When many people hear the name Hollywood they think of mega movie stars. If they are old enough, they might even think of such all time greats as Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda or Katherine Hepburn. The current generation would probably think of names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Willis or Catherine Zeta Jones. But even though movie stars are what most people think of when they start thinking of films, there have been other greats in the film industry. Even though there were only a handful of directors that have achieved the status that is mostly reserved for the stars of films, there have been a few greats. Names like John Ford and Sam Peckinpah of western film fame come to mind. There was George Pal of SciFi fame and then there was the king of them all, Stanley Kubrick.
Maybe I am prejudiced toward Stanley Kubrick, but I must say that I thought most of his movies were works of genius. The last movie he worked on got panned but in all fairness to him, he died while it was being filmed and someone else finished it. Many film companies really didn't want him direct their films. Oh they knew that he was one of the greats but time is money and old Stanley would sometimes take years to complete a film. He just kept shooting scenes over and over until they came out the way he wanted, and he didn't care if it made producers mad or not. Well maybe he cared, but he never let that get in the way of his art. I guess he realized that his films would survive him and he wanted to be remember as the man who directed great films, not the man who directed fast ones.When we look at his films from 1957 we see a list of wonderful movies. In 1957 he directed the political war classic, Paths of Glory. This gut wrenching film stars a harassed colonel in the French Army in World War I, played by Kirk Douglas. His immediate commander is George Macready who is willing to sell out, to get that extra star on his shoulder. Douglas is more worried about his men and doesn't want to waste their lives in a fruitless attack on a position that can't be taken by a charge. The tension can be cut with a knife. The cast is superb as is the direction. Even though previous films by Kubrick were good, I believe this film started him on the path of greatness.
In 1960 Kubrick again was directing Kirk Douglas and an all star cast including Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis in Spartacus. As most of us know this film was the story of the great slave revolt in Rome and how it was finally put down, but not before Spartacus almost destroyed the Roman Empire. Spartacus went across the Italian countryside freeing slaves as he came across them. He was a gladiator as were the people that initially escaped with him. They trained the slaves and eventually had a huge slave army that could fight quite well. Stanley Kubrick relished the battle scenes where thousands of extras fought tooth and nail. Many a person left the theatre, after the film finished, breathless and with a tear in their eye.
In 1962 he made Lolita. I wasn't crazy about this film that depicted a mature man in love with a teeny bopper who ruled him. But you couldn't fault the cast with the great James Mason and Sue Lyon. Shelley Winters also starred in the film. The directing was great but this just wasn't my type of movie.
Then came 1964 and Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This unusual piece of work was talked about for years after it was made. Peter Sellers played three different characters. The film also featured George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden (the corrupt police captain in the Godfather Part I) and Slim Pickens. While all the actors were terrific, Slim Pickens stole the show. He was a B52 pilot charged with dropping a nuclear weapon. The weapon gets stuck in the bomb rack after the bomb bay doors are opened and Pickens, who is wearing his air force uniform and a large brimmed white cowboy hat, climbs on top of it to try and kick it loose. Unfortunately for him the bomb releases with him astride it. When he sees that his position is useless he rides the bomb down like a bronco and hits it on the side with his hat as the earth looms up and the bomb finally explodes. This was truly an unforgettable movie moment.
Four years went by then came the block buster, 2001 A Space Odyssey in 1968. While the cast of this film was not as strong as most of the others, it still rose to the position of epic adventure. Many people didn't like the ending or non ending, but that didn't stop it from becoming one of the most memorable SciFi films. The plot was simple. Aliens left an artifact on the moon and we build a ship, controlled by a computer that has identity problems and becomes a homicidal maniac, and set off for Jupiter.
A Clockwork Orange was directed in 1971. It is no doubt a sick, deranged, pornographic slice of future life but it is also one of the really great movies ever made. Malcolm McDowell is incredible as the gang leader of a futuristic English street gang that is ruthless and scared to death of him while retaining a simmering hate of him at the same time. The actors are all British and well seasoned. The story progresses through theft, terrible beatings, rape, and finally murder. Then comes prison where our young friend volunteers for an experiment to cure his criminal ways by making him violently ill every time he thinks of breaking the law. It doesn't end there my friends and you can't help but stay glued to the screen as the long story unfolds. I believe that this film was the highlight of McDowell's career.
Then came Barry Lyndon. Well they can't all be great. But in 1980 Kubrick made The Shinning. The Shinning was originally a novel by Stephen King. I guess you would call it a horror movie. Jack Nicholson plays a writer who is also the caretaker of a empty hotel who just starts to deteriorate It was a great performance and reminded me in some ways of Humphrey Bogart's performance in The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, in 1948. Shelly Duvall played a convincing wife worried about her husbands mental health. Many a child hid under the blankets after watching this flick.
Kubrick then went on to direct Full Metal Jacket in 1987, luckily for R. Lee Ermey, who became famous as the ruthless drill sergeant in basic training. The cast included Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin and Vincent D'Onofrio. Stanley Kubrick had a way of getting every ounce of talent out of his actors and this film was no exception. The film is really two films in one. The first part is about basic training and relentless pressure put on an under achiever who finally cracks and the second part is about a soldier's life in the Vietnam conflict. Having been in the service myself, I can say with authority that the first part which depicts basic training is the most realistic film on the subject that I have ever seen. The film is scary in its absolute faithfulness to the conditions of the war and the suffering of the troops.
Eyes Wide Shut in came out in 1999. Not one of the greats and will soon be forgotten.
Most of Stanley Kubrick's films will be remembered and will be held up as paragons to which all other films will be compared to. Stanley you will be sorely missed, especially on those days where we have nothing to look at except something called Kung Pow Fist or the like.
By Kenneth J. McCormick. Ken is the webmaster of About Facts Net. This is an interesting free internet magazine. The articles are suitable for family viewing and often contain photos, video and audio. http://aboutfacts.net/ firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright © 2005 by About Facts Net and its licensors. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reprint this article if all links are left intact and no changes made. This means that everything including this notice must be copied.