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    Off the Wahl: Four Fabulous Films

    By Jan Wahl–

    Wonderful movies stay wonderful, deep, rich and unforgettable. Whether you are seeing a movie for the first time, discovering new pleasures, or revisiting old friends … good films only get better as time goes by (sorry, Casablanca!). Four perfect examples are:

    My Favorite Year (1982)

    A young writer on a popular live TV show of the 1950s is asked to keep a watchful eye on the show’s guest star that week. The star is a bona fide movie superstar, but gone to seed with drink, womanizing, and everything else decadent. The star is the swashbuckling hero of our young TV writer, and through a series of bizarre adventures must find out that even feet of clay might be hiding a true-life hero. 

    Peter O’Toole should have won the Oscar for his nominated portrayal of Alan Swann, a character based on the legendary Errol Flynn. Mel Brooks has constantly said that this is his recollection of having to keep Flynn sober and upright while he (Brooks) was working as an assistant/gag writer on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. An absolutely terrific movie with a most satisfying ending.

    A Face in the Crowd (1957)

    How relevant can you get? Remember who is in the Oval Office and then watch this powerful film. A journalist discovers a down home singing philosopher and puts him on her TV show. His aw-shucks style, personality, and humor land him a large following. Soon he has ratings, power, and prestige. 

    Off the air, he becomes vengeful, power mad, and intensely political. Soon, his megalomania forces his original discoverer to pull the plug, if it is not too late. Director Elia Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg capture what can happen when this kind of dangerous man becomes the one who pulls the political strings. Nobody expected Andy Griffith to play Lonesome Rhodes, but his performance is surprising and altogether too real.

     Auntie Mame (1958)

    Flamboyant and eccentric Mame Dennis informed my life and those of many of my friends. Based on the Patrick Dennis novel about his life with his Auntie Mame, this film features a young boy who is brought up by his only surviving relative: a madcap and wealthy woman. 

    Rosalind Russell is perfectly cast in the lead, with colorful character players surrounding her. If it’s possible to pull focus from the divine Miss Russell, Coral Browne manages to do so as Mame’s best friend Vera Charles. The clothes by Orry Kelly are some of my favorites, with my own BFF Donna Sachet someday modeling some of these glorious fashions. That may be only in my dreams, but this movie is perfect for those of us looking for a role model or relishing the one onscreen for all these years. After all, “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Mame, you go, girl!

    Network (1976)

    As relevant now as it was then, this scathing indictment of the television news industry lives with us in every newscast at present. I’ve worked much of my life in this world, always concerned that the news division would be overwhelmed by the entertainment departments since showbiz brought with it money and ratings, and diffused all that is crucial to the world stage. 

    It happened, and this movie shows us the details and beginnings of it. A famed newscaster’s mental breakdown turns him into a national celebrity as the network exploits his behavior. Each individual character is startingly realistic. Many Oscars went to this one, though never enough since it remains one of the best films of all time.

    There are many films to see right now at one of our local theatres, via cable, or streaming. Please check out: Parasite, Bombshell, Jo Jo Rabbit, 1917, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Gay Chorus Deep South, Little Women, and The Peanut Butter Falcon.

    Emmy Award-winner Jan Wahl is a renowned entertainment reporter, producer, and teacher. A member of the prestigious Directors Guild of America, she is regularly featured on KCBS AM & FM, KRON TV, and other media outlets. 

    Spotlight Film for SF Pride 50: Big Eden (2020)

    By Jan Wahl–

    You can go home again! This sweet and romantic film tells the story of a young artist living in New York City. His grandfather has a stroke and he goes home to his small town in Montana. Everyone he knows seems to want to play matchmaker, finding another young man for this troubled out of towner. 

    He himself rekindles a crush on a former high school chum. He is a shy general store/post office manager who turns this into one of the sweetest, most touching romances ever. Directed and written by Thomas Bezucha, the film is one that I originally saw at Frameline and never forgot.     

    Published on February 13, 2020