‘Tis the season to spread cheer and I come bearing gifts in the third installment of my #PayClassicsForward for Christmas entry. This is my way of spreading joy across the land this holiday season by recommending classic movies – paying them forward, if you will – in hopes that these memorable distractions take people’s minds off negative goings on. I started this tradition three years ago and had a blast putting together lists of classics that are not necessarily popular with general audiences. I’m hoping others join me in this endeavor by recommending favorites in order to #PayClassicsForward on blogs or on other social media platforms.
Let’s give the gift of movies.
Here’s the challenge…pick movie recommendations to the “12 Days of Christmas” theme as I’ve done below. Keep in mind that movie choices should be those you think would appeal to non classics fans in hopes of growing our community and spreading the word about movies you think people would enjoy watching. You can use the same categories I have or make up your own. I’ve varied my categories each year so far. If it helps know that I set a few rules for myself, but it’s up to you how strict you want to be. For instance, I didn’t repeat any titles. Whatever guidelines you set for yourself just be sure to have fun! Here we go…
On the first day of Christmas, etc., etc., etc…
One True Love
Myra Deauville and Roy Cronin in James Whale’s Waterloo Bridge (1931). This movie was remade twice with a memorable turn released in 1940 starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor and directed by Mervyn LeRoy, but I recommend Whale’s pre-code, which is criminally underseen and worth every one of its 81 minutes. Mae Clark and Douglass Montgomery play the lovers in this piece.
Two Film Debuts
It was not easy to settle on just two choices in this category, but I do enjoy the torture. Such memorables as Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront, Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins and yes, Edward Norton in Primal Fear are big-screen debuts beyond worthy of recognition. However, I went with two I felt are not likely to come to mind, but that also led to extraordinary careers.
- Katharine Hepburn in George Cukor’s memorable A Bill of Divorcement (1932). The New York Times reviewer described Hepburn’s performance here as “exceptionally fine” and I agree. Add to that a wonderful cast lead by John Barrymore and Billie Burke and this is a movie everyone should see.
- It’s difficult to believe that Greer Garson made her big screen debut in Sam Wood’s Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939) because before us is a powerful personage. The performance earned Garson an Academy Award nomination and beautifully enhances Robert Donat’s fine turn as the title character.
Hey, why not?! Here are two shorts and a feature you should definitely watch…
- The only Porky Pig cartoon to receive an Academy Award nomination as Best Short Subject is Swooner Crooner directed by Frank Tashlin, produced by Leon Schlesinger Productions and released by Warner Bros. Pictures in 1944. And for good reason as this cartoon is a delight. You can read more about it here, but for our purposes today you should know that the chickens deliver fantastic performances that include laying eggs on demand.
- I highly recommend Peter Lord and Nick Park’s stop-motion animated comedy, Chicken Run (2000) because it’s a delight. A special shout out goes to Ginger, a chicken who has had dreams of escaping the prison camp that encompasses the movie’s adventure. Ginger is voiced by Julia Sawalha.
- The 1943 Disney war propaganda cartoon, Chicken Little is my final recommendation for this category. There’s some interesting information on this production here to include WWII details from Leonard Maltin.
Four Badass Women
I was going pre-code all the way for this category, but couldn’t decide on just four standout female characters from that era. That in itself tells you what a unique period in movies that was. Do yourself a favor and watch boatloads of pre-codes. Danny at pre-code.com honors these movies and posts recommendations so you’d do well to visit. In the meantime, I decided to borrow four choices from a post I’d previously done honoring Strong Women in Film. Why reinvent the wheel, right? These ladies will keep you on your toes. The tough part was picking four eclectic choices that I think remain underseen by the general population. Here they are…
- Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
I know no one should aspire to be evil, but who could argue Mrs. Iselin doesn’t have strengths to admire? She orchestrates her husband’s political career and a son’s assassination attempt. Eleanor is a force to be reckoned with in worlds women usually play no role in – or certainly not in 1962. The Queen of Diamonds has spoken and you can’t help but listen.
Pam Grier came to symbolize sexy, cool strength in blaxploitation movies and in the process brought to life characters with long-lasting appeal well beyond the films’ budgets. I’ve had her movies on my mind of late and on my coffee table waiting for a rewatch. In both of these movies Grier is bold, powerful, smart, assertive, afraid of nothing and feminine. Killer combinations.
- Lena Younger in Daniel Petrie’s A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Not only does Mrs. Younger deal with difficult financial situations, she also deals with racism and two children who whine more than they understand or appreciate her struggles. She demands respect and runs a tight ship in a crowded two-bedroom apartment. For her faith and spine, which defy the odds here’s to Lena Younger.
- Rachel Cooper in The Night of the Hunter (1955)
“I’m a strong tree with branches for many birds. I’m good for something in this world and I know it too.” Thanks to Rachel children abide and they endure. She brings down Harry Powell, arguably the greatest villain the silver screen has ever seen. THAT. IS. ALL.
(I don’t check previous years’ lists, but it’s possible The Night of the Hunter has made it to each in some way.)
Five Golden Diggers
Chorus girls, fantastic music, enjoyable performances, entertaining production numbers, romantic antics and showbiz drama. How can you resist?
Roy Del Ruth’s Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929)
Mervyn LeRoy’s Gold Diggers of 1933
Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1935
Lloyd Bacon’s Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936)
Ray Enright’s Gold Diggers in Paris (1938)
Six Couples on the Lam
There are several terrific movies to choose from in a subgenre of crime pictures that is ever entertaining. Here are six that I think most people have not seen, but should.
- Gun-toting, bank-robbing, wildly in love duo, Laurie and Bart in Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1950) get the first nod. Peggy Cummings and John Dall play the unforgettable pair in this must-see film noir.
- Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda as Joan and Eddie in Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937). Memorable performances and Lang’s signature shots make this one a stand out.
- John Farrow’s Where Danger Lives (1950) starring Robert Mitchum who runs away with Faith Domergue. Plus you get Claude Rains and Maureen O’Sullivan in the noir proceedings here.
- Yet another noir that’s a must-see is Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (1948) starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell as the doomed couple. This is an influential thriller you’ll not soon forget.
- Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935) starring Robert Donal and Madeleine Carroll is a must-see for all whether they are Hitchcock fans or not. The couple takes a memorable journey familiar in later Hitchcock vehicles, but this is as entertaining as any he made during his Hollywood years.
- Leonard Castle’s The Honeymoon Killers (1970) starring Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco takes up the last spot in this category. If you follow this blog you’ll know it’s no surprise that I would go for a crime movie based on true events. Plus this is good.
There have been many moving motion pictures made throughout the decades that tug at the heart thanks to impoverished homeless vagabonds. This category is perhaps the most appropriate for this time of year because these characters often remind us of what’s truly important in life. One of those is Chaplin’s Little Tramp who could take up this section all on his own so I decided to exclude him and give a nod to other movies featuring hobos that are worth your time.
- The Great McGinty (1940) features a hungry hobo and an election. That’s right up my alley and I’m sure this Preston Sturges movie is right up yours as well. The cast includes Brian Donlevy, Muriel Angelus, and Akim Tamiroff.
- Heroes for Sale (1933) is not a “hobo movie” in the same vein as the others noted here, but it is such a worthy watch that I have to recommend it. Directed by William Wellman, Heroes for Sale stars Richard Barthelmess as a disenfranchised war hero. The movie tackles several serious topics of the day and the messages are loud and clear. Also in the cast are Aline MacMahon, Loretta Young, Gordon Westcott and Robert Barrat.
- This choice is the only recommendation in this entire entry that I have not seen myself. I’ve added it to my holiday break viewing schedule, however. It’s a short film directed by Arvid E. Gillstrom and it’s titled The Hobo (1917). Billy West and Oliver “Babe” Hardy star and the story includes the escapades of a tramp, a railroad car and a pretty girl. Sounds like fun to me.
- Here’s another entry from William A. Wellman, Beggars of Life (1928), which stars Wallace Beery, Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen and Blue Washington. I really like this movie and Louise Brooks is particularly good in it as a young woman who escapes with a vagabond after killing her step-father. Adding to the realism of the hobo motif here is the fact that actual hobos–homeless, unemployed men–were hired as extras.
- Lady for a Day (1933) is my choice for a lady hobo, if you can call Apple Annie that. Annie is a fruit peddlar playing a lady for a day thanks to the talents of May Robson who received an Oscar nod for her effort. As is the case with all Capra films, Lady For a Day tugs at the heart and delights at the same time. The rest of the cast is fantastic too: Warren William, Guy Kibbee, Glenda Farrell, Ned Sparks, Walter Connolly and Jean Parker. This movie was remade as Pocketful of Miracles (1961) with Bette Davis playing the Apple Annie role, but I prefer the 1933 movie. Maybe you will too.
- Norman Z. McLeod’s Merrily We Live (1938) has a story that sounds familiar – a woman with a proclivity toward hiring hobos as servants is taken by one who becomes the butler. The last entry on this list is the more popular one among classics fans, but this McLeod vehicle is definitely worth a look thanks to its cast: Constance Bennett, Brian Aherne, Alan Mowbray, Billie Burke and Patsy Kelly who make a truly delightful blend.
- I think everyone who’s ever seen Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey (1936) would agree that it should be on everyone’s holiday list of gifts for feel good reasons. Its stellar cast includes William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Eugene Pallette and Alan Mowbray. Like the previous entry this tells the story of a hobo who becomes a butler. And he will teach you lessons you won’t soon forget.
Eight Newspaper Movies
This is another instance where I begin by excluding movies I think movie fans worth their salt have seen. In my mind the staples in this category known by most include Citizen Kane, His Girl Friday, It Happened One Night, Sweet Smell of Success, Ace in the Hole, The Paper, Zodiak and All the President’s Men. Whether you’re a classics fan or just a movie fan those should be familiar and they are highly recommended. The following eight titles are my official recommendations today, however, because they are less known. These are entertaining stories involving newspapers and who doesn’t enjoy a good newspaper story?
- Phil Karlson’s Scandal Sheet (1952) starring Broderick Crawford and Donna Reed.
- Henry Hathaway’s Call Northside 777 (1948) starring James Stewart, Richard Conte and Lee J. Cobb.
- Lewis Milestone’s The Front Page (1931) starring Adolphe Menjou, Pat O’Brien, Mary Brian, Edward Everett Horton and more notable players.
- Mervyn LeRoy’s Five Star Final (1931) starring Edward G. Robinson, Marian Marsh, H. B. Warner and several other fantastic supporting players including Boris Karloff.
- Richard Brooks’ Deadline U.S.A. (1952) Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore, Kim Hunter and Ed Begley.
- Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps (1956) starring Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price and several other notable actors.
- The entire Torchy Blane movie collection. Nine Torchy Blane pictures were produced by Warner Bros. in the late 1930s intended as second features, but the series proved hugely popular. Audiences couldn’t get enough of the beautiful, wise cracking reporter and I’ve no doubt you won’t be able to resist her either. Torchy Blane was played by Glenda Farrell.
- Roy Del Ruth’s Blessed Event (1932) is my final choice. This stars Lee Tracy, Mary Brian and Dick Powell in his movie debut. Just as you’d expect Blessed Event is fast-talking entertainment, the kind in which Tracy shines. Blessed Event tells the story of a ruthless gossip columnist who gets mixed up with a gangster. But there’s much more than that. Watch this. You’ll like it.
Nine Ladies Dancing
Ten Smoking Jackets
Classic movies are the gifts that keep on giving. Not only do we have the movies themselves to entertain, but we have those movies as time capsules of eras gone by. I was watching one of those movies recently when I paid particularly close attention to the men’s fashion, which spotlighted the casual with elegance thanks to the smoking jacket. Here are a few examples to serve as yet another reason to visit movies from yesteryear.
We can all use an angel now and again. Here are eleven you should meet. I’m assuming you already know Clarence and Dudley.
- Conrad Veidt as The Stranger in Berthold Viertel’s The Passing of the Third Floor Back (1935)
- Edward Everett Horton as Messenger 7013 in Alexander Hall’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)
- Jeanette MacDonald as Brigitta in W. S. Van Dyke’s I Married An Angel (1942)
- Spencer Tracy as Joe in Victor Fleming’s A Guy Named Joe (1943)
- Jack Benny as Athanael in Raoul Walsh’s The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)
- The many angels in Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death aka Stairway to Heaven (1946)
- Edward Everett Horton as Messenger 7013 in Alexander Hall’s Down to Earth (1947)
- Robert Cummings as Michael in Albert S. Rogell’s Heaven Only Knows (1947)
- Clifton Webb and Edmund Gwenn as angels Charles and Arthur in George Seaton’s For Heaven’s Sake (1950)
- James Mason as the Guardian Angel in Alexander Hall’s Forever Darling (1956)
- Gordon MacRae as Billy Bigelow (a sort of angel) in Henry King’s Carousel (1956)
This is what these angels look like:
I decided to end this year’s entry with family, but gosh darn did I ever make it hard on myself. There are so many movie families I love and several that everybody is familiar with like the Corleones and the Baileys so I excluded those on purpose. The families I include on my recommendations list are on friendly terms with those of us who love classic movies, but that I think they are strangers to most other people. If I’m wrong no harm done. You just get a few beautiful pictures to look at.
- The Roses in Norman Taurog’s Room for One More (1952)
- The Riccis in Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief (1948)
- The Days in Michael Curtiz’s Life With Father (1947)
- The Beales in Hovde-Maysles-Maysles-Meyer’s Grey Gardens (1975)
- The Sycamores in Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
- The Hardys of course
- The Joads in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
- The Morgans in John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941)
- The Smiths in Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
- Deciding on this last choice was a killer. I considered going with the Lords from The Philadelphia Story or the Benedicts from Giant or even the Eastmans from A Place in the Sun all of which are must sees, but in the end I had to go with the Harringtons and the Pikes from Sturges’ The Lady Eve. Getting to know both of these families will simply make your year. Here are the heads of the two families…
There you have my 2017 list of movie recommendations or worthy mentions. Let me tell you, this is fun to do not an easy task. I hope you enjoyed the list and that – in the spirit of Christmas – you take this challenge and…
I’m pretty sure I’ve used different categories in each of my previous years’ lists. You can visit those for more ideas below: