Gone with the Wind (1939)
★★★★ / ★★★★
There’s many things to love about this classic romance about a spoiled young woman named Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) who longed to be with a married man (Leslie Howard) since the beginning to the Civil War up until the end of her third marriage with a man who had a bad reputation (Clark Gable). I enjoyed the fact that even though Scarlett experienced how it was like to be rich then live in poverty only to be rich again, she didn’t become a fully giving person. In fact, she proudly remained manipulative, conceited and brash. The only thing that really changed was that she was less whiny but even then she still got on my last nerves. The performances were remarkable especially Gable as the man who didn’t want to settle down yet he had his eyes on Scarlett. We got to see him at his best and worst–it was such a well-rounded performance. It was also a joy to watch Hattie McDaniel as the servant of Scarlett’s family. She provided a much needed comic relief when everything started to get a little too dark. Lastly, Olivia de Havilland was great as an angelic figure who supported everyone she met despite the things that were said or done to her. Directed by Victor Fleming, the unpredictability of “Gone with the Wind” was its most fascinating quality. I thought when Leigh and Gable finally got together, everything was going to be a typical “happily ever after” love story. I was surprised when the picture changed gears from a romance epic to marriage drama. The film wasn’t afraid to really explore the dynamics of the family and the important people surrounding them; how the unsolved elements in the past eventually caught up with each of them. I was surprised because one of the many main things I’ve heard about the film was that it was a love story. Sometimes it was but sometimes it wasn’t. It was really more about the fact that nothing ever stays the same so the characters always had to adapt to the changes that happened. Admittedly, there were times when I thought the picture dragged a bit especially in the beginning. It definitely took its time to get to the real drama so a bit of patience is a requisite. But when it finally did dive into its subject’s lives, the storytelling was nothing short of captivating.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Walt Disney’s first full-feature animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” directed by David Hand, may be too simple in story and animation when it comes to today’s standards but that was what I loved about it. An evil queen (Lucille La Verne) decided to kill her step-daughter named Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) because the Magic Mirror (Moroni Olsen) claimed that the queen was no longer the fairest in the land. The queen sent a man to kill her step-daughter but he instead let her escape because he couldn’t find it in himself to commit murder. Snow White then ran away to the forest and there she met the seven dwarfs with very distinct personalities. Most of this picture was pretty much singing and dancing, while the story could only be found in the beginning and the final showdown between good and evil. While I did think that Snow White was not a very smart character in particular (who decides to eat a random apple that came from a shifty stranger?), she was likable enough for me to ultimately root for her. And although the lesson in the film was questionable because it pretty much implied that women should be good at cleaning the house, washing clothes, cooking and depending on men to rescue them from a sad situation, kids should nonetheless be entertained because of the sheer amount of vivid colors and energy that the film had all the way through. Not to mention the songs were really catchy, especially “Heigh-Ho” and “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” It must be noted that this animated film explored a little bit of darkness that might scare the children. Some examples include the queen’s determination to kill Snow White in not-so-subtle ways such as cutting off her heart and poisoning her with an apple, the witchcraft and transformation scenes of the evil queen to a decrepit old lady, and the nightmarish experience that Snow White had when she ran into the forest. Yet, in a way, I was glad that those elements from the fairy tales of Wilhelm Grimm and Jacob Grimm, from which the picture was based on, remained intact because it kept me engaged, which meant that the older viewers would most likely not get bored by the repetitive singing and dancing. The great artistic endeavor that was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” opened the door to so many of Disney’s most excellent animated features. Although the film had its flaws, I believe we must honor it not only because it was progressive but also due to the fact that it provided people laughter and hope during the Great Depression.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
★★ / ★★★★
I feel like I’m the only person in the world who didn’t enjoy this western classic about two fugitives, Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford), who decided to go to Bolivia in order to escape the law and rob banks there instead. Directed by George Roy Hill, Newman and Redford were definitely charismatic and their characters had a brotherly chemistry without even trying; unfortunately, everything about it was so blasé to the point where I thought I was watching boys acting on their id rather than men trying to accomplish something that they could be proud of (no matter unlawful such things may be). Although it had a lot of energy especially during the chase and gun-wielding scenes, the movie had no idea when to turn down the energy and focus on the characters so that the audiences would know more about the two leads, such as where they came from, why the turned to the life of crime and what was it about their relationship that made them dependent on each other. The romantic angle regarding Katharine Ross as Etta Place was a mere filler for me. Those scenes lacked passion and sensuality so I was somewhat uncomfortable watching it. I wish Redford and Newman’s characters had more edge or danger instead of just being likable because there were times when I thought the film glorified violence. Except for the final minutes, I didn’t feel like their actions had any sort of consequences so the movie became one-dimensional for too long. I expected a lot coming into this film because I’ve heard from both critics and audiences alike that it was nothing short of exemplary. Perhaps I was in a bad mood when I saw the picture, I don’t know, but it didn’t engage me like “Bonnie and Clyde,” with which it had a number of parallels. I wouldn’t have minded the (very light) humor so much if it let the darkness took over from time to time. It’s a shame because I really do love watching Newman and Redford because I think they’re very talented actors. Luckily, they star together again in “The Sting,” a movie that really showcases the two of them as a whole package backed up with superior writing and direction (also by George Roy Hill).
Double Indemnity (1944)
★★★★ / ★★★★
This noir classic about a man (Fred MacMurray) who works for an insurance company who plots with a woman (Barbara Stanwyck) to kill her husband (Tom Powers) was impressive through and through. Unhappily married to her husband because she married him only for the money, Stanwyck suggested to MacMurray that they commit murder, collect her husband’s insurance money of $100,000 (assuming the husband dies on a train–a situation covered under the double indemnity clause) and be together forever. Only things started to go seriously wrong when an insurance investigator (Edward G. Robinson) began to feel like the death was due to murder rather than accidental because everything was set-up so perfectly. I enjoyed the fact that the lead character (played by MacMurray) narrated the picture and told the audiences outright how everything was going to turn out. So then the focus turned to the journey of two conniving individuals so blinded by greed and passion, they failed to consider the ramifications of what could happen after the deed was done. Stanwyck’s character was an expert of hiding her true emotions and an excellent liar; MacMurray’s character was obsessed with details and had a natural ability to think ahead. But both of them needed each other and that was ultimately their downfall (in which a train became a perfect metaphor). I thought it was fascinating how we saw the story through the antagonists’ perspectives. With most noir films I’ve seen, the story is always through the good guys’ eyes so watching this movie was a refreshing change. “Double Indemnity,” directed by Billy Wilder, being a noir film, I expected it to have a great ear when it comes to dialogue and a stunning use of black and white cinematography. What I didn’t expect was for the script to be very amusing, especially in the first half when MacMurray and Stanwyck conversed for the first time. It provided a nice contrast with the film’s darkness and cynicism. This movie kept me on my toes because just when I thought the characters were at the crest of the wave and were going to get away with everything, they hit a trough just as quickly and they started to figure out ways how they could survive even if it meant sacrificing one another.
12 Angry Men (1957)
★★★★ / ★★★★
This film was not difficult for me to love at all because it was able to focus on a number of very distinct individuals in one room and really pick apart their own moralities as well as our own… in about an hour and thirty minutes. If that isn’t filmmaking at its highest level, I don’t know what is. Directed by Sidney Lumet, “12 Angry Men” was about an eighteen year-old boy who was accused of stabbing is own father to death, now on trial to be put in the electric chair, and how one juror (Henry Fonda) out of the twelve (Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec and Robert Webber) decided to stand up for what he believed to be right–that is, that a person’s life should not be taken lightly, especially when that decision is in our hands. I thought it was fascinating that although we didn’t know the names of the jurors and we didn’t observe each of them in their respective homes, we learned a great deal about them with the way they argued their point of views regarding the case, how they argued against each other whether it was about the case or not, and how they looked into themselves when a really good point was brought up. Anyone who loves hearing great dialogues in cinema would immediately be interested in this film because it was pretty much like dropping in on a real jury who was deliberating behind the courtroom. Nobody is perfect and the arguments are strong yet they each had their flaws–but that complexity is what I found to be the most beautiful and engaging. This is the kind of film that is timeless because most people today absolutely hate it when they would be chosen to participate in jury duty and they would do anything to get out of it. (Sometimes including myself if I have class or a prior crucial commitment, but there’s a tiny part in me who is very interested on how it’s really like to be a part of the jury.) Although made in 1957, those eleven men are not at all different from people today because everyone has their own problems to face and responsibilities fulfilll; worrying about another person’s life who they consider as less important was the last thing on their minds. As the men tried to sort out the details of the crime, we really come to realize the power and the importance of reasonable doubt. Even if one is not interested in the justice system, this is a fascinating classic film about morals, ethics and what it means to live in a democratic society, the latter of which we most of the time take for granted. If I was ever on trial, I would want to show this movie to the jury before they make their decision.
★★★ / ★★★★
I’ve heard a lot about Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown,” a modern noir about a private detective (Jack Nicholson) who decided to investigate about water dealings in Los Angeles, only to discover later on that what he was onto was deeper than he could tread. I was impressed by this classic picture because even though it was set in the 1930s, there was something about it that was very aware of the noir films that came before. I thought that subtle self-awareness worked in its advantage because although it did follow some of the textbook rules of noir movies, it had the ability to flip some of those rules upside down and I was taken by surprise time and time again. I loved the acting especially by Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. It’s an excellent collision of two great actors because Nicholson played a character who was always asking questions and snooping around no matter what the cost and Dunaway played a character who was a fortress. You never really know what she’s thinking or feeling because she’s so good at hiding certain bits of information that are crucial to her endgame. More importantly, she has the uncanny ability to give away facts that could help Nicholson’s character but still keep her secrets. I also liked the recurring theme of a character thinking he or she knows everything but it turning out to be quite the opposite. In the hands of a less gifted director, I think the messages would have been obvious and less fun to think about. There were also certain metaphors in the film that I found to be fascinating. For instance, that scene between Dunaway and Nicholson regarding a flaw in the iris meant so much to me in ultimately determining whether I was in the right direction of guessing who was involved in what. And in this film, a whole array of things were happening all at once to the point where a less attentive viewer will almost certainly get lost in the maelstrom of intrigues, social commentaries and taboos. “Chinatown” was well ahead of its time because it was able to synthesize remnants of what made the noir films in the 1940s and 1950s so great yet still embrace the very modern moral and ethical conundrums that plagued the era of its release. Perhaps with a second viewing I’ll love instead of like this movie. I recently found out that the more I think about certain movies and the more the events connect in my mind, the stronger my appreciation for them. Given the chance, I’ll be interested in watching “Chinatown’ again in the near future to see if its subtle ways had embedded themselves in my psyche. If it does, that is a sign of a great film.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Two charismatic strangers named Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty) teamed up and decided to rob banks in the Depression-era 1930s. Their adventures eventually led them to take in other people including C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), Buck Barrow (Gene Hackman), and Blanche Barrow (Estelle Parsons). I’ve heard a lot about this movie via references from other pictures and television shows so I expected a lot from it. I have to say that it more than impressed because although it was initially about criminals who simply wanted some sort of excitement in their lives, we eventually really got to know them such as how they felt toward each other, their own insecurities and their realization that they wanted to leave the life of crime and start over. In under two hours, Arthur Penn, the director was able to helm a movie with sympathetic characters (when they shouldn’t be because they’ve killed people, especially considering when the film was released) and come full circle when it comes to the story. I also liked the dialogue and the passion in the body language of the actors, notably Dunaway. At times, I would pay attention more on what she was doing instead of what she was saying–something that I often catch myself doing when I’m conversing with someone. So I consider that a very good thing because it means she’s established a bridge between the character and the audience. Lastly, I enjoyed that this picture tried to be more than a series of action sequences. It actually had humor–especially when Gene Wilder appeared on screen–and real dramatic weight, which adds another layer to its substance. I think “Bonnie and Clyde” is rightfully considered as one of the greatest American films because even though it was undoubtedly violent, it really was more about the drama in wanting to escape situations with increasing amount of gravity. Pretty much every minute was efficient and I was fascinated with what was going to happen with the characters even though I knew of their fates. If one hasn’t seen “Bonnie and Clyde,” one should make it a priority. My only regret is that I hadn’t seen it sooner.