I have a few end-of-year lists planned for December, so instead of piling them up towards the end of the month, I thought I’d share this one a little bit early. Here is a list of some of the classic movies I watched for the first time this year that I enjoyed the most.
Horror, monster, and creature movies: I’ve never been a fan of horror movies, but watched a fair few from the classic era this year, and I loved them much more than I had expected. Believe it or not, I had never seen King Kong, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon until this year, and I also watched some great Warner Bros. two-strip Technicolor horror movies like Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum.
Ace in the Hole (1951): I love Billy Wilder’s films, and Ace in the Hole is no exception. Kirk Douglas delivers a powerful performance as a reporter who keeps a man’s life at risk in order to get a big story. It may not make for the easiest of movie-watching experiences, but it’s nevertheless a movie I’m eager to revisit.
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948): This movie strung me on an intense emotional rollercoaster. It is so far the only of director Max Ophüls’s films I’ve seen, and it’s so well directed and shot that I must see more. Plus, I honestly think Joan Fontaine’s performance in this is stronger than her work in Rebecca, Suspicion, or The Constant Nymph.
Lesser seen Olivia de Havilland and Rosalind Russell movies: 2012 was the year I really progressed through the lesser known titles in the filmographies of my two favorite actresses, and it made me love their work so much more. I’ve now seen 33 de Havilland films and 23 Russell films. Favorites from this year for de Havilland include The Dark Mirror, Hold Back the Dawn, My Love Came Back, and The Great Garrick. For Russell, I really enjoyed Sister Kenny, Roughly Speaking, Five Finger Exercise, and A Majority of One.
Orphans of the Storm (1921): I watched this D.W. Griffith French Revolution drama starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish on a whim during TCM’s Summer Under the Stars this August. And I was simply blown away. Parts of it reminded me to A Tale of Two Cities, but I got so caught up in it that I constantly found myself shouting at my television while watching some of the intense parts.
Nightmare Alley (1946): When I checked out Nightmare Alley on a whim from my library, I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t expecting to get so wrapped up in the story, to feel for Tyrone Power’s character so much, to be utterly gobsmacked by that ending. This is one great film noir that also made me realize what a great actor Power was and introduced me to the underrated Coleen Gray.
Greta Garbo silents: Greta Garbo was wonderful in whatever films she made, but she really shone in her silent movies. I saw Torrent, The Temptress, Flesh and the Devil, Love, The Mysterious Lady, The Single Standard, and The Kiss this year, and A Woman of Affairs is sitting on my DVR. How Garbo could say so much by doing so little is beyond my comprehension.
Theodora Goes Wild (1936): Maybe I should have bunched Irene Dunne with Olivia de Havilland and Rosalind Russell since I saw a fair few of her films this year, but I feel like singling out Theodora Goes Wild. It’s hard to believe that this delightful screwball comedy was Dunne’s first true comedic film, and she is marvelous as a small town woman who writes a scandalous novel.
Laura (1944) and Leave Her to Heaven (1945): Yes, before 2012, I had never seen a Gene Tierney film. Needless to say, these provided me with a great introduction. The smooth blend of intrigue, romance, and dry wit make Laura the perfect film noir, and Leave Her to Heaven is a glorious Technicolor mix of a melodrama and a psychological thriller whose visual beauty belies its dark story.
Port of Shadows/Le Quai des Brumes (1938): I had the opportunity to see the atmospheric and intense Port of Shadows on the big screen at New York City’s Film Forum a few months ago. This moody film may seem predictable today, but it’s still worth a look, particularly for the performances of Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan.
A few more worth mentioning: White Heat (1949), Vertigo (1958), The Kid (1921), Love Letters (1945), Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932)