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Here’s a secret: I watch new movies. I even like some new movies. But truthfully it’s becoming more and more difficult to care about any new releases.

With all the recent Top 10 lists of the films of 2009 and indeed the decade, it was interesting to see how dull a lot of the choices were. Of course there were some great movies over the past 10 years, but I was surprised how many of the choices were movies I didn’t like. There also seemed to be a desperation to pin down the ‘important’ films of the last ten years, but I can’t help feeling that it’s all been done before.

I can’t help thinking that you’d have a far better time watching an old film.

So as an antidote to those lists, here’s my Top 10 of 1939, 70 years prior. It’s almost too easy a selection in this case, as many have commented on how this was perhaps the ‘golden’ year of classical Hollywood.

Could any movie from 2009 beat any of these?

Destry Rides Again

My favourite performer, Jimmy Stewart, in his first western. Dietrich characteristically appears out of place, but wait in particular for the moving ending.

Gone with the Wind

The best kind of epic: spectacular and passionate, yet with a tight focus on its central character. It features both one of the greatest performances and one of the greatest characters of the era, Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara, a character surely based on Becky Sharp.

Only Angels Have Wings

I find this movie pretty serious, but it’s atmospheric and exciting, and Cary Grant makes a great adventure hero.

La Règle du Jeu

A funny, delicate and complex ensemble drama directed by and featuring Jean Renoir. Worth seeing a few times.

The Roaring Twenties

The definitive film about prohibition and the rise of the gangster with Cagney continuing to mark his territory as the performer who revolutionised film acting in the sound era.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

The movie that defined James Stewart’s star persona as the naive outsider who brings about law, order and decency. It’s funny and light-hearted in places, but also as political as you want it to be.

Stagecoach

The film that galvanised the western genre and created John Wayne’s mighty star image.

The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums

This famous Japanese drama directed by Kenji Mizoguchi is vivid, delicate and moving, with long takes that give it a naturalistic and gentle pace.  See this one on the big screen if possible as it’s not currently available on disc.

The Wizard of Oz

The film that sums up the Hollywood film experience with its escapist theme and Technicolor technology. See the new Blu Ray transfer if you can, it’s so detailed that it’s practically a new film.

My favourite of these? The Wizard of Oz. The movie I’d watch right now? The Roaring Twenties.

Surely I haven’t missed any?

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Here is an excellent Radio 4 programme all about silent filmmaker Percy Smith who specialised in detailed studies of the natural world. Named after one of his most famous films, The Balancing Bluebottle (1908, also known as The Acrobatic Fly, above), this programme features two of the greatest silent film experts: Bryony Dixon and Luke McKernan.

Take a listen on BBC iPlayer.

As Luke McKernan has pointed out on The Bioscope, Percy’s famous The Birth of a Flower (1910), in living colour, is available to view online here.

George Kennedy alongside James Stewart in Shenandoah (1965)

George Kennedy alongside James Stewart in Shenandoah (1965)

On Tuesday night (22nd April 2009) I had the great opportunity to attend a live interview with George Kennedy at the BFI Southbank. The conversation was preceded by a screening of Cool Hand Luke in which Kennedy played Dragline, the self-appointed leader of the prison gang who transforms into Luke’s most ardent disciple. His performance of rough masculinity contrasts well with Newman’s cooly confident title character.

I knew Kennedy primarily from his films with James Stewart such as Shenandoah, The Flight of the Pheonix and Fools’ Parade, but of course he has starred in a range of films such as The Sons of Katie Elder with Dean Martin and John Wayne, The Dirty Dozen, Demented with Joan Crawford and the Aiport and Naked Gun series.

When Kennedy took the stage he was gracious and talked engagingly about getting drunk with John Wayne, befriending Bette Davis and even hanging out with Leslie Nielson and O.J. Simpson in their Naked Gun days. I was also interested to find out that he had served in the airforce and went on to act as a technical advisor on Sergeant Bilko where he witnessed the artistry of the vaudevillians at work.

Of particular interest to me was his recollections of knowing James Stewart. To Kennedy, who never knew his father, Stewart became a kind of father figure. Without ever having a male role model in his life, Kennedy believed that Stewart embodied everything a man should be. Interestingly this rings true with our perceptions of Stewart through the virtuous characters he played on-screen. Kennedy had seen Stewart’s films in the 1930s, naming Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, and felt extremely lucky to have worked with and known him. Indeed Kennedy talked of him with reverence and came to hold him in the highest regard of any male in his life. He did not mention the connection between his own wartime service in the airforce (he actually participated in the Battle of the Bulge) and James Stewart’s famously distinguished wartime service.

The evening was a rare opportunity, as would be the next night. It was revealed that Kennedy had flown to London with his old friend and co-star, Ernest Borgnine.

BBC Radio 5 Live

I will be one half of a debate on The Richard Bacon Show on BBC Radio 5 Live on Thursday 15th January at 12 midnight (Thursday night).

As the classic film expert I will be talking about how they don’t make ’em like they used to.

You can listen live on the BBC Radio 5 Live website.

Or listen again for up to a week after broadcast at Radio 5 or on the BBC iPlayer.

Sullivan's Travels (1941)  

The Ultimate Film Archive is a hand-picked chronology of films from each decade (starting with the 1940s), all of which I highly recommend you seeking out. Not an exhaustive list but it’s a start as further films are added.

How many of these have you seen? Either leave a comment or email me at classicfilmshow@gmail.com.

Have I missed any out? Any further suggestions would be greatly appreciated. 

It starts…

1940s

1940 The Grapes Of Wrath (USA, John Ford)
1940 Fantasia (USA, Walt Disney Productions)
1940 The Great Dictator (USA, Charlie Chaplin) … See all here

The Criterion Collection have just announced that they have opened up their collection online. For $5 you can rent a film for an entire week, the fee of which will actually go towards the purchase of the actual disc when you want to buy it.

For now there is a small selection including Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987), Cléo From 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962), Juliet of the Spirits (Fellini, 1965), Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983), The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973) and The Thief of Baghdad (Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan, 1940). Every week more titles will be published.

Perhaps even more exciting is that they have partnered with The Auteurs where you can stream movies for free. Right now. These include a selection of modern quality world cinema, including one of my very favourites, After Life (Japan, 1998, dir: Hirokazu Kore-Eda). Other titles currently available include Le Vent de La Nuit starring Catherine Deneuve, Midnight directed by Walter Salles and another Kore-Eda film, Maborosi.

There are huge possibilities here for serious filmgoers and for films that are costly to publish to DVD and to export. 

Now to see if I can rent Criterion from outside the U.S…

After Life:

afterlife

It has just been announced that Paul Newman has died yesterday (Friday 26th September 2008) after a battle with cancer. Until recently spokespeople for Newman had denied the rumour of cancer but it looks like the star had been suffering.

Truly one of the greats, I hope to commemorate his passing here on the Classic Film Show by looking back at some of his great performances.

I have just had word of an upcoming box set from Fox. It contains 12 discs and features two F.W. Murnau films (including City Girl) and ten by Frank Borzage, four of which are silents. This seems to be in the spirit of the monumental Ford at Fox box from last year. The box contains:

Silents
 
Sunrise (Murnau, 1927) 
City Girl (Murnau, 1930) 

Lazybones (Borzage, 1925)
Seventh Heaven (Borzage, 1928)
Street Angel (Borzage, 1928) 
Lucky Star (Borzage, 1929) 

Talkies:

They Had to See Paris (Borzage, 1929) 
Liliom (Borzage, 1930)
Song O’ My Heart (Borzage, 1930)
Bad Girl (Borzage, 1931) 
After Tomorrow (Borzage, 1932) 
Young America (Borzage, 1932)


Warner Bros. continue their exceptional series of gangster box sets with the Warner Bros. Gangsters Collection vol. 4. This release contains 4 Edward G. Robinson titles: The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, The Little Giant, Larceny, Inc., Kid Galahad, as well as the George Raft vehicle Invisible Stripes. Bogart, as always, features as a welcomed supporting player.

The box features the high standard of extra features we have come to expect: commentaries, documentaries, newsreels and cartoons, as well as an all-new feature-length documentary, Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film.

This really is film history in a box!

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938)
Dr. Clitterhouse (Edward G. Robinson) is fascinated by the study of the physical and mental states of lawbreakers, so he joins a gang of jewel thieves for a closer look in this often amusing crime drama. Claire Trevor co-stars as a savvy crime queen, and Humphrey Bogart plays Rocks Valentine, whom Dr. C. calls “a magnificent specimen of pure viciousness.” The movie also marks the start of one of film’s most noteworthy collaborations. John Huston, who was to later direct Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen, co-wrote the screenplay of The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse.

Special Features:
Commentary by Dr. Drew Casper and Richard Jewell
Racket Busters theatrical trailer
Vintage newsreel
WB short: Night Intruder
WB cartoons:
Cinderella Meets a Fella
Count Me Out
1941 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Broadcast (audio only)
1944 Gulf Screen Guild Theater Broadcast (audio only)
Theatrical trailer

The Little Giant (1933)
The era of the bootlegger is past but liquor runner Bugs Ahearn (Edward G. Robinson) has a plan for what he’ll do now that Prohibition is history. He decides to head for California’s posh, polo-playing Santa Barbara to become part of the high society. What he finds there — swindlers, gold diggers, great fun – makes first class entertainment in this pre-Code gem. Edward G. Robinson shows his comedic chops for the first time, paving the way for such subsequent films as A Slight Case of Murder, Brother Orchid, Larceny, Inc. and more persona-skewering frolics.

Special Features:
Commentary by Daniel Bubbeo and John McCarty
Vintage newsreel
WB short: Just Around the Corner
WB cartoon: The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon
Theatrical trailer

Larceny, Inc. (1942)
Edward G. Robinson once more turns his gangster image on its head in a gleeful romp based on the Broadway farce penned by Laura Perelman and S.J. Perelman. Robinson plays Pressure Maxwell, who emerges from Sing Sing planning to run a dog track with cronies Jug (Broderick Crawford) and Weepy (Edward Brophy). But the plan needs funding, so the group (assisted by Jane Wyman) opens a luggage shop as a front while attempting to tunnel into the bank next door. Now add the store’s unexpected success, a gabby traveling valise salesman (Jack Carson) and the arrival of a sour con (Anthony Quinn) who wants in on the action, and the laughs are thick as thieves.

Special Features:
Commentary by Haden Guest and Dana Polan
Vintage newsreel
The Big Shot theatrical trailer
WB short: Winning Your Wings
WB cartoons:
Porky’s Pastry Pirates
The Wabbit Who Came to Supper
Theatrical trailer

Invisible Stripes (1939)
Parolee Chuck Martin is going straight when he gets out of jail – straight back to a life of crime. In lockup or out in the civilian world, he knows he’ll forever wear a con’s ‘Invisible Stripes.’ As Martin, Humphrey Bogart continues to battle and sneer his way to career stardom in this volatile social-conscience crime saga adapted from a book by warden Lewis E. Lawes. Top-billed George Raft plays Martin’s ex-Sing Sing yard mate Cliff Taylor, who vows to walk away from crime and be a role model for his kid brother (William Holden). But what awaits Taylor are suspicion, public disdain and joblessness. So he turns to a fellow con for help. Then, as now, he finds crime doesn’t pay.

Special Features:
Commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini
You Can’t Get Away with Murder Theatrical trailer
Vintage newsreel
WB short The Monroe Doctrine and Quiet, Please
WB cartoons:
Bars and Stripes Forever
Hare-um Scare-um
Theatrical trailer
Kid Galahad (1937)
This influential ring saga dramatically links professional boxing to criminal gambling. Edward G. Robinson is racketeer/fight promoter Nick Donati and tightly coiled Humphrey Bogart is Turkey Morgan. They’re rival promoters who, like fighters flinging kidney punches, end up swapping close-range bullets. Bette Davis plays the moll who has a soft spot for the bellhop (Wayne Morris) that Nick is grooming for the heavyweight title. And prolific Michael Curtiz directs this first of his six collaborations with Bogart that would include the romantic masterwork Casablanca and the sly comedy We’re No Angels.

Special Features:
Commentary by Art Simon and Robert Sklar
It’s Love I’m After theatrical trailer
Vintage newsreel
WB Shorts: Alibi Mark and Postal Union
WB Cartoons:
Egghead Rides Again
I Wanna Be a Sailor
Porky’s Super Service
Theatrical trailer

Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film — Warner Home Video Documentary
As popular as these films were in their heyday, seminal giants like Little Caesar and Public Enemy as well as post-war gems like Key Largo and White Heat still hold power over their audiences today. Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film will explore the invention and development of the crime genre; the rise of Warner stars like Cagney, Bogart and Robinson; as well as directors like Walsh, Wellman and Curtiz. It will cover the films themselves and the influence they had on filmmakers all over the world; and the artistic merit that these defining classic films still warrant. Finally, the documentary will celebrate the impact that Warner Bros. Studios had in establishing the iconic Hollywood Gangster, often imitated but never equaled.

Special Features:
Four WB Cartoons: I Like Mountain Music, She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter, Racketeer Rabbit and Bugs and Thugs

Following on from last week’s frame which came from Bambi here is one that is perhaps a little harder.

What is the name of the film? Leave a comment and let me know… Good luck!

Contact Me

Christian Hayes
classicfilmshow@gmail.com
christianhayes.net
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