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Celebrating National Classic Movie Day: "5 Movies on an Island"

Posted on the 16 May 2016 by Lady Eve @TheLaydeeEve
Celebrating National Classic Movie Day: Movies Island
If by some bizarre quirk of fate I end up stranded on a deserted island that happens to have a reliable food source, lots of sunshine and balmy tropical breezes, I just might be blissed-out enough not to crave watching classic films. But probably not. A fundamental given for today's 5 Movies on an Island blogathon celebrating National Classic Movie Day is that some form of gizmo or gizmos capable playback will be ready and waiting for me my island and that I'll have chosen and brought five movies with me to watch until I'm rescued. Hopefully, within a week or two.
The five films I've selected to take along aren't necessarily my favorite films, though some are, but they are all films I've watched many times over without losing interest or affection. These films are all certifiable classics, all but one are black and white, all but one are from the 1940s and all but one are Hollywood films (vive la France!).

Celebrating National Classic Movie Day: Movies Island

Casablanca

Casablanca (1942), Michael Curtiz. I don't know how many times I've seen this WWII classic-of-classics, but I've never tired of it and never will. It's the perfect Hollywood film: a bewitching storyline with a nice little twist at the end, impeccably cast stars (Bogart and Bergman!), a surfeit of solid supporting players (Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.Z. Sakall, Dooley Wilson and others), a brilliant script by the Epstein brothers and Howard Koch, Max Steiner's stirring score, not to mention unforgettable renditions of "As Time Goes By" and "Le Marseillaise." Casablanca was well recognized in its day, winning three Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing/Screenplay), and nominated for four more: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bogart), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Rains), Best B&W Cinematography (Arthur Edeson) and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Max Steiner). Nearly 75 years on, Casablanca has only become richer and richer with age.

Celebrating National Classic Movie Day: Movies Island

The Letter

The Letter (1940), William Wyler. In the course of their long and fabled careers, Bette Davis and William Wyler made three films together. The Letter was their second and the high point of their collaborations; it also contains Davis's finest screen performance. The story, adapted by Howard Koch, was taken from a Somerset Maugham play that the author had adapted from his own short story and based on a true story of British colonial "white mischief" in Kuala Lumpur in the early years of the 20th century. The film opens, literally, with a bang as Bette Davis, smoking gun in hand, fires repeatedly at a man who falls dead at the foot of her porch. We are instantly swept into a moody tale of intrigue and scandal. Davis's turn as the repressed, fiercely calculating wife of a rubber plantation overseer is the centerpiece of this intense, atmospheric  masterpiece. Not to be overlooked, though, is James Stephenson, an actor whose life and career were far too brief, as her morally torn defense attorney. The Letter deserved every one of its seven Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Stephenson), Best Cinematography, B&W (Tony Gaudio), Best Film Editing (Warren Low), Best Music, Original Score (Max Steiner at his best). Only a final scene, added at the insistence of the censors detracts...but I always hit the "Stop" button and avoid it. I'm sure William Wyler would've done the same thing.

Celebrating National Classic Movie Day: Movies Island

Out of the Past

Out of the Past (1947), Jacques Tourneur. The archetypal, and in my view ultimate film noir, Out of the Past has everything: a former tough-guy detective (Robert Mitchum at his laconic best) making a doomed attempt to live the straight life, an irresistibly doe-eyed beauty (Jane Greer) far deadlier than her sweet face and manner suggest, an ice-cold mobster (Kirk Douglas) out for revenge, and all the bleak atmosphere any noir lover could ask for. Nicholas Musuraca, the RKO cinematographer nicknamed the "painter with light," was responsible for the film's stunning Expressionistic camera work. Also adding style to Out of the Past's beguiling character are locations and sets depicting Lake Tahoe and Acapulco. My favorite film noir of all time.

Celebrating National Classic Movie Day: Movies Island

Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast (1946), Jean Cocteau. This is cinematic poetry that can be watched strictly for the experience of its gorgeous images. Unbelievable as it may seem, Cocteau created this elegant and dream-like fairytale in the midst of the leanest years of post-Occupation France. Production design (Christian Berard and Lucien Carre), set decoration (Lucien Carre and Rene Moulaert) and costume design (Antonio Castillo, Marcel Escoffier and Christian Berard) are all exquisite. Also superb are Georges Auric's spare and haunting score, Josette Day as Belle and especially Jean Marais as The Beast. Marais's Beast is magnificent, so much so that his transformation at the end of the film disappointed some. Marlene Dietrich, who watched the film's Paris screening with Cocteau, was one who was let down when the beast transformed into a prince, famously crying out at the screen, "Where is my beautiful beast?" I felt the same way the first time I watched the film. In French with subtitles, Beauty and the Beast requires no knowledge of French or even that subtitles be turned on, everything one needs to know is on the screen in Cocteau's incredible imagery.

Celebrating National Classic Movie Day: Movies Island

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Blake Edwards. When feminist icon Gloria Steinem selected this film as one of her choices as guest programmer on TCM last month, I was surprised, because I've always seen Breakfast at Tiffany's as an archetypal '60s chick flick. But when she explained her deep affection for the film and her admiration for its central character, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn), a young woman who dares to lead a free life, I totally got it. This film has been a favorite of mine since adolescence and I've always been especially mad about Audrey's Holly, a free-spirited, so-called "party girl" who lives spontaneously and sometimes dangerously in Manhattan during its mid-century heyday. I wanted to grow up to have the adventurous life Holly lived, I wanted the soignee wardrobe (Givenchy), the hustle and bustle of the big city, the sophisticated men. And the freedom. As Steinem noted, "it was one of the first movies in which a woman was sexually free and not punished for it."  True and most admirable. But it also provided the defining role of Audrey Hepburn's career and is without a doubt one of the classic romcoms of the early '60s.
Click here for more on the "5 Movies on an Island" blogathon hosted by the Classic Film and TV Cafe.

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