5 Great Movies About Making Movies
by Alan F. Zundel
The recent release of Hail Caesar! (which I haven’t seen yet), about a movie studio “fixer” dealing with the production problems of a 1950s-era studio, made me reminisce over some of my favorite movies about making movies. Here are my top 5.
Day for Night (1973). Probably the most popular movie from the always interesting French director Francois Truffaut, “Day for Night” is often described as his love letter to movie-making. It feels like a labor of love, filled with keenly observed details and endearingly human characters. Truffaut plays a director in the middle of the production of a soapy drama, which can’t compete with the dramas of the cast and crew behind the scenes. Love affairs, alcohol problems, pregnancy, last minute rewrites and the death of a principal actor buffet the director, whose single-minded focus is just getting the damn film finished. A must-see for anyone interested in movie making.
Bullfinger (1999). Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in top form in a saga of an ultra-low budget film director (Martin) who recruits the dim-witted lookalike brother of a paranoid movie star (both played by Murphy) to shoot a moronic sci-fi film. Martin’s can-do resourcefulness in getting his vision to the screen while pepping up his make-shift cast and crew will be familiar to every hopeful amateur filmmaker who ever picked up a camera. Murphy gives you two for the price of one, each of his characters hilarious enough for their own movie.
Ed Wood (1994). Based on a real-life tale that Bullfinger could have been inspired by, this gem of a comedy is based on the film career of low-budget director Ed Wood, dubbed “the worst director of all time.” (His infamous movie Plan 9 from Outer Space also has had the honor of being named “the worst movie of all time.”) Johnnie Depp plays Wood as a delusionally optimistic wannabe filmmaker who thinks his luck has changed when he becomes friends with the washed-up drug-addicted former horror film actor Bela Lugosi. The relationship between the two gives the film its heart, with Martin Landau winning a deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as Lugosi. His ranting tirade when someone compliments him on his work with Boris Karloff is priceless.
Singing in the Rain (1952). Okay, this is not so much about making movies as it is about being a great movie, but the plot does involve an unknown actress called on to dub the lines of a famous silent-film actress having trouble adapting to the talkies. The plot is totally beside the point, however, as it is just an excuse for a series of brilliant song-and-dance numbers: “Make ’Em Laugh,” “Good Morning,” and of course the famous title tune. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Conner astonish with their dance prowess, and newcomer Debbie Reynolds as the sweet ingénue somehow manages to keep up with them. As pure entertainment, one of the best Hollywood pictures ever made.
Abbot and Costello in Hollywood (1945). Another cheat here as this is hardly a great movie but it has some terrifically funny scenes. The comedians portray their usual characters as the wise guy and the dope sneak into a movie studio. While evading the villain Costello pretends to be a stunt dummy for a barroom brawl scene, with results that bring a grin to my face just thinking about it. One of the better of the comedy duo’s efforts; if you like them you’re sure to enjoy it.