The Six Films, Six Decades Blogathon

Every year, on May 16th, the classic film community celebrates National Classic Movie Day. And every year, Rick over at the Classic TV and Film Café hosts a blogathon to acknowledge this significant day. And every year, no matter what’s going on in my “real” life, I make it at a point to join in the fun!

This year, Rick’s theme is “Six Films, Six Decades,” and each participant is invited to list one favorite film from each decade, from the 1920s through the 1970s. To select just six films from all of the great movies released during these years, I had to come up with some criteria: first off, I had to love it. Second, I had to have seen the movie multiple times – it wasn’t enough to have seen it and loved it; I had to really KNOW it. And finally, it couldn’t be a film I’d already covered on my blog. Given those parameters, I thought it would be a piece of cake (mmm, cake) to identify six beloved movies, but it wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined. There was just so many good ones! But, at long last, I finally managed to narrow down my choices (and, for most decades, include a couple of honorable mentions just for giggles). Here we go!

THE NINETEEN TWENTIES

My film from this decade was the easiest to decide. I’ve seen a number of movies from this decade, but to my knowledge, there’s only one that I’ve seen multiple times: The Broadway Melody (1929). This early musical had a dynamite pedigree, including lyrics by Arthur Freed, music by Nacio Herb Brown, and art direction by Cedric Gibbons. Talk about packing a punch!

The film isn’t above showing gratuitous scenes of ladies in their lingerie.

What’s it about?

Anita Page and Bessie Love star as sisters, Queenie and Hank Mahoney, who travel from their small town to New York, determined to find success on Broadway. The film also stars Charles King, who’s engaged to one sister, but falls for the other.

What’s to love?

Although this film has a rating of 5.7 (out of 10) on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and a score of 33% on the Rotten Tomatoes website, it was the top-grosser of 1929 and won the Academy Award for Best Picture. I can’t say that I don’t understand these low ratings – the movie is as creaky as Grandma’s rocker – but I’ve been fascinated by Melody since the first time I saw it, and my love for it continues to grow.

It’s hard to put my finger on, to be sure. The musical numbers aren’t anything to write home about (one of them – “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” has to be seen to be believed, there’s so much going on), the dialogue is corny, and the performances fluctuate between stilted and over the top, but to me, it’s so bad, it’s good. Plus, there are all kinds of little things that keep me riveted. Sometimes, it’s what’s going on in the background that fascinate me – like in the opening number, performed by Charles King at a music publishing company. While King is singing, surrounded by a group of men and women who gather around to listen, I can’t take my eyes off a woman with a cloche hat and pearls, who is mesmerized by the song, bopping and swaying to the music, biting her lip, and seemingly on the verge of ecstasy. A clip of this scene is below; check it out and you’ll see what I mean.

Other times, it’s just a few lines or a throwaway gesture that get me. In one scene, when a group of chorus girls are rehearsing a number, the choreographer stops them and orders one out of the line. Then, we get this exchange:

“Listen, toots – what’s the matter with the left leg?”

“Well, I’ve got a headache.”

“Well go on and sit down – take a load off your mind.”

“Don’t talk to me like that – I don’t feel well.”

In writing, it may not seem that funny, but the chorus girl’s delivery of her lines cracks me up every time.

Also, I love the song “Broadway Melody” – and the movie helps out by performing the number over and over. And over!

What else?

This feature is notable as MGM’s first all-talking picture, and the first sound film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. The film’s popularity prompted a spate of musicals – a total of 75 that year!

The film was originally planned for vaudeville stars Rosetta Duncan and Vivian Duncan (aka the Duncan Sisters), but they were unavailable, so Bessie Love and Anita Page won the roles of the Mahoney Sisters. (Incidentally, neither Love nor Page can carry a tune!)

Honorable Mentions

It (1927)

Sunrise (1927)

The Kid (1921)

THE NINETEEN THIRTIES

The hardest part about picking a movie from the 1930s was choosing a film I hadn’t already written about. So many of my favorites from this decades are pre-Codes, and I’ve previously written about so many that I love – The Divorcee, Three on a Match, Bombshell, Night Nurse, and on and on – but once I moved away from the pre-Code era, the decision was a little easier. My pick is Alice Adams (1937), starring Katharine Hepburn in the title role. The cast also includes Fred MacMurray, Evelyn Venable, and Frank Albertson. The film was directed by George Stevens, who also helmed such gems as I Remember Mama (1948), A Place in the Sun (1951) and Shane (1953).

Even Alice’s body language in this shot demonstrates her desperation to be liked and accepted by the town’s social leaders.

What’s it about?

A small-town girl’s desperate longing for social acceptance is thwarted by her family’s low-income status, her own over-eagerness, and the pettiness of her peers.

What’s to love?

For my money, Katharine Hepburn is one of the screen’s greatest actresses, and her portrayal of Alice Adams is one of her best. Hepburn takes this character, who is often self-deluding at best and shallow and phony at worst, and not only infuses her with humanity, but makes us root for her. Even when Alice’s affectations and truth-stretching make us uncomfortable to the point of practically cringing, we still empathize.

But Hepburn’s Alice isn’t the great thing about this movie. Alice’s family – her mother, father, and brother – is unforgettable, each demonstrating, much like Alice herself, contradictory personality traits. Her father has the softest of soft spots for his only daughter, but his explosive temper and clumsy behavior is sometimes a detriment. Her mother only wants the best for Alice, but she constantly berates her husband for the family’s financial straits. And her often mean-spirited brother has a gambling problem, but is capable of feeling sympathy for his sister. These contrasting characteristics keep the audience on their toes and make the film even more fascinating.

And the picture contains one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema. Alice hosts a dinner for Arthur Russell (MacMurray), a well-heeled and eligible young man who has expressed an interest in Alice, despite his informal engagement to a local debutante. Alice and her mother go to great lengths to impress Russell – arranging and rearranging their furniture, planning an elaborate four-course meal (with caviar sandwiches as an appetizer) and hiring a “colored” maid, Malena (Hattie McDaniel) to serve. Unfortunately, the dinner falls on what is apparently the hottest day of the year, and the heavy meal they’ve prepared doesn’t make matters any better. In short, the entire evening is a disaster, starting with Malena falling down the cellar stairs and punctuated by Mr. Adams’s stiff tuxedo shirt popping open at the dinner table and exposing his bare chest. During the meal, Alice’s desperation grows as she tries frantically to keep the conversation going, Malena shuffles indifferently in and out of the dining area with her maid’s cap askew, and Alice’s brother interrupts to announce to his father that he’s in trouble with the law for embezzling money from his job. By the time Russell leaves, Alice is certain that she will never see him again.

That fateful dinner.

What else?

The film was based on the book by Booth Tarkington, but the book’s end was less hopeful than the conclusion of the screen version. In the book, Alice did not end up with Arthur Russell. Both Hepburn and the film’s director were in favor of this, but RKO insisted on a more upbeat ending.

Hepburn was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, but she lost to Bette Davis for Dangerous (1935). Davis reportedly declared on more than one occasion that Hepburn deserved the award.

Honorable Mentions

You Can’t Take It With You (1937)

Marked Woman (1937)

The Women (1939)

THE NINETEEN FORTIES

Bette Davis is my favorite actress. So it’s only fitting that at least one of my films for this blogathon is a Bette Davis vehicle. One of my most beloved of her many pictures is All This, and Heaven Too. Directed by Anatole Litvak, the film’s first-rate cast includes Charles Boyer and Barbara O’Neil.

What’s it about?

After taking a post at a school in New York, a French teacher recounts her past as governess to the four children of a duke and duchess in France, and the tragedy and scandal that ensued.

What’s to love?

This ain’t no Mrs. O’Hara.

All This, And Heaven Too is based on real-life events, and it’s a period piece – two of my favorite things in cinema. As Henriette Deluzy Desportes, Davis portrays a thoroughly appealing character, a woman of high ideals and integrity, sweet-tempered and gentle, and committed to the children of the Duke and Duchess of Praslin, played by Boyer and O’Neil. While the duke is endlessly appreciative of Henriette’s devotion, his wife grows increasingly convinced that the duke and Henriette are having an affair. O’Neil – who the previous year played the patient and loving matriarch in Gone With the Wind – is a standout as the duchess, with her irrational jealousy a sharp contrast to the respectful patience exhibited by Henriette.

Also memorable are the four children of the duke and duchess: Isabelle, Louise, Berthe, and Raynauld, played by June Lockhart, Virginia Weidler, Ann E. Todd, and the cute-as-a-button Richard Nichols. Each of the children have distinct personalities and are an important part of the narrative, making the audience care as much about them has Henriette.

The film clocks in at two hours and 21 minutes – quite a long running time for a motion picture in 1940. But the significant length of the film lends itself to its excellence. It takes its time to build the relationship between Henriette and the children, and Henriette and the duke, as well as document the growing paranoia of the duchess, and illustrate Henriette’s entire experience, from the time she joined the Praslin household until her arrival in New York. It’s time well spent.

Henriette and her beloved charges.

What else?

June Lockhart, who played the oldest daughter, was appearing here in her second film and her first credited role. She is perhaps best known for her TV roles in Lost in Space and Lassie. Her father was actor Gene Lockhart. (And she’s still with us!)

Ann E. Todd, who played the youngest daughter, Berthe, is not to be confused with actress Ann Todd, who starred in such films as The Seventh Veil (1946), The Paradine Case (1947) and So Evil, My Love (1948).

The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) says that this movie set a Guiness World Record for the number of times the word “mademoiselle” is said in a motion picture. I have no idea if this is true or not. I just thought it was funny. And even funnier that anybody can enter anything on the IMDB site like it’s fact.

Honorable Mentions

His Girl Friday (1940)

The Little Foxes (1941)

Gaslight (1944)

THE NINETEEN FIFTIES

For years, whenever I would try to introduce friends to classic movies, I would share the same handful of films. One of them was From Here to Eternity. With a high-powered cast including Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, and Ernest Borgnine, is there any wonder?

Part of Eternity’s first-rate cast: Clift, Lancaster, and Sinatra.

What’s it about?

The film looks at the lives and loves of the inhabitants of a military base in Hawaii, shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

What’s to love?

There are four major plot points happening simultaneously in this film: (1) Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Clift) is being pressured by his superiors to join the platoon boxing team, but he refuses because of an injury he caused during a bout years before; (2) meanwhile, Pruitt is falling hard for a prostitute he met in a local men’s club on the island; (3) Pruitt’s closest friend, Private Angelo Maggio (Sinatra) is embroiled in an ongoing feud with a sadistic higher-ranked officer (Borgnine); and (4) First Sergeant Milton Warden (Lancaster) is having an affair with his boss’s wife, Karen (Kerr). It’s a beautifully detailed story. We grow to know, care, and understand the motivations and feelings of each of these main characters. And the performances are so good, they practically defy description.

What else?

The film won a slew of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Donna Reed, Best Supporting Actor for Frank Sinatra, Best Adapted Screenplay for Daniel Taradash, and Best Director for Fred Zinnemann.

The title comes from a poem written by Rudyard Kipling in 1892 called “Gentleman-Rankers.” It’s about soldiers of the British Empire who lost their way and were “damned from here to eternity.”

Honorable Mentions

Picnic (1955)

12 Angry Men (1957)

The Best of Everything (1959)

THE NINETEEN SIXTIES

The Manchurian Candidate was released by United Artists in 1962; 10 years later, the United Artists contract expired and representatives for the film’s star, Frank Sinatra, acquired the rights. The studio reacquired the rights in 1987, and the film became available for theater and video release. That’s when I first saw this picture. I’d like to say I was blown away, but I think I was a bit too immature to see it at that time; I confess that I didn’t really understand what was going on. I’ve seen it numerous times since. NOW I’m blown away.

It’s quite a movie.

What’s it about?

Communists in Korea capture a U.S. Army platoon during the Korean War, brainwashing the men and programming one as a sleeper agent who will kill on command.

What’s to love?

Even if I hadn’t been on the youngish side when I first saw The Manchurian Candidate, I might have been hard-pressed to understand all the nuances the first time around, but it’s a film that gets better and better with every viewing. The performances are outstanding, especially those of Frank Sinatra, as one of the brainwashed men, Laurence Harvey, playing the programmed sleeper agent, and Angela Lansbury, as Harvey’s mother – one of the most unsavory, despicable and frightening mothers that you’re ever likely to see in film.

The film’s plot is yet another thing I love about it. Yes, it’s complex and unique, but it’s also riveting. Sometimes, even now after repeated viewings, I find myself so caught up in the goings-on that I barely seem to be breathing. The shocking scenes of unexpected violence, played against unusual set-pieces, grab the viewer’s attention from the very start – if for no other reason than because we’re trying to wrap our heads around what we’re seeing.

What else?

Leigh was served with divorce papers on the day this scene was shot.

For years, the rumor persisted (as fact) that this film was pulled from circulation after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, because the film contained a similar plot device. This turned out to be completely untrue.

Janet Leigh co-starred as the love interest for the Sinatra character, who she meets on a train. In real life, on the morning that this scene was filmed, Leigh was served divorce papers by her then-husband, Tony Curtis.

In once scene, Frank Sinatra has a fight with co-star Henry Silva, During the fight, Sinatra broke the little finger on his right hand.

Honorary Mentions

The Hustler (1961)

The Miracle Worker (1962)

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

THE NINETEEN SEVENTIES

Blazing Saddles (1974) will always and forever be one of my favorite comedies. I’ve seen it countless -times over the decades since its release, and it never fails to make me laugh. It is, simply, a masterpiece.

What’s it about?

A black convict is tapped by a pair of corrupt officials to serve as the sheriff of a small town that they intend to demolish to make way for a railroad.

What’s to love?

It’s a hoot from start to finish.

There’s just so much going on in this movie, so many scenes of absolute ridiculousness and over-the-top hilarity – not to mention politically incorrect racial references – that it’s a little hard to describe. In the very first scene, we come upon a crew of black convicts, working on a railroad, when they’re ordered by the boss of the chain gang to sing a “nigger work song,” like they did when they were slaves. Instead of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” or some such, the men break out into a beautifully harmonized, jazzed-up rendition of “I Get A Kick Out Of You.” It is an absolute scream – and a perfect indication of the kind of wild ride that this film has in store.

The film’s cast is bubbling over with talented comedians, reading like a veritable Who’s Who of go-tos for a chuckle: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Mel Brooks, Madeleine Kahn, Dom DeLuise. For my money, they all do some of the best work of their careers in this raucous feature. It must have been a real hoot to make. It certainly is a hoot to see.

What else?

Gene Wilder plays Jim, The Waco Kid, whose quick-on-the-draw expertise has been challenged so many times that he has turned to alcohol as a respite. The character was originally to be played by Gig Young who had a drinking problem in real life. According to Mel Brooks, in Young’s first scene, he was actually drunk and started vomiting. Brooks subsequently replaced Young with Wilder, and Young sued Warner Bros. for breach of contract.

Harvey Korman plays a character named ‘Hedley Lamarr,’ and throughout the film, he’s constantly correcting people who insist on calling him ‘Hedy.’ In real life, actress Hedy Lamarr sued Mel Brooks because the character’s name was so close to hers. The suit was settled out of court.

Honorary Mentions

Harold and Maude (1971)

The Godfather (1972)

Whew! That’s it for me. What are some of your beloved films from the 1920s through the 1970s? Let me know!


This post is part of the Six Films, Six Decades Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film and TV Cafe. Click here to read the other great participants in this year’s celebration of National Classic Movie Day!

~ by shadowsandsatin on May 16, 2021.

12 Responses to “The Six Films, Six Decades Blogathon”

  1. You gave an Honorable Mention to You Can’t Take it With You (1937).

    I remembered it as a favorite, though I hadn’t seen it in 20 years. On rewatch, the white family only gets to be carefree and impulsive thanks to the constant labor of their black servants, something the film ignores entirely.

    It’s a distinctly repulsive but very telling element of this ostensible comedy.

    • Interesting! I never thought that the black couple was working constantly to enable the white family to be carefree — to me, Rheba and Donald just seemed to be having as good a time as everybody else!

  2. Such wonderful choices! My favorite of your decade faves is The Manchurian Candidate and you’re so right about Angela Lansbury playing the “most unsavory, despicable and frightening mothers that you’re ever likely to see in film.” When I first saw Blazing Saddles, I never thought it would age so well, but it’s just as raucous and funny today as back in the 1970s. From Here to Eternity is another winner; I love how the climax is foreshadowed by reminding us of the dates leading up to Pearl Harbor Day.

    • Thank you, Rick! And thank you for another great blogathon! I rarely have time for blogathons these days (although I plan to change that soon!) but yours is one that I never miss. I loved picking these movies!

  3. The Manchurian Candidate – great, great ’60s choice. It still gives me chills. The JFK rumor makes sense but I wonder how it got started. I love Bette, too, but for some reason All This, and Heaven Too is one of hers I’ve seen only once. Will have to sit down with it again. Nice list!

    • Thank you, Patty! I was talking about The Manchurian Candidate with my daughter just the other day — she’d seen the remake (which I was never interested in), and apparently they made several plot changes. I’m looking so forward to sharing the original with her — and watching it again myself!

  4. Love all your choices, but am so happy to see Broadway Melody. I simply adore those early musicals – never perfect, but so full of joy and energy.

  5. What a great and detailed list! I like your choices. The only one that doesn’t do much for me is Alice Adams, but then I’m not a Katharine Hepburn fan at all.
    Harold and Maude is a you either love it or hate it movie. It’s too weird for me.

    Thanks for the mention of Broadway Melody, a movie I know nothing about. I’ll check it out. The clip is fun.
    What these early musicals – in fact most early talkies – lacked in sophistication and finesse, they made up for with sheer exuberance and joy.

    I’m glad you mention All This, And Heaven Too. It’s a movie that rarely pops up on best-of lists. An all around fantastic cast. Barbara O’Neil almost steals the show.
    O’Neil didn’t make too many movies, but you should see her as a Mrs. Danvers inspired housekeeper/secretary in Secret Beyond the Door. I didn’t think it was possible to be more icy and creepy than Judith Anderson, but she comes close.

    Blazing Saddles is simply great. “You’d do it for Randolph Scott.”

    • Thank you, Margot! It took me many years to see Harold and Maude all the way through, and I absolutely fell in love with it.

      I’d love to know what you think of Broadway Melody if you’re able to see it.

      Thanks for the tip about Secret Beyond the Door! I will definitely keep an eye out for it!

  6. This is such a great list! I like that you included “Broadway Melody.” 🙂

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