The National Film Registry: Practically Perfect in Every Way

21 Dec
judgement_at_nuremberg

Few Hollywood directors have been as notable for making socially conscious films as the late producer-director Stanley Kramer whose credits include, besides Judgment at Nuremberg, The Defiant Ones, Ship of Fools, Inherit the Wind, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Judgment at Nuremberg may very well be his masterpiece. Here’s how the film is described on the National Film Registry webpage: “Selecting as its focus the “Justices Trial” of the post-World War II Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, rather than the more publicized trials of major Nazi war criminals, “Judgment at Nuremberg” broadened its scope beyond the condemnation of German perpetrators to interrogate the concept of justice within any modern society. Conceived by screenwriter Abby Mann during the period of McCarthyism, the film argues passionately that those responsible for administering justice also have the duty to ensure that human-rights norms are preserved even if they conflict with national imperatives. […] “Judgment at Nuremberg” startled audiences by including in the midst of its narrative seven minutes of film footage documenting concentration camp victims, thus using motion-picture evidence to make its point both in the courtroom and in movie theaters.” Screenwriter Abby Mann won an Oscar, and Maximilian Schell, in the tricky role of a defense lawyer, won the Academy award for Best Actor. Judy Garland and Montogomery Clift earned Oscar nominations for their supporting roles. The rest of the cast includes Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark, and Marlene Dietrich.

What I love about the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry is that its yearly roster of new inductees, announced earlier this week, reminds me just how many great American films have yet to be honored. For example, I could have sworn that Gilda had already made the cut as had, or so I thought, Forbidden Planet (1950s sci-fi based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest), Mary Poppins, The Quiet Man, The Right Stuff, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Nope. All newbies.

Oh, and what about Pulp Fiction? It became eligible for inclusion a decade ago, after it hit its tenth anniversary, but who can imagine that it took this many more years to make it happen? After all, Quentin Tarantino’s ironic riff on low-life hoods, co-written by Roger Avary,  is arguably the most influential film of the 1990s, opening the doors for a host of  “edgy,” “indie” imitators though most often without the same impact. The film also rejuvenated the career of John Travolta and catapulted Samuel L. Jackson to stardom.

Of course, not all registry picks have as much instant recognition as Pulp Fiction or some of the other titles in that first paragraph. One entry is the intriguingly named Ella Cinders, from the 1920s.  Starring Colleen Moore, this one appears to have some connection to, well, Cinderella.  Other titles of interest are The Lunch Date, 1989’s award winning student film, and Martha Graham Early Dance Films, dating all the way back to the 1930s and ’40s.

500 Rita Hayworth Gilda

Sure, strawberry blonde Rita Hayworth is ravishing in Technicolor, but she’s also at the peak of her beauty and power in the black and white classic, Gilda. Yes, the movie co-stars Glenn Ford, but it’s Hayworth’s show, and her flirtatious “Put the Blame on Mame” is the centerpiece, perhaps Hayworth’s defining film moment. Not bad for a gal who never earned an Oscar nod.

Please explore all of the titles in the list and not just the ones you already know…

Bless Their Little Hearts (1984)
Brandy in the Wilderness (1969)
Cicero March (1966)
Daughter of Dawn (1920)
Decasia (2002)
Ella Cinders (1926)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Gilda (1946)
The Hole (1962)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
King of Jazz (1930)
The Lunch Date (1989)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Martha Graham Early Dance Films (1931-44)
Mary Poppins (1964)
Men & Dust (1940)
Midnight (1939)
Notes on the Port of St. Francis (1951)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
The Quiet Man (1952)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Roger & Me (1989)
A Virtuous Vamp (1919)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966)
Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

MaryPopp

Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins broke new ground back in the day with its marvellous special effects, including the most advanced integrations of animation and live action footage. Plus, the movie featured a batch of amazingly catchy tunes, including the Oscar winning “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee” along with “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilsticexpialidocious,” and the irresistibly poignant “Feed the Birds” (long my personal favorite, that one). The movie helped make Julie Andrews a major star, and the Academy honored her with that year’s Best Actress Oscar. Though Mary Poppins did not claim as many Oscars as loverly Best Picture winner My Fair Lady, it was a box office colossus in an era in which few films were expected to succeed on such a massive scale. Actually, both Mary Poppins, with 13 nods, and My Fair Lady, with 12, still rank as two of Hollywood’s most popular movies based on numbers of tickets sold. Poppins’ inclusion in the National Film Registry is not only long overdue but timely given the newly released Saving Mr. Banks, a feature film that purports to show what happened behind the scenes during the production of the Disney classic.

The-Quiet-Man-1952-top

I have a soft spot for The Quiet Man, a movie that was on my “Bucket List” for the longest time, but I finally caught up with it a few years ago. I will argue that parts of the film are problematic, but I will also argue that John Wayne (l) and Maureen O’Hara (r) make an excellent screen pair, and that I was startled to see Wayne as romantic and as vulnerable as he is here, that is, especially in this particular scene. Also, kudos to John Ford who won an unprecedented–and still unmatched–fourth Oscar for Best Director. Amazingly, with all of the talent involved, Ford basically had to go the indie route to secure funding for his film, landing a deal with Republic Pictures which was more famous for fast-and-cheap Westerns rather than sweeping color films shot on location in Ireland.

I could and should probably add a few words about The Right Stuff, Roger and Me, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, not to mention The Magnificent Seven (with its legendary score by Elmer Bernstein that I worte about over the summer), but I’ll stick to the entries that mean the most to me.

Thanks for your consideration….

Official National Film Registry site: http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2013/13-216.html

Per Box Office Mojo, Mary Poppins currently ranks 25 on the list of 200 most popular movies while My Fair Lady comes in at 56: http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm

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