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 More Classic Films You Should Know

There are plenty more than five worth seeing, but references to these films remain a part of popular culture. Watching them is still a pleasure.

I’ve reviewed each of these on my classic film blog, Classic for a Reason, and linked to those reviews. Click on the title. If you’re a fan of films from the Golden Age of Hollywood (the 30s, 40s and early 50s), you’re invited to visit that blog and look up some of your favorite movies.

The Thin Man

Myrna Loy, William Powell in The Thin Man
Myrna Loy, William Powell

References to Nick & Nora still abound, and they were first introduced to us in this sophisticated blend of comedy and mystery. Nick’s a retired detective who’d rather drink himself under the table than take on a new case, but others persuade him to look into the disappearance of an old friend. Before long there are three murders to solve, and who better than this master of sharp one-liners and droll observations? William Powell and Myrna Loy are one of Hollywood’s all-time great couples (and they have fourteen movies together to prove it).


The Maltese Falcon

Mary Astor, Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon
Mary Astor, Humphrey Bogart

One of Humphrey Bogart’s first roles as a leading man as well as John Huston’s directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon has so many layers you can watch it a dozen times and see a new story every time. The intrigue of this jewel-encrusted small statue still captivates, as do Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.


Dinner at Eight

Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler Dinner at Eight
Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler

A pre-code film with plenty of innuendo and a cast that brings depth and perception to a diverse group of characters. Not to mention an intricately woven set of circumstances that culminates with the titular meal. Look for Jean Harlow in her signature gown as well as a performance by John Barrymore that reflects his real-life decline.


Arsenic and Old Lace

Featured Image -- 19405
Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, Cary Grant

An over-the-top story and performance by Cary Grant separate this tale from most Frank Capra films. Admittedly, it runs a little long and the best lines are in the first half of the film, so if you find yourself losing interest in the end, don’t worry, you’ve seen what you need to see.


Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca
Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman

Nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. If you haven’t seen this one, make the time to do so. Try keeping track of all the marvelous lines that would never fly today yet work perfectly in this story.


 

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.