The word for this entry in the Top 6 Words series is another tricky one: “under.” It’s harder to think of movies with specific prepositions in them than, say, nouns or adjectives. Still, I managed to come up with a list I’m happy with.
My Top 6 list after the jump, but try to come up with your own favorite “under” movies before you peek at mine. Share your thoughts in the comments section.
I came up with seven “under” movies that I quite like. I dropped the one that has been featured in this column before: Courage Under Fire (1996), which appeared in the “fire” list. This is slightly unfair, as otherwise it would have landed in the #1 spot here. But that’s how it goes.
6. Quigley Down Under (1990)
Tom Selleck has made some good westerns in his career. His rough-edged, world-weary persona fits the genre pretty well. This one is a western set in Australia (making it, what, an eastern?), but despite the change in location and culture still upholds all the western traditions. It’s a good story, but its preachy political correctness takes a lot of the fun out of it.
5. Under Siege (1992)
Steven Seagal made a good movie once. It was called Under Siege and was about a former Navy SEAL now serving as a cook on a battleship. His commando training comes in handy when the ship is taken over by badguys. The action mostly works, and the film delivers a lot of it. Consider this a horizontal version of Die Hard.
4. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Any of the several film versions of Jules Verne’s classic would have worked for this list, but I’ve only seen the Disney version with Kirk Douglas and James Mason. This is a fine family adventure that’s not only exciting but has an unexpected beauty: the film took home an Oscar for its art decoration, and the special effects are still remarkable today.
3. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
By a weird coincidence, here’s another “Down Under” flick from 1990.
This sequel to Disney’s The Rescuers (1977) is superior in many respects. The animation, for instance, is leaps and bounds ahead, particularly concerning the use of light. The cheaper animation of the 1977 film had the invisible fourth wall and didn’t really pay much attention to lighting, but The Rescuers Down Under has startling, dramatic depths, bright lights, and ominous shadows.
The villain is conniving and evil, as usual, but he’s got two very interesting sidekicks: Joanna, a wicked yet funny lizard (watch for a great scene involving eggs), and a monster truck that’s every bit as alive and terrible as the Mack truck from Spielberg’s Duel (1971). If only the loose ends had been tied up a little better. What happened to all the caged animals we meet mid-way through the picture?
2. Under Capricorn (1949)
Unfairly overlooked by those expecting a signature Hitchcock thriller, Under Capricorn is nevertheless an accomplished and effective film. Particularly skillful is the way Hitchcock starts off at the surface of his characters and gradually penetrates into their minds, where grave emotions and obsessions lurk, some noble and some quite dark. The film has psychological depth and moral ambiguity that even many of Hitchcock’s other films do not have, and the result is an undercurrent of uneasy tension that wraps us up in the story.
1. Evil Under the Sun (1982)
Evil Under the Sun is Peter Ustinov’s best turn as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot in this second episode of the series. It’s simply fascinating. An all-star cast — including Colin Blakely, Jane Birkin, Maggie Smith, Roddy McDowall, James Mason, and Diana Rigg — comprise the eccentric round of suspects in a murder that’s been committed on a remote vacation isle. The mystery is a devious one; Poirot has to sort through all kinds of secrets and clues and devilish plans to figure it all out — and yet it all makes sense. Director Guy Hamilton paces the film well and knows how to build dramatic tension. At the end, is there anything more satisfying than nabbing the criminal mastermind behind it all?