Why Didn’t I See These Earlier?: Favorite Classic Movies I Saw for the First Time in 2013

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Like last year, I thought I would share some of my favorite classic movies that I saw for the first time in 2013. This year’s list contains a mix of well and lesser known films, as well as a handful of French and Japanese films, as this is the year I genuinely started to dive into foreign classic cinema.

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea in Sullivan's Travels (public domain) - via Wikimedia Commons

Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels (public domain) – via Wikimedia Commons

As soon as I watched Sullivan’s Travels, my first thought was, “Why didn’t I see this earlier?”, making it the perfect film with which to begin this list.  Not only is Sullivan’s Travels a great comedy, but it is also a moving portrait of the power of movies, or, more broadly, art itself.  I know that this film has a lot of fans in the classic film community, but it deserves to be better known than it is.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

The Lodger was the first movie I watched in 2013.  I was sitting in the back of a car watching it on my laptop.  Despite the many distractions, this Hitchcock silent held my attention the entire time with its eerie depiction of a serial killer on the streets of London in the fog.  My only wish is that I could have seen it earlier to include it in my Hitchcock discovery post from last December.

Grand Illusion (1937)

Often hailed as one of the all-time greats, I have no excuse for waiting until 2013 to see this French masterpiece.  A moving antiwar statement and a riveting drama at the same time, it honestly me feel better about humanity after watching it.  And after including Grand Illusion on my list this year and Port of Shadows (1938) last year, I clearly ought to watch more than one new-to-me film starring Jean Gabin next year.

Ozu’s “Noriko Trilogy”

Setsuko Hara in Late Spring (public domain) - via Wikimedia Commons

Setsuko Hara in Late Spring (public domain) – via Wikimedia Commons

I mistakenly thought that Yasujiro Ozu’s so-called “Noriko Trilogy” – Late Spring (1949), Early Summer (1951), and Tokyo Story (1953) – were an actual trilogy with a continuing story. Rather, though all three star Setsuko Hara as a young woman named Noriko, they have entirely separate storylines.  All three explore ordinary family matters, and all are directed with a remarkable amount of restraint.  At this point, Late Spring, in which Noriko hesitates to marry since it would leave her elderly father alone, is my favorite, but I feel like Tokyo Story might resonate with me more as I grow older.

Night of the Hunter (1955)

The only film that Charles Laughton directed had been on my must-see list for ages, but I didn’t see it until this year.  You know that feeling when you sit in front of a screen utterly transfixed, unable to peel your eyes away?  That’s what happened to me watching Night of the Hunter.  It’s darkly gorgeous and shockingly eerie, anchored by magnificent performances from Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish.

The White Sister (1923) and The Scarlet Letter (1926)

Speaking of Lillian Gish, I feel as though the more of her silents I watch, the more I love her performances, and these two films are no exception.  I read The Scarlet Letter in high school and had little memory of it, but when I watched the Gish version over the summer, it moved me with its beauty, and I truly felt as though I understood the art of silent movie acting.  The White Sister reminded me of Orphans of the Storm (1921), which made my list last year, in that it’s a long, epic melodrama that sent me on a roller coaster of a viewing experience.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) and Caged (1950)

Paul Muni in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (public domain) - via Wikimedia Commons

Paul Muni in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (public domain) – via Wikimedia Commons

These two hard-hitting Warner Bros. films, separated by eighteen years, were ahead of their time in addressing issues of incarceration.  One takes viewers inside the brutality of a chain gang, and the other exposes the horrors of a women’s prison.  But they also have endings that have stayed with me long after viewing.  And I will never forget the powerhouse performances of Paul Muni in the former and Eleanor Parker in the latter – or their haunting faces in the final shots of each film.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

I saw this beautiful and bittersweet French musical twice this year, once as part of TCM’s Summer under the Stars tribute to Catherine Deneuve and once on the big screen at NYC’s Film Forum.  The first time, I liked it enough to want to see it again, but I didn’t love it until I saw those vivid colors popping out at me on the big screen.  The choice to have all the dialogue sung could have come across as a gimmick, but here, it’s used to a delightful effect.

There’s Always Tomorrow (1956)

I love a good Douglas Sirk melodrama, but There’s Always Tomorrow really surprised me with its honest depiction of a man unhappy with his marriage.  The performances from Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck are miles removed from their roles in Double Indemnity (1944), showing the remarkable versatility of this screen team.  Their performances and some striking cinematography make this an underrated Sirk gem.

The films of Esther Williams

Esther Williams in the Dangerous When Wet trailer (public domain) - via Wikimedia Commons

Esther Williams in the Dangerous When Wet trailer (public domain) – via Wikimedia Commons

I hadn’t seen any films of swimming star Esther Williams before her passing in June.  But after whizzing through several of them as part of TCM’s tribute to her, I grew to love them.  In a post from July, I likened these films to “candy,” and I still stand by that claim.  In the months since, every time I’ve seen a Williams film on the TCM schedule, I’ve recorded it and saved it for when I needed a pick-me-up.  And it would always brighten my day.

For anyone curious, to date, I’ve seen: Bathing Beauty (1944), Neptune’s Daughter (1949), Andy Hardy’s Double Life (1942), Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), Dangerous When Wet (1953), Thrill of a Romance (1945), Easy to Wed (1946), This Time for Keeps (1947), On an Island with You (1948), Skirts Ahoy! (1952), Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), Pagan Love Song (1950), and Easy to Love (1953).

Throne of Blood (1957)

Macbeth is my favorite Shakespeare play, and I’d heard that Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation set in feudal Japan was one of the greatest film versions of the story.  I have often wondered if my affinity for Macbeth was due to its Scottish story, but after watching Throne of Blood, I know that it is indeed the powerful play itself that has drawn me in.  The apparition and “Out, damn spot!” scenes in Throne of Blood are suitably eerie, but it’s the way the film depicts Macbeth’s fall that I will never forget.

Bonus!  A few more modern films:

  • The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
  • Platoon (1986)
  • The Match Factory Girl (1990)
  • Notre Musique (2004)
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

What were your favorite film discoveries of 2013?

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2 thoughts on “Why Didn’t I See These Earlier?: Favorite Classic Movies I Saw for the First Time in 2013

  1. I also discovered ‘I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang’ this year. It became an instant favorite and made me want to seek out more of Paul Muni’s films. He’s an actor I’d unfortunately seen little of before. What a great film. I like that you paired it with ‘Caged’ — I discovered that one in 2012 and also saw some similarity between them, in their handling of the subject matter and their powerful lead performances.

  2. Thanks, and I’m definitely with you regarding Paul Muni. I saw his performance in Scarface last year, and after seeing this one, I wanted to check out more of his work as well, but I’ve only seen Juarez so far, I think.

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