Wednesday, 4 March 2015
My Picks for the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival
Here, in alphabetical order, are my picks for the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.
42nd Street (1933): In my humble opinion 42nd Street is both the greatest backstage musical of all time and one the best Pre-Code movies. It is also the second best film of 1933, second only to King Kong. 42nd Street literally invented nearly every backstage musical cliche. And while many viewers who have never seen the film will nonetheless find much that is familiar about it, 42nd Street still remains fresh and exciting largely due to fast paced, witty dialogue (much of it containing double entendres); incredible Busby Berkeley dance numbers; and some truly great songs. It also benefits from a great cast, including Ruby Keeler, Warner Baxter, Dick Powell, and Ginger Rogers.
Gunga Din (1939): There is this myth that big budget, action blockbusters were invented in the Seventies. Gunga Din is proof that this is not the case. Indeed, short of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), it might well be the most famous adventure film of the Thirties. There much to recommend about Gunga Din, including a great cast (including Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Sam Jaffe), a sterling screenplay, and plenty of action. It also has some of the most quotable lines of any film in movie history.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939): It is no secret that 1939 was a very good year for film. Indeed, there are those of us who think that it is the best year for films ever. It should then be no surprise that there are two films from that year on this list. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) is the best adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel of the same name, even if it does take considerable liberties with the source material. Regardless, Charles Laughton plays the quintessential Quasimodo in what might be the greatest performance of his legendary career. The film also features some incredible performances from Maureen O'Hara, Cedric Hardwicke, Thomas Mitchell, and Edmund O'Brien. Beyond the great performances and a great screenplay, The Hunchback of Notre Dame boasts some of the best production design of a film from the Thirties. RKO recreated medieval Paris on their Encino Ranch. It was one of the most expensive and most extravagant sets built at the time.
The Man Who Would Be King (1975): Even though it was made in the Seventies, The Man Who Would Be King seems much more like an old fashioned, adventure film from the Thirties. Much of this might be due to the fact that the film was based on Rudyard Kipling's short story of the same name, as well as the fact that it was directed by one of the Golden Age of Hollywood's greats, John Huston. Indeed, Mr. Huston had wanted to make a film based on the short story as far back at the Fifties (at which point Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart would have played the leads), but was never able to get the project off the ground. There is much to recommend about The Man Who Would Be King, not the least is its subtle balance of action, comedy, and drama.
Pinocchio (1940): This could well be my favourite Disney animated feature of all time. It certainly contains some of the best animation of any Disney film or any animated film, period. It also has one of the best screenplays of any Disney film, with a story that goes well beyond the simple morality play about the importance of hard work and telling the truth. The film has a great voice cast, with Dick Jones as the title character and Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket. It also benefits from one of the best soundtracks of any animated film, including the songs "When You Wish Upon a Star" (which won the Oscar for Best Music, Original Song) and "I've Got No Strings".
Rififi (1955): Although often counted as a caper film, Rififi is no light hearted romp. Instead this tale of thieves plotting a heist is a prime example of film noir. The movie is both dark and violent, and represents a world where literally no one can be trusted. At the same time, however, there is a humanity about Rififi that is lacking in many crime films and even other films noirs. The movie benefits greatly from Jules Dassin's direction, as well as a brilliant screenplay.