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 2011. Finally 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