I didn’t realize until a friend of mine was actually really excited to do it, but it’s been hard for me to find people to watch old movies with. And it’s weird, I always feel like I have to clarify, I mean movies older than the 80s, 90s, or even the 60s or 70s. In recent years I’ve noticed a lot of people who consider 80s movies “old” and don’t watch anything older than that. Even with a lot of friends in the past, I’ve only been able to talk them into watching old movies with me if they were Audrey Hepburn films. And the thing is, I love old movies. They’re amazing, and when people complain about Hollywood today (and we’ve talked about Hollywood fatigue here plenty), I always feel the urge to tell them to watch some old movies instead. This also struck me while watching some romantic comedies this week (for Netflix is vast and full of teen memories) that romantic comedies are so predictable now, but their formula came from classic Hollywood. So on a whim, here’s a few suggestions of classic Old Hollywood films that are definitely worth a viewing.
It Happened One Night (1934)
A Frank Capra film, well known for a few details. It was the first movie to ever be nominated for the Big Five Oscars (Best Film, Director, Writer, Actor, and Actress), and was also the first feature to show a man not wearing an undershirt. In fact, the story goes that undershirt sales plummeted after men saw Clark Gable take his shirt off and have nothing on underneath. Beyond that fun anecdote is actually a very well done film, and as I said, it definitely shows a pattern with today’s rom-coms, but was one of the first to do it so successfully. Claudette Colbert shines as a spoiled rich heiress who just wants to have her way…with everything.
The Dancing Lady (1933)
While we’re on the subject of Clark Gable, this is one of my personal favorites of his. He and Joan Crawford sizzle in this film, and what makes it so interesting is the subtly modern feminism that runs as a subtext to a lot of the plot. I’d forgotten that until I re-watched it last weekend, and was pleasantly surprised to rediscover its wonderfulness. Joan Crawford is definitely a strong-willed, independent woman in this film, which is refreshing for the time period. This movie is also interestingly one of Fred Astaire’s first ever film performances (he appears as himself) as well as one of the early appearances of The Three Stooges – only at this point they were known as Ted Healy and His Stooges.
My Man Godfrey (1936)
I absolutely adore this movie. Besides being an oddball rom-com, it actually features a lot of fascinating socio-economic class commentary, hidden underneath the love story. William Powell and Carole Lombard give some of their best performances in this, especially interesting since they had been previously married several years before and were divorced at the time this was made.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
A definite Cary Grant classic, this dark comedy is screwball and quirk at their finest. Also directed by Frank Capra, we get to see Cary Grant go through a moral crisis when he discovers that his dear old aunts are, actually, serial killers, and insanity runs in his family. Plus, we get to see some fantastic acting from Peter Lorre and Raymond Massey. A running gag is about Massey’s resemblance to Boris Karloff (famous for playing horror roles), who was actually unable to reprise his role from the stage production in the film because he was, ironically, still appearing in the Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace at the time.
There are plenty more, and I’m sure in the future I’ll have even more to recommend. Old Hollywood was able to crank out films at such a ridiculous rate, there is a plethora to choose from. But in the meantime, happy viewing!