|This is what is known as "adding
visual interest," and it is also
|Carole Lombard, holla.
And we cannot forget the character actors and the comics -- Aline MacMahon, Frank McHugh, Frank Morgan, the Marx Brothers, Wheeler and Woolsey, Boris Karloff and Laurel and Hardy, to name a few.
Maybe they weren't more magnetic than today's stars, but they sure as heck were more visible -- movies were the television of the early 1930s, and folks went to the show, as it was often called, at least once a week, so films were cranked out like Model Ts. (It helped that the studios owned the theatres.) And for at least the first half of the decade, these movies were edgier, sassier and more topical than they would be by the end. I personally think that, even though we came close, there are two major reasons why the United States didn't become a fascist state during the Great Depression -- Hollywood movies and Franklin D. Roosevelt. (I sound like Jack Warner, who was a big FDR booster.)
Anyway, watching these movies to me is like re-reading a favorite book, or, um, re-watching a favorite movie. I marvel all over again at the raw storytelling power of "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang," or the wit of the Marx Brothers. I love watching and listening to James Cagney, with his rat-a-tat style of speaking and his exuberant-yet-contained physical presence, and Barbara Stanwyck's pugnacious performances. And to me "It Happened One Night" is one of the best pure romantic comedies ever -- and, judging by the romantic comedies we see today, contemporary Hollywood agrees, because they keep remaking it. It's also fascinating to me to watch as the industry emerges from the silent era and starts learning how to make talking movies. And it's interesting to see tropes in the making that are commonly accepted assumptions in today's films.
I also love older movies because they are free of the hype or the fashion of the moment. The years have either added or subtracted from their reputation. The older I get, the more I believe in perspective, and I think that in many cases it takes years or even decades to see a movie for what it really is -- and as I grow older, I see these movies through a different lens.
I'm not a believer that older automatically equals better, but when I watch older movies I'm more likely to forgive clumsy performances or technical snafus and marvel over the ones that still resonate and entertain, sometimes even despite those limitations. Some might argue that it's because these older movies echo my older, clumsier self. Maybe. But I also felt that way when I was 12, and first started developing an appreciation for old movies by seeing Warner Bros. gangster movies on TV at my uncle's house. (My mom wouldn't even let us watch "Dragnet.")
In this blog, my intent is to watch and share old movies, so that if you don't have the time or inclination to watch them yourself, you can catch a condensed (and biased) review here. For 15 years I made a living as a movie critic for a daily newspaper, but I rarely got to write about the old movies that I particularly love. Now I can. And I'm glad to have you along for the ride.