Hollywood’s second Golden Age of Film–the 1970s
Bell bottoms, disco, and President Gerry Ford. What else are the 1970s good for? Well, perhaps the darkest, meanest, and potentially best decade of films, ever!?
From revisionist westerns where the protagonists might, in fact, be bad guys. To cop thrillers where the cops may have to cheat to win, often times fighting other dirty cops. Comedies grew darker and much more brazen, attacking everything and everyone. Romantic films got messier and quite mature, dealing with sex directly (and often explicitly). And dramas could show us the underbelly of real life like never before. Nothing was sacred, every nasty aspect of life was unveiled in all its glory.
I’ve divided my list of 70s Film Legends into two groups: The Crew, a list of the most influential film-makers; and The Cast, a list of the most influential actors of the day.
Chad R Schulz, March 2014
Some pretty hefty films for Robert Redford in the 70s: ‘The Hot Rock’, political drama ‘The Candidate’, ‘Jeremiah Johnson’, ‘The Sting’ (Oscar nomination!), ‘The Great Waldo Pepper’, ‘Three Days of the Condor’, his great Dustin Hoffman pairing in ‘All the President’s Men’, and ‘A Bridge Too Far’. Lots of often dark and always thoughtful projects.
All he needed was ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘Outlaw Josie Wales’. But Clint Eastwood’s legendary 70s also included in ‘Two Mules for Sister Sara’, ‘Kelly’s Heroes’, ‘The Beguiled’, ‘Joe Kidd’, ‘Magnum Force’, ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’, ‘The Enforcer’ and ‘Escape From Alcatraz’. While directing himself in ‘Play Misty for Me’, ‘High Plains Drifter’, ‘The Eiger Sanction’, ‘Wales’ and ‘The Gauntlet’. Busy enough?
Holy crap, some seriously screwed up films by one seriously talented actor. ‘Little Big Man’, Peckinpah’s ‘Straw Dogs’, co-starring with Steve McQueen in ‘Papillon’, ‘Lenny’ (Oscar nominated performance as comic Lenny Bruce), ‘All the President’s Men’, ‘Marathon Man’, and an Oscar win for ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’. Dustin Hoffman drifted a long way from ‘The Graduate’.
Faye Dunaway appeared in some of the absolute best films of the 70s with some outstanding performances. ‘Little Big Man’, ‘The Three Musketeers’, ‘The Towering Inferno’, ‘Three Days of the Condor’. ‘The Voyage of the Damned’, ‘Eyes of Laura Mars’, and ‘The Champ’. Best Actress Oscar nomination for ‘Chinatown'(!) and a win for ‘Network’.
Gene Hackman’s 70s started with an underrated Oscar nominated performance in ‘I Never Sang for My Father’. Then Popeye Doyle in both ‘The French Connection’ (Oscar win for Best Lead Actor) and ‘French Connection II’. A funny cameo in ‘Young Frankenstein’, stand-out performances in disaster epic ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, Coppola’s paranoia masterpiece ‘The Conversation’, ‘Night Moves’, ‘Bite the Bullet’, and ‘A Bridge Too Far’. And Lex “freakin'” Luther in ‘Superman’.
Ignoring the gentle character he played in ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’ the 1970s was the decade we “discovered” the intensity of Robert DeNiro. Won an Oscar playing a young Vito Corleone in ‘Godfather: Part II’. Groundbreaking performances in Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’, ‘New York, New, York’ and as the ultimate crazy man, “Travis Bickle”, in ‘Taxi Driver’ (Oscar nod). Plus ‘1900’ and ‘The Deer Hunter’ (another Oscar nod).
Jack Nicholson gathered Oscar nominations for ‘Five Easy Pieces’, ‘The Last Detail, ‘Chinatown'(!), and he won his first Oscar for ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest’. Not a bad list of leftovers, either: ‘Carnal Knowledge’ ‘The Passenger’, ‘The Missouri Breaks’, and ‘Goin’ South’–which he also directed.
Lots of great (often dark) performances from Jane Fonda in the 70s. An Oscar-winning role as a prostitute in the thriller ‘Klute’, the apt-named ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’, Oscar nods for Fonda in both the period drama ‘Julia’ and the nuclear thriller ‘The China Syndrome’. And her second Oscar Best Actress win in Vietnam-era love-triangle drama ‘Coming Home’.
‘American Graffiti’, ‘Jaws‘, and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, a trilogy of brilliant charismatic performances in ground-breaking films. And Richard Dreyfuss also appeared in ‘Dillinger’, the offbeat mystery ‘The Big Fix‘, and won an Oscar for Neil Simon’s ‘The Goodbye Girl’. Gotta love the laugh;)
Starting out in a gritty urban crime drama ‘The Panic in Needle Park’ Al Pacino dominated the 70s. All of the following are Oscar nominated performances: Michael Corleone in ‘The Godfather: Parts I and II’, ‘Serpico’, the great hostage thriller ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, plus ‘…And Justice for All.’ A pretty solid resume…for only one decade.
Gene Wilder started this decade out in the fan-favorite ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’, then Woody Allen’s ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex’, and the double whammy of Mel Brooks’ ‘Blazing Saddles’ and ‘Young Frankenstein’ (this got him an Oscar nomination for Best Writing). Also, his first Richard Pryor pairing in ‘Silver Streak’ and with Harrison Ford in ‘The Frisco Kid’. A legendary straight-man in hilarious classic cinema.
Warren Beatty may not be the most prolific actor/film-maker but he chooses his projects with great care. Everything from comedy ‘$’, western ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller’, romance ‘Heaven Can Wait’–which earned four Oscar nominations for Beatty (Picture, Actor, Director and Writing!), political thriller ‘The Parallax View’, and drama ‘Shampoo’–another Oscar nod for Writing. All eclectic, well-done, and significant 70s films.
“Post-James Bond” Sean Connery might not have packed them into theaters but he was at his creative peak. ‘The Molly Maguires’, ‘The Anderson Tapes’, the deeply disturbing ‘The Offence’, ‘Zardoz'(!), ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘The Wind and the Lion’, the Kipling classic ‘The Man Who Would Be King’, playing Robin Hood with Audrey Hepburn(!) in ‘Robin and Marian’, ‘A Bridge Too Far’, and ‘The Great Train Robbery’. Bond who?
Donald Sutherland had a great decade: ‘MASH'(An Oscar nomination!), ‘Kelly’s Heroes’, ‘Klute’, Nicolas Roeg’s creepy ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘The Day of the Locust’, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’, remember his butt in ‘Animal House’?, the superior re-make of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, ‘The Great Train Robbery’, and support in ‘Murder by Decree’. Great decade for a great “Oddball”.
John Wayne (in his last decade), Ryan O’Neal, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Roy Scheider, Charlton Heston (a guilty inclusion), and the king of cool Steve McQueen. All great actors in many great performances. Sure I missed a few, and perhaps left a few out…on purpose.