Old Inspirations

on March 24, 2014 in Misc

Sure, I shoulda been writing this blog instead of being on the phone forever with my sister. But you know what we were raving about?

Old movies and how they’re fantastically well-written.

thin man two

And I mean the REALLY OLD flicks—those black white gems from the 1930’s and early ’40’s. Back in the days of Cary Grant and savvy, sophisticated women of all ages.  How sophisticated, elegant and striking, you ask?  Just watch the scene from The Thin Man that introduces us to to Nick and Nora, the private eye married to the society lady.  Wow.  This is how grown-ups used to talk.

Apparently Johnny Depp was about to star in a remake of The Thin Man when Warner Bros got cold feet over the (gulp!) $100 million budget.  What a joke.  The original is perfect and cost just over a couple hundred thousand–about $4 million in today’s money.

Anyway, this rant began on Friday at work when I made a wonderful discovery:  I can watch old movies on YouTube on my computer.  I HAD NO IDEA!

Of course I didn’t watch an entire flick (I’m a dutiful employee), but I couldn’t resist bringing up a gorgeous HD version of one of my faves, My Man Godfrey, and watching it with a colleague.


After six or seven minutes we had to get back to work, but in those minutes we were introduced to the main characters, their relationships, the plot, the theme, and more jokes, literate dialogue, and poignant moments than can be found in entire novels.  Godfrey is one of the best of the screwball comedies, but like many movies of the Depression there’s also a strong social conscience and an underlying shadow about how we treat our fellow man when he’s down and out.  All of this, yet woven together in seamless storytelling.

I could go on about some of my other faves (The Philadelpha Story, Dodsworth, His Gal Friday), but then I’d be up writing all night. Instead I’d love to hear what old flicks you think are especially well written.

Sure, there’s also a lot of old crap and plenty of modern masterpieces.  But old movies that have made a strong impression on you—which ones would you name?

16 Responses to “Old Inspirations”

  1. Why on earth would it cost that much to remake that film?
    I admit I’m not big on black and white films. Except for the first Godzilla. That one did have an impact on me.

  2. Helena says:

    Alex – There are cool old color movies too!

    When it comes to film costs, Hollywood is out of control. Maybe half of that budget is Depp’s salary?

  3. I like old movies, but I also like modern ones. Favorites include Arsenic and Old Lace, Charade, Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Julius Caesar, pretty much anything Cecile B. Demille did, anything Orson Wells…”Rosebud…” ala Citizen Kane, and I like cheezy 1950’s sci-fi. I recently watched Cronos on YouTube (so cheezy but so good). Yeah someone’s been secretly loading all those old movies up online. Godzilla 1954 isn’t there though and I am disappointed.

  4. Helena says:

    Michael – You’re even more savvy with movies than I thought, and I’ve admired your knowledge of them. And some of the cheesiest 50’s monster and flying saucer and other sci-fi flicks really are fun, aren’t they? And pretty innocent.

  5. CASABLANCA is a favorite. THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM is another. THE MALTESE FALCON and THE BIG SLEEP are two more. I’ve tried to find a DVD copy of THE BLUE DAHLIA, screenplay by Raymond Chandler, but can’t so far.

    You are right: the dialogue was witty and sharp. Even the black and white horror movie, THE THING, had sharp dialogue where each person sounded like a person — a smart one at that. THE PROFESSIONALS is the only color movie I know that has great dialogue.

    Your post made me feel not quite so alone in my movie tastes. Thanks!

  6. We watched The Thin Man just a few weeks ago on TMC. So good. Like Michael, I love Charade, even though it did come along in color.

  7. Helena says:

    Roland – I’m so glad to find a soulmate over old movie dialogue! Most really good dialogue I hear these days is when the flick is based on a stage play, because playwrights LISTEN to words.

  8. Helena says:

    Carol – Myrna Loy was such a goddess in that movie, wasn’t she? And William Powell made comedy look easy.

  9. Nas says:

    Hi Helena,

    Interesting post. Insightful too.

  10. Helena says:

    Nas – Just another one of my friendly rants…

  11. @Helena: Thank you for the compliment, but as a caveat, I studied film in college. For example, I know that “The Untouchables” sequence where the baby carriage falls down the stairs and people are shooting is taken directly from a Russian film called “Potemkin” and it’s from the famous “Odessa Step Sequence.”

    Also, I tend to think I’m a pretty knowledgeable guy. I strive every day to fill my mind with some knowledge.

  12. Helena says:

    Michael – How wonderful! Every day you get better, whereas too often I just concentrate on getting through each day. But I think we’re alike in that we both have hungry minds.

  13. Old Kitty says:

    Oh wow! Speaking of watching classic films on youtube – I just watched Dead of Night!!!! I love that film – one of the most intelligent scariest film ever!! Take care

  14. Holy cow — I’m a big fan of Godfrey. I own the criterion DVD, and I have almost every line memorized. “Godfrey loves me! He put me in the shower!” Old movies rock.

  15. Helena says:

    Old Kitty – I never knew about Dead of Night, and now I have to see it!

  16. Helena says:

    Milo – A fellow Godfrey fan! Isn’t the opening scene brilliant? Beautifully shot, and William Powell is a study in witty, understated perfection. Sigh.