Monday, September 6, 2010

I Love Old Movies

I’m a sucker for old movies. I don’t need Technicolor or over-the-top special effects to produce a four-hanky sob-fest. Thank goodness for Turner Classic Movies. Their movie vault is filled with black-and-white, sudsy films that make me turn to goo.

Recently I watched Journey for Margaret, a heart-warming World War II flick with Robert Young and Margaret O’Brien in her motion picture debut. Released in 1942, it was the early days of America’s involvement in the War, and the story centers on a hardened newspaper reporter’s efforts to bring two orphans to the States. When he is forced to choose only one, your heart breaks for the little boy he must leave behind.

I also watched an absolutely silly, inane , but ultimately very sweet movie, A Date with Judy, released in 1948 with Jane Powell and a very young, waist-no-bigger-than-a-wasp, Elizabeth Taylor. This was the post-war equivalent of Beverly Hills 90210, but with actors with actual talent. Amazing to think that Liz Taylor and Robert Stack get secondary billing because they’re not the “stars” of the film. But as ridiculous as the plot in this film is – and trust me, any film with Xavier Cugat, a Chihuahua, and Carmen Miranda as the B-storyline is dumb – nonetheless, I actually cared whether Judy and Oogie (Jane Powell and Scotty Beckett) reunite and whether Carol and Stephen (Taylor and Stack) can overcome his prejudice against family wealth.

It’s funny that I can wax rhapsodic about these two movies, which is in stark contrast to the movie reviews I’ve been hearing from Rhonda, the Southern half of Evelyn David. She recently spent hard-earned bucks on two new blockbusters, and walked away disappointed in both. It wasn’t the acting. Rhonda assures me that George Clooney is still wonderful eye candy and Angelina Jolie has all the right stuff to be a convincing double (triple?) agent.

But at the end of both movies, she didn’t care what happened to George or Angelina’s characters. Without offering too much of a spoiler for either film, let’s just say that there was no Disney happy ending for anybody – and Rhonda wasn’t invested enough to be concerned.

Whether it’s a 1940s teen movie, a 2010 blockbuster, or the dog-eared copies of old favorite mysteries and books we’ve read and re-read, it always comes down to character. Does the audience identify with the fictitious people of screen or page? If not, then whether or not the protagonist lives to see another day or dies a noble death is quickly discarded into the “who cares” pile. All the fantastic car crashes and outrageous stunts can’t save a movie where you barely remember the main character’s name after the first fifteen minutes.

Watching these films, re-reading old favorite mysteries where I remember whodunnit on the first page and it doesn’t minimize the pleasure one iota, makes me take my own writing apart, sentence-by-sentence. I want my readers to care about Mac Sullivan, Rachel Brenner, most especially about Whiskey the Dog. I want readers to wonder if Mac can overcome 50+ years of commitment-phobia; I want to make sure that readers empathize with newly-divorced Rachel as she awkwardly re-enters the social scene; while at the same time, I want to baffle and surprise the reader with a mystery that is sophisticated and smart. Tall order, indeed.

But isn’t that what I signed up for when I listed mystery writer on my resume?

Stiletto Faithful, please share with me your favorite movie and why it has such lasting appeal.

Marian aka the Northern half of Evelyn David


  1. I love old movies, too. Try to get my kids to watch them, they see they're in black and white, and Egads! They freak.

    We watched an old Robert DeNiro/Sean Penn (okay, not THAT old, but still...) called We're No Angels and it was really good. Kids liked it (it was in color). I try to sit us all down every now and watch one together (failed with Fistful of Dollars... I couldn't sit through that one).

    Fun post!

  2. My favourite movie of all time is White Christmas. I'm a sucker for the old musicals--Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly :sigh:. And I can't resist watching The Ten Commandments every time it comes on TV. Even though I have it on DVD. O.o

  3. Your post made me laugh, all the old movies you mentioned I saw in the movie theaters when they were brand new. Yes, I was a kid and we went to the movies every Friday night.


  4. I love old movies. As a matter of fact, I'm watching All About Eve as I type this. Love The Philadelphia Story, Arsenic and Old Lace, Now Voyager, etc. But my absolute favorite is The Big Sleep with Bogie and Bacall. It's a convoluted plot, but the noir quality of rainy LA, and the dialogue make me want to watch it again and again.

  5. Oooh, I love all the movies you've all mentioned. Also love Meet Me in St. Louis.

    Funny, I'm not generally crazy about the movie versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musicals -- maybe they are opened up too much for the screen and what made them magical is lost in translation??

    But give me Fred, Ginger, Gene, or Judy -- and I'm hooked.


  6. I also love the movies Gayle mentioned! And anything with Clark Gable. Just love that twinkle in Gable's eye. There's something wonderfully escapist about watching movies from the '30s and '40s in particular now.

  7. My favorite old movies are the Hitchcock films and those with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Not crazy about the musicals - I like to get lost in a movie's plot and someone breaking out in song and dance always took me out of the story.

    Rhonda - aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  8. The old Thin Man sries. William Powell and Myrna Loy.