Six Favorite Films from Six Decades
Tomorrow is National Classic Movie Day! To celebrate the classic film community's favorite day, I'm participating in the Six Films, Six Decades Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Film and TV Cafe. You can read the other entries here.
Girl Shy (1924)
I've been a fan of Harold Lloyd's ever since I first saw him in Safety Last! on the big screen for a college class, but my adoration for the man reached dizzying heights last month when I binged as much of his work as I could on the Criterion Channel. It was a magical experience, and the apex was without a doubt Girl Shy, one of the sweetest and purest romantic comedies I've ever seen.
Lloyd plays a tailor who hopes to publish a book full of advice on how to woo women, despite the fact that he is painfully shy around them and develops a stutter any time a woman is around. On a train one day, though, he meets Jobyna Ralston -- my favorite of Lloyd's leading ladies -- and the two soon fall for each other. Brimming with heartfelt earnestness, genius slapstick, and eye-popping action, Girl Shy has become one of my absolute favorite films.
Merrily We Live (1938)
Confession time: although a lot of people love My Man Godfrey, the only thing I truly enjoy about it is William Powell. Godfrey's premise — a man is mistaken for a bum and hired by a wealthy family whose eccentricities charm him rather than scare him off — is similar to Merrily We Live, an enchantingly madcap comedy that was released two years later. The film leans into its silliness, giving audiences one of the best examples of screwball comedy ever made.
Everything about Merrily We Live is fast and furious — jokes practically topple over one another, and the actors literally never stop moving as they briskly go in and out of rooms. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in the cast gets a chance to shine. Clarence Kolb's exasperated patriarch has one of the funniest drunk scenes on film. As his wife, Billie Burke is her typical scatterbrained self, except her flightiness is turned up to an 11. Alan Mowbray plays the butler, as he so often did, except this butler makes funny faces and threatens to leave the crazy Kilbournes every day.
I'd be remiss, though, if I didn't single out the performance that amuses me the most, which was Brian Aherne's as the "tramp" who is taken in by the Kilbournes. Aherne is so endearingly quirky, and his scenes with stunning leading lady Constance Bennett are so adorable that it makes you wonder why the actor has been so unfairly forgotten.
My Dream Is Yours (1949)
Lately, it seems like my brain can't handle much except reruns of The Great British Baking Show, which has honestly been great. However, there was one film that I revisited recently that proved to be just as much of a balm for me as the pastoral loveliness of GBBS: My Dream Is Yours.
I had seen this film a few times before and always liked it, but when I watched it in honor of Doris Day's birthday last month, it was like a switch had been flipped — I fell head over heels in love with this movie, so much so that I watched it twice in one week. First of all, it's directed by Michael Curtiz, a true filmmaking giant who oddly doesn't get the attention he deserves despite being the man who made Casablanca. One of the best things about Curtiz is that he didn't confine himself to dramas or Important Films — he helmed all sorts of movies, including a string of musicals with Doris Day, whom he helped discover in 1948 when she was recommended for the lead in Romance on the High Seas (another '40s movie I highly recommend).
Day, of course, is a ray of sunshine in everything, but she is especially sublime in My Dream Is Yours as the unknown singer who struggles to make it big to support her young son. Not only does she excel with the story's moments of poignancy and silliness (there may or may not be a dream sequence where she and Jack Carson sing and dance in bunny costumes… with Bugs Bunny himself), her voice seriously knocks me out every time I hear her do "Cuttin' Capers" or the title tune. And then there is the supporting cast! Lee Bowman is great as the slimy radio singer Day falls for, and Jack Carson is beyond wonderful as her tireless agent. But the film's real MVP may be Eve Arden, the funniest, most gorgeous wisecracker classic Hollywood ever had. Arden is who I want to be when I grow up and My Dream Is Yours is a splendid example why.
The Teckman Mystery (1954)
When I saw Muriel Box's 1955 comedy Simon and Laura last year, I quickly discovered that Box was one of two women working as a director of feature films in Britain at that time. The other was Wendy Toye, a choreographer and dancer who made only six films and a few shorts in the '50s and '60s before going on to work in television and theatre. Although it's proven tough for me to get my hands on most of Toye's (and Box's) movies due to their unavailability in the U.S., TCM came to the rescue — as it so often does — by airing The Teckman Mystery, a fantastic mystery that illustrates how unfair it is that Toye has become such a forgotten figure in film history.
Unexpectedly fast-paced and full of twists both big and small, The Teckman Mystery follows author Philip Chance (John Justin), whose publisher wants his next book to be about Martin Teckman, a young pilot who recently died while testing a plane. Chance isn't that enthused about the idea — he is more intrigued by Teckman's attractive sister, Helen (Margaret Leighton) — but it soon becomes clear there is much more to the pilot's death than meets the eye. I won't say anymore because that's all I knew about the plot when I first watched the movie, and it made the experience so much better as I fell in love with Justin's charming performance, Toye's suspenseful, assured direction, and the great script.
As I said before, this is not an easy film to track down. (It's going to be a real sad day when it expires from my DVR.) It has been released on a region-2 DVD, but I had no success in finding it anywhere else or in any other format. However, despite this, I still felt it important to put Wendy Toye on your radar because trust me when I say I'm thrilled that she is now on mine.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)
One movie that I had heard a lot about and finally got around to seeing last September was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, a fabulous comedy starring Don Knotts that I still haven't stopped thinking about since that first viewing because it made me feel so good.
It seems strange to say that considering the plot involves a bloodcurdling murder-suicide and a cobweb-infested haunted house, but there is a sweetness and a warmth to the film that I can't get enough of thanks to the small-town setting, the dazzling cast of character actors (Reta Shaw! Charles Lane! Philip Ober! Ellen Corby!), and the wannabe reporter at the center of it all, Knotts's Luther Heggs. And then there is Vic Mizzy's score. I absolutely love Mizzy, especially his work on one of my most beloved TV shows, The Addams Family. His music for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is very similar — which means it is incredible — and it goes perfectly with the film's creepy, kooky, altogether ooky vibes.
Although the story is a little predictable and Luther's romantic interest, Alma (Joan Staley), doesn't have much to do, I can already tell that The Ghost and Mr. Chicken will be making me laugh for many, many more Halloween seasons to come.
Foul Play (1978)
For me, there is nothing cozier than a good comedy from the '70s or '80s. There is just something about those two decades that elicits this warm, comfy feeling, like a big cable-knit sweater on a crisp day. I'm talking films like Clue, Roxanne, Silver Streak, even Beetlejuice. Last August, thanks to TCM's Summer Under the Stars day dedicated to Goldie Hawn, I discovered two more to add to my list: Foul Play and Seems Like Old Times. Hawn's co-star in these films is Chevy Chase, which seems odd if you know anything about either actor. Onscreen, though, they become the screen duo you never knew you wanted, her bubbly bombshell persona meshing beautifully with his more cynical, rough-around-the-edges goofiness.
A comedy-thriller overflowing with nods to Hitchcock, Foul Play finds Hawn playing a librarian who stumbles into an elaborate assassination plot and receives police protection from Chase's detective. While there are some dated aspects here, there are so many things I love about this film, but I'll just single out two: Dudley Moore's uproarious performance as a hapless man who keeps running into Hawn at the most unexpected moments, and a 71-year-old Burgess Meredith (playing Hawn's adorable landlord) rescuing our leading man and lady by engaging in a karate battle with one of the villains. If just reading the last part of that sentence doesn't make you giggle, I'm sorry, something is wrong with you.