“People” is the word for this entry in the Top 6 Words series. My favorite movies with the word “people” in the title follow the jump, but try thinking up some “people” titles on your own before peeking. Chime in with your own list in the comments section.
Missing the cut: Ordinary People (1980), a ponderous and syrupy Best Picture winner. The People Against O’Hara (1951), a Spencer Tracy courtroom drama which I liked but don’t remember well enough to re-evaluate. Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), a jolly little Disney flick that is often fondly remembered from childhood. How To Irritate People (1968), a John Cleese sketch comedy television special, good enough to make the list, but it’s not technically a movie.
There are also various monster movies that are technically eligible but quite awful: The Slime People (1963), Pod People (1983), and The Mole People (1956).
6. People Will Talk (1951)
Well-done comedy-drama starring Cary Grant and Jeanne Crain at their best. This film was one of the very first to tackle a theme now commonplace — a pregnancy out of wedlock — and it’s done with taste and style. Both the comedic and dramatic moments are genuine.
5. Animals Are Beautiful People (1974)
Jamie Uys’ Gods Must Be Crazy movies are comedies like no others: joyful and uproarious slapstick farces set in the harsh Kalahari Desert. With Animals Are Beautiful People, writer-director Uys brings that same cheery sensibility to a documentary about the animals who live in and around the Kalahari. I should qualify my use of the word “documentary.” The goal of this film isn’t so much to teach as to provide a way to watch a part of the world most of us will never see, and to have some laughs and fun while doing so.
4. Ruthless People (1986)
In between such madcap surreal comedies like Airplane and The Naked Gun, the Zuckers and Jim Abrahams made this more character-oriented (but still madcap) comedy about four people in an escalating but continually failing revenge war against each other. Danny DeVito and Bette Midler lead the cast, and that tells you right there that the film will be loud and wild and brazen. It’s crude, too, yet somehow wildly funny, perhaps because no matter how crazy the plot gets, the characters remain solid.
3. Smiley’s People (1982)
In 1979, Alec Guinness starred in a British espionage mini-series called Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy. Three years later, he made this sequel. Both are based on John le Carre novels; both are uncommonly complicated and cerebral. This is anything but the glamorized spy world of James Bond. Although Guinness’ character, George Smiley, gets into the occasional dangerous predicament, these works operate on an intellectual rather than a visceral level.
They’re tough to follow, too. I don’t know how anyone watching an episode a week can possibly follow the story and keep track of who everyone is. Even watching it all in one sitting, it’s tough to do — but also highly rewarding, thanks to what a wonderful creation the George Smiley character is. Though physically unimposing — he’s quiet, bookish, and getting on in years — he’s nevertheless a master manipulator, who gives away nothing of himself (even to us in the audience) and can somehow turn impossible situations to his advantage without so much as raising his voice.
2. Cat People (1942)
2. The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People is that rare and unexpected kind of classic: in spite of its B-movie budget, B-movie script, and B-movie production values, it rises to the level of a great film by the artistry and effectiveness of its execution. A feeling of mounting horror is built by what is lurking at the edges of what is seen. Much is owed to the gorgeous noir-like cinematography and lighting. Consider the film’s best scene, in which a woman takes a dip in a swimming pool at night. Something may be stalking her, but the eerie reflections cast by the water make it hard to tell. The scene has been copied in numerous films made since.
There are other wonderful little visual touches, too, like a tracking shot where the camera follows wet footprints, which start out distinctly human but gradually morph into something else. Great moments like this serve as a reminder of how much can be done without a huge budget.
The climax falls short of the mark, but the story overall works well: a woman is haunted by her mystical heritage; the other characters are haunted by something a little more tangible.
The film’s sequel, The Curse of the Cat People, is not really a sequel at all and may disappoint those expecting a horror tale in the same vein as the original. But it’s an enchanting little story in its own right, spooky but more pleasant and having essentially nothing to do with cats or cat people. The cast from the original film is back but in different functions; the real star is young Ann Carter, a lonely girl with an imaginary friend.
1. Show People (1928)
Except that it’s more gentle and lighthearted than wickedly satirical, Show People can be thought of as the The Player of the silent era. Much like Altman did with that film, director King Vidor packs in as many celebrity cameos as he could and also used footage of prominent Hollywood landmarks, to paint a portrait of the glamor of the city. The story begins breezily, with a blustery colonel from Georgia taking his daughter to Hollywood and granting the big movie studios the honor of casting her in movies.
Her career takes off, but not quite in the way she envisioned, and when she gets what she wants, that isn’t how she envisioned it either. Marion Davies is excellent as the girl, particularly in one great moment when she makes fun of herself.