Relaxify, folks, and I hope you enjoy these film suggestions as much as I enjoyed writing them. Dr. Aaron (that would be me) recommends that you/we all shut off the news, put aside the newspapers, and seek balance somewhere between Santa getting kidnapped by Martians, and Godzilla seeking resolution to his inner child/monster codependent issues which, being unresolved, manifest themselves in extreme antisocial behaviors. Now go get your hands on these movies, make yourself a plate of cookies and milk, and relaxify for a while. Below are my top 14 picks. I wonder what order your cinematic tastes would put them in. And if for one day you could be one character, in one of the movies listed... which character would you choose?
#14 Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)
Starring John Call as Santa, Vincent Beck as Voldar, and a bunch of cute Martian and Earth kids. It happens that TV shows which are broadcast on Earth can be, and were, picked up on Mars. Martian kids had fallen in love with Christmas and Santa, and the parents of those kids were not happy about having no presents delivered by the Big Fella. Is seems that Mars was not on Santa’s flight plan. So, the parents arrange for a space ship to head to earth to kidnap him. The plot thickens from there, as does one Martian’s belly later in the movie, compliments of a pillow and a Santa suit. Billy and Betty, two Earth children, and Santa, are taken by the Martians and find themselves on Mars. Do not fear for Santa, folks, and never underestimate the man’s abilities…..even on Mars! Even in a very, very low-budget film.
#13 Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)
Starring Deborah Wally as Gidget, James Darren as Moondoggie, Michael Callen as Eddie, Vickie Trickett as Abby, and a whole lot of hunky guys, curvy gals, curlin’ waves, beaches, palm trees and various surfers. Gidget loves Moondoggie and does not want to leave him behind when her parents offer her a trip to Hawaii. On the flight to Hawaii, Gidget meets another teenage girl, Abby, who tells her to forget her love and think of the cute guys she is soon to meet. Abby finds herself regretting her encouragement and being jealous of Gidget’s popularity among the boys. Teenagers at their best throughout this movie, replete with their oh-so-mature conceptions of love and deep relationships…yeah. Really. I promise, but an early 1960’s surfer movie sort of promise. The Gidget movies are good clean fun, and a fine representation of the innocence which still abounded then, and still abounds in some of us now. Surfs up, Dudes and Dudettes! Enjoy the flick!
#12 King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
King Kong and Godzilla star in this collaborative USA/Japan oddity of a movie. In 1955, the good guys defeated the radiation-breathing Godzilla, as was documented in the 1955 movie “Godzilla Raids Again.” The big guy had been encased in a glacial ice tomb, presumably never to be seen again. Presumptions, of course, are often incorrect. A drug company chairman, Mr. Tako, discovers that the large berries which grow on Farou Island would be a boon to his company’s business. On that Island, the natives’ deity is King Kong. Kong’s diet is heavy on those berries, so Mr. Tako captures Kong and brings him back to Japan as a marketing gimmick. What could possibly go wrong? While this is going on, some Americans discover Godzilla’s frozen crypt. The plot unfolds from there, bringing both of the big guys to Tokyo, where they meet and engage in their personal confrontations. The oddity of this movie is evident in much of the action, as American and Japanese film-making shows a conflict in methodology. It is also odd because it is not every day that Tokyo gets destroyed by a giant radiation-breathing creature with unresolved inner child-monster codependent issues, battling a deified gorilla with a growth hormone imbalance which allowed him to escape his captors. How very fortunate we are that such an incident as this epic battle between two maladjusted heavy weights was captured on film.
#11 101 Dalmations (1961)
Featuring the voices of Rod Taylor (Pongo), Cate Bauer (Perdita) and Betty Lou Gerson (Cruella De Vil). Pongo and Perdita are two Dalmatians who have a litter of 15 adorable puppies. Cruella De Vil is worthy of her first name, a play on the word “Cruel” as she had her eyes set on making a coat out of the spotted skins of the Dalmatians. Even though Cruella’s intentions were unknown to them at the time, the owners of Pongo and Perdita’s puppies refused Cruella’s offer to buy the new arrivals, so Cruella hired bandits to steal them. Many adventures ensue, and the local animals in London help to locate the missing pups. This movie is one of Disney’s best, and is not to be missed. Even if you have seen it, perhaps some years or decades ago, I recommend you watch it again. It is filled with love, hope, decency (except for Cruella and some bandits and assorted nogoodniks), more love and a very happy ending. Lift your spirits, embolden your sense of faith that positive outcomes are always possible, and enjoy yourself for an hour and 20 minutes. Smile muscles are good to exercise!
#10 The Jungle Book (1967)
Featuring the voices of Phil Harris (Baloo the bear), Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera the panther), Bruce Reitherman (Mowgli the man cub) just to name a few. The songs and the animation in this Disney movie have, and will continue to, stand the tests of time. Mowgli is a young boy, known as a man cub to the animals, who was lost by his family after an accident, and was raised by wolves. Bagheera believes that Mowgli must be returned to his own kind, but Baloo disagrees and takes Mowgli to teach him that jungle life is best for all. When Baloo come to see things like Bagheera does, Mowgli runs off into the jungle. Deep into the movie, a pretty man-cub girl comes into play….you will have to watch the movie to see what happens from there. Great music; great animated dancing; good triumphing over evil in the jungle; this movie will leave you feeling as bouncy and bubbly as Baloo singing Bare Necessities.
#9 The Alamo (1960)
Oscar winner for best sound. Nominated for best picture, best supporting role, cinematography and 3 other categories. Set in 1836 and directed by John Wayne, and starring John Wayne as Davy Crockett, Laurence Harvey as Colonel William Travis, Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie, Jester Hairston as Jethro (not Tull) and Chill Wills as Beekeeper. American General Sam Houston needs Colonel Travis to hold a place called the Alamo until the General can organize a main defense against the Mexican army. The Alamo mission was initially manned by 100 Texan soldiers, facing 1,500 Mexican army soldiers who were led by General Santa Anna. Even with the additional men provided by Colonel Travis, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, the 10-day battle was destined to be a victory for the Mexican army. That victory sparked both panic and a rush to join the fight for the newly-declared Republic of Texas. This is an epic story of early American history.
#8 The Time Machine (1960)
Starring Rod Taylor as H. G. Wells, Alan Young and Yvette Mimieux in this must-see telling of one of H.G. Wells’ best stories. On January 5, 1900, Mr. Wells, known as George to his close friends, has returned from his time machine travels, and is telling his friends about what he has seen. Five nights earlier, on New Year’s Eve of the new century, these men had been gathered in the same room, talking about George’s theory on time travel. During those 5 days, George has traveled thousands of years into the future, interacting with and studying people of different time periods on Earth. Mr. H. G. Wells is not happy living in the time that he is in. The wars, carnage and human suffering are more than he wants to be around. This is an absolute must-see classic of a movie. The moral lessons, scientific questions, human endeavors and tragedies encountered – all are worthy of the couple of hours engaged in treating yourself to this film. The plot twist at the end of the movie will leave you pondering many “What if…” notions.
#7 The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)
Starring Jason Evers and Virginia Leath, as a surgeon and a severed head, respectively. The head is alive, thanks to the skill of Dr. Cortner, played by Jason Evers. The good doctor and his girlfriend, Jan Compton (soon to be the head), are driving too fast one evening and he wrecks the car. He is thrown free of the wreckage, but Jan is trapped in the burning vehicle. Somehow the doctor saves her head, and the adventure begins. He has been experimenting with questionably-ethical techniques of transplants on animals, and presumably on a creature which is kept padlocked in a closet in his laboratory. Dr. Cortner gets his gal’s severed head to the laboratory, keeps it alive, and then seeks out a replacement body for her. The story is bizarre to say the least, and it gets even stranger. Remember, and do not forget the creature in the closet, for he comes out to play. Filmed in the early 1960’s, when we did not have the computer-generated capabilities which too often make today’s movies all too graphic, this movie allows our own imaginations free room to roam. “Oh give me a home, where imaginations roam, where my fiancée’s head is alive in a jar…” That would be in the key of C Major, set the melody of “Home on The Range.”
#6 West Side Story (1961)
Oscar winner in 10 categories, including best picture, supporting roles, music and directing. Starring Rita Moreno, Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, George Chakiris, Russ Tamblin and Officer Krupke! Two rival New York City street gangs, white and Puerto Rican respectively, find themselves in a bit of a pickle when the leader of the white gang (Jets) falls in love with the sister of the leader of the Puerto Rican gang (Latino Sharks) which is, of course, a romance headed for disaster. There are too many well-known songs in this movie to list, written by Leonard Bernstein. When I see this movie there is a part of me each time which still hopes for a different ending…just like when I read the opening chapter of Genesis each year. I always hope that Adam and Eve will not eat that apple!
#5 The Music Man (1962)
Oscar winner for best music. Starring Robert Preston as Harold Hill, Shirley Jones (sigh…..) as Marian Paroo, Buddy Hackett as Marcellus Washburn, and a few dozen kids learning how to play every instrument that can find its way into a marching band. Set around the beginning of the 1900’s, Harold Hill is a con-man. He sells himself off as a professor of music. After promising to teach the children of small towns how to play and perform as a marching band, he convinces small towns to collect lots of money for instruments, music and uniforms, and then absconds with the funds. The cad! The scallywag of a nogoodnick! And then romance steps in to teach the Professor a lesson in character development. He falls in love with the local librarian – Marian Librarian, as the song in the movie goes. This is a 100% feel-good movie, complete with love, comedy, threats of betrayal, lots of cute kids, lots of trombones and a very happy ending. There is one really adorable youngster who works particularly hard to learn his instrument. Who is he? Watch the film and find out. You will enjoy the 2 ½ hours you spend with this one.
#4 Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Though some are a bit obscure, this 1 ½ hour movie features 11 of our favorite creatures from those classic Japanese monster movies. Also starring in this film are brave Japanese soldiers, astronauts and citizens of Tokyo.
Q) – What do you call a night on the town in New York with Godzilla, in Moscow with Rodan and in Peking with Mothra?
A) – Total chaos! And a good night to stay home and order in from Moshe’s Deli.
Godzilla and his buddies have been imprisoned on Monster Land Island for a number of years. One fine day, a group of Kilaaks – alien women from outer space (redundant?) arrive. They place the monsters and the humans on the island under the mind control of the ladies. Ladies? In the eye of the beholder, as the saying goes. These gals direct the monsters to destroy the major cities on Earth, so that the Kilaaks can gain dominion over our beloved big blue spinning ball of a planet. The Japanese rocket ship X-2 is Earth’s only hope. The mission of the X-2 is to infiltrate and destroy the alien’s base on the moon. Let us hope that their mission is successful. I think we all would prefer not to be ruled by evil-hearted women from outer space, and their mind-controlled and ill-tempered monsters.
#3 Mothra (1961)
Starring Emi and Ymi Ito, Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi and a rather large butterfly wannabe. On an island somewhere near Japan, it appears that one too many atomic tests have been conducted. The island is inhabited by mutant plants, a few remaining members of the native tribe, a plant with vampire-like tendencies, two cute gals that are 12 inches tall and sing nicely, and a moth deity that had a difficult pupahood. All of the local residents are sick of their island being used for atomic testing. Can you blame them? An expedition to the island results in the ladies being kidnapped, taken to Tokyo and featured in a “Secret Fairies Show.” The girls, and their people who are still on the island, call upon their moth deity, Mothra, to save the day. Can Mothra withstand the military might of the Japanese army? Do the 12 inch tall girls survive the ensuing wreckage that Mothra inflicts upon Tokyo? I’m not telling, and you can’t make me. I’ll tell you this, though: You may never look at moths in your house or in your garden the same way after seeing this flick.
#2 The Hustler (1961)
Oscar winner for best cinematography and art direction in black-and-white films. Starring Jackie Gleason, Paul Newman and Piper Laurie. Paul Newman is a fabulous young pool shark. His ability to control the cue ball is outstanding. Jackie Gleason is a generation older, a generation classier, and a generation wiser. And, he is a better player. The drama in this movie is phenomenal, as is the action on the pool table, and there is a romance angle written into the plot. That is where Piper Laurie comes in. Grab a cold refreshing beverage and some pretzels, and enjoy this wonderful film. It is in black-and-white, so don’t fiddle with the color controls on your television.
#1 How The West Was Won (1962)
Oscar winner for best writing, story, sound, screenplay and editing. Featured in this almost 3-hour epic movie is about half of the Hollywood stars and starlets of the era, including John Wayne, Harry Morgan, Jimmie Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Gregory Peck, Carolyn Jones, Walter Brennen and Karl Malden. The story of this movie covers early days of the settlers of The West, beginning with Jimmie Stewart’s role as Linus, a mountain man who meets up with a family of settlers heading west on a river. Linus ends up with one daughter of the settlers, and the daughter’s sister meets up with a gambler, played by Gregory Peck, further along in the script. We meet Linus again later, as the Civil War is under way. This movie is a masterful tale of American history, covering 1830 until the 1880s. We see some of our greatest actors and actresses woven into the vignettes of their part of the movie, and then the story moves on, leaving their fate to our imagination for a while. Debbie Reynolds shines throughout this movie. If you have not seen this one, you owe yourself the experience. This is pure quality from start to finish.
Aaron Ainbinder is the author of “Just Before the Stroke of Seven”.