A Non-Spoileriffic classic movie recommendation guide for beginners (and also a TCM companion)
April 7, 2014
Mickey Rooney 1920-2014
I’m going to step away from the norm and write about a person instead of a film. Technically I do write about people within my movie recommendations, but there’s no recommendation here. Just some things that you need to know.
Mickey Rooney has died and this is significant.
I was reading some articles about his death and people were posting mean things about him in the comments, because Internet. I have heard these things before: that he was not a particularly nice man unless there were cameras rolling or press nearby, that he was an alcoholic (though not recently), that he was married 8 times because he was a jerk. He seemed okay to me, but I met him at church. If there’s anywhere not to be an asshole, church would be the place. Or it should be.
Let’s understand something though- as Hollywood stars go, he wasn’t that bad. He did not have a police record. He did not abuse his offspring. He has never been accused of molesting a child. He did not murder anyone. He never got coked up and rode around Hollywood smashing into his “enemies” with his car. He never jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch. By the time I ever heard of him, he had pretty much straightened up his act. So can we not dwell on these things, please?
He spent the last few years standing up for the rights of the elderly. He spoke before the Senate Special Committee on Aging about abuse that he received at the hands of his own stepson- an outrage that split his family in two. He moved out from one stepson and moved in with another and had not seen his wife of 32 years since last April. In fact, she heard of his death via TMZ.
I have mentioned this before, but it really bears repeating. Up until yesterday, Rooney was the only working actor who started out in silent film. Let that sink in. Would you like me to repeat that in bold? Okay. Up until yesterday, Rooney was the only working actor who started out in silent film. You’re welcome. I submit that it’s entirely possible that, until yesterday, he was the only working actor who started out in Vaudeville, but I’m not confident enough in that to put money on it.
He has worked with or known so many of the classic stars that have left us already that, to me, he was a living link to them. And now he too is gone. With 200 or so movies to his credit, I couldn’t possibly make a decent list of his co-stars, so maybe I won’t even try. That’s what IMDb is for.
Do I have favorite Mickey Rooney roles? Yes, of course. I love Andy Hardy. I loved him in A Night at the Museum. I love catching him in uncredited roles from his early film career. He had personality. I like that most of all. So whether I like the movie he’s in or not, whether he’s doing a good job of acting or not (I am not blind to the fact that there were roles he should have turned down) you know when he’s on screen because he lights it up. You know what? I will make a recommendation here after all. If there’s a movie on with Mickey Rooney in it, even if he’s only in it for a second, watch it.
Rest in Peace, Mickey Rooney. You are already missed.
The Paleface (1922) Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Virginia Fox. Dir: Buster Keaton (and Edward Cline)
This is what is commonly known as a two-reeler, which means it is a shorter film, typically lasting in the neighborhood of 20 minutes, or thereabouts. This format is what Keaton started out doing when he began appearing in Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s films. They were two-reelers as well. The thinking here was that nobody would pay perfectly good money to sit in a movie theatre for over an hour and watch a comedy. The real money was supposedly in drama. Whatever. Sure, there were a few feature-length comedies here and there, Mack Sennett seemed to be doing well with them, but the financiers still didn’t care.
So after Keaton had been working with Arbuckle a couple of years, Arbuckle got signed with Paramount to make feature-length films because he had proven his bankability finally. Keaton then started making two-reelers on his own, writing, producing, directing, acting, etc. The Paleface came from this time period. It should be noted that he did star in a feature-length film in 1920, but it was someone else’s studio and he didn’t write or direct or produce it, he only acted in it. It wasn’t his project. He was so uncertain about how his audience would react to a feature by him that the first one he made was shot in such a manner that if the preview audiences didn’t like it, it could be split into three separate films.
Anyway, let me get back to The Paleface, which is not to be confused with the Bob Hope, Jane Russell The Paleface. Each is very good, just don’t confuse them. Some very bad men cheat some Indians (Native Americans, you know) out of their land and Buster Keaton wanders onto it at the wrong time. It gets rough for him, them and the cheaters. Then the world’s longest kiss happens. The end.
There is humor, justice, romance, swastikas. Wait, what? Okay, not exactly. Buster puts on a blanket which was made by the Indians. This movie was made in 1922, before there were nazis, so the swastika doesn’t mean anything bad (the symbol was originally a kind of cross), and it’s actually backward on the blanket. So don’t freak out when you see it.
Buster ends up in his underwear a few times in this one. If you don’t know how often this happened in his films, then perhaps it is of note, but if you have, you may wonder why I’m bothering to mention it. Well, I’ll tell you. I like Buster in his underwear, that’s why.
Oliver! (1968) Mark Lester, Jack Wild, Ron Moody. Dir: Sir Carol Reed
Yes, it’s a musical. It’s from the stage play which opened in the West End in 1960, thus ushering in the age of putting exclamation points in the titles of plays. The play came to America as a tour and then started up on Broadway in 1963 with Davy Jones as the Artful Dodger.
The stage play, of course, is based on the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens which ran as a serial beginning in 1837, under the reign of George IV, rather than Queen Victoria, who took over in June of 1837. Therefore it is not a Victorian novel. Just in case you were wondering.
The plot is as follows: a boy named Oliver(!) lives in an orphanage and is not getting enough to eat, so he asks for seconds. This was unheard of and prompted the orphanage people to take him to town and sell him. Then he runs away from the family they sold him to, and honestly, I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone wouldn’t want to live with someone who puts a monetary value on one’s life. So, Oliver(!) meets another boy who lives with a bunch of other boys who work for a guy named Fagin. There is singing, dancing, hookers, pimps, despair, joy, terror, triumph, and an owl. The end.
This movie means a lot to me for a lot of reasons. I will try to tackle them chronologically. But not chronologically to the real world, chronologically in my head, so apologies in advance for any perceived bass-ackwardry.
Reason #1: In 1969, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1968. This may or may not have been the year I was born.
Reason #2: The very first movie I saw in a movie theater was H.R. Pufnstuf. I may or may not have been 2 years old. (On a note extremely off to the side, my mother was so excited that I behaved so well during this movie that she took me to see Patton the next week. And took me home less than an hour into it.) For those of you not in the know, the significance of Pufnstuf is that the boy in that movie, Jack Wild, played The Artful Dodger in Oliver!. In fact, he was offered the role in Pufnstuf because of his work in Oliver!. I must insist on putting a period after the exclamation point, lest you think I’m shouting these things at you.
Reason #3: When I was 7, I used to listen to the soundtrack over and over every day. I stole it from my mom, who bought it because she was playing the Widow Corny in a local production of it and liked the music. Of course, the Widow Corny barely figures in the movie, but she has an actual song in the play. Which this is not. It’s the movie.
Reason #4: I have been acting since I was almost 3 years old, so as a kid, I dreamed of playing Nancy. When I got into my teens, I realized that the fun role was actually Fagin. So now I want to play Fagin some day. Ron Moody is the best Fagin there could ever be.
Reason #5: When I was little I had a huge crush on Jack Wild, and when I watch the movie, I have the mind of a 7 year old (the age when I first saw the movie). I still see Jack Wild as an older boy whom I want to date. Of course, in the movie he’s a kid, and in real life he’s dead. Which is immeasurably sad.
I think those are enough reasons as to why this movie means so much to me. The question is, why should it mean anything to you? Well, I guess it was inevitable that I would have to stop talking about myself. I’ll do another point by point thing.
1) You can tolerate musicals enough to not let some songs get in the way of being able to recognize great acting and a great story, as well as awesome directing, and amazing sets all built just for the film.
2) You are a huge Oliver Reed fan.
3) You don’t mind takin’ it like it turns out.
4) You are interested in the MPAA rating system which also began in 1968, making Oliver! the first rated film to win Best Picture (and also the last ‘G’ rated film to win).
5) You like watching people pick-pocket and steal to live.
6) You want more reasons?? Never before has (anyone) wanted more!
7) You want to watch Mark Lester, who could neither sing nor cry, sing and cry- through the miracle of modern technology (dubbing and onions).
8) You like top hats and fingerless gloves.
9) You’d do anything (anything?) anything for me.
10) Nine reasons were enough, I just like to write the number 10. 10.
You must Watch Oliver!! (Only the second exclamation point was mine) I really, truly, honestly believe that everyone either likes this movie or hasn’t seen it yet. So long, fare thee well, pip pip, cheerio. Be back soon.
I may have mentioned before that I don’t like a lot of movies from the 1950’s (I will not go into specifics so much now) and I prefer comedies because I have enough drama in my real life. I don’t much care for war movies or westerns either. Now, Marty isn’t a war movie or a western, but Ernest Borgnine did a lot of war movies and westerns, so I wasn’t a fan. I say all of this because these are the reasons it took me so long to get around to seeing the film, and I only saw it because I had heard for years that I should. And it’s a good thing I did.
Marty isn’t the kind of movie that could have been made any earlier than it was. Technically, it was made earlier than it was- as a TV movie, 2 years before. It was the success of the small-screen story that prompted a big-screen redo. The thing about movies up to this point is they were always extreme. Extremely glamorous, or extremely seedy, or extremely tragic, etc. Movie makers had a habit of making films that took people out of reality (which is absolutely fine- see first paragraph) and presented them with something to either fantasize about or fear. This is why so many movies of the 30’s are about rich people (fantasize) or organized crime (fear). The people of the 30’s needed to be transported from their day to day lives, which, I am told, were depressing.
On into the 1940’s the movie makers determined that we needed more sophisticated fantasy and fear, and a huge rally of support for the men at war. So audiences were given more stories about glamorous,upper-middle class (rather than flat-out rich) people who had jobs, though were rarely shown working. The organized crime stories mostly turned into mysteries. The kind of stories that the movie industry would have you believe could happen to you. Or someone you knew. With so many people involved in the war, either directly or indirectly, Hollywood took it upon itself to be cheerleaders. It would appear, in fact, that movies were becoming more down to earth, but still hovering ever so slightly above ground. The 50’s continued the trend of becoming more reflective of real life, but still, just not quite there. Not realistic.
Except for Marty.
Marty is the name of the character played by Ernest Borgnine, a 34 year old butcher who is ugly, stocky, socially awkward, and lonely. His social awkwardness is due mostly to his concerns about his appearance. He’s a very nice guy, but he just can’t talk to women outside the butcher shop, where he has confidence in his work. At the point we meet him, he lives with his mother (Esther Minciotti) and has essentially accepted that he will never find love or get married. He is constantly asked, “Why aren’t you married?” “Why don’t you get married?”, as though not getting married was a choice that he made and if he changed his mind, he could just drop by the spouse store on the way home from work one day. His mother pressures him to go to a dance hall one night and there he meets a plain woman (Betsy Blair) whose blind date walks out on her. Positive things happen, but not without the nuisance of negative things, and then it’s over.
When I first saw the film, I identified so strongly with Marty because I have always been unusual looking, and will never not be. I am not the one walking down the street that people stop and admire. They might stop and stare, but it is very unlikely that they will admire. The guys I liked never liked me. I did manage to get married, but he abused me, and after way too long, I left. I’ve had a few other relationships, but mostly with chemically addicted guys who consumed me, or tried to, so, given the kind of guys I am able to attain, I’ve given up. I’ll stick with my dead celebrities, thank you very much.
I had felt for years that pretty people need to see Marty so they can understand what life is like for the rest of us. The rest of us being those who don’t come from money, aren’t blessed with connections, don’t have perfect hair, aren’t pretty, aren’t refined with the social graces that make one acceptable to take home to mom, but are fine to take home to bed. Us.
It has been shown time and time again that the pretty people have the advantages. They get the better jobs and make more money. They are more likely to get help when they need it. They are more quickly forgiven when they do something wrong.
As I prepared to write this recommendation, I remembered that pretty people have feelings too, and even though they don’t resemble Marty (the character) outwardly, they have insecurities which resemble him on the inside. Everyone has some aspect of Marty within them that makes them feel small in the right situations. I don’t mean to sound condescending. I don’t know what it’s like to be anybody but myself, and I’m not one of them. My point is that 100% of the population is not 100% confident 100% of the time, but everyone has a place where they shine, and sometimes it takes a long time to find that place. Or that person that finds them shiny.
And that’s what Marty is about. And that’s why you should see it.
History Is Made at Night (1937) Charles Boyer, Jean Arthur, Leo Carillo. Dir: Frank Borzage
For two reasons, I would present this film with an alternate title. First- there was no actual history made in this film, though they did mention the Hindenburg making a transatlantic flight and the film was released two months before the zeppelin’s disastrous demise, but it doesn’t count as making history. Second- and this is the really big one- the alternate title that I would give it is In Defense of Monsieur Boyer, and the reason that I would give it that title is that nowadays, if anyone watches a Boyer movie, they’re probably watching Gaslight, in which he is completely evil. They cannot imagine Boyer any other way, but I submit that this is because he was fabulous.
Boyer was a philosophy student before he took up acting in 1920. He started off doing silents (because that was how they made movies back then) and, I promise this is true (it’s not at all true)- the reason they invented sound in movies was so that we could hear Boyer speak. He was always placed in roles where he played serious and/or romantic types, but what he really wanted to do was take off his toupee and play character roles. He didn’t go out and party like other Hollywood stars, in fact, he liked to stay at home and read. Monsieur married Pat Paterson in 1934 and stayed married to her until she died in 1978. When I read the following about him, I got sad: Two days after his wife’s death, he took his own life because he could not bear being without her.
I paused in case you needed to take a moment.
Okay, on to other things.
The non-history-making, vague plot summary thingy goes like this: A woman (Jean Arthur) is married to an abusive jealous maniac who accuses her of infidelity. When she leaves him, he devises a plot to do evil to her which is foiled by a dark handsome stranger with a French accent (Monsieur Boyer). The French accent part is hardly surprising since they were in France. Things happen, credits roll.
I love Jean Arthur always, and I have spoken of her before, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on her here, except to say that she turns in her typical (awesome) Jean Arthur type of performance.
The film is described as a romantic drama with elements of comedy, but I lightly disagree. I feel like it’s more of a romantic comedy with strong elements of drama. Not several elements of drama, just the ones that are there are heavy. I’m in love with Paul (that’s Boyer’s character). I’m just going to leave that there. I enjoy the playfulness of Boyer’s and Arthur’s relationship above anything else in this movie. It’s great fun.
Make a point to find out that there is more to Monsieur Boyer than unmitigated, sinister, disturbingly deep-rooted cruelty and evil by watching In Defense of Monsieur Boyer. Or that other title.
Just Imagine (1930) El Brendel, John Garrick, Maureen O’Sullivan, Frank Albertson. Dir: David Butler.
A pre-code sci-fi musical romantic comedy? Shut up and take my money! Actually, don’t. It’s on youtube. The best way to watch this is free.
I’m going to dissect this film until you either stop reading in disgust (if that hasn’t happened already) or get to the end and want to see it. Hopefully the latter. I will begin with the people involved. It’s a crazy list. Really.
I’ll start with the top-billed El Brendel. I honestly don’t understand some of the humor that I see in early talkies. How this man had a successful Vaudeville career is beyond me. His fake Swedish schtick just does not work for me, but, fortunately, they give him some lines that are actually funny. Mostly he’s not horrible, but he’s definitely not great.
Maureen O’Sullivan. This is the woman who would go on to become Jane in the Tarzan movies. And mother to Mia Farrow in real life. She’s pretty awful in this movie. And that’s all I have to say about her.
John Garrick. Who? Exactly. He sang real perty though. Mr. Garrick did movies from 1929-1940 and then just stopped. For this I am extremely grateful.
Marjorie White. Here is a treasure. She was spunky and adorable and made everyone around her look positively statuesque. This is because she gave up growing when she hit 4’10” and 3/4. She was a former Vaudeville star who toured with Thelma White; together they were billed as The White Sisters. They weren’t related and White wasn’t her real last name. She played Larry Fine’s wife in the Three Stooges film The Woman Haters. Sadly, she died from internal injuries as a result of a car accident in 1935. I feel pretty certain that if she had been around longer, she would be more well-known.
Frank Albertson. You know, the guy who played Freddie in Bachelor Mother and Sam Wainwright (hee-haw hee-haw) in It’s a Wonderful Life. He’s adorable. Always. I really feel like he should have had a better career than he did. He could sing, dance and act, and he was good looking too. He usually played small parts in big pictures and big parts in small pictures.
Moving on to the creative team now.
David Butler, the director. He was a big deal as it turns out. He directed several Shirley Temple films and then moved on to Bob Hope films. Then he went to work on Leave It to Beaver. There is no way you haven’t seen something he directed. It’s just not possible.
For story, dialogue, and songs, we have none other than Buddy G. DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson. DeSylva is responsible for such songs as “Button Up Your Overcoat” and “Look for the Silver Lining”. If those aren’t familiar to you (you should get familiar with them!) then you will at least recognize “California, Here I Come” from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Lew Brown gave us “Baby, Take a Bow”, “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries”, and the “Beer Barrel Polka”. Now, Mr. Henderson was no slouch either. He wrote “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”, “You’re the Cream in My Coffee”, and “Oh You Nasty Man”. Some of the songs I’ve mentioned in this paragraph are written by two or all of the men I’ve mentioned in this paragraph. The point here is that these men were great songwriters. Songwriters. Not so great screenwriters.
Now I’m going to talk about the film itself. And please don’t freak out because, unlike most of my recommendations, I am going to get a little spoilery here. I can’t help it. You have to know. I’m going to tell you the plot now. You have been warned.
The movie takes place 50 years in the future (which is 34 years in our past now) in the year 1980. A man and woman are in love and want to get married but the government said she had to marry another guy and so there’s a 4 month wait to get to the appeal on that decision. This gives him time to become someone of consequence so that the judge will rule in his favor. What better way to gain favor than to be the first man to fly to Mars? He was carefully selected (I will not divulge the criteria) by the world’s foremost inventor to do it. So, of course, why not, just take his roommate along? No big. Now, somewhere in the middle of all of this, a very annoying and stupid man was brought back from the dead after having been struck by lightning 50 years earlier. The movie’s writers get to show the audience what’s different in 1980, without turning to the camera and speaking directly to them, by taking this annoying and stupid man around and playing Show and Tell. Now, this annoying and stupid man, the roommate, and the protagonist astronaut all go on the flight to Mars, whereupon a young woman in a Dolly Parton wig greets them and entices them to follow her to a big place where there are a lot of beautiful and nice Martian people. The queen of the Martians ooga-boogas enough to explain that they are the good guys and that there are bad guys that look exactly like them. Then the bad guys come and kidnap them, and then the good guys help them escape and the protagonist comes back just in time to get to his appeal hearing. I won’t tell you the rest. I think I’ve done enough.
So what’s different from 1930, when the picture was made to 1980 when it takes place? Everyone flies airplanes instead of driving cars, buildings are 250 stories high, people get their babies out of vending machines, they have pills for food and drink, they have video phones, they raise people from the dead, the government has to approve marriages, people no longer have names- they go by letters and numbers, spaceships look like penises with fins. What’s the same but shouldn’t be? Pretty much everything else. The clothes have the same shape but are somehow styled differently, the style of music is the same, the hairstyles, and analog clocks. Also, letter writing. With pens and paper. No personal communication devices. For a minute I thought I was going to see a hologram, but no, it was just a beam of light. The sets are unbelievably art-deco.
The songs and choreography for the most part aren’t awesome (even though thy should be). There’s one song that Marjorie White and Frank Albertson sing that is quite odd, but manages to be cute, which is called “Never Swat a Fly”. The rest of the music is completely forgettable. El Brendel does a bit from his Vaudeville act at one point which immediately causes one to long for his absence.
If you’re still with me, I will now drive home the idea that you should see this film. Apart from its Academy Award nominated art design, it’s really bad. It’s awful. It’s laughable. The only thing that isn’t funny about this movie is most of the comedy. This is one of those movies that is so bad it’s good.
And that’s why you should see it. But catch it on youtube. Seriously.
The Princess and the Pirate (1944) Bob Hope, Virginia Mayo, Walter Brennan. Dir: David Butler
I am trying to approach this from an unbiased standpoint. You see, I love Bob Hope, he was one of my earliest boyfriends, but I recognize that there are those who do not. The fact that he had his own writing team go over most of the scripts for his movies and write Bob Hope style one-liners and wisecracks doesn’t sit well with those who don’t like his one-liners and wisecracks. I have to say, however, if there is a solid plot present, the one-liners and wisecracks work just fine. The Princess and the Pirate is one of those movies.
It’s my third favorite Hope film. Of course you are asking in your mind, “Well, Jennifer, what are the first two?” I will tell you, but I don’t want to throw focus, so once I do, you must forget. Mmkay? #1 is The Ghostbreakers (which was good enough to be somewhat adequately remade by Martin and Lewis as Scared Stiff) and #2 is Casanova’s Big Night. Now we can move on.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of Technicolor. “But Jennifer, WHY?” Good grief, you’re inquisitive today. Because- and let me preface this with the fact that red is my favorite color- because of the color red. It looks weird in Technicolor, and as time went on, it was abused. The movies got redder and redder and I can hardly watch movies from the 1950’s that are in Technicolor. This, I recognize, is a personal affliction of mine, but if you happen to share this affliction, you will be pleased to know that the visual aftertaste (I just made that phrase up) is not red. It is blue and yellow, but mostly blue. And that’s a good thing because blue in Technicolor is pretty nice.
Okay, ambiguous plot synopsis: you have a princess and you have a pirate and you have a cowardly actor. Guess which one of these is Bob. Guess which one is Mayo. There’s a map and some treasure. There’s a story line about a Princess/peasant romance and running away and stuff. I’m sorry if that wasn’t vague enough, but I’m not at all sorry if it was too vague. You need to believe me when I say you should watch it.
The following is very important to note: My teenaged daughter, who does not like classic movies, saw it a couple of years ago and told me that it didn’t suck. Now, if you convert that review into regular people language and then convert that into a numerically quantifiable expression, it goes something like this: Doesn’t suck = 4.5 stars out of 5. The only rating higher than this on the teenage scale is “it was okay.”
Normally I would tell you all kinds of facts about the film, but honestly, I really couldn’t come by many. I couldn’t find any quotes from the stars regarding the film either. I will have to resort to trivia about the individual stars. I can say that Virginia Mayo, who was lovely and talented and could sing and dance in real life, had her singing dubbed in this and all of her other singing roles. And I can say that Bob Hope turned down two movie roles that ultimately went to Cary Grant (Arsenic and Old Lace, Operation Petticoat). And not much else that the average normal person would find interesting. I mean everyone knows Bob waited until he had outlived George Burns before he died. Okay, no, they don’t know that, but I believe that with all my heart. I think he was like, “George died when he was 100 years and 49 days old, so I’m going to hold off on that until I’m at lease 100 years and 50 days, maybe even 59.” That’s how old he was, you see, and that is the contest that I made up. Let’s completely ignore Arthur Marx’s (son of Groucho) assertion that Hope lied about his age and was, in fact, a year older than he said. And with regard to Walter Brennan, I have yet to meet the person who doesn’t love him.
Look, I know I’m a little scattered in this recommendation, but clearly you must have gotten the notion that you should watch the film, if by no other fact than that I have written about it in my recommendations blog, so really, just watch it.
Gregory’s Girl (1980 according to film titles, 1981 according to everyone else) Gordon John Sinclair (John Gordon Sinclair), Dee Hepburn, Clare Grogan. Dir: Bill Forsyth
Of all the movies I have seen in my life, this sometime-called “coming of age” comedy out of Scotland has had possibly the most profound impact on me. Flashback to the summer of 1982- the summer between 8th grade and high school. HBO got their hands on a copy of Gregory’s Girl and aired it constantly. After the first time I watched it, I checked the schedule and watched it every time it was on thereafter, if I was able. So what if I also recorded it and could watch it whenever I wanted? I did that too but, for some reason, watching something when it is presented to me is more special.
Oh yeah, I started off talking about Gregory’s Girl’s impact on me. Indeed, it was profound. The film is about an awkward teenage boy on his school’s football team (soccer, if you must) and his crush on, and subsequent pursuit of, a girl who tries out for that same football team (not going to Americanize that twice).
There are so many deep meanings and rich undertones in this film, which are, no doubt, why the profound impact that it had on me was so unbelievably life-changing and shallow. Did I say “shallow”? Whoops. What I meant to say was “shallow”.
From a teenage girl’s standpoint, the slight controversy of having a girl on an all-boy team was great. But that’s not what got to me. The relationship between Gregory and his little sister was wonderful. No, that’s not it either. The “well-known (scientific) fact(s)” presented in the film were very educational. Still not what made this movie’s mark on my psyche though.
So, what was it about the film that made such a notable, yet superficial, change in my life, for Pete’s sake? And to what effect? The Scottish accent. And charmingly awkward boys.
Mind you, I had heard Scottish accents before, but only as mimic or caricature, never just “this is how we talk here, no big.” I love no accent better. I never will. The Scottish accent automatically makes a man at least 17% more attractive to me.
And charmingly awkward boys? Prior to seeing Gregory’s Girl, the boys I always liked had been the obviously cute, possibly popular types. Gordon John Sinclair (later John Gordon Sinclair due to there already being a Gordon John Sinclair in Equity) as Gregory was a skinny, gangly even, charmingly awkward and awkwardly charming young man who could easily be classified as a dork. He was beautiful. He opened my eyes to the notion that boys could be uncool and still be attractive. Going into high school, this widened the field of guys I could date to a sizable portion. Or, as it turned out, it widened the field of guys on my radar who would never ask me out to a sizable portion. But that’s neither here nor there. I will always tell myself that was a “Why didn’t you say something?” thing.
I have just one question: Why wasn’t Sinclair sky-rocketed to epic worldwide fame because of this movie? I don’t know. He should have been.
Normally I fill my recommendations with interesting trivia like “this movie was made on a shoestring budget and many of the actors had to wear their own clothes in it”, or “Dee Hepburn (no relation to any more famous Hepburns) was discovered by the film’s director in a tv commercial”, or “Clare Grogan was the lead singer of Altered Images (‘Happy Birthday’, ‘I Could Be Happy’) and the film boosted her band’s career a great deal”, but I’m not going to do that this time out. I’ve chosen to stick to the trivia that it inspired in me instead.
For those who are not accustomed to a Scottish accent, you may want to turn your captions on. They speak very clearly, but Scottish(ly), so that might be an issue for some. Here’s another bit of trivia that I’m not going to include in my recommendation: this film was released to theaters in America, but they dubbed it. DUBBED IT. They felt that Americans either wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t like the Scottish accent. Cretins.
Absolutely DO watch this movie. It is one of the best films that ever came out of the UK.
Twentieth Century (1934) John Barrymore, Carole Lombard, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns. Dir: Howard Hawks.
Look at that movie poster. No really, look up at it right now. Does that look like an over-the-top screwball comedy to you? Does the name “Barrymore” mean that the poster necessarily must have his left profile prominently displayed in a dramatic manner? It must. Because it does. However, once you pull the wrapper off the movie (that was a metaphor, folks, I am suggesting that the movie poster is like a wrapper, you see), you basically get a Snickers bar (metaphor again, nobody’s handing out Snickers). It’s sweet and nutty with some nougat. Actually, I have no idea how to draw a parallel to the film with nougat. So just nod and pretend to agree with me and we will move on.
From all accounts, this film could have been something very different than what it turned out to be. It was based on a successful play that was based on a play that was never produced. The studio tried to get other people to write the screenplay but settled on Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht. Two other directors were considered before Howard Hawks. William Frawley was going to be in it but they went with Roscoe Karns instead. Several other women were approached for Carole Lombard’s role. The film almost had its title changed because Columbia was concerned that people wouldn’t know that the Twentieth Century was a train that ran between Los Angeles and Chicago. And the Hays Office tried to get them to take a bunch of religious jokes out. I have no idea who was first in mind for Barrymore’s role but there must have been someone since he didn’t even consider doing it until Howard Hawks asked him to read.
Allow me to toss in an ambiguous plot description. John Barrymore is a Broadway bigwig who takes an unknown lingerie model (Carole Lombard) and makes her a star. They are both well-practiced in displaying histrionics when it suits them (and when it doesn’t) and, surprisingly (sarcasm), their personalities clash. Then other things happen.
Both Barrymore and Lombard can hold their own against each other. They argue and fight on an even ground, though each thinks he/she has the upper hand. It’s pretty hilarious to watch Barrymore and know that his character is a fairly accurate representation of himself blown up to gigantic proportions. Barrymore knew he was kind of a jerk and nobody caricatured Barrymore as well as Barrymore. And Lombard’s performance is what made her a famous comedienne. She was not afraid to take risks and there were all kinds of risks in this movie. Walter Connolly is his usual Walter Connolly self, but Roscoe Karns really stands out as the drinker with all the wise-cracks.
I made mention a moment ago of religious jokes. I make mention of them again because it is unusual to have them in a film from this time. They are irreverent to say the least, and extremely funny. Had they not been funny, there would have been no reason to leave them in when the Hays Office came around.
It is said that this movie is what set the mold for screwball comedies. Maybe, but it’s so farcical, I never really considered it to be one- screwballs are typically more rooted in realistic behaviors and situations than this film. I don’t mind the classification though, and I won’t argue with the experts (expert= someone who is paid to do what I’m doing right now). The most important thing is that it’s funny. It really really is.
Go West (1925) Buster Keaton, Howard Truesdale, Kathleen Myers. Dir: Buster Keaton
Once again, I find myself having to contain my excitement. I get to talk about Buster again and he’s one of my favorite topics, so I don’t want to come on so strong as to scare anyone away. But, come on!! It’s BUSTER!!!!
All right. Here’s the deal. Buster plays a gentleman who is referred to as “Friendless”. He is down on his luck, sells everything he owns, and rides a train to the middle of nowhere, ultimately ending up on a cattle ranch. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Here are some things of which I have made note in my tiny little head while watching the movie in the past:
Buster Keaton was hot.
He rides on an AT & SF train. That stands for Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe. I cannot see those letters without the song going through my head. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a video for the song. Well, it’s not really a video, it’s a photograph with music playing.
He is very good at knowing where his hat is.
Somebody give him a sandwich.
Sometimes silent film music sucks (may not apply to this version).
Razors are humane.
A little gun is better than no gun at all.
Devil costumes are red.
Buster’s priorities are very much in order.
Now, if you haven’t seen the movie, these don’t mean anything to you. If you have, they might not mean anything, but at least you know what I’m talking about.
This movie contains my absolute all-time favorite reaction face from Buster. It happens when he says something in an effort to impress the rancher’s daughter, she says something back and his face is priceless. If it could be captured in a still image, I would have said image hanging up in every room of my house. It’s that funny.
Facts about this movie that you can read absolutely everywhere:
This was filmed in Arizona and the temperature was often as high as 120 degrees. Since the film could melt, they had to keep the cameras in ice.
This movie was made after Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s fall from public grace and work was hard to for him to find. Buster helped him out whenever he could and actually put Roscoe in this movie to do stunts for one of the bit actresses.
Buster Keaton was hot.
So, okay, maybe that last one isn’t really listed as a fact specifically about this movie. It’s just a general fact.
I am extremely adamant about you watching this movie. Yes, it’s a silent movie. So? You don’t really need people to explain to you what’s going on so much anyway. You’re smarter than that. In fact, I’m gonna say that people who don’t appreciate a good silent movie must be intellectually subpar. This way you will be shamed into watching it, you know like The Emperor’s New Clothes where they said that if you couldn’t see his clothes you were stupid? Yeah, like that.