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March Mania

Zaleski: A good time to escape with a film

FARGO — As we retreat into isolation because of angst over the coronavirus, consider escapist movies to allay anxiety. Taste in film runs the gamut; my picks won’t resonate with everyone. Find your own. Nevertheless, I suggest these few to ease the trepidation we’re all feeling.

National Lampoon’s Animal House, the 1978 send-up of 1960s college life, was directed by John Landis and written by Harold Ramis. They created a crude, over-the-top cliche that qualifies as a classic because it rings true and because the film’s characters are unforgettable.

Set at mythical Faber College (filmed on an Oregon campus), the movie was an improbable showcase for the emerging talents of John Belushi, Karen Allen, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Thomas Hulce and Tim Mathison. The late veteran actor John Vernon’s portrayal of the college’s beleaguered Dean Wormer is flawless. The pitiless treatment of fraternity and sorority types is very funny and a little discomfiting for those of us who lived it.

Pop music from back in the day completes the experience. The score includes “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen, “Twistin’ the Night Away” by Sam Cooke, “Shout” by the Isley Brothers, and more.

The film is loutish and offensive to some, hilarious and nostalgic to others. I’m among the others.

How Green Was My Valley, the 1941 adaptation of Richard Llewellyn’s best-selling 1939 novel, won Oscars for best picture, direction (John Ford) and best supporting actor (Donald Crisp). It’s the story of a South Wales coal mining family’s joys, heartaches and how societal disruptions changed their lives. The film stars luminous 19-year-old Maureen O’Hara as the family’s spirited daughter, and perfectly casts Walter Pidgeon as the town’s new stoic and proper minister. In addition to the poignant family saga, the film focuses on the attraction they have for each other, and the bittersweet reality that their love is not to be.

It’s a story about hope, tragedy, a failing coal economy, union loyalty and forces that precipitate heartbreak and test rectitude. Good music, including traditional songs by a Welsh men’s chorus.

The War of the Worlds, the 1953 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel, is among the best science fiction movies of all time. The George Pal production won an Oscar for visual effects that are as compelling today as they were 67 years ago when I first saw the film at the Embassy Theater in New Britain, Ct., and was terrified.

Starring Ann Robinson and the late Gene Barry, the movie is set in 1950s California and strays from Wells’ Victorian England storyline, but not from his theme. The 1953 Martian invaders do not drive Wells’ striding tripods, but rather pilot equally fearsome machines that ride on electromagnetic “legs,” and dispense shockingly destructive heat rays. They seem unstoppable.

In the end, germs kill the Martians. The narrator says, “... humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon the Earth.” Ironic that one of God’s “littlest things,” the coronavirus, is killing humanity today. Raises questions about “His wisdom.” There’s a thorny theological palaver in there somewhere, but not for today.

It’s a first-rate film, enhanced by Cedric Hardwick’s narration and Chesley Bonestell’s space art. Escape with it.