Today is May 16th–but better yet, it’s National Classic Movie Day!
While I’m planning on celebrating by watching some classic films I haven’t seen before (The Red Shoes, The Eddie Cantor Story, and I Remember Mama), it’s fun to reflect on classic films that struck a chord with me. Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon, which is a perfect way for us classic film fans to discuss the films that we find meaningful.
As the blogathon’s name implies, the intent is for participants to write about the five classic movies they would want to have with them if stranded on a deserted island. And, yes, we can assume the island has electricity, a projector, big screen, and popcorn! How delightful!
The only problem is that it’s immensely difficult for me to choose only five films from the vast amount of classic films. I have so many favorites! However, these are the five classic films that are most meaningful to me.
- The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz is hands-down the film that made me into the movie nerd that I am today. When I was growing up, I delighted in watching the annual broadcast of the film. My grandfather recorded the film for me in the early 90s from the television broadcast, along with the 1990 “making of” documentary that was featured immediately after the film and hosted by Angela Lansbury. And, yes, this means that all of the early 90s-era commercials were also included in my rather unique VHS copy of the film. Although I had just been born when this film was recorded for me, some of my fondest memories of childhood included watching The Wizard of Oz with my grandfather when I was growing up. Over the years, I read the Oz books voraciously and even orchestrated Oz plays with my friends. The VHS of that fine amateur performance exists to this day, thanks to my mother who recorded the extravaganza with our beast of a 90s-era camcorder. When my grandfather passed away, I inherited an enormous suitcase of several classic films, with my beloved copy of The Wizard of Oz among them. In fact, I was watching Stage Door (1937) one day, but missed the ending. Disappointed, I wandered back into my room when I noticed a VHS crudely labeled “Stage Door” peeking out of the suitcase. Thank you, Grandpa.
2. City Lights (1931)
City Lights is the first silent film I ever viewed. Not only was this a novelty to me, but it moved me deeply. I do enjoy the slapstick brand of comedy, but Chaplin’s blend of poetic melodrama and physical comedy is perfection. I enjoyed seeing a story expressed in a way that was devoid of traditional sound. Instead, I became fascinated by how Chaplin could emote with facial expressions or even just his eyes alone. People often say that if you lose a sense, your other senses are heightened. I think that this is the case with silent cinema. By eliminating sound, these films seem to fall into their own art form. City Lights is no exception. Here, Chaplin directs, writes, produces, and stars in this phenomenal silent film. Additionally, just because a film is silent doesn’t mean that we view it with no sound whatsoever–Chaplin also scored this film. The music, although not always obvious, becomes its own character in the film–just like color would, decades later. When I worked for the preservation of Essanay Studios Chicago–where Charlie Chaplin was a contract player before the studio opened its branch in Niles, California–I felt like I was paying Charlie back for all of the entertainment he provided me through his many revered films.
3. Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
I’ll let my TCM interview clips do the talking this time. I was lucky enough to present Theodora Goes Wild as part of a Fan Favorites segment for Turner Classic Movies in September 2015, alongside host Ben Mankiewicz. There are a million reasons as to why I love TCM, and this opportunity is surely one!
4. Easter Parade (1948)
I’m a glutton for good musicals, and this is one of the best. I just can’t get enough of the fantastic actors in this film and the phenomenal songs which provide the pulse of the film. To date myself a bit, I would actually sit at the television with blank cassettes and record the songs as they came on so I could listen to them on my radio later. (This was before the CD soundtrack was released. I loved the songs that much!) This is the only time that film legends Fred Astaire and Judy Garland paired up with one another. They are supported by the likes of Ann Miller and Peter Lawford. The result is magical. However, this amazing cast was not what the studio originally had in mind! Astaire’s part was originally offered to Gene Kelly. However, Gene injured his knee. Fred was actually called out of retirement to work on this film. Cyd Charisse was originally slated for Ann Miller’s role, but had to leave the film due to a broken leg. Despite the casting chaos, everyone shines in this fun, Easter-themed film.
5. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
This is another fun musical that I enjoy greatly. As foreshadowed by the title, the film has a HUGE albeit extremely talented cast. I also think that this film is very quotable, with plenty of comedy throughout. Jane Powell is a well-intentioned heroine who unknowingly marries into a family of seven brothers. Worst of all, they are ill-mannered, leading her to have a rather rude awakening. I feel for her! But things begin to look up for her character as she tries her best to “culture” them. At least she succeeds until her husband decides to help. Ranging from the usual Golden Age musical topics of courtship and …kidnapping?!…this film is not to be missed. My roommate in undergrad and I would watch this film all the time, so I have many happy memories providing ”thoughtful” commentary throughout this film. Moreover, TCM used to organize “Road to Hollywood” events, in which a TCM host would interview the star of a certain film being screened, while on the way to Hollywood to promote the TCM Film Festival. In my case, Jane Powell was interviewed by Robert Osborne a the Music Box Theater in Chicago. Her husband, Dickie Moore (of the Little Rascals), was in attendance and seated with the rest of the audience. These clips were taken by me prior to the screening. I’d like to point out that this happened to take place on the day that Elizabeth Taylor passed away, so Jane Powell also discusses her friendship with Elizabeth a bit. Jane Powell also happens to be in her 80s in these clips and rocked a pair of high heels all the way up to the stage with no assistance. Go, Jane!
Honorable Mention: Singin’ in the Rain (1953)
I warned you that choosing only five films was going to be difficult for me, so here’s just one more bonus–Singin’ in the Rain. This is often coined the best musical ever made, and it is easy to see why. It is packed with so many major talents who exhibit some of the most iconic dance routines, to the tune of many beloved songs. But to me, this film is more than just the actors who played out its main roles. This past year, I’ve had the honor of getting to know actress Lyn Wilde, who was part of a sister act with her twin sister, Lee. The two starred in what was basically the first Parent Trap film, Twice Blessed (1945).
When Lee left the film industry, Lyn stayed on and completed several more films. Among the body of films that she worked on was Singin’ in the Rain, though when I was discussing this with her, she didn’t remember what part she played. I viewed the film once more, keeping an eye out for Lyn, and there she was.
When I showed her this shot, she confirmed that the tennis player in the “Beautiful Girl” sequence is indeed her! Moreover, she mentioned that she was disappointed in the fact that she had to wear tennis shoes for that number, while the rest of the models wore heels–she felt she was short enough as it was! Lyn is still with us today at the age of 93.
And there you have it–the five, er, six classic films I would take on an island with me! Be sure to check out the films that other bloggers chose to feature, and don’t forget to watch a classic movie on this day of days!