What I Love About “Oldies”

Sometimes, film critics and film lovers can get very offensive or defensive about movies. We have a passion for film and love to rant about it. For me, I’m quick to defend films from the 1950’s and earlier.

There’s just something magical and special about older movies. It seems that Hollywood was different then; it was more glamorous and the movie stars were more interesting. Take a look at James Dean. Of course, his death at such a young age is responsible for much of his legacy today, but even back then, he was mysterious, talented and intriguing.

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And then there are stars like Gene Kelly. It’s usually him that people mean when they say something like “they don’t make stars like that anymore”. He was a triple threat: he could sing, dance and act. It’s hard to come by someone like that today in the world of reality television and social media.

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved older films. I can thank my parents for a lot of that. My mom was named after Rita Hayworth, so she grew up watching her films my dad is a fan of John Wayne, so these movie stars from years ago were familiar to me at an early age.

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The more interest I gained in film throughout the years, the more oldies I watched. I fell in love with the look of Technicolor films, like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Rebel Without a Cause”. It’s all very romantic, dreamy and the films are easy to like.

There’s a certain quality to older films that seems to not exist in films of today. It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what that is. I think a strong reason for that is what I mentioned about the actors in these films. They have a certain star quality, uniqueness and likability that I think is sometimes hard to find in actors today.

The actors and actresses were impossibly handsome and beautiful, sometimes overwhelmingly so. When I first watched “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, it was like I watching a battle of the beautiful eyes. They were both well-known for their beautiful peepers: Elizabeth Taylor for her violet-blue eyes, and Paul Newman for his baby blues. Their characters battled each other’s egos and personalities, but their beauty and screen presence is almost distracting.

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My favorite romantic comedy isn’t “Crazy, Stupid Love” or “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” (though they are enjoyable movies), it’s “It Happened One Night”. The 1934 film, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, is the oldest in my DVD collection and is also high on my most watched list. I saw it for the first time in a film class a couple of semesters ago and I fell in love with it. It’s smart, cheeky, well written and hilarious.

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Perhaps what I love most about it is Colbert’s character, Ellie. She’s a “takes no crap” kind of gal and it’s refreshing to see, especially in such an older film. She’s the one who often takes the lead in the feisty, flirty-but-still-hate-you relationship with Gable’s character, Peter. She’s also fully confident in her body and sexual nature.

A famous scene from the film has her standing next to the road, exposing her calf to passing cars in order to hitch a ride. It’s daring for that time period, and it’s also a understated sexy move. Imagine this scenario in a film today. Perhaps the female character would be scantily clad or purposefully showing even more skin than jus ta calf to attract attention. And there is nothing wrong with that. I’m all for owning your body and doing what you please with it, but this formula is boring film after film. Usually, it seems like a female actress is being exposed for no other purpose than to be eye candy. With this scene from “It Happened One Night”, it fits her character so well and it’s a well written, hilarious and effective scene.

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Older films cannot rely on CGI, sex scenes and violence to tell a story or create shocking, memorable visuals. I think a handful of blockbuster films overuse these features and suffer form it in terms of good writing, direction and overall execution. Maybe that’s why I consider oldies to be of such high quality. Even without the aid of a computer system or high-budget, exploding sets, there still remains a lot of imagination and stunning visuals in older films.

With having to rely on different elements, like costuming, camera angles, lighting and staging, older films can be just as effective in excitement when it comes to action on the screen. A good example of this is “The Great Train Robbery”.  The 1903 silent, 12 minute long film follows the actions of a group of bandits as they stage a train robbery.

It has minutes of tension-filled action scenes on top of the moving train as the bandits attempt to rob the train. It’s perhaps not the most exciting film to watch, but it has good pacing and the action scenes are fun to watch.

My absolute favorite oldie film is “Singin’ in the Rain”. Whenever I am feeling stressed or in a bad mood, I put on this movie and it can always make me feel better.

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It’s a funny, heartwarming musical about the making of musicals. Films about films are always a joy to watch. With this one, Hollywood pokes fun at itself for being so hesitant towards “talkies” and the transition to making films with sound. It’s a film that is regarded as masterpiece of classic cinema and I think that term is well-earned.

There’s so much joy in the film and almost every scene is uplifting and easy to make you laugh. The musical numbers are catchy and so much fun to watch. Donald O’Connor, Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds are terrific in the film and have such a sunny, enjoyable screen presence.

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My favorite musical number from the film is “Moses Supposes”.  Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor are at their silliest, mocking the dialect coach and at the end of the song, are stacking furniture on him. Their tap dancing is mesmerizing and so much watch to watch. I doubt you’ll be able to stop yourself from smiling throughout the whole thing:

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