15 Good Classic Movies

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 8:56 am

If you’ve ever longed for a time when movies weren’t cluttered with 3-D effects or effeminate vampires, then take a look at these 15 good classic movies. All of my selections were recently featured as part of the first annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles, and I had the good fortune to be in attendance. There are plenty more classic films out there to enjoy, but this group is a perfect starting place for those unfamiliar with films of the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. Heck, even devoted fans of old films will probably find a pleasant surprise or two nestled in among the selections.

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A Star is Born (1954) – Judy Garland and James Mason star in this film-about-Hollywood that’s one part satire, one part musical, and one part heartbreaking romance. A remake of the 1937 film of the same name, this was the opening night premiere for the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Monkey Business (1952) – Not to be confused with the Marx Brothers movie of the same name, this screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks stars Carey Grant and Ginger Rogers as a married couple who both get exposed to a youth serum which causes them to behave like kids. For those who like chimps, a few are on display, and those who like raw sexuality can marvel at one of Marilyn Monroe’s early roles. Introduced at the TCM Film Festival by Peter Bogdanovich.

King Kong (1933) – A film crew heads to an island in the Indian Ocean, but they get more than they bargained for in the person of Kong, a gigantic gorilla that the natives worship as a god. Of course, Kong falls for actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), which proves to be his fatal weakness. A tragic tale of forbidden romance, this original version is still the best.

In a Lonely Place (1950) – Considered one of the greatest pieces of film noir ever made, In a Lonely Place stars Humphrey Bogart as a cynical screenwriter suspected of murder. Gloria Grahame is his neighbor, an aspiring actress who slowly succumbs to his dark charms. Included on the Time magazine “All-Time 100 List.”

Jubal (1956) – Generally forgotten by modern audiences, Jubal is a western retelling of Othello that simmers with lust and jealousy. Glenn Ford plays Jubal Troop, a weary man who’s taken in by a kindly rancher (Ernest Borgnine) named Shep Horgan. But Shep’s much younger wife (Valerie French) sets her sights on the new arrival, an attraction that doesn’t go unnoticed by the jealous Pinky (Rod Steiger). Charles Bronson co-stars, as does Felicia Farr (the future Mrs. Jack Lemmon). Glenn Ford is a delight to watch, especially in the scene where he describes his own mother trying to kill him. At the TCM Festival, Ernest Borgnine sat down with Leonard Maltin following the screening.

No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948) – At the TCM Film Festival, Tim Roth introduced this once-controversial British gangster film about a kidnapped heiress (Linden Travers) who falls in love with her abductor (Jack La Rue). In 1971, the film was remade in the U.S. as The Grissom Gang.

Midnight Cowboy (1969) – Winner of the Best Picture Oscar, Midnight Cowboy follows Joe Buck (Jon Voight) as he travels from Texas to New York in the hopes of becoming a high-priced gigolo. Once there, his naïve country ways are no match for the big city, and he finds himself conned and confounded at every turn. Then he strikes up a friendship with the sickly Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), and the two outcasts begin to dream of a brighter future. Also featuring a great soundtrack and solid direction from John Schlesinger.

Top Hat (1935) – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers team up in this screwball romantic musical, and it remains their best-known work over 70 years later. With music written by Irving Berlin, the film features such numbers as “Cheek to Cheek” and “”Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.” If you know someone who’s never experienced the magic of Rogers and Astaire, this is the place they should start.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – Gene Kelly displays his thousand watt charm, and Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds provide solid supporting company in this musical tale of the death of the silent film and the transition to the “talkies.” Kelly performed the iconic “Singin’ in the Rain” number with a high fever, which makes its enduring popularity even more impressive.

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – The second feature film from Orson Welles, it’s held in the same high regard as Citizen Kane, despite the fact that RKO Studios removed over an hour of footage and changed the ending. Following the past and present of an upper-class Indianapolis family, the film stars Joseph Cotton, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Agnes Moorhead and Tim Holt. Nominated for four Oscars, although the filmmakers walked away empty-handed.

Sunset Blvd. (1950) – One of the great Hollywood movies about Hollywood, Sunset Blvd. was directed by Billy Wilder and stars Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a faded film star who fantasizes about a return to glory. When she takes down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joseph C. Gillis (William Holden) as her kept man, the ambitious cad fuels her unrealistic dreams and unleashes a delusional fantasy world of jealousy, revenge, and murder. The final scene (“All right, Mr. DeVille, I’m ready for my close-up.”) remains one of the most famous in the history of classic films.

Saboteur (1942) – Alfred Hitchcock directs this suspense thriller about a man (Robert Cummings)–wrongly accused of sabotage–who goes on the run to find the real culprit. The film’s exciting climax takes place at the Statue of Liberty, with two men locked in a desperate struggle while the police close in. If you enjoyed North by Northwest, you’ll definitely love this one.

A Woman’s Face (1941) – Joan Crawford stars as an ill-tempered blackmailer who hates everyone around her due to a disfiguring accident. But when a talented plastic surgeon repairs her face, she must decide whether to turn over a new leaf or participate in a sinister plot involving the murder of a four-year-old boy.

Safety Last! (1923) – Starring Harold Lloyd, this silent film tells the tale of The Boy, a young man who travels to the big city to make his fortune…with hilarious results. The scene where Lloyd dangles from a skyscraper with only the hands of a clock to hold onto has become an enduring image of early cinema.

The Good Earth (1937) – Nominated for five Oscars, this early film tells the story of a Chinese family (played by American actors) trying to survive and prosper. Paul Muni is farmer Wang Lung, and Luise Rainer stars as his devoted wife, O-Lan. Based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck, Luise Rainer was in attendance for the screening at the TCM Festival.

If this list of 15 good classic movies suddenly has you in the mood to read more about the art of cinema, be sure to click on the following links:

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