I AM NOT CERTAIN THERE’S ANYTHING more personal and idiosyncratic than our taste in movies. When it comes to raising the hackles, even politics and religion take a back seat. In my life, at least, I have been taken to task far more often for bad-mouthing “Blow-Up,””L’Avventura” and “El Salvador” than I have for voting Democratic or for believing that God really isn’t interested.
I believe that a lot of the trouble stems from the fact that people often lie where movies are concerned, for fear they’ll appear unhip. Ever since it was decided that movies were to be regarded as an art form like literature and painting, rather than as a form of entertainment like the circus and charades, the battle has been joined between those who think they are better than other people because they can stay awake all the way through a double bill of “Intolerance” and “Battleship Potemkin” and those who nod off in a movie if Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t in it.
Back in the days when I used to be a movie reviewer, I found it very difficult to believe that the folks who used to rave about the likes of “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” and Kurosawa’s “The Lower Depths” were totally sincere. It wasn’t simply because I didn’t like those movies, either, as I had no problem believing that people who said they liked the films of Elvis Presley or Jerry Lewis (unless they were French) meant it. Clearly, there was no cultural cachet to be derived from claiming “Blue Hawaii” or “Cinderfella” had knocked your socks off.
Recently, I decided to compile a list of the 52 movies (one per week) that I would want if I found myself on a desert island like Robinson Crusoe, but stranded not with Friday but a VCR I could actually work.
To be considered for inclusion, they had to be movies I had seen at least three times, and could imagine wanting to see once a year until the rescue ship arrived.
COMPILING THE LIST WAS DIFFICULT for a number of reasons. One, there are movies I would normally have on such a list if I hadn’t seen them once too often , such as “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” But this is today’s list, and I have to play fair.
Two, there are some movies that are great by anyone’s criteria, but that are so depressing, so heart-wrenching, that I just can’t imagine wanting to watch them when I am already depressed over being stuck somewhere without tennis, poker or a decent deli. That explains the absence of “The Bicycle Thief.”
Three, there are far more than 52 movies that I would like to have on the island, but you must set up an arbitrary limit or the list becomes endless and totally meaningless. That explains why “The Thief of Baghdad,””Strangers on a Train,””The Quiet Man,””Destry Rides Again,”” Bridge on the River Kwai,””The Godfather,””The Tall Guy,””In a Lonely Place” and “The Lavender Hill Mod” didn’t make the cut.
And, finally, there is reason No. 4. Even I, who have already confessed to an aversion to French existentialists, D.W. Griffith and John Ford’s odes to the cavalry, find myself reluctant to admit that, given the choice, I would rather sit through “Meet Me in St. Louis” or even “Apartment for Peggy” 20 times than suffer once more through “Last Year at Marienbad.”
What follows, then, are the 52, in alphabetical order, with Laurel and Hardy shorts thrown in for good measure. (I have included a TV movie that I wrote; It’s the version of “Hobson’s Choice” that starred Sharon Gless, Jack Warden and Richard Thomas, and was directed by Gil Cates. But, again, I played fair. I have seen it seven or eight times and it continues to hold up for me. There are, after all, four other movies I’ve had produced and I’ve liked very much, but they didn’t make the list. And–must I keep reminding you?–this is my list.)
ALL ABOUT EVE,””A New Leaf,””Apartment for Peggy,””A Walk in the Sun,”
“Casablanca,””Charade,””Cinema Paradiso,””Citizen Kane,”
“Defending Your Life,””Desk Set,””Double Indemnity,”
“Field of Dreams,”
“Hobson’s Choice,””Holy Matrimony,””Hoosiers,”
“I Remember Mama,””It’s a Wonderful Life,”
“Lady Killers,” Laurel and Hardy shorts,
“Meet Me in St. Louis,””Midnight Run,””Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,””Miracle on 34th Street,””Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,””My Favorite Year,”
“On the Waterfront,”
“People Will Talk,”
“School for Scoundrels,””Shane,””Stairway to Heaven,””Sunset Boulevard, “”Sweet Smell of Success,””Swing Time,”
“The African Queen,””The Best Years of Our Lives,””The Farmer’s Daughter, “”The Gay Divorcee,””The Lady Vanishes,””The Major and the Minor,””The Maltese Falcon,””The Natural,””The Princess Bride,””The Shop Around the Corner,””The Untouchables,””The Wizard of Oz,””The World of Henry Orient,””Top Hat” and
“Woman of the Year.”
Burt Prelutsky is a veteran journalist and screenwriter whose credits include: episodes of “Family Ties,””Newhart” and “MASH.” He’s won a WGA Award and an Edgar Allan Poe Award. And, he’s seen his share of movies.