Put your head into the wind, grit your teeth and screw your courage to the sticking point because here we go into uncharted waters. We will encounter much danger before our quest is over, but there will be glory aplenty and perhaps treasure beyond our wildest dreams. Assuming we survive.
Errol Flynn was teamed with director Michael Curtiz in "Captain Blood" (1935) and the swashbuckler hit its artistic pinnacle. Flynn is a good doctor forced by circumstances into becoming a bold pirate. This is a classic.
"Gunga Din" (1939), directed by George Stevens, borrows little but the title from Kipling's poem for this hearty saga of three rough-and-ready comrades in the British army who take on a host of murderous cultists in India.
"Only Angels Have Wings" (1939) is the classic showcase of the Howard Hawks view of life, where men are men, women are women and one always displays grace under pressure. The plot involves pilots flouting danger to deliver the mail in South America.
"The Sea Hawk" (1940) teamed Flynn, Curtiz, and the ocean again in a rip-roaring pirate adventure. This movie was a morale booster for England at a time when her fortunes were very low.
"Casablanca" (1942), with Curtiz directing, was turned out like a standard studio picture, but somehow everything went magically right and a perfect movie emerged. This is the stirring classic of the nightclub owner, the freedom fighter and the beautiful girl and how they outwit the Nazis.
"Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948), directed by John Huston, is the quintessential movie about gold prospecting and the dangers that surround it. It's also a study of how greed alters a man's character.
"The African Queen" (1951), directed by John Huston, plays Humphrey Bogart, a lush of a boat pilot, against Katherine Hepburn, as buttoned-up missionary, for a dangerous boat trip up the Congo on a wartime mission.
"The Crimson Pirate" (1952), directed by Robert Siodmak, gave Burt Lancaster a chance to show off his training as a circus acrobat in a lively pirate yarn with lots of wild stunts and slapstick. That's Nick Cravat, a circus buddy, as his sidekick.
"The Seven Samurai" (1954), directed by Akira Kurosawa, has the plot that was borrowed for "The Magnificent Seven"--Japanese villagers hire professional warriors to protect their village from bandits. Action sequences are enhanced by expert camerawork.
"The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" (1958) is one of the most rousing Saturday matinee popcorn movies ever made. Ray Harryhausen's special effects, especially the swordfighting skeleton, will have you rubbing your eyes in disbelief.
"The Vikings" (1958), directed by Richard Fleischer, looks a tad campy now, but Kirk Douglas' arrestingly robust and virile performance as a Viking prince out to settle old scores with nemesis Tony Curtis is moviemaking on a grand scale. The ending is the last word in Viking funerals.
"Ben-Hur" (1959), directed by William Wyler, is Hollywood history, the film that swept the Oscars, spawned a zillion spear- and-sandal imitators and wowed audiences with spectacle after spectacle. The chariot race still astonishes.
"Yojimbo" (1961), directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune, is the single greatest samurai action movie. You can see why they call Mifune "the Japanese John Wayne."
They don't make epics like David Lean's monumental "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) anymore, and more's the pity. Peter O'Toole, in his finest performance, gives a shaded portrayal of the flamboyant but troubled British Army officer who becomes, by sheer force of will, a bedouin hero during World War I.
The third James Bond movie, "Goldfinger" (1964), directed by Guy Hamilton, is the best. Sean Connery is the unflappable agent and Gert Frobe commands an army of minions to do his nefarious bidding.
"The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" (1965), directed by Martin Ritt from John LeCarre's novel, is a downbeat and grim portrait of what spies really did during the Cold War. Richard Burton is compelling as weary agent trying to pull one last trick on East German Communists as his career is ending.
The third of our mid-1960s spy trilogy has to be "The Ipcress File" (1965), directed by Sidney J. Furie. Michael Caine is too, too cool as British secret agent trying to discover how scientists are having their brains erased.
"The Sand Pebbles" (1966), directed by Robert Wise, is an engrossing epic about an American gunboat in hostile territory on the Yangtze River in China in the 1920s. Steve McQueen, as a tough-minded sailor, is the focus of the action.
"Doctor Zhivago" (1966), also directed by Lean, is usually pegged as a love story. But, for me, the Lara plot was always secondary to the sweeping tides of history that swept plucky Zhivago this way and that during the Russian Revolution.
"Flight of the Phoenix" (1966), directed by Robert Aldrich, begins with plane crash in the Sahara desert. How will surviving men escape death in the blazing sun? One of the men, an aircraft designer, looks at the wreckage and has an idea. Great cast, great suspense, great ending.
"Deliverance" (1972), directed by John Boorman, has four suburban men on a whitewater trip running afoul of some killer rednecks deep in the wilderness. The excitement of the novel by James Dickey (who plays the sheriff) is fully realized on the screen.
"Papillon" (1973), directed by Franklin Schaffner, has Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman scheming to escape from the steamy jungle fortress-prison on Devil's Island. It's even harder than it sounds.
Steven Spielberg virtually invented the summer blockbuster adventure movie back in 1975 with "Jaws," a fish tale to end them all. This is essentially an updating and streamlining of the 1950s monster movie.
"Derzu Uzala" (1975), directed by Kurosawa, is a man against nature story set in Siberia. A Russian explorer comes across a savvy guide who shows him what he needs to know to survive on a tundra depicted in all its brutal vastness.
Director Richard Lester's "The Three Musketeers" (1974) is the best of the many versions of the Dumas classic. If you are going to update and revise the swashbuckler, this is exactly how it should be done.
"The Warriors" (1979), directed by Walter Hill, is an offbeat fantasy-adventure about a New York City youth gang that gets stranded in hostile territory and must run, fight, and outwit every other gang in New York to get back home. This movie has style to burn.
"The Black Stallion" (1979), directed by Carroll Ballard, follows a boy who is shipwrecked in a desert island where he befriends a magnificent horse, which he trains as a race horse. Production values and cinematography here are as good as they get.
"Quest for Fire" (1981), directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, is a convincing portrayal of how our prehistoric ancestors lived in an age when having fire was crucial to a tribe's survival. When fire goes out, the search begins.
"Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), directed by Steven Spielberg, lavishes major budget and talent on what is essentially an old cliffhanger serial and comes up with a smash hit.
"Excalibur" (1981), directed by John Boorman, is the finest telling of the King Arthur legend with just the right touch of the supernatural. It doesn't flinch at the sex and paganism of pre-Christian Britain.
"The Road Warrior" (1981), directed by George Miller, set the standard for kinetic car stunt sequences. But the film is great because it draws the viewer into its bent logic of a post- apocalyptic desert world where survival depends on precious gasoline.
"Fitzcarraldo" (1982), directed by Werner Herzog, is the definitive against-all-odds epic of human will. Klaus Kinski is the engineering visionary who wants to bring opera and civilization to the Amazon, but first must find a way to haul a ship over a mountain.
"The Year of Living Dangerously" (1983), directed by Peter Weir, has Mel Gibson as Australian newsman caught up in the unrest in Indonesia in 1965. Linda Hunt, playing a man, is his sidekick photographer.
"Never Cry Wolf" (1983), directed by Carroll Ballard, is a wilderness adventure about how naturalist Farley Mowat camped out in the Arctic to study wolves and dispel myths about their behavior.
"The Right Stuff" (1983), directed by Philip Kaufman, is an epic telling of the early years of America's space program that hits just the right balance between respect for the astronaut's courage and irreverence about their personal lives.
"The Little Drummer Girl" (1984), directed by George Roy Hill from John LeCarre's novel, is a much-underrated secret agent movie about a British actress recruited by the Israelis to infiltrate a Palestinian terror cell. The great strength of the movie (like the novel) is its refusal to deal in cliches.
"Runaway Train" (1985), directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, is an out-of-left-field winner about a couple of tough convicts in Alaska who break out of prison and get aboard a train that is barreling out of control across the tundra, all the while snarling existential one-liners. Unique.
"Mosquito Coast" (1986), directed by Peter Weir from Paul Theroux's novel, has Harrison Ford as monomaniac American inventor who takes his family into remote jungle where he intends to build a new Eden based around an ice plant. Such hubris, of course, invites disaster. And that's even before the hurricane hits!
"Mountains of the Moon" (1990), directed by Bob Rafaelson, is the true story of British explorers Richard Burton and John Speke, who embarked on the great geographical quest of the Victorian age, the search for the source of the Nile.
"The Last of the Mohicans" (1992), directed by Michael Mann, wisely chucks all the boring exposition from James Fenimore Cooper's novel and builds a streamlined Indians-vs.-colonists adventure from the ground up. Daniel Day-Lewis is a robust Hawkeye.
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