Later this month (June 23rd), the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge will be showing Philippe Broca’s charming King of Hearts to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release in 1968. Many may remember its historic four or five-year run at the Central Square Cinema where I enjoyed it several times during the early 70’s. Though It was not an initial box office success, over the decades, the film acquired an avid group of loyal fans.
As I made plans to see this revival, I thought about other films which are often overlooked in those “best ever” lists, but which I watch again and again, and include among my favorites. How many of you can identify Charles Plumpick, Peachey Carnahan, Lewis Tater, Celest Talbert, Hub and Garth McCann and Miles Kendig? Not many I’ll wager. But around these characters, all but one of which is portrayed by an Academy award winning actor, have been constructed brilliant screen gems which are each worth a couple of hours of your time when you need a shot of enjoyment. So, here is my list.
Charles Plumpick is the kilt wearing Scottish pigeon handler attached to an English battalion fighting against the Germans in World War I. He is ordered to disarm a bomb in a small French town. By the time he arrives at the town, the townspeople have fled, and the inmates of an unlocked asylum have taken over. Plumpick, played by Alan Bates, falls for a beautiful tightrope walker (Genevive Bujold) and is chosen the town’s leader, the “king of hearts”. Bates is the one non-Academy Award winner in the group, though he was nominated for his role in The Fixer. The film begs the question, “Who is more crazy, the residents of the asylum or the men killing one another outside the town with guns and tanks? This is a French film in which the inmates speak French,the British soldiers speak English, and the German soldiers speak German, but there are subtitles for all.
Peachey Carnahan is one of the two principal characters in John Houston’s masterful film version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. This is the ultimate “buddy”movie which Houston sought to make for over twenty years. During that time, he approached Clark Gable and Humphry Bogart, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, and Robert Redford and Paul Newman to play the pair. Newman felt it should be English actors and suggested Michael Caine and Sean Connery. I can’t imagine anyone else in the roles.
Lewis Tater is a aspiring young writer who heads west to write about the frontier. Hearts of the West is an obscure little film about the origin of the film industry and the rise of Hollywood. Jeff Bridges is endearing as the young Tater, and a supporting cast including Blythe Danner, Andy Griffith and Alan Arkin, make this film shine.
Celeste Talbert, a role perfect for Sally Field, is the star of a long running TV soap opera. The twists and turns in Soapdish are serpentine and hilarious. The cast of this rollicking comedy says all you need to know. Kevin Kline, Robert Downey, Jr., Elisabeth Shue, Whoopie Goldberg, Teri Hatcher, Cathy Moriarty, Gary Marshall, Kathy Najimy and Carrie Fisher. Enough said.
Hub and Garth McCann , played perfectly by Robert Duval and Michael Caine, are two cantankerous old brothers with an unbelievable back story and a rumored vast fortune. They become responsible for their shy 14 year old grand-nephew when he is left with them by the boy’s irresponsible and daft mother. There the fun starts, including the purchase of an aging circus lion who roams loose on their little farm. Secondhand Lions is a charming and uplifting romp. I admit to an urge to shed a few tears at the end, and so will you.
Miles Kendig, the final name on my list, is my favorite. Kendig, played by the incomparable Walter Matthau, is an aging CIA field agent approaching retirement. After he completes a successful operation, Kendig’s right wing idiotic boss takes him out of the spy game and assigns him to the file room to end his career. Here is where the fun starts. Kendig shreds his own personnel file, goes on the run and informs his boss, and every major embassy in the world, that he is writing a memoir about the CIA’s “dirty tricks” and will circulate each chapter as it is completed. The chase begins, but Kendig is the best at this game. Again, the supporting cast of Hopscotch, including Glenda Jackson, Ned Beatty, Sam Waterston, Herbert Lom, as well as Matthau’s son and daughter-in-law, are well cast and the chase around the world is pure fun. I watch it every time I am down, and I root for the old guy against the bureaucratic bully. Better than a shrink
These are my favorite overlooked gems. If you believe I omitted others that deserve mention, and I’m sure I have, I’d love to hear from you.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since. (To say nothing of books and movies as well!)