30 April 2009
I Need a Good Title For this Post...How About Ferris Bueller's Year of Living Dangerously?
What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Or so said a young lady named Juliet. But what'd she know? She was a teenager who took her own life.
But is the sentiment true of films? Would The Godfather be as good a film if called The Fighting Corleones? Or would The Searchers be the same film if named Looking For Debbie? How about if It's A Wonderful Life was The Incredible George Bailey? Yeah, as a matter of fact they probably would be.
A good or bad title is ultimately far less important than the work of the movie's editor, costume designer or even the key grip. Still a good title can pique your interest almost as much as the film's trailer. Some films even live up to their titles. It's also nice when a title gives us a notion of what the film is about. I much admired the film for which Halle Berry won her Oscar, Monster's Ball (2001). But the meaning of the title had to be explained and had little to do with the movie. There's no such ambiguity with a title like Woody Allen's Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). Here are some movies I admire that have excellent titles.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). Frank Johnson's Day Off would be a good title. But Ferris Bueller? Unforgettable. Both first and last names are quirky and mark the film as something special. Also the title tells us a lot about what we're about to see. Ferris Bueller is in fact going to take the day off. And what a day!
The Year of Living Dangerously (1982). This is a weird title. It translates to: 12 months of existing in peril. Hmmm, still weird. But the deal is, that's largely what the movie about. A guy living in danger for a year. Great title, great film. Peter Weir directed and Mel Gibson starred.
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). It's an ironic title because the main character is neither a hero (least not the kind we expect) nor a conqueror. Eddie Bracken played the hero. Preston Sturges wrote and directed. Our hero was first hailed then fell out favor before being hailed again.
Do the Right Thing (1989). Big plus right off the bat, it's a quote from Malcolm X. It also is the theme of the movie, for Malcolm's full quote was "you've got to do the right thing." That's your film right there. Spike Lee wrote and directed and I'd bet a nickle he conceived the title.
I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932). He was indeed a fugitive from a chain gang. He was real and on the lam when the movie about his life hit theaters. Those facts add even more to the power of the title. Of course the immediacy of the title "I am" is powerful all by itself. Paul Muni starred, Mervin LeRoy directed and it's this Saturday's TCM essential.
If... (1968). You'll note that virtually all the titles on this list are long. Here's one of the shortest titles of any film ever. Of course the ellipse is what makes it. We immediately wonder "if what?" The title is intriguing and remains so after watching the movie. It suggests possibility, choices. From Lindsay Anderson, made a star of Malcolm McDowell.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Because of my sports affiliations I've often joked that I wished the movie were instead called, 49ers of the Lost Ark. Be that as it may, it's a title that gets your attention. I remember when I first heard it I wondered what the hell a lost ark was and who a raider of it would be. Sounded cool though. The subsequent sequels all had mundane titles.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). We knowing going in that a man named Liberty Valance is going to be shot. We also know that his death will be important. We don't know who did the shooting, but whoever it is must be a person of significance. Again, if the title was The Man Who Shot Frank Johnson, not so good. But Liberty Valance? I'm in.
The Trouble with Harry (1955). Harry is dead and the fact of his corpse lying out there in front of one and all is a real problem. So the title is perfect and the movie just about is, too. A dark comedy from Alfred Hitchcock. Cast includes Jerry Mathers in his pre Beaver Cleaver days. (Photo above.)
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982). They don't? Who says? That's an odd title. Then you see the movie and think, "yeah, that makes sense." Not that there are any dead guys in plaid that I can recall. From the mind of Carl Reiner. Steve Martin starred.
Along Came Jones (1945). We gotta figure that there's some bloke named Jones who is going to show up somewhere at some point and either be eagerly anticipated or make a real splash. Gary Cooper was Jones and get this, his first name was Melody. Melody Jones. How cool is that? Loretta Young and William Demarest also featured. Great title, Great cast.
Callaway Went Thataway (1951). Okay, full disclosure. Never seen it. Guess I'll have to now. I just love the title. It rhymes! It has the word thataway in it! Come on! That's a fantastic title. I see where it's going to be on TCM on May 11. I'll set the DVR now.
Okay, so what are some of your favorite film titles?