"Even if the good old days never existed, the fact that we can conceive such a world is, in fact, an affirmation of the human spirit." Orson Welles
I was born in the wrong time. At least as far as Hollywood goes. Now I know that there are plenty of gorgeous and talented people in Hollywood right now, but I'm sorry. My heart pretty much belongs to the eras of the 30's and 40's in Hollywood. The performers of that era were pretty consistently a triple threat. SO talented. And they weren't physically perfect. Some of them had goofy ears, or weird teeth or were just plain odd-looking (Jimmy Durante, anyone?). The fashions were so rich and elegant, the lines so pure. Perhaps that would have changed if the films had been in color, but I don't think so. I read once that black and white is an actor's best friend because it keeps the focus on the acting, as opposed to the colors. But the glamour was.....stronger, I guess, because Hollywood was PART of the illusion. Now everyone's into realism. But I miss the fantasy. And the STORIES they told! I get all swoony just thinking about it.
I learned to love this era because of my mother. Now my mother is not that old, lest you make the mistake my daughter did. No, she learned it from her mother. It was something they shared when she was a child, just the two of them. She passed it on to me, and I am pleased to be passing it on to my progeny. I have many, many favorites, but I'll just share a few.
Naughty Marietta (1935)-Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy
Nelson and MacDonald were America's Singing Sweethearts. She plays the disguised French princess on the run, whose ship is attacked by pirates. He plays the dashing, if somewhat full-headed, Captain of the mercenary band who rescues her. She knocks him down a peg or two, he returns the favor (and they're both the better for it), so naturally, they fall in love. The fact that Nelson Eddy is as stiff as a board is completely irrelevant to me. The fact is, he wasn't really an actor, but his voice totally makes up for that. I love this movie, and I love the music and I love to listen to them sing it. My favorite moment is when he's trying to "woo" her by alternately insulting her and singing with the Italian band playing in the street outside her window (being female and possessing a pulse, she is spellbound by his singing voice). Then SHE starts to sing and blows them all away. Fantastic! (Note- If you aren't fond of an operatic style, this may not be as enjoyable for you, but the sheer verve of the moment ought to get you through it.)
Captain Blood (1935)and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)- Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone
These are my two favorite Errol Flynn movies. Interestingly, in both films he shares the same co-stars. Something about their chemistry is electrifying to me. He's the hero, she's the fair maiden and Basil is the menacing rival. Classic!These are the films they invented the phrase "in grand style" for. The sweeping music, the adventure, the romance, it's all there.
Errol Flynn was a man who broke the mold, in my humble opinion. He was dashing, good-looking, athletic, something of a ladies man (not to mention a really good actor)and completely unapologetic about any of it. His charm seemed to make up for that lack. We live in an era too ashamed of itself for someone so unabashedly masculine. Captain Blood is the story of a soldier turned doctor who treats the wrong patient during a time of political unrest in England. As a result, he is tried for treason. His sentence is slavery in the Carribbean. Olivia de Havilland buys him. Eventually he escapes (through brain power, no less)and, disillusioned by the cruelty of his King and country, becomes a pirate. Oh, what will happen? How is our hero ever to become a part of law-abiding citizenry again?! I'm sure there's a girl and sword-fight along the road to redemption. And everyone knows the story of Robin Hood. In fact, in pertinent story points, I think I just described it.
Olivia De Havilland, another of my favorites from this era, plays the Governor's neice, Arabella, in Captain Blood and Maid Marian in Robin Hood. She gives her ladies spunk and intelligence and courage. You have to love them. All told, she starred in eight films with Flynn, and they had some serious on-screen mojo. She is an amazing actor, especially for someone who never particularly wanted to be one.
Basil Rathbone, who is perhaps best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, plays Guy of Gisbourne in Robin Hood and rival/friend French pirate Captain Levasseur in Captain Blood. Though he's not classically handsome, he's incredibly compelling and magnetic. He's just so deliciously sinister and his eyes are so intense, he makes me lean back a little in my seat, just in case. Both films boast impressive sword-fighting duels between Basil and Errol (can you even SAY those names without a British accent?! I think not!)
While there is romance and intrigue to spare, the action is awesome. Both of these actors were masterful fencers, and it totally shows.
This one was actually filmed on Laguna Beach in California, and all the little stumbles and slips are real. (Though I can't help slipping out of my willing suspension to wonder if Basil got water up his nose at the end, there.)
Jane Eyre (1944)- Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine
I have always loved this film. Though I only recently read the book, and fell in love with it, too, (I'm now an official member of the Edward Faifax Rochester Stalker's Club) I have seen other versions of this story, and while they have many merits and are certainly more faithful adaptations of the novel, Mr. Welles will always be my Mr. Rochester. Those dark eyes! That deep voice! Or was that deep eyes and dark voice? It's both. Either one would have shivers running down my spine (and I mean the good ones), but you put them together and I cannot take my eyes off that screen. I just sit there and stare like a mouse at a snake. And I drool.
Joan Fonataine plays Jane with such quiet security and SPINE, it's fantastic. Even if the hairdo did make her lose her chin. Observe a normal 'do. See, she's pretty, right? But her Jane 'do definitely hampered that.(See the video.) Amazing how an unattractive 'do can seriously damage a person's beauty.
This is one of my favorite parts of the movie. I apologize for the length, but it has a lot of those eye/voice parts[insert sheepish grin here]. The parts I like the best you can find at 0:50-1:40 (the hottest handshake EVER) and 5:30-6:10 (a declaration I WILL hear before I die!). (*swoon*)
Trivia- Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland are sisters. Elizabeth Taylor plays a small part in this film as Helen Burns, Jane's only childhood friend. She dies.
Summer Stock (1950)- Gene Kelly, Judy Garland
Okay, so it's technically out of the 40's now, but this is just cute. It's a musical (if you couldn't guess that by the stars), and one of Judy Garland's last films. She's Jane, a farmer (willing suspension of disbelief! Work with me!)who's hit a hard time. Her self-centered younger sister Abigail comes home with a theatre company in tow, intending to use the barn to stage their show. This doesn't settle well with Jane or the locals, particularly Jane's fiance Orville and his autocratic father. Jane is headed for some serious heart wrangling when she and Joe(Gene Kelly), the guy who owns the show (and is engaged to her sister), start sparking. There are some truly hysterical characters in this movie played by the inimitable Marjorie Main and Phil Silver. And Eddie Bracken as the nebbish, slightly spineless Orville. But it's the chemistry of Kelly and Garland and the song and dance numbers that are where it's at for me. Go to 3:33 to see my favorite funny song with Gene Kelly and Phil Silver.
And then prepare to get blown away by Garland at her best.
So, these are a few of my favorite things. But a small offering from that particular era of Hollywood. I could go on and on, but I'll save it for another post. I know we hear it all the time, but they just don't make them like they used to. What about you, bloggers? Any oldies you heart?
"A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet." -Orson Welles