The Golden Age of Movies

The Golden Age of Movies

Originally I thought I would write up a review for each movie. This task, as daunting as it would have been, would lose a major point behind what I wanted to look at. Namely it would have been a review and less about the movies themselves. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Reviews are designed to give you a brief outline of what occurs in the movie and an opinion of the actual film. How was it? Was it worth your time? All valid concerns for a review, but not exactly what I wanted to actually focus on, besides, if you haven’t seen the movie(s), I don’t want to be the one to ruin it. Instead, I intend to look at the movies themselves and the culture that surrounds them. Maybe even how they still function in an era of CGI this, and HD or 3D that. Do these movies, which defined Hollywood, enter the thoughts of the movie going populace? What makes them stand out? What makes them classics? Heck, am I the only one still interested in even watching these oldies?

Casablanca (1942)

This is the movie that actually started me on the path to answer the question, “What makes it stand out?” In fact, the movie didn’t even answer that question. It actually poses more questions, like why are movies like this no longer being made? I think that question could actually be answered by saying, “Because there is no one in Hollywood today, like Humphrey Bogart.” If I’m wrong, then I’d be interested to see who you think is. This actor oozes calm and cynicism in almost every line, and that’s just the first few minutes of screen time. Ingrid Bergman who also stars in the movie does a wonderful job playing opposite Bogart’s charm. The chemistry is solid between the two, and eventually their past history is told, than later resolved. To me what makes this movie a classic is the tale it weaves. Set in an exotic location, during one of the worlds darker periods, telling us there are still people that do what’s right. Ok, so maybe there’s more to it than that. The movie itself is beautiful, even in all its monochrome glory. The dialog is wonderful and the events believable. Let’s not forget, it also has one of the greatest lines in the history of cinema: “Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

What, were you expecting something else?  I’m just messing with you. Actually, the movie is full of memorable quotes. It’s a testament the writing style that really has gotten lost through the ages. They wrote then, how they talked at that time. World War 2 was still going on when this movie was being made. Period movies today, to me, seem less… credible, because they lack this authenticity.

Maltese Falcon (1941)

What’s this, another Bogart movie? Well, yes, of course. There’s a reason he’s considered by most to be the industries best male actor. Ironic, really, considering he was only nominated for three Academy Awards, and won only one during his life. Anyway, back to the movie at hand. The Maltese Falcon. I actually read the book BEFORE, seeing the movie. I think I should have done it the other way around, because I think it took away from my experience. I went into it knowing not only how the story ends, but being able to pick out WHAT didn’t carry over from the book. This makes the movie no less a corner stone in the Golden Age of movies however. The Maltese Falcon was single handedly responsible for Film Noir movies. I’ll let you Google that term. Done? Good, moving on. The movie is well written and adapted despite the lack of cretin aspects left out from the book. Aside from that however, it plays well to Bogart’s cynical outlook and callous demeanor. I guess what makes this such a great movie, is the fact actually does follow the books plot, twists and turns. There are very few movies I can think of that live up the kind of cinematic, crime drama that this film strives to be. It could be the book adaptation, or it could be the cast, or it could be the director. Who knows? What I do know is these kinds of movies are few and far between. True mystery movies like this are missing in today’s vast array of Hollywood drivel.

Ok, back to the movie. What have we covered? It’s a defining noir defining flick, it has wonderful chemistry between the actors and of course it sticks to the mystery the film builds up. Bogart plays a great detective, there are interesting characters peppered through the film, and again the dialog is spot on. I’d recommend watching the movie before you read the book. Guess that’s it in a nutshell. Lets change gears.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)

This movie has a laundry list of “first”. Among them, first cell animated feature film, first Disney production. That’s just off the top of my head. Anyway, what makes this movie a classic? Aside from the colorful and whimsical cast, it’s the music that really helps this movie along. Disney took gambles on this movie and it paid off in spades for him, and his company. Sure Mickey came first, but it was Snow White that helped build his empire. If you have doubt about that, look at previous works by Disney. Nothing he had done previously as a cartoon maker, even came close. Anyway, back to what makes this movie stand out. Color, cast of characters, and music. But what else? What about the animation? This movie raised the bar so to speak, when it came to cell animation not only was color added, but it was also beautifully done. And done entirely by hand. By HAND. This is during a time that such a feat like this was unheard of. Now of course, Disney’s style of animation has been the golden standard by which all other American animated films will be judged. Even today, when CGI is the norm, Disney is starting to realize they need to return to their roots. Quality, not quantity is their objective. Princess and the Frog was Disney’s latest, classically animated film. Was it CGI? Nope. HAND DRAWN. Amazing huh? All thanks to Snow White’s solid foundation. When a movie can say, I have influenced history, you know its a classic.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I’ve seen this movie dozens of times. Each time is no less impressive. Especially when you consider what when into making this film. What gives this movie such power, that it has become one of the worlds most iconic films? I think what it had going for it, was timing and Judy Garland. Lets face it, Shirley Temple was good idea, but Garland gave the role a ‘real person feel’. Comparing Garland and Temple is a necessity in this because Shirley almost got the role. I’m glad she didn’t because to me, Temple would have been too cutesy for this roll. Don’t forget, the story DOES have its dark moments. As for the timing… This is interesting because it’s really based on my opinion more than any facts. This film preceded Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, giving kids films relevance, in a mostly mature dominated audience of the time.  Aside from this, color processing for movies was beginning to be used, allowing the film makers to switch between color and black and white.

Technical issues aside this is a well told story that had many things going for it. I think if it had been done in any other time period, it wouldn’t have gotten the icon status it does have. Can you imagine if it was done today, with all the CGI people running around while Selena Gomez sang Somewhere over the Rainbow? I’ll let that image sink in. Terrified? Good, because if Hollywood keeps on this path of doing all these remakes, I’m sure it’ll happen eventually.

King Kong (1933)

When I began making this list, it was King Kong that dictated I specify the year the movie was released. Thanks Peter Jackson.  The original King Kong was a milestone in storytelling and stop motion. I remember watching this movie when I was younger, I was captivated by it. I felt bad for the monster. King Kong is the star of this movie, hands down. He didn’t asked to be brought back to New York, sure it may be a modern day Jungle, but it’s not his Jungle. Like some of the other movies on this list, it became a movie that set the bar so high; very few movies were able to catch up. I’m going to go out on a limb here and state something: Every monster movie following King Kong, carried the torch Kong lit. From Godzilla to giant man eating crabs, they drew on aspects King Kong helped define. King Kong is an icon, there’s really no way around that, but he also is more than that, the story itself is part of what makes this movie great. It points out mans folly, mans need to exploit things it doesn’t understand, regardless of the consequences actions. Aside from this, the movie was an original screenplay and not based off any other work. This was groundbreaking for its time, not because it was original, but because the cast and crew pulled of one of cinema’s most icon and fought over franchises in the history of Hollywood. To this day, King Kong is relevant to the cinematic experience and I’m not talking about Peter Jackons’ remake.

A Street Car Named Desire (1951)

During my quest to answer the questions I first posed to you, I came across this movie on a list of AFI’s greatest movies of all times. While some of the movies on this list I have seen, I had not yet had the pleasure of seeing this one. In fact, I’ve only seen four of the top ten movies. Guess I better get busy. Anyway this one came to my attention mostly because of this list. I figured, what the hell, lets start pounding out this list of movies some random panel of people in some office somewhere, threw together. Not that I can disagree with the list mind you. Well, at least not ALL of it. Anyway, Vivien Leigh? Marlon Brando? Sure, why not. Two of Hollywood’s biggest names. Can’t be bad can it? Nope, in fact of all the movies on this list, this has got to be one of my favorites. This movie was NOTHING like I would have expected. Going into the movie, I figured it was some other kind of drama movie like Casablanca or something. But nope, it wasn’t. What it was, was an interesting story with a very interesting twist at the end. Vivien Leigh did an awesome job in this movie, in fact, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress for the roll. Course she already had one layin around the house for her role in Gone with the Wind, but who’s counting? So yeh, she did an awesome job. As did Brando, holy cow he was an ass. His roll actually fit within the construct of the movie itself though. The story is really not that simple and you really need to pay attention to the subtlety of some of its twists and turns. It’s pretty amazing that this film has such an impact, because much of the actual meat of the plot is not exactly PC, for the era it was made. Nevertheless it’s a powerful piece. This film really shows us what kind of change the nation was going through during the time this movie is based in. It captures the migration of old plantations, and losing that culture, to a more fast paced and industrial civilization. And no, it doesn’t actually take place on a plantation. But the story of it, does play a part in it. Defiantly give this classic a watch. Trust me, you’ll like it.

The African Queen (1951)

Here we are, back to Bogart. Didn’t think I forgot him did you? I had to put this movie on the list. And here’s why. It was awesome. Need more info? Alright, ok… Fine. Unlike some of the other movies on this list, especially those with Bogart, this one is different. While he maintains some of his cynicism, he ads something new to his roll. Humor. Kathrine Hepburn and Bogart make a very dynamic teaming in this flick. They play off one another very well and their interactions and growing involvement for one another is believable. The African Queen was also Bogarts first movie filmed in color. It is also the only movie he actually did win an Academy Award for. All around this movie worked and despite the rushed beginning of the movie, it starts to slow down and develop the characters you’ll eventually spend the entire movie with, Hepburn, Bogart, and of course the boat itself. Never have I seen an actual vessel, become an actor in a movie before. But the African Queen does, and it comes alive by the end of the movie. Seriously, the boat should have been nominated. Most of the movie was filmed in the Congo, and it shows. It’s such an exotic ride through the jungle, you feel your actually there with them. Beautifully filmed and presented. Of course I couldn’t help but think about the Jungle ride at Disney the entire movie. But, I’m getting off topic… You can tell Bogart feels at home on the boat, having spent most is life on the water. His interactions with both Hepburn AND the vessel is natural, and really doesn’t seem like acting. More like it actually happened. The lines the actors have is believable, however unlike some of the period pieces Bogart’s played before, he really seemed kind out of place. I think this was more the fault of the script writers, then Bogart though. Still, it worked, I really can’t fault it and really holds up even to today’s standards.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Another Bogart film, and like the African Queen, it is different enough to really stand out. Its actually a shame this movie didn’t give him an Academy award nod. Although apparently, Bogart wasn’t exactly falling for Hollywoods crap. Bogart on more than one occasion butted heads with studio executives, and stood apart from other actors in terms of falling in line with Hollywoods growing might. I have to give him props for standing up to them. Arrogant I’m sure, but still… Hollywood needs to be taken down a few pegs. Anyway, back to the movie. This flick is important in many ways. It shows the depth of greed, it shows the road it takes to get there, and the consequences of taking it. Bogart does an amazing job of slowly, and completely falling into the pitfalls greed can have. Fear, untrusting, and well… Yeh, I almost spoiled the end for you. I’m not much of a western movie kinda person, and while this isn’t really a true WESTERN, it has many aspects of its younger brethren. I could however get behind it, and enjoyed the romp through Mexico in order to find Treasure. I really wanted to see all their work pay off. Sides, Bogart was there, how could I not have fun. His role here is far more serious than any of his other rolls and seems to lack much of his trade mark cynicism. I have to say, that despite the excellent acting job he did, by the end of the movie I really didn’t feel attached to the character. Which is a shame considering he… Oops, almost did it again. Er, well… You should watch the movie. Then you’ll kind of get what I’m trying to say. For its time I guess it’s a powerful movie, but to me, by the end, I didn’t like Bogarts character. Maybe that’s the actual problem. I didn’t like him, so by the end, it didn’t matter to me what happened. In that case, that’s a testament to how well he played the part.

The Seven Samurai (1954)

Hang on, we’re going around the world for this Golden Age classic. This film alone introduces us to several plot and character development strategies that will forever change the way movies are made. Even as far away as Hollywood. For the time, this movie was a massive undertaking. None of it was filmed in a studio, and cost well into the half million mark. Unheard of in Japan, at the time. Thankfully the film was completed, and set records both there, and abroad. And its easy to see why. A massive set, dozens of actors and an epic tale that unfolds before us. Of the movies I’ve mentioned previously, only King Kong and Frankenstein have come close, to the amount of replication, and borrowing this movie has influenced. In terms of story, plot and character development, I think this movie actually gives more, then the other two. This flick isn’t nearly as iconic as the others, but it gives more than mere images, it gives other movies that borrow from it heart. This three hour epic tale, takes us on a journey through the hearts and minds of both the Samurai that have fallen from grace and the populace they once swore to protect. And by the end, they are redeemed. I can’t really say much on the dialog and script as the movie I’ve seen is subtitled. Which is fine, the acting and epic feel of the movie is not diminished by this. In terms of classic movies this one ranks right up there with some of AFI’s top 100 films of all time. Well, it should anyway. If 2001: A Space Odyssey is on their list, then this should be at east number 6 on the list. Ah well. They bring dishonor to this film! Fumeiyo yori shi!

Frankenstein (1931)

The idea behind this movie is creepy. Imagine being able to bring a dude back to life from body parts laying around. Morgue’s will suddenly become like shopping centers, “Frys Morgue, Fresh Bodies… Lower Prices.” Luckily science has a long ways to go before this happens. But, we can always watch this movie and pretend it could happen. I’m getting way off topic on this one aren’t I? Lets return back to this classic horror film. Before horror films became all about how much blood and gore we can fit into a scene. This movie actually had a soul, it had a story. Mostly thanks to Mary Shelley, for which this movie is based on. I’ve not had the privilege of actually reading this classic, at least not yet. Like some of the flicks here, this movie has many levels of complexity to it and even though there isn’t much acting on the part of Boris Karloff, he does an amazing job as the monster. Notice there’s no name? Yeh, that’s because he doesn’t have one. The movie never gives the monster a name, you realize that? Frankenstein is the name of the Dr, not the monster. Interesting tid-bit for you. Anyway, the movie is dark but it also has a soul, if it weren’t for the complex nature of the film, it really wouldn’t be any better off than most horror films today. Because it does however, we are given the chance to actually feel sorry for the monster. He didn’t ask to be chained up, he didn’t even ask to be brought back to life. This film sets the tone for many of the horror movies that come after it. Even King Kong has to give thanks to this monster for the complex nature that is evil. What we perceive as Evil, doesn’t necessary mean it is bad.

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