Go-To Guy Flicks

10 Great Guy Flicks


No T&A (this is a family magazine, fellas) but plenty of BG&G (blood, guts, and glory). Now that’s entertainment

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By Harlan Jacobson


Need some essential guy lessons? Check out the titles below. All are rentable or available through the Westchester Library System.

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[1] Red River (1948). Rule No. 1 in the Secret Film Critic’s Manual is that when you are asked, “What are the greatest guy flicks?” you gotta say Red River. In Red River, the Old Code of Male Behavior (“a man’s gotta dew what a man’s gotta dew…”) and the Code of the New Sensitive Male (“Owww, that hurt my feelings!”) duke it out, maybe for the first time. It is directed by Howard Hawks, with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift acting out the dad-son thing, and there’s a girl in there somewhere.


[2] High Noon (1952). Nobody ever did the old-guy-strapping-on-the-gun-one-last-time-to-save-civilization better than Coop in Fred Zinnemann’s anti-McCarthy-herd, end-of-the-West drama. Coop solidified his hold on the worth of being strong, silent, and principled down to the last man. 


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When it comes to young dudes saving civilization or fighting a war for oil anyway, Mel Gibson in [3] Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1982) reinvented the Western as postmodern. (Guys: try casually dropping that line at loft dinner parties and watch all the Carrie Bradshaws fall off their heels.) And that skinhead thingie with the mohawk coming over the truck hood at 100 mph separates the real men from the metrosexuals.


Two Kings: [4] The Man Who Would Be King (1975), John Huston’s Rudyard Kipling tale with Michael Caine and Sean Connery as two working-class blokes who succumb to the temptations of the ruling class once they cross the Vale of Kashmir into India. Has there ever been a better buddy movie?; and [5] When We Were Kings (1996), Leon Gast’s documentary of the 1974 Ali-Foreman Rumble-in-the-Jungle fight in Zaire, where Ali came up with his lasting contribution to Guydom: the rope-a-dope.


[6] The Godfather, I & II (1972,’74). Shakespeare widdout da Cliff Notes. (When it comes to Coppola, I’m not sure how anyone can leave out The Conversation or Apocalypse Now, so see them, too.)


[7] It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World (1963). Uncle Miltie, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Phil Silvers, and their women, Ethel Merman, Edie Adams, and Dorothy Provine, drive each other off the road to get to a pot of buried gold. When I was 14, this looked like my future as a Jewish male in America.  I thought I would be one of those guys looking for a pot of gold. Spencer Tracy is the main goy (not guy), not to mention Dick Shawn, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Jim Backus. And Tracy is—nu?—a crooked cop.


[8] Reservoir Dogs (1992). Best movie Tarantino ever made. Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, and Michael Madsen doing the ear dance (that’s entertainment!) Mr. Brown, Mr. White, Mr. Blue, Mr. Pink… And it has the audacity to end on a question: when the screen cuts to black, whom do you hope gets killed—the cop who obeys the law but is a rat-fink, or the thug who risks empathy? Your answer says everything about who you are as a guy. 


[9] The Captain’s Paradise (1953). A ferry boat captain plying the Gibraltar-Tangiers route with a wife in each port, Alec Guinness has it made in my favorite Ealing comedy. He’s a proper British gent at home in Gibraltar with wife Celia Johnson, and a table-dancing bon vivant in Tangiers with spitfire wife Yvonne DeCarlo. All he needs to do is flip the wives’ pictures over his bunk and undergo a complete personality shift in each port—and keep the two women apart. This is Basic Guy DNA.


[10] How the West Was Won (1962). I’m 14, it’s a gray, rainy Saturday, and on her way to Toledo’s idea of a department store, my mother dumps me at the Loews Valentine, where How the West Was Won is playing to exactly nobody. I walk in, and the usherette is wearing black flats, a tight skirt, hot pink lipstick, a varsity letter-sweater from a tough high school. This is the 1962 equivalent of Little Red Riding Hood sizing up the wolf, who can barely breathe and is suddenly walking pigeon-toed.


She takes me up to the third-floor balcony (third-floor! Nobody’s been up there since Valentino played in Son of the Sheik.) and checks out my story. I’m a freshman at Weenie Jr. High. I lie; I say I’m a senior. She asks if I know so and so. Never heard of him. ”He’s my guy,” I lie again. Lights go out, she spits out her gum—best movie I never saw.


In fact, it’s why I became a film critic. Way better than Red River, I sigh, doing my first comparison. And I learn the key guy things you’re supposed to at a guy movie: lie shamelessly and claim contacts you don’t have to get past first base. Okay, so I never saw a single scene. But I can still hear the score. 


What? No Bogie, Nicholson, Hackman, Mastroianni, Freeman, Quinn, Peck, Belmondo, Brando, etc.? I ran out of space. What a guy thing to do.


In the culture that film critic Harlan Jacobson comes from, a man ain’t a man until he chugs his first bottle of Maalox.


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