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.

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.

Midnight
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.


Harvey
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.


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.