Friday, October 12, 2012

Favorite Films of the 1970s

For me, the 1970s is the last decade of great film-making. No doubt this opinion reflects my age and a desire to hold on to that which I was introduced to in my formative years, but most classic film lovers will agree that production companies and directors since have shifted focus to younger audiences in the search for bigger box office. Yes, terrific films are still made, but there's seems to be fewer of them. Action is favored over character development and scripts, and CGI has replaced creative cinematography.

It's easy for me to identify plenty of great films through the decade of the 1970s. Picking just ten is tough. Here's my list for the decade.

The Last Picture Show (1971) - Peter Bogdanovich

Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) consoles Sonny (Timothy Bottoms)

Maybe the best film of the decade. Beautifully shot by Robert Surtees it contains great supporting performances. Sam the Lion's (Ben Johnson) soliloquy at the pond and Ruth Popper's reunion with Sonny in the film's final scene are as poignant as it gets. Both won deserved Academy Awards.

The French Connection (1971) - William Friedkin

Smuggler Charnier (Fernando Rey) eludes Popeye on the subway.

A great adaptation of a dull novel by Robin Moore. The thrilling assassination attempt of Popeye and subsequent wild chase under the el never happened in real life, but Friedkin established a new bar for exciting action in crime films. A gritty game of cat and mouse between New York narcotic cops and drug smugglers.

The Godfather/The Godfather II (1972/1974) - Francis Ford Coppola

Two generations of Corleones.

In this story of a mafia family Brando came out of nowhere to produce one of the most iconic performances of the decade and win a second Best Actor Oscar. I like Pacino's work better as son Michael. The set decoration of early and mid-century New York is fabulous.

Summer of '42 (1971) - Robert Mulligan


Michel Legrand's haunting theme song seemed perfect for this story of loss, innocent first love, and friendship. Hermie, Oscy, and Benjie's adventures on Nantucket during the first summer of America's involvement in World War II are funny, ultimately sad, and timelessly universal and human. Age 15 at its initial release, it was easy to relate to Hermie and his feelings for the beautiful young woman down the beach. One look at Jennifer O'Neill explains it all.

Frenzy (1973) - Alfred Hitchcock

Another victim of the neck tie murderer. 

Hitchcock's best film since Psycho is filled with signature touches: a sensational camera shot down a stairs, the funny dinner scenes between husband and wife, an innocent man accused, and the harrowing ride in a potato truck. And there was something more as the old director tried to stay current with more sensational cinema of the decade--gruesome murder on screen. I love the London setting but miss Bernard Herrmann's score and George Tomasini's editing. Still, a worthy effort by a master.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) - Peter Yates

Mitchum as Coyle drinks a lot of coffee. 

Director Yates produces his second top crime drama (Bullett), this time with a wonderful performance by Robert Mitchum as a small-time hood in over his head. A gritty look at the violent, dangerous world of Boston thugs and low-lifes. Eddie contemplates turning stoolie to avoid prison time. His speech in a diner about having his knuckles smashed in a drawer is good stuff.   

Chinatown (1974) - Roman Polanski

Private eye J.J. Gittes needs to forget. It's Chinatown.

Nicholson's best film. A compelling mystery about water rights late 1930's L.A. is at the heart of this terrific story of incest and murder. John Huston makes an intimidating bad guy and director Polanski wields a nasty knife in a cameo. Robert Towne wrote the acclaimed Oscar-winning script.

The Conversation (1974) - Francis Ford Coppola

Hackman finds himself in odd places. 

Gene Hackman in his best performance is Harry Caul. Lonely and emotionally stifled, he is the best in the business, a paid surveillance expert who begins to suspect that his current employer is up to no good. Haunted by perceived past failures, Harry is soon on a slippery slope to full-blown paranoia. The final shot of him playing his saxophone is memorable.

The Shootist (1976) - Don Seigel

Books goes out like a man in a face off with three rotten 

John Wayne can't act? Hardly. Maybe the best swan song of any actor's career, Wayne is great as a dying gunman, looking to live his final days in peace. Director Seigel opens the film with a terrific montage of scenes from old Wayne films, followed by a fine confrontation between Wayne, as J. B. Books, and a would-be robber. The town set doesn't seem particularly impressive--reminiscent of an inexpensive TV production, and I could do with a better supporting actor than Opie Taylor, but Wayne is wonderful. Cancer would soon devastate his robust frame, but for one last time, we got to see a giant. I still miss him.  

Manhattan (1979)

My favorite Woody Allen film. It's got a lot going for it: beautiful black & white cinematography; Gershwin; New York; and a witty script by Allen and partner, Marshall Brickman. Woody is Isaac Davis, an unhappy TV writer whose life is in flux after a divorce. Mariel Hemingway secured an Oscar nomination as innocent Tracy, a 17 year-old high school student, inexplicably in love with Isaac. Their final scene is terrific, bittersweet and acted with understated perfection.

Links to other Favorite Lists:

Favorite Westerns
Great TV


  1. I'm not that familiar with 70's cinema, but of the movies I have seen on this list, I agree that they are some of the best ever made. My fave is "The Shootist", and not only because it is John Wayne's last performance - all the cast members are superb.

  2. How nice to see THE SHOOTIST among your list, because it's very underrated. I'm a big fan of others, too, particularly CHINATOWN and THE CONVERSATION.

  3. Hi, Silver. Glad to see some love for The Shootist. Bacall is wonderful isn't she? Very understated and touching performance by both.

  4. CFTV, thanks for visiting. Yea, more love for The Shootist! I like both The Conversation and Chinatown, in part because each is so well constructed. They also are a little unnerving. Who's watching us and who can you trust?