Next Monday, May 16, is National Classic Movie Day and I’d like you to heed this call to action. When the day arrives I want you to get up out your chairs, go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell, “I LOVE CLASSIC MOVIES!”
Rick of the fabulous Classic Film and TV Cafe came up with another terrific way to celebrate classic movies on their special day. Although many of us celebrate classics in one way or another on a daily basis, it was Rick’s idea to have a day dedicated to them. He kicked off the official, yearly celebration last year with the My Favorite Movie Blogathon in hopes of spreading the word about classics to a wider audience, people who would otherwise not take the time watch them. This year he’s back with the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon asking that participating bloggers make an extraordinarily difficult choice for the cause.
The premise of the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon is simple – participating bloggers should choose 5 films to write about, the five films we’d want to have with us if stranded on a deserted island, which luckily would have electricity, a projector, big screen and popcorn at the ready. If you’ve visited this blog in the past you know I can barely name ten of my favorite movies so coming up with just five to consider watching for the rest of my life is no easy task. It took me about 15 minutes to write this post, but I’ve thought about the possible choices since the day the blogathon was announced. As silly as it sounds I’m heartsick about what I’m leaving out, but rules are rules and I’m determined to follow them – for once.
My method and criteria
I learned a lot about myself and the id of my movie tastes during this exercise. Forced to approach this in the grimmest of ways, meaning I had to consider never being rescued from the deserted island in order to make these decisions I made them based on the most basic need – survival. If that sounds outrageous to anyone because – after all – I’m just talking about movies then think for a moment what life would be like if you were suddenly deprived of beauty or colors or sounds or memories. The kinds of beauty, colors, sounds and memories that one attributes to one’s own composition. For all of the wonder that the sound of crashing waves brings me I’ve no doubt I’d lose my mind deferring to that alone as a distraction. So I took the task at hand particularly seriously, warring with myself as I stared into a vastness too great to describe imagining an aloneness that falls well outside my comfort zone. The outcome surprised me and when all is said and done comfort is found in what made me me. The original Aurora, the one born when I discovered movies. That’s what’s reflected in my choices. And although I’ve grown since then I find I must return to the basics when considering a life-long exile.
So, where my basics lie there also you’ll find my criteria. I began the journey considering genres because a simple consideration of movie favorites wouldn’t seem likely to quell the need for a “fix” when I would need one. My movie watching habits rely heavily on my moods so making genres starting points made sense. The first absolute must to be considered was the musical. The MGM musical to be exact. So that was taken care of fairly easily. All I had to do was choose one among my favorites. The Western came to mind next, which on its own was quite the surprise as I never consider Westerns key in my movie-loving life, but you can thank John Ford for that because he alone is responsible for this genre becoming so special to me in recent years. But then, my absolute favorite Ford movie is not a Western, How Green Was My Valley and as much as I love it I don’t think I’d be compelled to watch it while alone on a deserted island given its theme, which is the same reason I stayed away from including other movies that affect me emotionally.
Putting John Ford aside I then considered Horror with emphasis on Universal’s classic slate of monsters that have meant a lot to me since I was a child. Again here, how do I choose just one? I was able to make a choice in this category fairly easily although again the choice comes with more than a little sense of loss. Because we can only bring 5 movies I gave up on genres and considered my favorite filmmakers who, aside from Ford, are numerous. Soon enough I settled on the two I could not live without – Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock. These are filmmakers whose films lend themselves to discussion and study and while I may be alone on the island I can talk to my shadow about the images and words that make my two film choices in this category so special.
Finally I confronted the Elvis factor – my first true love and I decided to leave him home, which should indicate how difficult this exercise has been for me. I figure that since I know most Elvis movies by heart I can close my eyes and relive them any time I want. He’ll feed my soul regardless. So Elvis-less I begin…
My 5 Movies on an Island…
The Lady Eve (1941)
Although I list this one first it was the last chosen because the final contenders for this spot made this a torturous choice to make. These were W. S. Van Dyke’s The Thin Man (1934), Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937) and George Sidney’s Viva Las Vegas (1964) when I was still considering including Elvis. In the end, however, I went with substance and one of the smartest, most sophisticated romantic comedies ever made – one of those perfect combinations of story and performances that meld seamlessly…and magically.
Aside from its brilliant cast and outstanding script, Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve offers two stories in one centering on a beautiful con artist, Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) who along with her father, “Colonel” Harrington (Charles Coburn) makes a living at swindling the rich. The swindled in this case is Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) who falls prey as easily as a newborn baby. In support are four of the best character actors to ever grace the silver screen – Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest and Eric Blore who have as much to do with why this is my island choice as do the main players and story. During a particular breakfast scene Pallette makes me laugh so hard I cry – and sometimes nearly something else. I’m sure laughter would be prized on the deserted island.
The bottom line with The Lady Eve is that it has so much to offer, including one of the funniest/sexiest scenes in all of romantic comedy…
…that I can’t even imagine ever getting tired of watching it. Further, I think it offers much to be discovered at every viewing so I’ll have lots to marvel at – over and over and over again.
That’s Entertainment (1974)
The one, stipulated requisite for the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon is that the choices must be classic movies. While I myself have a general “classics” cut-off of about 1968, I think That’s Entertainment is a clear exception because it highlights golden age MGM musical stars at their apex via archival clips. Perhaps more importantly it satisfies my musicals genre requisite nicely. Since I know most of the musicals and stars featured in the documentary I can easily imagine the stories they’re associated with allowing for countless hours of reliving each while on the island. After time I might actually start to think I AM Judy Garland! C’mon, get happy!
That’s Entertainment, written and directed by Jack Haley, Jr. guarantees I will have as company more stars than there are in the heavens. I’m giddy – where’s the island?
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
This is the snobbish choice on this list and the darkest movie mentioned by far. But IT IS BIG! My standard answer to the dreaded “what’s your all-time favorite movie?” question is with little variation, “If my life depended on it I’d name Sunset Blvd. the greatest movie ever made.” Now that I’m being forced to watch 5 movies on an island in perpetuity it took me no time to decide to take Norma Desmond and her spiral toward insanity with me and the whys are numerous.
Sunset Blvd. is magnificent and endlessly fascinating to me. It is the quintessential film about Hollywood, portraying the worst of it. It’s not a pretty story. In essence its theme is about selling out or the corruption inherent in Hollywood, about exploitation. You have a has-been megastar of the silent era in Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), who is “still waving proudly at a parade which had long since passed her by.” Swanson’s Desmond is a pathetic recluse surrounded by images of herself in her former glory who still believes her adoring public is waiting for her return. Her home is a gothic mansion, an extension of her, it too had seen better days. She lives there with her devoted butler and ex-husband, Max who also used to be her director. A strikingly odd figure from the moment we see her on-screen, Norma Desmond is herself quite magnificent. The outfits (by Edith Head), the make-up, the face, the eyes. She is one of cinema’s most memorable characters brilliantly portrayed by Swanson. Add to all of that a fantastic script, memorable performances by William Holden, Erich von Stroheim and Nancy Olson, the waxworks, a cameo by the paramount gate and a conclusion that stands as the pièce de résistance of great Billy Wilder endings.
“WE HAD FACES!” would evoke all of the greats of the golden age. This has to go with me.
North by Northwest (1959)
Rear Window (1954) is by my estimation Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest work, but if you think I’d be stranded on an island without Cary Grant you need to get your head examined. And it’s not like I’m sacrificing anything. North by Northwest is pure, exciting, sexy fun, which has all of the Hitchcock elements present in his other movies. North by Northwest is Hitchcock’s ode to Hitchcock.
Mistaken identity. Check. Cross-country chase. Check. Sexual chemistry. Check. Tight quarters. Check. Signature shots. Check. Debonaire leading man. Check. Beautiful, intelligent blonde. Check. Memorable villain. Check. Spectacular sets. Check. Silent sequences. Check. Suspense. Check. And the best MacGuffin since Notorious (1946). Check.
What more is there to say?
Next to The Lady Eve this was the most difficult choice. This is where I seriously considered including a Ford movie leaning toward My Darling Clementine for its patient majesty. Again, since Westerns are a relatively new-to-me wonder I quickly replaced Clementine with Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past to represent the dark and moody world of film noir in exemplary fashion. Noir and I have a much more storied past than I have with Westerns. But then I just couldn’t discount Universal horror, which played a major role in making me a classics fan in the first place and which I still enjoy immensely as my movie comfort food, if you will.
The classic Universals that were in contention for this post are the originals and my favorites, Whale’s Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein, Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931), George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941) plus Rowland V. Lee’s Son of Frankenstein (1939), which nearly ran away with it. But I settled for the best monster outing that also includes Abbott and Costello who were also constants in my house. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is simply an embarrassment of classic riches. The final choice is made. Here’s why…
Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein stays true to the comedy of the starring duo, which I love, and to the legendary monsters it features, which I love. And yes – this is all about me. As you know both Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. reprise their roles, Dracula and Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man respectively and do so in memorable fashion. Of course I’ve sacrificed Boris Karloff and his Monster depiction with this choice, but this is Glenn Strange’s best outing as The Monster – at least. There is no replacing Karloff and he is a big loss, but I had little choice if I wanted the other elements together.
Meet Frankenstein also offers plenty of opportunities for the wonderful, classic repartee that made Abbott and Costello such a hit during the golden ages of three mediums of mass communications. In addition the movie has some great chase scenes that start in the requisite, Frankenstein laboratory where an exchange of brains is to take place. But having all the monsters around who not only want to get at Wilbur but also hate each other – the Wolf Man and Dracula in particular – lends itself to grand mayhem and several frights as well whereby Wilbur and Chick (Abbott) run into a classic monster in every room of the castle all of which ends in a fantastic final battle.
As an added attraction I can pretend to counsel the long-suffering Larry Talbot for eternity.
There you have ’em. It pains me to think I would never see the majesty of Ford again – or the charm of Lemmon – or the style of Powell and Loy – or the comedic pathos of Chaplin – or the truth of Tracy – or the power of Davis – or the perfection that is George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun. It physically hurts to even think about it. My only solace is thinking that the person who is stranded on the same island with me – and there’s no mention in the rules this couldn’t happen – brings 5 other movies I love. That’s TEN MOVIES forever and ever!
Now – I’d love to know what your 5 Films on an Island would be so if you didn’t participate in this blogathon let me know in the comments. Also, be sure to recommend a classic movie to someone on May 16th and take the time to watch one with your loved ones. Let’s get #NationalClassicMovieDay trending. If you’ve the means donating to The Film Foundation is a great way to celebrate the movies. Finally, be sure to visit the Blogathon schedule at the Classic Film and TV Cafe on May 16 to see what five films other bloggers would want to be stranded with. Some of my favorite bloggers submitted entries so I can’t wait to check this out!!