Keeping Up With the Classics #1

Every week or so, I will be posting brief reviews of all the classic films I view for the first time here. Here were last week's selections:

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Dir. Stanley Kramer, 1967) - Well-intentioned and daring for its day, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER features stellar performances, particularly from Spencer Tracy in his final film role, but a tone so saccharine-sweet and sentimental that it loses any bite. An enjoyable film that has aged poorly.

The Shop Around the Corner (Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1940) - Arguably one of the most influential romantic comedies of all time (it was remade as the musical SHE LOVES ME and as the film YOU’VE GOT MAIL, among others), Ernst Lubitsch’s Jimmy Stewart-starrer, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, is a delightful heart-melter. While not as laugh-out-loud funny as Lubitsch’s masterpiece, TO BE OR NOT TO BE, SHOP is beautifully-performed and hugely entertaining.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Dir. Blake Edwards, 1961) - Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard crackle with palpable chemistry, but this beloved Blake Edwards dramedy feels heavy-footed and not as fabulous as it thinks it is. There’s no doubt that Henry Mancini’s Oscar-winning score and the production/costume design are indeed fabulous, but after a while, BREAKFAST and its flighty protagonist overstay their welcome.

You Can’t Take It With You (Dir. Frank Capra, 1938) - Winner of the Best Picture Oscar, Frank Capra’s YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU feels like a prototype for his 1946 masterpiece, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Thematically similar to WONDERFUL, and, like that film, featuring Lionel Barrymore and Jimmy Stewart, YOU CAN’T... takes something with all the right parts and stretches it to an overlong running time of over two hours. Every scene has the right elements, but they all run too long to hit with maximum impact. The film is nonetheless a frequently delightful watch.

The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927) - The only reason this shamelessly sentimental part-talkie is remembered is because of its importance in cinema history. That being said, Al Jolson does give this performance his all.

Mutiny on the Bounty (Frank Lloyd, 1935) - Thrilling, exciting, and emotionally engaging in equal measure, Frank Lloyd’s Best Picture-winner, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, is immaculately crafted and features stellar performances from Clark Gable and Charles Laughton.

The Letter (Dir. William Wyler, 1940) - THE LETTER, a drama about a woman accused of murder, is worth seeing for Bette Davis’ typically strong work, but it's betrayed by a weak finale that’s melodramatic and contrived instead of satisfying. The opening scene is one for the ages.

The Public Enemy (Dir. William Wellman, 1931) - One of the first classic gangster films that influenced everything that came after, THE PUBLIC ENEMY is a short, bitter little film with a James Cagney performance for the ages. You'll see bits of it in THE GODFATHER to SCARFACE to ROAD TO PERDITION.

My Man Godfrey (Dir. Gregory La Cava, 1936) - As searing a social satire as it is hilariously witty, this batty screwball comedy with William Powell and Carole Lombard is among the finest films of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Rebel Without a Cause (Dir. Nicholas Ray, 1955) - The rare film that feels as relevant today as it must’ve been when released, Nicholas Ray’s 1955 drama about rebellious youth stands out most for James Dean’s heartbreaking, naturalistic performance. If you’re a fan of THE ROOM, you’ll find that much of its most famous moments (calling people “chicken” and “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”) came directly from REBEL.

All Quiet on the Western Front (Dir. Lewis Milestone, 1930) - Even at 90 years old, this 1930 Best Picture-winner is one of the great anti-war films of all time that’s so technically astonishing and powerfully acted that it more than earns its place in cinema history.

Miracle on 34th Street (Dir. George Seaton, 1947) - Family films aren’t made like this anymore, and that’s a shame. Intelligent and effortlessly charming, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET is a movie that appeals as much to adults as children and hasn’t aged a day. And Edmund Gwenn's Oscar-winning performance as Kris Kringle is nothing short of magical.

Stage Door (Dir. Gregory La Cava, 1937) - A forgotten gem that received a Best Picture nomination, Gregory La Cava’s STAGE DOOR is equal parts funny and sad. Set in a New York City boarding house for aspiring actresses, this film honestly shows the struggles that many face when trying to make it in the business. Oh, and it stars Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn in the lead along with Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Eve Arden, and a wonderful Andrea Leeds - Oscar-nominated for this performance - in support.

Little Caesar (Dir. Mervyn LeRoy, 1931) - Edward G. Robinson blows the roof off with his sensational performance as the eponymous character. Other than that, though, LITTLE CAESAR is an otherwise forgettable crime film that pales in comparison to others of its era like THE PUBLIC ENEMY and SCARFACE (1932).


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