Jack Nicholson, a telepathic boy, an empty hotel, an axe. And oh, so much more—Stanley Kubrick’s landmark boo-fest rewards repeat viewings like a slot machine, from the awful sound of the kid’s Big Wheel on those silent corridor carpets to the beautiful naked ghost in the bathtub to Lloyd the saturnine bartender, fueling the animal for a night of mad havoc. The Shining is as much a hair-raising exploration of writer’s block, wintertime claustrophobia, and paternal impatience as it is a whacked-out horror flick—and it does run amuck in its own ozone. If little else, it’ll surely cure you of the notion that getting genuinely snowed in within a cavernous resort hotel might be fun or restorative, but being trapped at home with this dilly can electrify a cold, dull afternoon. If you can’t already quote at least half a dozen lines (“Give me the bat, Wendy . . .”), you need to catch up with the rest of America. All work and no play, indeed. With Shelley Duvall, Joe Turkell, and Scatman Crothers.
It’d be hard to do better than to hunker down with Murder on the Orient Express. A gleefully professional, completely confident all-star cast, on an aristocratic-age luxury train, on a day when the snow piles up outside just like it piles up around the train, stuck as it is in a Yugoslavian mountain drift while one of its passengers (Richard Widmark) is murdered in his private berth. Agatha Christie stalwart Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney, slicing his lean ham so nicely) interviews the suspects, twirling his trademarked moustache, and decades of celebrities parade before us, acting up snowstorms. Ah, the lost days when murder was fun, train travel was elegant, and royalty were to be pitied their vanished empires. An Oscar went to Ingrid Bergman for her one scene because, well, she’s Ingrid Bergman.
It’s a universal assumption by now that this bouncy, matter-of-fact sci-fi thriller was actually directed by producer Howard Hawks. This accounts for the snappy patter and all-business plot stuff, but the “trapped in the Arctic with an alien” scenario comes from veteran genre scribe John W. Campbell Jr.’s story “Who Goes There?” Tight and suspenseful as hell; The Thing was remade in 1982 to significantly more garish effect.
Arguably the best American TV series about small children, Rugrats was also one of the subtlest and wisest about Jewish family life in the United States. In this special, the toddlers imagine themselves into Ancient Jerusalem. “A Maccababy’s gotta do what a Maccababy’s gotta do!” A richer meal, even, for parents than for tykes.
Joan Micklin Silver’s groundbreaking indie—a historical film about immigrant life in 1890s New York, made for next to nothing—recreates the Russian-Jewish ghetto world with a savvy ear for dialect and distinctly unsilvery black-and-white cinematography. Other than the Yiddish films of Molly Picon, Hester Street may be the next best thing to being there. With Carol Kane.
The only German Expressionist staple—and the only horror-genre tale—of the Chanukah offerings, the Paul Wegener production (he’s the director and monolithic star), which has its origins in ancient Judaic myth, details the magical creation, in sixteenth-century Prague, of a giant clay man to defend the Jews from persecution. Other versions, including a French Le Golem released in 1936 and a British thriller called It! (1966), aren’t as memorable The Golem.