Five Bad Movies I Liked
When my daughter entered first grade, we started a family tradition. I would take off work early on Friday, and we’d all go to a matinee. We did this every week until she went to college. This tradition survived divorce, various boyfriends (hers and mine), and other incidental traumas of adolescence. Later, when she was in graduate school and once more living at home, we took it up again. Now that she lives in San Francisco, it’s a little far for me to commute from Tulsa, so our weekly family tradition has died. But it went on for almost two decades. If you watch a movie a week for that long, you see lots of bad movies. You see good movies, too, of course.
What’s surprising to me is how often the critics would pan a movie I sort of liked, or like a movie that I loathed. That’s what generated this blog. I’ve been watching movies most of my life, and I got to thinking about the bad movies that I actually kind of liked. Looking at the five that percolated to the top of my list, I see that most of them are not ones I saw with my daughter. Some of the ones I hated that the critics loved are in my contrary list, Good Movies I Hated, but that’s another blog for another day.
In no particular order, then, here are five movies that the critics either hated or ignored that I kinda-sorta liked.
Glen or Glenda
As with all Ed Wood movies, this one is spectacularly bad. It’s even worse considering that it’s semi-autobiographical. It seems that Wood himself was a cross-dresser, given to wearing fluffy, Angora sweaters. You would think his personal experience would have brought some verisimilitude to the movie, but then this is Ed Wood. Anyway, Wood plays in the title role, Angora-sweaters and all. Besides the Glen/Glenda story, there is another about a “pseudohermaphrodite.” Bela Lugosi provides a lugubrious voice-over as a scientist. The story is highly nonlinear, with flashbacks-within-flashbacks and weird dream sequences. There’s also an earnest lecture on tolerance. Bad as this movie is–and trust me, it’s bad–it was made in 1953 when any kind of sexual non-conformity was not only criminal but thought of as insane. It had to take enormous courage for Wood to make this movie and come out, as he did, as a transvestite. Of course, he was either courageous or stupid to put any of his dreadful movies out for the public to see, so maybe it’s stupidity rather than courage that leads to this movie. Still, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and give him kudos for courage. This time, but not for Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Another film from 1970, this one is by Michelangelo Antonioni. It’s kind of the consummate 1960s rebel movie, with disaffected and aimless Mark on the one hand hooking up with anthropology student Daria on the other. We’ve also got the wonderful character actor G.D. Spradlin playing the Evil Capitalist. By the way, Spradlin is a fellow Oklahoman from Paul’s Valley, and he ran JFK’s Oklahoma presidential campaign before he became an actor. This movie also includes a signature, artsy scene of the Evil Capitalist’s snazzy, Brutalist desert home blowing up. More like…
filmed in loving, Technicolor slow motion. Mark Frechette, the unknown who played Mark in the movie, provides ample eye candy. Oh, by the way, Frechette turned to robbing banks after his star-turn in this movie and died in prison. The best part of the film is the soundtrack, featuring the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd.
Doing Time on Maple Drive
This is a made-for-TV movie. Matt Carter brings his fiancé home to meet his family. His brother is an alcoholic; his sister is married to a failure–according to Matt’s father–and the father gives new meaning to the word “perfectionist.” At least Matt’s mother is as loving and full of cheer as June Cleaver, although with less depth than plastic wrap. Everything in this family is a competition to please good old Dad, which seems to work out pretty well for Matt since he’s the Perfect Son. That is, until his fiancé finds an old mash note from his, er, boyfriend hidden away in his pocket. Things go downhill from there, with excellent performances all around. Most particularly, James Sikking is sterling as the father who turns out to love his son no matter what, and the then-unknown Jim Carrey shines as Matt’s older brother.
Paramount-UK released this film in 1971, so I saw it while I was a junior in college. In a chance encounter, Paul, who is fifteen, and Michelle, who is fourteen, flee to the rural French countryside from their dysfunctional families in Paris. They hide out in an abandoned mill, surmount many obstacles, fall in love, and have a child. They not only survive, but build a resilient and meaningful life for themselves. Until, that is, the ending. I re-watched this film a few years ago, and still enjoyed it. What I noticed the second time around is that one of the songs is by a then-mostly-unknown minstrel named Elton John.
No Blade of Grass
MGM-UK released this really bad film in 1970. I was sick with mono at the time I saw it, so my memory is doubtless flawed by high fever and incessant coughing. This was an early entry in the natural-disaster-apocalypse genre. It’s notable since the premise is that a virus has killed off all the grass on the planet, thus devastating the food supply. In our era of food monoculture and industrialized agriculture, it’s a prescient warning. Don’t expect anything here you’ve not seen a zillion times before, but in 1971, it was actually kind of new.