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“Thunder Bay,” the perfect movie for the Gulf oil spill.

“Thunder Bay,” the perfect movie for the Gulf oil spill. (photo)

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When people talk about whether or not a film has “aged well,” they’re usually discussing intangibles like whether the performances are dated (and how tolerant/appreciative you are of past acting styles), whether the technique seems old-fashioned, and so on. But given the right set of circumstances, a movie that over 50 years old can easily play as if it were made in response to something that happened two months ago.

Which is why Jimmy Stewart in 1953’s “Thunder Bay” was perfect day-after-July-4th viewing.

No one’s yet come up with a suggestion for a movie that mirrors the ongoing trauma of the Gulf oil spill. Last month David Plotz at Slate suggested the suitably obscure 1980 British thriller “ffolkes,” in which Anthony Perkins threatens to blow up two oil rigs unless he gets $25 million.

But, as Plotz points out, that film has villainous Americans versus stoic Brits, “a through-the-looking-glass version of today’s crisis… where environmentally conscious, capable Brits clean up a mess caused by greedy, destructive Americans, and where hard-headed British businessmen are ready and able to solve an intractable oil-rig catastrophe.”

07062010_bay.jpgSo that doesn’t quite work; nor, regrettably, does “There Will Be Blood.” Daniel Plainview may be rapacious and soulless, but he’s a much more compelling public speaker than Tony Hayward.

“Thunder Bay,” in light of current problems, plays entirely differently than it would have even three months ago. Stewart stars as Steve Martin (I know), an earnest entrepreneur whose life-long dream has been to get down to that ocean-bed floor.

It’s not entirely clear why — he doesn’t seem like a particularly pragmatic guy, it’s more a visionary impulse thing. He gives a speech to love interest Joanne Dru about how oil is millions of years old, so by bringing it up it’s like he’s united all of time (!), but that’s about it as far as motivation goes.

The antagonists are the townsfolk, shrimp fishermen who worry that Stewart’s trying to destroy their livelihood. They get particularly alarmed when Stewart dynamites the bay to do sounding tests (or something like that), because they think he’s killing all the shrimp. He isn’t, needless to say, and at the end he even solves the mystery of how to catch the gigantic golden shrimp everyone in town’s obsessed with (they only come out at night).

07062010_bayou.jpgRegardless of present circumstances, “Thunder Bay” is a perfectly pleasant movie — if nothing else, Stewart and co-star Dan Duryea make one hell of a team. It’s 1953 appearance was actually itself pretty topical — that year, the U.S. Submerged Lands Act was passed, in which the federal government claimed only land three miles or closer from the state coastline.

In 1975, some bright soul programmed it as the Friday night Channel 9 movie in Santa Barbara the weekend before a referendum on whether or not to allow an Exxon offshore facility. The anti-Exxon ballot was defeated by a 1% margin.

Here’s a clever montage from “Thunder Bay,” a temporarily surreal dispatch to what’s currently one of the most institutions in public American life:

[Photos: “Thunder Bay,” Universal, 1953]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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