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The B+ Movie Guide: Part IV

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:

mutiny-on-the-bounty-13

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Mike:

The story is a classic.  Everyone should see one version of it. This is the best, story-wise. Laughton is awesome. The ’62 version is the best visually, since half that movie is just “look how fucking nice Tahiti is.” And the ‘84 version is – Hopkins, Gibson – here’s us doing it again with great actors. But ultimately, this story needs to be seen, and I feel this is the best overall version of that story. (2)

Colin:

Some part of me regrets that this movie wasn’t made like four years later in beautiful Technicolor, because so much of it would have been better for the color. I mean, the ’62 version does look nice, but would you rather have Brando faking a British accent (he didn’t learn tiddly twat at the Actor’s Studio) or Clark Gable being Clark Gable? Laughton is also the best Bligh you’re going to get. Laughton is the best of a lot of things you’re going to get in movies. So yeah, I was kind of bummed that we don’t live in some parallel universe where they made this version in Technicolor in 1935, but I still think it’s an all-time classic of the adventure genre. 

A Night at the Opera - 23

A Night at the Opera (1935)

Mike:

Marx brothers. Probably their best. Great fun early comedy. The stateroom scene is an all-timer. (2)

Colin:

I go back and forth between this and Duck Soup, to be honest. They’re both great, and for very different reasons. Mike mentioned the stateroom scene, which is indeed classic — something like 15 people squeezed into a tiny cabin on this boat for random reasons. The scene that I think I enjoyed the most is the scene in which Groucho and Chico are discussing the contract and tearing huge pieces off as they go. It’s a long bit, and they just keep ripping these huge pieces of contract off until there’s nothing left. 

top-hat-5

Top Hat (1935)

Mike:

Fred and Ginger. Perhaps their best. Most people consider this and Swing Time to be their best. This features one of the all time great songs in all of cinema, “Cheek to Cheek.” It’s impossible to not love this movie. (2)

Colin:

This is probably my favorite of theirs. Though…yeah, it’s this or Swing Time. I think I like Swing Time more over all, but this has “Cheek to Cheek” and it blows the others out of the water in terms of set design, for the most part. Once they’re in Venice, it’s a bunch of elaborate set pieces that they dance around. What’s not to like? This was also the first of their movies that I saw, so I was watching it expecting music and dancing, which was enough — but it’s funny, too. You can’t go wrong with this pair. During the 30s.

Triumph of the Will (1935)

Mike:

Nazis. Huge film, historically. And you get to see where the final scene of Star Wars came from. (3)

Colin:

So, yesterday, I predicted that we’d have a fun list for today, but I didn’t realize it was going to be THIS much fun. In all seriousness, this was a movie I felt awkward sitting down to watch. By myself. At home. You really do have to see it, because as repulsive as the regime is, and though you can’t watch it without a tidal wave of background knowledge and context hitting you in the face, Riefenstahl was onto something there with the technique. Star Wars is one thing…but you’ll never watch The Lion King the same way again. The whole “Be Prepared” number culminates in hyenas goose-stepping in formation as Scar salutes, and that movie is for children. It’s one thing to hide phallic imagery in your movies, Disney, but you spoofed Nazi propaganda, too. Not that this movie was ineffectual propaganda. It features kittens looking adoringly at Hitler. Well done, Leni Riefenstahl, you anticipated YouTube like 70 years in advance.

Dodsworth (1936)

Mike:

This is on there because I’m championing the shit out of this one. This is one of those where it’s going to be my goal to get this movie in its rightful place in the canon. Fucking nobody hasn’t seen this movie, and it was a Best Picture nominee! It’s incredible. One of the top five hidden gems on the entire Quest. I’m gonna try to word of mouth the shit out of this. One of cinema’s great forgotten classics. (3)

Colin:

Did not see this one coming at all. There were several movies on the list that Mike told me to refrain from researching and go in cold instead. By the time I got this and put it on, I was expecting a comedy, because I suppose the name sounds goofy for me. It’s a marriage in crisis, and it’s one of those movies where things can go either way. This is the kind of movie where the script keeps handing out lifelines for the characters to be happy, and they’re not just grabbing them. Walter Huston kills it in this movie. Totally a hidden gem.

Modern Times (1936)

Mike:

Chaplin. The image of him in the gears. Keaton may have been the better physical comedian, but Chaplin’s movies are way more timeless. That man knew how to tell a story. (2)

Colin:

This movie is a weird platypus of a movie in that it’s 1936, but you’ve got a silent film featuring the Little Tramp with these huge, functional 30s set pieces. Chaplin’s the only one who could have pulled this off at this point, because we’re way past silent here. The reason I love this movie is that he manages to take his traditional structure of comedy and struggle and use it to say something political. At the very least, it’s a social commentary that holds true just about 80 years later. And it’s funny. The guy gets arrested like 50 times in this movie. Nobody rises and falls in life like a Chaplin character.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town - 4

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Mike:

One of the best unintentional porno titles out there. Also a classic. Please don’t be that person who’s only seen the Adam Sandler version of this movie. Please don’t. (2)

Colin:

The Adam Sandler version exists. I forgot about that. But Mike’s right, please don’t be the guy who hears the name Longfellow Deeds and thinks of Adam Sandler before Gary Cooper. It’s amazing to me that this was so much bigger than It Happened One Night, since I didn’t think it was quite as fun as that was. One the other hand, it’s decidedly more Capra-esque, if that’s fair to say. Also one of the first movies I know with Jean Arthur, who then consistently delivers quality performances through Shane in 1953. It’s not my favorite of the Capra movies, but that’s still like saying The African Queen isn’t your favorite Bogart picture. Well worth watching, and if you haven’t seen the remake, keep it that way.

My Man Godfrey (1936)

Mike:

A classic of the 30s. They remade this a bunch because the story always worked. Terrific film, and one of those the film buff will get to pretty early. Most people will love this. (3)

Colin:

Please watch this if you haven’t. This movie has so much potential to please that I was astounded that I hadn’t heard of it until I started watching movies off this list. First of all — it’s yet another take on class distinctions during the Depression in which someone proves his worth, despite being of a lower class. And then, as always, it turns out he was from the higher class all along, but you know how that goes. William Powell has never disappointed, and the whole cast is top-notch (Oscar nods in all four acting categories), but my highlight performance from this movie was from Eugene Pallette as the family patriarch. There are a lot of 30s and 40s comedies featuring wealthy families of women, with blustering fathers who yell a lot and generally get ignored. Pallette does this very well.

Swing Time - 105

Swing Time (1936)

Mike:

Perhaps their best overall plot, Fred and Ginger. Amazing sequences in this. Also, one of the best love songs ever written, “The Way You Look Tonight.” Trust me when I say you will love all of these movies. (2)

Colin:

There’s not a whole lot else that I can say about Fred and Ginger that I haven’t already said. This particular film is special for how quickly they get into her hating him and him messing with her. She positively loathes him and has to give him a dancing lesson — and there’s Fred Astaire pretending to have two left feet just to piss her off. Amazingly, they even switch up the formula a tad with him being engaged and unable to marry her until that gets taken care of (did people in the 30s really just get married like that, on a whim?), but it ends as you expect. Doesn’t matter how the movie ends, though, because the dancing is the reason to watch. “The Way You Look Tonight” is the song of the film, but the routine you’ll remember is “Bojangles of Harlem,” in which Astaire dances — in black face and a polka dot jacket — with three giant shadows of himself in the background.

The Awful Truth - 28

The Awful Truth (1937)

Mike:

Classic screwball comedy, comedy of remarriage, one of the funniest movies ever made. Everyone needs to see this, because I’d probably guarantee a 90% success rate on this. It’s almost impossible not to like it. (3)

Colin:

Isn’t Cary Grant the best? And among Cary Grant’s films, aren’t his comedies of remarriage probably at the top? I’ll admit that The Philadelphia Story still takes it for me, but this is right there with it. Leo McCarey directs the absolute hell out of this, so when you watch it, it’s hard to believe that Cary Grant wanted out the entire time. This movie has to go down in history as one of the greatest ever semi-improvised masterpieces of comedy. I might go put it on for while I clean my apartment this afternoon. 

– – – – – – – – – –

Final Thoughts:

Mike:

Only one of these movies could even be argued against as essential, and that’s Dodsworth, and I don’t care what anyone says about that movie. That’s a classic that needs to come back, because it’s so good and no one even remembers it.

Plus, this is when movies started really getting going in that classical style. Colin knows this — the 30s and 40s are the best for putting on just about any Hollywood movie. You know how people just watch Marvel movies because they’re all the same formula? Well, that’s how we are with the 30s and 40s. They just had a format and feel to them that just makes them more entertaining to watch than other movies. I’d rather have this list heavy with movies like this than other stuff. And so would he.

Ratings: All Chaplins are 2. All Astaire/Rogers are 2. Mutiny on the Bounty needs to be seen as a film, this is the best version. I think movie buffs should feel like they need to have seen at least one Marx brothers movie. Take your pick. I feel like this is the easiest, but whatever you want. Triumph of the Will — film student stuff all the way. Dodsworth, I said. Can’t go higher than a 3. Mr. Deeds is almost a 1, but we’ll say it’s a solid high/low 2. You know what I mean. 2 that’s almost a 1. Godfrey, as much as it pains me, is a 3. Same for Awful Truth. Great, but you see these after that first real level of movie buff. Plus, we have the fact that I’m considering all of these essential, so 3 isn’t a bad thing to be.

Colin:

The only arguable one is Dodsworth? I guess there are degrees of “essential,” which does become a continuing refrain for us throughout the course of this list. I think Dodsworth has a strong case on Huston alone, but I suppose that given the time period, there are others that could have slipped on in its place.

There are subcategories within this list of 500 movies that inform how I watch a movie and why I’m watching it in the first place. There are more recent, very good movies like Scent of a Woman that you really need to have seen because you’re still talking to people who probably saw them when they came out. You don’t generally get a pass when you’re talking to someone who’s into movies and they find out you haven’t seen Taxi Driver or Blade Runner. Those movies are part of the modern cultural vocabulary, and that’s what makes them “essential.”

Any movie on today’s list (with the exception of Triumph of the Will) falls into a different sort of category, which is essential for my own coverage and enjoyment. Modern film fans will be forgiven for not having seen Mutiny on the Bounty (“I stopped watching Mel Gibson movies after the whole Jew-bashing thing.”) or Modern Times (“I’ve heard of it — wasn’t that from like, 1920?”), but the movies from this era are why you want to get into movies in the first place.

Mike is absolutely right in claiming that this time in Hollywood history has perhaps the highest hit rate ever for sheer enjoyment. And even if you’re into newer, darker stuff, recognize that today’s film luminaries either grew up watching this stuff or figured out really fast that they were worth watching for lessons on how to make a movie the right way.

– – – – – – – – – –

More movies tomorrow.

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