Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Five Classic Movies I Hate

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So too are ideas of what constitutes a good movie. It is not unusual for critics to rave about some film that many people absolutely detest, just as it is not usual for a movie which the critics universally panned to number among someone's favourites. This holds true for movies considered classics just as it does any other film. As hard as it may be to believe, there probably are people who do not like Casablanca or Bringing Up Baby. In this respect, I am no different than anyone else. Even though I can honestly say I like most classic films, there are those that I absolutely cannot stand. Here then are five classic movies I hate.

1. The Sound of Music (1965): When it comes to the general public, this could well be one of the best loved films of the Sixties. It is one of the few films from its era still shown on American network television. What is more, when it is shown on network television it always gets good ratings. At Rotten Tomatoes it enjoys an unusually high 82% among critics and 86% among users. It also happens to be one of the most commercially successful movies of all time. That having been said, I cannot stand The Sound of Music.

Oh, I will give it credit for having a great score. I love the songs from The Sound of Music. And it does have great cinematography, with striking images of the Tyrolean Alps. Unfortunately, any enjoyment I could possibly receive from the film ends there. Although allegedly based on Maria von Trapp's memoir, the screenplay for The Sound of Music might as well have been written by a computer programmed with every manipulative trick in the book to get audiences to love a film. There's the joyful nanny whom all the children love and with whom the father falls in loves. There's youthful romance. And there are villainous Nazis threatening our protagonists. All the film has enough sentimentality to keep the International House of Pancakes in syrup for years.

Now I could even forgive The Sound of Music these flaws if not for one thing. It is dreadfully boring and uninvolving, Indeed, it is one of the few films during which I have difficulty staying awake. The plain truth is that I honestly think it could be marketed as a cure for insomnia. At any rate, it amazes me that a film that is so dull could still be one of the best loved films of all time, particularly in this era when attention spans are about as short as the average television advert. I rather suspect that as time goes, The Sound of Music will decline in popularity until it is no longer considered a classic.

2. Dracula (1931): Dracula is a truly important film. A hit upon its initial release, it started the horror cycle of the early Thirties which produced such classics as Frankenstein (1931) and King Kong (1933). It also introduced movie goers to Bela Lugosi. While I know all too well the movie's place in film history, I have never liked Dracula. The film starts out well enough, with some great sequences in the Carpathian Mountains. Unfortunately, once the action shifts to England Dracula loses the momentum it had at the beginning of the film. Even for an early talkie, Dracula is, well, very talky. In fact, it feels much more like a stage play that has been filmed rather than a major motion picture. What makes matters worse is Bela Lugosi's performance. While Mr. Lugosi would give many fine performances throughout his career, this is not one of them. In much of the film Mr. Lugosi acts in such broad strokes that it is hard to take him seriously as the ancient vampire. Indeed, in the scene in which Dracula tries to hypnotise Van Helsing, Bela Lugosi is so hammy it is laughable. Dracula is truly a historic movie and must be given credit for that. Unfortunately, it is also very stagy at times and also very dull.

3. Detour (1945): I was hesitant to include this film in this list not because I have any love whatsoever for it, but because I think it is less a "classic" than it is a cult film whose reputation has been overblown given its utter lack of quality. Quite frankly, by the generally accepted standards of good story telling, Detour is a very bad film. The movie is driven primarily by coincidences so outrageous as to be impossibly absurd, not to mention an run of bad luck on the part of the protagonist as to be unbelievable. I might be able to overlook the wholly unconvincing story of Detour if not for the film's many other flaws. Indeed, there is not one good performance in the film, with every single player hamming it up. This is made even worse by the protagonist's narration, which is so wretchedly bad as to be laughable. These faults are only complicated by the exceeding low budget of Detour. The sets look fake to the point of being obvious, with some rather poor rear projection as a hopeless substitute for shooting on location. In a better film, the horrible sets and the poor special effects could be forgiveable. With Detour, they only make me hate it even more. Edgar G. UImer directed one truly great film (The Black Cat) and a very few good movies, but Detour is definitely not one of them. Indeed, I would not be surprised if it is his worst.

4. Gentleman's Agreement (1947): Gentleman's Agreement was a very important film in its time. Indeed, it tackled a controversial subject, the anti-Semitism that was all too prevalent in American society in the Forties. There can be no doubt that it was a subject that had to addressed in film at some point. Unfortunately, while Gentleman's Agreement was an important film, in my opinion it is not a very good one. The problem for me with Gentlemen's Agreement is much of the same problem I have with The Sound of Music. The story is contrived to the point of being manipulative, with situations created solely to teach the characters (and the audience as well) a lesson. And as might be expected, by the end everyone has had a change of heart and all is right with the world. In the end Gentleman's Agreement is overly preachy, beating the viewer over the head with a lesson that should be obvious--anti-Semitism is wrong.

Worse yet, every one of the of the characters in the film are one dimensional, little more than cardboard cutouts with which the movie can make its point. This is complicated by the performances in the movie. Gregory Peck, generally quite good, is a bit too earnest and serious in this film. Dorothy McGuire's character seems both shallow and naive, although this is perhaps more the fault of the script than Miss McGuire. Even the great John Garfield virtually telephones his performance in, seemingly uninvolved by the storyline. Of the actors, only Celeste Holm gives a truly good performance as the flashy, witty, fashion columnist. I do not find it hard to believe that Gentleman's Agreement won the Oscar for Best Picture. It was a very important film and I have no doubt it made an impression on Academy members in tacking a subject that had not been handled very often, but really should have been. What I find hard to believe is that Gentleman's Agreement was made by screenwriter Moss Hart and director Elia Kazan, both of whom had seen better days and would see better days still.

5. Little Women (1949): I must be frank in saying that I love the 1933 version of Little Women starring Katharine Hepburn and Spring Byington. One would think I would love the 1949 version as well. Sadly, I do not. The 1949 is somewhat effective in the first half of the film, capturing the joie de vivre of the girls, the cosiness of a Christmas spent at home, and the warmth of a close knit neighbourhood. Unfortunately, Little Women (1949) falls apart midway through the movie, slipping into the sort of weepy melodrama that the 1933 version never did, even in its darkest hours. Indeed, the pathos in the latter half of Little Women (1949) is so poorly handled that it seems artificial, simply a means to manipulate the audience to tears.

It does not help that, in my opinion, Little Women (1949) is terribly miscast. Although likeable in the first half of the movie, June Allyson has none of the steel which Katherine Hepburn possessed in the 1933 version, nor for that matter Jo in the novel. Elizabeth Taylor hardly seems convincing as the temperamental Amy, while Margaret O'Brien overacts as Beth. Worst of all is the casting of screen siren  Mary Astor as the girl's mother Marmee. Mary Astor was unhappy in this role and it shows on screen. How MGM could have cast one of the screen's femmes fatale in the role of a sweet natured mother, I will never know. At any rate, while I realised that I may be unfairly comparing Little Women (1949) to Little Women (1933), I find it very difficult to enjoy this movie.

I am certain that among these films I have listed movies that number among others' favourites. And I do hope I did not offend anyone with my reasons for disliking these films. As I have said earlier, what constitutes a good movie is largely in the eye of the beholder. One person's cinematic treasure is another person's cinematic junk. I am sure all of us have classic films that seem to be universally loved which we personally hate.


Millie said...

Thank you.


That is a main criteria before watching a film: does it having singing children and/or singing nuns in it?! ;-D

Great post.

I agree greatly.

(Although, I've never seen Detour, so I can't comment on that.)

And I do love Gentleman's Agreement, but that's jut because I seriously adore Gregory Peck.

However, you have permission to blame all and every fault on Dorothy McGuire. SO BLOODY ANNOYING. ;-D

Same goes for June Allyson.

Ahh, I just love this post!

Andrew Wickliffe said...

I'm with you on Dracula for sure....

And probably Detour. The last time I tried watching Detour I shut it off.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I rather hated Bringing Up Baby! I'm not a big Kate Hepburn fan, and I found myself yawning a lot.

I confess, The Sound of Music is the only classic film I actually own. I haven't watched it in ages, but I've never found it very saccharine. And really, Eleanor Parker is quite amazing. I'll even get hopelessly girly here and mention her fantastic wardrobe. Pardon me, I can't help it. She was mahvelous.

I'm afraid I only liked Gentleman's Agreement for the sake of Gregory Peck. And Celeste Holm too. Still, I hated the ending. He was an IDIOT to go with that awful Dorothy McGuire. Please, just be sensible and marry Celeste!

I don't particularly like either of the Little Women films, but Katharine Hepburn did nail the part of Jo. Apart from her excellent performance, the two films were about on an equal plane for me. I begged my mother to turn them both off at various points.

Like, Millie, I'm rather in love with this post on the whole! It's terribly refreshing.

Laura said...

I read your post with interest. THE SOUND OF MUSIC is one of my favorite films, which has had a major impact on my life since I was a small child when it came out, and I like the '49 LITTLE WOMEN (as compared to loving the Hepburn version)...but it's really interesting to read a completely different perspective and your reasons for feeling as you do. Life would be boring if we all felt the same way about everything! :)

Best wishes,

Raquelle said...

I've only seen Sound of Music and Little Women from your list and both I dislike. I never got the appeal of Sound of Music. I don't hate it, but just don't get it. It's not for me to appreciate so I'll allow others to do that in my abscence. And Little Women is terribly miscast and kind of garish in color. Even the 1994 version, which I love, is a little more toned down in color. I think that one is the best version. I actually didn't care much for the Katharine Hepburn movie. And I have a very VERY special relationship with Louisa May Alcott's book so a good adaptation of Little Women is very important to me.

Great post! I've been meaning to do a similar one but I don't think these kinds of posts serve a good purpose other than being interesting in terms of getting to know the blogger. I'm not criticizing you or saying you shouldn't have posted it. But with so much negativity out there against classic films, I believe in fostering a positive environment whenever possible.

Mercurie said...

Thank you for the comments, everyone!

Millie, I have to admit, singing children do tend to grate on my nerves too...

Millie and Emm, I think Dorothy McGuire explains a lot of my dislike of Genetlemen's Agreement, She is just so annoying in that film!

Raquelle, I can understand your concern about negativity against classic films, but then it is very rare in this blog I have ever reviewed a film I did not like. I tend to think this post balances things out in a way, as well as putting things in perspective. I think if classic films become so sacrosanct that we don't write anything negative about the ones we don't like, then we could lose sight of why many films are considered classics!

S. Michael Wilson said...

As the recent author of a book on Lugosi films, Performed by Lugosi (shameless plug), I have to agree with you completely. Browning's Dracula, as well as his overly hyped Freaks, have gained constant praise over the years despite the man's lack of artistry and style. Also, as you imply, Lugosi would go on to deliver far more impressive performances.