Professor Russell Johnson’s “My ancestors came over on the Minnow” Thanksgiving/Christmas Movie Quiz

Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted yet another movie quiz. Previous installments answering questions from Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, and Professor Severus Snape are also available… Now, onwards to Professor Johnson’s questions:

1) Second-favorite Coen Brothers movie.

This is a tough one. It’s either Miller’s Crossing or Fargo, which are my two favorites. Fargo was a movie that I never really loved… until I watched it again recently, at which point it shot up to near the top of my Coen Brothers rankings. Miller’s Crossing has long been at the top of that list, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if I revisit that and Fargo at the same time, that Fargo will come out on top… but for now, it’s at #2…

2) Movie seen only on home format that you would pay to see on the biggest movie screen possible? (Question submitted by Peter Nellhaus)

The movie that first comes to mind is Aliens, but after some considered thought, perhaps The Godfather. Or Ben-Hur. Or The Wizard of Oz. Jeeze, this is hard. I’ll stick with Aliens though. Given the number of times I’ve seen that movie, it’s a crime that I haven’t seen it on a big screen.

3) Japan or France? (Question submitted by Bob Westal)

Without a doubt, Japan. Two words: Akira Kurosawa. Ok, so France has some good stuff too, but I’m generally more into Japanese cinema than French cinema.

4) Favorite moment/line from a western.

The first several things that came to mind were from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, most notably the ending Mexican standoff sequence. Then there’s also this line: “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.” Heh.

5) Of all the arts the movies draw upon to become what they are, which is the most important, or the one you value most?

The most important is obviously photography. As to what I value the most, well, it’s probably not the photography, though I certainly love a well photographed movie. Recently, some one asked me what my hobbies were. I started with the typical answers, but then I came to realize that my hobby is consuming stories, whether they be movies, books, history, tv, anime, video games, or even the occasional music album/song. Nothing beats a good storyteller, no matter what medium they’re working in… This also explains why some types of movies, the ones that eschew narrative or make no sense (I’m looking at you, David Lynch!), usually fail to grab me. It’s not that they can’t, just that I find it much harder to swallow a movie without a good story or characters I can relate to…

6) Most misunderstood movie of the 2000s (The Naughties?).

It’s hard to consider an answer to this question without distorting the premise to be “Movies I like even though no one else does.” Because if I like it and you don’t, you clearly don’t understand the movie, right? But that’s usually not true. So I am having a tough time with this one. Some interesting answers I’ve seen are Unbreakable and Intolerable Cruelty, both of which examine their respective genres from a unique perspective, adding (or perhaps subtracting) twists to familiar tropes. I suspect that Inglourious Basterds will grow into the misunderstood role (especially given the relatively craptastic rating of 69 on metacritic). Oddly, I had no trouble at all coming up with multiple misunderstood examples from the 90s. Go figure.

7) Name a filmmaker/actor/actress/film you once unashamedly loved who has fallen furthest in your esteem.

I’m not sure if this qualifies, since I still love the movies early in his career, but John Carpenter hasn’t made a good movie in like 15 years, and even that movie was kinda alone in the late 80s and 90s (not to mention that it wasn’t anywhere near Carpenter’s earlier brilliance). I suppose he did a decent episode of Masters of Horror, but then, he also did one of the worst episodes of the series. I suppose there’s a chance for a comeback in 2010, as there are some things on his plate, but I’m not terribly optimistic. Still, nothing beats that period in the late 70s and early 80s, when he just kept hitting homeruns, over and over. But some of the 80s stuff started to get a bit hokey and didn’t age well, so there’s that too.

8) Herbert Lom or Patrick Magee?

I’m not terribly familiar with either, but I’ll go with Patrick Magee, due mostly to his involvement in multiple Kubrick productions (Lom was in one, but not one of my favorites).

9) Which is your least favorite David Lynch film (Submitted by Tony Dayoub)

Of the films I’ve seen, I’d say it would have to be Lost Highway, Eraserhead, or Dune. It’s a tough call though, because even the worst Lynch is watcheable. But then, I have to be in the right mood, and I’m less willing to put up with Lynch’s crap now than I have been in the past.

10) Gordon Willis or Conrad Hall? (Submitted by Peet Gelderblom)

I’ll have to go with Gordon Willis on this one. Not that Hall is bad, but it’s hard to go against The Godfather (“…don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family…”)

11) Second favorite Don Siegel movie.

Well I’ve only seen two, and Dirty Harry is one of my favorites of all time, so that leaves Invasion of the Body Snatchers

12) Last movie you saw on DVD/Blu-ray? In theaters?

In theaters, I saw Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was excellent. Last week, I opined that I was intrigued to see Wes Anderson tackle something outside his usual “quirky” wheelhouse (which has been getting a bit stale of late). Interestingly, I think this was a near perfect melding of Anderson’s quirky aesthetic with a classic children’s story. This will most likely find its way onto my top 10 of 2009.

On DVD, I saw The Lady Vanishes, which is probably Hitchcock’s best British film (of the 7 or 8 that I’ve seen from his pre-Hollywood days). On BD, I saw Franklyn, which is mostly an interminable bore (and not at all SF).

The Lady Vanishes

The Lady Vanishes

13) Which DVD in your private collection screams hardest to be replaced by a Blu-ray? (Submitted by Peet Gelderblom)

Well, I’ll go with 2001: A Space Odyssey, because it’s an amazing movie and because I don’t want to answer The Godfather for every one of these questions (though it would certainly qualify here). Actually, I don’t think I’ve replaced a single existing DVD with a BD yet. Everything I’ve bought has been new.

14) Eddie Deezen or Christopher Mintz-Plasse?

Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Don’t really have anything else to say about it, but Mintz-Plasse seems like he’ll be around for a while.

15) Actor/actress who you feel automatically elevates whatever project they are in, or whom you would watch in virtually anything.

I tend to be much more of a director person, meaning that I rarely go to see a movie for acting. That being said, there are some actors that fit the question’s description, I guess. Some that come immediately to mind: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Ellen Page, and probably about a dozen others. Again, it’s rare that an actor alone gets me to see a movie, but there are some folks who can do a lot with just a little…

16) Fight Club — yes or no?

Yes! I haven’t watched it in a while, so perhaps it doesn’t age that well, but I still think of it as a great movie.

17) Teresa Wright or Olivia De Havilland?

I got nothing.

18) Favorite moment/line from a film noir.

The opening scene from The Killers. Two sketchy men walk down a street and enter a diner. Simple, but quintessentially noir.

The Killers

The Killers

19) Best (or worst) death scene involving an obvious dummy substituting for a human or any other unsuccessful special effect(s)—see the wonderful blog Destructible Man for inspiration.

I had a surprisingly hard time thinking of a scene involving an obvious dummy. Strange, when you consider how many bad horror movies I’ve seen. Anyway, while I wouldn’t exactly call it unsuccessful, I’d say the exploding head from Dawn of the Dead fits the bill. It happens very quickly, so it works, and in any case it’s kinda awesome, but still, slow it down and look at it closely, and yeah, it’s an obvious dummy.

Exploding head from Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead

20) What’s the least you’ve spent on a film and still regretted it? (Submitted by Lucas McNelly)

Does free count? I’ve totally seen lots of bad movies on TV. Also, I used to work at the campus movie theater in college, so I saw free movies all the time. Including some pretty bad ones (Wild Wild West anyone?)

21) Van Johnson or Van Heflin?

I guess Van Heflin, since I’ve actually seen some of his movies. Then again, Van Johnson was in a movie called Killer Crocodile, which sounds kinda awesome.

22) Favorite Alan Rudolph film.

Well, the only movies I’ve seen on his IMDB page are actually Robert Altman movies, but I don’t think those are what you’re looking for.

23) Name a documentary that you believe more people should see.

The first two that came to mind were recent documentaries. First is Playing Columbine, a movie that has only really played on the festival circuit, but which I really enjoyed (anyone who likes video games should watch the movie). Unfortunately, it does not appear to be available on DVD yet. Second was Anvil! The Story of Anvil, which is kinda like a real life Spinal Tap. Finally, for a broader perspective or to show what the medium is capable of, perhaps something like The Thin Blue Line would be appropriate.

24) In deference to this quiz’s professor, name a favorite film which revolves around someone becoming stranded.

I suppose it depends on what you mean by “stranded”, but I’ll go with Planet of the Apes.

25) Is there a moment when your knowledge of film, or lack thereof, caused you an unusual degree of embarrassment and/or humiliation? If so, please share.

The most embarrassed I get is when I’m filling out your quizes and I get to one of the questions where you ask me to choose between two people I’ve never heard of. I’m not very embarrassed by that though, as evidenced by the fact that I keep filling the damn things out. Speaking of this:

26) Ann Sheridan or Geraldine Fitzgerald? (Submitted by Larry Aydlette)


27) Do you or any of your family members physically resemble movie actors or other notable figures in the film world? If so, who?

Honestly, no. I can’t think of anything for this.

28) Is there a movie you have purposely avoided seeing? If so, why?

In general, I tend to avoid bad movies or movies I know I won’t like. So there’s no specific movie I’m avoiding, and for the most part, I’ll watch even a bad movie if someone else wants to…

29) Movie with the most palpable or otherwise effective wintry atmosphere or ambience.

There are a couple of obvious choices here, but I’m using those movies for other answers in this quiz and don’t want to repeat myself too much. So I’ll go with A Christmas Story, which perfectly captures winter through the eyes of children. Another quick non-obvious choice: Groundhog Day.

30) Gerrit Graham or Jeffrey Jones?

Jeffrey Jones, hands down. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of his movies and I know who he is, which is something I can’t say for Gerrit Graham (though maybe if you pointed him out, I’d know). Even beyond that, I generally like Jeffrey Jones as an actor, so there.

31) The best cinematic antidote to a cultural stereotype (sexual, political, regional, whatever).

This is tough, because movies tend to establish stereotypes more than explode them. That said, any movie that realistically portrays a character as a human being rather than as a label (i.e. their sex, political agenda, regional affiliation, etc…) would be good. Specific examples are difficult, though I find it interesting that the thread at SLIFR featured multiple examples of movies that demonstrated “that not all Christians are arrogant, selfish, sanctimonious hypocrites.” However, it’s a tough line to hug. How do you do this without establishing a counter-stereotype? Wouldn’t that be just as bad? Again, the best you could hope for is to see someone as an individual, rather than a member of a race, political party, sex, etc… and even that would probably be subjective. Ironically, movies that set out to address this kind of thing probably don’t succeed often because they’re too direct and confrontational.

32) Second favorite John Wayne movie.

I haven’t seen a ton of movies from his catalog, but I’ll just go with Rio Bravo.

33) Favorite movie car chase.

This is quite difficult to narrow down. I have to admit that the first movie that leapt to mind was Ronin. That’s obviously a movie that relies on past car chases (particularly To Live and Die in L.A.) for inspiration, but Ronin has several great car chases, and they are just about perfectly executed. They take place in Europe, so all the cars are revving high and the streets are narrow, which really does make things more interesting. The other recent movie that came to mind was Death Proof, which obviously also owes a lot to older films like Vanishing Point. Honorable mentions go to Mad Max and The Road Warrior (those Aussies really know how to film them a car chase).

Mad Max

Mad Max

Also The Blues Brothers. The Bourne movies all have decent car chases. The freeway sequence in The Matrix Reloaded is actually quite good. A random nostalgic choice from the 80s that I actually kinda like: Running Scared. Ok, fine, since I’m listing them all out, I might as well also mention the obvious Bullitt and The French Connection. So there, I gave you like 20 answers. For car race fans, the Fury Road episode of The Hollywood Saloon is pretty cool.

34) In the spirit of His Girl Friday, propose a gender-switched remake of a classic or not-so-classic film. (Submitted by Patrick Robbins)

This is an excellent question, but one which is probably doomed. The only thing I could think of is a remake of the Evil Dead movies. The reason I say it’s doomed is that Bruce Campbell’s performance in those movies is so perfect that anyone else, male or female, is bound to pale in comparison. A woman in that sorta role could shine, though. I have no idea who could fill this kinda role, but I feel like it would be an interesting fit. In fact, I can’t think of any sorta female physical comedy experts. Hurm. Maybe this would be a good idea.

35) Barbara Rhoades or Barbara Feldon?

I have no idea. Completely unrelated, but damn, this quiz is long. I feel like it’s a lot longer than other previous quizes.

36) Favorite Andre De Toth movie.

I guess House of Wax, by default (i.e. I haven’t seen any of his other films). Also of note, his IMDB picture qualifies him for a future question, but he won’t win…

37) If you could take one filmmaker’s entire body of work and erase it from all time and memory, as if it had never happened, whose oeuvre would it be? (Submitted by Tom Sutpen)

This type of question has come up a couple of times before, and I really can’t bring myself to destroy films, even horrible films I hate. I guess I’m just not the censoring type.

38) Name a film you actively hated when you first encountered it, only to see it again later in life and fall in love with it.

I can’t believe this is what I came up with, but here goes: This is probably the opposite of what you’re looking for and, well, a little embarrassing, but I hated Road House when it came out, and even later when it became a sorta so-bad-it’s-good movie in the 90s. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came to recognize the genius of that film.

39) Max Ophuls or Marcel Ophuls? (Submitted by Tom Sutpen)

He said who in the what now?

40) In which club would you most want an active membership, the Delta Tau Chi fraternity, the Cutters or the Warriors? And which member would you most resemble, either physically or in personality?

I guess Delta Tau Chi because I hate bicyclists and am not violent enough to make it in a gang. The Deltas seem like a fun-loving bunch, but then, I probably wouldn’t cut it there either. I guess I’m just not cut out for groups.

41) Your favorite movie cliche.

There are a million of these, but I love how every time a computer is shown on screen, it has some sort of newfangled GUI that can render 3D simulations within minutes. Even better, whenever our heroes are attempting to “clean up” some photographic evidence, and end up with nearly perfect images. Heh.

42) Vincente Minnelli or Stanley Donen? (Submitted by Bob Westal)

Difficult choice. I’ve seen more of Donen (and really, how do you beat Singin’ in the Rain (and this from a guy who normally hates musicals)), but I want to see more of Minnelli. For now, it’s Donen, but it seems like Minnelli has a broader, more well rounded filmography.

43) Favorite Christmas-themed horror movie or sequence.

I never saw this until last year, but Black Christmas is a fantastic movie that any fan of the horror genre (especially slasher fans) absolutely must watch. This movie set the tone for all that came after it (incidentally, the film is directed by Bob Clarke, who also did the polar opposite A Christmas Story, which is probably a better movie, but still.)

Dreaming of a Black Christmas...

Black Christmas

44) Favorite moment of self- or selfless sacrifice in a movie.

The obvious choice is the end of Casablanca, but I have to embrace my nerdy nature and go with Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

45) If you were the cinematic Spanish Inquisition, which movie cult (or cult movie) would you decimate? (Submitted by Bob Westal)

Again with the censorship! Honestly, the world is big enough to contain movies I don’t like (even cult movies with annoying followers).

46) Caroline Munro or Veronica Carlson?

Definitely Caroline Munro. I mean, she’s a Bond girl, and she’s got some nice slashers under her belt too. Apparently she was in the Dr. Phibes movies too, though I can’t picture her in those. Veronica Carlson appears to be in a bunch of Hammer horror films, but none that I’ve seen (and I have to say that I was disappointed by the Hammer horror films I did see…).

47) Favorite eye-patch wearing director. (Submitted by Patty Cozzalio)

Raoul Walsh. He looks like a Bond villain. Interestingly, this makes the third straight quiz where I’ve talked about Raoul Walsh. Pretty good considering I’ve only ever seen one of his films.

Raoul Walsh and his eyepatch

48) Favorite ambiguous movie ending. (Original somewhat ambiguous submission—“Something about ambiguous movie endings!”– by Jim Emerson, who may have some inspiration of his own to offer you.)

The Thing (the Carpenter remake) has an awesome ambiguous ending. I’ll just leave it at that.

49) In giving thanks for the movies this year, what are you most thankful for?

I won’t go into specific movies (that’s what January is for, what with the awards and the top 10s, etc…), but I’ll just say that I’m thankful for the accessibility of watching movies, whether that be through DVD/BR, Netflix (and their online streaming service which now actually works on my PS3), the theaters (Philadelphia isn’t New York or LA or even Chicago or Austin, but as near as I can tell, it’s still a pretty good movie town), or cable television. I’ve never watched so many movies in my life. This is also probably also thanks to great movie podcasts, most of which are now defunct, but still.

50) George Kennedy or Alan North? (Submitted by Peet Gelderblom)

George Kennedy. No contest really, even when comparing the two as Captain Ed Hocken:p