5 GATEWAY FILMS INTO THE CLASSICS
Article by Abbey Archer
Hollywood films these days are pretty hit and miss, and sometimes it can benefit the soul to go back to a debatably simpler time: the Golden Age of the silver screen. But where to start? If you’re a total novice to that era of film, like I once was, it can be difficult to explore the older generation. Let me help you along the way, dear n00b. (Sorry, I’ll try not to sound so patronizing.) Before you dive into the likes of Citizen Kane or Gone With the Wind, dip your toes into these good oldies.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
I would bet that there isn’t a soul on Earth that hasn’t heard of The Wizard of Oz, as it has stood the test of time with audiences. Dorothy Gale and her little dog find themselves in a magical land after being whisked away in a tornado, trying to find their way back home with the help of a scarecrow, tin man, lion, and a pink taffeta-and-tulle clad Good Witch. Along with yellow brick roads, opioid flower fields, and a pretty terrifying green-skinned villain, this charming flick is an all-out visual masterpiece of a musical, featuring arguably the greatest film song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung by Judy Garland‘s iconic alto pipes. There are quite a number of people who despise this film (my husband and mom included), but you’ll have to watch and decide for yourself.
I have mentioned this film before in a previous list, but how could I not include it on here? Casablanca is the tragic World War II love story of Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund, the former an embittered American who owns a bar in the titular Nazi-occupied Moroccan city, and the latter his past lover, now married to a Czech Resistance leader. Featuring stellar performances from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and possibly the best screenplay ever written, Casablanca was ahead of its time when it came out and, if released today, would hold its own with the likes of any modern romantic film. It won the Best Picture Oscar; it’s #3 on AFI’s Top 100 Films; it’s a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes; it’s an 8.5 on IMDb. I think it’s safe to say that its acclaim is deserved.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
An extremely underrated comedy if ever there was one, prepare to laugh your head off with this film. Based on the 1941 play of the same name, Arsenic and Old Lace is the story of two sweet old ladies who poison lonely old men, completely oblivious of their homicidal mindset. It sounds like a bonkers plot, one that shouldn’t be handled with humor — but holy cow, it is so funny. Cary Grant is the straight man with pitch-perfect comedic timing, and Frank Capra helms this film with screwball ease that you’ll forget how dark the material is. This film should have been recognized much more than it got, and for a modern audience, you won’t be disappointed.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
If there’s a chance that you haven’t even seen at least five minutes of this gem, you are seriously missing out, and you must repent of your depravity. Singin’ in the Rain is a look into Hollywood’s transition from silent pictures to talkies, and all the hilarious slip-ups along the way. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor are the three leads, bringing so much charm and triple-threat talent to their characters, and for its time, the script is incredibly biting towards Hollywood’s self-congratulatory tendencies. The music is a classic, the dancing is fantastic (with a special shout-out to O’Connor’s phenomenal one-man number, “Make ‘Em Laugh”), and the fact that this wasn’t even in the running for the Best Picture Oscar is something Hollywood still regrets.
Roman Holiday (1953)
Officially introducing the world to the beloved Audrey Hepburn, this is a romantic comedy for the ages. Roman Holiday follows Princess Ann as she escapes her royal duties for a day and explores Rome with a handsome reporter, played by Gregory Peck. Hepburn is so effervescent in this, she won the Best Actress Oscar on her first go. Her chemistry with Peck may be better than Bogart and Bergman’s from Casablanca — which is hard to beat. Roman Holiday is also unique in that it was written under a pseudonym from blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, who won the Original Screenplay Oscar, and for good reason. It’s a sweet tale that will stay with you long after it’s finished, and with a smile on your face, no less.