Four Over Forty
Right now, it has become difficult for me to even FIND a movie I want to see in the theaters. When the only theater options available are 2012 and The Box and the only things releasing on video are Transformers and G.I. Joe, I find myself turning to the classics to keep me occupied.
So, until Bright Star, Precious and Young Victoria make it to Missouri, here are four films over 40 years old that are worth a viewing if you find yourself stuck in your Netflix queue!
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” ~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 11, spoken by the character Atticus
Directed by Robert Mulligan, this adaptation of Harper Lee’s great American novel takes liberties with characters and condenses plot points, but never loses the poignancy of the central two stories: the love of a good-hearted father for his children, and that same father’s struggle to show his kids that justice is worth fighting for, even if in the end you lose the battle.
At the heart of the film is Gregory Peck’s moving and accurate portrayal of Atticus Finch. While Peck can be stiff in other films, this character calls for a quiet steadfastness that Peck radiates well. Mary Badham’s Scout is a wonder of understanding and innocence. Horton Foote’s screenplay wisely keeps some of Lee’s most moving quotes. Mockingbird is still a film that has the power to move me to tears from the first sounds of the opening credits.
“You wouldn’t think she’d been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn’t mistake it anywhere. It’s not only in this room, it’s in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now. ” – Mrs. Danvers, describing the first Mrs. DeWinter, Rebecca (1940)
Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier’s infamous page-turner is an excercise in mannerisms. Hitchcock’s casting of Shakespearian actor Laurence Olivier is no accident here – he’s the lynchpin of the plot. Yet, while Maxim DeWinter is the handsomely brooding lead, it is the character never present on film that is the most memorable. Rebecca, the first Mrs. DeWinter, lingers everywhere in Hitchcock’s film. From her ethereally cold bedroom to the sea-swept cottage where she spent her last moments, Rebecca holds sway over the entire film.
Joan Fontaine’s second Mrs. De Winter is all doe-eyed, pleading only for love, yet showing a nerve of steel when threatening with losing the only one who has ever needed her. It’s vastly similar to her performance in Jane Eyre, but works nonetheless.
It is Judith Andersen’s Mrs. Danvers, the manipulative and deluded housekeeper, who steals the show. Dour, uncompromising and utterly creepy, her Danvers pops up without even seeming to move, and brings terror to an otherwise toothless film.
The Women (1939)
“The first man who can explain how he can be in love with his wife – and another woman – is gonna win that prize they’re always giving out in Sweden.” – The Women (1939)
1939 is often referred to as Hollywood’s greatest year. Beneath the hubub that was Gone with the Wind was this charming, often over-looked film that starred dozens of the age’s greatests actresses, including Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard and Joan Fontaine.
The Women has a great conceit at its heart: never show a single man on screen for the entire film. Every actor, animal, sculpture, even painting is female! The basic plot is simple: a society matron’s husband is philandering with a shopgirl, and her friends gather together to help(sometimes helping, sometimes hurting) poor Mary Haines get her life in order.
Norma Shearer was MGM’s prime asset at the time, but her star was fading, and Joan Crawford was more than ready to capture that crown for herself. The behind the scenes tension between the two stars was so legendary it even bleeds onto the screen when the wife and mistress confront each other for the first time.
Shearer is bland, but Russell, Goddard and Crawford break out the claws that keep this kitty on the prowl. Anita Loos’s script keeps the banter flying, and The Women sparkle and outshine even Scarlett O’Hara. It’s no wonder the recent reboot couldn’t capture the magic of this unique film.
The Philadelphia Story (1940)