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Top 10 Films of 1972

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Brimming with classics, 1972 has a good claim to being one of the most significant years in screen history. As numerous landmark features reach their 50th anniversary, Cinema Paradiso gets all nostalgic.

Falling four years after the abolition of the Production Code and five years before the blockbuster era went into full swing, 1972 is a pivotal year in screen history. Freed from the shackles imposed in 1934 by the studio watchdog, American directors were finally able to tackle contentious topics in an adult manner and without needing to pander to juvenile minds. They responded with such insight and integrity that critics started talking of a 'New Hollywood'.

One only has to look at the year's deaths and debuts to gauge the extent of this changing of the guard. During the heyday of her famous rivalry with Hedda Hopper, gossip columnist Louella Parsons had been powerful enough to make or break careers. But stars in 1972 were no longer bound to strict studio contracts and many considered that there was no such thing as bad publicity. Oscar-nominated actress Miriam Hopkins (Trouble in Paradise, 1932) certainly recognised this and built up her feud with Bette Davis to keep her in the headlines.

A still from Gigi (1958)
A still from Gigi (1958)

She died at the age of 69 in 1972, along with Maurice Chevalier (Gigi, 1958), Margaret Rutherford (The Happiest Days of Your Life, 1950) and George Sanders, the suave Oscar winner for All About Eve (1950), who committed suicide at the age of 65. He left a note that read: 'Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.'

Among the major directors who passed away in 1972 were Wesley Ruggles (I'm No Angel, 1933), William Dieterle (The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1940), Mitchell Leisen (Remember the Night, 1940) and Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour, 1945). All four were studio stalwarts, who knew their place in the grand scheme and produced polished visuals that showed off their stars rather than their own artistic ambitions.

Over in Britain, the major losses spoke even more of the end of an era, as studio mogul J. Arthur Rank died within a few months of documentarist-turned-executive, John Grierson. A Yorkshireman who had taken over his father's flour business, Rank went into films to promote his Methodist ideals and ended up presiding over the Rank Organisation, Pinewood Studios and the Odeon cinema chain. Dozens of features available from Cinema Paradiso open with a giant gong being banged - everything from Powell and Pressburger to Norman Wisdom, as well as the Doctor and Carry On films.

A Scotsman who lived much of his later life in Canada, Grierson coined the term 'documentary' and provided the impetus for the British Documentary Movement of the 1930s during his spells with the Empire Marketing Board and the General Post Office. His 1929 outing, Drifters, is available to rent from Cinema Paradiso in a BFI double bill with Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925), while the best shorts made during his GPO tenure can be found on Addressing the Nation.

Bob Hoskins and Ben Kingsley were among the notable debutants in British films in 1972, while the Hollywood roll call includes Jodie Foster, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Martin, Nick Nolte, Lily Tomlin, John Lithgow and James Woods. Five decades on, all bar the much-missed Hopkins are still delighting audiences and Cinema Paradiso users can explore their careers using the searchline. But what films were ringing the box-office tills when these enduring stars were still fresh-faced hopeful?

An Epochal Crime Wave

One of the golden rules of studio era Hollywood was that crime could never be seen to pay. Even before the Production Code was fully enforced in 1934, the entries in the Warner gangster cycle had tended to end with a hail of bullets rather than a magic hour sunset. The success of Roger Corman's Bloody Mamma (1970) persuaded him to hire sophomore director Martin Scorsese to let Barbara Hershey and David Carradine loose in Depression Arkansas in Boxcar Bertha, which was adapted from Ben L. Reitman's 1937 tome, Sister of the Road.

But Hollywood was only interested in one book from 1969 onwards and Paramount not only shelled out $80,000 for the rights, but it also coaxed novelist Mario Puzo into teaming with director Francis Ford Coppola to script, The Godfather. Not that Coppola was near the top of a list that had crossed off Sergio Leone, Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Yates, Richard Brooks, Arthur Penn, Otto Preminger and Costa-Gavras before it reached him. Hating the novel, which he thought was 'sleazy', Coppola only accepted the assignment because his Zoetrope company owed Warners money for George Lucas's THX 1138 (1971).

The Oscar citations for 1972 show that Paramount enjoyed a night of triumph that entered the realms of eccentricity when it came to the presentation of the award for Best Actor. Ernest Borgnine had been the studio's first pick to play Don Vito Corleone and it had George C. Scott, Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn and Orson Welles in reserve. Coppola favoured Laurence Olivier. Fortunately, he was not averse to Puzo's selection of Marlon Brando.

A still from The Godfather: Part 2 (1974) With Al Pacino
A still from The Godfather: Part 2 (1974) With Al Pacino

The entire ensemble is exceptional, of course, as it chronicles the postwar decade that sees Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) reluctantly take control of the family firm. Two years later, Coppola would delve into the clan's Sicilian origins in The Godfather Part II (1974) before he concluded the trilogy with The Godfather Part III (1990). The crime genre had yet to emerge from its shadow and, one hopes, this is one franchise that some ambitious young tyro doesn't think of remaking for the comic-book generation.

Paramount's previous crime outing had been Martin Ritt's The Brotherhood (1968). But star Kirk Douglas had not been put off by its failure, as he travelled to Europe to play a safecracker intent on one last blag in Michele Lupo's The Master Touch. The Italian connection is also evident in Terence Young's The Valachi Papers, in which Charles Bronson plays the infamous Mafia informant who fingered boss Vito Genovese (Lino Ventura). Bronson also headlined Michael Winner's The Mechanic, his first collaboration with the director that famously opens with a silent 16-minute sequence, as assassin Arthur Bishop carries out a hit.

One of the driving forces behind the Italian poliziotteschi genre, Fernando Di Leo, is at the helm of Caliber 9, a noirish take on the mob thriller that sees Milanese small-timer Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) try to keep out of the clutches of a crook nicknamed 'The Mikado' (Lionel Stander). Making for a perfect double bill is Kinji Fukasaku's Street Mobster, in which another recently released jailbird (Bunta Sugawara) discovers that the world has become a very different place since he went inside and the Takigawa yakuza gang took over his Kawasaki manor.

Very much in the mould of Jules Dassin's Rififi (1955) and Topkapi (1964), Peter Yates's adaptation of Donald E. Westlake's The Hot Rock focusses on the mechanics of a heist. However, John Dortmunder (Robert Redford) has plenty of problems to ponder after he steals a diamond from a New York museum. Yates had directed Steve McQueen in Bullitt (1968) and the star set more tyres screeching in Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway, a reworking of a Jim Thompson bestseller about a raid on a Texas bank that resulted in McQueen marrying co-star Ali MacGraw.

Two very different views of life on the other side of the law are laid out in Richard Fleischer's The New Centurions and Sidney Lumet's The Offence. Based on a Joseph Wambaugh novel, the former saddles George C. Scott with Stacy Keach as mismatched LAPD partners, while the latter revisits John Hopkins's stage play, This Story of Yours, to show how two decades of violent crime impacts upon British copper Sean Connery. Each movie broke a mould in its depiction of the thin blue line, although neither had the influence or caused as much contoversy as blaxploitation.

Coined by Civil Rights activist Junius Griffin, the term was far from complimentary, as Griffin accused the crime films centred on the Black community of reinforcing stereotypes. Yet, these were also the first films since those contained in the BFI's five-disc Pioneers of African-American Cinema (2018) to have Black protagonists rather than sidekicks. Ossie Davis's Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) had launched the vogue, and it really should be available on disc in the UK, But it was Melvin Van Peebles's radical bellow, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and Gordon Parks's MGM-backed policier, Shaft (both 1971), that convinced Hollywood that there were big bucks to be made from movies with African Americans in the leads.

Little is said nowadays about Cotton duo Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St Jacques reuniting for the 1972 sequel, Come Back, Charleston Blue. But Richard Roundtree's return as John Shaft in Gordon Parks's Shaft's Big Score was greeted enthusiastically and led to John Guillermin's Shaft in Africa (1973) and future Roundtree cameos in John Singleton's Shaft (2000) and Tim Story's Shaft (2019), which both starred Samuel L. Jackson.

Ron O'Neal also made an impression, as drug dealer Youngblood Priest in Gordon Parks, Jr.'s Super Fly, which boasts a classic soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield. Yet, while neither the self-directed Super Fly TNT (1973), nor Director X's 2018 reboot, Superfly, is currently unavailable, Cinema Paradiso users can acquaint themselves with Sig Shore's The Return of Superfly (1990), which features Nathan Purdee as Priest returns to New York to track down his best friend's killer.

A still from Across 110th Street (1972)
A still from Across 110th Street (1972)

A hybrid crime drama set in the vicinity of Central Park and Harlem, Barry Shear's Across 110th Street draws on a Wally Ferris novel to show how Italian American captain Frank Mattelli (Anthony Quinn) and Black lieutenant William Pope (Yaphet Kotto) investigate a raid on a Mafia-controlled bank. But it's a mob-run bookmaker's shop that forces Herbert Jefferson, Jr. to seek shelter in brother Jim Brown's Los Angeles nightclub in Robert Hartford-Davis's Black Gunn, which was the only major entry in the series with a British director.

Packing much more of a punch was the debuting Oscar Williams's The Final Comedown, which sees Black radical Billy Dee Williams take up arms against a racist police force. Rest assured, the version available from Cinema Paradiso is the original co-produced by Roger Corman and not Blast!, a 1976 recut that was attributed to Frank Arthur Wilson, even though the newly inserted footage was directed by Allan Arkush.

Corman's New World Pictures was also behind Jack Hill's The Big Bird Cage, which reunited the director with Pam Grier to cash in on their success with The Big Doll House (1971). Although clearly a 'women in prison' picture, this has a blaxploitation attitude that would feed into Grier's later vehicles, Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). Contrast this gaolhouse fare with first-timer Shunya Ito's Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, an adaptation of a Toru Shinohara manga that stars Meiko Kaji as Nami Matsushima, who is sentenced for trying to stab the cop boyfriend who had used her to infiltrate a drug gang.

Kaji would return in Ito's Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972) and Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable, as well as Yasuharu Hasebe's Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701's Grudge Song (both 1973). Behind bars with Grier is Carol Speed, who would headline William Girdler's Abby (1974) with William Marshall, her co-star in Willim Crain's Blacula (1972), a reworking of the vampire myth that would be followed by Bob Kelljan's Scream Blacula Scream (1973), which teamed Marshall and Grier.

Sadly, Martin Ritt's adaptation of William H. Armstrong's Sounder (1972) isn't available to rent, even though both Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield were Oscar nominated. But Cinema Paradiso can bring you Sidney Poitier's Buck and the Preacher, in which the debuting director plays the leader of a post-Civil War wagon train, who enlists the help of fake cleric Harry Belafonte to confound the white settlers challenging the rights of the local Native Americans.

Thrills and Chills

Alfred Hitchcock returned to his roots in London's greengrocery markets in making his first feature in his homeland since Stage Fright (1950). Based on Arthur La Bern's 1966 novel, Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square, Frenzy drew on a number of notorious murder cases and revisited Hitch's pet theme that killing was often a messy and time-consuming business. Barry Foster, Jon Finch and Alec McCowen headline, while Anna Massey suffered a second grisly screen slaying after Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960).

A still from Straight on Till Morning (1972)
A still from Straight on Till Morning (1972)

Like Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Powell's game-changer tipped the thriller into horror territory and the genres overlapped frequently in Britain in the early 1970s. In Jimmy Sangster's Fear in the Night, for example, teacher Ralph Bates's wife, Judy Geeson, becomes convinced she is being stalked by a man with a prosthetic arm after she moves into the boarding school run by Peter Cushing and Joan Collins. Similarly, Rita Tushingham becomes so obsessed with having a baby in Peter Collinson's Straight On Till Morning, that she fails to notice the odd behaviour of prospective father, Shane Briant.

He returns alongside Gillian Hills in Peter Sykes's Gothic melodrama, Demons of the Mind, as siblings who are locked away from the world by aristocratic father Robert Hardy in order to protect them from their late mother's curse. In her final role, Ann Todd plays the matriarch whose fixations affect her child in Robert Hartford-Davis's Beware My Brethren (aka The Fiend), as she gives over her home to the religious cult led by preacher Patrick Magee and son Tony Beckley becomes one of its more fanatical followers.

The influence can be seen in these features of gialli like Mario Bava's Baron Blood and Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling (both 1972). But the links between horror and sexploitation also grew stronger in 1972, as pornographic pictures starring the likes of Linda Lovelace (Deep Throat) and Marilyn Chambers (Behind the Green Door) proved box-office winners at a time of dwindling ticket sales. A British example was Pete Walker's The Flesh and Blood Show, which stars Jenny Hanley and Luan Peters as members of a cast rehearsing in an abandoned theatre who are bumped off one by one. Adding to the curio value is the fact that the script was written by Upstairs Downstairs (1971-77) stalwart Alfred Shaughnessy, while the film included the UK's first 3-D sequence.

Even Agatha Christie whodunits became raunchy, with Sidney Gilliat including a sex scene in his adaptation of Endless Night, with Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett and Britt Ekland. A remote country pile also provides the setting for Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Sleuth, a canny take on Anthony Shaffer's hit stage play that earned Best Actor nominations at the Oscars for the entire cast: Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. The latter was also to the fore in Mike Hodges's Pulp, an underrated thriller in which a writer of cheap detective novels is summed to an island hideaway to ghost the memoirs of faded Hollywood star, Mickey Rooney.

While thrillers became gorier, British horrors opted to stick with winning formulas. But, while Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing reprised their roles from Hammers past, the focus of Alan Gibson's Dracula AD 1972 fell on hipsters Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) and Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham). Cushing was also on duty as an elderly dustman in Freddie Francis's Tales From the Crypt, an Amicus anthology whose five stories were linked by Ralph Richardson as the Crypy Keeper.

Cushing returned as a tailor's customer with an unusual request in Roy Ward Baker's Asylum, another Amicus selection that co-starred Robert Powell, who teams up with Robert Stephens to capture the Greek mythological harbinger of death in Peter Newbrook's The Asphyx. A mysterious force is also on the loose on the rocky island where a traumatised Jill Haworth was found cowering in a lighthouse in Jim O'Connolly's Tower of Evil. And the Scottish coast provides another disconcerting setting for Fred Burnley's Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (aka The Exorcism of Hugh), an adaptation of a novel by ITV newsreader Gordon Honeycombe that stars Susan Hampshire as a woman who refuses to accept that her lover is dead.

The undead are more of a problem for 19th-century Serbian village schoolteacher Laurence Payne and doting daughter Lynne Frederick in Robert Young's Vampire Circus, an overlooked Hammer that features Adrienne Corri and Anthony Higgins as the star turns in the Circus of Night. But the threat posed by the navvies rumoured to have turned to cannibalism after the collapse of the tunnel they were digging for the London Underground in 1892 pose more of a threat to passengers at Russell Square station, as Inspector Donald Pleasence and Detective Sergeant Norman Rossington discover in Gary Sherman's cult classic, Death Line.

Across the Atlantic, American horror veered between the extremes of Robert Fuerst's Dr Phibes Rises Again, a quirky sequel to The Abominable Dr Phibes starring the inimitable Vincent Price, and Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, a darkly comic reworking of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960) that became caught up in the 'video nasty' controversies of the 1980s and was only passed uncut by the BBFC in 2008. Coming somewhere in between were the likes of Hollingsworth Morse's Daughters of Satan, Daniel Petrie's Moon of the Wolf and George McCowan's Frogs, which respectively star Tom Sellect, David Janssen and Ray Milland.

A still from Silent Running (1972)
A still from Silent Running (1972)

There were more critters running amok in Phil Karlson's Ben, a sequel to Daniel Mann's Willard (1971), which sees Lee Montgomery's pet rat living a deadly double life. Michael Jackson sang the theme tune, while ace saxophonist Tom Scott provided the score for J. Lee Thompson's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the penultimate entry in the original five-strong original series. Intriguingly, given how the genre would take over Hollywood over the next decade, the only other noteworthy sci-fi films of 1972 were Peter Sasdy's Doomwatch, a Tigon adaptation of Clive Exton's BBC series that sends Ian Bannen to the island of Balfe to investigate the effects of some contaminated fish, and Douglas Trumbull's directorial debut, Silent Running, in which Bruce Dern excels as the botanist trying to preserve the unique cargo of the spaceship Valley Forge, with the help of three service drones named Huey, Dewey and Louie.

On the Wide Prairie

While the final frontier was still associated with the defunct television series, Star Trek (1966-69), the Wild West was just about holding its own on the cinema screen. Three years after he had won an Oscar for Henry Hathaway's True Grit (1969), John Wayne was still the genre's most totemic icon. However, prior to the release of Mark Rydell's The Cowboys, Duke had given an interview to Playboy, in which he had blithely expressed racist and homophobic views. One can only imagine his response to Michael Winner's Chato's Land, a revisionist Western and an allegory of the Vietnam War, which chronicles the efforts of the half-Apache Chato (Charles Bronson) to avenge himself on the Confederate veterans who had raped his wife.

The conflict in South-East Asia also impinges upon Robert Benton's 'acid Western', Bad Company, which sees Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown seeking to dodge the Civil War draft, and Robert Aldrich's Ulzana's Raid. This accompanies ageing scout McIntosh (Burt Lancaster) as he leads a cavalry unit ordered to capture the Chiricahua Apache warrior responsible for attacking settlers in Arizona. Land is also at the heart of John Sturges's Joe Kidd, as Clint Eastwood reluctantly joins the posse assembled by New Mexican rancher Robert Duvall to arrest Mexican reformer, John Saxon.

A Mexican-American War veteran seeks to start afresh as a Rocky Mountain trapper in Jeremiah Johnson, which had been slated as a collaboration between Clint Eastwood and Sam Peckinpah before their falling out led to Sydney Pollack reuniting with Robert Redford after their first outing on This Property Is Condemned (1966). This was Redford's first return to the West since George Roy Hill's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and the same was true for co-star Paul Newman, who made both Stuart Rosenberg's Pocket Money and John Huston's The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean in 1972. Written by John Milius (who had also scripted Jeremiah Johnson), the story tells of the outlaw who set himself up as a lawman in the Texas town of Vinegaroon, where he dreams of meeting English music-hall star, Lillie Langtry (Ava Gardner).

Aspiring cowpoke Gary Grimes hooks up with a drive being led by Billy Green Bush and targeted by rustler Royal Dano in Dick Richards's The Culpepper Cattle Co. The prize being eyed in Philip Kaufman's The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid is 'the biggest bank west of the Mississippi' and those lining it up are legendary outlaws Cole and Jim Younger (Cliff Robertson and Luke Askew) and Frank and Jesse James (John Pearce and Robert Duvall).

The names are also historical, if less familiar, in Paolo Cavara's Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears, which sends Anthony Quinn and Franco Nero to Texas to try and prevent the state from being annexed by the Union. We stay in Spaghetti (or, more strictly, Paella) country for Eugenio Martin's Pancho Villa, another allegorical outing that sees the eponymous Mexican revolutionary (Telly Savalas) set his sights on a weapons depot being guarded by a bullheaded colonel (Chuck Connors).

The modern frontier comes under scrutiny in Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner, which sees veteran rider Steve McQueen reunite with parents Robert Preston and Ida Lupino in order to win some money for brother Joe Don Baker at the Independence Day rodeo in Prescott, Arizona. Musician Kris Kristofferson has also fallen on hard times in Bill L. Norton's Cisco Pike and can only dig himself out of a hole by dealing drugs for corrupt LAPD detective, Gene Hackman.

Kristofferson has to pawn his guitar and Ronny Cox probably wishes he'd left his in the car instead of playing 'Duelling Banjos' with young picker Lonnie (Billy Redden), as the duet brings down a whole heap of trouble on Atlanta businessmen Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Burt Reynolds after they venture into the northern backwoods of Georgia in John Boorman's Deliverance. This earned three Oscars and found itself in the 'survival' genre with another of the year's biggest earners, Ronald Neame's The Poseidon Adventure. Following preacher Gene Hackman's efforts to rescue a group of passengers from a stricken liner, this adaptation of a Paul Gallico story helped launched the decade's vogue for disaster movies.

Life With the Dull Bits Cut Out

Our header for this section comes from Alfred Hitchcock's definition of 'drama'. All manner of storylines come under this banner and Cinema Paradiso has them all covered, whether they are love stories from Antiquity or deeply personal memoirs of life in a Scottish mining village in the 1940s.

A still from Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)
A still from Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)

When Orson Welles turned down the job, Charlton Heston had to direct himself and Hildegarde Neil in Antony and Cleopatra, which saw Heston return to a role he had played in another Shakespearean adaptation, Stuart Burge's Julius Caesar (1970). If casting decisions had fallen elsewhere, Al Pacino and Lynne Frederick might have played saints Francis and Clare of Assisi instead of Graham Faulkner and Judi Bowker in Franco Zeffirelli's Brother Sun, Sister Moon.

Frederick plays a very different character in Waris Hussein's Henry VIII and His Six Wives, as Catherine Howard betrays the king (Keith Michell) in a feature version of the 1970 BBC series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Frances Cuka, Charlotte Rampling, Jane Asher, Jenny Bos and Barbara Leigh-Hunt make up the sextet.

Another who didn't love wisely was profiled in Robert Bolt's Lady Caroline Lamb, an all-star biopic that the writer-director fashioned for his wife, Sarah Miles, who is heartbreakingly vulnerable as the socialite caught between politician husband William Lamb (Jon Finch) and poet Lord George Byron (Richard Chamberlain). Ralph Richardson received a BAFTA nomination for his performance as George IV and he's on equally fine form as Sir Hudson Lowe, the governor of St Helena detailed to guard Napoleon Bonaparte (Kenneth Haigh) in Fielder Cook's post-Waterloo saga, Eagle in a Cage.

The early career of a future prime minister (Simon Ward) is somewhat romanticised in Richard Attenborough's Young Winston, although Robert Shaw and Anne Bancroft excel as Lord Randolph Churchill and his American wife, Jennie Jerome. Winston Churchill despised the Russian Revolution that had imposed the 'Bolshevist tyranny' and, curiously, he would have found himself in agreement with Leon Trotsky, the Menshevik whose demise is the subject of Joseph Losey's The Assassination of Trotsky, which was written by Nicholas Mosley, the son of Churchill's Fascist adversary, Sir Oswald Mosley.

Military policeman Oliver Reed doesn't believe that Glenda Jackson has a sister while conducting a search for a Second World War deserter in Michael Apted's adaptation of H.E. Bates's The Triple Echo. Having been abducted by aliens from Tralfamadore, war veteran Michael Sacks and actress Valerie Perrine make equally odd bedfellows in George Roy Hill's take on Kurt Vonnegut's memoir of the fire-bombing of Dresden, Slaughterhouse-Five.

Also set in 1945, but in the Scottish village of Newcraighaill, Bill Douglas's My Childhood charts the friendship between the eight year-old Stephen Archibald and Karl Fiesler, the German POW who works in the nearby fields. The evocation of time and place is also key to Andrew Sinclair's adaptation of Dylan Thomas's 1954 radio play, Under Milk Wood, which brings Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole to the Welsh fishing village of Llareggub.

Taylor can also be seen as the blowsy wife trying to keep architect husband Michael Caine out of the clutches of elegant boutique owner, Susannah York, in X,Y, and Zee, Brian G. Hutton's take on Edna O'Brien's novel, Zee and Co. Thanks to Julie Christie, Vanessa Redgrave and Faye Dunaway all declining Robert Altman's Images, York went on to win the prize for Best Actress at Cannes for her performance as a children's author who rents an Irish cottage to escape the voices warning her of husband René Auberjonois's infidelity.

Joanne Woodward won the same award the following year for Paul Newman's The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, an adaptation of Paul Zindel's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a mother raising an epileptic daughter. Alan Bates and Janet Suzman struggle to keep their marriage together, as they resort to increasingly bleak and bizarre banter while caring for their intellectually disabled teenage daughter in Peter Medak's version of Peter Nichols's acclaimed play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.

A woman labelled schizophrenic makes some shocking discoveries about her traumatic past while undergoing group therapy in Jane Arden's The Other Side of the Underneath, an avant-garde reworking of an Arden stage work, A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches, that became notorious for the quantities of alcohol and LSD consumed during the shoot. For years after making Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, Maria Schneider was traumatised by her experience of filming the infamous sex scenes with Marlon Brando. He had replaced the late Jean-Louis Trintignant and the 19 year-old Schneider was cast after Dominique Sanda became pregnant. In her later years, Schneider campaigned for changes to the way women are treated on film sets.

Depression blights the existence of Philadelphia radio host Jack Nicholson, but he still answers the call when estranged brother Bruce Dern summons him to Atlantic City to make a fortune with a Hawaii casino scheme in Bob Rafelson's The King of Marvin Gardens. Washed-up pugilist Stacy Keach also dallies with unattainable ambitions when he decides to go back into the ring after discovering promising newcomer Jeff Bridges in John Huston's masterly adaptation of Leonard Gardner's classic novel, Fat City.

They say you should always write about what you know and former speechwriter Jeremy Larner went home with the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay after following the adage in Michael Ritchie's The Candidate. Following the campaign fortunes of Democrat Robert Redford, as he seeks to unseat three-term Republican Don Porter, this insight into election shenanigans should have become a political classic, as it was released in the very year that President Richard Nixon's re-election committee sanctioned the Watergate break-in that would cast a shadow over American life for the remainder of the decade.

On the Lighter Side

Two of the breeziest comedies of 1972 marked a return to the heyday of screwball comedy. Along with Bugs Bunny's socko cartoons, Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby (1938) was an obvious influence on Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc?, with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal making a fine job of stepping into the shoes of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, as the madcap and the milquetoast. Clashing personalities also proved crucial to Billy Wilder's Avanti!, as the Golden Globe-winning Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills discover that their respective father and mother had spent a decade enjoying furtive romantic trysts on the Italian island of Ischia.

Ghosts from the past also haunt Herbert Ross's Play It Again, Sam, an adaptation of Woody Allen's 1969 play that sees Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy) act as confidant to divorced film critic Allan Felix (Allen), as he struggles with his feelings for his best friend's wife, Linda (Diane Keaton). Allen retook the directorial reins for Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * (*But Were Afraid to Ask) , a collection of risqué skits inspired by a self-help manual of the same name by David Reuben. Among the guest stars are Gene Wilder, Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Lynn Redgrave and Allen's first wife, Louise Lasser.

A still from Monty Python: And Now for Something Completely Different (1971)
A still from Monty Python: And Now for Something Completely Different (1971)

The familiar faces of John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle pop up between the Terry Gilliam animations in Ian MacNaughton's And Now For Something Completely Different, which gathers the pick of the sketches from the cult BBC series, Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74). The Pythons could occasionally spark controversy, but nothing on the scale of John Waters's Pink Flamingos, which sees Divine scale new heights of outrageousness as Baltimore's filthiest cross-dressing countercultural criminal, Babs Johnson.

Less shocking, but more astute about the state of 70s America, Larry Cohen's Bone is a home invasion movie that sees Yaphet Kotto discover that Beverly Hills couple Joyce Van Patten and Andrew Duggan are actually worse off than he is. An Australian in London also comes in for a dose of culture shock in Bruce Beresford's The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, which became the first feature from Down Under to make a million dollars at the domestic box office. Barry Crocker plays the ocker abroad, while Barry Humphries (whose Private Eye comic strip had inspired the picture) appears as Edna Everage.

Comic titans Peter Cook and Spike Milligan also cameo and the latter plays his own father in Norman Cohen's take on Milligan's memoirs, Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall. BAFTA nominee Jim Dale essays the young Spike, whose commanding officer is played by Arthur Lowe. He also crops up in Peter Medak's biting social satire, The Ruling Class, as Tucker, the Communist butler of the 14th Earl of Gurney (Peter O'Toole), who is a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks he's Jesus Christ.

Prestige projects like this adaptation of Peter Barnes's hit play were comparatively rare, as the cash-strapped British film industry relied on churning out saucy romps like Val Guest's Au Pair Girls and spin-offs of television sitcoms like Cliff Owen's Steptoe and Son (with Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell), Ronnie Baxter's For the Love of Ada (with Irene Handl), Harry Booth's Mutiny on the Buses (with Reg Varney), John Robins's That's Your Funeral (with Bill Fraser) and Bob Kellett's Up the Front (with Frankie Howerd). Several characters familiar from Dick Emery's sketch show figured in Cliff Owen's Ooh…You Are Awful, while Danny La Rue found himself dragging up once more for Bob Kellett's wartime spy saga, Our Miss Fred.

As Cinema Paradiso showed in its Getting to Know Sidney James article, Sid was no stranger to sitcoms and he found a compatible companion in Diana Coupland in Gerald Thomas's Bless This House. However, Sid could also be seen getting up to no good with Kenneth Williams and the rest of the old gang in Thomas's Carry On Matron and Carry On Abroad.

Amidst the gloom and doom, the Children's Film Foundation was still going strong in 1972 and attracting such big names as Michael Powell, whose delightful fantasy, The Boy Who Turned Yellow, can be found on the BFI selection, Children's Film Foundation: Weird Adventures. If you want to see future Spandau Ballet star Gary Kemp confronting some London crooks in David Eady's Hide and Seek, you'll need to seek out the Children's Film Foundation: Runaways collection.

Following on from his success with The Railway Children (1970), actor-turned-director Lionel Jeffries scored another kidpic hit with The Amazing Mr Blunden, an adaptation of Antonia Barber's 1969 tome, The Ghosts, in which Great War widow Dorothy Allison and her children are helped by mysterious benefactor, Laurence Naismith. There are several screen stalwarts in the supporting cast and many more leading Fiona Fullerton a merry dance in William Sterling's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, among them Michael Crawford, Ralph Richardson, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Dudley Moore.

Two more classic children's books were reworked for a new generation in 1972, with Orson Welles and Boris Andreyev respectively playing Long John Silver in adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island by Italian Andrea Bianchi and Russian Yevgeny Fridman. And there's more adventure to be had, this time in the Arctic wastes, as Klondike prospector John Thornton (Charlton Heston) searches for gold with his faithful dog, Buck, in Ken Annakin's version of Jack London's The Call of the Wild.

A still from Man of La Mancha (1972)
A still from Man of La Mancha (1972)

Another thankless quest is recalled in Arthur Hiller's Man of La Mancha, a musical interpretation of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote, with Peter O'Toole as the wayward knight and James Coco as his squire, Sancho Panza. If this ambitious take on Dale Wasserman's stage show struggled to find an audience, Bob Fosse's Cabaret, had more luck in introducing cinemagoers to the writings of Christopher Isherwood and the exploits of Sally Bowles in Weimar Berlin. It earned Joel Grey the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Lisa Minnelli the Best Actress award for her brilliant delivery of the songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Winning eight Academy Awards in all, this disconcerting reminder of the invidious creep of evil suggested that the old-school musical still had a place in the Hollywood scheme of things. But rock music was also here to stay, with Family, Fairport Convention and Traffic being among the bands on show in Nicolas Roeg and Peter Neal's Glastonbury Fayre. Moreover, John Lennon and Yoko Ono put up some of the money for Ernest Pintoff's Dynamite Chicken, which combined sketches featuring Richard Pryor with appearances by such musical legends as Joan Baez, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Leonard Cohen and Jimi Hendrix.

What in the World

Das neue Kino was the last of the new waves to break across Europe in the 1960s. Visually bold and politically fearless, New German Cinema reflected the daily reality of life in a divided country in the shadow of the Iron Curtain. As Cinema Paradiso has shown in one of its Instant Expert's Guides, Rainer Werner Fassbinder was the most provocative of the autoren and he pulls few punches in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, a four-act drama about a Bremen fashion designer (Margit Carstensen), her assistant Marlene (Irm Hermann) and her new friend, Karin (Hanna Schygulla).

Renowned for the symbolic placement of characters within their environment, Werner Herzog went back in time to follow 16th-century conquistadore Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) on his search for El Dorado in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Another eccentric is profiled by Luchino Visconti in Ludwig, a biopic of Ludwig II of Bavaria that teams Helmut Berger with Romy Schneider, who reprises the role of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria that she had played in Ernst Marischka's Sissi (1955).

Visconti's compatriot followed his tribute to Giovanni Boccaccio (The Decameron, 1971) with a celebration of Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. The Trilogy of Life was completed by Arabian Nights (1974), which similarly drew on the past to comment upon the contemporary scene.

Something of a companion piece to the Oscar-winning Amarcord (1973), Roma was another leaf through the pages of Federico Fellini's autobiography, as he recalls swapping the port of Rimini (where he had spent his childhood) for the sights and sounds of the Eternal City. Although he was never as cruel, Fellini shared a sense of humour with Spaniard Luis Buñuel (both are the subject of Instant Expert Guides ). Residing in France, Buñuel took the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which charts the efforts of friends Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig and the BAFTA-winning Stéphane Audran to find a suitable place to dine.

Éric Rohmer took a gentler look at human nature in Love in the Afternoon, the last of the Six Moral Tales that tempts the happily married Bernard Verley with a chance encounter with old flame, Zouzou. François Truffaut struck a similar note with A Gorgeous Girl Like Me, an adaptation of an Henry Farrell novel that sees sociologist André Dussollier fall for accused murderer Bernadette Lafont while writing a thesis on female criminality.

As was often the case during this period, Jean-Luc Godard had his mind on weightier matters, as he collaborated with Jean-Pierre Gorin on Tout va bien (aka Everything's Fine), a self-reflexive drama that focusses on the relationship between an American reporter covering a factory strike (Jane Fonda) and her French husband (Yves Montand), a nouvelle vague icon who has sold out to make commercials. What a droll double bill this would make with Yves Robert's The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, an espionage farce in which spy chief Jean Rochefort entangles unsuspecting violinist Pierre Richard in a plot to humiliate ambitious underling Bernard Blier.

A still from The Man with One Red Shoe (1985)
A still from The Man with One Red Shoe (1985)

Stan Dragoti remade this splendidly convoluted romp as The Man With One Red Shoe (1985), with Tom Hanks as the patsy. And it's surprising that nobody sought to remake Jean-Pierre Melville's final feature, Un flic, which twists and turns as cop Alain Delon seeks to bust crime boss Richard Crenna, with whom he shares a lover in Catherine Deneuve.

We've already seen how 1972 was a banner year for crime and the trend spread across the world. Caribbean cinema caught the attention with Perry Henzell's The Harder They Come, which stars Jimmy Cliff as an aspiring singer being drawn into the drug trade in Kingston, Jamaica. The reggae soundtrack album remains a classic, but Cliff has only acted since in Harold Ramis's Club Paradise (1986) and Desmond Gumbs's Rude Boy (2003).

Bruce Lee's fame continued to grow in 1972, as, following The Big Boss (1971), he reunited with Hong Kong director Lo Wei on Fist of Fury, which was set in Shanghai in 1910 and pitted Lee against some aggressive Japanese students. By contrast, modern-day Rome provided the backdrop for Way of the Dragon (which Lee also wrote and directed), as a martial artist travels from Hong Kong to assist a restaurateur being menaced by gangsters.

Work also began on Game of Death, although Lee paused the shoot to headline Hollywood's first kung fu film, Robert Crouse's Enter the Dragon (1973). Unfortunately, Lee died before he could finish the earlier venture and it was left to Crouse to cobble together a feature from footage that had been misplaced for several years.

Martial arts fans should note that Cinema Paradiso also has Feng Huang's Lady Whirlwind among its 10,000-plus titles. This stars Angela Mao, the Taiwanese actress who was touted as the female Bruce Lee, with whom she starred in Enter the Dragon before joining forces with King Ju on The Fate of Lee Khan (1973).

Czech actress Iva Janzurová stars as another woman not to be messed with in Juraj Herz's Morgiana, in which sisters Viktoria and Klara (both played by Janzurová) fall out over an inheritance and the former plots revenge after the latter falls in love. Hungarian maestro Miklós Jancsó takes another approach to the fair distribution of wealth in Red Psalm, an account of an 1890 peasant revolt that is filled with poignant folk music and stylised movement that was captured in just 26 long takes.

Unrest is also in the air in Theo Angelopoulos's Days of '36, which criticises the military junta that ruled Greece in 1972 through a story set under the dictatorial rule of Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas, whose regime tries to pin the assassination of a prominent union leader on a small-time smuggler. The misuse of power is also examined in Stanislav Rostotsky's The Dawns Here Are Quiet, an adaptation of a Boris Vasiliyev novel about the commander of an anti-aircraft battery during the Great Patriotic War, who finds himself in charge of a battalion of women.

Memories of a lost wife make a mission to a space station more difficult for Donatas Banionis in Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris. However, the psychologist starts to wonder what is happening when he sees Natalya Bondarchuk for the first time since her death a decade earlier. The slow agony of a terminal illness permeates Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers, as Harriet Andersson becomes increasingly frustrated with sisters Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann, who have come to nurse her, but are so preoccupied with their own petty concerns that Andersson is left in the care of maid, Kari Sylwan.

A still from Cries and Whispers (1972)
A still from Cries and Whispers (1972)
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  • Solaris (1972) aka: Solyaris

    2h 40min

    Credit has to be given to Steven Soderbergh for making such a good fist in 2002 of revisiting Stanislaw Lem's 1961 novel. But Andrei Tarkovsky's account of the events aboard a space station orbiting the planet of Solaris has an atmosphere and solemnity that is absent from so much Hollywood sci-fi. Lem wasn't a fan and Tarkovsky considered the picture a failure. But, trust us, it's a masterpiece.

  • Cabaret (1972)

    Play trailer
    1h 59min

    Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin had been adapted for the stage by John Van Druten as I Am a Camera. Henry Cornelius had filmed the story of Brian Roberts and Sally Bowles under that title in 1955. But it took the songs of Kander and Ebb, the pizzazz of Bob Fosse and the chutzpah of Lisa Minnelli to finally connect audiences with the enduringly potent story.

  • What's Up, Doc? (1972)

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    1h 29min

    Sharing Cabaret's basic storyline of a quiet young man discovering life through the intervention of a whirlwind of a woman, Peter Bogdanovich's screwball is blessed with a brilliant script by Robert Benton, David Newman and Buck Henry and the blistering rapport between Ryan O'Neal's bookworm and Barbra Streisand's deceptively bright force of nature. The gag at the expense of Arthur Hiller's Love Story (1970) is a gem.

  • Silent Running (1972)

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    1h 25min

    With Michael Cimino and Steven Bochco among its writing triumvirate, Douglas Trumbull's directorial debut forges links between two films for which he provided special effects, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Carrying a precious cargo, the spaceship orbiting Saturn is majestic. But this isn't all about spectacle, as Bruce Dern's botanist ruminates about the essential mysteries of life.

  • The Godfather (1972) aka: Mario Puzo's The Godfather

    2h 50min

    In 'Griffin Family History' in Season Four of Family Guy (1999-), Peter Griffin announces that he does not care for Francis Ford Coppola's Oscar-winning adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel because 'it insists upon itself'. We'll leave it to you to decide whether he has a point. But one suspects history will record that this is one of the major achievements of American cinema.

  • Deliverance (1972)

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    1h 45min

    Adapted by James Dickey from his own novel, this backwoods saga retains the power to shock five decades on. Dickey had wanted Sam Peckinpah to direct, but John Boorman's control makes the violence all the more startling. It might have been very different had Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson or Lee Marvin accepted the Jon Voight role or if Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston or Donald Sutherland had replaced Burt Reynolds.

  • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) aka: Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie

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    1h 37min

    Producer Serge Silberman told Luis Buñuel the anecdote that inspired this story of seven deluded souls suffering untold indignities while searching for somewhere to have supper. Amusingly, Jean-Claude Carrière's rug-pulling screenplay means that the characters are no more aware than the audience whether they are enacting a scene from life or are caught up in surreal dreams. The performances are wonderful, but its Buñuel's lingering loathing that makes this satire so incisive.

  • The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

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    1h 52min

    Having made his reputation in television, producer Irwin Allen acquired the nickname of 'the Master of Disaster' following his success with this stellar Paul Gallico adaptation and John Guillermin's even starrier The Towering Inferno (1974). Fans of Father Ted (1995-98) will remember Ted (Dermot Morgan) watching Ronald Neame's film for tips to save Fr Dougal (Ardal O'Hanlon) from a booby-trapped milk float simply because Gene Hackman plays a priest.

  • Cries and Whispers (1972) aka: Viskningar och rop

    1h 28min

    Jane Magnusson's Bergman: A Year in a Life (2018) suggests that Ingmar Bergman left much to be desired when it came to his relationships with women. But he displays genuine insight into the female psyche in films like Persona (1966) and this period chamber drama, which was inspired by his mother, Karin Åkerblom. Dominated by the colour red, Marik Vos-Lundh's interiors and costumes are sumptuously photographed by Sven Nykvist.

    Ingmar Bergman
    Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Kari Sylwan
  • Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) aka: Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes

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    1h 33min

    Anticipating themes that would recur in Fitzcarraldo (1982), the first of Werner Herzog's five collaborations with Klaus Kinski owes as much to imagination as history. Yet it grips from the outset, as the magnetic Kinski's eyes begin to burn with lust for power and riches. The pair feuded throughout the five-week shoot in the Peruvian rainforest, but they produced an anti-colonial tract that has lost none of its trenchancy.