Ahhhh….the 1970s. I had my Bar Mitzvah in 1972, graduated high school in 1977, and somehow survived Empire of The Ants, The Thing With Two Heads, The Man who Fell to Earth, Airport, Soylent Green, Godzilla movies, a female King Kong and Willard (though rats still creep me out.) Once in a while, and particularly during this period of viral isolation we are all experiencing, I feel well-suited to be a character in Cuckoo’s Nest, but that is another matter. Below are my top 13 picks for movies from the 1970s. My reference to Cuckoo’s Nest aside, I must pause to consider which character in the list of movies below, I would most like to be for a day. I wonder, Dear Reader, which character you would choose to be, and why… do let us know. There might just be a sequel to the movie someday, and you could be discovered and made famous as, what, the next Mechagodzilla or Queen Kong?
#13 Queen Kong (1976)
Starring Robin Askwith as Ray Fay, Rula Lenska as Luce (Loose?) Habit, Valerie Leon as Queen of the Nabongas, a number of film crew girls and one rather fetching giant female ape, aptly named Queen Kong. I like Rula Lenska’s name, as I knew a fine lady named Marcille Rula. For bad B-Movie purists, this one is the cherry sitting on top of the whipped cream of life. A female counterpart to King Kong falls in love with a film crew’s leading male actor, Ray Fay, who has been taken captive by a village of ladies led by the bikini-wearing High Priestess, played by Valerie Leon. The village gals put Ray inside a cake and leave him as a sacrifice, on a large table, for Queen Kong to eat. I wonder if the Queen loved Ray Fay because of his name. Could she have equally loved an Alex, Lucien or Charlie?
Truly a strange parody film of the original King Kong, substituting London for New York as the city to be wrecked by the Queen. I think it is very touching that both genders have been represented in the world of giant apes. Don’t you?
#12 The Thing With Two Heads (1972)
What do you get when you transplant the head of a very wealthy but dying white racist surgeon onto the body of a black death-row prisoner who, in real life, was a large man that played in the NFL? You get an hour and a half oddity of a movie. Stars of the movie are Roosevelt (Rosey) Grier, Don Marshall, Roger Perry, and Ray Milland. It is said that two heads are better than one. The death row inmate figures that with two heads, he and the racist doctor can prove Rosey’s innocence after they break out of prison. So they do, and they try, and will they succeed? You will have to sit through a number of motorcycle vs. car race-and-wreck scenes and numerous one-liners which may just cause your beverage to come out your nose in a fit of belly-jiggling laughter. This is 90 minutes of pure enjoyment, goofy plot lines and silliness out the proverbial wazoo.
#11 Willard (1971)
Starring Bruce Davidson, Ernest Borgnine, Alan Baxter, Joan Shawlee and a quite a few highly intelligent, well-trained, loyal and vicious (to those who did Willard wrong) rats. Willard, played by Bruce Davidson, is a rather shy maladjusted social outcast. He has no friends, works at his deceased father’s business and is living with his equally maladjusted mother. In his spare time, he trains highly intelligent rats, which are numerous on the grounds of his home. Willard ends up having an army of his four-legged, long-tailed soldiers, waiting to do his bidding. His best rat-students are Ben and Socrates. When his mother dies, Willard wants revenge on his bully of a boss, played by Ernest Borgnine. The rats are ready to be commanded by Willard, and they do their jobs well. More than a rat-horror movie, this one really is quite touching on an emotional level. Lots of ethical lessons to be gleaned if one is awake to such things.
#10 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Aliens, which clearly resemble monkeys, have created a mechanical version of Godzilla in their quest to take over Earth. Hence, the name “Mechagodzilla, and their creation proves to be quite the challenge for Godzilla, who must seek out the help of monster King Seesar on Okinawa Island. Mechagodzilla is a dashing and well-armed titanium version of Godzilla. Angiurus, one of Godzilla’s friends, comes to help fight the alien monster. Angiurus’ demise is rather gruesome, but monsters play and fight rough. It is not easy being Godzilla, I am told, let alone one of his friends in the middle of a fight with a mechanical monster who is seeking to help aliens take over our planet. It’s a rough job, but some monster has to do it. Let us all be grateful that Godzilla is on the right side of good vs. evil.
#9 Soylent Green” (1973)
If anyone in this movie had been named Mr. or Ms. Vegan, then “eating vegan” would have yet another connotation. Winner of Best Science Fiction Film awarded by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA. Starring Brock Peters, Edward G. Robinson, Charlton Heston, Chuck Connors, Paula Kelly and a host of others. Our lovely planet Earth, in the year 2022, was overpopulated and completely polluted. Food was all but impossible to produce, other than an allegedly plankton-based item produced by Soylent Industries. The head of the company winds up dead, and the New York City detective who is investigating the death uncovers what turns up to be a dirty secret about the ingredients used in producing the food people were eating. Charlton Heston is the detective, and his part is played beautifully. Make yourself a Vegemite sandwich or two, and enjoy this jewel of a film.
#8 The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1975)
Best Fantasy Film, Best Stop-Motion Animation by Ray Harryhausen - Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA. John Phillip Law stars as Sinbad in this fantastic fantasy film, interwoven with the mythology of ancient Greek/Roman/Fantasyland/Arabian times. Sinbad is on a voyage, seeking a fountain with healing powers on a faraway island, to cure the ills of his Vizier, played by Douglas Wilmer. Sinbad’s crew, including the lovely Caroline Munro and Aldo Sambrell, encounters fantastic beasts, mythological monsters and adventures galore. Ray Harryhausen is/was a master at his craft of animation. The films which include his work are classics not to be missed. Long before today’s high-tech computerized graphics, it took the artistic ingenuity of this man to pull off the high level of complicated animation he brought to us.
#7 Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
An all-star cast, featuring Godzilla, Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus! These three honed their method-acting skills on, in or under some secret radioactive island in a remote hideaway location somewhere off the coast of Japan. This film is a follow-up from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. International agents, while searching for pieces of Mechagodzilla at the bottom of the sea, are attacked by Titanosaurus. (Cue the somber music.) They were looking for clues about the aliens who, in their attempt to take over Earth, created Mechagodzilla. What a dastardly mission those aliens were on. Didn’t their Mother teach them manners? I bet their Mom’s tried, anyway. Enough of my moral pontifications! Godzilla finds himself facing both Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus, both of whom are being aided by a mad scientist who is angry at the world. Can Godzilla save Tokyo, let alone the entire Earth? Will his atomic heat ray prove to be weaponry enough against such vile mechanical villains? Maybe. Maybe not. You owe yourself the pleasure of watching this one for yourself.
#6 Empire of the Ants (1977)
Starring Joan Collins (sigh...), Robert Lansing, Janie Gavin, Albert Salmi and quite a few 6-legged picnic annoyances, of giant size, afflicted with need-to-be-in-control issues and possessing irritably carnivorous dispositions. Ms. Collins (sigh…) plays a con artist real estate gal, selling land in Florida. The land, as you might already suspect, is not picnic-friendly at all. This is truly one of the worst-case scenarios of what can happen when ants feast on radioactive waste. There are some very dramatic scenes in this one, particularly as a rowboat filled with the movie’s heroes makes its way through the waters of Florida, being herded along by giant ants on land. Mind control practices, using radiation-created ant pheromones of some sort, come into play. This brings up moral and mutant animal rights issues which are, thankfully, beyond the scope of this revue.
#5 The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976)
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA – David Bowie won for Best Actor. David Bowie, legendary rock-n-roll star, is featured in this compelling movie. Those of us who are familiar with his music might have the “Spiders From Mars” album come to mind, and rightfully so. In the movie, he plays Thomas Newton, a traveler from another planet whose space ship malfunctions and strands him here in Earth. He had come to visit us in search of water resources to bring back to his planet. In order to raise enough money to build another ship, he starts up a tech company. Along the way, hedonistic living gets Mr. Newton in its iron grip and all but destroys him. He is abducted by our government, tortured and………you’ll have to get your hands on this movie to find out what happens. This is a really odd movie, with lots of loose ends and a story line which mirrors David Bowies struggles in real life, minus his guitar and the Spiders From Mars. Ziggy played guitar…
#4 Slaughterhouse Five (1972)
Winner of Best Science Fiction Film awarded by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA. Starring Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim, Ron Leibman as Paul Lazzaro, Friedrich Von Ledebur as the German Leader, and a string of other characters, each perfectly suited for their roles. Billy Pilgrim is “unstuck in time” and jumps around the time continuum, living occasionally in Tralfamador (wherever that is in time and space), living for a while as a POW, as an optometrist and in the German city of Dresden, as it is being fire-bombed in WWII. Kurt Vonnegut authored the book “Slaughterhouse Five” and this movie does it justice. The movie is at times comedic, at times dramatic, at times very confusing, and very thought provoking. I suggest reading the book, as well as watching the movie.
#3 Airport – (1970)
Oscar winner for Best Picture. Starring Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy, Jacqueline Bissett (sigh…), Maureen Stapleton, Helen Hayes, Barbara Hale…and other notable Hollywood folks from the day. This is one of the zaniest, funniest, slapstickest, twisted and memorable films of the 1970s. Every imaginable challenge arises during 24 hours of running an airport, flying an airplane, managing a marriage, running an office, and thwarting a bomber. If you are overdue for a zany escape from reality, this film is for you. Unless, of course, your own life is zany and twisted and somewhat unmanageable enough for your liking. But even if it is, your problems will pale in comparison with those in this movie. Grab a six-pack of cold soda, a bag of pretzels, and enjoy.
#2 Patton (1970)
Winner of 7 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Lead Role and Best Director. Starring George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Strong and a host of other very strong actors. General George S. Patton is, without question, one of the best known war-hero characters from movies of this genre and era. The film tells of his campaign in North Africa, the Allied invasion of Europe and the fall of the Third Reich. The acting and action is phenomenal, poignant, patriotic and emotionally moving. To add more superlatives would be superfluous. If your sense of gratitude and patriotism could use a boost, get your hands on this one and remember how blessed we all are to be living in the United States of America. And the next time you see a veteran from WWII – there are still some around – tip your hat to him or her and tell them “Thank you.”
#1 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Writing awards from the Oscars. One of the most memorable movies I have ever seen. Starring Jack Nickolson, Louise Fletcher (sigh….), Scatman Crothers, Chief Sampson, Brad Dourif (Billy Bibbit) Danny DeVito and the rest of the memorable crew of cuckoo folks. And did I mention Louise Fletcher (sigh……)? Kind of a wicked gal’s character, but an alluring air surrounds that lovely lady. Mr. R. P. McMurphy (Jack Nickolson) pleads insanity to avoid prison, and finds himself in a setting which is almost more than he can handle. The two things that McMurphy likes to do cannot be printed here, but suffice it to say that he is a free-wheeling guy in all ways. The drama in this movie is intense, funny, heart-warming and tragic all at the same time while being individually woven into the fabric of the tale. I know which characters I can most relate to. Watch the movie and then please let us know which characters touch a psychic nerve in you!
Aaron Ainbinder is the author of “Just Before the Stroke of Seven”.