For the last several years, I’ve enjoyed participating in the blogathons hosted by Rick at Classic Film & TV Cafe to celebrate National Classic Movie Day. This year, Rick’s theme is six favorite movies in six different decades.
This may be among the most difficult choices I’ve yet made for his blogathons. Only one favorite film per decade? Gahh!! I’m not known for being particular about favorites and always have a hard time narrowing down for lists like this.
Hence why I decided to focus on favorites which may not be as famous as others I might have featured.
While I’m by no means a silent film expert, I have made a concerted effort to explore this decade on screen. I’ve seen many of the major stars and movie titles that film buffs are familiar with. However, the only real choice for me was Lucky Star. Not only did it introduce me to the glorious dream team of Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell and Frank Borzage, but it was the first picture to really make me take silent film seriously as a story-telling vehicle and as an art form. Gaynor and Farrell gave such moving, emotionally engaging performances as a simple farm girl and crippled war vet, that I can still instantly recall visual mental images of them years later.
How, oh how, can I pick just one title from the best film decade ever?! Seriously, there are so many wonderful options. Not only did this decade spawn my favorite genre (screwball comedy), but also my favorite onscreen team (Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn). It also boasts the early glory years of legends like Stanwyck, Loy and Powell, Gable, Bette Davis & Joan Crawford, among others. I finally got my choices narrowed down to four with Penthouse, Topper and The Goose and the Gander, before finally deciding upon Yes, My Darling Daughter. Ultimately my choice boiled down to the wonderful supporting cast of Roland Young, Fay Bainter, Ian Hunter, Genevieve Tobin and May Robson in this generational gap, family comedy. Priscilla Lane and Jeffrey Lynn star as young lovers who challenge the moral status quo and her own mother’s liberal beliefs when they decide to go away together for a weekend. It’s silly and ridiculous, but so fun to watch. I reviewed it in more depth if you are interested.
Thank in part to a second World War, the forties ushered in more serious films including the revered film noir genre. With many of Hollywood’s male stars off to war, it opened the path for new faces to establish themselves on screen. And while comedy is always my first love, I can appreciate a great drama. Ultimately, I was torn between two films. As much as I wanted to choose The Shanghai Gesture (where the underrated Gene Tierney gives a great performance as a socialite whose drug and gambling addiction send her on a downward spiral), I couldn’t pass up the equally underrated Keep Your Powder Dry, starring Laraine Day, Lana Turner and Susan Peters as three very different women who must learn to work together as WACS. I love the female dynamics that it portrays. It was rare, although less so during WWII, to find films which featured women as the main characters with attention given to their character arcs. I find the interpersonal dynamics among them fairly realistic and love seeing how women contributed to the war effort during that time.
Ok, how could I have a movie list and not include the great Jack Lemmon, particularly in his early years?? Has any actor ever had a better debut in films, than he? He started the decade with It Should Happen to You, then added Mister Roberts, My Sister Eileen, the underrated western Cowboy, Bell Book and Candle and finished out the decade with Some Like it Hot and It Happened to Jane. But my favorite discovery of his fifties pictures is Operation Mad Ball in which he plays a good-hearted, scheming army private who is constantly matching wits against his slightly slower, by the book, commanding officer played by Ernie Kovacs. The hijinks and antics Lemmon gets up to in his attempt to throw a secret ball for the enlisted men require the complex and complicated maneuvers necessary for a full on battle plan. Of course, the supporting cast of Arthur O’Connell, Mickey Rooney, Dick York and others only add to the delicious humor and craziness of this entertaining military comedy. This is another one that I have previously reviewed.
Ahh, the second coming of the romantic comedy flourished in this decade, which as has already been established as my happy place. Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, Jane Fonda, Sandra Dee, Audrey Hepburn all had a chance to shine in films highlighting the battle of the sexes as well as in fabulous wardrobes provided by their costume designers. However, as much as I love these ladies and their performances, I had to go with Soldier in the Rain. The first time I saw this military buddy drama I was shocked speechless and knew right away it would be one of my all time favorites. While I adore Steve McQueen and believe he does well playing against type as a goofy and clueless supply sargeant, it is Jackie Gleason who is an absolute revelation in a heart-breaking depiction of a man longing for deeper connection. The friendship between this odd couple is definitely one of the best in cinema, in my opinion. This is another one which I happen to have previously reviewed.
Ok, I really, really wanted to go with What’s Up Doc? for this decade. However, I felt that film is so famous and loved, it didn’t really need my small, feeble spotlight shining on it. So, instead I went with a picture I’ve only recently discovered but which had a profound impact on me, My Brilliant Career. I was happily surprised by the central conflict of a woman choosing between romance and her true passion. That struggle was so well depicted and so easily relatable that Miss Melvyn’s journey felt personal to me. I instantly understood her feelings, motivations and challenges even though I didn’t share her interests or background. It’s a simple story, well-told with beautiful cinematography. There is one shot in particular that immediately brought to mind a Renoir painting.
Many thanks to Rick for once again hosting the blogathon. Make sure to check out this year’s other entries for more great favorites.