If this were a normal summer, I’d be traveling (when I’m not reviewing films, I teach high school English so I have a relatively free summer), but since we are still dealing with the pandemic, there are places that are beyond my reach at this moment—for all kinds of reasons.
Maybe you feel the same way and yearn to either go somewhere—or like me, partake of some cinematic excursions that will either remind you of places you’ve been or perhaps inspire you to venture where you haven’t. So in no particular order, I offer some suggestions both domestic and foreign, that might satisfy or whet your appetite. This is a purely subjective list—goodness knows there are many more, but I hope you’ll find it a good starting point—arranged by region.
The American West: So much that one can discuss, from the Badlands of South Dakota to “pick a canyon” in Utah, to Sedona, Arizona but the films of John Ford and his use of Monument Valley certainly to inspired me to visit there at least a few times (I’ve been to the aforementioned regions as well). The Searchers and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon are probably the most beautifully filmed depictions of that region (and they’re tied to some pretty riveting tales starring John Wayne). I will say that after you visit Monument Valley in person and travel the length and breadth of it, you may wonder why it takes The Searchers’ John Wayne/Ethan Edwards so many years to find captive Natalie Wood, but it’s a magnificent place to see.
France: So much to explore, so I’ll begin with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, one of his most charming films and one that makes ample use of the Paris locations (the way Funny Face starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn had fifty years earlier). Before Sunset, the second in the Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy/Richard Linklater trilogy is also a delightful romance that allows you to take in the wonders of Paris while the two leads figure out where their relationship will take them. And if your French tastes are more Riviera-bound, what better than To Catch a Thief, a Cary Grant/Grace Kelly/Alfred Hitchcock romp that remains effortlessly entertaining (Be sure to catch Grant and Hepburn in Charade, which also makes good use of Paris, in terms of romance—and menace.)
Italy: Again, many to choose from, but for relatively light and picturesque, it would be hard to go wrong with either Under the Tuscan Sun, starring the luminous Diane Lane among its many charms (she also did the more recent Paris Can Wait, where she is grand but her supposed romantic partner is a bit of a bust, charm-wise). The underrated Avanti! directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills is a beautifully filmed (if slightly overlong) comic romance, while The Trip to Italy will make you want to take the same journey that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon made (hopefully with their dining-out budget).
Austria: My wife Barbara and I have a fondness for Austria, having been to Salzburg and Vienna on different jaunts in the last five years. Where to start…of course The Sound of Music, filmed largely on various locations in Salzburg (when you go, take The Sound of Music tour!) and which remains as beautiful as it was over fifty years ago. And what can one say about Vienna? Before Midnight, is a more than suitable finale to the Before…series, where the city takes an important role in the further exploration of the Hawke/Delpy relationship. The Third Man will make you feel as if you were part of the infinite arrays of shadows in post-war Vienna along with Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) and the mysterious (then but not so much now) Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Note to travelers: There are some good Third Man walking tours when you’re there—take one! Finally, if you want to see Austria in all its splendor (along with the equally glorious Romy Schneider), then you must see the Sissi trilogy (or see the first at the very least), about the early, more idyllic stages of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth (“Sissi”) and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. The movies are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, both to watch to and to listen to (the score is ever present and always lilting and melodious).
Greece: My family is Greek, and my father from Rhodes specifically, so The Guns of Navarone, filmed largely on the island of Rhodes, was held in great affection by my father, and subsequently by me—and it will make you want to visit Greece (as it caused star Anthony Quinn to purchase a home there!) My Life in Ruins starring Nia Vardalos and Richard Dreyfuss, is no great shakes as a movie, but it does show off some Greek treasures and is pleasingly lightweight and picturesque. And leave us not forget The Trip to Greece which provides the viewer with fine scenery and good company (even if the movie is the slightest of the trilogy).
Back to America, I’ll leave you with a movie you might not have thought of: The Big Year starring Steve Marin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson, received little love at the box office, but it’s a very pleasing entertainment about bird-watching (and the competitions inherent in a “big year”) that has the added benefit of depicting many of the scenic wonders of America, either through the actual locations (the Yukon, Florida’s Keys, California), or through British Columbia doing a fine job of standing in. For the armchair traveler, it’s a film of many delights (and I think it’s currently on HBO).
Finally, apropos of nothing, if you’re looking for a good read, University Press of Mississippi is having a special anniversary sale with all books on sale for $19.70 through August 23. www.upress.state.ms.us. Why mention that, you ask? (shameless plug coming). It’s because my second book JOSE FERRER: SUCCESS AND SURVIVAL, the first biography of the famed Puerto Rican actor/director/producer whose career spanned five decades on stage, film, and television, is coming out August 19. You probably know that Ferrer won a Tony and an Oscar for his portrayal of CYRANO DE BERGERAC, but he also scored in such films as THE CAINE MUTINY (“Here’s to you, Mr. Keefer!”), LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, MOULIN ROUGE, and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S SEX COMEDY—and that’s not to mention his stage work, his many television appearances, a stint or two in opera (and ballet). And he led a pretty eventful life as well (married five times, including actress Uta Hagen and singer Rosemary Clooney, a tense appearance before House Unamerican Activities Committee, and a pretty dramatic career trajectory. And in other news, my first book DAN DURYEA: HEEL WITH A HEART, which spotlights the Film Noir icon of smooth and silky villainy (and off-screen family man) is being released in paperback. Isn’t Christmas coming soon??