Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Film Review Roughly 74 Years Too Late

(I tried to get a writing gig a while back and submitted this movie review along with other things that didn't get me hired. While I chew on bitterness, read my by-the-numbers review.)

There is an increasing amount of people out there who flat out refuse to watch old movies. Either they believe there is no way the movie could say anything meaningful to them, or they are allergic to wool suits and women who wear skirts instead of pants. I've tried dozens of times to steer a few people toward a little 50's film noir, Hitchcock, or Casablanca. (Why would you not want to see that film?!) But I am rejected and dismissed over and over. Usually what follows is an uncomfortable scene where I have to feign interest in the unfettered excitement toward Jessica Alba and Nick Cage's latest disasters.

Now when I try this, I use a true personal story about an American classic, It Happened One Night. It works. It draws their attention away from Kate Hudson in Hi-Def long enough to get them sucked in.

I was a sophomore in college in 1998 or so. I took a Film Studies course to compliment my major, and to watch free film on a big screen. During the semester, we took in among others: Life Is Beautiful, Trois Hommes et un Couffin, Pulp Fiction and, to my delight, It Happened One Night. It was the first movie to win the Big Five at the Oscars and I've always heard great things about it.

The pain is, I was older than my classmates by six or seven years, and the bulk of them were more interested copying homework or chatting in the back of the auditorium than watching great movies. Nineteen year-olds with no serious interest in anything then sleeping off some Natural Light or having inane conversations about The Real World. I wanted to watch the film and I wanted them to shut up for ninety minutes.

Within the first ten of the movie; silence. They were riveted. Four hundred kids, born in the eighties, sat eagerly in a darkened theater watching a movie that was older than their grandparents. Hell, its three years older than John McCain.

Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert had immediate chemistry that somehow enthralled a twenty-first century crowd. The story was simple. A hapless reporter finds a missing rich girl who is supposed to marry some famous millionaire. We knew what was going to happen next. This was a romantic comedy; from which a flurry of film plot points is taken. The penniless road trip through the backwoods of the United States, the mismatched lovers who can't express their attraction, the obligatory choice between keeping the woman you love or letting her go. The film is so sexually repressed it's hilarious. Colbert's leg in stockings is used to stop a car while hitchhiking. Scandalous before WWII; sweet and silly now. But the sophomores loved it. Whispers of "Spaceballs!" could be heard toward the end of the film. Mel Brooks spoofed the entire climactic wedding scene. At least they were paying attention.

It is the differences; the same reason people avoid classic films that make this movie a must-see. Clark Gable's antiquated looks and mannerisms are the predecessors of Tom Hanks' smirky jokes and the allure of pop figures like Patrick Dempsey. Gable was haggard and rough around the edges but looked good in a suit. Colbert's beauty is from the remnants of the Prohibition era. Her catty smiles and comebacks were so out of place to a 1930's audience but are commonplace today.

It Happened is a familiar story in black and white; before CGI and a pumped up R & B soundtrack. Somehow director Frank Capra, (You've at least seen It's A Wonderful Life, right? Come on!) kept a fun, fast-paced comedy without the help of Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine". No sappy Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey stinking up the screen with insincere clich├ęs. The zany antics were kept to a minimum and the lack of pandering was incredibly refreshing.

When the final scene came, (it’s a romantic comedy, you know the ending) applause and whistles rumbled through the crowd as the lights popped on. It was the only film that semester where everyone stayed for the end.

If you love the movies, you have to back and rummage through some classics. Your fears are unfounded. Sure It Happened One Night was released in 1934, but it collected Oscars, drew fans and pleased critics for seven decades to come.

1 comment:

  1. Hey I've seen some oldies! Some silents and some "talkies" as well. Chaplin is my #1 actor, and James Cagney the best tap dancer of all time, hands down.

    (I added It Happened to my queue.)