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The Women

The very idea of Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer in a movie together sounds impossibly perfect, but it's really true. What makes The Women so spectacular is that real acting wasn't required on Joan's part. She was just as sarcastic and cruel to Norma off the set as well. I could go on for years talking about their offscreen rivalry, but I should also note that The Women is a great movie. In addition to an all-star cast (headed by many a Scarlett O'Hara reject by GWTW's fired director George Cukor), there are no males - even male animals - in the film. The script is great, too. Shearer, Crawford, Russell, Fontaine, and Goddard spit lines at each other like nobody's business. Most people will agree with me that this is a first-rate movie that no film buff should miss under any circumstances. If you need further prompting, send me an e-mail, and I'll tell you all about the Crawford/Shearer rivalry...

Private Lives

Norma at her (comedic) best
I happen to adore this movie; it's my favorite classic comedy. Surely Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence did a better job than Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery, but Norma is my favorite actress, and Robert is my favorite of her many co-stars. The dialog is marvelous, and the plot is fun. I like the idea of the two exes who spend their honeymoons in adjacent suites. The fight between Norma and Robert could very well be one of the best ever filmed. This is such a fun movie, but is sadly a little forgotten. I hear that the MGM video release isn't being made anymore, so if you don't want to watch this gem on a grainy, used video, hurry to your local store and watch the clerk look at you funny when you sigh with relief over having gotten the last copy.

The Broadway Melody

watch @ your own risk
In 1929, MGM could have filmed The Iliad as a silent and filmed a nutrition label as a talkie, and the latter would have brought in more money. Audiences just wanted to hear talking, and if you threw in some singing and tap dancing, that couldn't hurt. I think that Broadway Melody is a very dull movie with a plot that, while not quite dated, is extremely boring. Bessie Love does most of the real acting, though she could have saved the effort. My personal favorite part was the shot of a dancer tap dancing on her toes, though my feet hurt just by watching. This movie obviously won an Oscar more for technical achievements than anything else, but I can't think of many films in 1929 that were as Oscar-worthy as those in the years to come or before. It was also, of course, the first major Hollywood musical, and some of the songs really are cute. But I'm sure that film historians would almost rather see a silent version of The Iliad.

It Happened One Night

Viva Clarkie!
The story of how I fell in love with Clark Gable is legendary. Sort of. Let's just say that when I was eleven, I already adored GWTW, and all of a sudden, Clark Gable was my idol. I began a one and a half year obsession by renting IHON and watching it at one in the morning because I didn't feel my parents were "worthy." Well, my stomach acid rolled over, and I think I've seen it so many times that I can recite the whole script. While Clark Gable is no longer my dream guy and IHON no longer my dream flick, everybody has to see it. Don't bother to ask questions. It's so devastatingly true. No wonder why it surpassed so many other 1934 classics on Oscar night!

Dancing Lady

Quintiscential Gable/Crawford
I'm a sucker for the pre-Code movies. The late 1920's and early 1930's had a sense of glamour that no other area of classic Hollywood had, mainly because there was less censorship. I think that Dancing Lady sums up this area in time perfectly, with a perfect cast and plot.

Clark Gable is a gigolo, not his forte, but still effective. Joan Crawford is a shopgirl rising to the top (what else), and Franchot Tone is a playboy (what else). The Three Stooges, Fred Astaire, and Nelson Eddy are the main attractions with their tiny roles, but the love triangle between the three stars is what makes this a memorable (for me) example of what Hollywood was best at producing between 1925 and 1935.

Scarlet Dawn

So Bad It's Good
While I don't understand how in 1932 a movie could be made sympathizing with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, I do understand that Scarlet Dawn is a pre-Code film. Like most movies made between 1928 and 1934 (six of the best years in moviemaking, if you ask me), the lighting, sets, and photography are flawless. The print that is on video has perfect sound and picture quality. The costumes are delightfully ornate. Doug Jr. as Nikita Krasnoff is perfect, probably because he was the only actor on the Warners lot in 1932 with enough sex appeal to get away with what he got away with in the movie (i.e. sexual harassment). Nancy Carroll is his faithful servant and, later on in the film, wife. Lilyan Tashman plays a gossipy, scheming, glamour-gal mistress. While Lil and Nan sort of steal the show, their talents are slightly wasted. It's Doug who really captivates throughout, and considering how absolutely luscious he looks, the already short movie (just under an hour) flies by effortlessly. Scarlet Dawn is underrated, but extremely interesting, and the vintage 1917 war footage is a cute touch.

Ghost Story

Too much sex and none of it involving Doug Jr. In fact, since he commits suicide so early in the movie, he's basically only involved in picking up his son at the airport and then yelling at him. If you're obsessed with Fairbanks, Astaire, or Douglas, go ahead and see this, or if you like scary movies, but if you're still not sure, this is one to pass over. Boring as sin, but the attraction lies within the cast. That's probably why people still scope it out 18 years after its initial release.

Marie Antoinette

Norma's best!
So you thought that Norma couldn't make a hit without Thalberg, huh? Maybe Marie Antoinette didn't make a trillion dollars at the box office, but today film lovers treasure it to make up for this. Ty Power is gorgeous, as is Norma, in the gorgeous costumes and wigs, and the sets are magnificent. This movie is so sad and tragic and beautiful that it makes you cry by the time Marie is jailed with her family and has her son testify against her in court. This is Norma's "last best" movie.

National Lampoon's European Vacation

So Dumb It's Funny
There isn't much to say about this one except that it's one of the dumbest movies I've ever seen. However, it's also one of the funniest. The Parisian adventures were my favorites, particularly when Griswald is "looking for the Bible" and when he throws Rusty's beret off the Eiffel Tower, resulting in an old lady's dog jumping up to catch it (resulting in the dog jumping off the Eiffel Tower). I don't think it's worth buying, but rent it or see it on TV. It will cause you to keel over with laughter. After all, aren't dysfunctional people usually the ones who win these vacations anyway?


The End Of An Era
Star! is one of those movies that wanted for nothing during production only to be ignored by the public. Looking on it today, most can't figure out why these films were shunned, but to learn more, one must learn a little bit about the era during which it was released.

Star! was released in 1968. It was around this time that the Hollywood of studio/star systems, moguls, and musicals began to fall out of favor. Glamour and class were gone to; many classic films would be too expensive to recreate by this time. Star! was very likely the last big Hollywood musical, complete with costumes, jewelry, sets, and props that were more pleasing to the eyes than anything most filmgoers then were used to, and the music is marvelous beyond words. Julie Andrews, of course, is fantastic. The movie had everything going for it. So what happened?

In addition to the changes in the tastes of the public, few knew who Gertrude Lawrence (Star! is an autobiographical account of Lawrence between the years 1912 and 1940) was. She was a famous stage star, but having been in few films (and these were forgettable for the most part) and no TV shows, she was nearly forgotten. In addition, the movie is quite long. So, it proved to be quite a flop at the box office.

Today, Star! is considered one of the last great classic films and musicals, and all who are able to get a hold of it should take the time to enjoy it. This is one movie that should not be avoided.

Sunset Blvd.

The best. Period. (after 1939, anyway)
Sunset Boulevard is one of the few movies that diehard silent movie fans will watch over and over because it rides very close to the border of reality. How many great silent actresses became forgotten as they aged? And actors too, for that matter? A couple of silent screen superstars were asked if they wanted the role of Norma Desmond before Gloria Swanson snatched it up, but none were as good actresses to fit Norma's mad and wild personality. The film was shot in black and white in an era where Technicolor was taking over, but such a movie wouldn't be the same in color. Color is so bright and cheery, and Sunset Boulevard is a dark, even slightly frightening story.

The story is as follows: down-and-out screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) can't pay up debt on his car, so he hides it in a garage. The garage turns out to be part of an elephantine mansion belonging to aging silent screen star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). She wants him to work on a long and tedious script she's been working on for her screen "return." But when her beloved Paramount studios calls her up, they don't want her to be in one of their movies-they want to rent her car for a few weeks for a movie. And when Norma finds that out, the insanity is indescribable. The mentions of real-life silent stars makes you shiver: Wallace Reid, Pearl White, Mabel Normand, John Gilbert, Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Banky, Rod la Rocque. It makes you think how far 1950 really is from 1929 and the years prior to it. Everyone should see this film, especially fans of silent movies. Also to anyone who wants to return to a job when you want them to stay home.

The Rise of Catherine the Great

Awesome movie...any questions?
While most people are more familiar with the Marlene Dietrich version of this movie, released the same year as The Scarlet Empress, those interested in romance will prefer this one because it shows a Czar Peter III exactly the opposite of the one that really lived. Douglas portrays someone tall, thin, intelligent, and unethically gorgeous. The other cast members seem more experienced than him, however, at the sort of historical drama roles this film called for. But one also must remember that the British cinema was still developing at this time. The early 30's were the years in which it began to become as great as American cinema (the same goes for films from countries other than England). So, give this film a chance. I personally found it fantastic. It's a bit rare, but worth every second of searching. And as a Korda classic, well, I'll leave the rest up to you. It's not historically accurate , but it's almost like another story in itself. The main flaw is the print is a bit dark. But overlook this and you have one of the greatest films of all time.


Butchered, but great nonetheless.
Mourn if you will lost films; mourn partially lost films that rock the house even more so. Originally about eight hours long, the executives at new film studio MGM (through which Greed was released) demanded that it be cut to be two hours. The cut footage was lost. Furthermore, the remaining footage flopped at the boxoffice. Years later, this footage was preserved, and put on video, but the search for that lost footage continues. This December, a new video release is being put out-remastered and with all gold objects in the film tinted yellow! What a treat to silent movie fans! This was the first silent film I saw, and still one of the best. In fact, most film buffs say that this film is one of the best. Why was it ignored in 1925, then? 1925 was the height of the Jazz Age. Greed is a very depressing movie. Early 20th century woman marries a dentist somewhat against her will and the couple wins $5,000.00. This money causes their friend to become jealous, and the wife tries to hoard the gold and hide it from her husband. After she dies, the estranged widower...I won't give away the ending. =) But such a beautiful, meticulous film, this is. And a great, moving musical score, too. Seek out the remastered version coming out soon, but see it as is now. You'll love this film, and it shows funny girl ZaSu Pitts in a rare dramatic role. She does a fantastic job!

The Prisoner of Zenda

A summary of the best movie of all time!
The Prisoner of Zenda, based somewhat obviously on Shakespeare's The Tempest, is a film that has something for everyone. There's action, adventure, romance, suspense, and swashbuckling. It's a historical film, and over the years hasn't really aged, so it remains fantastic 62 years later. The cast is first rate, especially because the male leads-Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and David Niven-are so handsome and talented, mainly Doug. In the best role of his career, he wields swords, cigarettes, and sticks with an airy sensuality and was deprived of a much-deserved Oscar nomination. The sets and costumes are so magnificently detailed, that you'll wish it was in color. And the script is perfect, with some very witty lines. And the musical score is excellent. Anyone who wants to see a movie with all the basic ingredients for 110 minutes of sheer entertainment should seek this one out.

The Three Musketeers

Proof that Doug's the Best!
Douglas Fairbanks was the screen's greatest swashbuckler, and in his second film of this genre, he's really great. This film requires very little thinking on the viewer's part, and the various stunts and action scenes add to the fun. Doug's one-handed handspring with a sword in his other hand is very fast, so don't blink, but it's great. Further interest is sparked by a young and breathtaking Barbara LaMarr as M'Lady de Winter.

Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages

Tragic, Tragic, Tragic
This film is, by most accounts, D.W. Griffith's greatest. The sets remain unsurpassed in size and greatness (though the sets for 1922's Robin Hood came awfully close). Hollywood could never afford such a film today, or even ten years after the initial release; 1916 dollars had a six digit cost for the film. And viewing it is a real treat, what with the new tinted print and the great musical score (which can be found on CD, too). The film shows intolerance in four different eras: the 1900's in America, the 1500's in France, the 20's in Palestine, and 3,000 BCE Babylon. I didn't quite understand the latter three, but be assured that there is a lot of killing and religious persecution (the killing of Christ, for example). The modern story, however, deals with the Dear One (Mae Marsh), who is one of the many third-class citizens whose father works for the upper-class. To torture the poor, the owners of this company send away the workers, resulting in trauma. The Dear One marries another survivor of this tragedy, but the marriage is rocky. They love each other, but their happiness is tested time and again, ending when her husband is sentenced to be hung. The film shows, quite beautifully, that there is always some jerk out there to spoil everyone else's fun. Also, the consistent image of Lillian Gish rocking a cradle shows that each generation is born in a cradle, but whether they choose to stick to being sweet and loving is up to them. Today, Intolerence is trumpeted as one of the best American films of all time. In 1916, critics and fans ignored it. Griffith was to make many more films, but only a few were classics. Ironic thing, that the film following smash-hit The Birth of a Nation should be called Intolerence when nobody in 1916 could tolerate it.

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