Last night as I was trying to fall asleep after working on a follow-up to SMOLDER, my urban fantasy that just came out on January 5, I found a lovely old song running through my mind – “Somewhere My Love,” from the film Doctor Zhivago. Now why that particular song should have popped up at that precise moment is a mystery, but as it percolated through my brain, I started thinking of the movie, the big, sweeping romantic saga of a Russian family torn from a comfortable affluence under the Tsars to near destitution after a disastrous war and violent revolution. Really, is there anything prettier than the picture of Tonya dressed all in pink as she descends the train to be reunited with the young Zhivago after her education in Paris? Or anything starker than Lara, seduced by Karamovsky who walks into a lavish party and shoots the man who “ruined” her?
Watching her that night, young Doctor Zhivago and Tonya know there’s something in the air that does not bode well for their Russia. And it’s his first encounter with the woman who will play such a tumultuous role in his life.
One of the things that still makes that film fascinating is the background of one civilization dying and another harsher one rising, to destroy lives and create unspeakable misery. But on another level, it’s the lush, romantic musical score, the magnificent costumes and the fine acting that draws you in and keeps you fascinated till the end. In post World War I Russia, Zhivago, Lara and their child will never reunite, but their love will live on in the glorious poems he wrote for her. It’s a bittersweet romance, with the possibility of union pursued, but remaining always elusive, just out of reach. Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplin and Julie Christie were incredible.
So, as I was thinking of this movie, I started wondering what I’d pick if I had to choose my five favorites. Sleep was not coming easily this night, and thinking about films seemed like a nice alternative to counting sheep.
Well, Doctor Zhivago would be first on the list, no rivals here. Second would have to be Lawrence of Arabia, played by the dashing, the gorgeous, the sexy young Peter O’Toole. With Omar Sharif as his co-star. (Zhivago does to the desert?) Again, a big theme, great actors, terrific costumes and fine performances and cinematography that filled up the screen with epic pictures of the desert and unresolved troubles at the end.
Now for my third choice? Well, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Again, a wonderful song, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, a terrific cast, lots of great western scenery, a buddy film with a good ol’ gal for company, fast action and that wonderful desperate end with the freeze frame at the final moment.
For number four, Newman and Redford again in The Sting. There was something so old-fashioned and small-time American about those two in their roles as hustlers, out to swindle a bigger gangster, that it made you love them. Okay, they weren’t sterling characters, but they were up against one who was far worse, and besides that they had loads of bad boy charm that made you root for them. I think they appealed to the underdog in us all – even if we’d never think of taking the path they did. And let’s not forget that catchy theme music. Just a great flick all around.
For number five, let’s see. There are so many wonderful films out there, it’s hard to name just five, isn’t it? For the last one on my list, I think I’d have to pick Indiana Jones in his introductory film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, although I really love most of them. With Indy, you get a guy who can put on a tux or beat-up pants, leather jacket and old fedora and look equally great. Harrison Ford could project erudition or bravado with a charm that left you wanting more. Well, look at that succession of movies. We really did want as much of Indy as we could get and he usually didn’t fail. He would brave any kind of danger, venture into any cave or battle any villain with gusto. The only thing that made him falter – briefly – was snakes. And we all have our vulnerabilities, right? Took me years to be able to deal with spiders and wasps on my own.
So what do you think of the list? Are any of my favorites in your top five? Or ten? I think I love big action movies with great costumes and scenery. If I were going to list ten, I guess Gone With the Wind would pop up too, since the story of Rhett and Scarlett was one of the great film romances of all time, but I’ll think about that tomorrow.