Old Hollywood film recommendations (to be continued)

An Affair To Remember (Leo McCarey, 1957)
The concept of two lovers meeting atop the Empire State Building may be more familiar to modern audiences through Sleepless In Seattle or Gossip Girl, but it is most iconic in this epic romance. While heartbreakingly tragic, Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr’s performances add wit and warmth to the narrative, making for one of the greatest screen romances of all time.

“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories…we’ve already missed the spring!”

The Shop Around The Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
One of the most well known tropes of a Hollywood romantic comedy is the classic ‘girl meets boy, girl hates boy, girl realises she loves boy’ narrative, and The Shop Around The Corner is one of Hollywood’s earliest use of such a plot; later adaptations include In The Good Old SummertimeShe Loves Me and You’ve Got Mail. Not only does the ever-charming James Stewart star alongside Margaret Sullavan, but the cleverly written screenplay balances suspense with sympathy through its use of dramatic irony. 

“There might be a lot we don’t know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.”

Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
Perhaps Hitchcock’s greatest work, Rear Window is a masterpiece of cinema, not only in terms of narrative but also in performance and cinematography. Whilst wholly entertaining through Hitchcock’s trademark suspense, the film also creates an interesting dialogue on the concept of voyeurism and morbid curiosity into the lives of others – something of which the audience itself is guilty of in their act of watching the film. Rear Window stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly in a stunning partnership, an onscreen duo that only confirms this film as one of Hitchcock’s best. 

“When two people love each other, they come together – WHAM! – like two taxis on Broadway.”

Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
My favourite film of all time. Often credited as one of the greatest cinematic comedies, the narrative successfully incorporates the themes of love, gender identity, organised crime and the rebellious age of jazz into a charming musical film. The performances of Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon successfully give a sense of humanity to an otherwise absurd storyline, and Monroe’s performance of “I’m Through With Love” is one of the musical highlights of her career. While Sugar is yet another ‘dumb blonde’ character for Monroe, she successfully plays her with a sensitivity and vulnerability that adds depth to what could have been a one dimensional character – a credit to her ability as an actress.

“Story of my life. I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.”

A Star Is Born (George Cukor, 1954)
The tragedy of A Star Is Born is that it will never be complete. Unhappy with the original running time, Warner Bros carelessly cut half an hour of the film and subsequently lost the footage, meaning that the closest to seeing the completed film is the current restored version which has scenes only present by way of production stills and voice overs. However, this does not detract from the stunning performance by Judy Garland – the best of her career, in my opinion. The Man That Got Away is as powerful today as it was 50 years ago, and both Garland and her co-star James Mason portray the tragedy of their characters with true sensitivity and dark comedy.

“You don’t know what it’s like to watch somebody you love just crumble away bit by bit, day by day, in front of your eyes, and stand there helpless. Love isn’t enough, I thought it was.”

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
The film that all other Hollywood romances are measured by, Casablanca‘s theme of sacrifice appealed to its original audience in the midst of World War Two, and continues to be relevant today in relation to the romance that also runs through the film’s narrative. The sentimentality of the film is not only confined to the romance between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman – the depiction of wartime refugees in the film was given extra sensitivity and understanding by the casting of real life refugees as extras, giving American audiences a sense of the affects of war on the wider world. Giving us some of the most quotable lines in cinematic history, Casablanca continues to be tragically beautiful.

“I can’t fight it anymore. I ran away from you once. I can’t do it again. Oh, I don’t know what’s right any longer. I wish I didn’t love you so much.”

Funny Girl (William Wyler, 1968)
Barbra Streisand’s performance as Fanny Brice was groundbreaking in terms of Jewish representation in Hollywood cinema. Funny Girl allowed a Jewish woman to be depicted as an independent, outspoken character who is proud of her typically Jewish features and uses her intelligence to inflect stereotypes by way of comedy. The songs are simply brilliant, and the everlasting success of the film can be almost entirely attributed to Streisand’s charm and talent and depiction of a woman who isn’t afraid to get what she wants.

“You think beautiful girls are going to stay in style forever? I should say not! Any minute now they’re going to be out! Finished! Then it’ll be my turn!”

It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
Although intended as a Christmas film, It’s A Wonderful Life has messages that remain relevant all year round. James Stewart’s performance as the suicidal George Bailey is made all the more heart-wrenching once considered that this was Stewart’s first role post his service in World War Two. His raw emotion and post traumatic stress disorder translates to the screen brilliantly as the audience follows his journey to the brink of despair.

“What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon.”

The Misfits (John Huston, 1961)
Originally written as a Valentine’s Day gift by Arthur Miller, The Misfits was Marilyn Monroe’s final completed film and possibly her greatest performance. Her study of The Method can be seen to great effect in her portrayal of Roslyn, through her display of true anguish and vulnerability. Monroe’s true self is reflected in Roslyn; the beautiful woman who makes others happy and yet herself is so sad. The Misfits is evidence that Marilyn could tackle a dramatic role and do it well, that she was so much more capable than the world gave her credit for.

“You have to get something to be human? You never felt anything for anybody in your life. All you know is the sad words. You could blow up the world and all you would feel is sorry for yourself!”

Gone With The Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
Epic in every sense of the word, this four hour long masterpiece charts the American Civil War and the doomed romance of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler through beautiful cinematography, genius costumes and incredible performances. Although arguably problematic due to its depiction of slavery and African American characters, it must be noted that it was for her role in this film that Hattie McDaniel earned the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – the first African American Oscar winner ever.

“If I said I was madly in love with you you’d know I was lying.”


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