The word for this entry in the Top 6 Words series is “don’t.” I thought immediately of a few imperative titles; it wasn’t for a while that I realized simple statements sometimes have this word as well.
My Top 6 list after the jump, but try to come up with your own favorite “don’t” movies before you peek at mine. Share your thoughts in the comments section.
Initially, I thought I was going to wind up with a lot of horror/thrillers with titles like “Don’t Go Down In the Basement Alone” or “Don’t Talk To Strangers If They Are Wearing Masks and Waving Knives Around In Your General Direction.” And indeed, four of my top six were thrillers. But the mix of genres amongst the eligible titles is quite a bit more diverse. Unfortunately, there are no truly great films here. There are plenty of good ones that are a lot of fun, but apparently they don’t make “don’t” masterpieces.
Missing the cut: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), Steve Martin’s parody of film noir, which intercuts new footage with clips from the classics. Don’t Look Down (1998), a TV movie about an acrophobiac support group that starts getting killed off. Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960), a romantic comedy with David Niven and Doris Day that is passable but less than what one could expect from Day at this point in her career. For my number six choice, I might just as easily have picked Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972), one of the three Disney comedies with Kurt Russell as Dexter Riley (the best known being The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes).
6. Don’t Talk To Strangers (1994)
For a while during the 90s, Pierce Brosnan made some surprisingly good made-for-TV thrillers. Murder 101 (1991) is my favorite, but this one is also good. It’s about a woman who remarries after a messy divorce, but the original husband doesn’t want to let go. Complications escalate from there. The film never really breaks out of the cheap, made-for-TV mold, but it works well within it.
5. Don’t Bother To Knock (1952)
Don’t Bother To Knock is a minor thriller but one noteworthy for a performance from Marilyn Monroe that proves she was more than a pretty face and a memorable screen presence. Her performance is fantastic. She handles the shades and subtleties of her character with ease — so comfortably, in fact, that the performance doesn’t draw attention to itself. The story doesn’t either, but for entirely the wrong reason: it’s a forgettable trifle about a disturbed babysitter left to take care of a child in a hotel room for an evening. It’s entertaining once, but Monroe is the movie’s only indispensible asset.
4. Don’t Look Now (1973)
Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is a troublesome movie for me to review. On the one hand, it is a skillfully edited horror film that evokes the uncanny sense that great horror is imminent, just around the corner perhaps. It does a great job at conveying what the characters feel, whether that is love, pride, anguish, or panic.
On the other hand, the characters are only as interesting as what happens to them, and the plot is weak beyond description. I would forgive a weak but stylishly told story, except that the ending is actively dissatisfying. It spurns promises made earlier by neglecting to answer questions that need answers, answering questions that should not have been answered, and posing new questions. It’s a shame to see such skillful execution in service of a story not worth telling.
Don’t Look Now is much treasured by those with a passion for what powerful, emotive things can be done with the medium of film, and indeed this is what prompts me to acknowledge it in this list. But while it may be a great exercise, I shun the idea that it is a great film and only reluctantly acknowledge that it is a good one. With few exceptions, movies are basically about entertainment. Don’t Look Now commits the cardinal sin of not just being unsatisfying but betraying the plot threads that guide us through most of the running time.
3. Don’t Say a Word (2001)
I like thrillers best when they are driven by the psychology of the characters, rather than by the mechanics of set pieces. This one is rather directly psychological: it’s about a psychologist and a disturbed girl who may possess a piece of important information about a jewel heist. The premise is far-fetched but fun and leads Michael Douglas on an exciting hunt that culminates with an unforgettable image in the climax.
2. Don’t Lose Your Head (1966)
Eleventh in the Carry On series, Don’t Lose Your Head puts the gang in the middle of the French Revolution. Sidney James and Jim Dale are foppish aristocrats by day and dashing rescuers by night. Of course the plot, a parody of The Scarlet Pimpernel, is just an excuse to string together some witty wordplay and sword-swinging slapstick. Not all the jokes work, but the good ones more than compensate for the weak links.
1. Walk, Don’t Run (1966)
Cary Grant’s last film was this remake of The More, the Merrier (1943). It takes place in Tokyo, just before the 1964 Summer Olympics. Last minute plans and a scarcity of available hotel rooms leads an older man, a younger man, and a woman sharing an apartment. The older man decides to play matchmaker, and comic hilarity ensues.
Romantic comedies from the 60s feel especially fresh today, given how rigidly formulaic the genre became during the 90s. Admittedly, there is still a formula at work here, but it feels freer. It permits the characters to be who they are instead of pulling them kicking and screaming through a prefabricated plot. The humor and the romance emerge organically from the characters being themselves, and as those characters are so eminently likable, the film is a rewarding experience indeed.
The original 1943 film is probably the better of the two, but because both films are so character-driven rather than plot-driven, they defy simple comparison. Additionally, Walk Don’t Run makes great use of its exotic setting, both for visuals and for fish-out-of-water humor.