Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ten Things I Like About Old Movies

Ten things I rather like about old movies (without taking into consideration anything as superfluous as good acting, writing or cinematography):

1. Screaming newspapers headlines and screaming newsboys screaming the newspaper headlines.
2. Calendar pages that drop off like autumn leaves to show the passage of time. I watch my calendar on the wall, but this never happens. Except one time, when the thumbtack was loose and the entire year crashed to the floor at once. It was quite unnerving.
3. A song or music theme running all through the movie until you are sick of it.
4. Bell boys. I think it’s the uniform.
5. “Buy War Bonds At This Theater” at the end of a film. One wonders had we been relentlessly pestered to buy U.S. Savings bonds these last several years if our government deficit would have decreased a bit and our personal savings increased a bit.
6. Crashing waves, fireworks, or a quick fade to black to suggest sexual desire or consummation. During the years of the Production Code we needed some kind of subversive clue. To this day, I cannot watch fireworks without chuckling.
7. Candlestick telephones on the office desk.
8. Character actors, most of whom had a lot more experience than the biggest stars.
9. No matter how many times the private detective gets beat up, he always goes back for more. I would have chucked it in for a nice cozy job at the McDonald’s drive-through window the first time somebody beat me senseless and stepped all over my Fedora.
10. “Swell.”


Jonas Nordin said...

If a movie had the ten ingredients you mention it will definitely be a movie of my liking. Brilliant!

J.C. Loophole said...

I would add one more:
"No matter how serious the subject or the film, there was always at least a little humor, usually in the form of a very experienced character actor."
Great list- and I agree with them all.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, gentlemen. J.C., I suppose this list could get a lot longer, but maybe Jonas is right, if we had a movie with some checklist of this kind, it might just be a perfect movie.

I wonder if the writers sat around with a checklist. "Hey, we have to have somebody say 'So's your old man!' in scene 42!"

stennie said...

I like when people send/receive telegrams (or cables, or wires, in the vernacular of the day). The e-mail of the 1930's.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Hi, Stennie. Yeah, that's good, too. Sometimes a telegram could introduce dramatic tension, as most average people reserved telegrams (because of the expense) for bad news only.

We could probably do a post just on movie telegrams.

Maxim said...

Wonderful list. I'd have to add the little 'tip-of-the-hat' gesture that people in (especially) '30s movies make when saying goodbye, particularly if it's a cheeky or impertinent goodbye. I first noticed it in Laurel and Hardy movies but once you start noticing it, it's everywhere! When did people stop doing it? My guess is, sometime during WW2, when things started to get a little more, well, serious.

Gloria said...

<>"To this day, I cannot watch fireworks without chuckling"<>

LOL. With me, it's butter. When Einsestein did that extatic milky scene of butter-making in "The General Line", I wonder if he was thinking about a Kolj├│s' economy at all.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Maxim, you're right, that gesture has disappeared but was quite common on film in those days. You have a great eye for detail. That, too, could be another post.

Gloria, what can I say except to each his own fireworks or butter.

The Siren said...

I just don't even have words for how much I love this post. I would contribute my own ideas but I can't, because I plan to steal this idea for a post at the first opportunity. I will link back, though, I am not wholly unscrupulous.

BTW, I just tagged you. If you have the time for the meme I would be most interested in what you list.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Hi Campaspe. Steal away, there's nothing about this post that's terribly original. I must say, I'm amazed at the response. It warms my heart to see so many people in love with such stupid little details. I think it's just swell.

Anonymous said...

I love this! Reading this list, the following films and/or actors popped into mind:

1) The Wet Parade (1932)
2) Just about any Capra picture
3) High Noon (1952)
4) Grand Hotel (1932)
5) Wake Island and Bataan (1942)
6) um, just about everything!
7) Oh You Nazty Spy! (1940)
8) yeah, like Guy Kibbee for instance.
9) Maltese Falcon (1941)
10) Superman (1978) -- remember this: LOIS: You know, Clark, there are very few
people left in the world these days who
sound comfortable saying that word, swell.

btw, I noticed Maxim's "tip of the hat" gesture in tons of movies too beginning around the films of the teens. I figure the gesture (which changed a lot over the decades) came out of World War I.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

That's terrific how you matched each example with a particular film. I didn't think to do that. Interesting about the tipping the hat gesture possibly coming out of WW1. I really don't know.

"High Noon" an especially good example of the theme song following us everywhere.

Another thing I like about old movies is "Follow that car!" That could be post in itself.

Karen said...

I would add to "candlestick telephones on office desks" the wonderful attachment that telescopes out and in like a window security grate. I have no idea what it's called, and I don't see it after the early '30s, but it's AWESOME.

I have been waging a campaign to revive "swell" for some time now, and I'm happy to see it given its due.

Another thing I personally like about old movies is couturiers where models come out and show you the dresses while you sit and sip tea. That's living. It may still happen, for all I know, but you never see it in a film.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Hi, Karen. I agree that "swell" is ready for a comeback.

The models showing the dresses while the customer sips tea, that's priceless. There's another blog post right there. You run the gamut from funny ("Easter Parade") to creepy ("Vertigo") just in that one topic.

I know what you mean by that accordion attachment, but I don't have a name for it. Watch the next ten movies I see will have one.

goatdog said...

One that I always loved is when both people in the front seat of a car slide out the same door when exiting, or when the driver enters the car through the passenger side. I used to think it was about safety (get out at the curb side) or about allowing the camera to see every action, but there really doesn't seem to be any pattern.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Goatdog, you've mentioned one of my favorites of all. A group of friends and I were discussing this and when it was that they stopped making bench seats in cars. Love those movies where the girl slides up to the guy and they snuggle while driving. No seatbelts, just the wind in their hair and the glorious rear screen projection behind them.

Anonymous said...

11. Day for night, especially on the beach.
12. "Stop the press !"
13. "Follow that car !"
14. Nonchalant cardriving in front of a back projection screen.
15. Film music by Max Steiner or Miklosz Rosza

shahn said...

I love party scenes with someone playing the piano.

Before I die, I want to throw one of those parties.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Bartleby, those are some great ones. Stop the press! and Follow that car! are classic. I also like private detectives who talk to themselves, in order to provide narration.

Shahn, I'm with you about those party scenes. If you do throw a party like that, save me a spot at the far end of the piano where I can rest my highball and sing the old songs.

Raquel Stecher said...

This is awesome! It should totally be a meme. Start a taggin'!

Erich Kuersten said...

Brilliant idea... and yes, the writers definitely think that way, or at least the producers do, like Mr. Lippman in Barton Fink. David Lynch definitely does. He's got a thing for telephones and flickering lights, and the attire of women he probably adored in his early childhood (the 1950s!). For me it's rain storms, trains, anything with a nice constant hum. I like the old telephones, cigarettes, old Chinese opium dens and all that Asian exotica of the 1930s, snakes, alligators, glittering pools, German accents, 1970s synthesizer funk scores.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Erich, you have a quite a variety there. I think you win the prize for the most exotic list. Now, if we could just find a movie about an alligator taking a train to an old Chinese opium den.

Wendymoon said...

Love your list. Hope I'm not too late to the party:

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

You're never too late. Welcome aboard, Wendymoon.

Dave W said...

I am very late - 2021. I arrived by looking for "War bonds buy yours in this theatre" which I saw a fuzzy image of at the end of 'Laura' 1944 (the year I was born). I wondered why it was spelt 'theatre' not 'theater' even though it was "Released through Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation".

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Welcome, Dave. Interesting observation about "theater vs. theatre". Though it is commonly "theater" in U.S. now, it wasn't always. People used "theatre" often, then it kind of got to be interchangeable. Language is an ever-adapting concept. When I was in college, or maybe even in high school, I don't remember -- I was taught to use "theater" when making reference to a building and "theatre" when making reference to the art form. I still do, though I'm sure that invariably throws some readers off.

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