OK, Who Would YOU invite for dinner?

My daughter has a gift for asking questions that are simultaneously amusing and provocative. I won’t go into the full array, but I will confess that each one has caused me to think about myself and the world in very interesting and occasionally liberating ways.

Yesterday’s question was a variation of the “If you could invite anyone from anywhere in history to dinner, whom would you invite?” Always good for conjecture, and indicative of the sort of host one might presume to be.

I love wit and loosely bridled merriment, so I’d be inclined to stack the list with pleasant souls and sparkling conversationalists. The problem, of course, is that you won’t know which Abe Lincoln, Mark Twain, or Winston Churchill is going to show up; you might get the wryly humorous Lincoln or Twain, or their darker, despondent selves. If Churchill has a snoot full when he arrives, buckle up your seat belts — it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Similarly, in the provocative mode, were I to seat Jesus next to Pat Robertson, what would they have to talk about?

Yesterday, however, my daughter challenged me to pick a movie whose cast would provide the best dinner table; she went one step further, adding that it could include anyone, living or dead. I sputtered intelligently trying to obscure my pitiable response, then admitted that I would need quite a lot of time to work things out. The same sorts of delicious or disastrous possibilities struck me immediately.

Based on his performance in The Wicker Man alone, I would love to see Nicholas Cage in confinement, but not exclusively by himself, as it might be more intense that I could handle at the dinner table. I could choose Con Air, which would net me Nicholas Cage, John Cusack, and John Malkovich, or The Rock, bringing Cage and Sean Connery. Cusack strikes me as affable and clever; Malkovich is every bit as fascinating as Cage, and probably as dangerous. After all, it was Malkovich who said, “Some directors expect you to do everything; write, be producer, psychiatrist. Some just want you to die in a tragic accident during the shooting so they can get the insurance.” So, there’s that.

Sean Connery, on the other hand … uh, better not use that phrase. When interviewed, Connery boasted, “An open-handed slap is justified — if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it.” Not cool.

OK, so no Cage, Malkovich, or Connery.

The next ploy was to look at the films I’ve seen over and over, assuming the cast would make great company. I am reluctant to share the list of films I have seen most often because there are some that are simply accidents of circumstance, including:

The 1960 version of The Time Machine, starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux, Sebastian Cabot, directed by George Pal — fifteen screenings at the USO in Charleston, South Carolina and aboard the USS Sellers DDG 11. It was literally the only entertainment both ashore and on ship. Maybe the conditions under which I lived my “life” colored my judgment, but it wasn’t half bad. Did it get better with repetition? Let’s put it this way; I’ve only seen it twice since then. Yvette Mimieux was hot stuff in 1960 and Alan Young was abut to burst into the entertainment firmament with his role as Wilbur Post, straight man to Mr. Ed, the talking horse. Rod Taylor was the box office draw, a less moody hunk than Rock Hudson, at his best in The Birds, to which I will refer before we’re done here.

Mighty Joe Young, made in 1949 as a follow-up to RKO’s blockbuster, King Kong. Like King Kong, The Most Dangerous Game, and Top Hat, Mighty Joe Young was featured on WOR’s Million Dollar Movie, shown at least twice every day for a week and twice each afternoon on weekends before the evening shows. Kong scared the popcorn out of me, but Mighty Joe was a heartbreaker. I actually saw at least twenty films twice a day for a week, but Joe was the only one I watched through the ten times during the week and another six during the weekend; I think I had the flu, explaining why it all seems to float in delirium.

I did my graduate work on the films of Alfred Hitchcock, screening the same films again and again, which pulls Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, and Frenzy into the top tally. Notorious is a gem and a tempting choice because it gives me Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, both pretty intriguing people, but that’s just two, a dinner more intimate than I could manage.

By choice I have watched White Christmas at least sixty times and plan to watch it again this year. I love the film, but Danny Kaye is the only star I have any interest in. Sorry, Bing. Bing also puts the kibosh on all the Road movies, which is a shame, because Bob Hope was quick witted and genial. I’ve also seen Singin’ In The Rain many, many times, and always get a huge kick out of almost every scene, but it’s not a cast to spend an evening with, in the same way that Some Like It Hot is fabulous but promises an evening with Tony Curtis as well as with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemon, and Joe E. Brown.

No Tony Curtis.

It came down to this: Since I can’t get Mel Brooks and Robin Williams in the same cast, I hadda go with an ensemble, leaving me to choose between:

Ocean’s Eleven (both versions)

1960 — Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, Angie Dickinson, Peter Lawford

2001 — George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Casey Affleck, Elliot Gould, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Don Cheadle

The Italian Job (both versions) 1969 — Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill

2003- Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Jason Staham, Donald Sutherland

The Royal Tennenbaums — Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Anjelica Houston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Alec Baldwin (narrator)

The Grand Budapest Hotel — Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Wilem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson

Tough choices, although the idea of sitting with Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Wilem Dafoe, and Edward Norton is pretty heady stuff.

I haven’t cast my vote yet, in part because all these choices are appealing, but also because I can’t get over the Mel Brooks or Robin Williams table,and because the best raconteur at any table was Orson Welles, and because I want to see how large Tom Hardy’s neck really is, and because Kevin Spacey does impressions, and because I’m kind of obsessed with Keanu Reeves, and because, in the end, I need to see LA Confidential one more time to see what that cast might do at my dinner party, and because I also love Soapdish, and because Tropic Thunder does not get the respect it deserves, and because Magnolia never gets enough consideration, and because The Talented Mr. Ripley is the creepiest role Matt Damon ever played, and because nobody sees Tapeheads, and because I forgot about Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, and Judy Dench.

This is how my daughter takes my brain hostage, and for that I am ever grateful.

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