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.
One of the best and wittiest of the comedies made during the 1970s ”look back in fondness” craze, Mike Nichols’s The Fortune —about a pair of nitwits (Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson) who attempt to murder ditzy heiress Stockard Channing—is so summer-before-the-Crash hazy that the cinematography itself seems light-headed with humidity. The 1920s atmosphere is all sun, white linen, old convertibles, improperly paved country roads, palm trees, and screwball, like a Gatsby scenario with its pants down.
The film that first reincarnated the detective-film noir, Roman Polanski’s magisterial movie is all about L.A., so it’s not shadowy and expressionistic—it’s blistered by July sunshine, and is no less affecting for the turnabout. One of the unarguable gems of the American canon, this film can and should be seen for a variety of reasons, but the glare-and-heat seasonal mood is particularly impressive, especially in view of how the hero—Jack Nicholson’s supercool private dick Jake Gittes—rather hedonistically spends his sweltering mid-days: hanging out and avoiding authority, kinda like a kid.
The quintessential 1970s film—which is to say, it embodies the cynical death of 1960s idealism while establishing another high bar for the new American New Wave’s focus on working-class life in all of its dead-ended frustration. Jack Nicholson made himself a star as the rebel son of a family of concert pianists who tries working on an oil rig, but can’t settle anywhere. The film’s most famous scene, set in a diner and concerning a chicken salad sandwich, sums up an entire generation’s dashed hopes and rising rage at a complacent America.