List: U.S. States in the Movies (Part 3)

I am in the middle of publishing lists of the best movie set in or to otherwise represent each of the 50 U.S. states with 10 states each week. Two weeks ago was Alabama-Georgia, and last week was Hawaii-Maryland. Now, here’s the next 10.

Massachusetts: Little Women (1933)

Michigan: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Minnesota: Fargo (1996)
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Mississippi: Mississippi Burning (1988)
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Missouri: Winter’s Bone (2010)
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Montana: Nebraska (2013) The title refers to the main character’s desired destination, but most of the movie is set in Montana.

Nebraska: Boys Town (1938)

Nevada: Bugsy (1991)

New Hampshire: To Die For (1995)

New Jersey: Atlantic City (1980)
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Pressure Point (1962)

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Co-directors Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer created a powerful and terrifying portrait of the psychology of indoctrination in the overlooked film Pressure Point. Set shortly after WWII, Bobby Darrin plays an American Nazi in prison for his role in a small riot. Bobby Darrin’s performance is as horrifying as Anthony Perkins’ in Psycho, and he proves everyone wrong who thinks that singers shouldn’t try to act.

Bobby Darrin’s character is known only as “the patient.” All the action of the film comes in the form of the relationship forced on him with the prison psychiatrist who is known only as “the doctor.” The doctor is played by Sidney Poitier in one of the strongest performances of his career. A Black psychologist was not a normal occurrence of the time as the patient makes very clear through his antagonism and attempts to manipulate his psychiatrist, wrongly assuming that the doctor is an easy target because of his skin color.

The patient refuses to cooperate with the doctor, but the doctor is so skilled at putting the pieces together of whatever his patient tells him, no matter how false, exaggerated or manipulative the patient’s words may be. Through the patient’s body language and choice of words (even when the doctor knows his patient is lying), the doctor is able to put together his patient’s story. Throughout the movie, we don’t just see what the patient tells the doctor, but we get to see what the doctor perceives. We see parts of the patient’s childhood and early adulthood. We see the whole process of his Nazi indoctrination.

When we do see the doctor and the patient together (what is actually happening instead of what the doctor is piecing together), what we see is how successfully the patient has been brainwashed by Nazi beliefs and how successful he can be at brainwashing others. Despite all his obvious racist actions and words toward his doctor, he finds an inroad to begin attempting to indoctrinate his doctor. The doctor narrates the whole story through a conversation he has with another doctor years later. At the point in the story when we realize that the patient is trying to indoctrinate his doctor, the doctor tells the other doctor in narration, “I was always scared of him, but that was the first time I knew why.”

Although both doctor and patient are fully aware of the patient’s racist attitudes against the doctor, the patient appears to candidly address the harsh realities of being a Black man in America in his attempt to plant anarchist seeds in the doctor whose life is undoubtedly touched by the harsh realities the patient is referring to. Of course, the doctor is perceptive enough to avoid those attempts at indoctrination, but when he explains the moment when he realized why he was afraid of his patient, he expresses his respect for the power of manipulating words and attitudes. He understands the dangers of listening too closely to the ideas of people who pursue control over others.

As a movie about the psychology of indoctrination, Pressure Point has a very important message for America right now. We are living under a presidential administration with close ties to white nationalist organizations, a love for “alternative facts” and a willingness to call anything “fake news” that attempts to find real facts in the midst of its lies or to call it out and hold it accountable for policies and words that are harmful to all people. It’s an indoctrination that didn’t begin with Donald Trump (I have no idea where it began), but it is certainly finding its voice and its power through him. As a nation, we need to understand how we’ve been led (through Internet, reality TV and countless other sources) to accept at face-value whatever is convenient and to reject anything true that we don’t like. The greatness of Pressure Point is its captivating way of showing the psychological process of indoctrination in a way that thrills us and also educates us so that we can see where we may be vulnerable.

List: U.S. States in the Movies (Part 2)

Last week I began publishing lists of the best movie set in or to otherwise represent each of the 50 U.S. states with 10 states each week. Last week was Alabama-Georgia. Now, here’s the next 10.

Hawaii: The Descendants (2011)MV5BMTU2NDMxMTc1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDUzOTUwNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_.jpg

Idaho: Two-Faced Woman (1941)

Illinois: The Sting (1973)

Indiana: Breaking Away (1979)

Iowa: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)
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Kansas: In Cold Blood (1967)
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Kentucky: The Killing (1956)

Louisiana: All the King’s Men (1949)

Maine: On Golden Pond (1981)

Maryland: Diner (1982)
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Safety Last (1923)

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The picture of Harold Lloyd dangling from the clock of a skyscraper is one of the most famous scenes in movie history. But many (if not a majority) of the people who recognize this scene have never watched the movie in its entirety. Hollywood artists have depicted the scene in paintings and murals. The two main characters of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo are seen together at the movie and Hugo‘s audience gets to see both the scene from Safety Last and the kids’ reaction to it. That wonderful reaction of Hugo and his friend is a reaction of shock, awe, fear and joy. That multilayered reaction is a pretty universal one to this great scene, but it’s only possible when seen in the context of the full movie.

Harold Lloyd is generally thought of as the least of the three great silent comedians behind Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Overall, I would agree with that, yet I would argue that Safety Last, unquestionably Lloyd’s best film, is actually a better movie than any of Chaplin’s or Keaton’s silent films. The whole movie builds up to the famous scene, but it is a complete and surprisingly profound story that leads up to the greatest action sequence in film history.

Harold (the character Harold Lloyd plays) is a reluctant criminal; we see him released from prison in the opening scene and find out that his crimes were the result of his attempt to stay alive during the Great Depression. After being released from prison, he is reunited with his fiancé and obtains a job instantly. As he struggles at his job, it becomes apparent that he learned how to be a successful criminal in prison. The illegal activities that got him in prison were matters of survival, but after serving his sentence he had become accustomed to crookedness, deceit and dehumanization as the perceived ways to get ahead in life.

So from the beginning of the movie Harold’s got a job and he’s got a girl. The trick is keeping them both. Everything Harold does throughout the movie is an attempt to keep his job and his girl. When he runs into a problem that makes him unsure how to keep one or the other, he turns to the means he learned in prison. He’s a good guy, and his motives are clearly good, but he needs to learn that the ends don’t justify the means. And he does learn this, but he learns it in a very hard way. He chooses a death-defying feat that he has no experience in instead of being honest about his struggles.

Like I said, Harold does learn that the ends don’t justify the means, but the other characters of the movie have to learn something else first. They have to learn that Harold’s lies and insubordination are his learned way of coping, not intentional acts of aggression. Once they learn this, they become the same  people that come to his aid when he begins his feat of epic foolishness. But even though Harold has learned about himself and others have learned about him through this act, the movie is relentless in its action, so that we never know whether or not everybody learned what they needed to in time to save Harold. Every step he takes is one that could cause him to plummet to his death, but every step includes a window that he could find his escape through. Every part of the stunt which  lasts about 15 minutes is intense and thrilling. No car chase, gunfight or other fight sequence in the movies has ever been as thrilling as these last 15 minutes of Safety Last.

Harold’s whole journey in the movie is an attempt to live in the free world after being institutionalized. The movie deals with the concept of institutionalization better than any other movie except for The Shawshank Redemption. Through all the action and the comedy of the movie, we are taken on a spiritual journey with Harold as he learns to understand what is truly right and wrong and who he truly is instead of how the prison he was confined in defined him.

List: U.S. States in the Movies (Part 1)

Throughout the month of July, Turner Classic Movies is showing movies to represent each of the 50 U.S. states. Over the next 5 weeks, I will publish lists that include 10 states each week, with the best movie I know of set in that state or otherwise representing the state. So, here’s the first batch.

Alabama: Selma (2014)MV5BMTY4MTg0MDQyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTUxNzY3MzE@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_.jpg

Alaska: The Gold Rush (1925)

Arizona: Thelma & Louise (1991)MV5BMzM1OTc3ZDYtMGFmNC00OTBkLWI3ZjYtODgyNDI0M2JlMjVkL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjk3NTUyOTc@._V1_

Arkansas: A Face in the Crowd (1957)

California: East of Eden (1955)

Colorado: Harvey (1950)

Connecticut: Bringing up Baby (1938)

Delaware: Fight Club (1999)

Florida: Ulee’s Gold (1997)

Georgia: Deliverance (1972)MV5BMjE0NjExMTc1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTQ1NDkwNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1468,1000_AL_

 

 

Lifeboat (1944)

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Most of John Steinbeck’s writing does not seem well fitted for an Alfred Hitchcock movie. John Ford was the most common director to adapt Steinbeck’s novels and short stories. But after returning home after WWII, Steinbeck wrote a story that he intended to become a movie, and he wanted Hitchcock to direct it. Set entirely on a lifeboat, Steinbeck wrote about situations like what he experienced at war. Hitchcock was able to create all the tension and suspense he had done in his previous masterpieces Rebecca (1940), Saboteur (1942) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Yet filming this story was a milestone in Hitchcock’s career as it was his first (and best) film set entirely in the same space, something he did later with Rope (1948), Dial M for Murder (1954) and Rear Window (1954).

What makes Lifeboat such a powerful movie is the sense of claustrophobia it creates much like Christopher Nolan’s WWII movie Dunkirk last year. We are immersed into exactly what the characters experience. While Dunkirk immersed us into a battle of the war itself, Lifeboat takes us to sea and introduces us to all the fears and moral dilemmas associated with being trapped as these characters are.

Connie Potter (Tallulah Bankhead) is a journalist covering the war and is the first person to board the lifeboat. She’s already on board in the opening scene. We see that she has boarded with her camera, film, typewriter and even her mink coat. When soldiers escaping from the same ship begin to climb aboard, they’re obviously offended by her pursuit of comfort in such harrowing circumstances. She’s obviously putting her comfort before the needs of anyone else, not even offering help to those who need to be on board. But there’s much more to the tension than that offense. Could she be working in connection with enemy forces? Questions like these mean that every decision the crew makes is a decision of life and death, but they never know which decision means life and which decision means death until after they’ve made their choice.

Once Connie loses all the belongings she brought on the lifeboat with her, she begins to shed her self-centeredness and actually becomes the one most concerned with the survival of the others, but this transformation is completely believable and never sappy. Her own need awakens her to the needs of others and makes her want to lead the crew to safety for the sake of the whole crew, not just her own wellbeing. But then there’s Willie. A German captain floats by just about ready to drown, and they let him in. But the crew is divided on whether they should throw him overboard or let him join them. Like all the others, the decision is a life or death matter for the whole crew, but no one really knows which is the right one.

The moral dilemmas these crew members face are the center of the action and suspense, again making this a landmark moment in Hitchcock’s career. He would continue this theme of suspense flowing out of moral confusion in some of his other best movies like Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951) and Vertigo (1958). Lifeboat is different from all other Hitchcock films, though, in its appeal to all emotions. As the master of suspense, Hitchcock always tried to incite “high anxiety” as the title of Mel Brooks’ Hitchcock parody implies. Hitchcock’s dark sense of humor brings feelings of enjoyable discomfort in almost every one of his movies. But in Lifeboat, he explores the whole gamut of human emotion.

We feel the hopelessness of some who think they will never get off the lifeboat mixed with the hopefulness of those who continue to plan and expect great things from their lives after this experience is over. One of the people on board is a woman who tried to meet her husband while he was on R&R so that she could show him their baby, but after her rescue on the lifeboat she’s traumatized to the point of delusion (something most of the characters experience at some point or another). So we feel the trauma, the disorientation and the deep sense of loss and grief associated with these traumas. But there are also attempts on the lifeboat to find some semblance of normal life, and in these attempts we even have times where we feel joy, warmth and camaraderie with those on the boat.

What John Steinbeck and Alfred Hitchcock created in Lifeboat is an opportunity for viewers to feel some of what Steinbeck felt at war. It puts us in the position of Connie, the journalist, confronting us with how willing we are to empathize with people caught in situations where every decision is a matter of life or death. If we’re quick to disagree or be offended with the decision made or suggested, we may not be able to grow as people like Connie did. That kind of growth is exactly what this movie is aimed at for its viewers and exactly what it can accomplish if we watch it with an openness to confront how we view the world around us and how we judge the actions and decisions of others.

Best Movie Casts: The Full List

Over the last 5 weeks I’ve published my list of the 100 greatest movie casts, presenting 20 each week. After finishing with the last set yesterday, here is the full list of my picks for the 100 best movie casts of all time.

100. Shrek (2001: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow)

99. The Sweet Hereafter (1997: Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Caerthan Banks, Tom McCamus)

98. Rebel without a Cause (1955: James Dean, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, Jim Backus)

97. Little Women (1933: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Frances Dee, Jean Parker)

96. Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1944: Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, James Gleason)

95. The Artist (2011: Jean Dujardin, James Cromwell, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman)

94. Rebecca (1940 : Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, Judith Andress, George Sanders)

93. Chinatown (1974: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Diane Ladd)

92 Mary Poppins (1964: Julie Andrews, Dick van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns)

91. The Killing (1956: Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Coleen Gray)

90. The Thin Man (1934: Myrna Loy, William Powell, Maureen O’Sullivan)MV5BMjQ5MWNhOTEtZTAxZi00ZTgyLWJhYmEtYWIwN2FiZjZhOTZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjgyNTk4NTY@._V1_SY999_SX999_AL_.jpg

89. Best in Show (2000: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard)

88. Ordinary People (1980:  Timothy Hutton, Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland)

87. Winter’s Bone (2010: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Lauren Sweetser)

86. The Big Short (2015: Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Marissa Tomei)
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85. The Royal Tenenbaums (2000: Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow)

84. American Beauty (1999: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Chris Cooper, Thora Birch)

83. Interiors (1978: Geraldine Page, Diane  Keaton, Sam Waterston, Maureen Stapleton)

82. The Children’s Hour (1961: Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn, Miriam Hopkins)

81. David and Lisa (1962: Keir Dullea, Janet Margolin, Howard da Silva)

80. Holiday (1938: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton)
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79. Chicago (2002: Rene Zelwigger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah).

78. Mansfield Park (1999: Frances O’Conner, Harold Pinter, Jonny Lee Miller)

77. Guys and Dolls (1955: Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Jean Simmons)

76. La cage aux folles (1978: Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Serrault, Benny Luke, Michel Galabru)

75. Little Miss Sunshine (2006: Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano)

74. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014: Ralph Feinnes, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton)

73. Emma (1996: Gwyneth Paltrow, Toni Collette, Alan Cummings, Juliette Stevenson)

72. Boyz n the Hood (1991: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburn, Angela Bassett)

71. The Snake Pit (1948: Olivia de Havilland, Celeste Holm, Beulah Bondi Leo Glenn)

70. All or Nothing (2002: Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, James Corden)

69. Home for the Holidays (1995: Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Robert Downy, Jr.)

68. Moonstruck (1987: Cher, Olympia Dukakis, Nicholas Cage, Danny Aiello)

67. Ed Wood (1994: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray)

66. You Can’t Take It with You (1938: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore)

65. My Man Godfrey (1936: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Jean Dixon)

64. Parenthood (1989: Jason Robards, Diane Wiest, Tom Hulce, Steve Martin)

63. Gaslight (1944: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, May Whitty)

62. The Social Network (2012: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake)

61. A Prairie Home Companion (2006: Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline)
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60. Secrets & Lies (1996: Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Timothy Spall)

59. Charade (1963: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn)

58. Unforgiven (1992: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris)

57. Singin’ in the Rain (1952: Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen, Donald O’Connor)

56. Bringing up Baby (1938: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, May Robson)

55. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, Ruth Donnelly)
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54.  (1963: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Claudia Cardinale, Sandra Milo)

53. Django Unchained (2012: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio)

52. Network (1976: Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, William Holden, Ned Beatty)

51. Shadow of a Doubt (1943: Joseph Cotten, Theresa Wright, Patricia Collinge)

50. Blade Runner (1982: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah)

49. This Is Spinal Tap (1984: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer)

48. The Apartment (1960: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray)

47. The Butler (2013: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Liev Scheiber)

46. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012: Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson)

45. The Band’s Visit (2007: Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Shlomi Avraham)

44. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000: George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, John Tuturro)

43. Anatomy of a Murder (1959: James Stewart, Arthur O’Connell, Lee Remick)

42. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944: Cary Grant, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre, Jean Adair)

41. Do the Right Thing (1989: Spike Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Bill Nunn, Danny Aiello)
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40. The Bad Seed (1956: Patty McCormick, Nancy Kelly, Eileen Heckert, Henry Jones)

39. Fargo (1996: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare)

38. The Shawshank Redemption (1994: Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins, James Whitmore)
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37. The Full Monty (1997: Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy, Robert Carlyle, Paul Barber)

36. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933: Charles Laughton, Wendy Barrie, Merle Oberon)

35. A Christmas Story (1983: Peter Billingly, Darrin McGavin, Melinda Dillon)

34. Midnight in Paris (2011: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Allison Pill, Corey Stoll)

33. Inglourious Basterds (2009: Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurant)

32. The Women (1939: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell)

31. On Golden Pond (1981: Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Doug McKeon)

30. Pride and Prejudice (1940: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Edmund Gwenn)

29. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton)

28. Magnolia (1999: Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, William H. Macy)

27. Grand Hotel (1932: Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Walace Beery, John Barrymore)

26. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt)

25. The Sting (1973: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Robert Earl Jones)

24. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif)

23. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961: Richard Widmark, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland)

22. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Jane Darwell)

21. The Manchurian Candidate (1962: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury)
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20. Forrest Gump (1994: Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Robin Wright, Sally Field)

19. The Wizard of Oz (1939: Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton, Frank Morgan)
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18. The Color Purple (1985: Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery)

17. The Maltese Falcon (1941: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet)

16. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946: Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell)

15. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951: Vivian Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter)

14. Dr. Strangelove (1964: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens)

13. Les Misérables (2012: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway)

12. Sense and Sensibility (1995: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Gemma Jones)

11. 12 Angry Men (1957: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Joseph Sweeney)

10. All about Eve (1950: Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Celeste Holm, George Sanders)

9. Pulp Fiction (1994: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis)

8. Stalag 17 (1953: William Holden, Otto Preminger, Peter Graves, Sig Ruman)

7. Lifeboat (1944: Talulah Bankhead, Walter Slezak, William Bendix, Heather Angel)

6. Some Like It Hot (1959: Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Marylin Monroe, Joe E. Brown)

5. On the Waterfront (1954: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb)

4. Casablanca (1942: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre)

3. The Godfather (1972: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall)

2. Citizen Kane (1941: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick)

1. The Godfather Part II (1974: Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton, Lee Strasburg)
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