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Some movies

Steve McQueen & the iconic Mustang
I’m not a film expert by any means, but it bothers me how many people haven’t seen or even say they “don’t like” old movies. Here’s a lightly annotated list, in chronological order, of a few I can’t imagine not enjoying. They’re movies I love and have seen several times (or more). All are a great pleasure to watch, and if they have redeeming social value, well, that’s extra.

* Sullivan’s Travels (1941). Joel McCrea plays a Hollywood director who’s successful with comedies but is dying to make a serious movie called O Brother Where Art Thou. As with all Sturges movies, there are switchbacks and guffaws galore.
* The Lady Eve (1941) and The Palm Beach Story (1942), both directed by Preston Sturges. I couldn’t choose one—they are equally wonderful and two of the funniest movies ever, from the titles to the Weenie King to the Ale & Quail Club to Barbara Stanwyck as the sexiest con woman ever, and are mixed the whole way with the kind of witty fast-talking repartee that emblemizes screwball comedy.
* The Quiet Man (1952). There are so many great John Ford movies that it’s hard to pick just one. He’s best known for his Westerns. I’m partial to what’s known as the Cavalry Trilogy—Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950)—and The Searchers is a great, great movie. But The Quiet Man, which stars John Wayne and the glorious Maureen O’Hara and is set in Ireland, has fighting (Wayne is a boxer who’s afraid to fight because he once killed a man in the ring), loving and intricate social mores. One of the theaters that no longer exists used to screen it on St Patrick’s Day. We ran into lots of O’Friends every March.
* Salt of the Earth (1954). This is the least-known film on my list. Set in New Mexico, it portrays a strike by zinc miners and has a strong feminist theme. It was made by and starred several people who had been blacklisted due to accusations of Communism.
* Bullitt (1968). Westerns are my favorite genre, and Bullitt, with its good guy (Steve McQueen, the coolest of the cool) vs. bad (Robert Vaughn as an oily politician) is a modern western. Bullitt also has one of the two best car chase scenes ever (the other being in The French Connection, with Bill Hickman a driver in both films), not to mention a Mustang and a Charger, a perhaps unintentional frontier reference.

Bonus: 1939 is often said to be the best-ever year for American films. Not long ago, my husband and I made it a project to watch as many of these as we could get hold of. We don’t have a TV so we watched on our laptop, lying in bed with the computer on one of us. It made your stomach first nicely warm, like you were a sick kid, then way too hot. But by the time it got really hot, we would be so into the movie that we wouldn’t notice how uncomfortable we were. We saw Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (James Stewart, Jean Arthur), Gone with the Wind (Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh), The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach (Claire Trevor, John Wayne in his breakout role), Beau Geste (Gary Cooper, Ray Milland), Destry Rides Again (Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart), Gunga Din (Cary Grant), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara), The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Greer Garson and the unmemorable Robert Donat). Thomas Mitchell might have been the busiest actor of the year—he was in half of these movies, winning an Oscar for his role as the alcoholic doctor in Stagecoach. I watched Destry twice so that might have been my favorite. However, Maureen O’Hara was in Hunchback, which gives it an immediate leg up.

Bonus 2: I guess everyone should see Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane, but you don’t have to see them again.
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