The cover story of a 6/91 TV Guide offers Leonard Maltin's 50 BEST VIDEOS TO WATCH OVER AND OVER AGAIN. Most of the titles on his list are "A" movies with plots that are so memorable that it's hard to watch them more than once a decade unless you're either (a) fanatical or (b) absent-minded. Nope, for my money, the best movies to watch over and over again are the "B" movie gems.
Why "B" movies? Well, for one thing, the casts, although often just as excellent as their more illustrious colleagues, rarely carry the overpowering baggage that accompanies superstars, so its easier to forget you're only watching a movie. (Val Lewton movies, for example, were even more blood curdling when ordinary folks like Jean Brooks and Kim Hunter were terrorised by Manhattan devil worshippers of the forties.) For another, B movies are filled with low-budget touches that aficionados like me cherish. One of my favorite "Whistler" movies is about a working class girl who marries a dying zillionaire for his money, but she still wears the same old clothes and makes him-what else?-but cupcakes for dinner.
And the best thing of all about B movies is that unstressed portrayal of the sleazier aspects of life. "Wicked Woman" with Beverly Michaels shows a small town cocktail waitress with a nefarious scheme to hook her married boss and his wife's dough. She lives in a crummy dump where the bathroom is down the hall and so is her sex-starved, gnome-like neighbor who breathes heavily whenever she tries to borrow a buck. Yes, they still make them like this anymore, but you have to go light years away from Hollywood to see them. (1990's "Frankenhooker" is a good contemporary example.)
The astronomical budgets of Hollywood ruin the while idea. The best "B" movies are quirky, subversive and militantly unique. They play with humour and horror by forcing you to imagine what they don't always have the money to show. Doug McClelland's THE GOLDEN AGE OF B MOVIES, Robin Cross' THE BIG BOOK OF B MOVIES and John Cocci's SECOND FEATURE are three fine recent examples of books which celebrate the art of the "B" movie. CASABLANA? Maybe I'll see it again in the year 2001. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE? Great, YOU watch it 365 days a year. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT? I'd rather stick needles in my eyes than ever see that one again. Give me FEAR IN THE NIGHT with DeForrest Kelley. Or GUNCRAZY with Peggy Cummins. Or DETOUR with Tom Neal and Ann Savage. Or!...
Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan
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