The 20 Worst Classic Films of 2016
No one likes watching bad movies, but sometimes you take a chance and end up with mud on your face. The films assembled here left me with emotions like basic boredom to outright irritation, although I didn’t hit on anything that left me utterly infuriated which is a good thing, I guess. Life’s too short to waste time watching bad movies, so here’s the ones from this year I recommend you avoid.
Clicking titles will take you to my original review or to purchase film
Honorable Mentions: Young Bess (1953), Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955), Woman in White (1948), Planet of the Apes (1968), Treasure Island (1950)
20. Tom, Dick and Harry (1941)
If you read my Best Films of 2016 list you’ll find Tom, Dick and Harry’s remake, The Girl Most Likely () on the list. Maybe my distaste with this one stemmed from simply seeing the other film first. Regardless, Tom, Dick and Harry has some bizarre casting. Did you know Burgess Meredith played romantic leading men? Well, he does here and evinces no chemistry with leading lady Ginger Rogers who acts like this was a contracted role. The absence of songs like in the remake leave this stale and uninteresting.
19. Frontier Gal (1945)
Frontier Gal is one half of an enjoyable film. Yvonne De Carlo, looking more gorgeous than ever, is a saloon girl who hastily marries a man who ends up in jail. The fractured couple reunite and have to learn to deal with each other for the sake of their daughter. Frontier Gal is just wacky enough in the Taming of the Shrew-vein. De Carlo and Rod Cameron’s characters hate each other so much, spending half the runtime beating on each other, that it’s hard to figure out when they had time to conceive a child. The domestic drama is interesting in the West, but it’s almost impossible to get over the film’s first half involving questions of conjugal rape and that old Western staple: spanking women.
18. The Return of Doctor X (1939)
I loved a 1939 horror film this year (The Son of Frankenstein) and I disliked one. This in name only sequel to 1932’s Doctor X, sees a doctor discover a means of creating everlasting life. Unfortunately that means we’re treated to a sweaty Humphrey Bogart covered in white greasepaint auditioning to play Igor. Dennis Morgan and Wayne Morris play the two average Joe’s brought into the whole thing, but what was once treated with a bare modicum of respect becomes flagrant camp.
17. The Hoodlum Saint (1946)
This lame duck drama fancies itself a post-WWII retread of James Cagney’s The Roaring Twenties (1939) but the affair is totally toothless. William Powell and Esther Williams try to go against their established personas in this drama, but Powell’s not bad enough and Williams is weak. A fear of alienating Powell fans permeates this story, so for all of his character’s scheming you can’t help but love him to the film’s detriment.
16. Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960)
Doris Day movies aren’t all gems, particularly when she isn’t paired with Rock Hudson. Please Don’t Eat the Daisies was adapted from a popular play, but what works on stage never translates here. The film’s messily cut into three different plotlines, one of which feels like a remake of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). David Niven plays flustered, and nothing else, and Day’s children feel like something out of a bad sitcom.
15. Passion (1954)
You’re going to see a few Yvonne De Carlo films here. De Carlo herself is never the problem in her movies; it’s her Western plotlines that leave little in the way of logic. In the case of Passion she fails to have an adequate leading man who can stand up to her like Rod Cameron. Here we have Cornel Wilde playing a Mexican – you read that right – avenging his wife and child because….well the film wants us to believe it’s due to love but Wilde’s acting is so wooden you’re left assuming he’d do this for any stranger in the street. The “Death Wish in the Old West” plot has potential, but Wilde ruins any goodwill. There’s just not enough “passion” to sustain it.
14. The Member of the Wedding (1952)
Let me say from the star, Ethel Waters and Brandon de Wilde are so good in this! The high caliber of their talent is what makes saying this is a bad movie so frustrating. The fault lies firmly with lead Julie Harris who is 27 playing 12. Like most 1950’s era stage adaptations, this is a naturalistic, plotless story of real people, but Harris never makes her character real but an imitation of a petulant child. If you can’t stand Harris’ performance in the first ten minutes, there’s no hope for enjoying the rest of the film in spite of it. This was a wedding I didn’t want to be a member of.
13. Doll Face (1945)
Carmen Miranda costars in this ill-fated attempt at making a Technicolor musical on a minuscule budget.Take away the color and you’re left with Miranda’s cultural disparagement and songs with no vim or vigor to them. The film’s plot eerily foretells Born Yesterday (1950) but the stars just aren’t big enough to propel things forward. By the time the two leads end up on an island derived from My Favorite Wife (1940) you’ll be ready to jump ship too.
12. The Doll of Satan (1969)
This Italian giallo film has promise, combining 1940s Gothic mysteries with the bloody world of Italian horror. The execution, pun intended, ends up as sloppy as the killer with director Ferruccio Casapinta abandoning the production early into things. If you’ve seen one giallo you’ve seen them all, but The Doll of Satan shows the genre at its laziest.
11. The Return of Dracula (1958)
The only reason this isn’t higher on the list is I watched it in the midst of a massive writing binge and completely forgot all the details. The Return of Dracula had the misfortune of being released the same year as the Bray Studios (Hammer Films) first pairing with the legendary vampire. However there’s no way this could have worked, irrespective of Hammer because “Dracula,” Francis Lederer is as dull as a flattened wooden stake. The film tries to downplay his age, but it’s hard not to believe we’re watching a letch on the playground as opposed to a famed vampire. Budget limitations also remove nearly all the established vampire mythos.
10. The Three Musketeers (1973)
On the surface The Three Musketeers sounds like swashbuckling fun with a slew of ’70s hams: Oliver Reed, Michael York and Faye Dunaway for instance. The problem lies in just how boring, clocking over two hours, and tedious the affair is. There’s little consistency in the fighting styles with characters dropping their swords to pull punches, weird attempts at dated humor involving busty women, and apparently too much story to pack into one movie. Yes, the film ends on a cliffhanger, though that might have been to directorial bloat; the excess footage was used to make a sequel without the actors’ permission leading to changes to how contracts are written. If only the film was more interesting than the backstage shenanigans.
9. Haunted Honeymoon (1940)
First things first, there’s no haunts in this honeymoon. Robert Montgomery and Constance Cummings play a former detective and true crime writer, respectively, who give up their professions to maintain an estate. Murder ensues but then where’s the haunting? Haunted Honeymoon is a movie in medias res and that’s probably because the film suffered from a casting change late in the game that ended up undoing callbacks to other characters. Montgomery and Cummings are fun to see, but there’s nothing engaging about the murder mystery, with more references to the couple’s culture shock than clues.
8. My Foolish Heart (1949)
My Foolish Heart is infamous for being the film that caused J.D. Salinger to refuse any of his works from being adapted. Salinger’s anger is understandable as his original tale that examined the roles of upper middle-class housewives during the war becomes a blowsy, boozy melodrama directed by Valley of the Dolls (1967) helmer Mark Robson. Susan Hayward plays a drunken sod, a recurring theme in her films; the plot that includes a possible child out-of-wedlock is neutered due to the Production Code. The entire venture is busted from the star.
7. Remember? (1939)
It’s ironic this film is called Remember because I’ve had to read my initial review twice now to recall anything about it. Two different love stories play as one in this mix of Design for Living (1933) and Monkey Business (1952). Lew Ayres, Robert Taylor and Greer Garson are squandered in a hokey film about amnesia and hasty courtships. The main issue lies in the fact Garson and Taylor’s characters marry quickly, yet are shocked when they start having problems. This is why dating is so important!
6. Salome Where She Danced (1945)
Is this a Western film or a spy thriller? It’s actually both, and neither very good. Yvonne De Carlo plays the titular Salome but where the director wanted an Arabian Nights in the West, we’re left with this snoozer. From my original review: “Salome, Where She Danced is Universal at its laziest. It’s understandable why this hasn’t been released on DVD because there’s absolutely no way to interpret the film. The actors are left searching for something to indicate what type of movie they’re making.”
5. The Hawaiians (1970)
The Hawaiians isn’t a terrible movie, per se. Tina Chen is a fantastic performer whose storyline is the film’s highlight. However, Tina Chen’s story isn’t the overarching story in this nearly three-hour epic about the colonization of Hawaii. Our “hero” is Whip Hoxworth played Charlton Heston at his most gravelly. Because the film is a Hollywood epic there are so many head-scratchingly bad decisions, like having Geraldine Chaplin playing a Hawaiian of “royal blood” who goes mad. Or making Heston some majestic sex god who gets angry when his wife, who’s just had a baby in the last scene, denies him sex. This review was funny to write, but it came at the expense of actually watching this doorstop of a feature.
4. Madame Bovary (1949)
Madame Bovary is a late in the game addition I just watched yesterday. Vincente Minnelli was a director better suited to musicals like Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), though he did some great work in dramatic films as well; go right now and watch The Clock (). After the commercial failure of 1948’s The Pirate Minnelli needed to reign things in which isn’t the term you want to use when adapting Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Beautifully costumed even in black and white, Jennifer Jones wildly gesticulates in every scene, contorting her mouth and just overemphasizing at odd times. James Mason plays Flaubert himself, acting as unnecessary narrator and all “on trial” for the book’s scandalous nature. It’s a sumptuous affair but far too dry and restrained.
3. Lord Love a Duck (1966)
I knew this film was weird but I had absolutely no idea. This high-school set take on Faust sees Roddy McDowall playing the oldest high-school student with some type of metaphysical ability to make things happen for the girl he loves (Tuesday Weld). The film seems to aim for something passing for satire but either the gags are too niche or the entire thing is just a failure.
2. Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
I wanted to like this. It’s a Diane Keaton film from the 1970s with the actress at her peak of movie stardom, based on a true story and is unavailable on DVD. However this suffers from the increasing backlash against second-wave feminism. Diane Keaton plays a mild-mannered schoolteacher interested in exploring her sexuality and receives the ultimate punishment. The film spends over an hour in rote sequences of Keaton visiting singles bars and squabbling with an abusive lover played by Richard Gere. The ending was known to me, but I never expected the unsettling, graphic depiction of the final result. You could say the point is to unsettle the audience, but it just acts as a means of sewing women’s knees shut.
1. The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)
If you’ve ever wanted to prove all the stereotypes about movies of the 1970s were true, look no further than Jack Hill’s The Swinging Cheerleaders. A 1970s time capsule ode to sex, nudity, and stupidity, The Swinging Cheerleaders is almost a parody film you’d see in movies of today – think the porn Burt Reynolds directed in Boogie Nights. It’s doubtful any of the stars, what few went on to careers, put this on their resumes. When characters aren’t having sex – and because this wants some respectability, all sex is cut out despite nudity being retained – the ladies are talking about taking their bras off…because that was presumably a thing.
Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
Not every old film’s classic… like Return of Dr X. Blech! I do have a soft spot for Swinging Cheerleaders though. A drive in classic!
Yeah, I haven’t landed on a phrase that everyone’s happy with. If I say “classic films” people say “These are aren’t classics.” If I say “pre-1980s” it doesn’t look so good on a marquee, haha. I’m glad to hear someone likes Swinging Cheerleaders, maybe I was just born too late. Thanks for dropping in!!
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Ever heard Esther Williams’ tale about The Hoodlum Saint – “a script called for her to slap William Powell, who was then in his mid-fifties. As she did so, half his face crumbled. It turned out that he was covered in little rubber bands which met at the top of his head and were masked by thick foundation: it was an instant face-lift.”
Haha, that’s one of my favorite Esther stories. Her entire autobiography is great. Thanks for reading!
You need to recuse yourself from all Charlton Heston movies. Come on, “Planet of the Apes” is an honorable mention?! In spite of all this, I enjoyed your funny takes on some movie duds, in your opinion. I like “My Foolish Heart” primarily because it stars Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward. But I totally understand why J.D. Salinger hated this movie and movies in general.
Haha, well keep in mind it was honorable because I didn’t watch nearly as many pre-1970s films as I did in previous years so it was partly a lack of options. I do agree though, Heston just ain’t my cup of tea.
The only one I saw here is Please, Don’t Eat the Daisies. Cute film, but not Doris’s best indeed
I’ve seen most of these except for Doll of Satan and your number one and I’m in agreement that most of them are lesser films, the kicker is that with some like Return of Dr. X the studio clearly knew that the script wasn’t very good since they put Bogart in it as a punishment for complaining too much about the parts he was being given.
I read the book Mr. Goodbar was based on and it follows it pretty closely, which I can’t say was such a great thing. Good acting but an ugly film.
I liked both Lord Love a Duck (though it surely is not for everyone) and The Three Musketeers (there are other versions I like better however) but wouldn’t class either as favorites.
Madame Bovary…so beautifully put together and simply ruined by Jennifer Jones! I’ve never been a fan but the intricacies of the part were beyond her. Without a strong center the film collapses, how much better it would have been with Vivien Leigh in the lead.
I loved the book of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies-a compendium of amusing anecdotes about raising children in the country but that amusement didn’t translate onto the screen.
I loved Julie Harris most of the time, saw her on stage in The Belle of Amherst and it was magic, and she had a big success on stage in Member of the Wedding (where she could get away with the age difference) but I was shocked when I watched the film how grating she was. One of the very few bad performances I’ve ever seen her give.
i love all movies classsics and this blog is goo , best regard s 🙂
“This blog is goo…”: a Freudian typo! 😄