November 12, 1979 12:00 PM


Any movie fan knows enough to watch the TV listings for Gone with the Wind, A Night at the Opera, The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain or more recent hits like Annie Hall and Coming Home. But one often can’t tell how good the films exiled to the late, late late or later shows are until it’s 4 a.m. and too early to do anything about it. So the following list, while far from comprehensive, suggests movies eminently worth staying up for if you can stand the shrill commercials native to the post-midnight hours:

Barefoot in the Park (1967)—It’s Neil Simon’s basic bag of New York gags, but somehow seeing the shamelessly pretty, young Jane Fonda and boyish-looking Robert Redford trade innocuous wisecracks is a healthy reminder of how far everyone has come—or gone—since then.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)—Paul Newman’s admirers should be warned that this 129-minute film includes 128 minutes of middle-aged Blue Eyes getting knocked around. As a recalcitrant convict, he’s never looked worse, or acted better.

Dr. Cook’s Garden (1971)—In his only really villainous role, Bing Crosby played a country doctor who weeded his practice by killing people he found unworthy; the delightful counter-casting inspired an exceptional made-for-TV movie.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)—Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War tale may be a bit florid, but there were three endearing performances—Gary Cooper, born to play the American freedom fighter; Akim Tamiroff (the little guy who played every European-accented role in Hollywood for 30 years or so) as a guerrilla who’s lost his nerve, and In-grid Bergman, whose wrenching farewell to Cooper can arouse sobs, 4 a.m. or no.

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)—Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum, playing an Irish nun and a Marine hiding from Japanese troops on a Pacific island in World War II, created a marvelous erotic tension, especially considering that even less happens between them than usually happened between men and women in 1957 movies.

The Horror of Party Beach (1964)—Fascinatingly bad, this is the only horror movie in which the monster is sodiumed to death; it also includes an execrable rock’n’roll band. No one who had anything to do with this film was ever heard from again.

Isn’t It Shocking (1973)—Alan Alda played a country sheriff in this TV movie; while solving a murder, he romanced Louise Lasser and showed how winning and effective he can be on the home front. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)—Careful, there are two versions. The 1962 epic, with Marlon Brando, was stilted and slow, while this relic, with the handsomely upstanding Clark Gable and altogether despicable Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh, still displays a melodramatic nobility.

My Favorite Blonde (1942)—Back when his politics were noncontroversial and his stride sprightly, Bob Hope was a quintessential movie comedian. His spy-mystery films, this one with Madeleine Carroll, were unflaggingly paced marvels of asides, one-liners and self-mocking heroics.

The Petrified Forest (1936)—Bette Davis was at her most attractive (and surprisingly delicate), Humphrey Bogart at his nastiest and Leslie Howard at his most admirably intellectual in this dreamlike story of a gangster holed up in a desert cafe.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1945)—Why is Jack Nicholson remaking this movie? The impossibly gorgeous Lana Turner, bumbly Cecil Kellaway and always misunderstood John Garfield were perfect in a young bride-old husband-handsome stranger triangle.

Red River (1948)—It’s hard to understand why John Wayne’s acting wasn’t appreciated sooner after seeing this sweeping Western, with Montgomery Gift as an unlikely gunfighter; Noah Beery, Jim Garner’s dad on The Rockford Files, has one of his nice supporting cowboy roles, too.

The Red Shoes (1948)—Ballerina Moira Shearer dances her way into your heart and cries her way out of it in the most enjoyably maudlin film ever. Savage Drums (1951)—In those days even Sabu, the perennial jungle boy, had to stand off the Commies; he does it as prince of an island threatened by ruthless invaders. We knew who they were even if nobody called them Russians.

The Seventh Cross (1943)—Among the World War II-era films about Nazi terror, this one with Spencer Tracy escaping from a concentration camp, aided by Hume Cronyn in a classic supporting performance, is perhaps the most restrained and most moving.

Stormy Weather (1943)—Blacks were still restricted to slave or neo-slave roles in white films back then, but this all-black musical gave such talents as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lena Home and Fats Waller a chance to do more than bow and scrape.

Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959)—While Johnny Weissmuller was the most likable Tarzan, Gordon Scott, reigning king of the backlot jungle in ’59, was more convincing; one of the bad guys gunning for Tarz here was Sean Connery.

The Wolf Man (1941)—This baby brother of the great Universal horrors was carefully constructed, and made the career of Lon Chaney Jr. But simultaneously it doomed him to walk the Hollywood earth forever in monster makeup (though he surfaced briefly in High Noon). Bela Lugosi has a bit part as the gypsy who turns Chaney into a werewolf.

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