When Rick over at Classic Film and TV Café announced his 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon in honor of National Classic Movie Day, I was on it like a duck on june bug! I dearly love a good list, and one of my many pleasures in life is to compile lists of favorite classic films.
I thought that coming up with a list of only five films with which to have with me on a desert island might be difficult (even if the island had electricity, a projector and big screen, and lots of popcorn!), but I was up for the challenge. The first step was to decide on my criteria: I had to, of course, have a minimum of one film noir and one pre-Code; at least one of the films had to be a comedy; one had to be an epic (or, at least more than two and a half hours long); and each one had to have an ending that left me feeling hopeful, if not happy. (After all, who wants to feel glum on a desert island? Aren’t the never-ending coconuts bad enough?) Finally, all of the movies had to be those that I’ve seen most often, those movies that are much beloved and dear to my heart, those movies where I can quote long passages of dialogue at will – and often do. After that, the list was easy!
Here, then, are the five movies I would take with me on a desert island:
Gone With the Wind (1939)
The first movie I thought of was Gone With the Wind. Film noir and pre-Code are unquestionably my preferred eras of cinema, and GWTW certainly doesn’t fit into either category, but when it comes to favorite epics, GWTW wins hands-down. I first saw Gone With the Wind when I was a freshman in high school – it aired on network TV, and I was absolutely riveted – commercials and all. I’d heard about it for years, and it was everything I imagined it would be, and more. Vivien Leigh, of course, was ideal as the beautiful, beguiling, and headstrong Scarlet O’Hara. The rest of the cast was perfectly cast as well, from the virile Clark Gable as Rhett Butler to Hattie McDaniel as the all-knowing, all-seeing Mammy. My only quibble with the film after that first viewing was the ending. “Tomorrow is another day”???? I needed to know what happened tomorrow! So I bought the book, which actually served the further increase my appreciation of the movie, but it didn’t give me any more of an answer than the film did about what happened after Rhett Butler stopped giving a damn. (However, in the years since, I’ve decided that Rhett and Scarlet eventually manage to find their way back to each other and live happily ever after.)
“Has the war started??”
My favorite scene:
I love the scene where Scarlet first meets Rhett Butler. In the library of Ashley Wilkes’s family home, Scarlet has just confessed her love to Ashley and received a sugarcoated but unmistakable rejection. After Ashley departs, Scarlet tosses a figurine across the room, shattering it into tiny pieces, and is mortified when Rhett Butler sits up from his reclining position on a nearby chaise and amusingly inquires, “Has the war started?” In the exchange that follows, we learn a couple of things – that (1) despite her anger at Ashley, Scarlet is still in love with him, and that (2) Rhett is interested in Scarlet, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact, that she’s “no lady,” and even though she’s still under “the spell of the elegant Mr. Wilkes.” Incidentally, these two themes will continue to manifest throughout the remainder of the film.
My favorite quote:
“If you don’t care what folks says about this family I does! I done told you and told you that you can always tell a lady by the way she eat in front of folks like a bird. And I ain’t aimin’ for you to go to Mr. John Wilkerson’s and eat like a field hand and gobble like a hog!” – Mammy (Hattie McDaniel)
The Women (1939)
I’ve seen The Women more than any other film. This unique feature has an all-female cast and takes a look at what happens when the blissfully wed Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) learns that her husband is having an affair. Sounds simple, even a little dull, perhaps, but The Women is anything but. There are so many great things about this film – first off, in my opinion, it contains one of Joan Crawford’s greatest performances. She’s a coquettish lover. A scheming homewrecker. A hateful stepmother. A duplicitous wife. And she plays them all with equal aplomb. It’s a veritable tour de force, if you ask me. Another first-rate portrayal is offered up by the versatile Rosalind Russell, who is hilarious as Sylvia Fowler, the cousin and “very dearest friend” of Mary Haines. Strident, two-faced, and completely self-absorbed, Sylvia is the perfect person to sit beside if you want to dish the dirt about a pal – but definitely not the one to confide your secrets or dreams. (Best to keep those to yourself.) And yet another delight is served up about mid-way through the film when we’re treated to a full color fashion show featuring some of the wildest garb you’re ever likely to see.
“When anything I wear doesn’t please Stephen, I take it off!”
No question. It’s the scene where Mary Haines confronts Crawford’s Crystal Allen in the dressing room of a women’s fancy clothing establishment. Mary is there with her friends to attend the fashion show and do a bit of shopping. What she doesn’t know is that her husband’s inamorata is there, too, busily spending Mr. Haines’s salary on a new wardrobe. When she finds out – thanks to Sylvia’s gleeful observation – Mary wants to hightail it out of there for the comforts of home, but Sylvia (again) urges her into a showdown with Crystal. And what a showdown! First off, both women are clad in not-yet-purchased apparel from the shop that perfectly represent their respective personalities – Mary is wearing a tastefully elegant black gown, while Crystal is in a gaudy gold concoction with a matching turban. The two exchange well-placed barbs during their brief but memorable squabble, but Crystal gets in one of the best, when Mary tells her that her husband doesn’t like “such obvious effects” as the outfit Crystal is wearing. Crystal rejoins, “Thanks for the tip. But when anything I wear doesn’t please Stephen, I take it off!”
“We women are so much more sensible. When we tire of ourselves, we change the way we do our hair, or hire a new cook, or… or decorate the house. I suppose a man could do over his office, but he never thinks of anything so simple. No, dear, a man has only one escape from his old self: to see a different self in the mirror of some woman’s eyes.” – Mrs. Morehead (Lucile Watson)
All About Eve (1950)
I first saw this movie in a motel room in Bessemer, Alabama, when I was 19 years old. As with Gone With the Wind, I’d heard and read about All About Eve for years, so you might be able to imagine the thrill I felt when I learned that it was playing on the Late Show. And also like GWTW, it exceeded every expectation. All About Eve tells the story of a famous Broadway star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), who gets more than she bargained for when she takes an admiring, aspiring actress under her wing. The would-be actress, Eve Harrington, is played by Anne Baxter, and she’s just about the nastiest wolf in sheep’s clothing that you’ll ever want to encounter. And in addition to Davis and Baxter, the film’s cast is fairly overflowing with talent; Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, and Gregory Ratoff provide stellar support as the satellites in Margo’s orbit. All About Eve not only gives a fascinating backstage glimpse into the world of Broadway, but it’s truly one of the smartest films I’ve ever seen, with a brilliant screenplay by Joseph Mankiewicz (who also directed).
“Please stop behaving if I were the Queen Mother.”
My favorite scene:
There are so many wonderful scenes in this movie – the one where Eve shares her heart-tugging past with the captive audience in Margo’s dressing room; the one where Margo flies into a magnificent rage when she learns that Eve has been made her understudy; the one where Eve tries to steal Margo’s man, but winds up, in his words, with an “incomplete forward pass.” But I think my favorite comes near the end of the party that Margo throws – a combination birthday and welcome home for her boyfriend Bill (Gary Merrill), who has just returned from working on a film with Darryl Zanuck in Hollywood. Margo is as excited as a toddler and as fresh as a daisy at the start of the party, but within the span of a few hours, her personal insecurities lead to an ugly quarrel with Bill over Eve, and a painful confession about her age to playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe). Drowning her anguish in countless glasses of alcohol, Margo is good and soused by the time she wanders into her hallway to find several friends and party guests seated on the stairs, including Eve, Bill, her best friend Karen (Celeste Holm), and ascerbic Broadway critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). When Eve jumps to her feet to find out if Margo needs any assistance, Margo launches into an extended drunken rant, raking nearly everyone in sight over the coals. Among those who come under fire are Eve – Margo nastily tells her to stop behaving as if she (Margo) were the “Queen Mother” – and her BFF, to whom she declares, “Please don’t play governess, Karen. I haven’t your unyielding good taste. I wish I could have gone to Radcliffe, too, but father wouldn’t hear of it. He needed help behind the notions counter.”
My favorite quote:
“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” (What else?) – Margo (Bette Davis)
The Divorcee (1930)
I thought it would be difficult to decide on a pre-Code feature to take with me to my island – after all, my favorites from the era include such winners as Baby Face, Red-Headed Woman, A Free Soul, Night Nurse, Three on a Match, Midnight Mary – the list goes on and on. (And on!) But when it came right down to it, there really was only one choice: The Divorcee. First off, the book is loosely based on a novel (Ex-Wife) by Ursula Parrott, who is fast becoming one of my best-loved authors. Also, The Divorcee stars one of my favorite actresses, Norma Shearer, and it offers a scintillating plot about a happy marriage that is derailed when the husband, Ted (Chester Morris), has an affair and his wife, Jerry (Shearer) “balances the accounts” by sleeping with her husband’s best friend. At 84 minutes, it’s the shortest of my island selections, but it doesn’t waste a single moment.
“I’ll never make you sorry, Ted.” (Girl, dump that zero and get you a hero!)
My favorite scene:
I love the scene where Jerry learns that Ted is leaving her. The two have just returned from a friend’s wedding reception (where, incidentally, Ted made an ass of himself trying to learn the identity of Jerry’s one-night stand). Jerry enters their bedroom to find Ted packing his duds, and she proceeds to beg, plead, and cajole, all in an effort to get Ted to give their marriage another try. And even though Ted threw out the first ball – in a manner of speaking – Jerry is careful not to blame their marital strife on him, and tearfully promises that she’ll never again do anything to make him sorry. She does everything but literally grovel at his feet, but Ted is stubbornly insistent that their marriage is over – he’s unwilling to forgive Jerry and, more importantly, unable to escape the image of some man (“Maybe men, I don’t know,” he adds) among their friends, laughing at him. And for Jerry, that tears it. “And I thought your heart was breaking like mine,” she says, her face suffused with disgust. “But instead you tell me your man’s pride can’t stand the gaffe.” Like a sudden thunderstorm on a sunny day, Jerry’s pleading comes to a screeching halt. Instead, she proceeds to tell Ted, in no uncertain terms, that she’s now going to find out what she’s been missing, and that from now on, “you’re the only man in the world that my door is closed to!”
My favorite quote:
“I’ve worked too hard and played too hard. I take my outings on the subway and my exercise in a nightclub. I belong to the sweet, pure air of 42nd Street and Broadway.” – Jerry (Norma Shearer)
Mildred Pierce (1945)
Like my choice for pre-Code, my film noir selection was easier than I’d expected. There are noirs that I adore – Double Indemnity, The Killing, Nora Prentiss, New York Confidential, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and so on – but Mildred Pierce got the final nod for two simple reasons: it’s the noir I’ve seen more than any other, and it ends on a hopeful note. Mildred Pierce is about the life and times of the title character, played by Joan Crawford, a single mother who will go to any lengths and make any sacrifice for her children. I remember the first time I saw this movie, with my mother at the Music Box Theater in Chicago. I was totally caught up with the story as soon as I heard the series of gun shots that open the film – and I was gripped until the very end, when we find out who really fired that gun. (And believe me when I say that I had no IDEA who the killer was until the end.) Joan Crawford is ably backed in this feature by a truly stellar cast, including Ann Blyth, as Mildred’s horrid, sociopathic daughter Veda; Eve Arden as Ida, Mildred’s no-nonsense pal; and Zachary Scott as Mildred’s spendthrift lover and eventual husband, Monte Beragon. Incidentally, Joan Crawford won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance – she beat out Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s, Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven, Greer Garson in The Valley of Decision, and Jennifer Jones in Love Letters. Her award was well deserved.
I would be running. Right now.
My favorite scene:
First, a little background. Mildred’s daughter Veda has employed blackmail and subterfuge to secure a $10,000 check from the family of a young man to whom she was secretly married. After meeting with the boy, his mother, and their attorney, Mildred (like the others) is under the impression that Veda is pregnant and, since Veda has agreed to dissolve the marriage, she understands that Veda needs the money to help her raise the child. The scene begins when Mildred and Veda return home from the attorney’s office – Mildred is suitably somber and regretful over the turn of events, but Veda looks rather like the cat that swallowed the canary. She kisses the check and laughingly makes several comments that lead Mildred to question whether Veda is really pregnant. “At this stage, it’s a matter of opinion, and in my opinion, I’m going to have a baby,” Veda says airily. “I could always be mistaken.” In a flash, Mildred realizes what Veda has done. “You’d do anything for money, wouldn’t you?” Mildred asks. The argument escalates, reaching a fever pitch when Veda hatefully tells her mother (her MOTHER, y’all.): “With this money I can get away from you.” The two scuffle over the check on the staircase, with Mildred emerging the victor, but when she tears the check into pieces, Veda slaps her. (Her MOTHER, y’all.) Slaps her so hard, in fact, that Mildred loses her footing and falls briefly to the stairs. But, boy, when she gets up! The expression, “If looks could kill,” has never been more apt – Mildred rises to her feet with a look that should instantly have caused Veda to head for the hills. But just in case Veda wasn’t properly interpreting her mother’s visage, Mildred spells it out of her in clear, indisputable terms: “Get out, Veda. Get your things out of this house right now before I throw them into the street and you with them. Get out before I kill you.” (Bom bom BOMMMMMM!!) I tell you, I could gleefully watch that scene every day for the rest of my life.
My favorite quote:
“Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.” – Ida (Eve Arden)
So that’s it, y’all – the five films that I would take with me on a desert island, should such a circumstance arise. In looking over my selection, I realized one thing that I have to point out – in case you hadn’t already noticed – each of the films is headed by a strong, intelligent, self-possessed woman, one who is full of determination, and not afraid to do what was necessary to get what she wanted.
I like that in a movie.
This post is part of the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon, in celebration of National Classic Movie Day on Monday, May 16th, hosted by Rick at the Classic TV and Movie Café. Click the pic to the right to read about all the other lists of classic films being watched on that island! Enjoy!