When Movies Didn’t Need Color

Personal B&W pix-picks by L. E. Taylor

Last month, I passed along a boyhood remembrance from decades ago. The narrative came to rest upon an old movie, The Enchanted Cottage.

Some readers have responded, both to the poignancy of the World War II phantasy, but also to the fact that it was in black and white. I’d already intended to set aside time soon to write about black-and-white movies, which comprised the majority of films enjoyed by people of an earlier generation.

As a painter in my youth, I was branded a “colorist” by my grad school critic. True enough, but the stark poetry of graphite on velum also conveys a color of another kind. Sketches in pencil or ink can jolt the sensibilities as in a dream. (We are told most of us dream in black and white. Maybe.)  Tones of black and gray strip our nature of obvious emotional triggers, and insist upon more form. And fewer flowers.

Without the flowers, here’s my tip: Do yourself a favor and start watching black-and-white movies – some are great classic cinema, some are merely good entertainment. Many are clumsy and banal (just like everything else.) But this list, though admittedly biased to my own Middle American sensibilities, is pretty safe if you want to sample the really good stuff of a younger Hollywood, in glorious black-and-white.

  • Casablanca (Bogey, Bergman, and Nazis, 1942)
  • Brief Encounter (As sensual as platonic love gets, 1945)
  • Roman Holiday (Greg Peck & magical Audrey Hepburn, 1953)
  • It Happened One Night (Clark Gable with no undershirt, 1934)
  • Stagecoach (Debut of “The Duke”, 1939)
  • How Green Was My Valley (Manly sentiments; literary, 1941)
  • The Maltese Falcon (Classic Bogart thriller, 1941)
  • DOA (Riveting cinema noir mystery, 1950)
  • All About Eve (Smart, classy show-biz drama, 1950)
  • They Died With Their Boots On (U.S. history on-the-hoof, 1941)
  • On the Waterfront (Best Brando until The Godfather, 1954)
  • Double Indemnity (Sexy cinema noir murder thriller, 1944)
  • The Third Man (Cold War thriller,1949)
  • Some Like It Hot (Best comedy for grownups, 1959)
  • Key Largo (Bogey & Bacall, gangsters in the Keys, 1948)
  • Twelve O’ Clock High (Great psychological war drama, 1949)
  • Mrs. Miniver (English family braves WWII Blitz, 1942)
  • The Sea Hawk (Best swashbuckler flick, 1940)
  • They Were Expendable (PT boats, lots of stars, 1945)
  • The Sea Wolf (Grim film of a great Jack London novel,1941)
  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Supernatural, romantic, 1947)
  • Blithe Spirit (Witty, elegant, literary Noel Coward classic, 1945)
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (Tense tragedy. Classic symbolism, 1943)
  • Sergeant York (WWI heroism, Gary Cooper, 1941)
  •  Citizen Kane (Tops on all the “greatest” lists, 1941)
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (American family drama, 1942)
  • The Bank Dick (W.C. Fields’ best, 1940)
  • Top Hat (Fred & Ginger invent movie dancing, 1935)
  • The Apartment (Smarmy-sweet story; ‘60s irony, 1960)
  • Red River (Classic western, good character development, 1948)
  • Going My Way (Bing Crosby, the singing priest – Oscar, 1944)
  • The Bishop’s Wife (Great supernatural romantic comedy, 1947)
  • The Big Sleep (Classic cinema noir; Bogey & Bacall, sizzle, 1948)
  • The Keys of the Kingdom (Powerful challenges to faith, 1944)
  • Requiem for a Heavyweight (Tough neo-realism, 1959)
  • Bad and the Beautiful (‘Inside Hollywood’ drama; big stars, 1952)
  • To Have and Have Not (Bogey meets Bacall, Hemingway, 1944)
  • From Here to Eternity (Five-Star military drama with five real “stars”, 1954)

Once you’ve acquired a taste for the better B&W vintages, you might be liberated for good from twenty-first century vulgarity.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome, of course. Leave them at the candy counter, and bring me a tub of popcorn, will you? Salt, extra butter.

Onward.

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