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The B+ Movie Guide: Part IX

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:

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Mike:

One of Hitchcock’s best. He’s one of those guys where, when he’s on, he’s essential. And you’re gonna love it. (2)

Colin:

This was a surprise. I had (technically, still have) major gaps in Hitchcock’s films. I’d seen the later stuff — North By Northwest is still my favorite of his — but I hadn’t caught many of the earlier movies. On top of that, I’d never seen Joseph Cotten outside of Citizen Kane before the list and had never seen Teresa Wright ever. I saw her in Pride of the Yankees and The Best Years of Our Lives and saw him in The Magnificent Ambersons and Gaslight. This one was a real enjoyment, though. Watching 40s Hitchcock makes you wonder why filmmakers need to resort to chases and effects to thrill you these days, because he did it with very little. I saw this movie not too long after I became an uncle, which got me thinking about the possibility of me murdering old ladies in the future. Still haven’t, so that’s good.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Mike:

Capra. Screwball. Grant. It’s hilarious. Batshit insane, but hilarious. Some people hate this because it’s so ridiculous. I loved it. I thought it was great fun. (2)

Colin:

This movie is like if The Addams Family had a film baby with You Can’t Take it With You or something like that. It was fun, though I think I went into it expecting something very different, which is why I think now I need to watch it again. It was a little weird to see Cary Grant in a movie like this, but I still have to say that I’m happy to have seen it to know that Capra wasn’t limited to the entirely wholesome stuff we’ve seen on the list so far.

Double Indemnity - 83

Double Indemnity (1944)

Mike:

Quintessential noir. Another American classic. (2)

Colin:

This was one that my father insisted on watching when I was a kid. MacMurray I knew from The Caine Mutiny and Edward G. Robinson from Key Largo (like I said in an earlier article, I grew up in a Bogart household), but I discovered Stanwyck here. There’s something really useful about being introduced to noir like this as a small child, because you’re not overburdened by the details. I didn’t understand the fraud or the finer points of the script when I was five or six, but I did understand the more important elements: this guy thinks he has everything set in his life until he comes across this woman, who’s going to tear him up inside and coerce him into doing things that he doesn’t want to do until he turns on her, the world, and himself and winds up with some holes in him. That’s something that a child of tender age can understand and keep watching. And then, you know, as you get older, you sort of fill in the blanks.

Gaslight - 43

Gaslight (1944)

Mike:

It’s Gaslight. But on the other hand… it’s Gaslight. One of those movies that could have been Hitchcock and you wouldn’t know the difference. It’s worthwhile. A fun watch. Not quite essential, but a classic nonetheless. (3)

Colin:

This sure felt like Hitchcock to me, especially since we’re just off Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt. Man, do we love Ingrid Bergman, and how about Charles Boyer for a classy, continental leading man? Gaslight had me upset and wanting to yell at characters for how they were being manipulated. I’m not sure how essential it is or isn’t, but I was biting my nails for a good three quarters of the movie, if that’s any indication of quality.

Going My Way

Going My Way (1944)

Mike:

A classic of 1944. Huge movie. This broke records. In context, this is one of the most important movies of the 40s. Maybe not as historically relevant as something like Double Indemnity, but still a huge movie for film history (stressing the history part). (3)

Colin:

You might not have seen this, but you probably remember that line from The Departed, when Alec Baldwin is briefing the cops on Nicholson’s crew. “That’s Fitzy — off-the-boat psycho, lives in Brockton with his mother, she’s straight out of Going My Way.” Watching this movie, I realized my grandmother is too. You basically just have to be very Irish Catholic to be straight out of Going My Way. It’s got everything an Irish Catholic of the Greatest Generation could possibly want: Catholicism, Bing Crosby, songs, love for an Irish mother and an example of how to be a crooner and a devout Christian at the same time. The last time I was back in the States, I mentioned this movie to my Irish Catholic grandmother and she was overcome with joy at the mere thought of it. Hard to beat for happiness when it comes to that not-so-narrow demographic.

Laura (1944)

Mike:

It’s a big movie. Noir. Preminger. Big cast. Not 1 level essential, but a solid 2. (2)

Colin:

They got shut out by Going My Way at the Oscars but what a movie. Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker (and what a name) was perfect in this. Apparently this is a film noir, but it sure doesn’t feel like one at times. There was more of a wit to it, which I suppose is what made it so great to watch. Gene Tierney is this perfect woman who gets murdered, and Dana Andrews is the detective trying to solve the case as Clifton Webb as her friend and Vincent Price as her fiance give him all kinds of trouble. I stopped trying to predict what was going to happen (bad habit of mine) and just went with the movie, which was the best possible course. You get a massive surprise twist, and it’s only halfway through the movie, so you know it’s only going to get better. This is the first of four Preminger movies on the list, and this one is up there. Anatomy of a Murder may take it because I have such a thing for courtroom drama. 

Lifeboat (1944)

Mike:

Great because of the fact that it’s shot entirely in the boat. Hitchcock was a genius at this stuff. I love when he gave himself limitations. (2)

Colin:

How do you manage to make an entire film about the goings-on inside a single lifeboat? The movie is 96 minutes in a boat the size of an Escalade. Limiting the scope like that puts the focus on cinematography and character work, and it’s not just an Indian kid and a tiger. This is an interesting movie to watch in comparison with The Ox-Bow Incident, since they both deal with mob rule and the issue of trust between people. My favorite of the limited setting Hitchcock films is still Rope, but there’s a strong case for this.

meet-me-in-st-louis-25

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Mike:

Masterpiece. Just a great movie. Technically a musical, but I barely notice the songs (save two of them). The color in this movie is astounding. (2)

Colin:

This gets filed away under the “White People Problems” heading. It’s a family living in St. Louis at the time of the World’s Fair, and the daughters are distressed about moving to New York because…boys, and stuff. Anyway, that’s the premise, which is a pretty big turnoff, but then there’s the movie itself, which is seriously good in practice. Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Trolley Song,” among other things. It’s got gorgeous color and it’s still not quite the stereotypical musical you see in the the 50s, like a Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or something like that. Feels less adapted from the stage, which is of course because it wasn’t. Turns out that white people problems can make for an entertaining movie. 

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)

Mike:

This might be my personal favorite Sturges movie. This movie had me rolling. Just absolute hilarity. One of the most unknown, and best movies on this list. (3)

Colin:

Funny. The general idea is that a small town girl gets drunk and marries a soldier the night before they all ship out to go to war, and she doesn’t know who she’s married to. Then she finds out she’s pregnant and it becomes a massive cover-up as she and her spurned admirer try to figure out what to do. I’d never heard of this until Mike told me about it, and it’s still the most fun I’ve had with a Sturges movie. Her father, played by William Demarest, was my favorite character — the overprotective constable who finds his daughter in the family way. There’s a cameo where the governor is McGinty from The Great McGinty. The ending is also an awesome propaganda twist. The whole movie exists for no reason other than to be fun from start to finish. It’s on this list not because anyone’s required to have seen it, but because it deserves a revival as one of Sturges’ finest and as a well-made wartime comedy, up there with The More the Merrier

National Velvet - 1

National Velvet (1944)

Mike:

I fucking love this movie. Probably a personal choice, but whatever, it’s a classic. The horse racing scenes are incredible. For any time, not just 1944. (3)

Colin:

I’ll never forget the time I told my Australian coworker that I’d watched Blue Velvet the night before and he replied, “Oh, that gay horse movie?” To which you can only really reply in the affirmative. It is a fun sports movie with a tiny Liz Taylor (about as far from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as one can get) and Mickey Rooney, who was always tiny. There are plenty of sports movies on the list and most of them aren’t as happy or heartfelt as this, so while I’m not sure it’s as essential as all the others, I have no problem with it here.

– – – – – – – – – –

Final Thoughts:

Mike:

This list pretty much also speaks for itself, but the thing that sticks out to me with this one — it’s director based. Hitchcock (x2), Capra, Wilder, Cukor, McCarey, Preminger, Minnelli, Sturges. Clarence Brown is the last one, and he’s not as remembered nowadays, but he was huge in the early days, and National Velvet speaks for itself as a film. But it’s great how these are all classic films, and if you aren’t sure why they’re here, just look at who made them. And as for the rankings, they speak for themselves.

Colin:

Things are starting to make sense when you look at that list. What a different time, that something like Going My Way could do so well at the Oscars and win at the box office. They even beat out Meet Me in St. Louis, which is unbelievable to me because we’re talking about an Irish Catholic movie. You look at everything on this list and try to pick out the one that should have had somewhat limited appeal at the time — you’re probably going to pick Going My Way, but it destroyed. Who watches it now? 

Double Indemnity and Laura are two that I enjoy within the noir genre. One’s an old favorite, the other a more recent surprise. The thing that movies of this era always do for me is throw out casts that get you excited. Porter Hall turning up in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, or Mary Astor as the mother in Meet Me in St. Louis. We’re still at that stage in Hollywood studio history where just about anything you put on is going to have a cast where at some point you go, “YEAH!” That’s why these are so much fun.

– – – – – – – – – –

More movies tomorrow.

http://bplusmovieblog.com

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