It’s understandable that movie fans are in a bit of an existential crisis – trying to decide whether to watch Airplane! in memory of Leslie Nielsen or to watch The Empire Strikes Back in memory of Irvin Kershner. That’s why we always keep two televisions handy at Reject HQ.
It’s also understandable that your hand would race to the E-section of your alphabetized film collection after hearing the sad news about Kershner, but he had a handful of other great films that are worth celebrating. None are quite like Empire (in every way that can be read), but if you’re a fan, you owe it to yourself to peruse his other movies to find something new to love.
The Flim-Flam Man (1967)
The Pitch: I saw The Flim-Flam Man on accident when it came on television during a particularly boring afternoon back in high school. It was the opening scene with George C. Scott as the crotchety con Mordecai Jones that caught my interest, and the rest of the movie held it with comedic heart and the same talent Scott applied to deep drama and easy going comedy alike.
It’s perfect rainy day film watching. It’s not too heavy, and it paints a colorful portrait of an odd character that gets into just enough trouble for the audience to still be on his side. Good, old-fashioned, sweet filmmaking.
Raid on Entebbe (1977)
The Pitch: The same year that Star Wars came out, Kershner directed a television movie featuring Oscar winner Peter Finch (as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin!) and Charles “Mandom” Bronson. The toughness almost rips a hole right through the screen.
It was based on the true story of Palestinian terrorists hijacking an Air France plane and the Israeli Defense Forces who rescued the hostages in Uganda. You can’t make that up. You also can’t make up that Robert Loggia and James Woods were also in the film, it won a ton of awards, and it’s generally awesome.
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
The Pitch: Written by John Carpenter (his first major studio picture), Laura Mars is a tight thriller starring Faye Dunaway as a fashion photographer who has a thing for shooting models in front of burning cars. She starts to have nightmares about friends being stabbed to death through the eyes, and, wouldn’t you know it, those visions become realities. Her friends start to fall, and then she begins seeing herself in the role of the victim.
The rest is a frightening plot about hopelessness, knowledge, violence, sex, twist endings and Tommy Lee Jones.
A Fine Madness (1966)
The Pitch: There’s probably no way that this type of movie could ever be made again. Sean Connery took a break from playing James Bond to star as a writer’s blocked poet struggling through his magnum opus. What follows is completely absurd, and it’s worth the descent into insanity to see Connery’s performance here.
Connery would work with Kershner again on the unofficial James Bond entry Never Say Never Again, but it’s this role that wins out over the fairly standard spy tale for sheer innovation. It’s almost guaranteed that it’s Connery in a way that you’ve never seen him before.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
The Pitch: So Kershner didn’t direct Last Temptation, but he did appear in Scorsese’s film as Zebedee (who we all remember from Bible School as the fisherman father of disciples James and John), and it’s important viewing for Kershner fans to see another side of the director.
He only appeared on the other side of the camera five times, and this was his first. The film stands on its own in terms of quality and cultural importance, but it’s also another moment that Irvin Kershner touched with his skill.
Of course, he also touched On Deadly Ground with his acting, but he could barely be heard over Steven Seagal’s ponytail.
Hopefully this list gives you a few options after the credits roll on Empire. After all, you’ve presumably already called in sick to work and school – giving you the entire day to dig deep into the filmography of the fallen filmmaker. Out of the lighthearted comedy, war actioner, thriller, and character studies, Kershner proved his unique talent for diversity. Figure out what your broken heart is in the mood for, and start there. You’ll find a new favorite along the way.
What do you think?