My love affair with the black-and-white films of Hollywood’s Golden Age began when I was an unsuspecting little child. I made one of my weekly visits to the local library, and after picking out several books, I stared up at the tall, formidable shelves of VHS tapes (clearly this was way before the initiation of DVDs). Something attracted me to a low, forgotten shelf where several Shirley Temple movies resided. I selected one of them at random, and the rest was history.
As I got older, I learned that Shirley Temple movies were kinda the 1930s equivalent to today’s cutesy talking animal movies. They were lighthearted and simple, and meant to take the public’s mind off the worsening economy. The fact that Shirley had so much natural talent at such a young age was a great bonus. You can learn more about how the Shirley empire came to be by watching the TV movie Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story here. Needless to say, that movie was another childhood guilty pleasure of mine that I associated with Shirley’s original films.
This great fascination with Shirley Temple kicked off my deep love of old films and American culture from the 1930s through the 1960s – I am definitely in mourning after the recent passing of one of the last great links to this time period, the actress Lauren Bacall. My library carries several of the TCM Box Set DVDs, and over the last year or so I’ve been watching these to further my Old Hollywood education. Now having seen enough old films to find a few gems, I’d like to talk about some of my favorites of the genre. I’m excluding classic musicals from this list, because I love so many that the topic deserves its own post in the future.
- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – I don’t usually classify this as just an Old Hollywood favorite, because it is more importantly one of my all-time favorite movies. For those of you living under a rock, It’s a Wonderful Life is famous for portraying Jimmy Stewart seeing the world as if he had never been born. But, this Twilight Zone moment does not take up the majority of the film. Instead, most of the film shows a person doing good and always putting the needs of his friends and family before his own. I won’t go into too much detail, but this one is a classic for a reason.
- The Shop Around the Corner (1940) – This film has been remade as the Judy Garland musical In the Good Old Summertime, and the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan rom-com You’ve Got Mail recycles some of its plot points. If you’ve seen either of these movies, you already know the gist of The Shop Around the Corner. Two colleagues have trouble getting along, and both have an anonymous pen pal with whom they’re falling in love. The catch is that they’re actually each other’s pen pals and are truly meant to be together. This film also stars Jimmy Stewart, who I have to admit is one of my top celebrity crushes and I will watch anything with him in it. Bonus points if you feel the same weird glee I did when you realize that Frank Morgan (The Wizard in The Wizard of Oz) also stars in this.
- Mrs. Miniver (1942) – This film won six Oscars, including one for Best Picture. It is about an upper middle-class English family adapting to the changes that their lives undergo when World War II begins. Some of these adjustments include the eldest son enlisting in the Royal Air Force and the rest of the family often spending whole nights in their bomb shelter during air raids. When I first started watching Mrs. Miniver, I thought I wouldn’t like the family at all, because they initially come across as very vain and hoity-toity. But as the film progressed, I was happily proven wrong. I fell in love with these characters and the strong story, and the film has a pretty unexpected ending. I highly recommend this if you enjoy war stories set on the home front. Look out for a scene that was later recreated in a Downton Abbey episode!
- Casablanca (1942) – This is another classic that is extremely well-known and often goes down as one of the greatest films ever made. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca is another World War II story about former lovers reuniting in the occupied Moroccan city amidst the complications of wartime. Bergman’s character is torn between staying with her old flame, Bogart, and escaping to freedom with her beloved husband. I first watched this for extra credit in history class back in high school, but it definitely did not feel like doing homework!
- The Stratton Story (1949) – Yeah, another film starring Jimmy Stewart. I can’t help it, guys, okay?! Here, Stewart plays real-life baseball player Monty Stratton, whose ball career was seriously affected when he lost his leg in a hunting incident. The movie portrays Monty’s life before and after the accident. Another great aspect of the film is Monty’s relationship with his wife, Ethel, played by June Allyson. I just enjoyed this movie so much. Don’t be intimidated by it if you don’t like sports movies, because I found even the baseball segments entertaining. Being the fangirl I am, I particularly loved it when Stewart adorably played the role of doting husband.
What about you? Do you enjoy old movies? What are some of your favorites?