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Donald's Corner Blog: Road House and Other Under-the-Radar Anniversaries

| BY Donald Liebenson

Currently making the rounds of arthouse theatres is a sparking 50th anniversary restoration of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Generally, audiences care not a whit about a film’s anniversary. That’s for a marketing savvy studio to exploit. In the heyday of home video, even the worst film might get a little sales boost out of its anniversary (were any horror film buffs compelled to buy the “Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition” of “Jack-O”?)

Several beloved and distinguished film classics are enjoying notable anniversaries this year, including “On the Waterfront” (1954), “Ghostbusters” (1984), “Pulp Fiction,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Forrest Gump” (1994), and “Field of Dreams” (1989).

But there are some under-the-radar films whose own anniversaries may be overlooked by studios not willing to dig deep into the vaults. Here are a few classics, cult films and curiosities that are worth checking out:

Sherlock, Jr.” (1924): Ranked 69th on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 funniest films (but who’s counting?), this film-within-a-film tour de force stars Buster Keaton as a movie theatre projectionist who dreams himself into a detective movie to clear his name after being framed by his romantic rival.

It’s a Gift” (1934): W.C. Fields is at his misanthropic best in this gem about a henpecked husband and hapless grocer who dreams of buying an orange grove. Several scenes rank among his most memorable, including encounters with his tormenter, Baby LeRoy, a persistent insurance salesman looking for Carl LaFong and a blind man who unwittingly destroys his store.

Miracle on Morgan’s Creek” (1944): Perhaps not Preston Sturges’ funniest film, but certainly his most audacious. How, in 1944, did he get away with this screwball take on the Nativity, in which small town gal Betty Hutton finds herself pregnant following a night of drunken revelry with a soldier?  

Suddenly” (1954): One of Frank Sinatra`s least-known films is also one of his best. He unnervingly portrays an amoral hired assassin who holds a family hostage in their California small-town home, from where he methodically prepares to kill the president. Suddenly, by the way, is the name of the town.

“Johnny Guitar” (1954): Actually, I haven’t seen this western starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden, but critics I respect, such as Dave Kehr, have long said it is something to see. Francois Truffaut described it as the “’Beauty and the Beast’ of westerns.” Its anniversary year seems like a good excuse to finally see it.

"Creature from the Black Lagoon(1954): What MGM was to musicals and Warner Bros. to gangster films, so Universal was to monster movies. This is one of the most iconic. In “The Seven Year Itch,” Marilyn Monroe expresses sympathy for the Creature: “He just wanted to be loved.”

All of Me” (1984): A genius pairing of Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin as two combative souls sharing a single body, Martin’s, in Carl Reiner’s supernatural comedy.

"Lonesome Dove(1989): A television benchmark based on Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning western novel. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones top a flawless cast. How this lost to the hackneyed “War and Remembrance” is one of the Emmy Awards’ greatest shames.

Road House” (1994): One of those movies that if I come across it on television, I will drop everything to watch until the end. Patrick Swayze stars as Dalton, the best bar “cooler” in the business, who is recruited to clean up the Double Deuce and runs afoul of town baddie, Ben Gazzara. Dalton’s philosophy: “Be nice…until it’s time to not be nice.”