After an evening in with the dog watching old films — Dial M for Murder taking precedence — I had a heavy discussion with my office’s CTO about old films. We were in agreement that they just don’t make them like they used to.
In today’s age of technology, it’s seemingly unusual for films to not contain CGI and controlled explosions. For example, we once had The Birds. One of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, that film won’t affect people now as it once did. I had the opportunity to see it before the computers took over, and even now, when I see birds lined up on a power line or a climbing frame, I feel a flicker of concern. Perhaps an owl wasn’t really the animal of choice to join my menagerie after all. Films like 1954’s Them, about ants which have mutated following the testing of a bomb, won’t make people jump these days, but it got things right.
In homage to the greats, here are some movies from yesteryear which hold a firm place in my heart.
Lawrence of Arabia
Featuring a stellar cast, including Omar Sharif, Sir Alec Guinness and, of course, Peter O’Toole, this near 4-hour epic is the cause of many an argument in my household, with my mother moaning that it’s boring and me countering that it isn’t about a march across a desert. This film is the tale of T. E. Lawrence’s personal rebellion against his superiors. Yes, there’s a desert trek, but the film is so much more than that in my view; it’s about Lawrence’s personal journey, not the sandy one.
This film led me to read Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which is sometimes a difficult read, but definitely something I would recommend.
The film shows a man who seems far too quiet to be such an instigator of war, yet Lawrence convinces the Arabs to mount an attack, somewhere along the way bringing the Arab tribes together (temporarily) and becoming one of them. He blows up trains, shoots one of his comrades to prevent him from being captured by the Turks, gets captured and assaulted himself, and essentially becomes barbaric in his actions — ironic given his previous assessment of his new allies.
Ah, the good ol’ fashioned horror. The Tingler is a film I have not seen in a long time, but I remember being freaked out. Hey, I was a kid! Anyway, it all made sense. That feeling of fear that grows constantly… Well, it turns out it’s some kind of parasitic creepy crawly which is attached to the spine and increases in size and curls up when the host is afraid, eventually breaking the person’s back and killing them. The only thing known to kill the Tingler is the host’s scream. See? Perfect sense. So, this man murders his wife by scaring her to death — she just so happens to be mute, so obviously her death was pretty imminent. Heroic doctor Vincent Price discovers the Tingler inside her body, but — oh no! — the thing escapes and goes on a rampage in a cinema. Determined to save everyone, Price gets them all to scream. Clearly upset by what he’s done, the man apologises and goes about his business. Or does he…?
The Tingler touches on a theory that I’ve never notice to have been presented: Why people scream when they’re frightened. But it’s because they’ve got this damn thing knotting in their spinal column of course!
I remember the film ending rather ominously: if you doubt the creature’s existence, next time you feel the tingle of fear don’t scream.
This film is classic!
Will kids these days like it? Well. It’s black and white — and that’s pretty off-putting to kids who grew up with Tellytubbies.
Gone With the Wind
Well, it’s an obvious one, but it’s a great one!
My first real crush, Clark Gable, playing the role of a devilishly handsome playboy of sorts, Rhett Butler, falls in his own brand of love with the reluctant Scarlett O’Hara, played by the fantastic Vivien Leigh, who’s in her own brand of love with Ashley Wilkes, played by Leslie Howard, who’s just announced his engagement to his cousin (it wasn’t weird back then!) Melanie Hamilton (Olivia De Havilland). That moment Scarlett ascends the staircase while Rhett gazes up at her with a look crossed between adoration and a starving crocodile is what film was all about back in the day. When he’s drunk and carries her upstairs to bed, even that poster — it all screams Hollywood magic.
But I was busy drooling over Rhett…
If you’ve seen the film you will understand why it grates on my nerves that all Scarlett wanted was Ashley. Seriously, love? Ashley over Rhett? What fool would make that decision?? Of course, there’s the ending she deserves — only now she knows exactly what she’s got and my GOD, could this woman be any more annoying? She has a man who’ll do anything she wants, but she wants the guy who kisses her and runs back to his wife. What a flake!
The story’s great, but it’s old, historical, early colour, two long films in one and contains a lot of “Fiddle dee dee.” Nobody knows what that means. I doubt today’s generation will choose to watch it.
The Intelligence Men
Oh, who doesn’t love a little bit of Morecambe and Wise?
A secret agent dies; a stranger tries to hum a ballet tune to Morecambe in a cafe under the impression that he’s the dead secret agent. Morecambe hums back, and M.I.5 assign him his very own handler, Wise of course, who is desperately trying to get him to remember the tune. More amber just so happens, though, to be tone deaf.
Very soon, Morecambe finds himself undercover as the deceased agent in a desperate bid to foil an assassination. There’s fighting, a ballet, and a strange man who always seems to show up looking ominous — all fantastic ingredients for a comedy classic!
Kids have a significantly weird idea of funny these days. But it’s right here if you want to have a chuckle!
The First of the Few
Yes, I’ve rambled about this one before. It’s not my fault it’s fantastic!
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Winston Churchill’s quote features prominently in this film, a work of fiction based on fact.
This is the kind-of biopic of R.J. Mitchell (Leslie Howard), the brilliant mind behind the Spitfires — frankly the most impressive warplane ever and I will accept no arguments. It opens with Mitchell laying on the grass doodling the birds in the sky. The engineer reasons that birds are so good at flying because of the way they’re designed, so he designs a seaplane with birds in mind. Or something like that. Anyway, these planes are entered into the Schneider Cup. In those days the rules were simple: win three times in a row and the trophy is kept by the winning country. I’m proud that an early Spitfire design led to the REAL trophy staying with us.
The film sees us winning the trophy, leading to Lady Lucy Houston (her again!), the fifth richest woman in the world at the time and probably thought a bit of a nut job, stating that the war was going to be fought in the skies next. She was impressed enough by Mitchell’s creation that she gave the RAF the funding they needed to start pumping out Spitfires.
(Mitchell — the real Mitchell — reportedly said of the RAF, “Spitfire was just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose.”)
Movie Mitchell worked his socks off to get this new design ready, and the film would perhaps lead you to believe that he worked so hard the exhaustion killed him. Indeed, as he’s laying in his garden beneath a blanket, his mate Geoffrey Crisp (David Niven), the lucky lad who got to test the result of Mitchell’s blood, sweat and tears, flies over Mitchell’s garden.
This film is perhaps my all time favourite, and it’s not just the fact that the fabulous Spitfire is the main focus — to me, at least — or the inclusion of actors of Howard and Niven’s calibers. It also features some real footage: the building of the gorgeous metal bird, for example; Jeffrey Quill, the real Mitchell’s test pilot, flying the plane; and footage from the Battle of Britain.
I’ve mentioned I love this film, right?