Monday, September 5, 2011

On the Road Again

As I was contemplating a road trip that would take me through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas out to Colorado, then down along the Rockies to New Mexio, and back through Texas and Oklahoma, I was struck by a desire to recall some of my favorite road movies. A Google search will yield other folks’ top 15 or 30 road pictures, so why not drive down my own memory lane. I’ll limit myself to five:

The Wizard of Oz (1939). Four unlikely friends come together with the speed of Facebook, joined by a common need to seek the help of a wizard to cure their woes. Who says you can’t dance down the road instead of drive—and in ruby slippers? Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr are the friends: a Kansas girl, a scarecrow, a tin woodman, and a cowardly lion. And a yellow-brick road.

Road to Morocco (1942). This is my all-time favorite among the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby road pictures. Dorothy Lamour co-stars, of course, and Anthony Quinn puts in an appearance. It was topical in 1942 because of the Operation Torch landing of American troops in Morocco. I wasn’t born when this film hit theaters, but I did see Dorothy Lamour in the late 1960s, when she was on the road in the title role of a touring production of Hello Dolly. And who says you have to drive a car when a camel will do?

Paper Moon (1973). Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, father and daughter actors, portray a con man and his, perhaps, daughter, trying to make their way in Great Depression-era Kansas. Moze Pray (Ryan) is Bible seller just one step ahead of the law. Addie (eight-year-old Tatum) is the orphan of a prostitute and so might be Moze’s daughter. Along the road they pick up a stripper (played by Madeline Kahn). Peter Bogdanovich directed, and the film features the song, It’s Only a Paper Moon, by Billy Rose, Yip Harburg, and Harold Arlen. Among the Oscars was one to Tatum O’Neal for Best Supporting Actress, the youngest person to win an Academy Award.

The Adventures of Pricilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). Disco isn’t dead in this celebration of drag in the Australian desert, as an aging transsexual (played by Terrance Stamp) and two drag queen friends drive a broken-down bus across the outback for a gig at a casino and, ultimately, to reunite “Tick” Belrose (Hugo Weaving), a gay father, with his eight-year-old son. The movie was translated into a Broadway musical—a costume and music extravaganza—that I saw in New York City in July this year. Great fun! The film has more substance. And it won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. Go figure.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006). A dysfunctional family hits the road to a children’s beauty pageant with an odd-ball cast that includes Greg Kinnear, Steve Carrell, Tony Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin (as the beauty girl), and Alan Arkin (as the grandfather who dies along the way). Disaster and hilarity ensure. The film earned a Best Picture nomination and three others, and won two Oscars. One went to Alan Arkin for Best Supporting Actor. An unheralded star is the Volkswagen minibus in which the family travels. A friend owned one in Germany in the 1980s; that yellow van also figured in a few memorable road trips.

Road movies are invariably tales of quests, some serious, some silly. What are your favorites?

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