Greatest Films of the 1970s
Greatest Films of the 1970s

Greatest Films of the 1970s
1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979


Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

Airport (1970), 137 minutes, D: George Seaton

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), 110 minutes, D: Russ Meyer

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970, It./W. Germ.) (aka L'Uccello Dalle Piume Di Cristallo), 98 minutes, D: Dario Argento

Claire's Knee (1970, Fr.) (aka Le Genou de Claire), (5th film in Six Moral Tales), 105 minutes, D: Eric Rohmer

El Topo (1970, Mex.), 125 minutes, D: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Argentinian director/star Alejandro Jodorowsky's film was a self-conscious, surrealistic, often incoherent and incomprehensible, unique and avant-garde film (translated "the Mole"). It was a strange variant of the 60s "spaghetti" westerns - both gory and spiritual - and the first 'midnight movie' film. Perfectly timed for its counter-cultural era of free love and cannabis freak-outs, it was up to late-night, 'midnight movie' viewing audiences to interpret the self-conscious, spaced-out and often incoherent and incomprehensible avant-garde cult film. It told the surreal story of the existential and spiritual quest, with Christian and Eastern philosophy symbolism, of a black-clad, violent gunfighting title character (the director himself). The film opened with El Topo riding in the Mexican desert with his naked son (Brontis Jodorowsky) on the saddle in front of him. In the startling opening sequence, they found the bloody remains of a town massacre where animals were gutted and people were decimated, leaving a river of blood. When threatened by three crazed evil-doer bandits, El Topo quickly dispatched with them, and then sought further vengeance in a mission town against the fat, balding (with a toupee), pasty-faced but vicious and sadistic Colonel (David Silva) and his outlaw gang.
After castrating the Colonel (who then committed suicide) and executing his men, El Topo rescued the man's terrorized concubine-slave Mara (Mara Lorenzio) and rode off with her into the desert. She convinced him that for her to best love him, he had to prove himself by journeying onward to defeat and kill the "four great gun masters" who lived in the desert. Following the demise of all four adversaries and acquiring their wisdom, El Topo was betrayed by the 'Woman in Black' (Paula Romo), a whip-cracking bi-sexual gunslinger. In the second part of the film years later, a group of small-statured deformed cripples (exiled and outcast cave-dwellers) worshiped him as a god and savior, and expected him to free them. Simultaneously, El Topo appeared to have found enlightenment and holy "sainthood" and was born again. In a gun-blasting finale, El Topo shot all of the oppressive cultist clan members in a frontier town, and then immolated himself in the dusty street. A swarming beehive grave was constructed for El Topo's remains. The film ended as El Topo's grown son, his dwarf girlfriend and child rode off on the horse into the desert, mirroring the scenes in the film's opening.

Five Easy Pieces (1970), 96 minutes, D: Bob Rafelson
This existential, off-beat road movie and thoughtful, episodic and moody character study told about a classical concert pianist-turned-oil rigger, who was searching for his identity. He was compelled to reluctantly return home to visit his family in the cold Northwest. An alienated and misfit drifter, but talented musician-pianist Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson) had abandoned his privileged, well-to-do family background, becoming the black sheep of his family as a crass, drifting, redneck, rough, beer-drinking oil-field worker in Southern California. The lonely, non-committed drop-out often took the "easy" route (usually denial, escape, or flight) from his discordant problems, career, and relationships with women, friends and family. After a period of twenty years, he confronted his past when he returned home to Washington State (Puget Sound) to his artistic, upper-class family and his dying father's deathbed, accompanied by his adoring but clinging, dim-witted, pregnant girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black). The existential film's most classic scene was Dupea's outburst while ordering a plain omelet with a side of toast (ultimately a chicken salad sandwich) in a roadside diner - symbolic of the 60s generation's anti-authoritarianism and alienation during the Vietnam War Era. His uncomfortable journey to see his dying father concluded in an open-ended, ambiguous way when he hitched a ride to nowhere and deserted Rayette.

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970, It./W. Germ.) (aka Il Giardino Dei Finzi-Contini), 94 minutes, D: Vittorio De Sica

Gimme Shelter (1970), 91 minutes, D: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970, It.) (aka Indagine Su Un Cittadino Al Di Sopra Di Ogni Sospetto), 112 minutes, D: Elio Petri

Little Big Man (1970), 147 minutes, D: Arthur Penn
A serio-comic, revisionist Western and one of the best (and most successful) films of the 1970s. The anti-establishment, unconventional western depicted the inhumane treatment of Native Americans within its heavy-handed, fictional biopic tale (with the title character shuffling back and forth between Indian and white cultures). The daring film also served as a veiled criticism of Christian hypocrisy and a critique of the genocidal mistreatment of Native Americans (paralleling the My Lai Vietnam massacre in 1968). It opened with 121 year-old Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) recalling his tall-tale epic exploits in the West to a skeptical historian-interviewer (William Hickey), and claiming to be the only white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Crabb surveyed his various incarnations - beginning as an orphaned and adopted Indian. Orphaned at age 10 with his sister Caroline (Carol Androsky), Jack was raised by Cheyenne Indians and fatherly Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George) after his pioneer parents were killed crossing the Great Plains. He acquired the nickname 'Little Big Man' during adolescence when he saved the life of Younger Bear (Cal Bellini) in a raid against Pawnees. Subsequently, he was seized by white men during a battle and raised by stern Rev. Silas Pendrake (Thayer Drake) and his sex-obsessed, seductive wife (Faye Dunaway). The saga continued as Crabb hawked patent medicines with snake-oil huckster-peddler Allardyce T. Merriweather (Martin Balsam) and became a gunfighter known as the "Soda Pop Kid." He rubbed elbows with contemporaries including gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Corey), married Swedish Olga (Kelly Jean Peters), and ran a haberdashery. Then after heading west, he scouted for the racist, pompous, and foolhardy Gen. George A. Custer's (Richard Mulligan) Cavalry unit, then deserted and traveled to the reservation led by now-blind Old Lodge Skins.
Crabb fathered a child with Indian Sunshine (Amy Eccles). But then Custer's forces struck and only Jack and Old Lodge Skins survived the attack at the Washita River (set up as a criticism of the My Lai Vietnam massacre). Later, he became an alcoholic and a hermit, and was rehired by Custer as a scout. The vengeful Crabb was present when Custer's 7th cavalry forces were massacred by Cheyenne Indians at the Little Big Horn in 1876. He was saved when recognized by Younger Bear, and was reunited with dying Old Lodge Skins.

Love Story (1970), 99 minutes, D: Arthur Hiller

M*A*S*H (1970), 116 minutes, D: Robert Altman
Robert Altman's controversial, zany and satirical signature film (earning him the first of his five directorial Academy Award nominations, and one of his biggest, most-financially successful, and popular hit films), was well-known as the source of the long-running CBS-TV series (from 1972-1983). The countercultural, irreverent black comedy anti-war film took place at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit during the Korean War, a thinly disguised allegory for the unpopular Vietnam War that was raging at the time. The director capitalized on the current disenchanted mood about the insane conflict and - with idiotic black humor, poured on the blood and gore in the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital's operating room to illustrate the theme that "war is hell."
Quick-cut editing, fast-quipped overlapping lines of constant dialogue, and the busy soundtrack made repeated viewings necessary. The film's characters in the ensemble cast became truly memorable, including three anti-hero surgeons: Captain Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce (Donald Sutherland), Major "Duke" Forrest (Tom Skerritt), and Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre (Elliott Gould). The hospital was mostly administered by psychic Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff, the only major cast member to star in the same role in the TV series), who was efficiently running the camp amidst the distracted absence of commanding officer Colonel Henry Blake (Roger Bowen). The two major foils (humorous objects of continual ridicule, cruelty and mistreatment) in the MASH unit included ultra-dedicated, self-righteous, strict and moralistic Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall), and his love interest - sexy head nurse Major Margaret "Hot Lips" O'Houlihan (Sally Kellerman in an Oscar-nominated role). With little over-riding plot, the episodic and anarchic film with some improvisation basically examined how the wisecracking surgeons and other unit members irreverently dealt with the pressures, boredom and stupidity of wartime, by heavily drinking, womanizing, and engaging in pranks, hijinks, and anti-authoritarian behavior to retain their sanity. The irreverent surgeons terrorized Burns and "Hot Lips" by secretly broadcasting their love-making over the camp's loudspeakers in order to thoroughly humiliate them, and by exposing "Hot Lips" nude during an outdoor shower (while betting on her pubic hair color). She was furious and screamed at Col. Blake: "This isn't a hospital! It's an insane asylum, and it's your fault!" The unit members also saved the camp's well-endowed dentist "Painless Pole" Waldowski (John Schuck) from suicide (when he feared he was homosexual) by staging a Last Supper while singing the famous theme song: "Suicide Is Painless" and then providing him with Lieut. "Dish" Schneider (Jo Ann Pflug) to prove his virility. The film concluded with a climactic football game (with "Hot Lips" serving as the unit's head cheerleader) against the 325th Evac Hospital (who attempted to rig the game with a professional "ringer"). The M*A*S*H unit was able to score a victory in the final moments using a trick play.

Patton (1970), 170 minutes, D: Franklin J. Schaffner
The epic Best Picture-winning film biography was shot in 70 mm. widescreen color, and surveyed the controversial, bombastic, multi-dimensional World War II general and hero George S. Patton (portrayed by George C. Scott).
The story was based on two books: Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier's Story by General Omar Bradley (portrayed by Malden). The bigger-than-life screen biography was most noted for its brilliant opening monologue by Patton, delivered before a gigantic American flag to the off-screen troops of the Allied Third Army ("No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country"). The larger-than-life, flamboyant, maverick, pugnacious military figure, nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts," was well-known for his fierce love of America, his temperamental battlefield commanding, his arrogant power-lust ("I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life"), his poetry writing, his belief in reincarnation, his verbal abuse and slapping of a battle-fatigued soldier, his anti-diplomatic criticism of the Soviet Union, and his firing of pistols at strafing fighter planes.

Performance (1970, UK), 105 minutes, D: Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970, UK), 125 minutes, D: Billy Wilder

Tristana (1970, Fr./It./Sp.), 95 minutes, D: Luis Bunuel

Woodstock 3 Days of Peace & Music (1970), 184 minutes, D: Michael Wadleigh

Zabriskie Point (1970), 112 minutes, D: Michelangelo Antonioni

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