This Week in Film History, 12.14.14

December 19, 1909: The first use of freeze frame for dramatic effect is employed by D.W. Griffith for the film A Corner in Wheat.

December 16, 1935:  Blonde comic actress Thelma Todd, 29, is found dead in the garage of her California home.  Ruled a suicide, the case remains a point of controversy.

December 14, 1939: David O. Selznick’s long-awaited film of Gone with the Wind, with Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, has its world premiere in Atlanta. Because of Georgia segregation laws, Hattie McDaniel and other black cast members are not allowed to attend.

December 15, 1966: The most famous name in family entertainment, Walt Disney–animator, producer and multi-Oscar-winner–dies of a heart attack at age 65.

December 18, 1966: In defiance of the Production Code’s demands to excise certain scenes, MGM releases Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up without a seal of approval.

December 15, 1967: The film version of Jacqueline Susann’s potboiler Valley of the Dolls, starring Patty Duke and Sharon Tate, opens and becomes an instant camp classic.

December 20, 1967: Thirty-year-old stage actor Dustin Hoffman performs a star-making turn in Mike NicholsThe Graduate, which premieres today.

December 15, 1968: Brian de Palma’s Greetings, starring Robert De Niro, opens with an X-rating, the first film to do so under the MPAA’s new rating system.

December 17, 1970: Alexander Jodorowsky’s surreal western El Topo has its first late-night showing at New York’s Elgin Theatre and helps popularize the “midnight movies” concept.

December 19, 1971: Stanley Kubrick draws attention with the U.S. release of the X-Rated A Clockwork Orange, which, incidentally, is the first to use the Dolby sound system.

December 15, 1974: Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s side-splitting spoof of Universal horror films, Young Frankenstein, opens.

December 20, 1974: The screen saga of the Corleone clan continues, as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Part II debuts.

December 16, 1977: Moviegoers “catch the fever” as the Disco-driven drama Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta, opens.

December 15, 1978: The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino‘s Vietnam epic, opens, stunning audiences and eliciting controversy for its “Russian roulette” sequences.

December 16, 1990: Ten-year-old Macauley Culkin defends his family’s house from bumbling burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern after he’s accidentally left Home Alone.

December 20, 1996: The “teen slasher” genre gets a hip revamping with director Wes Craven‘s surprise horror hit Scream.

December 18, 1997: SNL alum and Tommy Boy star Chris Farley, 33, dies from a drug overdose in his Chicago home.

December 19, 1997: Director James Cameron’s Titanic, which will win 11 Academy Awards and pass Star Wars on the all-time box office list, debuts.

December 19, 2001: The first book in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy comes to the screen in Peter Jackson’s live-action epic The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

December 18, 2009: James Cameron’s sci-fi saga Avatar opens and goes to top his own Titanic as the all-time box office champ.

December 14, 2013: Oscar-winning actor Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, My Favorite Year) dies at 81.

December 15, 2013: Joan Fontaine, Best Actress winner for Suspicion, passes away at 96.