Five Great Escapes in Film

Save this list for a rainy day.

Here are five of my favorite “escape” films–those that are just plain fun and easy to watch with their quality scripts, effortless performances and timeless humor.

I’ve reviewed all of these films on my other blog, Classic for a Reason, and linked to those reviews. Click on the titles to check one of them out.

Claudette Colbert John Barrymore in Midnight
Claudette Colbert and John Barrymore team up to tear apart his wife and her wealthy lover (and claim their hearts) — but she’s already fallen for a penniless cabbie.

Every Cinderella has her midnight, and Claudette Colbert meets her deadline in fine form. While her romantic co-star is Don Ameche–and he’s good in this role–it’s John Barrymore, her “fairy godmother,” whose performance stands out in wit and charm. The script is by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, an incomparable team, and it’s one of the last scripts of Wilder’s before he began directing his own stories. Also co-starring Mary Astor.

The Palm Beach Story
Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert The Palm Beach Story
You can’t stop true love — even with all the money in the world.

Yep, another Claudette Colbert vehicle (hey, she was good), this time in a film written and directed by Preston Sturges. This is my favorite of Sturges’ films, and it always goes too quickly for me. Claudette and Joel McCrea are at a crossroads, and she leaves him to find a wealthier husband. She hasn’t forgotten her soon-to-be ex’s dreams, however, and insists any new man in her life fund his predecessor’s latest invention, This is a witty, sexy, sly film (all within Production Code standards, of course), with offbeat characters and a quirky ending. Co-starring Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor.

You Were Never Lovelier
Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth
Rita was never lovelier.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were an incomparable team, but he’s just as magnetic with Rita Hayworth–and she was a mesmerizing dancer. This is a witty film with a somewhat unpredictable plot line, at least if you’re familiar with similar films of the era. The music is beautiful, with songs by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer. Set in Argentina (although there’s absolutely no element of that culture in the movie), there’s romance in spades here.

The Shop Around the Corner
the shop around the corner margaret sullavan  james stewart frank morgan
The audience knows what they haven’t figured out yet.

This is a sweet movie, no other way to say it. It was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who was generally known for edgier comedies, but it still has that “Lubitsch touch.” Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart are perfectly cast as the sparring co-workers who, unbeknownst to either, are pen pals, each falling for the other through their correspondence. If it sounds familiar, it’s been remade a time or two, including the 1998 updated take on the premise, “You’ve Got Mail.” It’s just plain satisfying to watch this movie.

James Stewart and Harvey
Invisible? He makes himself known.

James Stewart in another great role–that of Elwood P. Dowd, whose best friend is a six-foot invisible rabbit. His sister wants him committed, but when she admits she’s seen Harvey herself, she ends up institutionalized. Elwood is oblivious to the doubt and scorn of others, and his child-like faith is ultimately what saves them all.

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, 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

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

Featured Image -- 15194
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

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

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.