Happy Holidays

How many times can you watch Miracle on 34th Street? Settle down with one of these classics instead. (Click on the titles to read the full review)

NINOTCHKA

 

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French champagne. One sip and you’ll become a convert to capitalism. Trust me, it works.

There’s Greta Garbo’s humorless Soviet envoy, a model revolutionary if ever there was one. She believes in the righteousness of the cause and has nothing but contempt for the west. “The last mass trials were a great success,” she assures her three comrades.“There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”

Ah, but she is in Paris. Who can resist the charms of the city of light? Pour yourself a glass of bubbly and savor this delightful film.

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT

 

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I read somewhere that Clark Gable’s talent was in playing himself. Fans lined up to see him, whatever the role, and they were never disappointed. Could he act? Ask me if I care. The version of himself he played in “It Happened One Night” was genuine, charming, and way too handsome for that control freak, Claudette Colbert.

“Cheerfully insolent” is the way a friend of mine describes Gable’s performance. Him I could imagine traveling with across the country or around the world. We’d probably end up going standby, and no doubt there’d be any number of mishaps along the way, but that would be part of the adventure. One thing for sure: we’d never be bored.

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO

 

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The soulful Egyptian heartthrob Omar Sharif plays a Russian and Doctor Zhivago was shot mostly in Spain by a British director, produced by an Italian. “Lara’s Theme,” the schmaltzy leitmotif that evokes the Julie Christie character, can still be heard in elevators today. But there’s lots of snow and that makes this a perfect Christmas epic in my book.

Gone With the Wind

Part of the pleasure in watching this movie for the umpteenth time is waiting for the great lines to come around. Butterfly McQueen’s Prissy: “Lawzy, we got to have a doctor. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.” Scarlett’s vow, when she reclaims the family homestead:  “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

Nothing compares to Clark Gable’s memorable kiss-off: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” I didn’t know this, but David Selznick was fined $5,000 for keeping this line in the film (it was also in the book) because it violated the Hays Code. And then we get poor Scarlett, spurned but not defeated: “Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day.”

This time around, though, I found myself thinking about the various ways each of the main characters copes in the aftermath of the devastating civil war. Melanie is the only one to have come through unchanged, still upholding the genteel values of the aristocracy, but she is too pure a spirit to endure. Ashley yearns to turn back the clock; he fought honorably defending his way of life but knows there’s no place for him in the new south. Rhett’s line, as he heads off to join the Confederate army following the Battle of Atlanta, really applies to Ashley: “I’ve always had a weakness for lost causes once they’re really lost.”

Rhett’s type will always come through unscathed. The surprise is Scarlett. She abandons her illusions one by one and is forced to confront reality. Not only does she adapt to the death of the old south, she thrives in this new environment. “I love you,” Rhett tells her at one point, “because we’re alike. Bad lots both of us. Selfish and shrewd but able to look things in the eye and call them by their right name.”

If anyone can win back her husband, it’s Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett.

It Happened One Night

it-happenedonenightI read somewhere that Clark Gable’s talent was in playing himself. Fans lined up to see him, whatever the role, and they were never disappointed. Could he act? Ask me if I care. The version of himself he played in “It Happened One Night” was genuine, charming, and way too handsome for that control freak, Claudette Colbert.

“Cheerfully insolent” is the way a friend of mine describes Gable’s performance. Here’s a guy who thumbs his nose at authority — and at the drivers who pass him by when he’s demonstrating his best hitchhiking technique — yet lives by a clear set of principles. He’s got his pride, of course, but that’s not all. He’s got his own patented procedures for getting undressed, dunking a doughnut and (as I mentioned) hitching a ride.

The boyishness. That’s what I love about Gable in this picture. Don’t get me wrong; Rhett Butler has his appeal, but I couldn’t hold a man like him any better than poor Scarlett could. Frankly, my dear, the real-life Gable was a two-timing cad.

Not the guy he plays in “It Happened One Night,” though. Him I could imagine traveling with across the country or around the world. We’d probably end up going standby, and no doubt there’d be any number of mishaps along the way, but that would be part of the adventure. One thing for sure:  we’d never be bored.