‘Tis the season to spread cheer and I’m doing my part by recommending classic movies, paying them forward in hopes that these memorable distractions take people’s minds off negative goings on. I’m asking that you join me, recommend your favorites and #PayClassicsForward on your blogs, by noting your recommendations in the comments or sharing across social media.
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. Let’s grow our community and #PayClassicsForward
On the first day of Christmas, etc. etc…
The “one” listing is always a difficult one due to the fact that classics lend themselves to plenty of choices. That said, I came up with a category that encompasses important decades and several genre of film – the fedora. By following the history of the fedora in film you’ll be made privy to the best gangsters, greatest funny men, and most memorable lovers of Hollywood’s golden age. So here it is, a signature fedora:
Note that in researching my favorite fedora portrait I learned that trilbys are often mistaken for fedoras. Since experts seem to be confused between the two types of classic men’s hats that leaves little hope for me. I can’t say for sure whether Bogart is wearing a trilby in the above image, but he may well be. Descriptions of this type of hat explain the rims are shorter than your average fedoras. Either way, it’s a cool, suave look and Bogie rocks it.
From GQ: What’s the difference between a fedora and a trilby?
Answer: Traditionally a fedora has a wide brim and in the UK a wide ribbon band and bow. A trilby has a narrow brim and narrow ribbon, although there are some American trilbies that still have the wide ribbon.
Things were not simple between Douglas Fairbanks and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as it is for many families, but the son wore his father’s name proudly. I chose this father and son combination because if you watch their films you’ll get a healthy helping of everything from silent adventure to pre-code delicacies through some terrific television work. These are careers worth following.
There are quite a few choices for memorable trios in film including Cattle rustlers Robert Hightower (John Wayne), Pedro “Pete” Rocafuerte (Pedro Armendáriz), and William Kearney (Harry Carey, Jr.) in John Ford’s 3 Godfathers. That one is definitely difficult to pass up. That said, I think the following trios are likely to be looked at less by casual fans and they all deserve attention. These are my choices of trios in movies:
- They are such a joy to behold. I remember them fondly from my days as a child watching them on TV. It seemed then that they appeared in a million movies, but that wasn’t the case. Still, these siblings are a joy in films like Buck Pirates with Abbott and Costello and their film debut in Albert S. Rogell’s Argentine Nights (1940). The Andrews Sisters made 17 films, more than any other singing group and all are a terrific way to be introduced to the movies. If that record does not impress you, then maybe this one will: LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty garnered 113 charted Billboard hits with 46 of those reaching the top 10. That’s more than Elvis Presley or The Beatles.
- I have nothing against Disney. In fact, I enjoy their classic animated films immensely. Due to that I’m less than enthusiastic about their constant remakes, which – in my opinion – disrespects those wonderful, older film accomplishments. Today I pay tribute to one of them by way of a trio of glorious characters made in the memorable Disney vein we’ve all come to know and love, that combination of warmth and delightful comedy that permeate those wonderful films. These characters are Princess Aurora’s three good fairy godmothers Flora, Fauna and Merryweather in Disney’s 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty. They alone pay tribute to an enchanting legacy.
“Each of us the child may bless, with a single gift no more, no less.”
- The final mention here goes to three Russian envoys who have arrived in Paris to sell a fortune in jewelry, imperial jewelry, the money of which is to go to the Russian government, which is in need of cash. The three, Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski (played hilariously by Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach, respectively) who are supposed to be doing work for the Russian government, immediately get caught up in the excesses of capitalism and fail to sell the jewelry. Moscow then sends a special envoy to Paris to investigate what’s going on with the trio and the jewelry. The envoy is the rigid and humorless, Comrade Yakushova – Ninotchka (Greta Garbo). The charming Melvyn Douglas plays Ninotchka’s love interest in Ernst Lubitsch’s delightful comedy, but it’s the three envoys in the hands of Ruman, Bressart and Granach that make this movie among the greats in the annals of comedy. I just want to get to know them better and so should you.
Four Skippy Performances
It’s no wonder this wire-haired terrier was the highest paid canine star of his day. Often referred to as “Asta,” thanks to his successful appearances in The Thin Man movies, his real name was Skippy – and we love him to tears. Although I’m choosing only four of his film performances, Skippy never made a bad movie and starred opposite some of Hollywood’s biggest names. If you keep an eye out for Skippy’s filmography on TCM, you will no doubt be introduced to an astounding talent as well as a terrific movie. It’s guaranteed. My Skippy suggestions are:
- Skippy as Asta in The Thin Man movies opposite William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. I can’t imagine you haven’t seen The Thin Man (1934), but may not have given any of the sequels a try. If that’s the case you will be delighted by Skippy in any one of his key performances:
- Skippy is wonderful as Mr. Smith in The Awful Truth. Worth a custody dispute between Warriner and Warriner played by Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, this time Skippy is required to add straight drama to his repertoire as he is required to choose between his two humans right off the bat. There’s also plenty for him to do on the comedy front, however, so this one is a must-see.
- Skippy as George in Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby opposite Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Another terrific outing for our favorite pooch as he is central to action thanks to his burying abilities.
- This sequel to Norman Z. McLeod’s 1937 hit Topper lacks some of the charm of its predecessor, but the talents of Constance Bennett, Roland Young, Billie Burke, Alan Mowbry, and Skippy make it well worth your time. Here, Skippy matched Bennett’s ghostly wit by ghostly wit in a role that stretches his talents to matters beyond this world and he approaches it with signature enthusiasm.
No explanation needed.
Six Vivien Leigh GWTW Tests
Gone With the Wind is celebrating its 80th anniversary on December 15 and, as the biggest, most famous movie ever made, it deserves at least a mention here.
On that day in 1939, Atlanta’s Loew’s Grand Theater was buzzing with Hollywood’s biggest names. It was such an occasion for Atlanta that the film’s opening was a 3-day event as Governor Eurith Dickinson Rivers declared a three-day holiday. Other politicians asked that Georgians dress in period clothing. A lot had happened in Hollywood leading up to that premiere though including the famous search for the film’s leading lady, the protagonist of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 blockbuster novel, Scarlett O’Hara. Every female star it seems auditioned for the part. Among them were Bette Davis, Jean Arthur, Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Bennett, Claudette Colbert, Frances Dee, and Paulette Goddard who, as stories go, was close to being chosen. As we all know, however, Scarlett went to the lovely, British Vivien Leigh who possessed an outstanding talent. Leigh made the part her own and, along with the film, became tantamount to Hollywood royalty. To honor Vivien Leigh and her memorable Scarlett O’Hara here are six make-up and wardrobe test stills:
Follow the links to watch episodes of these dramatically exciting serials. It might take a few chapters for you to get hooked, but you’ll get hooked.
The Perils of Pauline (1914) starring Pearl White
The Vanishing Legion (1931) starring Harry Carey and Edwina Booth
The Green Hornet (1940) starring Gordon Jones
Zorro Rides Again (1937) starring John Carroll
The Master Mystery (1918) starring Harry Houdini
Flash Gordon (1936) starring Buster Crabbe
The Phantom Creeps (1939) starring Bela Lugosi
Holt of the Secret Service (1941) starring Jack Holt
Nine Ladies Dancing
Watch their movies… live, love, learn, and laugh.
Eleven Movies about Millionaires
Since I recommended movies about hobos in a previous year, I thought the time came for millionaires. There are many wonderful movies about the super rich, particularly during the Great Depression when audiences loved seeing the plight of these people play out for laughs. That theme made for some of film history’s best screwball comedies. The super rich, however, have lent themselves for entertaining movie fare ever since the movies began and in every genre. Check out this terrific list from Forbes spotlighting millionaires in movies.
As for me, I have quite a few favorites with millionaire themes that appeal to most others as well. These include such popular titles as The Philadelphia Story, the shenanigans of the Charleses in The Thin Man movies, My Man Godfrey, The Lady Eve, How to Marry a Millionaire, and movies featuring recognizable names like Charles Foster Kane and Bruce Wayne. For this purpose, however, I recommend lesser known, but worthy millionaire movie stories I’ve watched through the years – some in terrible condition, a few greats, and some for plain ole fun. Here are the 11 rich and classic…
Phil Rosen’s Extravagance (1930)
John G. Adolfi’s The Millionaire (1931)
Clarence G. Badger’s Miss Brewster’s Millions (1926)
Frank Tuttle’s Love Among the Millionaires (1930)
Mitchell Leisen’s Easy Living (1937)
Anthony Asquith’s The Millionairess (1960)
Robert Moore’s Murder by Death (1976)
William Asher’s Bikini Beach (1964)
Walter Lang’s I’ll Give a Million (1938)
George Marshall’s A Millionaire for Christy (1951)
Roy Del Ruth’s Kid Millions (1934)
Twelve Feature Acting Debuts
Some of my favorite and/or most memorable film debuts…
- Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween – effective after all these years.
- Orson Welles in Citizen Kane – although Welles’ performance is what I find hardest to like in Kane, I cannot deny its impact and status among characters in film.
- Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday – appropriate introduction for royalty in film and in life. She charms you from the first moment.
- Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront – exclamation point to begin a stellar movie career.
- Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl – a tour de force and a phenomenon
- Peter Lorre in M – brilliant, nightmarish, heartbreaking. Described by director Fritz Lang as “one of the best in film history.” I agree.
- Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins – Her debut should have been as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, but we’ll take this and so did she. Not only did Andrews win the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of the magical nanny, but she won the hearts of the world in the process.
- Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People – ordinarily superb.
- Angela Lansbury in Gaslight – small part, big impact. Undeniable screen presence.
- Edward Norton in Primal Fear – convincing and chilling.
- Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips – She wanted a worthy role as her screen introduction. She got it. She killed it – as she did from that moment on.
- Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours – I love this performance highlighting the scope of Murphy’s talent.
I gave this final topic a lot of thought as there are many worthy contenders. For instance, I’m sure many would choose James Dean’s turn in East of Eden, as big a legend-ensuring performance as there ever was, but it’s not a favorite of mine. Tatum O’Neill’s performance in Paper Moon is another one I considered as were Marlee Matlin’s in Children of a Lesser God and Lupita Nyong’o heartbreaking Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. Finally, I adore Robert Duvall’s debut appearance in To Kill a Mockingbird. And I could go on and on. We just have an embarrassment of riches.
Phew! There you have this year’s movie recommendations. I hope you enjoyed the list and that – in the spirit of Christmas – you take this challenge and…
Visit previous year’s lists as shown: