'Dirty Harry' Among Films Enshrined in National Film Registry
The Librarian of Congress picks his latest 25 films for inclusion; "A Christmas Story," "The Matrix," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Sons of the Desert," "Slacker" and "A League of Their Own" also make the list.
3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Considered to be one of the best Westerns of the 1950s, 3:10 to Yuma has gained in stature since its original release as audiences have recognized the progressive insight the film provides into the psychology of its two main characters that becomes vividly exposed during scenes of heightened tension. Frankie Laine sang the film’s popular theme song, also titled “3:10 to Yuma.” Often compared favorably to High Noon, this innovative Western from director Delmer Daves starred Glenn Ford and Van Heflin in roles cast against type and was based on a short story by Leonard.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Director Preminger brought a new cinematic frankness to film with this gripping crime-and-trial movie shot on location in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the incident on which it was based had occurred. Controversial in its day due to its blunt language and willingness to openly discuss adult themes, Anatomy -- starring Stewart, Ben Gazzara and Lee Remick -- endures today for its first-rate drama, suspense and informed perspective on the legal system. The film includes an innovative jazz score by Duke Ellington and one of Saul Bass’ most memorable opening-title sequences.
The Augustas (1930s-50s)
Scott Nixon, a traveling salesman based in Augusta, Ga., was an avid member of the Amateur Cinema League who enjoyed recording his travels on film. In this 16-minute silent film, Nixon documents some 38 streets, storefronts and cities named Augusta in such far-flung locales as Montana and Maine. Arranged with no apparent rhyme or reason, the film strings together brief snapshots of these Augustas, many of which are indicated at pencil-point on a train timetable or roadmap. Nixon photographed his odyssey using both 8mm and 16mm cameras loaded with black-and-white and color film, amassing 26,000 feet of film that now resides at the University of South Carolina. While Nixon’s film does not illuminate the historical or present-day significance of these towns, it binds them under the umbrella of Americana. Whether intentionally or coincidentally, this amateur auteur seems to juxtapose the name’s lofty origin – “august,” meaning great or venerable -- with the unspectacular nature of everyday life in small-town America.
Born Yesterday (1950)
Holliday’s sparkling lead performance as not-so-dumb “dumb blonde” Billie Dawn anchors this comedy classic based on Garson Kanin’s play and directed for the screen by George Cukor. Kanin’s satire on corruption in Washington, adapted for the screen by Albert Mannheimer, is full of charm and wit while subtly addressing issues of class, gender, social standing and American politics. Holliday’s work in the film (a role she had played on Broadway) was honored with the Academy Award for best actress and has endured as one of the era’s most finely realized comedy performances.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Capote’s acclaimed novella -- the bitter story of self-invented Manhattan call girl Holly Golightly -- arrived on the big screen purged of its risque dialogue and unhappy ending. George Axelrod’s screenplay excised explicit references to Holly’s livelihood and added an emotionally moving romance, resulting, in Capote’s view, in “a mawkish valentine to New York City.” Capote believed that Marilyn Monroe would have been perfect for the film and judged Hepburn, who landed the lead, “just wrong for the part.” Critics and audiences, however, have disagreed. The Los Angeles Times stated, “Miss Hepburn makes the complex Holly a vivid, intriguing figure.” Feminist critics in recent times have valued Hepburn’s portrayals of the period as providing a welcome alternative female role model to the dominant sultry siren of the 1950s. Hepburn conveyed intelligent curiosity, exuberant impetuosity, delicacy combined with strength and authenticity that often emerged behind a knowingly false facade. Critics also have lauded the movie’s director Blake Edwards for his creative visual gags and facility at navigating the film’s abrupt changes in tone. Composer Henry Mancini’s classic “Moon River,” featuring lyrics by Johnny Mercer, also received critical acclaim. Mancini considered Hepburn’s wistful rendition of the song on guitar the best he had heard.
A Christmas Story (1983)
Humorist Jean Shepherd narrates this memoir of growing up in Hammond, Ind., during the 1940s, when his greatest ambition was to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The film is based in part on Shepherd’s 1966 compilation of short stories titled In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, which originated on his radio and television programs. Writer-director Bob Clark had long dreamed of making a movie based on Shepherd’s work, and his reverence for the material shows through as detail after nostalgic detail rings true with period flavor. Dozens of small but expertly realized moments reflect an astute understanding of human nature. Peter Billingsley -- with his cherubic cheeks, oversized glasses and giddy grin -- portrays Shepherd as a boy. Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon are his harried-yet-lovable parents.
The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight (1897)
Independently produced motion picture recordings of famous boxing contests were a leading factor in establishing the commercial success of movies in the late 19th century. Championship matches were the most widely popular sporting contests in America in that era, even though the sport was banned in many states in the 1890s. Soon after Nevada legalized boxing in 1897, the “Gentleman” Jim Corbett-Bob Fitzsimmons title fight was held in Carson City on St. Patrick’s Day that year. The film recorded the introductions of famous personalities in attendance and all 14 of the fight’s three-minute rounds, plus the one-minute breaks between rounds. With a running time of about 100 minutes, The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight was the longest movie produced at that time. Films of championship matches before 1897 had been unsuccessful because they ended too quickly with knockouts, leaving movie audiences unwilling to pay high ticket prices to see such short films. Corbett-Fitzsimmons was a tremendous commercial success for the producers and contestants Corbett and Fitzsimmons (the victor), generating an estimated $750,000 in income during the several years that it remained in distribution. This film also is deserving of a footnote in the technical history of motion pictures. Producers of early boxing films protected their films from piracy by engineering film printers and projectors that could only accept film stock of a proprietary size. The film prints of the fight were manufactured in a unique 63mm format that could only be run on a special projector advertised as “The Veriscope.”
Dirty Harry (1971)
Eastwood’s role as rogue Police Inspector Harry Callahan in director Don Siegel’s action-packed, controversial paean to vigilante justice marked a major turning point in the actor’s career. A top 10 box-office hit after its release, Dirty Harry struck a nerve in the era’s politically polarized atmosphere with those who believed that concern over suspects’ rights had gone too far. While a number of critics characterized the film as “fascistic,” Eastwood countered that Harry -- who disregards police procedure and disobeys his superiors -- represents “a fantasy character” who “does all the things people would like to do in real life but can’t.” “Dirty Harry,” he stated later, was ahead of its time, putting the “rights of the victim” above those of the accused. The film’s kinesthetic direction and editing laid the aesthetic groundwork for many of the 1970s’ gritty, realistic police dramas.
Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2 (1980-82)
Nathaniel Dorsky shot the footage for what would become his silent tone poem, Hours for Jerome, between 1966 and 1970. He edited that footage during a two-year period. The film’s title evokes the liturgical “Book of Hours,” a medieval series of devotional prayers recited at eight-hour intervals throughout the day. Dorsky’s personal devotional loosely records the daily events of the filmmaker and his partner as an arrangement of images, energies and illuminations. The camera intimately surveys the surroundings, from the pastoral to the cosmopolitan, as fragments of light revolve around the four seasons. Part 1 presents spring through summer, and Part 2 looks at fall and winter -- a full year in 45 minutes. Named filmmaker of the decade in 2010 by Film Comment magazine, Dorsky creates his works to be projected at silent speed, between 17 and 20 frames per second instead of the usual 24 fps for sound film. Projecting his movies at sound film speed, he writes, “is to strip them of their ability to open the heart and speak properly to their audience. Not only is the specific use of time violated, but the flickering threshold of cinema’s illusion -- a major player in these works -- is obscured.”
The Kidnappers Foil (1930s-50s)
For three decades, Dallas native Melton Barker and his company traveled through the Southern and Central sections of the U.S. filming local children acting, singing and dancing in two-reel narrative films, all of which Barker titled The Kidnappers Foil. Barker recognized that many people enjoyed seeing themselves, their children and their communities on film. Since home movies were an expensive hobby, he developed a business to provide them. Other itinerant filmmakers produced similar fare, but Barker appears to have been the most prolific. Enlisting local movie theaters and newspapers to sponsor and promote the productions, Barker auditioned children and offered “acting lessons” to the most promising for a fee of a few dollars. He then assembled 50 to 75 would-be Shirley Temples and Jackie Coopers, ages 3 to 12, to act out the melodramatic story: A young girl is kidnapped from her birthday party and eventually rescued by a search party of local kids. After the “rescue,” the relieved townsfolk would celebrate with a party where the budding stars showcased their musical talents. A few weeks after filming, the town would screen the 15- to 20-minute picture to the delight of the local audience. Most prints of these films no longer exist, though some have been discovered in vintage movie houses or local historical societies. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image holds a collection of these itinerant films and hosts Internet resources for those who appeared in them as children.
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