This seems to be the year of the wall.
In addition to the news surrounding President Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, there’s a new gameshow on NBC called “The Wall,” co-produced by basketball star LeBron James.
“The Great Wall” starring Matt Damon as a mercenary warrior, will debut in theaters Friday. In this big-budget historical fantasy, Damon’s character gets imprisoned within the Great Wall of China, which is under attack by hordes of monstrous creatures.
This confluence of events got us to thinking about walls — both physical and metaphorical — in film and pop culture.
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Here are eight movies featuring that most topical of barriers: the wall.
King Kong (1933)
When Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and the rest of the crew of the Venture reached Skull Island, they knew they were treading on dangerous turf. However, they couldn’t possibly have imagined the carnage that would ensue, including the destruction of an enraged King Kong (courtesy of brilliant stop-motion effects by Willis O’Brien), who crashes through the fortified gate of a giant wall that had previously kept the island natives safe from the big ape.
One of the greatest movies of all time, “King Kong” is filled with such exciting scenes. If you’re a modernist moviegoer who thinks that all films from this era are creaky and dull, think again — fire up some popcorn, download or pop this monkey into the DVD player and prepare for “a thrill of a lifetime.”
The 1976 and 2005 “King Kong” remakes are fun, but stick with the original if you want to watch a true classic.
Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951)
What are prisons for? Should they serve as mere punishment, or should they be used to rehabilitate inmates so they can become productive, law abiding citizens? This film, which inspired Johnny Cash to write “Folsom Prison Blues,” touches on this topic in dramatic, entertaining fashion.
The movie takes place in the notorious jail of the title during the 1920s, before the 1944 California prison reform.
Sadistic warden Ben Rickey (Ted de Corsia) rules Folsom with an iron fist, putting him in direct conflict with his assistant Mark Benson (David Brian), who has more progressive methods for dealing with prisoners. Riots, killings and attempted jailbreaks add to the fun.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)
The most famous movie ever made about the Berlin Wall, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” stars Richard Burton as burned-out British agent Alec Leamas, whose final mission is to masquerade as a drunk wanting to defect to the East Germans. The stark black-and-white photography, terrific direction by Martin Ritt and lack of James Bond-type gimmickry give the film a sense of foreboding and verisimilitude.
Fans of the 1963 John le Carré novel on which the movie is based will certainly appreciate the fidelity to that critically acclaimed work, the title of which refers to a spy working on the outside having to “come in from the cold” and take a less adventurous job, such as desk work or directing another spy.
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
A midnight movie staple for years at the late, lamented Forum 303 Mall in Arlington, this depressive descent into madness stars “Live Aid” organizer and Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof as Pink, a narcissistic rock star who slowly builds a metaphorical (as well as physical) wall around himself to deflect suffering.
The film is based on and features music from Pink Floyd’s bestselling concept album, “The Wall,” and it has trippy animation sequences by political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, who later worked on Walt Disney’s “Hercules” (1997). Some call the movie overly long and self-indulgent, but we dig its subversive qualities, psychedelic sensibilities and overall weirdness.
Wall Street (1987)
According to many sources, Wall Street, located in Lower Manhattan in New York City, is named after a protective wall that was built in the 17th century by the Dutch, who were living in what was then called New Amsterdam. As such, we’re including Oliver Stone’s hit movie in our roundup.
Famous for the phrase “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” uttered by corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), “Wall Street” is the primary pop culture comment on the runaway capitalism that defined the zeitgeist and led to an assortment of insider trading scandals. The film also quite entertaining, thanks in part to Charlie Sheen’s performance as Bud Fox, a young stockbroker anxious to make his first million.
An obscure sequel, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” followed in 2010.
If These Walls Could Talk (1996)
Originally airing on HBO, “If These Walls Could Talk” has quite the cast for a made-for-TV venture, namely Demi Moore (who also served as co-producer), Cher, Sissy Spacek, Anne Heche and Jada Pinkett-Smith. It’s comprised of a strong, brutally frank trilogy of stories, each centered around an unplanned pregnancy, a topic that, barring some unforeseen breakthrough technology that appeases all sides of the issue, will likely never resolve itself or go out of fashion.
Each story is set in a different era: the ’50s, the ’70s and the ’90s, the last of which was Cher’s directorial debut. The diversity of time periods gives the film an array of social and political attitudes regarding abortion.
“If These Walls Could Talk 2” followed, in 2002.
Six years ago, this movie’s storyline goes, NASA sent a space probe to investigate the possibility of alien life on Europa, a moon of Jupiter. The probe collected samples and headed back to Earth. Unfortunately, it had problems upon re-entry, crash-landing in Northern Mexico, unleashing its otherworldly cargo and creating an infestation of extraterrestrials that, over time, grew to mammoth proportions.
Today, soldiers battle to keep the giant creatures at bay, and a cynical photojournalist (Scoot McNairy) agrees to escort a tourist (Whitney Able) through the so-called “infected zone.” Once the pair reaches the U.S. border, they face an enormous wall, to which the tourist says: “I thought I’d be a lot happier to see it. I feel like I could cry, but I don’t know if it would be a happy cry or a sad cry.”
To say that “Monsters,” a sci-fi thriller the late Roger Ebert called “a rather special achievement that M. Night Shyamalan (and we) would be happy he made,” is topical is to state the obvious. If you haven’t seen the film, and many haven’t, now would certainly be the time to watch it.
Plenty of movies prior to “Deadpool,” including such classics as “Blazing Saddles” (1974), “Annie Hall” (1977) and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986), have broken the fourth wall, but few have done so with such glee. Marvel Comics’ spandex-clad “merc with a mouth” (Ryan Reynolds) looks at the camera frequently, speaking directly to the audience humorously, oftentimes using crude language.
This is clearly not your father’s superhero film. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, which is appropriate considering that Deadpool is more of an antihero than a superhero.
It’s a funny, action-packed adventure yarn. However, you should steer clear if you long for the type of noble heroes exemplified by the golden, silver and even bronze age of comic books.
Brett Weiss is the author of “Retro Pop Culture A to Z: From Atari 2600 to Zombie Films.”