Monday, July 11, 2011
I've watched and re-watched a lot of 30s movies that I've said nothing of. I'm finding it hard to come up with things to say about them because I've at least liked all of them and loved most of them, and for obvious reasons. Movies were just smarter and more pleasant back then. Not necessarily pleasant always in terms of content, but always pleasant to watch the way listening to an old record is pleasant; it just feels comforting. Anyway, here are some cursory thoughts on just a few of the movies I've seen.
M. is darker than I even remember it. Peter Lorre's child murderer is like an early Jaws. The techniques used by Lang to introduce him are astonishingly inventive and chilling. This movie is way ahead of its time, and it's bleak as hell. That final image of the mother's lamenting that no verdict could bring back their children is a real gut punch.
The Rules of the Game is even better than I remember it. Much has been said about it's use of deep focus lenses and gliding camera movements, and watching it again I was better able to appreciate these things than when I saw it at 16ish. It's a beautifully crafted film, and it's remarkable how well it was able to be restored. The story is much more complex than it seems on the surface. It plays as a country house, class-mingling farce but it reveals deeper themes about existence and society. The film is all about playing games–hunting games, games for amusement, games between lovers. But who's governing the rules of these games? The ending might suggest that no one is, that games are played without a ruling body, that people can become entangled in others' games, that people can be playing the wrong game, that people can break any rule they desire. It's a look at a society and an existence functioning under tenuous rules that can be transgressed at any moment. Silly games can have dire consequences when there is no one there to make sure they are played fairly.
Cukor's David Copperfield (1935) is a terrific adaptation, perhaps rivaling David Lean Dicken's adaptations in quality. I was heavily enjoying the performances and didn't think the film moved too rapidly the way many literary adaptations often will. This one's a salient example of how you streamline a gargantuan novel into a satisfactory film.
Rene Clair's Le Million (1931) is even more lighthearted than a Capra film. It's infectiously sweet.
Walsh's The Roaring Twenties (1939) is very entertaining (and a clearly influential gangster picture). Cagney is electric as always. I liked this one a lot–it's the wannabe gangster in me.
Welman's Nothing Sacred (1937) confirms my unconditional love for Carole Lombard. I wanna go back in time, steal her from Gable, and make sure she never gets on that plane. My god, she was beautiful and funny. Just a complete package. What an absolute tragedy to have lost her so young.
I started Hawk's Twentieth Century (1934) and was loving it until my DVR didn't tape the whole thing (which is fucking weird and incredibly annoying). TCM is doing a star month in August and they have a Carole Lombard day. I'll have to catch the rest then and every other movie with her in it. I can't get enough.
Speaking of beautiful women I want to go back in time to marry, Lubitsch's Ninotchka (1939) is an absolutely great comedy featuring an absolutely adorable Garbo. I once read someone say that when you watch Garbo smile, you feel like you would do anything to keep her smiling forever. I agree. She had such a beautiful, expressive face. In Ninotchka, she's fantastic, and so is Melvyn Douglas (you really believe that he's the guy to melt her Soviet heart). A lot can be said about this film's critique of Stalinist Russia coming from Wilder and Lubitsch. I won't go into all of that. As a strict playful comedy, this thing is is just wonderfully intelligent and sharp. The type of smart comedy that made me think of you both John and Brandon. There's a great scene with Garbo and Douglas drunk after a party. Garbo bemoans her betrayal of her home country and says she deserves to be placed before a firing squad. Douglas grabs her and places her next to the wall while blindfolding her. He goes over to a champagne bottle and opens it with a load pop. Garbo falls to the floor as if shot. A seemingly pretty subversive and dark joke, but actually just a perfect comedic moment. Comedy today is rarely as visually sharp as that. (I think the only comedic thing that is as visually and intellectually sharp as classic comedy from the golden age is The Simpsons during its peak years. I'm absolutely convinced that The Simpsons' Season 4 is one of the [if not thee] greatest comedic achievements in the history of humanity). I loved this film and love that Lubitsch touch.
I should say, my three current 30s loves are Lombard, Garbo, and Myrna Loy (has any man who's seen The Thin Man not fallen in love with her?). Jean Arthur is a close fourth. My three current 30s male heroes are William Powell, Cagney, and Jean Gabin. This 30s project is one of the best decisions I've ever made.
John, I know the 40s and 50s website you made is called John vs. Brandon, but would you be interested in adding me to the mix? I'm slowly trying to work on my lists for both decades. After I'm done with the 30s thing, I'll focus my attention to the next two decades. I should have my 1953 and 1957 lists done soon though. They are close to being finished.
Also, I've concluded that I should have my 1931, 1932, '36, '37, '38, and '39 lists done by the end of August at the very latest. I'm excited.
John, interested in Hawks' Scarface as the next pick?