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Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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Top 6 Word: Seven

Seven is an important number. Biblically, it's the number of perfection. Cinematically, it's the number of Samurai, Gables, Pounds, Psychopaths, Dwarfs, Days In May, Years In Tibet, Little Foys, and Brides For Brothers. In both senses, it's the number of Deadly Sins. Seven is a Magnificent number.

Despite fine craftsmanship and critical acclaim, I wasn't a fan of the gruesome Seven (1995), so you won't see that here. Also not making the list (but worthy had it been less competitive) are The House of the Seven Gables (1940), The Seven Deadly Sins (1962), Seven Days In May (1964), Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003), Seven Pounds (2008), and Seven Psychopaths (2012). There is also the genuinely magnificent The Magnificent Seven (1960), which would have made the #6 spot were I not been so unconventional with my #1 pick, but look, I have no regrets.

The best movies with the word "Seven" in the title are:

6. Seven Chances (1925)

Buster Keaton, my favorite of the silent comedians, had firmly established himself as a comic genius by 1925, but he had yet to make his signature masterpieces The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr. I don't think Seven Chances is far behind. The film is based on a contemporary hit play about a man who will inherit a fortune so long as he gets married within the next several hours. Panicked, he sets about trying to find somebody, anybody, who will marry him. He strikes out until the news of his predicament gets out, and then the tables are rather dramatically turned. Other adaptations of this story were made, one as early as 1905 and another as late as 1999, but only Keaton's film does justice and then some to the potential of the material.

Strangely, though, this was Buster Keaton's least favorite film. I can only surmise this is because it wasn't a film he wanted to do in the first place but rather was pressured to do it by producer Joseph M. Schenck. Keaton's reluctance doesn't show on the screen. Seven Chances showcases his talent and creativity both as an actor and a director as well as almost anything else he ever made.

5. The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Billy Wilder's comedy about marriage and temptation made my recent Top 6 "Year" list, so I'll let my comments there stand. I'll only add that with all the attention Marilyn Monroe gets for her image-defining role, Tom Ewell's performance as the protagonist of the film is an undersung treasure. Ewell never reached the fame or longevity of such classic-era stars as Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and the like; in fact, I'd struggle to think of any other film he's done off the top of my head. (Edit: Okay, I did think of The Girl Can't Help It, where he played against another buxom blonde comedienne, Jayne Mansfield.) But none of them could have played his role in The Seven Year Itch with a more perfect balance of mounting anxiety or wry humor. When I saw this movie as a teenager, his "cornball" quip entered my own lexicon of casual jibes, but I never delivered it with as much righteous indignation as he did.

4. Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)

You know it's a competitive list when this one is down in the #4 slot. Here we have one of the greatest musicals of all time -- one of the funniest and most fun. It's not a film that could be made today without obliterating its charm; its social politics look dated at first blush, but scratch the surface a little, and it's more progressive than it first appears. The barn-raising scene is the highlight, featuring a dance scene that is simultaneously hilarious and amazing while driving the story forward.

3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

It's difficult today to comprehend what a landmark achievement Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is. Before 1937, animation had been used in all sorts of creative ways but never to carry the ebbs and flows of emotion that are generally needed to carry a feature-length film. If you've seen vintage cartoons from before then, you might be able to imagine the skepticism that drove people to call the project "Disney's Folly." Those doubts evaporated upon the film's release, and Disney won a special Oscar (somewhat famously, a regular Oscar accompanied by seven smaller ones) for it. Snow White's influence defined animated films for at least the rest of the century, with echoes continuing today.

2. The Seven Samurai (1954)

Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece among masterpieces is this complex, fascinating examination of the less savory aspects of human nature dressed up in a samurai adventure. An oppressed town appeals to a band of seven samurai to deliver them, then turn on them when it comes time to deliver on the financial side of the bargain. The human failings of classism are not infrequently explored by the cinema; less commonly is it exposed how people will shunt their prejudices aside as it suits them, only to cling to them again after the immediate needs have passed. All this provides the emotional weight to the adventure/thriller side of the film and gives it its impact. Despite being a three-and-a-half hour film in Japanese and set in the 1500s -- three strikes against its accessibility worldwide -- it is one of the best regarded and most influential films of all time. It is also one of the most referenced and remade. Within a few years the story was transplanted seamlessly to the western genre as The Magnificent Seven, itself a great film and itself remade. Decades later, the story has become everything from a low-budget space opera (Battle Beyond the Stars) to an animated family film (A Bug's Life).

1. Sinbad of the Seven Seas (1989)

Look no further for the most unbridled, silly glee you can have at a movie. At first blush, it's the ultimate "so bad it's good" film, full of hammy acting, corny dialogue, cheesy special effects, and inexplicable editing. I spent years affectionately lampooning it here on RinkWorks and arranging real-life screenings for it. I even created a screencap webcomic about it, which comically reinterprets the images of the film.

After all this time I have to say I was wrong. How can any movie that provides that much joy be truly "bad"? I've seen bad films. Some of them are excruciating, soul-crushing experiences. Any definition of "bad" that lumps Sinbad of the Seven Seas in with those is too broad to be meaningful. Increasingly what I see when I look at it is a sense of joy and revelry that I wish more films had. Does John Steiner overact in his performance as Jaffar? He chews more scenery than anybody in any movie ever (a bold claim, but find me a counterexample), so it's hard to say he doesn't. On the other hand, would the movie have been improved if he'd toned it down? Absolutely not? Then his performance must have been correctly calibrated all along.

Now, am I trying to say that Sinbad of the Seven Seas is good because it's intentionally "bad"? No, and I don't think "bad" movies work when they are self-aware. Frankly, the film's production was so chaotic (first intended as a mini-series, abandoned before completion, then edited into a feature film by a different director who sometimes had to resort to lip-reading to figure out what the actors were saying, as both the script and parts of the soundtrack had been lost by then) that it's impossible to say that the final product has a discernible auteurist vision behind it. But because the film is full of charismatic actors, colorful costumes and sets, an abundance of ideas, and such an unabashed enthusiasm on the part of the filmmakers, it wound up being a perfect storm of fun. Perfect, because although its flaws are many, I'd hate to part with any one of them.

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