Classic Movies - Part 2 - December, 1995
By John E. Johnson, Jr.
"A Christmas Carol", MGM, 1938, Black and White, Monophonic Sound; Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart; This is the treasured Dickens tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts who change his life from a miserable self centered old man into a generous and loving (but still old) man, all in one night. Although many critics favor the 1951 film of this story, I am sentimental about this earlier version, primarily because the Cratchits are portrayed by members of a real family. Gene Lockhart is Bob Cratchit, Kathleen Lockhart is Mrs. Cratchit, and June Lockhart (not listed in the credits, but she is there nonetheless) is one of the daughters. The movie dwells on the Cratchit family quite a bit, and the true affection that the Lockharts feel for one another is enough to warm a viewer's soul on the coldest of Christmas holiday evenings. This film is shown on TV once in a while, but often at an odd time of day, and it is so much nicer to see it without commercials, right after dinner with a cup of tea and a plate full of butter cookies. It has such a happy ending, you will go to bed with a smile on your face and sleep like a baby. No violence, no sexually explicit scenes, or foul language. Family viewing; VHS and Laserdisc.
"I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang", Warner Brothers, 1932, Black and White, Monophonic Sound; Paul Muni, Preston Foster; This film is based on a true story of Robert Burns who was sentenced to a Georgia chain gang in 1920 for stealing $5.29 so he could eat. The chain gang environment is graphically represented in all its horror. Burns (Muni) escapes, moves to another state, educates himself in civil engineering, becomes a tremendous success in business, but is betrayed by a wife who forced him into marriage by threatening to expose his past. He voluntarily returns to Georgia with the promised understanding that his sentence would be only 3 more months. Georgian officials did not appreciate his telling the news media about all the gory details of chain gang life, and they forget their promises when they have him in chains once again. The story of his second escape is amazing, and the viewer is left with the fadeout of a man again on the run (the floodlamp they were using to film this scene actually burned out during the shot, and they decided to keep it). Burns wrote a book which was made into the movie, and Hollywood had to keep his presence there a secret while he worked on the screenplay. Moderate violence, no sexually explicit scenes or foul language. The film style is a bit dated, but the adventure is riveting, as true life stories usually are. Good movie. VHS and Laserdisc.
"Foreign Correspondent", United Artists, 1940, Black and White, Monophonic Sound; Joel McCrey, Laraine Day, George Sanders; Nominated for six Academy Awards, this is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films, and was his first after he arrived in Hollywood from England. It is an espionage thriller centering in pre WW II Europe. Gary Cooper turned down the part (and regretted it later) that McCrey took. He plays a news reporter sent to Europe (Amsterdam) to find out the real "scoop" on what was happening. He winds up with more than he bargained for, getting both the news story and the girl. There is a wonderful sequence in a windmill which contains cliffhanger action and suspense, typical Hitchcock style. At the fadeout, London is being bombed, an event which actually occurred 5 days after the scene was filmed. The only graphic violence is the shooting of a diplomat. There are no sexually explicit scenes or foul language. The thrills, tension, and humor are non-stop. Superb movie. VHS and Laserdisc.
"They Died with Their Boots On", Warner Brothers, 1942, Black and White, Monophonic Sound; Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy; Raoul Walsh directed this glamorized and very entertaining version of the military life of George Armstrong Custer. It begins with Custer's (Flynn) arrival at West Point as a recruit, but dressed in a fancy uniform copied from a portrait of a historical military leader, he is mistaken for an officer. His conduct at West Point is less than exemplary, and while walking a tour, he meets his fiancee to be, Elizabeth Bacon (de Havilland), the daughter of a wealthy banker, played marvelously by veteran character actor Gene Lockhart. Custer is graduated early because of the Civil War, promoted from a "shave tail" to General by accident, and saves the Union almost single handedly (I said the story was glamorized). The war ends, and Custer is sent to the Dakota territory to protect settlers from the Indians. This sets the stage for the battle at Little Big Horn (Anthony Quinn makes a great Indian chief). Typical cowboy and Indian violence. No sexually explicit scenes or foul language. 1940's action movie making at its best. VHS and Laserdisc.
"The Picture of Dorian Gray", MGM, 1945, Black and White with Color Inserts, Monophonic Sound; George Sanders, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford; Based on the story by Oscar Wilde, this is a classic psychological - and philosophical - tale of pride, betrayal, and murder, underpinned by supernaturalism. Lord Henry Wotton (Sanders) observes a painting of youthful and handsome Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) and remarks, "There is only one thing in the world worth having, and that is youth." Gray looks at his portrait and wishes that it would be the picture that grows old while he would remain young. His desire is granted by an Egyptian God, symbolized by a statue of a cat in the room near the portrait. Dorian falls in love with a vaudeville singer (Lansbury), and when she fails his test of virtue, he vows only to seek pleasure from then on. As the years pass, the painting changes horribly, reflecting Dorian Gray's life. Yet he remains unchanged, physically. Upon showing the altered portrait to the artist, he does what must be done to protect the secret. Guilt begins to take its toll, and he destroys the painting. In a matter of seconds, the price for his past deeds is paid in full. This is a very intriguing film, which moves slowly at first, but gains rapid momentum. Negligible violence, no sexually explicit scenes, or foul language. VHS and Laserdisc.
"The Ten Commandments", Paramount, 1956, Color, Stereophonic Sound; Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter; This, essentially, was Cecil B. DeMille's last film as a director, and it is always nice to go out a winner, as this masterpiece accomplished for him. Although the film had its critics, this reviewer feels that it is one of the few movies which can be viewed for the entire several hour length without boredom setting in. There were so many co-stars who enjoyed fame in their own right, that superb acting filled every scene of what was already a timeless story. In the quest to entertain an audience with the biblical tale of Moses leading his people from the grasp of slavery under an Egyptian Pharoh into the Promised Land, the "Cast of Thousands" advertising we saw many times in older films was never so true. The special effects are a wonder to see, in spite of the computerized dazzle that is prevalent in today's films. The Technicolor is marvelous, and what is even more exciting, is that the film has become available in its original "wide screen" aspect ratio on tape and laserdisc, taken directly from a pristine VistaVision negative. The wide screen version has about 50% more of the original picture than has ever been shown on television. The former 3 track sound has been remixed to Surround Sound. There is moderate violence (whipping slaves and such), no sexually explicit scenes, and no foul language. Definitely a superb movie. VHS and Laserdisc.
"The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit", Twentieth Century Fox, 1956, Color, Stereophonic Sound; Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Fredric March; Tom Rath (Peck) is an employee of a philanthropic foundation, and is reasonably happy in his job. However, even near the beginning of the film, we see, through flashbacks, that he is troubled by memories of violence - and a love affair - from his experiences during World War II. His wife Betsy (Jones) has aspirations for Tom and pushes him to improve his situation by joining a public relations firm, run by Ralph Hopkins (March). These were the days when dialog, rather than special effects, made a movie, and the ensuing interactions between husband and wife in Tom's as well as Ralph's family are a reflection of the novel written by Sloan Wilson. Tom makes a discovery regarding the consequences of his love affair during the war, and fireworks abound in the Rath household. A decision has to be made as to job versus family in the very satisfying conclusion to this fine film. Limited violence (war flashbacks), no sexually explicit scenes, or foul language. VHS and Wide Screen Laserdisc.
"Nevada Smith", Paramount, 1965, Color, Monophonic Sound; Steve McQueen, Karl Malden, Brian Keith; If McQueen ever made a bad movie, this is certainly not one of them. His character, Nevada Smith, starts out as a young boy, half Indian and half white, who, when returning home one afternoon, finds that his parents have been murdered by a group of cowboys that he had seen passing by while he was working in the field. He sets fire to the house with the bodies of his parents inside, and as he watches the flames, the steely McQueen eyes radiate what Smith, and the audience, demand: revenge. He sets out on what is one of the cinema's most exciting western adventures ever filmed; this is not surprising since it was directed by one of the best: Henry Hathaway. During his search, he meets a gun salesman (Brian Keith) who teaches him the art of gunslinging. Smith battles one of the killers in a hand-to-hand knife fight, then gets himself thrown into a prison camp just so he can mete out his justice to another of the killers who is also in the same prison. The final showdown is with the killer played by Karl Malden, and this part of the story is filled with the most tension. The ending is quite gratifying, although not what you might be expecting. Moderate violence, no sexually explicit scenes, no foul language. A fine movie. VHS and Laserdisc.
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