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Poets' Favorite Movies

R. S. Gwynn

I’ve listed this baker’s dozen in alphabetical order, and it’s certainly an incomplete list of my favorites (Chinatown? Citizen Kane? The Godfather? The African Queen? Casablanca? The Dogs of War? Grand Illusion? Duck Soup?). But these are a few guilty pleasures that I’ve seen multiple times and can rarely pass up when they show up on TV.

Animal House (John Landis, 1978)
My wife and I were visiting her folks, and I had to drag her into her hometown theater to see this, which she decided must be “dumb” on the basis of the ad. We quickly realized that it was a time capsule of our college years and haven’t stopped laughing since. You can add to that the fact that I have been told that I resemble the late John Vernon (Dean Wormer).

Day for Night (Francois Truffaut, 1973)
The early Truffaut films are probably better, but I love the sense of community and ensemble acting in this one, especially Bissett, Aumont, and Leaud. That spectacular tracking shot in the snow and the music (Vivaldi?) knock me out every time.

The Guns of Navarone (J. Lee Thompson, 1961)
I saw this three nights in a row on its first release and recently bought the widescreen DVD. The best of what used to be called “high adventure.”

In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
Gloria Grahame was terrific in almost every film she made (The Bad and the Beautiful was one), and I think Bogart was at his best in this one. It has great ensemble acting and, given Dix Steele’s hamartia, a true film-noir tragedy. It has one of the most downbeat endings of any 50s film I can think of.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 1975)
My sons and I have seen this so many times that we can recite the dialogue back and forth. And I’ve recently discovered that some of my twenty-something students can do the same.

Plan 9 from Outer Space (Edward D. Wood, Jr., 1959)
My best friend and I saw this on its first release and laughed over its lines for years before Tim Burton helped a couple of younger generations discover it.

Shampoo (Hal Ashby, 1975)
If ever a movie captured time and place (1968 elections, Los Angeles) this one did. Christie is stunning, but for me the picture is stolen by Jack Warden. The scene where Beatty stuffs his blow-drier in his belt and charges off on his motorcycle is a stroke of genius.

The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
No surprise here, for this shows up on everybody’s list. Wayne, of course, is sublime, but Jeff Hunter does a great job too, as does the ever-popular Vera Miles (think about how many TV shows and movies she shows up in—Psycho, for instance).  And I love Ken Curtis: “I’ll thank you to take your hands off my fiancy.”

Topsy Turvy (Mike Leigh, 1999)
Mike Leigh is my favorite contemporary writer-director, and the script of this one is to die for. Wonderful performance and fascinating Victoriana.

Vernon, Florida (Errol Morris, 1982)
Morris can be uneven (I couldn’t sit through Mr. Death), but this is a classic. Again, one with great quotable lines: “A man’s got three brains.” Or was it four?  “Therefore.”  Etc.

Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
My favorite Bergman. It holds out the possibility of redemption in a way that many of his films don’t.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (Michael Curtis, 1942)
Sublimely corny. Cagney’s tap-dancing down those White House stairs is wonderful. And the theater scenes are lit in a way that I’ve rarely seen.

Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974)
I saw this at an unadvertised studio preview and haven’t stopped laughing since. My wife and I watched it again the other night, shortly before we heard of Peter Boyle’s death.


R. S. Gwynn was born in Eden, North Carolina. He is the author of No Word of Farewell: Selected Poems 1970-2000 from Story Line Press, as well as four other collections including The Narcissiad (1982) and The Drive-In (1986). He is the editor of the Pocket Anthology series from Penguin Academics/Longman and New Expansive Poetry from Story Line Press. He is University Professor of English at Lamar University in Texas.

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Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach