Robert Aldrich Movies

Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 1:05 pm

While many of the Robert Aldrich movies on this list have been somewhat forgotten by modern audiences, that doesn’t mean they’re not worth a look. In fact, they’re absolutely recommended for those who like cynical and gritty tales filled with hard-luck characters.

Aldrich studied economics in college, but he dropped out and took a job with RKO Radio Pictures in 1941. As he rose to the rank of assistant director, he had an opportunity to work with everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Jean Renoir. This on-the-job training showed in his later career as a full-fledged director, and Aldrich quickly established himself as an auteur dedicated to exploring human values and concerns.

He was also fond of working with the same performers on multiple occasions, and the list reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood: Lee Marvin, Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, Eddie Albert, Jack Palance, and Charles Bronson. These names have all become iconic in one way or another, and Aldrich definitely deserves the same status within the filmmaking community.

To see these Robert Aldrich movies and many others, be sure to become a member of Netflix. Delivery to your home is fast and painless, or you can choose to instantly stream many of their titles on your PC or MAC. Multiple subscription plans are also available, which is perfect for these tough economic times.

Vera Cruz (1954) – If you’ve ever dreamed of a showdown between screen icons Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster, then this influential Robert Aldrich movie is the place to start. Cooper plays Ben Trane, an out-of-work soldier who heads down Mexico way in search of work as a hired gun. There he encounters fellow American Joe Erin (Lancaster), the kind of guy who doesn’t mind holding kids at gunpoint. Together they accept an assignment to escort a member of the Mexican nobility (Denise Darcel) to Vera Cruz. But when she turns out to be secretly carrying a shipment of gold to deliver to the French, everyone begins plotting how best to steal it. Filled with moral ambivalence and gritty realism, Vera Cruz would have a major influence on later Western movies such as The Wild Bunch and The Magnificent Seven. And check out Erin’s gang of cutthroats: Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, and Ernest Borgnine.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) – You’ll forget all about Stacey Keach when you see Ralph Meeker’s grimy portrayal of private eye Mike Hammer. It doesn’t hurt that the world he inhabits is filled with doomed mental patients, Cold War paranoia, and more sexy broads than you can shake a stick at. As Hammer searches for a mysterious box dubbed “the great whatsit,” the nihilism will practically ooze out of your TV. Considered a classic of the film noir genre, Kiss Me Deadly was also notable for the big-screen debuts of Maxine Cooper and Cloris Leachman.

Attack (1956) – As World War II rages in Europe, a front line combat unit must struggle with the cowardice of their commanding officer (Eddie Albert). Their resident hero (Jack Palance) considers a permanent solution to the problem, while a manipulative superior officer (Lee Marvin) makes a few plans of his own in the midst of a German offensive. Aldrich had to shoot the whole film on a low budget and with zero cooperation from the military, but he still managed to crank out a memorable war movie that’s filled with cynicism and unexpected twists.

Autumn Leaves (1956) – Camp queen Joan Crawford stars as a lonely typist who falls for a younger man (Cliff Robertson) and eventually marries him. Things go well at first, at least until his ex-wife (Vera Miles) and father (Lorne Greene) show up. A tale of betrayal, mental illness, and the healing power of love. While essentially a chick flick, Aldrich still manages to leave his stamp on the movie thanks largely to the screenplay by blacklisted writers Jean Rouverol and Hugo Butler.

Ten Seconds to Hell (1959) – Based on The Phoenix by Lawrence P. Bachmann, this Aldrich film is set in a devastated post-war Berlin. Jack Palance and Jeff Chandler are members of a demolitions unit hired to clear away and defuse unexploded Allied bombs. But as their unit slowly dies–and the two men fall for the same woman (Martine Carol)–events quickly lead to a showdown centered around an active 1000-pound British bomb. Aldrich pays great attention to the art of bomb disposal, and fans of The Hurt Locker may especially find this one of interest.

For these and more Robert Aldrich movies, be sure to sign up for a Netflix membership.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) – Take a ride on the bus to Crazytown in this off-the-wall thriller from Aldrich about two aging actress sisters (Joan Crawford and Bette Davis) and their dangerously dysfunctional relationship. Davis approaches her role as the deranged “Baby” Jane Hudson with real vigor, at one point serving her crippled sister her pet parrot for dinner. When she’s not whacking people in the head with a hammer or practicing forgery, she’s getting ready for an imagined comeback even more unlikely than that of Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond. A brilliant and wickedly entertaining look at the fleeting nature of fame.

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) – Based on the Elleston Trevor novel, The Flight of the Phoenix follows a group of men who struggle to survive once their airplane crash lands in the middle of the Sahara desert. James Stewart is the pilot, Richard Attenborough is the navigator, and other passengers include Peter Finch, George Kennedy, and Ernest Borgnine. A grim and ultimately uplifting tale about survival in the most desperate of situations, the film would be remade in 2004 with Dennis Quaid and Hugh Laurie.

The Dirty Dozen (1967) – One of the greatest war movies ever made, The Dirty Dozen is the classic “men-on-a-mission” tale. Prior to the D-Day invasion, the Allies hatch a scheme to send men behind enemy lines to eliminate members of the German high command. Since it’s considered a suicide mission, the brass decide to send American soldiers facing execution or life imprisonment. The bulk of the film focuses on their leader’s (Lee Marvin) efforts to whip them into shape, while the thrilling conclusion sees the mission carried out and the group whittled down one by one. Members of “The Dirty Dozen” (so called because they refuse to wash or shave in a show of solidarity) include Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Telly Savales, Donald Sutherland, and John Cassavetes. The rest of the all-star cast is rounded out by Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, and Richard Jaeckel. A major influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, this film is recommended for anyone who ever picked up a stick as a child and pretended it was a machine gun.

Emperor of the North Pole (1973) – Back in the days of the Great Depression, hobos joked that the best among them would be referred to as “Emperor of the North Pole.” I don’t know if hobos still have such colorful titles, but there’s no denying that director Robert Aldrich topped himself in the grim and gritty department with this one. Lee Marvin is “A-No. 1,” a hobo who’s greatly respected by his peers. When he vows to ride the train conducted by the hobo-hating Shack (Ernest Borgnine) all the way to Portland, his fellow vagabonds decide it’s an act worthy of the title of “Emperor of the North Pole.” But Shack won’t make it easy, arming himself with weapons ranging from hammers to chains. To make things even more difficult for the noble “A-No. 1,” he’s got to put up with Cigaret (Keith Carradine), a loudmouthed and none-too-bright kid who fancies himself a master hobo.

The Longest Yard (1974) – After being bounced out of the NFL for points shaving, former QB Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Burt Reynolds) finds his life in a downward spiral. But he really hits rock bottom after being sentenced to 18 months in a Florida prison. And to make matters worse, the football-obsessed warden (Eddie Albert) wants Crewe to help him whip the prison guard’s semi-pro team into shape. This leads to a game between the cops and the cons, and it’s not hard to imagine the hard-nosed hijinx that follow. Filled with a great cast of character actors, including James Hampton, Ed Lauter, Michael Conrad, Richard Kiel, and Robert Tessier, The Longest Yard remains one of the greatest football movies ever made. Adam Sandler starred in a 2005 remake, but this remains the superior version if you’re looking for something a little more serious.

The next time you’re in the mood for Robert Aldrich movies, be sure to become a Netflix subscriber. They have over 100,000 films to choose from, and you can either watch them on your PC or have them delivered to your mailbox. We do receive a small commission when you first join, but that money goes right back into Only Good Movies, helping us in our continuing quest to bring you informative musings about cinema.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 6th, 2011 at 1:05 pm and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Robert Aldrich Movies”

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May 4, 2011

Hank Martin

Very good page about Aldrich. But I believe you omitted one of his best… Hush hush Sweet Charlotte! Bette Davis & Olivia de Haviland (1964). A must see for all Davis fans!


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