Thursday, July 20, 2017

Love It or Shove It (Classic Movie Edition II)

In this occasional feature, we'll make a statement about classic cinema and then ask our panel of movie experts to "love it" (they agree) or "shove it" (they disagree). This month, our expert panel is comprised of: Caftan Woman, Silver Screenings, and yours truly.

Vivien Leigh as Miss O'Hara.
1. No one could have played Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind any better than Vivien Leigh.

Caftan Woman:  Love it. Scarlett is on screen for most of the film and when she isn't, she is a presence. If the audience isn't interested or even enthralled with the character, the movie falls apart. The talent Vivien brought to the role was augmented by the audience not identifying her with another character. That combination gives Vivien Leigh ownership of the role.

Silver Screenings:  Love it. Other actresses at the time would have been good, but Vivien Leigh captures Scarlett's essence. She has the look, the attitude(!) and, most importantly, the voice. Leigh-as-Scarlett's overall tone is as sweet as pecan pie, but it also reveals the character's razor-sharp ambition.

Rick:  Shove it. I think Vivien Leigh is very good as Scarlett, but I think GWTW would still be a classic without her. It's Selznick's vision on the screen. Olivia de Havilland provides the film with its heart and Clark Gable provides the needed intensity. Who do I think could have played Scarlett instead of Leigh? I admit that's a toughie. Gene Tierney is one possibility and Paulette Goddard doesn't look bad in her screen test (it's on YouTube).

2. The quality of classic films declined with the end of the studio system in Hollywood.

Caftan Woman:  Shove it. Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Over time fashions, mores, styles and technology bring changes to the art and business of cinema. Each generation of filmmakers and audiences will create their own classics.

Silver Screenings:  Shove it. I feel the quality of classic films initially decreased, then increased over the years. While overall quality may have stumbled somewhat in the 1960s, the 1970s produced some extraordinary films (The Godfather, All the President's Men, Rocky). A person can point to more recent examples, too, such as Dead Poets Society, Schindler's List, and The King's Speech. It's not like the the studio era never produced, um, "forgettable" films.

Rick:  Shove it. The independent films of the 1950s ushered in a new era of provocative cinema with filmmakers like Otto Preminger and Samuel Fuller. I do think the studio system made it easier for young performers to break into the business. Julie Adams once told me that she was thankful to have a "home base" at Universal.

One of the 1939 classics.
3. In terms of quality films produced, 1939 was the best year in the history of classic cinema.

Caftan Woman:  Love it. While many years may lay claim to a plethora of quality titles including personal favourites 1935, 1944 and 1950, 1939 was the year John Ford released Stagecoach. If that is not reason enough, simply check the other nine films nominated by the Academy for Best Picture.

Silver Screenings:  Love it. Although quality films are being made all the time, I agree 1939 has been the Bumper Crop Year so far.

Rick:  Love it. My runner-up would be 1967: The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Cool Hand Luke, To Sir With Love, The Dirty Dozen, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and Point Blank.

4. The MGM musicals set the standard in terms of innovation, spectacle and entertainment value.

Caftan Woman:  Shove it. MGM created an incredibly talented musical unit and gave us true classics in the field. However, their peak of innovation and spectacle in the 1950s coincided with the unfortunate decline of the popularity of movie musicals. Therefore, I deny they set the standard for other studios which created their own look and stars.

Silver Screenings:  Shove it – with a caveat: My complete lack of objectivity when it comes to musicals. MGM musicals are truly lovely, but I think Warner Bros. set the gold standard with Busby Berkeley musicals in the early 1930s. (Talk about innovation!) Then, of course, you have the sparkling RKO musicals of the mid/late 1930s. (Talk about entertainment!) You can't accuse MGM musicals of not having Spectacle, but they can be a test of endurance.

Rick:  Love it. While I'm a fan of the Paramount and Warner Bros. musicals, MGM produced more outstanding musicals over an extended period. Heck, MGM made four popular compilation films featuring highlights mostly from its musicals. I don't think any other studio could have done that.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was an MGM musical.


  1. Interesting ideas that made me work those little gray cells. Fascinating responses. (What were we drinking?)

    I don't want to rush the year, but I can't wait to see what the August crew comes up with!

  2. A terrific discussion, Rick. Thanks for the invite. :)

    I agree with Caftan Woman – really looking forward to the August bunch.

  3. Thanks to both of you for being part of the panel and providing such illuminating comments. It was grand fun, too!

  4. Okay you guys, you shoved the studio system off the cliff but then you agree that 1939, the height of that system, was the best ever. Well after that came the war then not long after the consent decree (48) and TV that killed the studio system. Have some consideration.

    1. I don't think we shoved it off the cliff. There were many terrific movies made during the studio system days. But as it ended, there wasn't a notable drop-off in quality. It wasn't the end of Hollywood, but the birth of a new one.

    2. Yes, Iwas being harsh - and a bit facetious. Interesting approach.

  5. This is such a fun post! I especially appreciated Rick noting the number of MGM musicals in the fourth discussion. Excellent posts, all!