My mention yesterday of one of the great guilty-pleasure films of all time, Khartoum, starring a sturdy Charlton Heston as General Gordon and a blackfaced Laurence Olivier putting the ham into Muhammad Ahmad, got me to thinking about other movies that would never get made today. Sure, we can all start with Birth of a Nation and a host of other insensitive pre–World War II pictures, but I’m talking about more contemporary talkies.
Here’s one: Zulu, which introduced the world to Michael Caine, and Paul Simon to South African choral singing. I hadn’t seen it since it came out in 1964, but screened it the other day and found it surprisingly modern in the way it unfolds its riveting true tale — a kind of British version of the Alamo, except the redcoats win, or at least survive. Still, its white men vs. black men story of heroism, honor, valor, and respect on both sides probably wouldn’t go over big in a pitch meeting these days.
Another one that most likely wouldn’t get the green light any more — not without a major rewrite — is this 1994 action picture from James Cameron, starring the Terminator himself, cracking wise while mowing down legions of Islamic terrorists and saving little girls from a fate worse than death. Those terrorists sure blow up real good!
Amazingly, every now and then a movie sneaks through the post-9/11 anti-jingoism, Islamophilic filter and manages to get made. Who cares if Liam Neeson’s CIA dude has an Irish accent as thick as a pint of Guinness? Here he is in action: