24 Frames: 2nd Annual 10 Best Classic Films Watched…For The First Time

Welcome to the annual Twenty Four Frames Top Ten List of Classic Films Watched… For The First Time. Once again, the list turned out to have an international flavor, though films from the U.S. still dominated with five (Only because the films watched during the year were mostly from the U.S.). That said, two of the films making the top ten are from Britain and one each from Japan, France and Italy. The 1930’s dominated with four films making the list. Again, the 1960’s was the most recent decade with two films. The two decades in between  also made the list with two films each. There are 15 honorable mentions all of which are worthy works in and of themselves and deserve to be seen. For easy access, I have provided links to the films on the list I have written about. Additionally, here is a link to all the films I watched in 2011Finally here is a link to the 2010 10 Best Classic Films Watched…For the First Time. The films are in alphabetically order.

An American in Paris (1951) Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen

Gene Kelly was at the pinnacle of his career. As I mentioned in my comments a few days ago. this musical has it all, a joy from beginning to end.

Design For Living (1933) Ernest Lubitsch

Directed by Ernest Lubitsch, this is one of the most witty,  mischievous, sophisticated and daring of pre-code films. A ménage-a-trois, adultery, shades of bisexuality are all stated or at least implied.  Screenwriter Ben Hecht apparently rewrote most of Noel Coward’s originally source material but he certainly kept the saucy flavor of the original. Romantic comedy the way it should be.

It’s A Gift (1934) Norman Z. McLeod

One of W.C’s best! Running slightly over an hour, there is not a weak spot in the film. Fields meets his match multiplied by ten because there is hardly a nice person in the film. Starting with his nagging wife from hell to a nasty blind man, to the incorrigible Baby LeRoy, Fields faces one battle after another with his usual crusty outrage. Brilliant!

Nothing But a Man (1964) Michael Roemer

Excellent look at the Deep South depicting the challenges faced by a proud black man and his school teacher/preacher daughter wife. Engaging performances by Ivan Dixon and Abby Lincoln.

Oliver Twist (1948) David Lean

David Lean along with cinematographer Guy Green evoke Dicken’s London in stark brilliant expressionistic photography. Wonderful performance from Alec Guinness whose Fagin ranges from a friendly thief at first to a demon enemy as the film progresses. Anthony Newley as the Artful Dodger and young John Howard Davies as Oliver help make this a real treasure.

Open City (1945) Roberto Rossellini

A landmark Italian film made with black market film stock, few professional actors and extremely limited finances, in other words, Guerilla filmmaking, Italian Style. The film centers on a group of resistance fighters, eventually betrayed by a former mistress, who is seduced by the German lesbian assistant of the Gestapo officer in charge, a sadistic creep named Bergmann. The film contains some brutal scenes of torture that must have been truly shocking to filmgoers back in the 1940’s when the film was first released.

Pale Flower (1964) Masahiro Shinoda

Directed by Masahiro Shinoda, Pale Flower is a moody, haunting and exquisitely photographed (by Masao Kosugi) shot mostly in enclosed spaces and undercover of the rainy night. A penetrating music score by Toru Takemitsu adds to the flavor. Shinoda captures the feel of American film noir merging it with the cinematic flare of the French New Wave creating a truly unique entity.

Pygmalion (1938) Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard

Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller are superb in this 1938 version of Shaw’s classic look at class distinction. Howard’s Henry Higgins is an unrepentant, arrogant, boorish professor of phonics who, as a lark, decides to teach a ragged lower class street peddler of flowers how to act and speak the Queen’s proper English. The ambiguous ending hints, for those who desire Higgins and Eliza to get together, at a so called happy ending, yet Higgins seems to remain determined not to change as does the smiling, and knowing, Ms. Doolittle.

The Awful Truth
(1937) Leo McCarey

Charming performances from Cary Grant and Irene Dunne plus a witty script by Vina Delmar and sharp direction by McCarey make this a winning screwball comedy. The dialogue is sharp and so sophisticated that this could have been a French farce with an added dose of Laurel and Hardy slapstick. Amazingly there was some suggestive dialogue that somehow got passed the censors, for example at one point Dunne’s character tell her music teacher, “I wonder if you could convince him that everything was just as I said it was that night at the inn. You know, the night we…” McCarey had a great year in 1937 with this and Make Way For Tomorrow.

The Lusty Men (1952) Nicholas Ray

Nick Ray is a visual poet! He uses the camera like a paintbrush, each stroke expressing an idea, making a lasting impression. Jeff McCloud (Robert Mitchum) is another of Ray’s misfit outsiders living on the edge of society. McCloud is a former rodeo champion beaten by too many years of rough rides and hard living. Loneliness and an aura that “you can’t go home again” are themes that run through the film.  Like many of Ray’s films the story is downbeat, though death is seen not as an end, but as a rebirth to those still alive; a common occurrence in Ray’s work.


Auntie Mame   (1958)  Morton DaCosta

Bitter Victory (1957) Nicholas Ray

Dens Gens Sans Importance (1956) Henri Verneuil

Fists in the Pocket (1965) Marco Bellocchio

Island of Lost Souls (1932) Erle C. Kenton

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) Robert Hamer

King and Country (1964) Joseph Losey

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) Sidney Lumet

Pay Day 1922 Charles Chaplin

Stromboli (1950) Roberto Rossellini

The Gazebo (1959) George Marshall

The Innocents (1961) Jack Clayton

The Mating Season (1951) Mitchell Leisen

The Philadelphia Story (1940) George Cukor

Victim (1961) Basil Dearden

21 comments on “24 Frames: 2nd Annual 10 Best Classic Films Watched…For The First Time

  1. Jon says:

    Nice List John! It’s a Gift and Oliver Twist are two personal favorites here, as is An American in Paris. I watched several of these films myself this year, not necessarily for the first time, like Open City and The Lusty Men. I actually just put up a list like this yesterday, although it’s not just “classic” films included, but anything released prior to 2011 that I saw for the first time.


    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Jon and I will be checking out your own year end list soon.


      • Jon says:

        I also meant to say that two I haven’t seen, one is Design For Living, which I’m getting later this week and Nothing But a Man which I’ll have to track down. Thanks for stopping by my place too!


  2. John, thanks so much for this fantastic list. I love it in that it combines some of my personal favorites (THE LUSTY MEN, IT’S A GIFT, THE AWFUL TRUTH, and OPEN CITY) along with some I immediately went and placed high on my netflix queue (DESIGN FOR LIVING, PYGMALION, and NOTHING BUT A MAN).

    Thanks, John, for a great year. Look forward to sharing many more cinematic discoveries in 2012.


  3. I saw Rome Open City for the first time in 2011, too. I was blown away. Loved every bit of it.


  4. The Lady Eve says:

    John – Your fine list includes some favorites of mine (IT’S A GIFT, PYGMALION and my very favorite screwball, THE AWFUL TRUTH), Two on your list were also new to me in 2011 (OPEN CITY and OLIVER TWIST) – plus you mention a few I haven’t seen yet (DESIGN FOR LIVING, NOTHING BUT A MAN, PALE FLOWER). You remind me (thank you!) that I’ve got to get my hands on DESIGN FOR LIVING – I’m trying to catch up on the Lubitsch films I haven’t seen. I didn’t know about PALE FLOWER at all – sounds intriguing. By the way – your honorable mentions list is equally impressive. Great idea. I might try it myself in 2012…


    • John Greco says:


      I was aware of your fondness for THE AWFUL TRUTH. It is such a great comedy and both Grant and Dunne are wonderful. DESIGN FOR LIVING is fun and pre-code spicy. All of the films you mention are gems. Hope you get to see them. Thanks very much!


  5. Kurt Norton says:

    So glad to see “Nothing But a Man” on your list. Great film.


  6. Diandra says:

    Pygmalion is excellent and Open City is powerful. Happy to see them on your list!


  7. Dave Crosby says:

    Dear John,

    A couple of friends from out of town and I watched four very powerful films recently, “On the Waterfront,” “The Letter” with Bette Davis”, “Anna Karenina” with Greta Garbo and Orson Welles’s “Magnificent Ambersons.” I’ve seen all four, but what fascinated me was how much more I saw in these movies and how much more emotion I felt when viewed with an audience. My friends created the audience in my living room. And my reactions to films seen with an audience seem much more profound and penetrating. Even one other person creates this phenomenon of audience viewing.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could include these four films? I’m not arguing with the list. I’m only implying that there are quite a few films from the studio period that are masterful achievements, most especially the work of Orson Welles, who I think was a genius, a word I almost never use. Sad that it’s only on a blu-ray disk. I guess I’m forced to update my technological equipment.

    Thanks for such a fascinating list. Once again, may I say that your blog is wonderfully enjoyable and always educational. A marvelous help to those of us who love the greatest art form to be created in the past century.

    And, by the way, may you and all whom you love have the happiest, most prosperous (in the generalized interpretation of that word) and healthiest new year.


    Dave Crosby


  8. John Greco says:


    ON THE WATERFRONT is one of cinema’s great masterpieces with a stunning performance from Brando as well as some great acting from Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint and Karl Malden (hope to write about this someday). The MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is wonderful and I can only imagine how much greater it might have been if RKO Studio did not chop it up, still Welles genius shines through. I saw this for the first time back in 2010, along the Wyler’s THE LETTER. Davis is always such a joy to watch. ANNA KARENINA, I have not seen. If fact, I am sorry to say I have seen few Garbo films other than NINOTCHKA and TWO FACED WOMAN, the latter of which was many, many years ago. Anyway, it sounds like you had a great time with your friends and you certainly watched some excellent films.

    Watching films with an audience is always best, you pick up on the vibes of all those around you. In some ways, it is both a communal and an individual experience. In the theater you are with people yet you are in the dark which creates a feeling of seclusion.

    I want to thank you for your enthusiastic support and input here at 24frames and here is wishing you and yours a most happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.


  9. R. D. Finch says:

    John, what a fruitful year of movie watching you present here. I’m sure I’m not the only one who experienced an immediate sensation of pleasure as I read some of the titles on your list. They bring back memories of seeing some of these wonderful films for the first time–and remind me that it’s time to watch the ones I haven’t seen in a while again.


    • John Greco says:

      R.D., It is always a joy to discover a great film you have never seen before. OLIVER TWIST, PYGMALION and DESIGN FOR LIVING was especially enjoyable films (they all were but these tjust blew me away). Thanks again!


  10. Judy says:

    Great selection of movies here, John – I also saw ‘Design for Living’ and ‘An American in Paris’ in the past year and really admired them both. Quite a few on your list here that I still have to see!


    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Judy, It’s always a thrill to discover new and exciting films, and there are so many I don’t think we will ever have to worry about runninng out of new discoveries!


  11. Rick says:

    Teriffic list, John! You obviously had a very good year indeed. I would have put your honorable mention, VICTIM, in the top 10 list. When I first saw that film, I had no idea where it was headed for the longest time. And when it was ever, I was researching Britain during that period because I couldn’t believe what I had just learned. Always the sign of a good movie!


    • John Greco says:

      It was tough leaving VICTIM off the top 10 but there was only so much room. Great performance by Bogarde and an overall gutsy film for its time. Thanks!!!


  12. Sam Juliano says:

    John there are a number of screen masterpieces here including the likes of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, OLIVER TWIST, IT’S A GIFT, OPEN CITY, PYGMALION and THE AWFUL TRUTH for starters. The honorable mention list is loaded with more gems including one of my favorite films of all-time, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS.

    It’s a Hall of Fame showcase!


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