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BY John Prizer
The Leopard (1963)
The goal of most revolutions is the removal of a ruling class to achieve economic and social justice. But sometimes the result is merely the replacement of one elite by another. The Leopard, one of the Vatican's top 45 films, presents the revolutionary upheavals in Sicily of the 1860s through the eyes of Prince Fabrizio Falconieri (Burt Lancaster). Religious faith is established as one of the pillars on which the old order rests. Fabrizio's priest (Romallo Valli) is afraid the revolution will mean the expropriation of Church property and there will be no resources to care for the poor.
Fabrizio's family survives the turmoil through manipulation of personalities and social forces as his nephew, Tancredi (Alain Delon), joins Garibaldi's rebels. Director Luchino Visconti (The Damned) laments the sellout of the revolution, balancing this with a nostalgia for the old order, including the Church. Based on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel, the movie is a visual tone poem for a class which loses its power but preserves its mystique.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922)
Great horror films find ways to evoke an atmosphere of terror and menace without resorting to sex and violence; the difference between good and evil, once defined, is never blurred. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors, one of the Vatican's top 45 films, is a silent, visual poem of beauty and grace. Hutter (Gustav Von Wangenheim), a happily married Bremen real estate agent, is sent to Transylvania to close a deal with Count Orlok (Max Schreck), who' s a secret vampire.
When the cadaverous-looking aristocrat moves to his new property, everyone around him dies from the plague. Hutter's wife (Greta Schroeder) learns that vampires expire in daylight and lures Orlok into her house. She keeps him there until dawn by allowing him to nibble on her neck, dying herself soon thereafter. German Director F.W. Murnau (Sunrise) creates a unique horror movie that dramatizes the power of sacrifice. A vampire's evil power is terminated by the selfless act of a woman described as “pure in heart.”
Ride the High Country (1962)
The best Westerns are morality tales. One of the finest is Ride the High Country, a complex character study about two former sheriffs who've outlived their time and find it difficult to adjust. It's the beginning of the 20th century, and elderly gunslinger Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) is hired to escort a gold shipment from a mining town to a nearby bank. He enlists the help of fellow former lawman Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) and his much younger sidekick Heck (Ronald Starr) who conspire to rip off Judd and his employer. On the way they encounter a bad-tempered rancher (R.G. Armstrong) and his daughter (Mariette Hartley) who disrupt their plans.
Director Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) fashions a subtle, ironic tribute to the values of the Old West in which few people behave as you would expect. The two aging gunmen are both motivated by a desire for self-respect, but their differing codes of honor lead to conflict.
— John Prizer
BY John Prizer
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
This Oscar-winning adaptation of the novel is the chronicle of a Welsh coal-mining family in the early 20th century as remembered by its youngest son (Roddy McDowall). Huw Morgan's father (Donald Crisp) and five older brothers work in the mines. However, Huw is considered smart enough to aim higher, gaining admittance to a school that sends its best students to university. Hard times bring lower wages and an attempt at unionization. A strike divides the family, pitting the oldest sons against the father and Huw who decides to remain in the mines rather than enter the middle class. Director John Ford ( Stagecoach) masterfully evokes the rituals of the Morgans' working-class life — the scrubbing off of coal dust after work, the weekly collection of wages, the family meals and the constant singing.
George Wallace (1997)
The Democratic governor of Alabama defiantly standing in the doorway of the state university to block the admission of the first black students in 1963 is part of the American memory. In this Emmy-winning cable TV mini-series, Wallace (Gary Sinise) is first seen as a promising liberal politician who is defeated in his initial race for governor because he publicly attacks the Ku Klux Klan. Vowing never to make that mistake again, he abandons his conscience and becomes a hard-core segregationist. Director John Frankenheimer ( The Manchurian Candidate) dramatizes his change of heart in later years as the governor begs forgiveness from the black community he once opposed.
— John Prizer
BY Jim Cosgrove
Freedom Song (2000)
This cable-TV movie, is set in the small town of Quinlan, Miss., in 1961.
Owen Walker (Vicellous Reon Shannon) is an African-American teen-ager who's trained by an out-of-state political organizer, Daniel Wall (Vondi Curtis Hall), to sit in at libraries, bus stations and lunch counters. When they try to register blacks to vote, they encounter the full force of the region's brutal racism and the Klu Klux Klan.
Writer-director Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams) emphasizes the heroism of local activists of all ages as well as the boldness of the Kennedy administration's Justice Department.
Panic in the Streets (1950)
Panic in the Streets skillfully presents the behind-the-scenes drama of how plagues are kept under control in a modern American city.
Police discover a corpse on a New Orleans dock. Detective Captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) correctly thinks it's a case of murder. But Dr. Clinton Reed (Richard Widmark), a federal official, diagnoses the body as also carrying the bubonic plague. Director Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront) constructs a moody, atmospheric thriller with a documentary look.
Arts & Culture correspondent
John Prizer writes from Los Angeles.