Nostalgic Cinema

Harry Medved, Randy Dreyfuss – THE FIFTY WORST FILMS OF ALL TIME

The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and how they got that way)
Harry Medved, Randy Dreyfuss
1978; Popular Library

This popular (for its time) text paved the way for writing of about “so-bad-it’s good” cinema, not least 1980’s The Golden Turkey Awards, by this book’s co-author Harry Medved and his brother Michael. But today, this book is now properly seen as the wank job it truly is, and has even been acknowledged as such by its own writers!

As you might guess, there isn’t a lot of deep analysis here: each film review is comprised of synopses and pull quotes from other reviewers (like Roger Ebert’s infamous “the most godawful piece of pseudo-romantic slop I’ve ever seen” for A Place for Lovers, even Burt Reynolds’ “I think we goofed” for his own At Long Last Love), and for some titles, a bit of production history. And yet, the films appear to be selected not so much because they truly are the fifty worst films of all time, but because the authors had access to some pull quotes, and some movie stills lying around. Even in the book’s foreword, the authors confess that some titles are selected not so much for their individual stances as benchmarks of egregious filmmaking, but merely as examples of film genres that were never critical darlings: Blaxploitation (Trouble Man), Spaghetti Westerns (Return of Sabata) and Japanese monster movies (Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster).

To be fair, a few titles are perennial favourites of the “so-bad-its-good” watershed, such as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Eegah and Robot Monster. There are some studio offerings which have become camp classics, like Airport 75 (the stewardess is flying the plane!) and of course, The Conqueror, with John Wayne as Genghis Khan! These selections I think are more akin to the book we really wanted to read. Instead, how many people remember Alakazam the Great? Parnell? Daughter of the Jungle?

Also featured are recent (for the time) studio flops which still had some notoriety upon publication, like the ill-advised musical remake of Lost Horizon, and of course, the infamous Che!, with Jack Palance as Fidel Castro. But some choices are just stupid. The Omen? Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia? Really? And I personally take exception to the later Laurel and Hardy vehicle The Big Noise, which isn’t even their worst film, let alone among the fifty worst of all time. Included are films by such historic and arthouse directors as D.W. Griffith, Alfred Hitchcock, Michelangelo Antonioni and Alain Resnais, if for no other reason than to be contrarian. Gimme a break. Even Shakespeare had flops.

My copy of this book is the 1980s re-issue with the generic blue cover (seen here). It displayed in my local Coles Book Store from 1984 until 1987, when it was marked down to 99 cents! That’s when (and why) I finally bought it, and how it became one of the first film books ever owned by this teenager with an increasing interest in film. Pre-Internet, a small town film enthusiast had to learn more from whatever books became available in that environment. At the time, I thought the book was mildly amusing, but now it seems like an excuse just to piss people off. It’s representative of the bad taste I often have with the snide, self-congratulatory writing of either Medved, and for that matter, the kind of “film writing” they have inspired.

For the record, here are the fifty “chosen ones”. Links will be added to any films reviewed on this site.

Abraham Lincoln (1930); Airport 1975 (1974); Alakazam the Great (1960); The Ambushers (1967); The Assassination of Trotsky (1972); At Long Last Love (1975); The Big Noise (1944); Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966); Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974); Che! (1969); The Conqueror (1956); Daughter of the Jungle (1949);  Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946); Dondi (1961); Eegah (1961); Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (1972); The Goldwyn Follies (1938); The Horror of Party Beach (1964); Hurry Sundown (1967); Ivan the Terrible (1943); Jamaica Inn (1939); Jet Attack (1958); Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973); King Richard and the Crusaders (1954); The Last Movie (1971); Last Year at Marienbad (1962); Lost Horizon (1973); Myra Breckinridge (1970); New Moon (1940); North West Mounted Police (1940); The Omen (1976); Parnell (1937); A Place for Lovers (1969); Return of Sabata (1971); Robot Monster (1953); Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964); Say One for Me (1959); Solomon and Sheba (1959); Spinout (1966); The Story of Mankind (1957); Swamp Women (1956); Swing Your Lady (1938); That Hagen Girl (1947); The Terror of Tiny Town (1938); The Trial of Billy Jack (1974); Three on a Couch (1966); Trouble Man (1972); Twilight on the Rio Grande (1947); Valley of the Dolls (1967); Zabriskie Point (1970)