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.


Eight Classic Films You Should Know About

Here are eight films famous for either one line or one gesture–as well as being damn good movies.

Wondering if it’s a compliment to call someone “Eve Harrington?”  Where did the David Bowie “You Remind Me of A Babe” routine originate? And what does that little brush of the finger against the nose mean?

Yes, this is blatant cross-promotion for my classic movie blog, Classic for a Reason. I’ve reviewed seven of the eight films there, and have conveniently linked to the individual reviews (click on the title).

Here, in no particular order, are the chosen eight:

The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer–1947

“You remind me of a man…”

Shirley Temple turns in a delightful performance as the love-struck teenager captivated by playboy Cary Grant. Of course it’s her older sister who catches his eye, but she’s the judge who almost sent him to jail. Instead, he’s sentenced to date the moony-eyed girl, under the watchful supervision of big sister Myrna Loy.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre–1948

“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”

humphrey-bogart-tim-holt-in-treasure-of-the-sierra-madre
Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt team together with Walter Huston (not shown) to mine for gold, and uncover a lot more than precious metal.

I stayed away from this film for a long time because I thought it was a western or some such that I wouldn’t enjoy. It’s nominally a western, but at its core it is a hard look at human nature and what happens when we’re faced with the worst in ourselves. Humphrey Bogart was never better–admittedly, he played more admirable characters in other films, but that’s the point. Considered by many to be director John Huston’s best film, and that’s saying a lot.

All About Eve–1950

“Fasten your seatbelts–it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Bette Davis, Anne Baxter All About Eve
Bette Davis, Anne Baxter–offscreen these two became lifelong friends, onscreen, well that’s a different story.

If you haven’t seen this one, it’s time to check it out. If Fred and Ginger got me hooked, Margo Channing reeled me in to the world of classic movies. All About Eve is witty, sharp, human, with some deliciously evil characters to boot. All four women in this film were nominated for an Academy Award, the only time in Oscar history that honor has gone to four women from the same movie.

And yes, they had seatbelts in 1950 — mostly in airplanes.

Grand Hotel–1932

“I want to be alone. I just want to be alone!”

You’ve heard the quote, heavy pseudo-Swedish accent and all. This is the film in which Garbo makes the statement that soon becomes identified with her personal life, fair or not.

greta-garbo-john-barrymore-starring-in-grand-hotel
Greta Garbo and John Barrymore, before censors required all kisses to be closed mouth.

This was the first ensemble film to come from Hollywood, and remains one of the best. As a pre-code film it’s a lot racier than you might expect, but the blatant sexuality is still primarily in the looks, innuendo and what’s not said between a man and a woman. In addition to Garbo, the film stars John Barrymore (before his career-ending decline due to alcoholism) and Lionel Barrymore, delightful as always.

Sunset Boulevard–1950

“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

gloria-swanson
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond. The latter was known for proclaiming, “we said it with our eyes!” Yes, the eyes say it all.

Yeah, the old broad has lost it. Okay, old is relative…Gloria Swanson was 50 when this movie was made, but her film career was pretty much over. A star of silent films (and clips from one of them are shown in this movie), she wasn’t able to transition to the talkies. But she wasn’t the object of pity Norma Desmond became. This is a dark film and has achieved cult status, but is far more than this one scene. Complex, haunting and at moments really funny, Sunset Boulevard is a treat only writer/director Billy Wilder could deliver.

Swing Time–1936

“I did everything Fred did, except backwards and in high heels.”

ginger-rogers-fred-astaire-swing-time
Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire — Magic! And imagine managing that dress while you’re dancing. It wasn’t just the high heels that made her part challenging.

Backwards, not so much, but the high heels almost did Ginger Rogers in while filming the final dance number, “Never Gonna Dance.” Her feet were bleeding and had to be bandaged, but she insisted on continuing until they got it right–after 47 takes. What took so long? Nearly the entire number is a single shot, with one camera, and Fred Astaire was a perfectionist. Which means 80 years later, we still can get lost in the romance and grace of an Astaire/Rogers dance number. (And yes, I know the quote isn’t directly tied to the movie.)

The Sting–1973

You know the gesture — a quick brush of forefinger across the nose, a sign of complicity, a smug pat-on-the-back for pulling one off. If you’re under 40, you might not know its origin. Until now, that is. It was a move made famous in this phenomenal film with its phenomenal stars, Paul Newman and Robert Redford. There’s a plethora of talent in this movie, and of all the films to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, this one has to rank in the top ten. Years later Redford would tell of the time he finally watched it — on the VCR, with his grandson–and he noted, “hey, that’s a really good movie.” Yep.

My Favorite Year–1982

“I’m not an actor–I’m a movie star!”

peter-otoole-stars-in-my-favorite-year
Peter O’Toole, who, unlike his character, was both an actor and a movie star.

Funny, touching, a little ribald and wonderfully nostalgic, this is the story of Alan Swann and his one-time appearance on the King Kaiser show in 1954. Based on comedian Mel Brooks’ experience as a young writer on the Sid Caesar show, in particular, the week Errol Flynn appeared, it tells the tale of Benjy Stone and his efforts to keep this movie star sober, at least until he’s appeared live on television and completed his contractual obligation. Look for Lainie Kazan as Benjy’s mother. O’Toole was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, but lost to Ben Kingsley for his incredible portrayal of Gandhi.


Ten

All images are copyright their respective owners, and used under the Fair Use provision of copyright law. Any other use may be a copyright violation.