Five Classic Films to Watch While You’re Cooped Up at Home

Looking for fresh ideas of movies to watch during this time of home confinement? Here are five of my favorite escapes in film. I’ve reviewed all of them on my other blog, Classic for a Reason. I’ve linked to those reviews, but here’s a brief description of each film below. These are all available to rent (or some, watch free) on Amazon Prime and YouTube. Enjoy!

The Palm Beach Story

Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert The Palm Beach Story
Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor and Claudette Colbert work through the confusion of their relationships.

Tom (Joel McCrea) and Gerry (Claudette Colbert) Jeffers have hit a stalemate in their marriage: they are seemingly better friends than lovers, his business is floundering and she’s bored with the whole situation. He hasn’t given up, but she has, and one day she leaves for Palm Beach to get a divorce and find a wealthy man who not only can support her in the way she feels she deserves, but also provide the financing for Tom’s entrepreneurial project.

As fate would have it, on the train to Palm Beach, she meets just that man, John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee). In the meantime, thanks to a generous benefactor, Tom has flown to meet Gerry and stop her from divorcing him. Instead, he’s greeted by John, Gerry, and John’s flighty, oft-married sister, Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor).

The sparks fly and romance begins as Tom and Gerry face the truth about their marriage.

My Man Godfrey

Carole Lombard, William Powell starring in My Man Godfrey 1936
Wealthy Carole Lombard introduces down-and-out bum William Powell to her society friends.

Society elite Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) and her sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick) are seeking a “forgotten man” as part of a scavenger hunt, and come upon Godfrey Smith (William Powell) living at a city dump. The two women are on separate teams, and Cornelia is the first to offer Godfrey five dollars if he’ll help her win the prize. Her offer is met with a shove into a pile of ashes, and Irene decides it’s best to walk away as well.

But Godfrey, after talking to the flighty Irene, chooses to help her win the scavenger hunt and triumph over her sister. To her delight, he denounces the group of wealthy citizens applauding him after her team’s victory is declared. She offers him a job as the family’s butler, which he graciously accepts.

But Godfrey isn’t just any butler, and Irene begins to fall for him, something Cornelia cannot abide.

How to Marry a Millionaire

Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall - How to Marry a Millionaire
Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall model for a local millionaire.

Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall), recently divorced, has joined with fellow models Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable) and Pola DeBevoise (Marilyn Monroe) to lease a high-class apartment for a year. Schatze, perhaps more than the others, is determined to bait and catch a millionaire, not the “gas station jockeys” she typically falls for.

The situation is looking bleak when J. D. Hanley (William Powell), a widower of indisputable wealth, begins courting Schatze. While she’s genuinely fond of the older gentleman, she’s also being pursued by charming Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) a man she’s quite certain is too poor to be considered.

In the meantime, good natured Loco finds herself falling for a man she believes to be well off, but in fact, is merely a park ranger. Pola, who can’t see a foot in front of herself without her glasses, literally bumps into the man of her dreams, someone with an odd connection to all three women.

How the women resolve what they’re seeking with what they’re finding is as fun and classy as the film’s three stars.

Libeled Lady

Loy, Powell, Harlow, Tracy Libeled Lady
Myrna Loy and William Powell are confronted by Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy.

Gladys Benton (Jean Harlow) is set to marry Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) when he discovers his tell-all front page story about a socialite, Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy), is false and she’s set to sue the newspaper for the astronomical amount of $5 million dollars (keep in mind, this is 1936).

Figuring the best way out of the situation is to turn the heiress into the homewrecker the paper reported her to be, Haggerty hires Bill Chandler (William Powell) to lure her into a compromising situation with a married man.

First, however, he has to marry Chandler off to his bride-to-be to make him the married man in question. Of course, nothing goes as it’s supposed to (how could it?). Gladys starts falling for Bill, who in turn is falling for the lovely Connie. There’s a smart and sassy ending that isn’t really an ending at all.

Sitting Pretty

Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty
You’ve no doubt seen the greeting card with the baby with oatmeal on his head–it comes from this movie!

Harry (Robert Young) and Tacey (Maureen O’Hara) King have a day-to-day challenge in keeping a nanny for their three rambunctious boys. After the last woman quits without notice, Tacey places yet another ad, hoping to find the right young woman for the job.

When a Lynn Belvedere answers and later accepts her job offer, she believes she’s found that woman. Both Harry and Tacey are shocked when a bristling Mr. Lynn Belvedere (Clifton Webb) arrives at the door, and are further bewildered when he makes the disconcerting statement he doesn’t like children.

He does have a way with the boys, however, so the Kings keep him on, and eventually learn his kinder side. What they don’t know is his secret motive for moving in with a suburban family.

When the Kings—and the entire town they live in—discover the truth, it jeopardizes both home and profession.

Four Classic Films they couldn’t make today–and one I’d like to see them take on

Okay, never say never. But it seems unlikely these films could be made today, for the reasons I’ve listed.

I’ve added one film that was limited by the restrictions of yesteryear (and perhaps some bad choices by the producers, directors, screenwriters and/or actors). Still, the story is worth telling, and if the right people took it on…

All of these films have been reviewed on my other blog, Classic for a Reason. Click on the title to see the individual reviews, and if you get the chance, check out these movies!

The More the Merrier
Joel McCrea  Jean Arther, The More the Merrier
Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur battle it out–and of course fall in love.

A single woman rents out the spare room in her apartment to two strange men? It was a controversial idea at the time, but today it likely would be nixed because of the danger factor, not the sexual one.

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
shirley-temple-and-cary-grant
Shirley Temple, Cary Grant

A man suspected of seducing an underage girl is sentenced to date her? While there would be outrage at the concept now, Cary Grant and Shirley Temple (with the able assistance of Myrna Loy) make it plausibleand–really funny.

The Thin Man series
Myrna Loy, William Powell in After the Thin Man
Myrna Loy, William Powell

Since we all know drunks don’t get more charming and capable with every martini, Nick and Nora’s sophisticated use of liquor would be suspect. Besides, some classics just should be left alone.

Dark Victory
Bette Davis, George Brent in Dark Victory
Bette Davis, George Brent fall in love–but he’s her doctor, and knows her destiny.

You have to tell the patient she’s dying. You just do.

And the film the right director should take on…
In This Our Life
Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland In This Our Life
Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland in a film worth re-making.

This is an incredible story based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, and the movie is good, but it should be great. There is so much going on it actually would make a good multi-part series (you know, six episodes on HBO, that sort of thing). Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland alone make it worth watching, and it was John Huston’s second film (after The Maltese Falcon), but it just doesn’t quite reach its full potential. And, I’d suggest they change the names of the lead characters. Stanley and Roy are simply not great names for women.


Five Classic Films with Six (or Seven) Classic Moms

Here are some memorable–although not always admirable–moms in honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday.

Most of these women are flawed, but doing their best, which is all we can ask from anyone, right? And admittedly, perfect moms often (but not always) make boring characters on screen. Still, for the most part, these women have their redeeming qualities. And a few are down-right saints.

So if you can’t be with your mom this weekend, or even if you can, check one of these movies out.

Some of these films have been reviewed on my other blog, Classic for a Reason, and I’ve conveniently linked to those posts.

Mildred Pierce

Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth
Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) does her daughter no favors, but which one gets what she deserves?

A single mom who will sacrifice anything for her ungrateful daughter, Mildred Pierce will have you screaming, “Are you kidding me?” at various points throughout the film. Each of the characters has his or her own flaws, and several of them aren’t ashamed to use them against the others. Joan Crawford won an Academy Award for her performance, and it’s one of her best roles, ever. The film was remade for HBO several years ago, and I hear good things about that version as well, although it is decidedly different.


Bachelor Mother

David Niven, Ginger Rogers starring in Bachelor Mother
David Niven gives his best advice for feeding a baby–but Mama Ginger Rogers knows best.

Ginger Rogers’ seasonal job is about to end when she discovers an abandoned baby during her lunch hour. A series of misunderstandings lands that baby in her apartment, and to keep her job, she has to “admit” the baby is hers. David Niven plays opposite her in this charming comedy about getting what you want while going after what you think you need.


Stella Dallas 

Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Shirley in Stella Dallas
Barbara Stanwyck and Anne Shirley star as a devoted mother and daughter whose ways must part for their dreams to come true.

Stella is coarse and uncouth, and lucky enough to marry a society catch while he’s on the rebound. She’s not a particularly good wife, but her dedication to her only daughter is unparalleled. Barbara Stanwyck gives a wonderful performance in this tearjerker, one that raises more questions than it answers.


The World of Henry OrientTippy Walker, Merrie Spaeth in The World of Henry Orient

Tippy Walter, Merrie Spaeth–no, they’re not playing moms, but their mothers are memorable characters in this marvelous film.

Okay, this one isn’t about moms–nor is about Henry Orient, played by Peter Sellers. It’s about two young teen girls, played by Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth in their first film roles. The girls, Val and Marian, are, to use one of their own words, fantabolous in this heartwarming story. But adding to the charm are Phyllis Thaxter, as the compassionate, generous mom of Marian, Bibi Osterwald as her live-in best friend (by some accounts, Marian has two moms), and Angela Lansbury as Val’s self-absorbed, socially-conscious mother. Tom Bosley plays Lansbury’s long-suffering husband and father of Val. This is a wonderful film you will want to watch again and again.


The Best Years of Our LivesMyrna Loy, Teresa Wright in The Best Years of Our Lives

Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright–the women who held the men, and each other, together

Myrna Loy took a step down to a supporting character role in this post-war classic, but her portrayal of the long-suffering wife of alcoholic husband Fredric March and mother of love-struck daughter Teresa Wright makes her one of the most beloved moms of classic films. This movie shines in every aspect, and Myrna Loy is one of the brightest spots.


 

 

 

 

Six–okay, Seven–Films that Remain Relevant

Here are seven classic movies with messages that still resonate, with one or two seeming darn near prescient.

Of course dozens of other films from the same era these were produced are as relevant, funny, touching or otherwise worth watching today.

It should be noted all of these movies were made during the time the Production Code was firmly in place, making them conservative and downright tame by today’s standards. Still, the women are strong, something characteristic of many of the female roles of the 30s and 40s, yet ironically an element that began to be lost when the Code was phasing out.

And yes, this is blatant cross-promotion for my other blog, Classic for a Reason, with links to the full reviews you’ll find there. Thank you for visiting that blog, and for that matter, thank you for visiting this one!

Woman of the Year

Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn
Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn

The film which brought Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy together. Their chemistry is palpable, but that isn’t the only thing that makes this movie noteworthy today. Hepburn plays a highly capable, skilled woman who has a hard time adjusting to marriage, and Tracy is the long-suffering husband with the wisdom that could save their relationship. Wisdom that still means something in the 21st century.


It Should Happen to You

jack-lemmon-judy-holliday-together-in-it-should-happen-to-you
Jack Lemmon, Judy Holliday

This film was released in 1954, but it predicts today’s phenomenon of “being famous for being famous.” Judy Holliday plays the not-so-dumb blonde who wants more in life than what she sees as her inevitable lot, and makes the questionable decision to have her name splashed across giant billboards throughout New York City. Also starring Jack Lemmon in his first major screen role. A delightful tale, written by Garson Kanin.


The Lost Weekend

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Ray Milland, Jane Wyman

The first film to depict alcoholism in a realistic manner, close to everything in this movie rings true today. There are a few stylistic elements that date the film, and perhaps a handful of aspects of the story line are distinctly from the era, but overall, this film is as timeless as, sadly, the plight of the alcoholic appears to be.


The Best Years of Our Lives

best years of our lives 1
Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, Fredric March

The tale of three serviceman adjusting to civilian life after serving in WWII, it is, in a larger sense, the story of anyone adjusting to a major change in his or her life. Subtle details fill out an already expansive story. While the starring roles all went to men, the supporting cast has several strong performances from top-notch actresses, including Myrna Loy. Winner of nine Academy Awards (with two of them going to Harold Russell, the only time an actor has won two Oscars for the same performance) and one of the best pictures of the 1940s.


The Women

Rosaline Russell, Joan Crawford
Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford

Not the weak 2008 remake, but the original from 1939, it looks at a tale as old as marriage and all the ways women can influence each other in their choices. Witty, sharp and sometimes biting, this is a classic like none other, with an all-female cast that includes many of the top actresses of the day. Based on the racy play by Clare Boothe Luce and made acceptable for Code standards by two clever screenwriters, Jane Murfin and Anita Loos.


In This Our Life

bette-davis-olivia-de-havilland-in-this-our-life
Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland

This not-so-well-known film starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland is not among director John Huston’s finest works. Still, it is worth the watch, if for no other reason than the performance of Ernest Anderson, who plays a young black man unjustly accused of a violent crime he had no part of, and the raw truth, then and now, of racism in our legal system. In fact, the movie was banned from release overseas because of its overt realism dealing with racial issues. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel by Ellen Glasgow.


And a seventh film I featured in an earlier similar post, but it’s worth repeating…we all know an Eve Harrington, and this is one of the greatest films of all time…

All About Eve

bette-davis-anne-baxter-all-about-eve
Bette Davis, Anne Baxter

Sweet, baby-faced Eve isn’t who she first seems to be, and Margo Channing is faced with losing her status as the darling of the theatre-going public to this conniving up-and-comer.  Bette Davis in one of her finest roles, with a great cast, including an Oscar-winning performance by George Sanders and a brief, yet memorable, appearance by Marilyn Monroe.