Many people consider the 70s to be the second golden age of cinema, and with good reason. There is a very long list of classic movies from this era that would also include a long list of great actors and directors. “Jaws”, “Star Wars”, “The Godfather” movies, and “Apocalypse Now” are just a few names on that list. It’s hard to look at a movie today and not see how it is related to the movies being made in the 70s.
In many cases (like “Star Wars”) they are still making sequels to these movies today. However, there are some movies from the 70s that fall below the radar, but deserve to be recognized. Here is a list of a few of those movies that deserve to be on more lists.
1. North Dallas Forty
One of the first movies to try and give a realistic look at football from the player’s point of view, “North Dallas Forty” is an underrated rated sports movie that is rarely seen on television. It was a star vehicle for Nick Nolte as a football player on the tail end of his career willing to do whatever it takes to extend his career.
Nolte is in fine form here and effectively conveys the pain and sacrifice required to play professional football, even if that will require a lifetime of pain.
What really sets this movie apart is the way it cuts across the grain of your typical sports movie; there is no uplifting teary-eyed moment where, through perseverance, our hero has a history making moment in front of cheering crowds. It’s just about a player trying for one last moment of glory that won’t come, and a team that will use up these players for their own personal gain and toss them out when they aren’t needed.
There are some truly painful moments to watch, like the routine Nolte’s character has to go through just to get out of bed every morning. This is an eye-opening movie that’s worth catching when it is shown those few times on television.
2. The Fury
When one thinks of Brian De Palma in the 70s, they think of “Carrie”, and they should because it’s an excellent movie. However, he directed another movie about telekinetic teens called “The Fury”. While not up to the caliber of “Carrie”, this is a tense thriller that was the mainstay of late 70s / early 80s De Palma.
The movie stars Kirk Douglas as a government operative, whose telekinetic son is kidnapped by a secretive organization so they can harness his powers for dubious purposes. Amy Irving is another telekinetic teen who has a psychic link with his son and tries to help find him.
Playing more as a political thriller than a horror movie, the tension continually ratchets up to a very satisfying ending. Douglas, as always, puts in another fine performance that is the glue that holds this movie together. This movie does tend to slide off the radar, but does occasionally get some play time. It is worth seeking out if for no other reason than to see Kirk Douglas in one of his final true leading performances.
3. The Onion Field
It is not uncommon for police procedures to not make lists or be forgotten over time, since they can be rather dry and lack the action associated with these types of movies.
When one thinks of movies in the 70s about the police, it usually falls back on Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” movies. While these are fine movies, they do tend to be rather unrealistic and turn more into a political statement about violence than about the day-to-day lives of police.
“The Onion Field” is based on a novel by Joseph Wambaugh, which in turn is based on a true story. It has a documentary feel to it, similar to the movie “In Cold Blood”, and tells the harrowing tale of two police officers who are kidnapped after a routine traffic stop by two thugs and its aftermath.
What makes the movie worth watching is the performances of its two lead actors, John Savage and James Woods. Savage’s character makes a poor choice early in the movie that leads to tragedy, and his character’s arc throughout the rest of the movie is portrayed as a warning of the consequences that can occur; it is truly sad what happens to his character.
Woods basically steals the movie with his portrayal of a cold and calculating thug. His brutality is only matched by his ability to game the system, and Woods’ portrayal is both scary and unnerving.
4. The Domino Principle
Political thrillers and conspiracy movies were all the rage back in the 70s, and there is a long list of classic movies of this type. One that seems to fall between the cracks is the movie “The Domino Principle”, starring the always great Gene Hackman as a hard-luck convict who is skilled with a rifle. One day he is visited in jail by a government type, who offers him freedom and the return of the love of his life if he performs a political assassination.
Two things make this movie worth watching. First is Hackman giving another fine performance in a long list of great performances. Has there ever been bad performance by this actor, even in a bad movie?
The other is the last hour of the film, when the action gets going and the tension starts to ratchet up and plays out in a low-key realistic way. There are better movies from the 70s in this genre, but if looking for something new that isn’t played throughout the year, this would be a good pick.
5. Over the Edge
One of the first teens-in-crisis movies, “Over the Edge” is a dark tale of bored teens who get in way over their heads, ultimately leading to tragic results. Set in a Colorado planned community out in the middle of nowhere, those who developed this community seemed to have accounted for everything.
On the surface, they have provided a perfect place to raise a family away from the dangers of the city. But what becomes evident is that under the surface, trouble is brewing that will lead to several deaths and a tragic outcome for all involved.
There is a flaw in the community that no one planned for, and it is catastrophic mistake. That flaw being they didn’t give the teens anything to do, and didn’t provide an outlet for the boredom that will arise with nothing to do in the middle of nowhere. The way the teens find an outlet for their boredom is both harrowing and tragic, and the movie pulls no punches in this regard.
A side note of interest is the fact that this is Matt Dillon debut film, and he is the only recognizable actor. “Over the Edge” did get a lot of play time in the early 80s when cable companies were first starting out and looking for inexpensive movies to fill time, but has since fallen off the radar.