Five B&W classics you just might like
By Cole Williams
Designer of The Journal
It was recently brought to my attention that some young folks don’t like black and white movies. I find this amazing since some of my favorite films are grayscale. I thought I’d synopsize five movies that these brats would probably enjoy if they got past their color prejudice long enough to Netflix them.
First is the 1962 John Ford film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” starring James Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin as the snarling Liberty Valance. This picture deals with racial prejudice, immigration, sexism, handgun violence and First Amendment Rights, among other things. Set in the Old West, it manages to do this with a droll sense of humor. The action takes place in the town of Shinbone where locals are terrorized by Valance and his gang. It’s difficult to say too much about the storyline, told in flashback, because toward the end there’s a plot twist as satisfying as a glass of iced tea on a summer afternoon. It also features Vera Miles, Andy Divine, John Carradine and Lee Van Cleef.
The next flick is Stanley Kubrick’s cold war masterpiece “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb.” The impressive cast includes Sterling Hayden as the unhinged General Ripper who is convinced there’s a communist plot to pollute all Americans’ “precious bodily fluids.” The film’s plot revolves around a runaway B-52. The crew loses radio contact and are continuing on their canceled mission to drop a hydrogen bomb on the USSR. Hilarity ensues. The film features George C. Scott, Keenan Wynn, James Earl Jones and the amazing Peter Sellars, who plays three parts including the president of the United States and the titular doctor. Slim Pickens appears riding a hydrogen bomb and waving his cowboy hat over his head creating one of the most iconic images in cinema history. The film is widely considered one of the best political satires ever scripted and lensed.
Picking out a horror movie was tricky. So many of the classics (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.), were black and white. I decided to go off the beaten path with the 1963 film “The Haunting,” involving a psychiatrist leading a team of three, investigating a putative haunted house. Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s super-creepy 1959 novel and directed by Robert Wise, the plot is far too complex to go into here. Visual effects were pretty limited back then. Consequently, the filmmakers relied on unsettling camera angles, a taut script, nuanced performances and diabolically effective sound effects. The solid cast includes Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn. By contrast, the 1999 remake, despite state-of-the-art visual effects and star power including Liam Neeson, is less than terrifying. It got an embarrassing Rotten Tomatoes rating of 16%. Go for the gusto and make damn sure you’re renting the 1963 original, which Steven Spielberg calls “The scariest film ever made.” Microwave some Jiffy Pop, dim the lights and prepare to have the wolf bait scared out of you.
For a B&W comedy, I chose the 1941 Frank Capra adaptation of the stage play “Arsenic and Old Lace.” The movie, starring Cary Grant, is fall-down funny. Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, whose two spinster aunts poison “lonely old gentlemen” to put them out of their presumed misery. Enter Mortimer’s brother Teddy, who believes himself to be Theodore Roosevelt. He buries the lonely old corpses, which he’s convinced are malaria victims, in the basement. What else is Teddy doing down there? He’s digging the Panama Canal, of course. As Mortimer puts it, “Insanity runs in my family; it practically gallops!” Things start getting wacky when Mortimer’s evil brother, played by Raymond Massey, shows up accompanied by his alcoholic plastic surgeon sidekick played by Peter Lorre. Mortimer has just been engaged and is trying to hide his family’s “eccentricities” from his fiancée. Great fun but remember, if the Brewster sisters offer you a glass of elderberry wine-don’t drink it.
I felt I had to wrap this up with a good romantic movie. If you’ve never seen “Casablanca,” you should be jailed for being unusually cruel to yourself. This 1942 uber-classic stars Humphrey Bogart and the stunning Ingrid Bergman. Bogart plays Rick Blaine, an American expatriate and nightclub/gambling den owner. His establishment, Rick’s Café Americain, is the hangout for a motley group of refugees fleeing Hitler’s advance through Europe during World War II. Rick’s is the setting for betrayal, patriotism, nasty Nazis, star-crossed lovers and one of the most memorable movie theme songs ever written and sung. If you’ve never seen Casablanca, I will come to your house, strap you in a chair and force you to watch it. The cast includes Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and Peter Lorre in a short but memorable role. Here’s a warning for any hipsters out there. Nothing you will ever wear or do will make you as cool as Bogie is in this flick.
I readily admit that this list is short and arbitrary. I’ve left out lots of classics. “The Malteze Falcon,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Thing From Another World,” “Lolita,” “King Kong,” “Key Largo” “Psycho” and “High Noon” come to mind. There are soooo many. For a pretty good list, visit https://www.ranker.com/list/
I’m no film critic. I just enjoy sharing things I like. If you watch (or have watched) any of these movies, I’d love to get some feedback.
In the meantime, ”Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”