The B+ Movie Guide: Part III

In May of 2012, Colin said I should make a list of movies that need to be seen, because he felt there were huge gaps in what he’d seen, and wanted something to do. The idea was that I’d make up a list, as “homework” for him, and he’d use that as things to watch.

So we came up with a giant list of 500 movies that worked, and Colin went about finishing it. And now that it’s finished, we’re gonna write it up. Because you don’t watch a giant list of movies without documenting that you did it.

We’re going through the entire list, little by little, for posterity’s sake. And here’s the next set:

42nd Street (1933)

Mike:

Classic 30s musical. Pre-Code, so the innuendo is fucking incredible. Ginger Rogers got started here. And then they have the Busby Berkeley numbers, which are a sight to behold. (3)

Colin:

This movie is a lot of fun because, like Gold Diggers of 1933, it’s this whole film set up on the premise that pretty much everyone is down on their luck and in need of money because of the Great Depression. Using historical periods that we’re all somewhat familiar with as backdrops for movies usually goes over well. This is why we love Cold War movies and 60s counterculture movies and stuff like that. But that’s what this is for me — they start with this 30s version of All That Jazz Bob Fosse who’s lost everything and needs to whip a show together with a misfit cast, and then from that low, everything goes up. 

Duck Soup (1933)

Mike:

Marx Brothers. Always worth seeing some of those. There are a few touchstones in comedy. The Marx Brothers are the early sound one. (Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello are also in here too, if you’re going for comedy.) (3)

Colin:

This movie continues my theory about movies over the first half century or so of film — that when actual people were down, movies were up, though not necessarily the other way around. This movie is so zany and goofy that you have to imagine they were really just doing it to get a rise out of people, which shows off their vaudeville background. Like the roll dance in The Gold Rush, the mirror scene in Duck Soup is one of those where they weren’t the first act to do it, but they owned it.

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Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Mike:

Another Pre-Code musical with Busby Berkeley numbers. Just as hilarious as 42nd Street.”We’re in the Money” is the ultimate “fuck the Depression” song. And the finale is actually pretty solemn. (3)

Colin:

Have we had a movie yet that I genuinely didn’t like? Maybe it’s Mike’s picking, or maybe it’s the era, but I’m really fond of the 1920s and 1930s. Gold Diggers of 1933 is so much fun, and another like 42nd Street that plays off the Depression. If you were watching this movie in the theater, you were fantasizing about this in a way we don’t fantasize about movies anymore. Ginger Rogers singing in pig latin, neon violins, Busby Berkeley sequences and lavish set pieces abound — it’s a fun movie. My favorite part is that they billed this movie as “BETTER THAN 42ND STREET!” despite the facts that it was made by the same studio (Warner) under the same supervision (Berkeley) and released less than three months after 42nd Street came out (March 11th, May 27th). That’s gutsy. “Hey, remember that massive film we showed you ten weeks ago that blew your socks off? That was crap compared to THIS.”

King Kong - 34

King Kong (1933)

Mike:

It’s fucking King Kong. What more do you need to say? (1)

Colin:

That he ain’t got shit on me? I do love an epic monster movie, and especially an old one with “bad” effects. People hate, I love. I think that’s what’s to be said about this movie. If you’re watching this movie and hating the cheesy effects, turn the movie off. It’s not for you. It’s for me.

The Gay Divorcee (1934)

Mike:

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This is their first real effort together. And it’s a screwball comedy. More screwball than music. It’s terrific. Their chemistry is off the charts. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like these movies. They’re incredible. Everyone needs to have seen an Astaire/Rogers movie. I put a few on here just because they’re guaranteed to go over with everyone. (2)

Colin:

This was important for me, along with the other Fred and Ginger movies because — confession time: I had never seen a Fred and Ginger movie all the way through until Mike made this list for me, and I didn’t think I particularly liked musicals. Not only are these incredible to watch and inconceivably cinematic, but they’re full of song and dance numbers that people still reference today. In The Gay Divorcee, it’s The Continental, which got the first Oscar for Best Original Song. Looking back at this movie now, I know that I really like their movies as a body of work because while I recognize their later stuff as more polished, you can still appreciate this movie for how green they (mostly her) look.

It Happened One Night - 51

It Happened One Night (1934)

Mike:

Definitely one the film fan needs to have seen. An early example of the romantic comedy. Possibly the first. At least the first perfect one. This movie was so good it swept the Oscars. And it’s a comedy. This movie is the template for the romantic comedy genre. (2)

Colin:

There’s always one rich one or one poor one, huh? Or they can both be rich, but one or both of them has to be temporarily poor for whatever reason. Such a classic Depression-era trope, and it almost never fails. I have no idea why this movie wasn’t at the top of my list of romantic comedies at first…probably because I hadn’t seen it. But this sort of movie is exactly why I watched everything on this list. Coverage. Capra’s a genius, and the script is gold. What more do you want in a romantic comedy?

the-thin-man-12

The Thin Man (1934)

Mike:

Oh you fucking know I’m putting it on there. It’s my favorite movie of all time for a reason. It’s a perfect movie. You get to witness the brilliance that is William Powell and Myrna Loy. (2)

Colin:

Mike and I differ on a lot of things, but we’re also surprisingly similar in our tastes sometimes. This is one example. It’s his favorite movie, and it’s my favorite movie. My dad showed me this when I was tiny, and by the time I got to college, I guess I’d probably seen it between five or ten times. I just considered it to be that awesome old movie that a few people might have heard of. It’s a perfect movie. It’s a murder mystery with comedy, drinking, suspense, danger, drinking, character actors and lavish, Depression-era sets and costumes. I can put this on anytime and watch it til the end. 

bride-of-frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Mike:

This movie is arguably better than Frankenstein. It has a lot of scenes (more so than the original) that were appropriated for Young Frankenstein. It’s pretty terrific, too. James Whale gets to do what he wants, and really makes a statement about sexuality in there. Dr. Pretorius is a hell of a character. (2)

Colin:

There are more cues here for Young Frankenstein. I don’t know, I like both of them, though I guess this one has the better character work with Dr. Pretorious. The joke of all this is that you can watch both movies in the amount of time it takes to watch a single drama these days, so you pretty much just watch them. 

Captain Blood (1935)

Mike:

Errol Flynn swashbuckling. Not necessarily as essential as some others I didn’t include, but it’s fun. And this holds a special place in film history, separate from Adventures of Robin Hood. This one is boldly about Errol Flynn, and shows you him, and the swashbuckler film (Robin Hood isn’t quite that, even though it is). Plus, after seeing this movie, you completely understand why My Favorite Year is so brilliant. (3)

Colin:

This was pretty essential for me, because it’s The Adventures of Robin Hood when the character still mattered a lot more. The whole point of Errol Flynn is that he’s the unvanquished man in the midst of this terrible Depression. When he turns up onscreen, money is never an issue to him, though he might not have any. The way he projects ideals and moral nobility wouldn’t work at any other time during film history, which is probably also why he doesn’t really have a huge career during the 40s. Anyway, the imagery is pretty iconic, especially when Flynn shows up as a slave in Port Royal — yes, the Port Royal colony from Pirates of the Caribbean — and is promptly purchased by Olivia de Havilland. 

The Informer - 13

The Informer (1935)

Mike:

Early Ford. Victor McLaglen won an Oscar for this. Great film. Scorsese references it a lot (it’s actually in The Departed. Right before DiCaprio hits the drug addict with the Jesus painting. The “I thought I was gonna go into shock, I’m not, It fucking hurts!” guy). He won his first Best Director statue for this. It’s a terrific little movie. It accomplishes a lot with a little. (3)

Colin:

“Where was John Ford’s family from?” asked nobody, ever. The Informer, or as I like to call it, “The Not-So-Quiet Man,” is about an oaf who sells out a friend for cash and then blows the cash trying regain his pride. He’s also drunk for pretty much the whole movie. Like many movies about Ireland and the Irish, you have to prepare yourself to be somewhat upset before you watch it, but you won’t be upset when you do.

– – – – – – – – – –

Final Thoughts:

Mike:

This is the era when they perfected sound and then started establishing that classical Hollywood tone. So this is where all those genre movies start really getting established.

If I had to go back and redo this section of the list for what’s truly essential — Duck Soup could come off. You probably only need one Marx brothers movie, and A Night at the Opera is going to appear. So that’s room to switch, even though Duck Soup is awesome. (This is all just suggestions for people seriously trying to attempt this, by the way. I’m perfectly happy with this particular list because there really aren’t that many changes I’d make to it.)

I have no qualms whatsoever about putting all these Astaire/Rogers movies on there, because they are just perfect. Gold Diggers is worth it because of how the backstage musical was so prevalent (plus Pre-Code, which isn’t as featured as I might have otherwise. Maybe I’d have thrown in one more drama to go along with the musical and Scarface). And Captain Blood, while not as awesome as Adventures of Robin Hood, is a great example of the swashbuckling film, and does a nice job bridging the gap of the respective Fairbanks and Flynn eras in this regard. Otherwise, the rest are all very obviously movies everyone should see. So this one holds up just fine.

Ratings: King Kong is clearly a 1. It Happened One Night is a low 2. Bride of Frankenstein is same as Frankenstein. The Thin Man — yes. Astaire/Rogers movies should be seen by all film buffs. The rest are 3s because I don’t know if this is in that main batch of movies regular movie buffs need to have gotten to. I think you need to be a little deeper into film to feel responsibility for those.

Colin:

There’s another case where we’re mostly in agreement — I still see Duck Soup as absolutely relevant on this list. I probably put it as the better overall film as compared with A Night at the Opera, even though I probably wouldn’t watch it first.

The rest of this list exemplifies the best of Depression-era film, which is some of the best film ever made. Turns out that when people are down, movies are up, and uplifting at that. You get pretty down sometimes, living alone and working in Japan, and for a while there I was coming home to watch action movies or more recent stuff. It wasn’t until I realized how cheery these old Depression movies were that I started consuming them and rewatching them for the joy of it. If I need nothing but cheering up, the chances are that I’m going to put on something from 1933 – 1940. If I want to be mostly cheered up but also want something on top of that, I might expand the range to like…1948. And that means that tomorrow is going to be a lot more happy movies.

– – – – – – – – – –

More movies tomorrow.

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One response

  1. I think Duck Soup is easily the better film than Night at the Opera, because it’s purer. No time wasted on young lovers or bullshit musical numbers. Just pure comedy. For me, Gold Diggers of 1933 is more expendable because you’ve got 42nd Street and The Gay Divorcee covering your musicals very well indeed.

    July 10, 2015 at 5:16 pm

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