8/13/2010

Top 6 Words: Road

Posted in Top 6 Words at 5:00 am by Sam

This week’s word in the Top 6 Words series is “road.” My favorite movies with the word “road” in the title follow the jump, but try thinking up some “road” titles on your own before peeking. Bonus points if your “road” movies are also road movies. Chime in with your own list in the comments section.

Missing the list: The Road (2009), a good but unrelentingly bleak post-apocalyptic vision. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979), the best of the Looney Tunes anthologies. It contains some great material, but the best way to see this stuff is by watching the original cartoons.

Also, Revolutionary Road (2008), which had great acting but otherwise disappoints; Arlington Road (1999), a disappointing espionage thriller; and The Road To El Dorado (2000), a funny animated comedy from DreamWorks.

6. Road To Happiness (1941)

This low budget melodrama is surprisingly effective, portraying a truly touching relationship between a father and son and the troubles they face domestically and financially. For once, the familial drama comes not so much from stock dysfunctions (although the father and mother are divorced), but each making sacrifices for the other’s well-being. Tears in the movies often come more from goodness than sadness; certainly that is the case here, where the heartwarming central relationship carries the film through a parade of peripheral cliches that sink other movies but leave this one largely untouched.

5. The Road Warrior (1981)

Mad Max is back. This is the second in the trilogy, and the only one I liked. The original is a cult favorite of sorts, perhaps because of its attitude. I was unimpressed, finding it to be a well-crafted set piece exploited for shock value. But The Road Warrior, while retaining that same macabre atmosphere, tells a story with creativity and tension.

I’m still unimpressed with the world of this series. I find it unlikely that the destruction of civilization would turn the last remnant of humanity into punks with gaudily stylized clothing. I also find it unlikely that gasoline — not water — would be the rarest and most valuable substance in a desert where everyone seemingly spends all their free time speeding around on motorcycles and trucks.

But once I accepted the world and its rules on their own terms, the story engaged me, and from there I was at last able to appreciate the indelible atmosphere of director George Miller’s horrific vision.

4. Road House (1948)

Road House is a great film noir about a tangle of love and obsession in the setting of a nightclub. When Darryl F. Zanuck hired the director, Jean Negulesco, he said, “This is a bad script. Three directors have refused it. They don’t know what they’re doing, because basically it’s quite good. Remember those pictures we used to make at Warner Bros., with Pat O’Brien and Jimmy Cagney, in which every time the action flagged we staged a fight and every time a man passed a girl she’d adjust her stocking or something, trying to be sexy? That’s the kind of picture we have to have with Road House.”

It’s exactly the kind of picture Negulesco delivered, though the fights and stocking adjustments never feel like they were thrown in just because the action was flagging. Everything the characters do in this movie — whether good, bad, or seemingly inconsequential — feels motivated out of a desperate, tortured need. These are strong characters, and when they clash, the fireworks are riveting. Great performances all around, in particular from Ida Lupino and Richard Widmark, who get a chance to cut loose and go for broke.

3. High Road To China (1983)

High Road To China is a sorely underrated adventure film with plenty of action, suspense, and humor. It overflows with the stuff of classic B adventure films: flying action, battle-of-the-sexes fireworks, and exotic places. It’s all driven by strong and appealing characters, mainly Tom Selleck, as a World War I flying ace, and Bess Armstrong, as a stubborn rich girl who hires him to find her father. They have an exceptional chemistry together, and it is due to them as much as the gloriously old-fashioned adventure story and rich roaring twenties atmosphere that the film is as fun as it is. The supporting cast, filled with great character actors, is just as good: Jack Weston as Selleck’s mechanic and sidekick, Wilford Brimley as Armstrong’s father, and Robert Morley as the hilarious comic relief.

I should also mention John Barry’s beautiful and evocative orchestral score, which ranks with his very best work.

2. Road To Perdition (2002)

Road To Perdition looks gorgeous. It looks like a graphic novel sometimes, the way machine gun flares illuminate trenchcoats drenched in heavy rainfall. The look of a gangster-ridden Chicago in the 1930s is captured beautifully.

But lest I distract myself overmuch with the visuals, let me say that this also a beautiful tale, which explores the interconnected themes of fatherhood and of escaping past wrongs to make a fresh start. It tells the story of Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), a hitman who works for a big time crime boss until circumstances put him and his son on the run. His overriding concern is that his son doesn’t grow up like him, but the relationship is much more complex than that.

Highly entertaining, beautiful to look at, and having something of substance to say, Road To Perdition is a real gem and should not be missed.

1. Road To Singapore (1940)
1. Road To Zanzibar (1941)
1. Road To Morocco (1942)

These are the first three of the seven Road pictures, starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour. The next three (Rio, Utopia, and Bali) are also good, but the last (Hong Kong) is a disappointment.

When they teamed up for Road To Singapore, Lamour was just a little overwhelmed. Hope and Crosby established the rules of the game early on — adlib whatever wisecracks came to mind. Some were “planned” adlibs, some were spur of the moment, but in any case it took some adjusting for Lamour to cope with the two on the set. Yet she did, and the resulting film displayed a comic chemistry so popular with audiences that they couldn’t get enough of it.

You know how some movies look like they were just as much fun to make as watch? These are like that. The stars are obviously having a blast — more like they’re having a night out on the town than going to work. Of course, some movies look like they were fun to make without actually being fun to watch at all. But here, the fun is infectious. We feel like we’re in on it all, perhaps because of how many jokes break the fourth wall and address us directly.

They also feel genuinely spontaneous. There are stories, yes, but the movies don’t seem to care too much about them. What’s important is the spontaneity, the wisecracking, the reckless abandon. There’s a moment in Road To Morocco when a camel spits in Bob Hope’s eye. It wasn’t planned. It just happened, and because it was funny, it stayed in the film. If that had happened in a movie today, in the age of DVD blooper reels, would it have occurred to anybody to leave it in?

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