Are you or someone you know curious about classic movies but don’t know where to start? It’s time to dip a toe into film history and discover a bevy of gems just waiting to be enjoyed.
Classic movies suffer a bad rap. People say they’re boring, stuffy, and old-fashioned. But these are all gross misconceptions. Old movies can be just as interesting and dynamic as new ones. I believe that contemporary viewers can develop an appreciation for the movies of the past. You just need the right movies to get you started.
Whether you’re a classic film newbie or you’re looking for the gateway drug to get your loved one hooked, here are 5 movies from 5 different decades that will win over even the biggest skeptic.
Are you wary of silent movies? Don’t be! Before the days of talking pictures, early filmmakers produced some of the most entertaining movies. They just happened to have title cards instead of synchronized dialogue. If you want to test the silent film waters, you can do no wrong with the holy trinity of silent comics: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. They were the masters of physical comedy.
Safety Last! (1923) stars Harold Lloyd as a department store clerk who attempts to pull of an outrageous stunt for publicity and the prospect of a cash bonus. Lloyd performed all the death-defying stunts himself. The movie features one of the most iconic images in history: Lloyd dangling from a clock high above the city streets. This is a silent classic that brings the thrills along with the laughs.
I haven’t met one person who’s watched The Thin Man movies and not fallen head-over-heels for Nick and Nora. It’s simply impossible not to like them and the dynamic duo who brought them to the screen, William Powell and Myrna Loy. The Thin Man (1934) is the pre-code mystery that started this much beloved franchise. Powell plays Nick Charles, a former private detective who retires to live the good life with his wealthy wife and their dog Asta. Nick is content with keeping the status quo. But Nora, titillated by the danger new cases bring with them, encourages Nick to take on a new one.
Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man is a blend of mystery, comedy and high-class antics that is nothing if not enjoyable. It also features performances by well-known stars Maureen O’Sullivan (mother of Mia Farrow) and Cesar Romero. You’ll want to watch this one with a martini in hand.
Your classic film education would not be complete without a good film noir and Mildred Pierce (1945) is one of the best. Based on James M. Cain’s novel, the movie stars Joan Crawford in the title role and in one of the best comeback performances ever. Mildred Pierce is a divorced mother of two whose work ethic and business savvy sets her on a career path from waitress to successful restaurant owner. But her oldest daughter Veda (Ann Blyth) wants the benefits of their newfound wealth but is disgusted by her mother’s job.
Their relationship spirals out of control with lies, deceit, tragedy, murder, and the slap heard ‘round the world. Watch Mildred Pierce once for the drama and a second time for Eve Arden’s witty one-liners. Crawford would go on to win an Oscar for her performance. Years later, the story would be re-adapted into a mini-series starring Kate Winslet, which is also available on DVD Netflix.
The 1950s was a particularly interesting and overlooked period in film history. The movies studios had major competition with TV so they had to go big or go home. A colorful musical extravaganza like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) was the type of high caliber fare that could bring audiences out of their homes and into their local cinemas. What saves Singin’ in the Rain from being just another musical is quality. Always quality.
What you can expect from this movie are top-notch musical numbers, dance sequences and comedy gags, witty dialogue and performances by some of the best in the industry including Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Cyd Charisse. The Technicolor is exquisite, the cinematography and choreography are a delight and the costumes are to die for. And let’s not forget Gene Kelly’s title dance-and-song number. Even if you’ve never watched the movie you KNOW this scene. It’s legendary.
If you think classic movies are too simple for your liking, then give The Apartment a try. This dark comedy blends humor with romance, drama and biting social commentary. Jack Lemmon stars as C.C. Baxter, the sympathetic hero we’re all rooting for. He wants nothing but to get a promotion at his office job at an insurance company. However, the higher ups, including his boss (Fred MacMurray) take advantage of his good nature and use his apartment for their secret rendezvous. Baxter ends up falling for elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley Maclaine) with potentially tragic consequences.
The Apartment is one of the most celebrated stories… movie-wise. It’s multi-layered with enough general appeal to draw in anybody who likes a good movie but has the potential to win over even the pickiest viewer. The Apartment went on to win several Oscars including best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best actor and actress in a leading role.
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past, or find her on Twitter @RaquelStecher and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.