Perhaps the closest a Hollywood movie has ever gotten—and probably will ever get—to the free-associative shotgun spray of Salvador Dali’s and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, this first film by the team of director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is an ingenious, incredibly entertaining, Rorschach blot of a metacomedy. The primary metaphoric vehicle of Being John Malkovich is a mysterious, slimy tunnel that leads directly from a small door in an obsolete office building into the consciousness of actor John Malkovich. After fifteen minutes spent in Malkovich’s head, however, tunnel travelers are interdimensionally chucked out onto the shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike, but the orgasmic thrill of living inside Malkovich’s skull spurs the characters (including office clerk and formerly unemployed puppeteer John Cusack, his frumpy—yes, frumpy—wife, Cameron Diaz, and sultry business chick Catherine Keener) to repeat the experience and steer Malkovich’s actions into fulfilling their sexual fantasies. Charlie Sheen shows up, as himself, blabbering about “hot lesbian witches!”
Director Arthur Penn (of 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde fame) was never a subtle craftsman, and this shticky yet intelligent rendition of Thomas Berger’s big, absurdist farce Little Big Man fit him like a glove. Dustin Hoffman plays a 121-year-old man who claims to have been everywhere and witnessed everything, from the death of Wild Bill Hickok to Custer’s Last Stand.
This perennially popular World War II POW-camp adventure is the least traumatic war film you can imagine—a precursor to TV’s Hogan’s Heroes, it’s peopled with glib movie stars doing “outwit the Nazis” shtick and exhibiting the Allies’ “we can take it” wherewithal. As you might guess, The Great Escape is not an emotionally demanding film: Steve McQueen suffers time in solitary with a mitt and baseball, James Garner manages to scrounge everything but the kitchen sink in the middle of nowhere, Charles Bronson’s “Tunnel King” digs toward the fences despite his claustrophobia, and so on.
The chattiest, dreamiest, and wittiest of noir mysteries, Otto Preminger’s Laura begins with a murder and a romance—cool cop Dana Andrews falls for the dead woman, personified by Gene Tierney’s wall portrait. Then Tierney’s heroine walks in from a weekend away, and no one’s sure who the body belongs to. All in all, the film is virtually owned by Clifton Webb, the feyest and most acidic character actor of the 1940s.