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Equal parts camp and chills, Bride of Frankenstein has a wicked sensibility that borders on blasphemous. Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) are a pair of dudes who want to play house without any women other than the baby girl they give birth to in “the Bride” (Elsa Lanchester), a creature with the elegance of a swan, and the hissing temperament to match. But what truly elevates this is Karloff’s Monster developing a poet’s soul. Now he can articulate his loneliness while sharing a cigar with a blind man… before being abandoned again.
From Russia with Love (1963)
An argument could be made that the long-running James Bond movie franchise is not so much a series of sequels as it is agent 007 having the same adventure again and again. Even under those auspices, however, there is no denying From Russia with Love—as well as many other Bond movies, including the following year’s Goldfinger (1964)—surpass Dr. No (1962) in quality. The original Bond movie is every bit a classic, introducing us to many of the things we love (or hate) about the Bond character: his swagger, his sense of refinement, half his quotable lines, and that curious habit of stumbling upon beautiful women on a beach while they’re wearing a two-piece.
Still. Dr. No is also a bit of a slog. Bond’s introduction at a casino where he tells Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson), “The name’s Bond, James Bond” is the stuff of legend. Five minutes of him fighting a tarantula, less so. Conversely, From Russia with Love is a taut Cold War thriller in which Bond matches wits with a corrupt Russian agent (Robert Shaw), and frankly comes up short. The series was rarely more thrilling than when Bond found himself on his knees inside a cramped car on the Orient Express, with Shaw pointing a gun at his head.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
We confess this one is a bit of a stretch. While many fans have speculated Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” archetype is the same character across all three of director Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” films, there is no actual evidence. You could view these as three separate narratives about slightly different desperados, each with a penchant for cigars and ponchos. However, the titles A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965) certainly suggest there is a continuity of spirit and perhaps character in Eastwood’s laconic hombre as he tries on different nicknames for every adventure.
In which case, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is his greatest ride. While the now rechristened Blondie (Eastwood) is less “good” than he is just chaotic neutral, he makes for one charismatic pony in this horse race to buried treasure. The other two competitors, the reptilian Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) and the pathetic bandit Tuco (Eli Wallach) provide a propulsive chase wherein Leone broadens his storytelling scope to include the whole Western frontier of the American Civil War. A film about greed, grit, and the pointless glory of war, this is a masterful epic that builds to the best showdown in movie history.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
George Lucas made one of the most important movies of all time when he wrote and directed Star Wars in 1977. But the best film in the galaxy far, far away came about when Lucas had the vision to then focus only on his innovations while leaving the actual writing to Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, and the direction to Irvin Kershner. Where Star Wars was a zippy archetypal adventure bathed in starlight, Empire was a more mature, pensive, and character-driven fantasy that enjoyed hiding in the shadows where light could not enter.