Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1978 ****

Following on from Star Wars was quite an ask; Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi drama had been in development for four years, but was a very different kind of film from Lucas’s franchise-booting fantasy. Instead, CE3K was a blue-collar view of an electronics engineer Ron Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) who is obsessed with UFO’s after a close encounter, leading him to alienate his family and defy a government cover up to make contact. An eclectic support includes Teri Garr as his wife, director Francois Truffaut as an expect on extra-terrestrial contact on hand to put the emphasis on language and communication, and Bob Balaban as his assistant; Balaban’s own published diary throws considerable informal light on the production process. The disappearance of a child, emphasis on Neery’s madness and the sinister nature of the establishment whitewash are three rather uncomfortable elements here, making for a more adult movie than might be anticipated. But the set-pieces, notably a mountain-top police chase and the final mother-ship revelation, are brilliantly handled; if CE3K’s impact his diminished today, perhaps it’s because Spielberg’s vision was considerably darker and more grounded than most fantasy cinema allows.

A Bridge Too Far 1977 ****


Adapted from the book by Corneilus Ryan, who also wrote The Longest Day, Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1977 film is a true war epic, with William Goldman scripting an intricate, multiple character drama about the ill-fated Operation Market Garden as Allied troops attempted to push into Germany. A military disaster might sound like hard going for 175 minutes, but Attenborough and Goldman pull together a number of strong storylines, notably James Caan as a soldier who will not allow his friend to die, and Robert Redford as an equally determined Major.  Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman and Laurence Olivier all contribute memorable bits, and A Bridge Too Far is one of the few war epics that stands up today, mainly because Attenborough sees far more going on here than just troop movements.

The Driver 1978 *****


Walter Hill’s 1978 thriller is a tense cat-and-mouse game between unnamed character; Ryan O’Neill is the Driver, Bruce Dern the detective, and their internecine relationship is the focus of The Driver’s taut narrative. O’Neal is excellent in a role written for Steve McQueen, and his lack of dialogue pre-dates Ryan Gosling’s equally taciturn role in Drive 2011. Hill’s realistic approach to the action was out of touch with the high-flying stunt-driven action of the period, but the film has endured due to the labyrinthine plotting and the sweaty, physical intensity of the LA locations.

Sorcerer 1977 *****


With The French Connection and The Exorcist under his belt, William Friedkin was a front-runner in 70’s cinema, but the failure of Sorcerer, a big-budget version of French thriller The Wages of Fear, set his career back several notches. The troubled production is well detailed in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, but the result has its adherents. After a lengthy 40 minute sequence setting up the backstories of the men charges with driving trucks of nitro-glycerine through dangerous South American countryside, Sorcerer settles down to a long, hard drive, with considerable tension derives from the obstacles set in the way of the delivery. Steve McQueen turned it down, but Roy Scheider provides a strong centre, and the on-location footage still sets a high-water mark for gutsy cinematic action.