5 Films That Influenced Me
As a kid, I have to admit that I was never much of a reader. I didn’t like to read, preferring to watch movies instead. Maybe it was because I was an only child and watching movies with my parents was a way for us to bond somehow. Fortunately for me, my dad had pretty good taste in movies and it helped me appreciate good films from bad. The five movies that changed my life all have something in common because, like a good book, they tell a good story.
In no particular order:
1. The Searchers
Much has been made in recent years about whether or not this film should rate as high as it does on various lists. I first saw it on TV when I was about 10 years old and, even back then, it blew me away. The cinematography alone was stunning. Not just the outdoor scenes in Monument Valley, but the scenes obviously shot on a set. Ford doesn’t have many close-ups in this movie, allowing the scene to unfold the way real life would. People fidget with things or shuffle their feet or scratch their heads while the main characters are talking. A dog walks through the shot. It lent a believability to the movie that, even at an early age, I found important.
John Wayne’s character was particularly complex. Throughout the whole movie, we’re not sure if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. We know he’s angry and bigoted and flawed, but we don’t know what he’s ultimately going to do if/when he finds his niece. I won’t ruin the movie for people who haven’t seen it yet, but if you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do. There’s something in this for everyone, especially if you love a good story.
2. Three Days of the Condor
This was the first movie I ever sat all the way through with my father. I was about six years old and it was a rainy day. I didn’t feel like playing with my toys and was already comfortable on the couch when this movie came on channel 11 here in New York City. I was immediately interested in the way it looked, the scenes of Manhattan and the sudden violence that seems to come out of nowhere. I was probably too young to see that movie, but it’s too late for that now!
I certainly didn’t understand the movie at such a young age, but it was one of those films I always watched growing up whenever it was on and each time, I learned something new. There was a scene I hadn’t understood before or a bit of dialogue I hadn’t heard before. It taught me the power of subtlety in my own writing and the power supporting characters can play in telling a complex, yet compelling story.
3. Inherit the Wind
This one is at the top of my list. A courtroom drama at its core that has two of the best actors of their generation – Spencer Tracy and Frederic March – thundering away at each other in a battle over a teacher’s right to teach Darwinism in the schoolroom. Nary a punch is thrown nor a pistol fired in this classic movie, but it taught me the power of dialogue. The way Tracy and March work up to their final confrontation in the courtroom is a site to behold and taught me a lot about how to write dialogue. If you haven’t seen this one yet, please do.
4. Network/The Hospital
I’m cheating a bit on this one by mentioning two movies at once, but for good reason. Paddy Chayefsky wrote both films, Network being about the corruption of television programming and The Hospital about the problems in healthcare. They were shot in the mid-1970s and are as relevant today as they were back then, mostly because many of the same problems are still around.
But Chayefsky’s ear for dialogue is better than anyone I can think of, including Mamet and Sorkin. He wrote the way people speak and he used dialogue to propel the plot in marvelous ways. Yes, both movies benefitted from all-star casts at the top of their game, but it was about more than that. This is another set of movies where there’s almost no violence, yet the stories are riveting because Chayefsky packs a lot into his dialogue. Much of the dialogue is heightened, but even when it isn’t, every line in every scene helps push the plot along toward its inevitable conclusion. He takes a discussion of important social topics and makes them entertaining and powerful at the same time. That’s nearly impossible to do, but Chayefsky’s scripts make it look easy.
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark
This one has sentimental meaning for me. It was the first movie I ever saw in a theater and it’s probably the reason why I got hooked on movies in the first place. This one had everything that even a little kid could understand: action, bad guys, good guys and a simple plot. And it told the story in an entertaining way that felt natural and free-flowing, even though it was not an easy film to make. It has since risen above being considered just a homage to the cliffhangers of Lucas and Spielberg’s youth, but a classic in its own right. And it helped spark my love of movies – and of good story telling – that lasts until this day.
Terrence P. McCauley
Terrence is an award-winning writer of crime fiction and thrillers. His most recent techno-thriller, A MURDER OF CROWS – the sequel to SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL – will be published in July 2016 and is available for preorder now. Terrence has also written two award-winning novels set in 1930 New York City – PROHIBITION and SLOW BURN.
In 2016, Down and Out Books also published Terrence’s World War I novella – THE DEVIL DOGS OF BELLEAU WOOD. Proceeds from sales go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund.
Terrence’s short story ‘EL CAMBALACHE’ has been nominated for Best Short Story in the ITW’s annual Thriller Awards.
Terrence has had short stories featured in Thuglit, Spintetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp and other publications. He is a member of the New York City chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and the International Crime Writers Association.
Terrence is an avid reader, a lover of classic movies and enjoys traveling. He’s a huge soccer fan and supports Liverpool FC in the English Premier League and NYCFC in Major League Soccer. A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently writing his next work of fiction. His latest, A MURDER OF CROWS, is due out on July 12th.
THE CROWS ARE GATHERING. WAR IS COMING.
For years, every intelligence agency in the world has been chasing the elusive terrorist known only as The Moroccan. But when James Hicks and his clandestine group known as the University thwart a bio-terror attack against New York City and capture The Moroccan, they find themselves in the crosshairs of their own intelligence community.
The CIA, NSA, DIA and the Mossad are still hunting for for The Moroccan and will stop at nothing to get him. Hicks must find a way to keep the other agencies at bay while he tries to break The terrorist and uncover what else he is planning.
When he ultimately surrenders information that leads to the most wanted terrorist in the world, Hicks and his team find themselves in a strange new world where allies become enemies, enemies become allies and the fate of the University – perhaps even the Western world – may hang in the balance.
Can Hicks and the University survive an onslaught from A MURDER OF CROWS?