Monday, March 26, 2007

Lukewarm Reviews of Classics

Bosley Crowther, film reviewer for the New York Times, thought the weakness of “It’s a Wonderful Life” was its sentimentality. He decried the film’s “illusory concept of life,” and thought Henry Travers as Clarence the angel “a little too sticky for our taste” (NTY, December 23, 1946).

Sixty years later most people have at least heard of the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” if not having seen it several hundred times, but probably have not heard of Bosley Crowther. Time is a great leveler, indeed.

Frank S. Nugent, also of the Times, while applauding the efforts behind “The Wizard of Oz” painted the film merely as “well-intentioned” and “genial.” He takes a bemused and avuncular sort of attitude about good witches in giant soap bubbles and flying monkeys (NYT, August 18, 1939). Mr. Nugent clearly had no idea that generations of kids watching the annual television screening of “The Wizard of Oz” would be seriously freaked out by those monkeys, and that the whole production would inspire toys, games, cartoon sequels, and a couple of different Broadway musical incarnations. Clearly, the story may have gotten under our skin, but to Mr. Nugent, “The Wizard of Oz” was kid stuff and only another assignment.

When the film industry was still comparatively young, it must have seemed impossible that a movie would take on a life of its own. How ironic that they took their product so seriously and yet not seriously at all. Perhaps no generation has control over what a future generation will call classic.

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