Emer Schlosser: Why You Gotta Hate on Old?

People who make wide sweeping statements is a pet peeve of mine. One in particular is blankly by state they “don’t do old movies” or “don’t do black and white”. What does that even mean? Deciding one doesn’t like something based on nothing more than colour (or lack there of, in this case) is just plain ignorant. And shining preconceived notions on cinema based on the year it was made is simply ageist. Sadly, I find I come across many who won’t watch anything made before they were born. When John Hughes is the earliest director one can name I feel pangs in my heart. This is not to say I have anything against John Hughes (au contraire, huge fan!), nor do I turn my nose up at modern movies, I love them. It’s just that I love them and then some. For some reasons films from the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s hold a very special screening room in my heart.

I feel that back then a greater portion of the stars were true triple threats: they could sing, they could dance, and they could act. I think it’s the first two that are becoming rare these days. There are no Gene Kellys or Fred Astaires. Watching these dance legends is mesmerizing. If you don’t want to take my word for it, catch Christopher Walken praising Kelly’s prowess. There’s something about breaking out into song and dance that makes me smile. (In fact, I sometimes wish my life was a musical. How fun would it be if we all broke into synchronized song and dance routines. I don’t think I’m the only one who wants more musical in their life, look at the rising popularity of flash mobs – love them, want more of them.) Perhaps that’s why I love Bollywood films where you can jump from an argument in an apartment to a lavish colourful song and dance number in the middle of a field. There are little snippets of the old essence here and there. Family Guy is scattered with random musical numbers (Seth McFarlane clearly shares a fondness for the genre), and recently-ish the film (500) Days of Summer, had pedestrians break into a dance sequence complete with cartoon birds to “You Make My Dreams Come True” Most recently, The Artist did an exceptional job of capturing the spirit of golden age cinema. It was the genre without playing at being the genre. Sitting in the theatre watching it gave me goosebumps and a massive happy smile spread from cheek to cheek. It was sweet, it was rich, it was funny, it was expressive, it was swonderful, smarvelous!

So, it should therefore come as no surprise that TCM (which stands for Turner Classic Movies for those who are unacquainted) is one of my favourite channels. Over the years I’ve come to regard Robert Osbourne as an old friend who enters my home via the telly and tells me tidbits as he introduces beloved films I’ve watched over and over or new gems yet unseen.

One of my dreams is to be a guest programmer on TCM. I could sit on one of those comfy looking leather arm chairs across from Robert Osbourne and we would discuss my film selections and he’d enlighten me with little known facts and trivia about the shooting of the films, actors, directors writers etc.

If I had my wish, here’s what I would recommend on Emer’s Essentials:

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

This may seem like an “obvious” choice. But there’s a reason it’s “obvious” it’s amazing! Similarly to The Artist, it is about the move from silent to talking pictures. This movie has it all: a love story, comedy, musical numbers, and fantastic dance numbers (including one with the radiant Cyd Charisse). Gene Kelly is such a creative and powerful dancer, Donald O’Conner’s comedic timing is spot on, and together they are a dynamic duo. But it was Jean Hagen who I truly loved. I used to run around imitating her and her distinct voice repeating over and over “I keeeeen’t steeeend ‘im”. If you haven’t seen it yet, please please please remedy that.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

It is just so hard to pick so few films, that this one was perfect because it has three actors I adore: Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart. I confess I preferred Cary Grant’s quick quips he exchanged with Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday and Katherine Hepburn banters better with Spencer Tracy, but that’s here, and it shouldn’t be there. This is a comedy where, with a reporter (Stewart) in tow, an ex-husband (Grant) (in)conveniently arrives at the abode of his ex-wife (Hepburn) just before she’s to get rehitched. Comedic misunderstandings ensue. While this one is musical-less, I still prefer it greatly over the 1956 musical remake High Society starring Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly. (Side note: if you watch this and enjoy it see Hepburn and Grant movie from 2 years earlier, Bringing Up Baby, hilarious!)

The Thin Man (1934)

I think this film has one of the best onscreen couples ever. The dynamic and banter between Nick and Nora is incredible. William Powell plays Nick, a detective who retired after marrying a wealthy woman played by Myrna Loy. While the solving of murders is intriguing, it really is the chemistry between the leads that lures me in again and again. (The third member of their family is a little dog Asta, whom I’d venture to wager the dog from The Artist is based on).

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Speaking of murder mysteries, The Maltese Falcon is one of the quintessential examples, in my opinion. Humphrey Boart stars as the gumshoe Sam Spade as he tries to locate a missing statue. Apart from Bogey being Bogey, consummate character actor Peter Lorre’s is amazing as always.

Now, Voyager (1942)

This is an excellent example of an incredibly talented and pretty actress not being afraid to look ugly. At the beginning of this film Bette Davis plays a dowdy spinster who looks years older than she should, until she takes a vacation and morphs into a socially adjusted beautiful woman.

The Court Jester (1956)

Danny Kaye plays a carnival performer masquerading as a court jester as part of a ploy to usurp an evil ruler who overthrew the rightful king. It’s a Robin Hood Men In Tights Type of outlaw comedy. One of the highlights is a great comedic tongue twisting moment you can catch here

Perils of Pauline (1947)

This is one of the lesser-known gems about a seamstress who works her way through the theatre ladder, into a man’s heart, and then onto the big screen as a fearless stuntwoman and star. I’m not quite sure why it is that I love this one, other than perhaps it’s fun and I’ve been watching it repeatedly for more than two decades.

Roman Holiday (1953)

The gorgeous Gregory Peck stars alongside beautiful Audrey Hepurn. Peck plays a reporter and Hepburn a Princess who wants to shirk royal duties and live a little. A beautiful timeless classic with two im-Peck-able stars.

Mrs Miniver (1942)

Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon star in this film set in England during WWI. It depicts a middle-class family who band together to get through the terrible time, and it is the strength of the title character (Garson) who is the strong glue that keeps them together and sees them through. The story is so good Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellows seemed to “borrow” a story-line involving the grandmother and a flower competition almost directly from the film.

Stormy Weather (1943)

This one I liked for the musical numbers. The story was meh, but the music is so lively and fun that it doesn’t matter. Cab Calloway is incredible enigmatic and Lena Horne is stunning (but looks- and voice-wise).

So that’s my painfully picked 10 film lineup (you have no idea how long it took to narrow it down to such a short list, and as I’m about to hit save to go send I’m still hemming and hawing). If you haven’t seen any, do yourself a favour and indulge in one, or two….or all. Musicals can be uplifting, carefree escapes. And don’t be afraid of black and white. Many of the top directors of our time have ventured into the colourless realm: Tim Burton (Ed Wood), Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes), George A Romero (Night of the Living Dead), George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck), Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull), and Steve Spielberg (Schindler’s List).

Side bar: You May Not Have Seen It, But You’ve Probably Heard It

Many quotes that live in our lexicon came from films made in the golden age:

  • “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Frankenstein. 1931
  • “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Gone with the Wind. 1939
  • “After all, tomorrow is another day.” Gone with the Wind. 1939
  • “I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The Wizard of Oz. 1939
  • “The stuff that dreams are made of.” The Maltese Falcon. 1941
  • “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Casablanca. 1942
  • “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Casablanca. 1942
  • “Of all the gin joints in the all towns in all the world, she walked into mine.” Casablanca. 1942
  • “Don’t ask for the moon. We have the stars.” Now, Voyager. 1942
  • “Badges? We ain’t got no badges! We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!” The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. 1948
  • “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” All About Eve. 1950
  • “Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Sunset Boulevard. 1950
  • “Stella!” A Streetcar Named Desire. 1951
  • Well, nobody’s perfect.” Some Like It Hot. 1959

Emer will guest here at DBAWIS as often as she likes.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

Emer Schlosser is a Torontonian, cinephile, writer, and lover of food. She currently  freelances her writing and editing abilities and is adding a foray into film. Emer’s blog can be found at http://emerschlosser.wordpress.com/

3 Responses to “Emer Schlosser: Why You Gotta Hate on Old?”

  1. Michael Tomasek Says:

    I believe the black and white cinematography in Night Of The Living Dead was more to do with budget than style. The shooting budget was $114,000. The blood was Bosco Chocolate Syrup drizzled over cast members’ bodies. Could not do that with color. There is a great piece on Wikipedia about it and George A Romero too.
    That small quibble aside.I enjoyed reading your post.

  2. To think there was a time you didn’t have to go to TCM to see those movies. Perhaps it is time to storm Hollywood’s Bastille to bring the classics to the masses. And, yeah, Nick and Nora were great, but Asta was the real star. Kids, you don’t know what you missed.

  3. […] on Bob Segarini’s Don’t Believe a Word I Say blog today with an opportunity to rave about my favourite cinematic era and rant about people who […]

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