Dennis Fischer

Author of Science Fiction Film Directors.

  • There Will Be Blood (2007) .. Paul Thomas Anderson
    Sinclair Lewis' novel Oil is transformed into the story of a sociopath's search for riches while losing his soul.

  • Eastern Promises (2007) .. David Cronenberg
    One of David Cronenberg's best films, and a fascinating look at the Russian gangster subculture in London.

  • Adaptation (2002) .. Spike Jonze
    A meta-fictive look at the difficulty of adapting a story into another medium, with the artist torn between originality and following formula.

  • Boogie Nights (1997) .. Paul Thomas Anderson
    Loosely based on the life story of John Holmes, this is a sharp story on how misfits can form supportive family groups.

  • L.A. Confidential (1997) .. Curtis Hanson
    One of the great neo-noirs, as well as a rumination on what makes someone a hero, with the protagonists representing very different approaches.

  • Being John Malkovich (1999) .. Spike Jonze
    One of the most inventive fantasies ever filmed, an imaginative look at why we form attachments to other identities.

  • Ed Wood (1994) .. Tim Burton
    One of the great biographies celebrating the joy of creating art, even if it is not very good art.  The actual story was bizarre enough in its particulars, but the scriptwriters do take a number of liberties with the facts.

  • A Very Long Engagement (2004) .. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
    A stunning combination of war movie and love story, visually rich, with wonderful character touches throughout.

  • All That Jazz (1979) .. Bob Fosse
    A brilliant examination of the pressures on an artist who more avidly persues his art than his relationships.

  • Fat City (1972) .. John Huston
    A memorable look at the losers in life, and one of John Huston's last great films.

  • He Who Gets Slapped (1924) .. Victor Sjöström
    A truly arty silent in danger of being overlooked. Lon Chaney plays the clown who is compelled to relive his moment of humiliation over and over again.

  • The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) .. Preston Sturges
    Can anyone imagine a more daring screwball comedy for its time than this one?  In the midst of the war effort, no less, a look at a woman who gets knocked up by a soldier whose name she has forgotten and her struggle to appear respectable given her circumstances.

  • Quai des Orfèvres (1947) .. Henri-Georges Clouzot
    A policeman must solve a murder in a world of cheap music halls, tiny bars, cramped apartments, and people with big egos. A rousing noir entertainment that is far too often overlooked.

  • Repo Man (1984) .. Alex Cox
    Alex Cox's inventive sci-fi satire takes shots at repo men, conspiracy theories, new age thinking, punk culture, dianetics, plain wrap, tele-evangelists, UFO conspiracies, classic movies (especially KISS ME, DEADLY and THE BIG HEAT), and neutron bombs, among other targets.  Manages to both be very funny and intense ("a repo man is always intense!").

  • Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) .. George Roy Hill
    That rare literary adaptation that actually gets the approval of its author.  George Roy Hill's version of Vonnegut's novel understands and does a brilliant job of dramatizing its source, as Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, reviews moments from his past (the bombing of Dresden) to his future (mating with starlet Montana on the Planet Tralfamadore).

  • The Iron Giant (1999) .. Brad Bird
    Brad Bird brilliant uses a Ted Hughes children's book to create a look at fifties culture and at how our actions are what define ourselves.  Warm, funny, and inventive, despite its being well-done, it never really found a wide audience.

  • They Won't Forget (1937) .. Mervyn LeRoy
    A sadly overlooked but incisive look at how an unscrupulous prosecuter (Claude Rains) sees how he can make a name for himself and become elected to political office by prosecuting a man for the murder of a high school girl who has already been tried in the press.

  • The Phenix City Story (1955) .. Phil Karlson
    A powerful social document based on the true story of a small town's gambling area that fleeces soldiers on leave and is willing to protect its profits with intimidation and murder, up to and including the murder of the State Prosecuting Attorney.

  • Boomerang! (1947) .. Elia Kazan
    A minister is murdered, and a prosecuting attorney uncovers the mendacity in his own small town as he must decide between doing what is politically expedient or actually uncovering the possible innocence of the main suspect. Kazan's film has long been unavailable, but now that is available, it should be seen as the lost masterwork it truly is, uncovering some of the rot in America's soul.

  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) .. Charles Barton
    A guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.  This is the best of A & C meet the monsters movies, and gave Bela Lugosi his second and last great shot at being Dracula.  Mixing horror and humor is difficult, but this one succeeds admirably. Additionally, Lenore Aubert and June Randolph play two attractive and assertive women who want to get their hands on Lou's love handles, echoing the bewilderment of many men before mysterious, sophisticated women.

  • Ace in the Hole (1951) .. Billy Wilder
    Down and out newsman Kirk Douglas willingly exploits a poor man's accident in a mine to whip up a media frenzy that could resurrect his career and return him to the big time.  Sadly, the media critique is just as apt today. One of Billy Wilder's most cynical and greatest films

  • American Beauty (1999) .. Sam Mendes
    Kevin Stacey smokes the doobie of destiny and alters his life, rejecting middle class rigidity and pursuing his desires, only to end up disastrously.  A beautiful and satirical look at middle class Middle American values that won Best Picture and launched the career of Sam Mendes.

  • American Graffiti (1973) .. George Lucas
    George Lucas splits his personality into the four main characters and we examine how each makes choices after graduating from high school to go into an uncertain future.  This personal evocation of cruising in California remains Lucas' most personal and best film, and launched the careers of its entire cast of then unknowns.

  • Attack! (1956) .. Robert Aldrich
    One of the great, though often overlooked war pictures.  In it, we examine the consquences where a leader has been promoted beyond his competence and bravery, and the disastrous effect this has on his underlings.  Robert Aldrich gets great performances from Jack Palance and Eddie Albert.

  • Ball of Fire (1941) .. Howard Hawks
    Hawks refashioning of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs gives Barbara Stanwyck one of her best roles as a stripper who gets recruited by a professor (Gary Cooper) as an expert on American slang.  High energy, blithe escapism written by the great team of Wilder and Brackett.

  • The Big Combo (1955) .. Joseph H. Lewis
    Joseph H. Lewis crafts one of the classic film noirs in which a determined policeman (Cornel Wilde) tries to take down an equally dedicated mobster (Richard Conte). There is a strange streak of sadism threaded throughout the film, including a memorable scene where a man's hearing aid is removed so that his machinegun death remains absolutely silent.

  • Eyes Without a Face (1960) .. Georges Franju
    A haunting French horror film about a surgeon obsessed with restoring his daughter's former beauty at the cost of many women's lives.  Beautiful and unsettling, Franju's film really manages to get under audience's skin.

  • Fury (1936) .. Fritz Lang
    Fritz Lang's condemnation of lynch mobs, as a mob goes for innocent Spencer Tracy who totally loses his happy-go-lucky aspect, is a searing indictment of mob mentality.  The mob finds the tables turned on them when film footage of the incident is used to condemn them in court.

  • The Glass Key (1942) .. Stuart Heisler
    Dashiel Hammett's novel gets an excellent screen adaptation that doesn't flinch from the corruption in American politics while presenting an entertaining drama, as henchman Alan Ladd plays two sides against each other.

  • The Great McGinty (1940) .. Preston Sturges
    Brian Donlevy plays a bum who becomes governor by playing ball with a corrupt political machine until he makes the mistake of attempting to go straight.  Very smart, funny comedy launched Preston Sturges' career.

  • I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) .. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
    0ne of the most charming, if most overlooked, of the Powell-Pressberger pictures.  Wendy Hiller thinks she has her life clearly mapped out in front of her as she heads to wed a fiance she has never met, but instead runs afoul Northern England's weather and falls into a different kind of love.

  • I'm All Right Jack (1959) .. John Boulting
    One of my favorite British comedies, this look at management and labour promises a pox on both parties, adapted from Alan Hackney's novel Private Life.

  • The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) .. Jack Arnold
    Based on Richard Matheson's novel, this is actually one of the best science fiction features of the '50s, and if one can look beyond the fantastic premise, the story examines a man's feelings of emasculation as a combination of radiation and chemicals cause him to shrink.

  • The Innocents (1961) .. Jack Clayton
    A very intelligent adaptation of Henry James' "Turn of the Screw" with all the needed ambiguities left intact.  It features a terrific performance from Deborah Kerr, as an inexperienced governess who's fear for her charges, Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens (both excellent as well), winds up destroying them.

  • Jean de Florette (1986)
    Manon des Sources (1986) .. Claude Berri
    Claude Berri's sumptuous two-part adaptation of Marcel Pagnol's novel is brilliantly acted and shot, and deserves to be acclaimed as one of the French cinema's finest achievements. A cocky winemaker destroys his neighbor by keeping from him the knowledge of a nearby and much needed spring.  In the sequel, the farmer's daughter achieves her revenge.

  • The Last of the Mohicans (1992) .. Michael Mann
    Gorgeous film version by Michael Mann of a previous film version of a rather bad James Fenimore Cooper novel.  This raises the myth of an edenic early America beset by Native Americans, both friendly and unfriendly, to new heights. Still, one of the erratic Mann's finest achievements.

  • Little Big Man (1970) .. Arthur Penn
    Arthur Penn's adaptation of Thomas Berger's novel captures just the right blend of tall tale and genuine history to be both very funny and very interesting as it deconstructs the mythology of the Western to show that Indians could be very complex people (Chief Dan George steals the film as Ol' Lodgeskins) while civilizing white citizens had a tendency to be rather uncivilized in their dealings with others. Dustin Hoffman excels as Jack Crabb, the narrator and proclaimed only white survivor of the massacre at Little Big Horn.

  • Man of the West (1958) .. Anthony Mann
    Anthony Mann's best work on his recurring theme of a lonely man with an ugly past to live down.  One of Gary Cooper's finest and most understated performances with lots of great character study and striking scenes of casual cruelty.

  • Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) .. Terry Jones
    While not the team's funniest feature, it is the most interesting philosophically, with rationals for colonialism and depictions of how misunderstandings can become misplaced dogma, as well as the deep hatred that small political factions can have for each other even when they share an ideology.

  • La Reine Margot (1994) .. Patrice Chéreau
    Based on the Dumas novel, Isabelle Adjani is excellent as the young Margot di Medici who is forced by her mother to marry Henri de Navarre (Daniel Auteuil) with disastrous consequences for all concerned.

  • Run of the Arrow (1957) .. Samuel Fuller
    Or how Sam Fuller created Dances With Wolves years before as Rod Steiger plays an odious and extremely angry civil war veteran who abandons America to go live with the Native Americans.

  • Ruthless People (1986) .. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, & Jerry Zucker
    Endless amusing comedy about the unscrupulous things characters are willing to do to get ahead. Danny DeVito and Bette Midler prove very adept at acerbic comments, while Bill Pullman creates a male dumb blond that easily matches the more cliched distaff version.

  • The Scarlet Empress (1934) .. Josef von Sternberg
    May well be one of the most over-the-top films ever made, based on the career of Catherine II of Russia.  Marlene Dietrich plays the young ingenue who is recruited to wed the idiot heir (Sam Jaffe) to the Russia throne, but this is a Russia that never existed outside of a film studio.  Full of suggestive sculptures and tableaux, Von Sternberg proves himself a master of production design and sexual sublimation, as well as possessing a very wicked sense of humor.

  • Seconds (1966) .. John Frankenheimer
    This overlooked John Frankenheimer science fiction drama explores what happens if a middle-aged businessman (John Randolph) could get a more youthful body (Rock Hudson) and start all over again as an artist.  Ultimately, the man finds that lack of connection with his family devastating, leading to a very chilling finale.

  • The Stunt Man (1980) .. Richard Rush
    Richard Rush took very little but the basic concept of the novel and created a masterpiece portrait of movie manipulation and paranoia with a masterful performance by Peter O'Toole as the guiding intelligence behind it all. It constantly reminds us that nothing is what it seems.

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