TCM Leads Up to DALLAS Premiere with Top 10 Texas Movies List
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November 18, 2015
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is celebrating this week's premiere of TNT's all-new series Dallas by unveiling a 10-gallon list of the Top 10 Texas Movies. Exemplifying the best and most distinctive aspects of the state, its culture and its history, the films chosen for TCM's Top 10 Texas Movies list range from Victor Sjöström's The Wind (1928), one of the last great silent films, to Joel & Ethan Coen's unforgettable Best Picture Oscar(R) winner, No Country for Old Men (2007). The list also includes popular classics, like Red River (1948), Giant (1956) and The Alamo (1960); powerful dramas like Written on the Wind (1956), The Last Picture Show (1971) and Lone Star (1996); and contemporary favorites like Dazed and Confused (1993) and Friday Night Lights (2004).
TCM's list of Top 10 Texas Movies comes just in time for TNT's new series Dallas, which launches Wednesday, June 13, at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) with a two-hour premiere. In fact, the series has a strong connection to one of the films on TCM's list. Before the original Dallas got off the ground, CBS executives were looking for a "big" drama series for primetime. They specifically cited George Stevens' 1956 drama Giant as a model for the kind of show they wanted. Giant, with its larger-than-life story about a cattleman (Rock Hudson) and an oilman (James Dean) battling over land, features a relationship similar to the long-running rivalry between Dallas' J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) and Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy).
TCM will also celebrate TNT's premiere of Dallas tonight, June 11, with a look at the movie career of Dallas star Larry Hagman. The triple feature includes The Group (1966) at 8 p.m. (ET), Harry and Tonto (1974) at 10:45 p.m. (ET) and Ensign Pulver (1964) at 1 a.m. (ET).
TCM's Top 10 Texas Movies is the network's latest list highlighting the history of the movie industry. TCM's previous lists have included 10 Most Influential Silent Films, 10 Favorite Marilyn Monroe Moments, 10 Great Low-Budget Science Fiction Movies, 10 Great Overlooked Performances, 10 Favorite Baseball Films, 10 Great Comedy Lines and 15 Influential Soundtracks.
TCM's List of Top 10 Texas Movies
The Wind (1928) - Directed by Victor Sjöström Swedish director Victor Sjöström (credited as Victor Seastrom) perfectly captured the harshness of West Texas life in this silent classic. Although often classified as a Western, a male-driven genre, The Wind focuses on the experiences of a woman (Lillian Gish) who travels from Virginia to a cousin's farm in Texas only to be driven mad by the harsh environment. Sjöström shot in the Mojave Desert, where temperatures climbed as high as 120 degrees. The film stock had to be stored on ice to keep it from warping, and when Gish touched a metal doorknob, she scalded her hand. The winds created by eight airplane propellers were so lethal the crew had to wear goggles, long sleeves and pants in the blazing heat. Gish's character had no such protection as the winds buffeted the deserted farm house where she kills a former suitor out to rape her. Gish was a major star when she assembled the package for this film, hiring Sjöström and leading man Lars Hanson, both of whom had worked with her before on The Scarlet Letter (1926). With the coming of sound, however, her popularity was waning. MGM let the film sit on the shelf for over a year, then released it with a poorly synchronized sound effects track that undermined the effects Sjöström had achieved with silence. The film failed at the box office, but has been rediscovered over time to rank as one of her best, and one of the screen's most vivid depictions of hardscrabble living on the Texas frontier.
Red River (1948) - Directed by Howard Hawks The story of the American West is very much the story of Texas, and few of its chapters are more important than the opening up of the Chisholm Trail, which allowed Texas ranchers to drive their cattle to the railroad yards in Abilene, Kansas. Borden Chase fictionalized the opening up of the Trail in his novel Blazing Guns Along the Chisholm Trail, which became the basis of this epic Western - the first in this genre for which Howard Hawks was credited. The story's fictional focus, on the rivalry between rancher Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son (Montgomery Clift), gave it a mythic dimension, but the real magic came in the casting. Wayne and Clift were complete opposites off screen, where they had little time for each other. But under Hawks' guidance they turned in towering, legendary performances. In his film debut, Clift worked tirelessly to learn riding and shooting and, at the director's suggestion, underplayed the confrontations with his co-star to match the Duke's minimalist acting style. Realizing the high-quality work of his Broadway veteran co-star, Wayne put more preparation into his performance than ever before, prompting longtime director and friend John Ford to quip, "I didn't know the big son of a bitch could act." With Ford's "Cavalry Trilogy," Red River set the standard for the character-driven Westerns that would rise to prominence in the 1950s. Thanks to Russell Harlan's photography (mostly of locations in Arizona), it also presented a vivid image of Texas rising to a place as the nation's center of cattle ranching.
Giant (1956) - Directed by George Stevens George Stevens used Edna Ferber's sprawling, multi-generational saga about the Benedict family to create the ultimate depiction of the Texas oil business - long before the Ewings ruled Dallas. Clinging to his family's roots, rancher "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson) fights to keep his family out of the oil business, despite the success of mongrel ranch hand Jett Rink (James Dean, in his last film), who strikes it rich. When he finally joins forces with Rink, whom he hates on principle even before the man makes a play for Benedict's wife (Elizabeth Taylor), he becomes richer than ever before, even while saddled with a despicable partner. Stevens cuts through the soapy romantic story to focus on the changing face of life in Texas as oilrigs supplant cattle herds, as women like Taylor begin asking for equal rights and Mexican-Americans begin claiming their rightful place in a once-racist society. Ferber had based her story on real-life oilman Glenn McCarthy, an Irish immigrant who struck it rich and built Houston's Shamrock Hotel. The company spent two months shooting locations outside the small town of Marfa, Texas, whose inhabitants worked as extras, dialect coaches, bit players and crewmembers. With Texas born Chill Wills and Pilar Del Rey and former cowboy stars Monte Hale and Sheb Wooley in small roles, the film felt genuine. Its combination of Texas spectacle, romantic drama and social commentary made it a box office winner, becoming Warner Bros.' top-grossing film to that time and winning Stevens his second Best Directing Oscar(R).
Written on the Wind (1956) - Directed by Douglas Sirk Director Douglas Sirk crammed enough complications into this melodrama to fill 14 seasons of a prime-time soap like Dallas. The film combines alcoholism, suicide, impotence, nymphomania, murder and suggestions of incest and homosexuality into 99 minutes that move at a rapid pace, particularly whenever Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone are on screen as the decadent offspring of a powerful Texas oil dynast. The film's style, with overdesigned interiors and costumes, and scenes of illicit passion played with an almost desperate seriousness, anticipated the great TV melodramas like Dallas, Dynasty and Knot's Landing. Despite critical bromides in its day, the film did well at awards time, with Malone capturing a well-deserved supporting Oscar(R). Her Marylee Hadley goes looking for love in all the wrong places to compensate for a heart broken by the inattention of childhood sweetheart Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson). When he falls for the new wife (Lauren Bacall) of Marylee's alcoholic, impotent and possibly gay brother Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack), Marylee's jealousy leads her to play on her brother's insecurities. It all comes to an explosive climax set against the backdrop of the oil industry and the kind of small town that seems to have been founded to provide a breeding ground for secrets and corruption. Robert Wilder's novel was rumored to have been based on the death of North Carolina tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds, but the movie is pure Texas all the way in its size, glitz and the ever-present oil wells.
The Alamo (1960) - Directed by John Wayne The 13 day siege of the Alamo, a mission in San Antonio, has become the most legendary event in Texas history - a rallying cry in Texas' successful bid for independence from Mexico. To John Wayne, the battle echoed the stand the U.S. took against the Nazis in World War II and, later, the Soviets in the Cold War, and he deemed it so important that he produced, directed and starred in this film. He started working on the project in 1945, eventually signing to release the film through United Artists, though he had to guarantee cost overruns personally. It took two years to build the Alamo set from the original blueprints for the Mexican mission. The three-quarter-scale reproduction, constructed in Bracketville, Texas, would be used in more than 100 other films. Since the set was so far from any city, the crew had to put in ten miles of underground wiring for electricity and telephone, and five miles of sewer lines for modern toilets. The sets were built facing the opposite direction of the original so Wayne could shoot several scenes set at dawn at the end of the day. The crew had to endure record temperatures, infestations of snakes and scorpions and almost daily battles between Wayne and co-star Richard Widmark. But the results were spectacular. Although reviewers complained about the film's talky first half, they couldn't deny the power of Wayne's battle scenes. The film was so expensive that despite its popularity, Wayne did not get his money back until it was sold to television in 1971.