These days we have soft luggage made of lightweight material, with shoulder straps, a million zippered pockets, and quite often on wheels. We still struggle with our bags through airports (where our luggage is sometimes reduced to a clear plastic ziplock bag), struggle with jamming overstuffed suitcases in the ever-smaller trunks of cars, and drag on gummy wheels “pilot’s cases” on sprints through subways and train platforms.
George Bailey wanted a “great big” suitcase in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) to take with him on the wonderful adventures he was never to have. It was a hard boxy second-hand thing with no retractable handle and certainly no wheels. One wonders how far he could have gotten anyway.
Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen hustle to catch a train in “White Christmas” (1954) and lament they must leave behind their trunks. Their trunks? Their trunks with no wheels? Can you imagine traveling these days with a trunk? John Candy, maybe, in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Nobody else would dare.
Actually, Laurel and Hardy tried to take off with a neighbor lady in a trunk, twice -- once in “Unaccustomed As We Are,” (1929) and once in its remake of “Block-Heads” (1938), but didn’t get very far either time. Too unwieldy.
One of the iconic images of “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) was Dana Andrews’ hauling around an overstuffed army suitcase through the entire movie. It is with him at the beginning when he arrives home from the war, and at the end when he bitterly decides to leave his hometown. It is one of the few times I can remember where a suitcase actually looked heavy. He clearly struggles with it, leaning to keep his balance as it bangs against his hip. Usually the luggage carried in old movies looks light as a feather. The characters carry their worldly belongings and never seem out of breath.
That is, of course, because the suitcases are actually empty. The prop guy made sure Dana Andrews’ bag was stuffed to the gills. Even Gladys George won’t let him leave without an additional sweater.
Charlie Chaplin sometimes carried everything in a bandana tied to the end of his cane. Holds about as much as a clear plastic ziplock bag, so you can see how far we haven’t come.