Movie critics repeatedly swoon over the 1970s.
It’s not for love of disco balls or those tacky wide lapel suits, mind you. The decade let film artists flower, long before terms like “franchise,” “reboot” and “reimagining” handcuffed the industry.
Those film critics have a point. And that’s particularly true with some of the decade’s best thrillers. They were gritty, raw and realistic. The best of the best still stand tall today.
Spring may be here, but during the next rainy day why not revisit these ’70s thrillers?
5. “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”
The 2009 remake starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta did one thing well. It made the 1974 original look even better by comparison.
And why not? Casting a craggy Walter Matthau as your unlikely New York hero is a masterstroke. The tale of thugs who hold a subway train hostage for cash is as riveting now as it was back then. The film’s unique Big Apple details enhance an already outstanding yarn.
Four friends embark on a trip through some rugged American terrain. What they encounter changes them forever. This John Boorman classic served up the iconic “Dueling Banjos” sequence. That’s just the appetizer. The thrills build slowly, but soon Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds and co. are running for their lives.
“Deliverance” understands the power of isolation and how to play up the narrative’s tricky culture clash. Boorman captures the sights and sounds of the Georgia wilderness, making it another character in the efficiently told film.
3. “Straw Dogs”
How far can you push a man of peace? Dustin Hoffman is a mathematician forced to defend his home, his wife and his manhood against a gaggle of British hooligans. It’s a visceral assault, too, one that could measure up to our violence-soaked age easily.
Director Sam Peckinpah doesn’t just ratchet up the tension in the delirious third act. He asks us tough questions about masculinity, sexuality and more. Most thrillers can’t be bothered to make us think too hard. This was an exception.
2. “Dirty Harry”
So much has changed in our culture since Clint Eastwood’s legendary cop first hit the screen. Black Lives Matter. Ferguson riots. A president stoking the flames of police resentment without all of the facts.
Yet “Dirty Harry” is still a powerful slab of pop movie thrills. And that won’t change, no matter how the culture shifts over time. It’s about Eastwood’s attitude and the expert craftsmanship all around, from Don Siegel’s directing to a classic score by Lalo Schifrin.
1. “Marathon Man”
“Is it safe?”
If you heard that movie line once, chances are you’ll never forget it. That’s the power humming inside “Marathon Man,” director John Schlesinger’s thriller starring Dustin Hoffman and a monstrous Laurence Olivier.
Hoffman’s character gets intertwined in an elaborate government plot involving former Nazis, smuggled diamonds and a dentist who doesn’t believe in Novocaine. Olivier earned an Academy Award nomination for his villainous turn. But it’s Hoffman’s Everyman performance that makes this thriller crackle.