Movies become classics for many reasons, but chief among them is that people still watch them years after they were produced.
Hello, everybody. And Happy New Year from Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys.
Did you know about The National Film Registry?
It’s a department at The Library of Congress and every year it selects films to include in its collection. Most are well known, popular pieces, but occasionally it surprises with the inclusion of a lesser known but historic film. (Frank distrusts such official lists, noting that individual taste is always the best barometer. But leave that aside for the moment.)
This past year the Registry added a few classics we’d like to recommend (with caveats) for viewing if you haven’t already seen them. And, of course, if you have you can always watch them again.
They are: Anatomy of a Murder, 3:10 to Yuma, and on the lighter side, Born Yesterday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
The first, of course, is director Otto Preminger’s 1959 courtroom thriller starring James Stewart as the rural lawyer who defends a slippery soldier (Ben Gazzara) accused of murdering the rapist of his equally shifty wife (Lee Remick). The judge in the case is portrayed by Joseph Welch, who is famous for his real-life role as the foil of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy.
While Preminger’s handling of the subject matter — and the casting — was considered a bit daring at the time, it’s hardly pushing the envelope by today’s standards. Nonetheless, a superb Stewart performance (he was in his fruitful older period back then) and musical score composed by Duke Ellington make this a standout. Suggest tracking down the CD of this soundtrack. (Stewart and Ellington share a scene in this distinctly non-musical title, both seated at the piano.)
3:10 to Yuma is also a good choice. It’s director Delmer Daves’ very effective western costarring Van Heflin as financially hard-pressed rancher hired to escort nasty criminal Glenn Ford to an Arizona prison. It provides Ford with one of his best roles and showcases just how good Heflin was. Suspenseful and powerful! The film was remade recently, and the result was nowhere near the quality of the original. Again, good choice.
Born Yesterday is perhaps not as worthy a choice. Yes, the 1950 comedy directed by George Cukor and costarring Judy Holliday, William Holden and Broderick Crawford has its inherent delights, largely lodged in Holliday’s performance (she won an Oscar for the part, after all).
Still in all, the plot — the gentrification of Broderick’s blond bombshell girlfriend by professorial Holden — plays a tad trite today. Do we really need a reminder that Hollywood stereotyped blond bombshells as stupid? (The picture was remade in 1993 starring Melanie Griffith. Skip it!)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the weakest choice. This piece of 1961 fluff directed by Blake Edwards starring Audrey Hepburn is based on a Truman Capote story about a girl from the sticks conquering New York City is spared by excellent musical contributions composed by Henry Mancini, including the song, “Moon River.” The music is unforgettable, as is Hepburn. The picture less so.
Happy New Year. And happy watching.