"Dearest Nicholas" was an attempt to list out great films that a friend of mine should watch since he would be heading off to college in another state, and we wouldn't get to have film nights anymore. Like most things in my life, it quickly spun out of control, became ridiculously long, and is, in fact, still not finished. So I figured, hell, time to slap it on the internet. I realize that there are so many films missing on this list; tough titties. I ain't tryin' to write no Film Encyclopedia. However, back-talk is welcome. Enjoy, and realize this is just part one of QUESTION MARK.
As you set off into the great wide yonder over there, I set before you a task. There’s no hurry, and I would never judge you for not completing it. However, if this task should never be started or end up in the garbage, OH I WILL JUDGE YOU SO HARD.
Here is your task: This is a list, a nice long list, a check list if you will. Something to be sure that you get your cinematic education as well as your for realz education. Have fun with it, do it out of order, find your favorites, and tell me that some of these are utter crap (ha, you won’t).
Yours in eternal servitude,
CLASSICS (through 1950)
The General (1926)
Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton. Buster Keaton.
A hilarious love story of a man, his gal, and his train in the midst of the Civil War. The most impressive thing (among a huge litany of impressive things) is that Keaton did his own (extremely dangerous) stunts. On a moving train. Man, those guys back in the day were pretty lucky to make it out of a movie alive, huh?
Animal Crackers (1930)
Ladies, ladies, ladies! Ankles!
The Marx Brothers.
Worship at the altar of the Marx Brothers, the thinking man’s Three Stooges. This film involves an African explorer’s missing painting, but that’s really a moot point to the hilarity. See if you can keep up.
Horse Feathers (1932)
That grin leads me to believe you're being a bit insincere, Groucho.
The Marx Brothers.
College life and football, oh the thirties. Harpo plays the harp (sidenote: Harpo as a child learned how to play on an ill-tuned harp and always would. However, his playing is EXQUISITE).
Duck Soup (1933)
Marx Brothers, the height of fashion.
The Marx Brothers.
The last Marx Brothers’ film to feature Zeppo, and despite initially being a box-office flop and stricken with contract disputes, is now considered their best film. Ambassadors, fake countries, and despots, oh my!
I’m No Angel (1933)
"Eyes up here, buddy."
Directed by Wesley Ruggles. Mae West, Cary Grant.
Mae West’s boobs and dirty mouth usher in the Production Code for American film.
Also, this gem:
Jack Clayton: You were wonderful tonight.
Tira: Yeah, I'm always wonderful at night.
Jack Clayton: Tonight, you were especially good.
Tira: Well... When I'm good, I'm very good. But, when I'm bad...
[winks at Jack]
Tira: I'm better.
Modern Times (1936)
Brushing my teeth with corn just doesn't seem as effective as a toothbrush.
Classic Chaplin as his classic character “The Tramp” caught in the cogs of modernization and the Great Depression. Despite this film being made well after "talkies" had taken over, Chaplin decided to keep the film mostly silent to maintain the integrity of the Tramp character as well as avoiding alienating his global audience that didn't speak English.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Grant's just sore 'cause the leopard got to sit in that cozy-as-hell pram.
Directed by Howard Hawks. Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn.Cary Grant is an uptight paleontologist harassed by a nutty Katharine Hepburn with a pet leopard (named Baby) getting him into wacky situations (wacky I say!).
Also, Cary Grant in this sexy little number.
The Women (1939)
Everyone in this scene: [thinking] "BITCH."
Directed by George Cukor. Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell.
The entire cast, like the title suggests, is all ladies! Also, Joan Crawford is in fine form as the conniving bitchy perfume counter girl who’s trying to steal Shearer’s husband. Hussy!
"Is this the part where I am amused?"
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Greta Garbo.
Garbo’s second to last film before she quit the industry at 36, this film is noted as being one of the earliest satires of Stalin’s communist Russia, as well as being released shortly after the Nazis invaded Poland. Garbo was known for her icy and solemn demeanor in films, so the fact that she laughs onscreen was well-advertised. Communism vs. Capitalism! Ice Princess vs. Parisian Lothario! Allegedly sexy for the time?
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
::GASP!:: Who let her in here?
Directed by George Cukor. Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart.
Oh my god, this is one of my favorite films of all time, ever, ever. Each actor is absolutely on fire, not to mention that I could die happy in the middle of a Cary Grant/Jimmy Stewart sandwich. Just…just watch it, ‘kay? No, for reals.
Maltese Falcon (1941)
Priceless artifact or elaborate cigarette lighter?
Directed by John Huston. Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre.
Classic Bogart as private investigator Sam Spade (note to self: when becoming a private dick, pick a name that's alliterative) dealing with shady characters all after a jewel-encrusted statue of a falcon. Noir as hell!
Much more than a hill of beans here.
Directed by Michael Curtiz. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains.
You don’t get much more classic than this. Bogart and Bergman are former lovers caught in France during WWII and trenchcoats are firmly in style. Your heart will break with every one of Bergman's tears, and you'll walk around for weeks telling your cat to "Play it again, Sam."
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
"Now, let's go over this one more time...Precisely HOW many bodies are in the cellar?"
Directed by Frank Capra. Cary Grant.
Yes, I have a total lady boner for Cary Grant, he is one of the best. Grant and a couple of sweet, doddering, murderous old aunts who are killing off their boarders for social security checks; hilarious!
Double Indemnity (1944)
WE ARE JUST SHOPPERS SHOPPING, WE DON'T KNOW EACH OTHER, WE'RE NOT PLANNING A MURDER, NO SIR.
Directed by Billy Wilder. Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson.
Another noir film, it’s a great tour of early 20th century Los Angeles. You know, before it became full of dicks (hah, nah, it’s always been full of dicks). Interesting to note, all three actors played against type in the film, in some of the best performances of their careers.
“This seminal tale, told in the past tense (in voice-over), involves two major characters with ‘an unholy love and an almost perfect crime.’ Both are duplicitous and callous lovers - a beautiful, shrewd, predatory and dissatisfied femme fatale housewife (with blonde bangs and an enticing gold anklet) and a likeable insurance salesman. Their calculated, cold-blooded scheme to brutally murder her husband for purposes of lustful desire and financial gain, because of a double indemnity clause in his accident policy, ultimately fails. Their fraudulent, almost perfect crime leads to guilt, suspicion, betrayal, duplicity, and thrilling intrigue in a film with numerous swatches of sharp and nasty dialogue.”
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
FUCK THIS IMMA JUMP OFF THIS BRIDGE HERE.
Directed by Frank Capra. Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore.
I’m not sure how this became a Christmas staple except that the final scenes happen to take place at Christmas. It's the story of a man who, after putting his dreams on the backburner all his life in order to do what's right for his family and town only to be shat on by local town overlord, loses all hope. Only through Clarence the angel's guidance that he sees how precious and beautiful his life actually is. It’s a great, self-affirming film starring the inimitable Jimmy Stewart, and it’s now one of my favorite Christmas films.
"My pants are so hiiiiiiiiiiiigh!"
The Third Man (1949)
"Whoa, where the heck am I?"
Directed by Carol Reed. Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Orson Welles.
British noir, the “third man” refers to an unaccounted-for extra man seen carrying Welles’ dead body from the street. Is that guy even really dead? Who the hell knows?
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Bill O'Reilly reports, "CLASS WAR!"
Directed by Robert Hamer. Alec Guiness, Alec Guiness, Alec Guiness, some other dicks, Alec Guiness.
The grandson of an elite family that disinherits him and his mother vows revenge and systematically bumps off the surviving members standing between him and dukedom. The D'Ascoynes are all played in increasingly hilarious fashion by Alec Guiness.
I'm sure you've always wanted to see Sir Alec in drag.
"You talking to me or the large rabbit to my right?"
Stewart’s favorite film in his career, he plays Elwood P. Dowd, a middle-aged bachelor with an invisible seven foot tall rabbit named Harvey as his best friend. Incidentally, his sister tries to have him committed. Sweet, hilarious, feel-good when you’re feeling down.
Quite dashing, don't you think?
All About Eve (1950)
"Mmm, yes, how amusing."
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Bette Davis, Anne Baxter.
Young fan Baxter insinuates herself into aging stage star Davis’s life with the ultimate goal of supplanting her. Besides the fact that Davis was as much of a razor-tongued badass in the films as she was in real life, you should watch at least one Davis film to know why there’s a song called “Bette Davis Eyes” (by Kim Carnes).
More and more and more to come.