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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A Movie Whose Time Has Come

A reflection on Somewhere in Time… by L.E. Taylor

Well, it’s about time.

Thirty-three years ago I went to the theater to see a new movie that had been shot almost completely in one of the most romantic and beautiful locations in America. The fact that the location is also in my native Michigan had a lot to do with my eagerness to see it. I was not disappointed; in fact I was transported.

Because I had no interest in what movie critics think, I was way too busy nursing life’s wounds to read that the elite men and women of the media were scoffing at Somewhere in Time.

I loved it. And I have re-upped my fan-ship many times since, by way of Turner Classic Movies and my own well-worn DVD.

This morning (Monday, October 7th), during my daily browse of the American Thinker website, I came across a wonderfully affirmative article by independent critic David Paulin. Its opening paragraph gave me a nice start to my workday:

MackinacIsland_GrandHotel“Message to high-brow movie critics and cultural elites: Stay away from the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island this weekend. 

No cynicism allowed! Not among the nearly 800 “time travelers” who arrived on Friday at the historic Grand Hotel — the start of a three-day gathering during which they’ll dress up in period garb and (in their minds) transport themselves back to 1912. The fanciful journey has been an annual ritual for 23 years now, bringing together incurable romantics from all over the country, and even abroad. It’s a celebration of the 1980 movie “Somewhere in Time“– a bittersweet love story involving time travel and shot mostly in and around the majestic 126-year-old Grand Hotel.

The film’s message: love is eternal.”

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The American Thinker article is much more substantive than I have room for in this weekly blog post. (You can enjoy reading it yourself; just follow the link below.)

So why pass this along today? Two points. 1) There’s been very nice fan response to my earlier movie recommendations – most recently last week’s small plug for Swept from the Sea, and 2) an observation that you may want to comment on yourself – about “Critics”.

Point #1 is self-explanatory. Lots of good reader suggestions for other films they want added to the lists. (Great! Watch for them in future LETsBlogs). A couple of days ago, in fact, a neighbor hailed me as I was getting into my car and asked if I owned Swept from the Sea. When I said no, he said he’d just ordered it after reading LETsBlog, and I could borrow it when he’s done. Good show!

Point #2 is well covered by Mr. Paulin’s article. Whatever the Vincent Canbys and Roger Eberts may sniff at from their Olympian perches, Middle Americans tend to trust movies that speak to them, whatever elites may opine.

My own tastes are also personal, and I admit my opinions are subjective. As a writer and a garden-variety movie fan, my biases are less than elite. The parts of the equation, however, all need to be there: Well-conceived and executed script; flawless production quality; intelligent direction: seamless, persuasive acting; strong musical score. But any expensive movie can have all those and still have me grabbing for the remote.

I’m sure you have movies that you love… just because you do. They speak to you, and the more you watch them the more you see in them to like. Please let us know what they are.

Meantime, please checkout David Paulin at The American Thinker.

(Don’t be put off, good reader, by the ‘spoilers.’ The movie is better than his synopsis may imply.)

So. If you want a good tip from a garden variety movie guy, have a peek at Somewhere in Time.

Onward.

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Movies for Boys Who Would Be Men

Part One:  Curriculum 101 – Eleven Good Ones

Recently, after seeing trailers for the post-modern re-boot of The Lone Ranger, I had to reflect on my personal experience with the 1930s radio origins of that classic American myth.

More than a few followers of LETs Blog responded, not all on this blog site (more on that later*), but all voiced strong opinions about the moral and intellectual sludge that passes for quality entertainment in this Age of Corruption. (If you think I’m just a grouchy old man, you’re only half right; I was also a grouchy young man.)

As I visited with these cultural compadres I recalled a list of movies I’d cobbled together a few years ago for my very young grandsons (who ignored it). They are older now, but the list has remained largely intact (and still ignored). A few titles have been removed, because they were redundant or didn’t age well. Others have been added or shifted about, because I’m smarter than I was.

These are not what I call “Bambi” movies. (No offence to baby deer lovers, but you get my meaning.) They represent the types of stories that informed my understanding of virtues which define a civilized person. These films feature no zombies, no vampires, no robots.

There is also no P.C. And no B.S.

Because reality is harsh for many youngsters in any era, the messages that resonate with them are not dry sermons or syrupy treacle. The images and ideas that stick in the mind are rooted in ages-old experience of risk, failure, loss, cruelty, and sometimes victory in spite of it all. But none of it comes without a price.

This article offers only a partial list for beginners. I call it Curriculum 101. It is for boys at least 12-14, depending upon their ability to sit still. For perspective and without reservation, though, be assured that each of these gems will deliver satisfaction for men and women of any age. As they have for me. And still do.

Now… Ready projection! Lights out please… And… ROLL ‘em!

LET’s Curriculum 101 (age12+)

1. The Shootist; (Manliness, pain, boy/man conflict. John Wayne)

2. Twelve O’Clock High (Valor in real wartime. Gregory Peck)

3. The Cowboys (Under stress, boys become men. John Wayne)

4. Chariots of Fire (Moral conviction, perseverance, Olympics.)

5. Rudy (boy’s perseverance, collegiate football.)

6. Red Badge of Courage (Cowardice, heroism, Civil War. Audie Murphy)

7. Black Beauty (Heroism – boy and valiant horse)

8. Jeremiah Johnson (Mountain men, 19th century. Robert Redford)

9. Field Of Dreams (Baseball fantasy, father/son. Kevin Costner)

10. Bad Day at Black Rock (Loner battles bad men. Spencer Tracy)

11. Wind and the Lion (Powerful adventure. East vs West. Sean Connery)

 

This is just a taste. Any suggestions? I’m open. *Speak up – talk to each other!

 

Onward.

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References.

All the movies on this list are available on DVD, for purchase or for rent.

  1. Amazon www.Amazon.com
  2. Turner Classic Movies www.TCM.com
  3. Blockbuster www.blockbuster.com
  4. Netflix www.netflix.com