5 Favourites: Films from Studio-Era Classical Hollywood Cinema

Rebecca (1940) rebecca-blog

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…’

Starring Laurence Olivier as the charming but troublesome leading man, Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as the meek, mild and unnamed second Mrs de Winter, Judith Anderson as the scene-stealing, spine-tingling, ever-faithful servant Mrs Danvers, and more monograms than you can imagine.

The Story in 6 Words sinister slow-burn about absent ex-wife
(ex-wife is one word, right?!)

3 Reasons to See 
The unflinchingly faithful adaptation from Daphne du Maurier’s novel, especially the opening monologue as we glide up through the grounds of Manderley, all the ways the absent Rebecca is ever-present, from passing mentions to burning monograms, and Anderson’s performance as the faithful-to-a-fault, devoted Mrs Danvers who haunts our heroine like a vengeful shadow.

It’s a Wonderful Life wonderful-life-blog(1946)

‘Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.’

Starring James Stewart as suicidal, generous softy George, Donna Reed as his wonderful, rallying wife Mary, Lionel Barrymore as the villainous banker of the piece, Mr Potter, and Henry Travers as Clarence Odbody, Angel, 2nd Class, eager to earn his wings.

The Story in 6 Words what life is like without you

3 Reasons to See
The debt that director Capra owes to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and its many adaptations for the audience’s willing suspension-of-disbelief when an old, white – whether ghostly or angelic – man materialises to show the hero the error of his ways, George’s poignant ‘show me the way‘ prayer for hope amidst the hustle and bustle of the bar that pulls us in both literally with a soft zoom and figuratively with such depth of feeling, and its equally heart-wrenching-and-warming quality.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)sunset-blog

‘I am big… it’s the pictures that got small!’

Starring William Holden as fall-guy Joe Gillis, Gloria Swanson as faded star and fantasist Norma Desmond, Erich von Stroheim as her committed employee Max, and so many silent film stars out of retirement you’ll be surprised when there’s sound.

The Story in 6 Words meta-cinematic masterpiece about damaging Hollywood stardom

3 Reasons to See
A whole host of real silent film stars in cameo roles, among them Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper and Buster Keaton, Swanson’s stellar performance, especially her monologue as she descends like a deranged madman down the staircase in the closing scene, and the subtle subversion of gender stereotypes and generic tropes in the central relationship.

singin-blogSingin’ in the Rain (1952)

‘She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat.’

Starring co-director Gene Kelly as all-acting, all-singin’, all-dancing Don Lockwood, Debbie Reynolds as chorus girl Kathy, Jean Hagan as the ‘triple threat’ having trouble transitioning to talkies, Donald O’Connor as sidekick clown Cosmo Brown, and Moses (Supposes).

The Story in 6 Words ultimate movie musical spoofs talkies’ transition

3 Reasons to See
O’Connor’s mesmerising, ridiculously impressive ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ routine, the ‘Broadway Melody’ music and dance divertissement starring a seductive, black-bobbed Cyd Charisse, and all the knowing – and nail-bitingly funny – nods to the mammoth task of transitioning from silent films to talkies, from secret dubbing to hiding microphones in bushes.

vertigo-blogVertigo (1958)

‘One final thing I have to do… and then I’ll be free of the past.’

Starring James Stewart as Scottie, a flawed professional with a phobic predisposition, Kim Novak as his – and Hitchcock’s – icy blonde(s), Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge, Scottie’s long-suffering friend, and Hitchcock’s trumpet case-carrying cameo.

 The Story in 6 Words obsessive acrophobe follows blonde too far

3 Reasons to See
The disorientating dolly zoom (spoilers!), infamously first used in this film to capture the feeling of vertigo, the Master of Suspense mastering the suspenseful spiral narrative by reflecting the themes – obsession, possession, and regression – in the film’s opening and closing scenes, and the cool, calculated composition of everything from shot composition to costume to colour, particularly the use of complimentary colours red and green in the film’s palette.