One of my favorite guilty pleasures is Gothic movies, those gloomy slightly spooky forays into dank and dark manor houses and crumbling castles. Gothic stories usually center around some mysterious dark secret that is injurious to the hero, heroine or the villain, or a prophecy of disaster or extinction for a family line. Misguided or ill-fated romances, along with marriages of convenience or connivance to gain social status and/or wealth, also play a significant role in Gothic romance novels and movies. Ghost insane people and mysterious locked rooms are sometimes presented in gothic plots. These elements are the primary criteria in determining what constitutes a Gothic movie. There are other themes that abound in literary and film criticism but I’m not going to delve that deeply this is just for fun. So here is my list of my favorite Gothic movies. Warning may contain spoilers.
MY FAVORITE GOTHIC MOVIES
Dragonwyck:1946, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ Screen adaptation of the Anya Seton Novel. This movie has everything that I love about Gothic movies, a dark secret, a forbidden room, a naive young heroine and a long suffering spouse being slowly poisoned by a noxious Oleander plant. This movie has some historical references to the Dutch Patroon system and the anti-rent movement of the 1840s. Featuring Vincent Price and Gene Tierney; this is a movie that I can’t help watching every time it airs on television.
The fall of the house of Usher: 1960, directed by Roger Corman. This is another Vincent Price gem, based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe. The movie differs slightly from the short story in certain details. One of those details is that the narrator actually has a name, Phillip. He is also the love interest of Roderick Usher’s sister, Madeline. The specific reason for the curse is mentioned, (the Usher fortune is rooted in the slave trade.) It is apparent that Roderick is not only over protective of his sister but he is verging on insanity. There are hints of incest and inbreeding as the cause of the siblings medical condition. Burying your sister alive because she wants to get married is very creepy. The decay and collapse of the manor house is more than a metaphor, it actually falls on the siblings and kills them.
Rebecca: 1940 Directed by Alfred Hitchcock based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, won 2 academy awards for Best Picture and best Black & white cinematography. The Hays code prevented this movie from having the same ending as the novel. Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine star as Maxim de Winter and his second wife, who is only referred to by the name of Mrs. de Winter. Dame Judith Anderson gives a sinister performance as the evil Mrs. Danvers who worshipped Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winter. Although the dark secret in the novel is quite shocking, it is watered down for the movie. Dark, brooding and ominous, worth watching.
Jane Eyre: 1943 Directed by Robert Stevenson, from Charlotte Bronte’s novel; screen play by Aldous Huxley. Once again Joan Fontaine exercises her acting chop along with Orson Welles; also appearing are Agnes Moorehead and an uncredited appearance by little Liz Taylor. This is the quintessential Gothic movie although the novel is categorized as part of the Bildungsroman, (coming of age) genre, the movie only concentrates on the relationship of Jane and Mr. Rochester and the spooky goings-on at Thornfield hall. The movie version has all of the elements of a good gothic story.
Raintree County: 1957 based on the novel by Ross Lockridge Jr. Directed by Edward Dmytryk with a screenplay by Millard Kaufman, best known for Bad Day at Black rock, a Spencer Tracy classic. This movie fits into the southern Gothic genre and was filmed on the site of several historic antebellum mansions. The movie stars Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Marie Saint and Lee Marvin. The Gothic feel of this movie doesn’t kick in until the mid way point when southern bell Susanna Drake Played by Elizabeth Taylor, tricks sensitive northern poet John Shawnessy into marriage. John a northern abolitionist doesn’t fit in down south, (who’d a thunk it) and moves back to Indiana. then the civil war breaks out and Susanna develops paranoia and flees the north with their new son. John joins the army hoping to find his son while destroying Georgia. Surprise, surprise! john finds little jimmy and is wounded while carrying him back to union lines. After the war John rescues Susanna from the booby hatch and brings her back to his big mansion. Then the dark secret is revealed, Susanna might, kind of, maybe be OMG, part negro. I guess in the south that is enough to drive you crazy. There are some dark and foreboding scenes, one at a destroyed mansion when john investigates Susanna’s fears. Any way watch the movie.
The innocents: 1961 based on a play, that was based on a novel by Henry James. Directed by Jack Clayton. This version of The Turn of the Screw, despite being regurgitated twice, still manages to capture the psychological terror of the original story. It also brings up a much discussed notion that Miss Giddens the children’s Governess might actually be crazy. No one else in the household seems to be able to see the Alleged ghost of Quint and miss Jessel; but because the audience sees what Miss Giddens is experiencing we tend to believe her. By trying to brow beat the children into questionable admissions of mingling with specters, that they never admit to, she is guilty of a type of child abuse. Abuse and neglect are themes that recur throughout the novel and the movie; including the possible physical abuse of Miss Jessel, but it is the way that the subject is approached that makes the movie so terrifying. Stars one of my favorite Brit cutie pies Deborah Kerr. Filmed at a genuine Gothic mansion at Sheffield Park, Sussex,England. It’s Creepy in more ways than one.
Wuthering Heights: 1939 Directed by William Wyler, starring, Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier and David Niven. You can’t talk about Gothic movies without mentioning Wuthering heights. This story of dysfunctional love and class stratification is gloomy from start to finish. Classism and wealth are the major themes in the movie, and the main reason for Catherine and Heathcliff’s unrequited love; unless you count the fact that Heathcliff was a jerk. Actually Cathy is kind of a jerk herself and her brother Hindley is a bigger jerk than Heathcliff or Catherine. The long suffering Edgar Linton (Played by David Niven) is the only non jerk. He repeatedly nurtures the frail Cathy back to health when ever she gets a boo boo or gets caught in the rain. Apparently Cathy has a weak constitution because it takes her months to recuperate from the slightest injury. She even falls ill when Heathcliff starts courting Edgar’s sister out of spite. Those Lintons are such big suckers. What did they do so wrong, that the universe would inflict Cathy and Heathcliff on the same family? The ghost story isn’t as scary as Cathy and Heathcliff’s irrational and spiteful behavior. This is a great movie with lots of atmosphere and angst.
Special mention goes to the TV Gothic soap Opera Dark Shadows: 1966-1971 Aired on ABC, had two movie spinoffs (House of DarkShadows and Night of Dark Shadows) in 1970 and 1971. The 2012 movie starring Johnny Depp was inspired by the television series and the 1970 movie starring Jonathan Frid. This creepy crawler had me rushing home to sit in front of my TV everyday after school. Other than those wonderful Vincent Price matinee spookfest nothing more has influenced my love for the Gothic genre. This soap had everything ghost, vampires, witches, zombies, time travel and even a parallel universe. This soap is great fun for lovers of creepy camp.
MY FAVORITE WAR MOVIES
WINGS:1929 (winner of the very first Academy Award.) Love and war and stupidity obviously don’t mix.
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: 1930 (Another academy winner) Adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s great anti war novel. There is no glory in war.
HELLS ANGELS: 1930 (Howard Hughes’ World War 1 epic) This movie accomplished some of the most spectacular and dangerous aerial stunts ever attempted. No CGI here folks.
THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE:1936 (Errol Flynn at his most dashing.) This is the movie that got me interested in military history. As a child I wondered why did they call it the light brigade and where is the Crimea?
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS: 1943 ( A movie adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the Spanish civil war 1936-39.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: 1953 (War and Romance collide in the movie adaptation of the James Jones novel.) This film won 8 Oscars out of 13 nominations, and features a stellar cast including Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Montgomery Cliff and Frank Sinatra. Both Sinatra and Reed won Oscars for best supporting actor and actress respectively.
THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI: 1954 (Movie adaptation of the novel by James A. Michener.) In war some endings aren’t very happy.
THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI: 1957 (The 1958 winner of 7 Academy Awards.) Discipline and madness in a Pow Camp.
PATHS OF GLORY: 1957 (Stanley Kubrick’s examination of the madness and absurdity of war.)
THE LONGEST DAY: 1962 (The big screen adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s non fiction book.) These are up close and personal vignettes of individuals, trying to survive in the most horrendous of situations.
ZULU: 1964 (Imperialist English dogs fight for survival amidst a Zulu onslaught.) Great action yarn based on historical events
IN HARMS WAY: 1965 (Another good movie adaptation from a novel by James Bassett.)
TORA TORA TORA: 1970 (Slightly controversial in its day for its depiction of American military incompetence leading up to the Dec. 7 attack on pearl harbor.
MIDWAY:1976 (Fairly accurate depiction of the pivotal naval engagement of W W II.) This movie has a monumental cast of all of my favorites.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR: 1977 (Another fine film adaptation of a Cornelius Ryan book.)
CROSS OF IRON: 1977 (Sam Peckinpah’s ode to the Russian front.) Called a literal bloody bore by critics, this is one of my favorites about the other side. Stars James Mason, Maximilian Schell and James Coburn. No guts no glory
PLATOON: 1986 (Viet Nam Vet Oliver stone gets it right, like only a war vet could. 1987 academy award winner.)
GLORY: 1989: (Based on Historical events, the creation of the 54th Massachusetts volunteer infantry Regiment.)
GETTYSBURG:1993 ( Adaptation of Michael Shaara’s 1975 Pulitzer prize winning Novel the Killer angels.) Jeff Daniels gives an especially stirring performance as Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Who won the Medal of Honor for his defense of little round top during the battle of Gettysburg.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN: 1998 (This movie made grizzled old World War Two vets teary eyed.)
BLACK HAWK DOWN: 2001 (Screen adaptation of Mark Bowden’s very excellent book.) I really hate to be an armchair General; but the command structure with their modern network centric warfare center weren’t very hands on. Talk about leading from behind, these guys were watching it on TV monitors like it was a video game. I guess that they never heard of a contingency plan either. Fortunately the soldiers involved were well trained and courageous. Read the book, it is even more disturbing than the movie. A great movie, proving the old adage That, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
SPECIAL MENTION GOES TO: BATTLE: LOS ANGELES: 2011 (JTAC’s rule.) Michele Rodriguez is probably the most kick ass Heroine since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor. Representing the AIR FORCE Ground pounders is Technical Sergeant Elena Santos, a Forward air controller, now called a Joint Terminal attack controller (JTAC), doing the same job as a Navy SEAL. She is one of the unsung heroes of the USAF. In your face Navy.
Although this is regarded as a sci fi flick, it is a war movie in the traditional sense, as it gives you a grunt’s eye view of the action. This is definitely a great action yarn.
Well there you have it boys and girls! my list of all time favorite war movies. I actually have more but that will come later.