HOLLYWOOD’S political sympathies — so far as they are revealed in films — are broadly of the Left. No contemporary thriller is complete without a corrupt Wall Street tycoon, a crooked military chief or sinister corporation. It was not always so. I remember communists and left-wing critics condemning the 1951 James Mason film The Desert Fox for its kindly portrayal of the German field marshal Erwin Rommel, and it was not uncommon in the 50s for films to target union corruption. On the Waterfront (Saturday, 10.40pm, ABC2), about vicious union standover tactics on the New York docks, was a tour de force for director Elia Kazan. Marlon Brando plays Terry Molloy, ex-boxer, drifter and errand-boy for the gangster union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Sad, moving and relentlessly powerful, with levels of violence and raw language unusual for its day, it remains landmark cinema.
Similar tensions and brutal rivalries can be found in The Lion in Winter (Saturday, 8.30pm, ABC2), set in the court of Henry II (Peter O’toole), who summons his politically ambitious family to a reunion. Henry’s three sons — among them Richard the Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins) — are squabbling for a share of the kingdom. I’m a great one for costume dramas, but this handsome and intelligent film, with its lively dialogue (from James Goldman’s play), is among the best. Katharine Hepburn won her third Oscar for her performance as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, becoming the first actress in history to do so.
Nora Ephron’s screenplay for When Harry Met Sally . . . (Sunday, 8.30pm, Gem) may have owed something to Woody Allen, and the basic idea — can a friendship move from platonic to romantic after surviving the traumas of breakup and divorce — seems rather well worn today. But Rob Reiner’s film remains one of the classic romcoms, with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as the couple who gradually realise how they really feel for one another, and there are plenty of excellent one-liners. I wish I could say the same for Travelling North (Sunday, 11pm, ABC1), Carl Schultz’s film of David Williamson’s play. Leo Mckern and Julia Blake are the Melbourne couple seeking new surroundings for their last years together. Though still, for me, the most humane and touching of all Williamson plays, the film has difficulty shaking off its stage-bound origins, despite an excellent cast.