The good, the bad and the ugly ... alternative must-see classics
Fed up with TV at Christmas...? Feast your eyes on some more obscure movies
THERE are only so many times you can watch It’s a Wonderful Life before you begin to entertain unseasonal thoughts that maybe the angel should just let Jimmy Stewart get on with it. There it was again in yesterday’s schedules on Channel 4 competing with the Queen. And today brings us the chance to watch more Christmas classics and favourite musicals. Again.
But it has never been easier to find that movie you always meant to watch, but never did, and get it playing on your TV in a few minutes.
Once films were watched at the cinema, and years later there might be a second chance to watch them on TV, if you were around at the right time.
Then VHS and Blockbuster came along. Now you can find a lot of really obscure, great movies on the internet and, well, just watch them. Films that used to be virtually impossible to track down on video at any price, are now immediately accessible for a couple of quid or even free.
With Christmas over and time on your hands, this is the ideal time to discover some great movies no-one has ever seen.
This is a personal list of 20 that have stuck with me over many years. Of course some people have seen them, but they have not been as widely seen as they should have been. And they are not all great, but all have something to commend them.
They offer a fresh take on a subject or genre, or have some element that lingers in the memory, dialogue, a plot twist or maybe even a single scene, often a final scene that might leave a lump in your throat. If you don’t want to watch West Side Story again, you might consider something from this list. Most are available instantly on line.
Given that Kirk Douglas just celebrated his 100th birthday, it seems fitting to begin with one of his movies. I first saw it as a boy and spent hours trying to replicate that famous dimple in my chin. Kirk Douglas v Johnny Cash, two great American icons face off in a western that boils the genre down to its essential set piece. I also loved Johnny Cash while schoolboy contemporaries were playing Black Sabbath. Later, I had the thrill of meeting both men. A clip from A Gunfight appears briefly in Cash’s famous video for the song Hurt, recorded shortly before his death. Sands of the Kalahari
It begins with a plane crash and ends with another showdown to determine the alpha male. The twist here is that one of the contenders is a baboon. My Name is Nobody
Henry Fonda’s aging gunfighter shoots three would-be assassins. And this kid asks his dad if anyone is faster. “Faster than him?” says the father incredulously. “Nobody!”… Cue Ennio Morricone’s quirky music and cut to Terence Hill trying to catch fish by hitting them with a log. And the title “My Name is Nobody”. Has there ever been a better set-up? DOA
Actually this set-up comes close – “I want to report a murder.” “Who was murdered?” “I was.“A man is dying with slow-acting poison and must solve his own murder before time runs out. Somewhere in Time Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, two of the stiffest actors ever, star in a piece of romantic tosh. But it was written by Richard Matheson, who wrote The Omega Man and Duel. This was never going to be your regular romantic tosh. Grace of My Heart A fictional biopic of a female singer-songwriter, with echoes of Carole King. But as a professional biographer I know I could have made books more interesting if I could have made things up. There is no such constraint here. Great music, including Bacharach and Costello’s God Give Me Strength – “I’m only human… I want him to hurt!”. A hugely powerful story of those who survived and those who didn’t. Frogs Imagine Hitchcock’s The Birds, but with frogs. Robin and Marian It is tricky to revisit a legend, but Sean Connery manages it here, with a touching portrait of an ageing Robin Hood. Two for the Road
A second successive movie with Audrey Hepburn, a bitter-sweet tale portraying the ups and downs of a relationship over time. In a Lonely Place Sometimes love is not enough… Not that obscure, but not the first film that comes to mind when talking about Bogart. It is one of his most unsettling characters, a lot more complicated than the tough guy with the heart of gold in Casablanca. “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” Monte Walsh
A haunting elegy for the Old West with Lee Marvin and Jack Palance as ageing cowboys and a great seemingly optimistic, ultimately ironic theme song by John Barry, sung by Mama Cass. Scarlet Street
Imagine the story of Paul Gauguin rewritten as American film noir, with Edward G Robinson. The Rebel
Another film about one man’s compulsion to create great art, with Tony Hancock (pictured left) treading his fine line between comedy and tragedy. The Games Back in the day there were no mass-participation marathons, guys turned up at the Olympics, many had never run 26 miles before, no one knew much about them or who would win. This is an old-fashioned fictional story about four such men. Valdez is Coming So, two Michael Winner films in a row. And Burt Lancaster (pictured right) as a Mexican lawman? But it is based on an Elmore Leonard novel, with all the moral complexities that brings. Lancaster’s character is tricked into killing a man and thinks those responsible should pay compensation to the widow. Instead they crucify him. He does not give up. The words “Valdez is Coming” echo through the film like a chorus. The Two Jakes Strangely neglected sequel to Chinatown. “Does it ever go away?” “What’s that?” “The past.” The Brothers
Melodrama set on a Scottish island where wrong-doers are sent bobbing out into the ocean, tied up with floats and a fish on their head, which will attract a seabird to dive down and pierce fish and skull together. It is pretty dark. Max Manus True story of a Norwegian resistance leader, whose men are killed, but he keeps living, battling the Germans and his own demons, including a growing sense of “survival guilt”. Without Limits The story of Steve Prefontaine, who was Jimmy Dean for a generation of runners. “He gave it everything he had from start to finish,” says Donald Sutherland. “He never ran any other way.” A philosophy not just for running, but for life. The Last Sunset
Outlaw Kirk Douglas turns up on the doorstep of an old flame and discovers she now has a husband and grown-up daughter. Nothing less than a full-blown Greek tragedy in a Wild West setting. *All those films marked with an asterisk are available on YouTube/ Google Play for £2.49.