10. ORCA: THE KILLER WHALE
(1977, Directed by Michael Anderson, Written by Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Donati)
There are some films that are so bad they’re good, and then there is Orca: The Killer Whale, which is so awful it’s magnificent! The ultimate JAWS rip-off (supposedly, it was inspired by producer Dino De Laurentis seeing Spielberg’s blockbuster and wondering if there was an underwater predator that was even deadlier underwater than a shark), Orca was a rare mid-career starring vehicle for Harris as Captain Nolan, the fisherman who simultaneously hunts Orca and identifies with him, most poignantly (or risibly, depending on your point of view) when he recounts that his own wife and child had been killed by a drunk driver, just as he himself had inadvertently killed Orca’s own mate and child, thus setting in train the whole unlikely marine revenge-tragedy.
It is, of course, easy to mock, but in its own ridiculous way Orca, and Harris’s performance in it, are astonishing, if only for Harris’s ability to keep going in the face of such an implausible story. (The makers of JAWS were careful never to anthropomorphise the titular Great White.) And there is also some underlying majesty, in the beautiful Canadian scenery and in Nolan’s own “back-story” as an exiled Irishman who dreams of returning home. Besides, Harris isn’t the only great cinematic talent associated with this grand folly: in addition to De Laurentis himself, who produced such classics as Serpico, Three Days of the Condor and Blue Velvet, the script was allegedly rewritten by Robert Towne himself, the writer of Chinatown. Orca’s no Chinatown, but because of Harris and the sheer, crazily ridiculous brilliance of the script, it is certainly worth seeing.