a different challenge in reentering civilian society. Al (Frederick March) can’t adjust to being a hardnosed banker. Fred (Dana Andrews) comes home to realize the wife he took before going overseas hasn’t waited for him. And Homer (Harold Russell) lost both hands in a fire, and now believes his fiance only stays with him out of pity, not love.
It’s a profound screenplay (Robert Sherwood – Oscar) brought to life by a talented director (William Wyler – Oscar) and a talented cast (March – Best Actor, Russell – Best Supporting Actor). To achieve as much realism as possible, Wyler used veterans behind the scenes as well, in props, grips, and mixing.
World War II had a definite conclusion and a signed surrender treaty. Now we fight enemies that don’t wear uniforms and don’t abide by civilized rules of war. So our wars are only over when we feel safe enough to say they are. Our soldiers come home one at a time, rather than all at once. But that doesn’t mean their adjustment problems are any less difficult than those veterans whose stories are told in this film.
That’s what the best movies do – give us timeless reminders of the human condition. And on any day – but especially on this day – this Best Picture gives us another chance to appreciate anew all those who served their country
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With this entry in the list, I celebrate both a book and a movie. Both have moved so many people, affected so many lives. And the movie was a faithful adaptation of the novel, as Harper Lee said of Horton Foote’s screenplay, “I think it is one of the best translations of a book to film ever made.”
Harper Lee earned the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961, and even today there are more than 30 million copies in print. Consider what you’d do if your first novel turned out to be considered Best Novel of the Century (Library Journal). If you were Harper Lee, you’d never publish again. But you’d receive many honorary degrees, and eventually the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The movie was nominated for Best Picture, and enabled Gregory Peck to win the Best Actor Oscar. It came in at #25 in the American Film Institute’s rankings of the greatest movies of all time. And the character of Boo Radley marked the screen debut of a modestly talented actor you may have heard of named Robert Duvall.
To Kill a Mockingbird has been enjoyed, studied, and cried over. I don’t care how many times you’ve seen the film, it kicks you in the solar plexus every time. Harper Lee never published again, because she knew she could never top her first effort. In that respect, it was a blessing and a curse for her. For us, though, it’s a heartwrenching reminder of where we’ve been as a nation, and an encouraging reminder of how far we’ve come. As Atticus Finch tells Scout:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
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Which era Paul Newman do you like best? Young, pretty Paul, as seen in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Hustler? Paul in his prime, notably with Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting? Or mature Paul, in The Color of Money and Nobody’s Fool?
There’s no wrong answer; he was always great. His portrayal of Frank Galvin, an alcoholic lawyer brought back to life by a challenging case in The Verdict, is one of my all-time favorite roles.
Of course, you may know another Paul Newman. The one who at the age of 47 began a career in auto racing that he continued into his 60s. Or the one who started Newman’s Own food company, donating more than $250 million in profits to charitable organizations. Or the one who started the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps for seriously ill children, now helping more than 13,000 kids annually.
Paul Newman was a great actor, and a great man. It’s not often you can put those two qualities together in the same sentence.
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Do you realize many of these episodes are nearly 60 years old? And yet they’re still funny, still relevant, because they create a group of friends we believe are real. Ricky really does put on shows. Fred and Ethel actually do live upstairs and hang around the apartment.
And Lucy. Our brilliant, scheming, wonderful Lucy. She knew her strengths, and used them perfectly. Whether she was angling to get into show business, or buying a freezer with 700 pounds of beef, or stomping grapes at an Italian winery, she used her gift for physical comedy that had America in the palm of her hand.
I Love Lucy is one of only three shows (The Andy Griffith Show and Seinfeld are the others) to go out while still number one in the ratings. Even now, the show is syndicated and watched by millions. Old/young, rich/poor, red state/blue state, we don’t see eye to eye on much. But there’s one thing we all agree about.
We all love Lucy.
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Moe. Larry. And Shemp. And Curly. And Shemp again. And Joe Besser. And Curly Joe. The makeup of the Three Stooges evolved, as did their career through vaudeville, to movie shorts, to feature films, to television, to animation.
Some people think the Stooges are a guy thing. And it certainly seems true that men find them funnier than women. (Uh, I mean men find them funnier than women do.) They were masters of slapstick, and were among America’s highest paid entertainers later in their career.
Now it’s reported that the Farrelly brothers (There’s Something About Mary) are planning a new Three Stooges movie. All you need to know is that Sean Penn is scheduled to play Larry, and Jim Carrey will be Curly. If the movie is funny, it’ll be a first for the Farrelly brothers.
Nyuk nyuk nyuk.
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I almost met Jimmy Stewart, once. Okay, I had absolutely no chance of actually meeting him, but he did pass by me within a few feet.
It was at the Virginia Film Festival, back when it packed some punch. I went with my friends Shawn and Sandy Murray to see an incredible double feature: It’s a Wonderful Life followed by To Kill a Mockingbird. Gregory Peck was there to discuss Mockingbird, but the highlight was seeing Jimmy Stewart talk about one of my favorite films. It was an amazing afternoon for a film lover.
Seldom does one actor appear in so many all-time classic films. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington…Rear Window…The Philadelphia Story…Rope…Anatomy of a Murder. Ninety-nine movies, according to imdb.com. And each time that distinctive voice, that guy-next-door demeanor, that winning personality shone through.
No, I never got to meet Jimmy Stewart. But I knew him, all right. Knew him like a best friend.