In honor of May 16th being National Classic Movie Day, Rick of Classic Film and TV Cafe posed this question to the blogging world: If you were stranded on a deserted island, which five movies would you choose to watch for the rest of your life?
It’s with a bit of trepidation that I approach this entry. Not just because I’m a newbie blogger attempting my first blogathon, but because the idea of being limited to five movies is pretty mammoth. Twenty’s doable. Ten, maybe. Five? Yikes. However, I do enjoy a challenge. Most of the time, anyway. 😉
My main criteria for choosing these films was simple: They have to wear well and provide a feeling of escape. Subject matter that’s too on the mark is an automatic disqualification (Adios, My Favorite Wife and Swiss Family Robinson.), as well as any elements that could get even remotely annoying (Bye, Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Love ya, but Yunioshi is not my fave.). I learned these rules the hard way, long before this blog. When I was in the hospital after I had my son, the only book I had with me was Diary of A Mad Mom-To-Be, and after having a baby, the last thing I wanted to read about was someone else’s pregnancy. It made for a very long four days, but it was a life lesson.
All righty. Without further ado, here are my five winners:
The Women (1939): One of my friends called this the strangest movie she’d ever seen. I don’t know about that (Twelve Monkeys, anyone?), but The Women is one of my all-time favorites. I always gravitate to movies with good dialogue, and The Women crackles and sparkles from start to finish. A couple of choice rounds:
“Whenever anything I wear doesn’t please Steven, I take it off.”
“I’ve had two years to grow claws, Mother! Jungle Red!”
A slightly adapted version of Clare Booth Luce’s successful play, the film follows the plight of Mary Haines, whose blissful home life is interrupted when she learns about her husband’s other woman, a gold-digging saleslady named Crystal Allen. The cast is a Who’s Who of Golden Era stars—among others, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, and Phyllis Povah. These ladies play off each other superbly, and Rosalind Russell is especially funny—catty, sly, and fast-talking as ever. Of course, the gimmick here is the utter, total absence of men onscreen. No voices, no images, nada. They’re quoted, but that’s it. Even the lone street scene shows only women’s feet walking, and never, ever pans upwards.
Fashion is, of course, a huge part of this film, to the point that it’s almost another character, so there are plenty of great visuals of late thirties couture. There’s even a fashion show scene done in full color, which may make some viewers gape halfway through a black-and-white film, but it’s a fun, eye-popping little showcase for the costumer, Adrian. He was known for elegant and outlandish designs, and really outdid himself when outfitting The Women. I can’t imagine regular people wearing some of the creations featured in the film, such as a swimsuit cover-up with a full-sized mannequin hand for a clasp, or a gown with matching opera-length gloves that had rounded gold spikes attached to them. Really, you have to see this fashion show to believe it.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948): Another film with sparkling dialogue, Blandings gives my island theater a couple of comedic heavyweights. Cary Grant and Myrna Loy as Jim and Muriel Blandings were so skilled at playing this genre to the hilt, they make it look easy. In a nutshell, the film is about a family who exchange their itty-bitty New York apartment for more elbow room in Connecticut. Who could blame them when mornings were like this:
The Blandings’ road to bucolic bliss isn’t exactly smooth. For that matter, it’s barely a road at all. The house they buy turns out to need more help than anyone can give, so they tear it down and start from scratch. Someone starting from scratch on a deserted island, albeit with electricity and popcorn, would see a certain solidarity here. Nothing like being distracted from the present by looking at another person’s world. Nothing like getting ideas for island decor from Muriel Blandings, either.
“I want it to be a soft green, not as blue-green as a robin’s egg, but not as yellow-green as daffodil buds. Now, the only sample I could get is a little too yellow, but don’t let whoever does it go to the other extreme and get it too blue. It should just be a sort of grayish-yellow-green. Now, the dining room. I’d like yellow. Not just yellow; a very gay yellow. Something bright and sunshine-y. I tell you, Mr. PeDelford, if you’ll send one of your men to the grocer for a pound of their best butter, and match that exactly, you can’t go wrong! Now, this is the paper we’re going to use in the hall. It’s flowered, but I don’t want the ceiling to match any of the colors of the flowers. There’s some little dots in the background, and it’s these dots I want you to match. Not the little greenish dot near the hollyhock leaf, but the little bluish dot between the rosebud and the delphinium blossom. Is that clear? Now the kitchen is to be white. Not a cold, antiseptic hospital white. A little warmer, but still, not to suggest any other color but white. Now for the powder room – in here – I want you to match this thread, and don’t lose it. It’s the only spool I have and I had an awful time finding it! As you can see, it’s practically an apple red. Somewhere between a healthy winesap and an unripened Jonathan. Oh, excuse me…”
You Can’t Take It With You (1938): Okay, so the title is pushing it in the irony department, but to be fair, it refers to the afterlife, not unscheduled stops. Anyway, I have a thing for plays adapted for the big screen, and Kaufman and Hart’s tale of the eccentric Sycamore family hits the spot. Father crafts fireworks in the basement. Mother writes plays. Sister Essie dances ballet in the living room while her husband plays the xylophone. Even Alice, the most serious one of the bunch, likes sliding down the banister.
I love the humor woven throughout this movie, especially when it comes to poking fun at that ubiquitous sacred cow: money. When an IRS agent comes to visit because Grandpa hasn’t paid any taxes in fourteen years, he angrily tries selling Grandpa on paying by explaining interstate commerce: “Without it, goods can’t go from one state to another.”
Grandpa, who understands the concept very well, doesn’t bat an eye: “Why? Have they got fences?”
Heh. Mic. Drop. Just one of many throughout the film.
It’s comforting to see these people do what they like and make their own way in the world, not out of selfishness, but out of a wide-eyed sense of what really matters, and that is finding joy and being the best person you can be. What may look silly and childish to outsiders is actually very wise and realistic. When it comes down to it, everything society tries to sell as important is just stuff. Not a bad thing to keep in mind when stuck on an island.
An American In Paris (1951): Vincente Minnelli. Gene Kelly. George Gershwin. Technicolor. Need I say more?
Since You Went Away (1944): We begin and end with girl power, as well as another family story. I couldn’t even think about being stranded on a deserted island without this movie–it would be like forgetting my shoes. Or sunscreen.
Anne Hilton and her two daughters, Jane and Brig, live in a Midwestern city, and like thousands of families all over the world, are forced to cope with the absence of husband and father when Tim Hilton goes into the Army. Starring Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple, Joseph Cotten, Robert Walker, and a host of others, including dozens of name and character actors in bit parts, Away is a great panorama of World War Two culture and a leisurely peek into a year in the lives of the Hilton women. There are signs reminding folks to buy war bonds, obscure-to-us references such as the Dipsy Doodle and Smith Bros., overcrowded train cars–all sorts of things that may drive today’s viewers bonkers, but that was how it was back then. Or so I’m told.
This is easily the most tragic of the five, but I had to include it because I enjoy spending time with the characters. There’s something bracing and satisfying about seeing people go through hard situations bravely and coming out the better for it. Also, I have an interest in the World War Two period, in particular the home front, and Since You Went Away is one of the quintessential home front films.
So yeah, there are my five choices, but hold on a minute, ladies and gents! While it might seem like cheating, I couldn’t resist tacking on a couple of Honorable Mentions. And no, “Mentions” isn’t code for “Smuggled.” 🙂 These two just missed the boat:
A Star Is Born (1954): While this is a fantastic film and Judy soooo deserved an Oscar for it, the reasons her post-MGM tour-de-force didn’t make the cut are two: It’s a heavy story, which doesn’t quite lend itself to escapism. Not to mention the idea of a guy drowning himself in the surf isn’t something one wants to think about when stranded on an island. Yeah. No.
Strike Up the Band (1940): It was tough leaving this one off the list, as it’s probably my favorite of the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland backyard musicals. It’s fun and crazy–how often do we get to see an orchestra made out of a bowl of fruit? However, I wanted some color on my island, and unfortunately, Band would have made the entire lineup black and white, except for that brief bit in The Women. Sorry, Mick and Jootes.
Which five movies would you want on your island paradise?