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

Bananas (1971), 82 minutes, D: Woody Allen

Brian's Song (1971) (TV), 73 minutes, D: Buzz Kulik

Carnal Knowledge (1971), 97 minutes, D: Mike Nichols

A Clockwork Orange (1971, UK), 137 minutes, D: Stanley Kubrick
Provocatively adapted from the famous novel by Anthony Burgess, Kubrick's glossy, stylish, graphically-violent, controversial, futuristic, science-fiction satire was about the effects of crime and punishment (aversion therapy and brainwashing against violence) on a British teenaged punk. After a night of hooliganism with his vicious gang of droogs, including gang rapes and beatings, a sadistic Alex (Malcolm McDowell) was captured. In a grim, unorthodox governmental experiment, he was re-programmed, through his love for Beethoven's music, to reject violence, but he was dehumanized in the process of being cured. Vengeance was revisited upon him by his former victims after he was released into the society.

Death in Venice (1971, It.) (aka Morte a Venezia), 130 minutes, D: Luchino Visconti

Dirty Harry (1971), 103 minutes, D: Don Siegel

Duel (1971), 90 minutes, D: Steven Spielberg

The Emigrants (1971, Swe.) (aka Utvandrarna), 148 minutes, D: Jan Troell

Fiddler on the Roof (1971), 180 minutes, D: Norman Jewison

The French Connection (1971), 104 minutes, D: William Friedkin
William Friedkin's action-packed, intense, gritty, Best Picture-winning crime thriller was filmed on location and based on a true story about one of the largest narcotics seizures of all-time (in 1962 when 120 pounds of pure heroin worth $32 million, were confiscated after being smuggled into the country hidden in a vehicle). The screenplay by Ernest Tidyman about a crackdown on a multi-million dollar international dope smuggling ring was based on Robin Moore's best-selling 1969 book The French Connection. The crime classic starred two hard-nosed, vulgar New York City police cops who exposed an international, heroin-smuggling operation based in Marseilles - headed by suave, elusive, mastermind crime boss Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). The film opened with Charnier's hit-man/henchman Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzufi) callously murdering a French detective in Marseilles. The action shifted to NYC, where passionate, tough, pushy, and unorthodox narcotics detective Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Best-Actor winning Gene Hackman) recklessly and obsessively fought crime with his partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider). On a hunch after viewing the suspicious flashing of money in an Eastside club, the two plainclothes cops tailed the suspect, Salvatore "Sal" Boca (Tony LoBianco) to a candy store front, who later was found to be associated with Jewish mafia boss Joel Weinstock (Harold Gray) - a major financial backer of the illegal importation of drugs. Shoot-outs, chases, stalkings, and other tense scenes included the breath-taking, famous elevated-railway scene of Doyle fearlessly borrowing a car and narrowly dodging traffic and bystanders below to give chase (in Bensonhurst) after the runaway train commandeered by Pierre Nicoli. The drugs were ultimately found cleverly hidden in the rocker panels of a Lincoln Continental Mark III owned by leading French TV personality Henri Devereaux (Frederic De Pasquale). A duplicate car was released, and Charnier drove it to an old factory on Wards Island to meet Weinstock and deliver the drugs for the payoff. The story ended with a massive ambush and shoot-out, resulting in Boca's killing and Weinstock's arrest. When Doyle and Buddy pursued Charnier through a subterranean warehouse on Wards Island, federal agent Mulderig (Bill Hickman) was accidentally killed by Doyle. The elusive Charnier (who evidently slipped away and was never caught) was disturbing to Doyle: ("The son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I'm gonna get him"). The film deliberately concluded on a mysterious note and with a failed denouement. A sequel four years later, French Connection II (1975), chased Charnier to Marseilles.

Get Carter (1971, UK), 111 minutes, D: Mike Hodges

Harold and Maude (1971), 90 minutes, D: Hal Ashby

Klute (1971), 114 minutes, D: Alan J. Pakula

The Last Picture Show (1971), 118 minutes, D: Peter Bogdanovich
Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry. A bleak, black and white cinematic modern-day classic, set in the small, northwestern (fictional) Texas town of Anarene in the period between the end of World War II and the Korean War in the early 50s. A poignant, coming-of-age tale of the loss of innocence for teenagers in the slowly-dying town, symbolized by the closing of the local picture palace, owned by Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson). The story was about a pair of HS football players, seniors Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) - who had an affair with the lonely football-basketball coach's wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) - who dated the sexy, self-centered, spoiled student beauty Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd in her film debut) and enlisted after being dumped. Other desperate townsfolk were also having affairs - Jacy's loose mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn) with oilfield worker Abilene (Clu Gulager).

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), 120 minutes, D: Robert Altman
Iconoclastic and offbeat director Robert Altman's classic, dark-toned, moody, and dramatic anti-Western (including a love story) was based on the novel McCabe by Edmund Naughton. The dimly-lit, lyrical and cynically-bleak tale about a struggle for survival presented the American dream gone sour, in a revisionist western that concluded with a prolonged shootout. Gloomy folk music from Leonard Cohen organically and hauntingly complemented the pace of the film. It also featured great cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond - beautifully envisioned (filmed on location in Canada), with Altman's cinematographer creating an antique-like, painterly portrait of the unsightly town at the turn of the century (1902), as industrialization was occurring. A mysterious, roguish, bearded small-time, frontier drifter and two-bit gambler John McCabe (Warren Beatty) opened up a brothel/casino in the great northern, wintry wilderness settlement of Presbyterian Church - a grimy, lamp-lit and shoddy mining town. He had used his winnings to build a classy saloon-casino-brothel in the remote, makeshift Washington community. But then the film portrayed his ultimately, naive, and unsuccessful efforts to build a capitalistic business. Amiable, not-very-bright braggart McCabe, with entrepreneurish ambitions forged what he believed would be a profitable business alliance-partnership with shrewd Cockney drifter-prostitute Mrs. Constance Miller (Best Actress Oscar-nominated Julie Christie) - she would be the madam of the whorehouse and with her business savvy, she would efficiently manage the prostitutes, with a promise to transform the initial tents into a classy and professional bordello within the soon-to-be booming town. She helped to stabilize the operation and make it a successful enterprise, but she was addicted to pipe-smoked opium, and she had sex with McCabe as a paying customer. Due to his lucky success, McCabe was confronted by representatives of the Harrison and Shaunessy Mining Company that wanted to buy him out for $5,500 (the offer was increased to $6,250), but he inexplicably turned them down. McCabe stubbornly refused to be bought out by the corporate zinc mining company. He then faced the ugly consequences - the appearance of three hired enforcers: gunmen Butler (Hugh Millais), Breed (Jace Vander Veen) and Kid (Manfred Schulz). In the final celebrated sequence of a lethal confrontation set during a snowstorm, McCabe temporarily and cowardly evaded their tracking by taking refuge in the church, then shot and killed the three men, but was mortally-wounded himself. McCabe succumbed alone in a snowdrift - a victim to big business, while Mrs. Miller succumbed to her addiction to her drugs.

Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), 183 minutes, D: Franklin J. Schaffner

Play Misty For Me (1971), 102 minutes, D: Clint Eastwood

Shaft (1971), 100 minutes, D: Gordon Parks
A former photojournalist with Life Magazine, Gordon Parks became noticed as the first African-American filmmaker to direct a motion picture that was released by a major US studio - The Learning Tree (1969). The esteemed, pioneering director's next film was this landmark crime-actioner - the first major, commercial crime film with a black hero. It won an Oscar for Isaac Hayes' memorable theme song. The colorful, action-packed, slightly tongue-in-cheek film portrayed the ultra-hip, handsome, defiantly-proud police detective John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) as the black version of Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" Callahan. He worked in Harlem against the Italian Mafia, and was also a "sex machine." Parks' subversive film became a major cross-over hit in the early 70s, and from then on through the end of the decade, hundreds of films would be released by major and independent studios featuring major black characters (and some black athletes such as Jim Brown and Rosie Grier), to profit from the black movie-going audiences.

Straw Dogs (1971, UK), 118 minutes, D: Sam Peckinpah
Sam Peckinpah's unflinching vigilante thriller starred Dustin Hoffman as David Sumner, a bookish, mild-mannered, pre-occupied, effete American mathematician on sabbatical in a rural England town with his attractive and provocative newly-wed bride Amy (Susan George). Sumner was transformed from a meek, spineless, bullied and pacifist academic into a rampaging homicidal husband and protective home-owner. He erupted cathartically with bloody violence after locals raped Amy and later laid siege to their house. He retaliated in a climactic bloodbath sequence with vicious scalding, shotgun blasts, clubbing, and use of a mantrap - understandably redemptive yet mostly unsatisfying.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971, UK), 110 minutes, D: John Schlesinger

Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song (1971), 97 minutes, D: Melvin Van Pebbles
Melvin Van Peebles served as financier, producer, writer, musical scorer, and star of his own low-budget first effort. Actor/director/writer Melvin Van Peebles' X-rated, confrontational cult film was the first true blaxploitation film - it was specifically designed to upset white audiences (advertised with "Rated X by an All-White Jury"), with Peebles himself playing the part of the sex-hungry, violent anti-hero. The successful independent film (budgeted at $150,000) was released by independent distributor Cinemation, and aimed at urban black audiences. It was an anti-White, anti-authority diatribe - explained in the film's opening: "This film is dedicated to all the Brothers and Sisters who had enough of the Man...Starring: The Black Community." It caused tremendous controversy for its militancy, under-age sex, anti-white sentiment, revenge-themes, and violence, although it was one of the most important black American films of the decade. It was the first commercially-successful black-themed film, forcing Hollywood to acknowledge the monetary potential of the untapped, urban African-American market. It was supplemented with jump-cuts, experimental lighting, freeze-frames, tinted and overlapping images and montages as it chronicled the successful (uncharacteristically) flight of a black fugitive nicknamed "Sweet Sweetback" (due to his large-sized manhood and insatiable sexual prowess) through Los Angeles - and toward and across the Mexican border. It was exceptional that a vengeful black man (after witnessing corrupt police violence and almost beating two officers to death) could survive as a fugitive, as happened in the film.

10 Rillington Place (1971, UK), 111 minutes, D: Richard Fleischer
This was an exceptional biographical crime drama - a treatise against capital punishment, - with a tagline which asked the question: "What happened to the women at 10 Rillington Place?" The story, set in London in 1949, was about a monstrous, psychopathic British serial killer named John Reginald Christie (Richard Attenborough). It first went back a few years in time to show how the notorious, soft-spoken Christie lured his female victims by impersonating a medical expert. He would knock them out (with gas), strangle and rape them, and then hide their corpses in his home or bury them in his garden. Then, it told about new tenants, dim-witted and illiterate Tim (John Hurt) and pregnant wife Beryl Evans (Judy Geeson) with a newborn named Geraldine, who rented rooms above apt. manager Christie's row-house apartment. Christie took advantage of the indigent and pregnant Beryl, who was desperate for an abortion ("termination"), with the help of his complicit wife Ethel (Pat Heywood). During the 'operation,' he raped and murdered Beryl, then framed the killing on Tim (who was convinced to flee by train), and also strangled the baby. When Tim was apprehended by police, he unaccountably confessed to both murders (with three signed confessions), without pressure or coercion - and he was charged with the killings. During the trial, a complete miscarriage of justice, there was powerful circumstantial evidence against Tim (he had approved his wife's abortion), while Christie denied any involvement (although evidence of his prior crimes of violence and theft demonstrated his lack of credibility). Most damning, Tim couldn't explain why he had confessed to a crime he didn't commit, and he was blamed for the killings. As an innocent man, he was unjustly sentenced to death, and although it was ruled that he was mentally incompetent, he was hanged in 1949. A few years later, graphic evidence surfaced that Christie was still murdering women (including his wife Ethel) and hiding bodies in his apartment. He was deemed responsible for the Evans' family killings. After Christie's trial, he was hanged to death in 1953. In the 1960s, Tim was given a posthumous official pardon (but his conviction remained on the books), and he was reburied.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), 102 minutes, D: Monte Hellman

Walkabout (1971, UK/Australia), 95 minutes, D: Nicolas Roeg
Cinematographer Nicolas Roeg's first-directed film exhibited his visual story-telling roots. Two siblings stranded in the hostile Australian outback after their father committed suicide faced a bleak future in the wild grip of nature. Their struggle to survive in the hot desert sun outside of civilization (a stark urban world of high-rises) was contrasted with the visually stunning scenery and magnificent wildlife photography of indigenous creatures, including kangaroos, lizards, snakes, and scorpions. A resourceful aboriginal boy conducting his solitary 'walkabout' rite of passage saved the two children, as they frolicked in nature, but were ultimately out-of-place.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), 100 minutes, D: Mel Stuart

W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971, Yugo/W. Germ.) (aka W.R.: Misterije Organizma), 85 minutes, D: Dusan Makavejev

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