Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My Picks for the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival

Sadly, I will not be attending the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival this year. That having been said, like many who are not attending I like to think about the films I go see there.  Indeed, this year they are once more showing some of my favourite films of all time. Since I cannot attend the festival, then, I am posting my list of must-see movies for those of you who are. I have to tell my fellow bloggers that if I do not see long, detailed blog posts about each of these films I will be sorely disappointed!

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.

The Apartment (1960): If you know me, then you also know how much I love this film. Quite simply, The Apartment is my third favourite film of all time (after Seven Samurai and Casablanca). Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's screenplay is funny, witty, touching, and romantic by turns, and at times all at the same time. It also boasts some of the most quotable lines of any film ever made. The film benefits from a great cast, including Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Jack Kruschen, Ray Walston, David White, and Edie Adams. It is a true classic, movie-wise.

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 Loved One (1965): If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know The Loved One is one of my all time favourite films. The film takes its bare bones plot from Evelyn Waugh's classic novel The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy, and from there goes in wholly unexpected directions. Quite simply along with Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, The Loved One was one of a new breed of irreverent comedies that lampooned topics that were previously taboo for film comedies. Indeed, not only does The Loved One send up the funeral industry and Hollywood much as the original novel did, but everything from American mores to the space programme. Jessica Mitford titled her essay on the making of the film,  "Something to Offend Everyone", and that essentially became the tag line of the movie. The Loved One benefits from an incredibly funny script by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood, as well as a great cast. Even though Robert Morse's English accent is only a little better than Dick Van Dyke's in Mary Poppins, he still gives a great performance as the film's protagonist, while Anjanette Comer is perfect as Aimee Thanatogenous. Both Jonathan Winters and Rod Steiger very nearly steal the show. If you love the irreverent comedies of the Sixties, then this is a must see.

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.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969): When it comes to the James Bond films, I have always thought On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the most underrated. It was the only movie in which George Lanzenby played James Bond, and he does well in his only outing as the character. The film also boasts my favourite "Bond girl" of all time (if that term is even really applicable to her), Dame Diana Rigg as Countess Tracy di Vicenzo. As to the plot, it is appropriately Bondian in scope, with Bond's archenemy Blofeld played by Telly Savalas literally threatening the whole world. Perhaps the best thing about On Her Majesty's Secret Service is that it is one of the few films in which Bond is actually allowed to be human. In this film Bond actually has feelings and is all too vulnerable, quite a contrast the British superman portrayed in most 007 movies.

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.

Roman Holiday (1953): This is the film that made Audrey Hepburn a star, and there should be little wonder it did. Not only was it her first major role in a Hollywood film, but she gave a bravura performance as Princess Ann. Indeed, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the role. Today it is hard to believe that anyone else could have even been considered for the role (director William Wyler considered Elizabeth Taylor and Jean Simmons, but both were unavailable). Roman Holiday not only benefited from Audrey Hepburn's performance, but also from a solid screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, Ian McLellan Hunter, and John Dighton, based on a story by Dalton Trumbo.  The rest of its cast, from Gregory Peck to Eddie Albert,  also do fine jobs.

1 comment:

KC said...

I'm planning to see several of these and will write about them at A Classic Movie Blog! Maybe you can attend the festival some year as a member of the media. It sure saves a lot of cash to do it that way. Thanks for sharing your picks--very interesting.