#36) Flash Gordon (1936)


#36) Flash Gordon (1936)

OR “Same Flash Time, Same Flash Channel”

Directed by Frederick Stephani

Written by Stephani & George Plympton & Basil Dickey & Ella O’Neill. Based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond.

Class of 1996

The Plot: The immense planet Mongo is headed straight towards Earth, so Flash Gordon (Larry “Buster” Crabbe) and some lady he meets named Dale (Jean Rogers) head out to the planet on a rocket ship piloted by Dr. Zarkov (Frank Shannon). They arrive only to find that Mongo is run by the evil Emperor Ming (Charles B. Middleton) and his young manipulative daughter Princess Aura (Priscilla Lawson). Aided by Prince Barin (Richard Alexander) and King Vultan (Jack “Tiny” Lipson), Flash and his gang encounter space monsters, explosions, and a cliffhanger every 20 minutes in this 13-part film serial.

Why it Matters: The NFR praises the serial’s “ambitious” production values and includes a historical essay by “Flash Gordon” expert Roy Kinnard.

But Does It Really?: “Flash Gordon” is a lot of harmless cheap ‘30s fun, but man is it long. I know I’m not watching them as intended (one episode a week), but 4 hours of this stuff in one go is a lot. That being said, if you’re going to include one film serial on your Registry, this is the one. In our era of binge-watching, maybe space (ha ha) these out over a few days.

Shout Outs: Set pieces, props, and score selections are reused from previous Universal pictures, including “The Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Invisible Man”.

Everybody Gets One: Larry “Buster” Crabbe was an Olympic swimmer who won a gold medal in 1932 for the 400-meter freestyle. Both Priscilla Lawson and Jean Rogers were former beauty queens whose acting careers didn’t last too long after “Flash Gordon”; Lawson dropped out to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps, Rogers got in trouble with Louis B. Mayer and became one of many who would “never work in this town again.”

Wow, That’s Dated: This serial hails from the era of science fiction films when you could just dangle a rejected Christmas tree ornament on a string and call it a spaceship. Also when was the last time anyone ever mentioned their polo game?

Take a Shot: It’s four hours and he’s the title character, please don’t do this as a drinking game. As an alternative, anytime someone says “Flash” just sing the first part of that Queen song.

Other notes

  • Listen Crabbe, either your name is Larry or it’s Buster. Not both.
  • I love that the guards refer to Flash as “the blonde giant”, even though he is clearly the same height as everyone else, and on top of that, he’s not even the only blonde!
  • They love that lightning bolt scene wipe. And who can blame them? It’s awesome!
  • Never trust a man who parades around in tiny shorts.
  • I can’t get over the costume of Ming’s Captain of the Guards. Did he lose a bet?
  • Ming believes science will answer everything, but has to check with a god before he can marry Dale. Huh?
  • One of the monsters looks like it could be Godzilla’s dad. And I’m pretty sure another one of these things was the Jabberwocky in the creepy ‘80s “Alice in Wonderland”.
  • I’m choosing to ignore the obvious glass in between the fish and the camera.
  • Hmmm…a leader who takes offense to being called a puppet. Hmmm…
  • I cannot take a bad guy seriously when his name is pronounced Kayla.
  • And then Vultan shows up and things get really weird. That being said, casting Brian Blessed in this role for the remake is possibly the greatest casting ever.
  • Vultan slaps a bear on the ass! Quick, someone invent PETA and then call them!
  • You’d think someone named Ming the Merciless would just kill these guys immediately, what with the whole “merciless” thing.
  • I’m enjoying the sax music during each episode’s recap.
  • Wait, they actually call it the Tunnel of Terror? I thought that was just an episode title!
  • Oops, Jean Rogers speaks one of her lines too soon. No time for retakes I guess, they just keep rolling.
  • Is it just me, or are there long stretches of this serial where Flash doesn’t do a damn thing?


  • The Flash Gordon serial’s success led to two more serials; 1938’s “Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars” and 1940’s “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe”.
  • For those of you who don’t have the time to watch the whole thing, Universal cut the entire serial down to 68 minutes and released it as the film “Rocket Ship”.
  • Buster Crabbe would go on to play Buck Rogers in a 1939 serial, and would make a nice little piece of stunt casting in Buck’s 1979 reboot.
  • “Flash Gordon” would be remade a few times, most notably as the big-budget 1980 film, and the short-lived 2007 TV series.
  • And of course, when George Lucas couldn’t get the rights to remake “Flash Gordon” in the ‘70s, he decided to write his own space opera. And he called it… “American Graffiti”.

#35) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)


#35) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

OR “Your First Freshman English Paper”

Directed by Robert Mulligan

Written by Horton Foote. Based on the novel by Harper Lee.

Class of 1995

The Plot: Loosely based on Harper Lee’s childhood in Monroeville, Alabama, “To Kill a Mockingbird” concerns a young girl named Scout (Mary Badham, older version voiced by Kim Stanley) and her life in 1930s Alabama with her brother Jem (Philip Alford) and her father Atticus (Gregory Peck). When Atticus is asked to legally defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man accused of raping a white woman (Collin Wilcox), Scout and Jem learn about racial and political injustice while coming of age.

Why It Matters: The NFR says the film is “adapted exquisitely” from its source novel, and mentions Peck’s performance.

But Does It Really?: God bless this movie. The book might still be controversial in some quarters, and the film might not help the whole “white savior” phenomenon, but at its core “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a beautifully told, wonderfully filmed story about perspective and tolerance. Peck is giving the performance of a lifetime in a way that somehow calls attention to itself but at the same time isn’t flashy. While maybe a little too wistful for its own good, the film still teaches an important lesson on what it takes to truly be human.

Everybody Gets One: Let’s start with child actors Mary Badham and Philip Alford. Their acting careers seemed to wane with the onset of puberty, but both would go on to be successful in other professions. Also making their only appearance are character actors Rosemary Murphy, William Windom, and Collin Wilcox. And so far this is director Robert Mulligan’s only film to make the cut.

Wow, That’s Dated: During a few dramatic moments (most notably Mayella’s testimony), there’s some artificial zooming going on within the frame. I always associate that with late ‘50s/early ‘60s filmmaking.

Title Track: Atticus says the phrase “to kill a mockingbird” once about 37 minutes in. It’s a metaphor about destroying innocence…or something like that. Scout comes close towards the end by paraphrasing the title.

Seriously, Oscars?: “To Kill a Mockingbird” was nominated for eight Oscars and won three; Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, and Best Actor for Gregory Peck (one of the rare times the Oscars got it absolutely right). The film lost Picture, Director and Original Score to the equally good but much more epic “Lawrence of Arabia”. And 10-year-old Mary Badham was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (even though she’s a co-lead), but lost to 16-year-old Patty Duke (also a co-lead in “The Miracle Worker”).

Other notes

  • Everyone’s favorite piece of literary trivia, Dill Harris is based on Harper Lee’s childhood friend from Monroeville: Truman Capote.
  • According to Superman Vol. 2 #81, this is Clark Kent’s favorite film. Which is surprising, you’d think he’d pick something with his dad in it.
  • No offense to then nine-year-old Mary Badham, but I do not believe that Scout is six at the beginning.
  • Geez, Dill asks more exposition-based questions than Elliot Page in “Inception”.
  • What exactly was the jury selection like for this trial?
  • For his testimony, I find Bob Ewell guilty of first-degree bad continuity.
  • Collin Wilcox strikes me as an early ‘60s Amanda Plummer. So…Tammy Grimes, I guess.
  • Man, they really like the phrase “bust up a chifforobe”. There’s your drinking game.
  • Kudos to Brock Peters. His performance is quite impactful, which is impressive because it’s essentially one scene.
  • And then there’s Atticus’ final summation. Jesus Christ, is that good. They cut away when they need to, but for the most part Peck does it in one take, and boy does he nail it.
  • Ah yes, Elmer Bernstein’s poignant “Walking Home with a Ham” theme. If you think that’s ridiculous, you should have seen some of the other kids at the pageant.
  • With his performance as Boo Radley, Robert Duvall makes his film debut, as well as his first of at least eight appearances on the National Film Registry.


  • Harper Lee never wrote another book after “To Kill a Mockingbird” and very publicly (and entertainingly) declined any and all interviews. The release of the sequel/first draft “Go Set a Watchman” is still mired in controversy.
  • For many years “To Kill a Mockingbird” was annually produced as a stage play in the old courthouse of Harper Lee’s hometown. In true Harper Lee fashion, she refused to ever attend.
  • Submitted for your approval, Scout’s seemingly innocent yet obviously dubbed appearance on the last episode of… “The Twilight Zone”.
  • Without Boo Radley, there’d be no Old Man Marley/Pigeon Lady.
  • This film is probably responsible for every “White People End Racism” movie ever, from “The Help” to “Hairspray” to “Hidden Fences”.
  • As for film sequels, I think the closest we’ll ever get is “Capote”/“Infamous”.
  • Also I recently met someone who named their child Atticus. So…there’s that legacy for ya.

Further Reading/Viewing: For those of you wondering what Truman Capote made of his childhood, he wrote two short stories about it: “A Christmas Memory” and “The Thanksgiving Visitor”. Both stories were first adapted for television in the late ‘60s starring Geraldine Page, and then remade in 1997 starring Patty Duke (full circle!). A stage version features a tomboy character named Nellie, who may or may not be Harper Lee.

#34) The African Queen (1951)


#34) The African Queen (1951)

OR “Crocs & Krauts”

Directed by John Huston

Written by Huston & James Agee. Based on the novel by C.S. Forester.

Class of 1994

The Plot: Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) is a British missionary with her brother (Robert Morley) in 1914 German East Africa. While delivering mail to them, boat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) reveals that Britain has entered into war with Germany. No sooner does the news get to them that German soldiers arrive and burn their village. Rose escapes with Charlie aboard his boat, the “African Queen” of the title, and starts sailing down the Ulanga River. When they learn of a German gunboat blocking their only way to freedom, Rose hatches a plan to full-on MacGyver the African Queen into a torpedo boat and sink the Luise. Charlie is hesitant at first, but along their journey the two learn to respect and, dare I say, love each other.

Why It Matters: Interestingly, the official NFR entry for this film only gives us the plot and mentions how difficult the on-location shooting in Uganda and the Congo was.

But Does It Really?: I’m calling this one a “minor classic”; not nearly as iconic as some of the cast or crew’s other works, but memorable and enjoyable nonetheless. The film’s major pro is that they actually filmed in Africa, and it looks breathtaking in Technicolor. Bogart and Hepburn are both lovely, and ultimately I found myself caring about what happened to them. While “African Queen” might not rank as high as some other classics, it deserves a place in the Registry. Besides, a trip down the rivers of Africa with two of Hollywood’s greatest is a fun way to spend two hours.

Everybody Gets One: Professional Englishman Robert Morley and future Tevye Theodore Bikel (though I suspect Bikel has a few more up his sleeve++). Interestingly, this is the only film on the Registry for either Bogart or Hepburn to be filmed in color**.

Wow, That’s Dated: Umm…those aren’t flies. Those are animated arrowheads. You did so well faking everything else.

Take a Shot: This is also a good drinking game movie. The African Queen is referenced occasionally, but consistently, throughout the film.

Seriously, Oscars?: The film received only four Oscar nominations; Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress. Humphrey Bogart won his only Oscar for this film. Hepburn gives the better performance, but Bogie was overdue and is serviceable at playing one of the era’s favorite pieces of Oscar bait; an alcoholic who redeems himself. The film lost in its other categories to fellow NFR entries “A Place in the Sun” and “A Streetcar Named Desire”. “The African Queen” missed out on a Best Picture nomination because the Academy needed to make room for this swords and sandals crap.

Other notes

  • It was during filming in Uganda that John Huston learned that his wife Enrica gave birth to their second child together; a daughter named Anjelica.
  • This has got to be one of the rare movies where Hepburn sings. Next stop, Coco!
  • It’s a shame the sound guy didn’t get a nomination for making Bogie’s weird stomach noises.
  • HE’S CANADIAN!? In what universe is Bogie Canadian?
  • I don’t know how I feel about Allan Gray’s score in this film. When they first embark on the river, we get music that’s a little too jaunty for two characters fleeing the Germans. Then in the next scene Rose sees Charlie’s gin bottle and the score gets way too dramatic. What is happening?
  • Even when Bogie shaves he has a five o’clock shadow.
  • How did neither of them get shot while passing the German fort? There were about 10 guys shooting them down. Where they all former Imperial Stormtroopers?
  • Sorry Charlie, gaffer’s tape wasn’t a thing back then.
  • And then they embrace and suddenly the film has more innuendo than a Hitchcock picture.
  • During the scene where Bogie is imitating the hippos and monkeys, I really wanted them to flash across the screen “Academy Award Winning Performance”.
  • I’d like to point out that during filming Bogart was 51 and Hepburn was 44. If you remade it today neither of them would be a day over 25.
  • While the ending is a huge deus ex machina, I must admit it is still quite satisfying.
  • Unless I missed something, this is one of the rare films set in a jungle that doesn’t include this sound.


  • While designing Disneyland, Harper Goff used this film as the main inspiration for Adventureland’s Jungle Cruise attraction. Now if only that ride had a scene where you get shot at by German soldiers.
  • Uncredited co-writer Peter Viertel turned his experience on location into the somewhat fictionalized novel “White Hunter Black Heart”. In 1990, the book became a film, starring Clint Eastwood attempting (and failing) to imitate John Huston.
  • The film spawned a 1977 TV sequel/potential pilot starring Warren Oates and Mariette Hartley. It’s so obscure I couldn’t even find a clip of it on the internet. All I could find were these promo photos on eBay, one of which had zero bids.
  • As for the African Queen herself, the boat used during filming was recently refurbished and is a fully operational tourist attraction in Key Largo, Florida.

** 2017 Update: Ms. Hepburn has one other color film now: “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner“.

++2018 Update: And so he does. Theodore Biel also appears in “My Fair Lady“.

#33) The March of Time: Inside Nazi Germany (1938)

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 8.15.29 PM#33) The March of Time: Inside Nazi Germany (1938)

Directed by Jack Glenn

Written by James L. Shute

Class of 1993

I’ll keep this one short. “The March of Time” was a newsreel series that started in the 1930s and was essentially the pre-television version of “60 Minutes”. In 1938 they turned their cameras on Germany five years into the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. What follows is a startling (though, admittedly, somewhat manipulated) view of a country run by fascism. The film covers Germany’s persecution of Jews, the Hitler Youth program, and the German-American Bund setting up camp in New York City, among many other topics. Given the times we currently live in, it’s not too difficult to spot the parallels between what happened then and what’s happening now (For example: Germany’s newspapers only printed the stories the government wanted them to). The inclusion of “Inside Nazi Germany” in the Registry is an important one and should not be underestimated. Please watch this film and, as we say nowadays, Stay Woke.

“All propaganda must be confined to a few slogans…repeated over and over…until the last man understands what they mean.” – Adolf Hitler, “Mein Kampf”

#32) Psycho (1960) [Original 2017 Post]


#32) Psycho (1960)

OR “Motherboy ‘60”

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Written by Joseph Stefano. Based on the novel by Robert Bloch.

Class of 1992

Perhaps the longest trailer in film history. And it doesn’t give anything away!

This is my original “Psycho” write-up, but wouldn’t you rather read the revised, expanded version instead?

The Plot: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) doesn’t have enough money to marry her boyfriend Sam (John Gavin). When her boss (Vaughn Taylor) asks her to make a $40,000 deposit in the bank, Marion takes the money and runs (well, drives). She ends up staying the night at the Bates Motel, keeping company with the manager Norman (Anthony Perkins), who tells her about his domineering mother. When Marion disappears, her sister Lila (Vera Miles) investigates.

Why It Matters: The NFR hails the film’s enduring shock value, and praises Perkins and Leigh as well as Bernard Herrmann’s score. An essay by film journalist Charles Taylor praises the film’s ability to still be suspenseful despite the fact that everyone knows the film’s major spoilers.

But Does It Really?: “Psycho” is my vote for the best Hitchcock film. After a career of big budget, elegant looking films like “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest”, Hitch proved he could get down and dirty with a low-budget gritty film that supplies plenty of edge-of-your seat thrills. “Psycho” is like a good roller coaster; the first time is exhilarating, and every time after that is just as much fun, even if you know where the twists are. Why this film had to wait until the NFR’s fourth go-round to make the cut is beyond me.

Everybody Gets One: Oh, Anthony Perkins. He’s very, very good in this film. So much so that he was typecast for the rest of his life, despite being capable of so much more (I personally love him in “Evening Primrose”). Perkins eventually gave in and reprised the role of Norman later in life (see Legacy below). Amazingly, practically everyone else in this film has at least one more NFR entry on their resume.

Wow, That’s Dated: You mean besides the chronic sexism? It’s quick but, in traditional Hitchcock fashion, it’s definitely there.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Psycho” received four Oscar nominations, and won none of them. Hitchcock lost his fifth and final bid for Best Director, Janet Leigh missed out on her only acting nomination, and the film’s art direction and cinematography lost to, respectively, “The Apartment” and “Sons and Lovers” (the latter being a good alternate title for this film). For those of you paying attention, that’s no nominations for Anthony Perkins, Bernard Herrmann or Joseph Stefano, and no Best Picture nod.

Other notes

  • This movie got the green light when Audrey Hepburn bowed out of Hitch’s proposed courtroom drama “No Bail for the Judge” due to pregnancy. So congratulations, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, you are indirectly responsible for one of the greatest American films ever!
  • This is my first Saul Bass credits sequence on the Registry. I can’t think of an opening credit scene that has so much impact with so little actually happening. They’ll be more to come from Mr. Bass.
  • Oh yeah, I always forget how uninteresting Sam/John Gavin is. It’s the one thing the remake (barely) has over the original.
  • Why the cowboy hat, Hitch?
  • That’s Hitch’s daughter Patricia as Mr. Lowery’s other secretary. Her acting career was pretty much limited to her father’s films and episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”.
  • Geez, Tom Cassidy is almost as gross towards Marion as Norman is.
  • Speaking of, Frank Albertson (the actor playing Tom Cassidy) is Sam Wainwright from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Hee-haw!
  • Ladies and gentlemen, California Charlie.
  • I feel like Norman gives Marion plenty of red flags during their dinner. Taxidermy as a hobby, his obvious mother issues; Marion, you in danger girl.
  • When all is said and done, that shower scene is still effectively chilling.
  • My favorite shot in the film is right after the shower scene, when the camera pans back into Marion’s room, as if it too isn’t quite sure what to do next.
  • After watching Norman’s step-by-step process, I now feel fully qualified to clean up a murder in a motel room.
  • Why such an intense close-up on Martin Balsam when he enters the film?
  • I do love that the first big scene involving Norman’s backstory features two characters in their bathrobes.
  • Shout-out to Simon Oakland as the psychiatrist at the end. It’s a little long (even Roger Ebert thought it could’ve been edited), but Oakland is clearly relishing the chance to go full Poirot in his one scene.
  • That’s future “Mary Tyler Moore” star Ted Knight as the policeman outside of Norman’s cell. And here I thought it all started for him at a 5000-watt radio station in Fresno, California.
  • So based on the film’s timeline, the first scene is on December 11th, Marion checks into the Bates Motel on the 12th, Arbogast investigates on the 19th, and Lila and Sam check in on the 20th. The holidays must have been tough for the Crane family after that.


  • Oh, where to begin? Let’s start with Perkins and Universal’s attempt to franchise “Psycho” in the ‘80s.
  • Don’t worry; Gus Van Sant did a scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot remake in 1998. I have seen it, and it hurts my soul.
  • A 1987 “Bates Motel” pilot that never made it to series, and a 2013 “Bates Motel” reboot/prequel series that recently wrapped up with the events of the film.
  • This is one of the rare films to inspire another film about its creation. 2012’s “Hitchcock” proves that even the making of a film classic can be bogged down by obvious Biopic 101 trappings.
  • Brian De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill” owes a thing or two to “Psycho”.
  • 24 Hour Psycho”, which answers the question; What if “Psycho” had been directed by Andy Warhol?
  • “That kid gets no tip.”

Further Viewing: A look at how meticulously Hitch promoted the film, right down to his strict “No Late Seating” policy.