My Year of Classic Film

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I have a confession to make.  Despite being a self-described classic film nut, a year ago, I hadn’t seen any Hitchcock films, I could barely tell you who Cary Grant was, and I didn’t like Casablanca (1942).  Gone with the Wind (1939) and Roman Holiday (1953) were two of my favorite movies, and I had seen a some of the major films, like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Citizen Kane (1941), Casablanca (1942)Some Like It Hot (1959), and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and a handful of Audrey Hepburn movies.  But, otherwise, I was seriously lacking in classic film knowledge.

But so far this year, I’ve watched 111 feature-length films made before 1970 for the first time.  111 films.  And there are still ten days left in the year.  Now, I’ve seen a bunch of Hitchcock films, Cary Grant is my favorite classic male actor, and I like Casablanca.

So what prompted this change?  Funnily enough, it was largely due to Olivia de Havilland.  I will chronicle my discovery of de Havilland’s films in a future post, but here are the essentials.  Early in the year, I had the opportunity to write about The Heiress (1949) for a class, and after that, I started watching anything that had de Havilland in it.  At the same time, due to my growing knowledge of film in general thanks to the aforementioned class, I started watched some other classic films.

From de Havilland, I went through the same craze with Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Rosalind Russell, James Cagney, Lauren Bacall, and others.  I ate up the films of Billy Wilder, William Wyler, and Alfred Hitchcock.  I saw character players like Agnes Moorehead pop up seemingly everywhere.  I learned of the forgotten talent of Ann Dvorak.  Simply put, I tried to watch as many classic films as I possibly could.

The results are a hodgepodge.  I watched well-known and critically acclaimed films like It Happened One Night (1934), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), All About Eve (1950), and Sunset Blvd. (1950).  I watched forgotten gems like Three on a Match (1932) and To Each His Own (1946).  And I watched lesser-known films like Born to Be Bad (1934), Slightly French (1949), Lightning Strikes Twice (1951), and Shock Treatment (1964).

The amazing thing about this whirlwind through classic film is that – with just a few exceptions – I enjoyed every movie I watched.  I doubt that would happen if I watched such a diverse group of films made in the last decade.  Maybe I’m just nostalgic for a lost era, but I firmly believe that classic films are just better than modern films.  The stars were bigger (and actually talented), the comedy funnier, the drama more amplified – and most importantly, story mattered.

This is the year I fell in love with movies from the classic era.  Captain Blood (1935), Modern Times (1936), Ninotchka (1939), The Women (1939), Dark Victory (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Now, Voyager (1942), Sunset Blvd. (1950), Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and others are now among my favorite films – and I only saw them for the first time this year.  I will continue to watch classic films like crazy because now I realize just how much there is to see.  I’m looking forward to continuing the journey next year.

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