4. The Wicker Man (1973)
In Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, a police officer named Sgt. Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) finds himself conflicted between his belief in Christ and the pagan belief of the islanders of Summerisle, and whether or not to investigate a missive’s most cryptic reference to a missing girl named Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper). The higher you climb, the colder it gets. That’s where you’ll find Rowan. Although Summerisle has the feel of a neverending festival, Howie never sees anything as particularly celebratory, and the island’s freewheeling, openly sexual, and exotic ways get to him. What begins as a quaint murder mystery becomes almost a war of philosophies and worldviews, and a clashing of modern myth with those of old.
While this movie does have entertaining elements, I am strongly tempted to be a buzzkill and highlight some of the serious concepts involved, including the general concept of the culture clash, cultish behavior, the power of belief, and the dangers of being a strongly outnumbered political/social minority of any kind. Really, all of these things happen in The Wicker Man, which is partly why it resonates with me in a somewhat serious manner, despite its overall quirkiness. How deep am I willing to get here? Well, I can watch The Wicker Man and be reminded of all sorts of wars and moments of persecution under tyrannical regimes, or so-called “democratic governments” as well.
What is the difference between revering someone who’s competent and treating them as a God or demigod? When does someone making you feel good, powerful, morally right justify atrocities? Why listen to someone like Lord Summerisle, or a couple of military experts who help launch a coup? All that seriousness aside, it’s a pretty good film for demonstrating just how dangerous beliefs can be if no one allows them to be challenged. It’s a story told with an eye to the true absurdity and complexity of human belief, fuelled by the fear of existential irrelevance, with a fair number of humorous elements.
5. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Does Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) take after his grandfather, Victor Frankenstein, or does the apple sometimes fall too far from the tree? That’s the initial question of Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein. Of course, it takes little time for us to get the answer. It seems a Frankenstein is a Frankenstein, through and through. Shortly after The Monster (Peter Boyle) is inevitably brought to life in Frankenstein’s fun factory, we are introduced to the robotic Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars), who quite strongly disapproves of Frederick Frankenstein’s choice of profession.
With townspeople equally wary of scientists, Police Inspector Kemp shows up to inspect the Doctor, hoping he ignores his grandfather’s ideas. Mar’s performance as Kemp seems to be underrated, but his robotic timing is perfect, his German accent funny, and it seems to highlight comedic styles from a different era. Part of the humor is obviously that he (and the town) are so distrustful of Frederick, and it turns out Frederick may have been destined to follow in Victor’s footsteps (though this film’s Monster is not quite as violent, most of the time).
There are definitely other notable comedy-tinged drama elements to Young Frankenstein. Frederick is continually rejected by his fiancé, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), a strikingly beautiful socialite who seems to sense he’s coming from a dysfunctional family background (eventually, she and The Monster get married, after it’s clear he has romantic feelings for Elizabeth or something like them). There is never a strong sense that they are attracted to each other, and the relationship seems to be discouraged by the other members of her circle.
Also, of course, there are more plainly comedic parts, and entire characters available primarily for laughs. Frederick’s lab assistant, Igor (Marty Feldman), is incompetent yet lovable, without a trace of anything egotistical or headstrong about him, in the starkest contrast to Inspector Kemp and his exaggerated sternness.