Hands down, the best political thriller ever made. The plot is brilliant. The screenplay is perfect. The actors are in the zone. The direction is flawless. The black and white backdrop is appropriately filmed. Like 'Citizen Kane', I make a point of watching this film once every year. There is always something new to capture and admire. But that is what it's like with great films. It only takes one viewing for you to fall in love with it, but it takes multiple viewings to really discover how great it is because there is so much to discover.
This is one of Frank Sinatra's best performances. Laurence Harvey in the lead role is fantastic. I am quite sure that had this film had a bigger box office, had not had the unfortunate timing of being released at the time of John F. Kennedy's assassination and had not been pulled from distribution, Sinatra, Harvey, John Frankenheimer (the director), George Axelrod (the screenwriter) and the film would have all been nominated for Academy Awards.
A note to any film maker who wants to do a remake of any classic film: Don't do it! The unfortunate remake of this film in 2004 was, I'm sure, well-intentioned, but completely unnecessary. Classic films do not need to be remade. There is no point in remaking a film when it is perfect to begin with. Two other remakes of widely acknowledged classics (Psycho and Carrie) were also unfortunate.
So, about Angela Lansbury. I have come to terms with the fact (after many decades) that she did not win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. That is not to say that I agree with the decision. It is one of the most outrageous, mind boggling losses in the history of the Academy Awards. Lansbury's performance is easily one of the best supporting performances in the history of film. After I saw this film for the first time in 1991, the back jacket of the VHS said about her in part: "... in an Academy Award nominated performance." Well, of course. Later, when I found out that she had not won, I was stunned. It was like watching a tire on your car quickly deflate before your eyes. That she had won the Golden Globe and was the National Board of Review's winner was little comfort.
I have not an ill word to say of Patty Duke's performance in 'The Miracle Worker'. She does an admirable job. But when you have just watched a performance that is so revolutionary, awe-inspiring, gripping and iconic, when that performance is not rewarded by the highest accolade in film, you feel let down by that same institution. Lansbury in 'The Manchurian Candidate' commands your attention. When she first appears with such bravado and zest, you want to see her again and again. And she doesn't let up. Her ground-breaking final scene with Laurence Harvey is chillingly incredible. All of her scenes are mesmerizing. She looks the role. She is the role. A complete and career performance. She is so good. Even in her earlier works of the 1940s and 1950s, she's amazing. In 1948's 'State of the Union', she completely upstages the great Katharine Hepburn. She's an amazing actress in any medium.
When Martin Scorsese revealed his scariest movies of all time list in 2015, I'm sure there were a lot of people who cocked their heads to the side inquisitively and wondered 'really?' I wasn't one of them. Of the 11 on the list, I've seen all but four: 'Isle of the Dead, 'Uninvited', 'Dead of Night' and 'Night of the Demon' - all of them early 20th century British black and white films. It's strange because those films have all of my favorite elements. Some of those 11 films have made it onto my list.
It's important to point out here that Scorsese's list is of the 'scariest' - not the bloodiest. I don't consider the films on his list to be classified as typical horror films. Most of them are meant to be scary - through sight, sound (or the absence of such) and atmosphere. Most of them are actually forerunners of contemporary horror and thrillers. These are the films that are the blueprints for all of the formulaic horrors and thrillers that arrived in the late 1970s and that over-populated the film universe in the 1980s. As the trend tired itself out, the 1990s saw a resurgence of a more cerebral-style, back-to-basics horror/thriller - until once again, the genre did itself a disservice by cranking out way too many bland, run-of-the-mill copycats. Both of those eras still owe a great deal of gratitude to the films on Scorsese's list (and my list).
Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images Photo credit: AP
It was inevitable that Roger Federer's career would mirror that of Pete Sampras. Both are legendary players who rewrote the history books at Wimbledon. Both looked at that tournament as the hallowed ground of tennis. Both have similar playing styles. Both have similar gentlemanly personalities. And both have had end-of-career injury problems. For Sampras, his exit from the game came a year after he won his last major - the 2002 U.S. Open. For Federer, his exit from the game has not arrived despite the fact that his last major win was four years ago at Wimbledon 2012.
Their careers have been 10 years apart. Sampras arrived at the 1990 U.S. Open and managed to hang in for 12 years until he won his final major in 2002. Federer arrived in 2000 and his win at Wimbledon in 2012 could have been a final statement and period on his career. I don't think anyone would have been at all disappointed if he had retired after that win. But he has continued. This is where his career and Sampras' career have dovetailed. Their epic match at Wimbledon in 2001 was at the time and is still considered the changing of the guard. For Federer, there has been no such touchstone moment. His losses to Novak Djokovic came much earlier than Federer's 2012 Wimbledon win and Djokovic had already overtaken Federer as #1, so I don't see Djokovic as the heir to Federer.
In fact, there is no heir to Roger Federer. A few years ago and even earlier this year, one might have said that Milos Raonic was Federer's heir. If that was to be true, then you would have to believe that this year's Wimbledon semifinal between them was to be the touchstone moment of the changing of the guard. It certainly had all the dramatics and the right script. But Raonic is no Roger Federer, so that plot point doesn't work. Also, Raonic has turned out to be incredibly mentally vulnerable. The pressure he puts on himself is intense because he has to work so much harder than most to try and achieve anything close to what Sampras or Federer has achieved.
I think Roger Federer has needed that touchstone moment to clearly make up his mind that yes, there is an heir to his throne and can exit the game with grace. But he hasn't had that moment, so he continues to plod along because there is no clear challenger to his throne in the way that he was to Sampras. As the years go by without winning another major, you have to wonder what will be Roger Federer's exit strategy. I can't see him wobbling along, losing early and watching his ranking tumble out of the top 10. I don't want to see that happen to him. I would have been quite happy to have Wimbledon 2012 be his last major victory and have him finish out the year in style, as a champion.
But that is not the way it has worked out. I know he loves the game, but at some point, he's going to have to say enough. The inevitable has happened - injury, something that he has escaped throughout the entirety of his career. I really don't know why he hasn't said that he's going to retire. It would seem the perfect moment. He won a major, he climbed back to #1 in the world, he tried to stay on top, he tried to change his game. He was a success at doing all of that. I really thought that this latest injury would be the writing on the wall. Gone from the game for over six months, and he really thinks that he's going to regain the form to win another major? It's only going to get tougher and his body is not going to like it.
As with Pete Sampras' year-long hiatus from the game after he won the U.S. Open in 2002, I thought that Roger Federer's six month hiatus was going to be the sign that he was finally ready to call it a career. He has nothing left to prove. As a reasonable Federer fan, I don't want to see him stumble and fall, injure himself or injury his humility. It is the unreasonable Federer fans who want to see him play with a walker. Ultimately, it is up to him, but being the champion that he is, he's not going to be satisfied with just going through the motions with no meaningful results. That is why I think he should complete the Sampras-Federer circle by taking the final chapter from Pete Sampras' career and retire with dignity.
Despite the 150 year existence of tennis, there have only been a handful of movies that have exclusively featured tennis. Other films that feature tennis haven't even been about tennis. There are a lot of lists on the web that list 'the best tennis films in history' or 'the top 10 tennis films of all-time'. Both of those headlines are absurdly false. First, most the films that feature tennis are quite awful. Second, there are hardly 10 films that completely feature tennis that could fill a top 10 list. To fill it, you would have to add films that have only tennis matches in them, and documentaries and docudramas. To help you better understand the history of tennis in film, I have separated this topic into two separate lists: scripted films and documentaries - both alphabetically, to avoid any subjectivity as to what films appear should from the top down based on my opinion. This is also not an exhaustive list, as it does not include short films, short documentaries or animated programs.
16-Love (2012) - Feature independent drama.
Balls Out: The Gary Houseman Story (2009) - Low brow, recycled, T and A feature comedy. From the thousands of scripts that were submitted to the Bluecat Screenwriting Competition in 2005, this was the winner. It was released direct-to-video. Enough said.
Break Point (2014) - Feature comedy with Oscar winner JK Simmons.
The Break (1995) - Cable TV film drama with Martin Sheen.
The Christian Licorice Store (1971) - Feature drama with Beau Bridges. Great title that is never explained in the film. Tennis player who is running on empty and burning the candle at both ends. Have never seen this. Would like to.
Hard, Fast And Beautiful (1951) - Feature drama with Claire Trevor. Despite the awkward, brow-raising title, one of the rare films that had tennis as the main focal point.
Jocks (1987) - Typical T and A teen feature comedy with (surprisingly) Mariska Hargitay. Probably worse than Balls Out (if that is possible). When the lead character has no name and is only referred to as 'the Kid', you're in for a film with no substance.
Little Mo (1978) - TV film drama with Glynnis O'Connor as Maureen Connolly.
Match Point (2005) - Feature drama with Scarlett Johansson. Directed by Woody Allen. Probably the most critically acclaimed of all tennis films, though tennis plays only a supporting role.
Nobody's Perfect (1990) - Feature comedy with Chad Lowe.
Pat and Mike (1952) - Feature romantic comedy with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Hepburn plays a star tennis player and played her own tennis in the film.
Players (1979) - Feature drama with Ali MacGraw and Dean Martin Jr. (who was a former junior player).
The Prince of Tennis (2006) - Feature drama from Japan.
Second Serve (1986) - TV film drama with Vanessa Redgrave as Renee Richards.
The Seven Percent Solution (1976) - Feature drama with Robert Duvall. Not a pure tennis film and included only for a tennis match played in the film.
Spring Fever (1982) - Another typical lowbrow feature teen comedy, almost as bad as Jocks and Balls Out. Notable because the lead role was played by a real tennis player, Canadian Carling Bassett, who would go on to be a top 10 player the following year.
Strangers on a Train (1951) - Feature psychological crime thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Hands down, the best tennis film ever made. Although tennis is only a supporting character, it plays a crucial role in the film. That it is directed by the legendary Hitchcock, is good to know.
Tennis Anyone? (2006) - Feature independent drama.
Wimbledon (2004) - Feature romantic comedy with Kirsten Dunst. Filmed between matches at Wimbledon 2003.
Documentaries & Docudramas
7 Days in Hell (2015) - Mockumentary with Andy Samberg based on the famous history-making Isner/Mahut match at Wimbledon.
Jelenin Svet (2008) - Documentary on tennis player Jelena Jankovic.
Unmatched (2010) - Documentary on Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
Venus and Serena (2012) - Documentary on Venus and Serena Williams.
When Billie Beat Bobby (2001) - Docudrama based on the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
The White Game (1968) - Documentary from Sweden on the protests at the 1968 Davis Cup match between Sweden and Rhodesia.
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