In what I plan to become a monthly feature, I have decided to look back over the years that I’ve been on this planet, and have a look at some of the highlights (and low points) in film for each year. From films that have been personal favourites of mine through the years, to those which won awards, and the top grossing releases, to the ones that maybe should have remained on the cutting room floor. The idea behind the feature is that each month I will approach one year, with a brief summary of the key notes of the year in film, before picking out five films to either re-visit, or watch for the first time (maybe something I’ve been meaning to watch for years but never got around to), and over the course of the month post reviews of them from my new perspective. One year each month…simple.
So, we start with the year of my birth, 1973.
Top Grossing Films of 1973
- The Sting
- The Exorcist
- American Graffiti
- The Way We Were
- Magnum Force
- Last Tango in Paris
- Live and Let Die
- Robin Hood
- Paper Moon
The top grossing films of 1973 already have a few of my particular favourite picks listed, with Disney’s Robin Hood, Live and Let Die, and The Sting being a trio of films that I enjoy for very different reasons. It also has a couple of films that I’m not as enamoured with as others seem to be, in the form of Magnum Force (a weak entry into the Dirty Harry series) and The Exorcist (which I’ve seen once at a special late night screening and wasn’t all that impressed with it). Last Tango In Paris is (in my opinion) by no means a good film, gaining notoriety simply because of one scene involving misuse of a block of butter. A curious entry is Lucas’ American Graffiti, a film which many fans and detractors of Lucas rarely have viewed these days. I’ve seen the film a couple of times through the years, and it’s great to see the early work of Lucas, before he fell to the dark side.
The Academy Awards saw The Sting take home Best Picture and Best Director, along with screenplay, original score, costume, art direction, and editing, making it a standout winner for the year. Notable nominees that year included The Exorcist, a film which put the horror genre back on the map, moving it away from the corny ‘corsets and claret’ that it had become (not necessarily a bad thing).
The year also saw quite a few films released that became a staple of my childhood, thanks to regular screenings on TV back when a couple of channels was all we had. Battle For The Planet of the Apes was the closing chapter of the Planet of the Apes series, and as a kid I loved it, but have never revisited it as each time I work through the franchise I get as far as the third film and give up. Charlotte’s Web was another regularly viewed film through my early years, offering animated wonder that usually belonged to Disney, but here was delivered by Hanna-Barbera to excellent emotional effect.
My love of sci-fi and horror can be sated by a few of the releases of 1973. The horror genre saw Romero chill the audience with The Crazies, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing battle The Creeping Flesh, and Vincent Price chill in Theatre of Blood. But it was Nic Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’ that chills the most, with fantastic performances by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, and Roeg’s excellent direction turning this supernatural tale into something much greater than the sum of its parts. Let’s not miss out The Wicker Man from the list – an iconic film which still plays well today, even when you know the ending.
Westworld is the forerunner to Jurassic Park, being written and directed by author Michael Crichton, and dealing with the familiar tale of a theme park that goes wrong. In this case the park features robots which malfunction, and has the iconic presence of Yul Brynner as a robot cowboy, as well as being the first film to use digital image processing to pixelate the androids’ point of view shots. Soylent Green is another classic sci-fi, and a fine example of the output of the era, with Charlton Heston investigating murder in a dystopian future. The film is also notable for being the final film that Edward G Robinson appeared in before he passed away.
Speaking of Edward G Robinson, one of his films (Little Caesar) saw a Blaxploitation remake in the guise of Black Caesar, a film which I’ve heard a lot of good things about but never got around to watching. The tale of the rise of a gangster to power is a familiar one, told many times in different names, and even made Empire magazine’s list of the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You’ve Never Seen (Probably). Other crime films out that year included Serpico, based on Peter Maas’ biography about Frank Serpico, whose undercover work exposed the corruption in the police force. Al Pacino delivers a great performance in the lead role, and deservedly won a Golden Globe for his troubles.
Other films of note included Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, a film savaged by the studio at the time and the hacked up edit that was released was panned by critics and ignored by audiences. It would be many years later that Peckinpah’s original vision would be restored and see it’s reputation changed to one of the hidden classic of the 20th Century. Much better received at the time was Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, a supernatural western that upset John Wayne so much that he sent Eastwood a letter telling him so. Enter The Dragon is, perhaps, Bruce Lee’s most well known film, even if it wasn’t necessarily his best. Lee died days before the film’s release, not living to see how the west became influenced by the film and the Kung Fu craze of the 70s really hit. Over in Japan, martial arts were the least of the worries for the nation as Godzilla stomped once more on petrol stations and tower blocks, this time in his fight Vs Megalon. As the 13th film in the series, fans knew what to expect by now, and the film certainly aimed to deliver – even if the audiences dwindled slightly to earlier films.
Finally, three films which definitely stand out from the year for me are the zany Woody Allen sci-fi comedy, Sleeper, Scorcese’s first outing on screen, Mean Streets, and the light farce of The Three Musketeers – a film which has regular re-viewings in this household through the years. I won’t delve too much into these films here as they are the first three in my choices to review over the coming weeks.
So, 1973, not too shabby a year of film, being the era that was still offering the stronger elements of late 60s films (especially sci-fi), which also ushering in a grittier era of film-making that would deliver some of the true classics of the decade to come.
Over the next few weeks I will be re-watching Mean Streets, Sleeper, The Three Musketeers as films I’ve seen before (two of them not for a long while however), whilst also re-analysing The Exorcist with fresh eyes (it has been around 20 years since that disappointing viewing), and finishing off with Don’t Look Now.
Keep an eye out for my thoughts on those films, and also feel free to suggest some films for me to look at for next month when I cover 1974.