Q: What do Grease, Risky Business, Ray, X-Men, Collateral Damage and Raging Bull have in common?

A: Jerry Grandey

Nowadays Grandey lives in Colorado, where he is an avid sailor and an active member of the local chapter of the Rotary Club. In speaking to him, you’d never think that the down-to-Earth, decidedly “un-Hollywood” Grandey was once immersed in the fast-paced, ego-filled entertainment industry. But Grandey has spent a fair amount of time on film sets, having served as an assistant director on films by Martin Scorsese, Robert Mulligan, Taylor Hackford, Bryan Singer, Richard Donner and Michael Bay, to name just a few.

Grandey wasn’t always interested in film. He started out as a broadcast journalism major at Syracuse University, but due to a (fortunate) mistake, he was assigned to the Air Force’s Film Unit, where he got a taste for life behind-the-scenes. Once out of the military, Grandey honed his skills at 20th Century Fox and remained active in the movie industry until his retirement in 2006.

MovieMaker was interested to know whether Grandey, who has such extensive on-set experience, loves watching movies as much as he enjoyed making them. He does. Grandey’s top five favorite films reflect his sense of humor, his love of nature and, above all, his appreciation for great visual storytelling.

Napoleon (1927)
directed by Abel Gance

Though story, acting and cinematography are the most commonly-cited reasons to love a film, sometimes it’s the when and how of a film that affects our feelings about it. For example, Grandey first saw Abel Gance’s five-hour-long silent film epic at an outdoor screening at the Telluride Film Festival in 1979. In the decades after Napoleon‘s initial release it had been divided between various parties and, as a result, had not been shown in its entirety since. Film historian Kevin Brownlow, who had spent years collecting and restoring as much of the film as he could find, invited Gance (then 89 years old) to come to the festival and attend the premiere of the restored version. At an awards ceremony, clips from Gance’s films—including one from Napoleon—were shown before Gance was given an honorary award. Gance became exceedingly upset, thinking he came all the way from France to see a clip when he was promised the full version. He did not attend the full screening of Napoleon that night, but Grandey noticed him watching the film from the window of his hotel room. At a festival panel Grandey attended the next day, Gance apologized for the misunderstanding and expressed his joy and gratitude at seeing his lost film restored.

“It’s a remarkable film,” says Grandey (who also appreciates its story, acting and cinematography), “but the way I was exposed to it has something to do with [my love for] it.”

Young Frankenstein (1974)
directed by Mel Brooks

This Mel Brooks classic, which was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound), stars Gene Wilder as the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced “Frank-n-shteen”), who inherits his grandfather’s castle and starts recreating his experiments.

“I’m a sucker for Mel Brooks’ humor. And I’m a sucker for the way those actors played those roles,” says Grandey, who feels a particular fondness for Marty Feldman as the hunchback Igor. “I cannot keep my mouth shut during that movie. I’m laughing from beginning to end. Especially knowing that some of the lines are coming; I’m laughing before they even get there.” After Grandey praises the film, he recounts the story of how he and a colleague (both second ADs at the time) once swapped their studio assignments. Grandey took an on-location picture filming in Nashville and starring Burt Reynolds, while his colleague took a soundstage film that turned out to be Young Frankenstein. Grandey has no regrets about the assignment trade; since Young Frankenstein was still in production when he returned from Nashville, he got to witness the filming, an experience made more exciting by the fact that many of the sets were recycled from the studio’s 1931 production of Frankenstein.

Dersu Uzala (1975)
directed by Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa directed many extraordinary and influential films in his 50-plus year career, including Seven Samurai and Rashomon, but it’s one of his lesser-known works that Grandey counts among his favorite films. Dersu Uzala is the story of the friendship that develops between a Russian army Captain assigned to explore Siberia and a hunter named Dersu. Dersu guides the Captain (or “Cappy-tan,” as Dersu calls him) and his men through the vast and dangerous wilderness as they survey the landscape. After Dersu saves his life on several occasions, the Captain tries to return the favor by bringing Dersu to live with his family in the city. This turns out to be torture to Dersu, who doesn’t understand, as he puts it, “Why man live in box?”

“It’s a fascinating film, from a psychological standpoint,” Grandey remarks. “It’s also beautifully shot.” The film’s magnificent, sweeping views of Siberia rival the famous panoramic shots of the desert in Lawrence of Arabia, and its beauty—combined with outstanding performances by Maksim Munzuk (Dersu) and Yuri Solomin (Captain Arseniev)—earned Dersu Uzala the 1976 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
directed by John Huston

Sean Connery and Michael Caine are two of the world’s most beloved dramatic actors. but in this film the two thespians prove that their comedic timing is every bit as sharp as their Shakespeare. The Man Who Would Be King, based on a story by Rudyard Kipling, is about two British soldiers who come to be worshipped as gods in an Indian village where no white man has been seen in thousands of years. A legendary and notorious perfectionist, John Huston spent decades trying to adapt Kipling’s story into a film, which was originally going to star Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart. Thanks to Paul Newman—who suggested Connery and Caine as an alternative to himself and Robert Redford—the right artists came together to create this memorable comedy, which earned four Oscar nominations in 1976.

“It’s absolutely astounding how beautifully this film was done… And it’s hilarious! You keep thinking that these guys couldn’t possibly get out of these absurd situations, but they always do,” Grandey chuckles.

The Girl on the Bridge (1999)
directed by Patrice Leconte

The Girl on the Bridge is the story of an unusual relationship between Gabor, a professional knife thrower, and Adèle (Vanessa Paradis). The two meet on a bridge, where Adèle is about to drown her sorrows (and herself) in the Seine. The two bond immediately—Adèle even becomes the human target in Gabor’s (Daniel Auteuil) act—but their platonic relationship is tested when Adèle runs off with a married man. During their time apart, they each learn that they cannot live without one another.

One of the reasons Grandey loves this movie is its unpredictability. “There were so many points during the film where I’d say, ‘I know what’s going to happen here… please tell me that’s not going to happen.’ And yet, I was wrong—it goes in a different direction.” He was also impressed by the visual style of the black and white film, “The effects, especially during the knife throwing scenes, are so simple but so effective.” Grandey calls this little French gem a definite must-see.