Classic Movies starter pack: Films to try if you like...
I turned on the TV on last Sunday morning and found myself watching Casablanca. It was very near the beginning and my first thought was 'I'll just watch five minutes while I eat my breakfast'. Obviously, five minutes turned into the whole film. I'd not seen it for ages, and it's just so good. It's also got the highest number of iconic quotes I've ever heard together in one movie. (Even if you're not sure where they come from, everyone's heard "Here's Looking at You, Kid" or "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.") The thing is, classic films are considered classics for a reason, and although black and white or the hammier style of old movies can be off-putting, if you write them off just because they're old you really are missing out. I thought I'd put together a little starter pack of recommendations - films to try if you're unfamiliar with old movies and unsure where to start. Below are some of my favourites - the films that surprised and engaged me despite their age. Why not give some a try?
If you liked La La Land and Hail Caeser try... Singin' in the Rain
If you like musicals and the back-drop of old Hollywood, Singin' in the Rain is a great film to start with. Set in the 1920's, silent movies are out and 'talkies' are in, leaving silent film stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont in a quandry - particularly Lina who doesn't exactly have a voice for sound... There's a fun, bantering romance between Gene Kelly's Don and Debbie Reynolds as aspiring actress Cathy Seldon, the songs are great, but most of all, it's really funny. Good comedy stands the test of time, and Singin in the Rain always makes me laugh. Warning: Despite being one of the most feel-good films of all time, Singin' in the Rain will fill you with sadness - sadness that you will never be able to tap-dance like Gene Kelly and Donald O' Connor.
If you liked Pirates of the Caribbean try Captain Blood (or The Sea Hawk - they're pretty much interchangeable)
Before Pirates of the Caribbean took the world by storm, pirate films had fallen out of fashion. But before they did, there was Captain Blood - Errol Flynn's first big break. It's a proper swashbuckler, with drama, romance, great music and just the right amount of cheese. Pirates fans will also hear plenty of familiar names and places - Tortuga, Port Royal, etc. If you like Captain Blood you could also try The Sea Hawk which has a similar plot, but is set a little earlier, and I think has a story-line involving Elizabeth the first?
If you liked Australia, Testament of Youth or Atonement try...
Gone with the Wind
If sweeping war-time romance is more your style, look no further than Gone with the Wind. Yes, it is very long (almost four hours!!) but it's fast-paced and full of great characters, snappy dialogue, fabulous costumes and so. much. drama. It's the book that I really love, but catching the film on TV one night was the reason I ever picked it up. Every scene is engaging and every performance spot-on. It was made in the 30's, and is set during the American Civil War (from the perspective of the South) so racism is unavoidable. In fact, it's problematic in more than one way...but still, it's stood the test of time, and still worth a watch.
If you liked White Chicks or She's the Man try... Some like it Hot
Just to be clear, I'm not saying Some Like it Hot will only appeal to people whose favourite films are about cross-dressing. But the humour does run in a similar vein to something like She's the Man - kind of slapstick, with gender-politics and a need to suspend your disbelief a little bit (would anyone ever actually think that Amanda Bynes was a man, or that Jack Lemon was a woman?). Anyway, Some Like it Hot is a comedy about two jazz musicians who witness a murder and so disguise themselves as women to join an all-female band and escape the gangsters who are searching for them. This is probably one of the best Marilyn Monroe films out there (she plays one of the girls in the band) and it's funny, pretty risque for the time period, and totally bizarre. A bit sexist too, probably, but saying that, I'm pretty sure it passes the bechdel test!
If you liked Pretty Woman, or She's all that try... My Fair Lady
If you like 'make-over' or 'Cinderella' stories (and there are definitely a lot of them out there) My Fair Lady will likely be your cup of tea. In this musical based on the play Pygmalion, Audrey Hepburn is Eliza Doolittle, the cockney flower-seller who Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins plucks from the streets, and makes the subject of a bet - can he turn her into a lady? There're some nice songs and Audrey Hepburn plays the comedy really well. Personally I think the ending is unsatisfactory, but that could just be me.
If you liked The Accused, Philadelphia, crime dramas or documentaries like Making a Murderer try... 12 Angry Men
I'm a big fan of 'talky' films - you know the type, often based on a play, character driven, lots of tension. The Breakfast Club is one of my favourites, but I also love anything with gripping court scenes. 12 Angry Men is one of my favourite films, I love that it can hold my attention so completely, despite being literally twelve people in a room, talking. In this case, it's twelve jurors, deciding on the guilt or innocence of a young boy who will face the death penalty if they decidehe did it. There's nothing complicated or difficult to understand, but it's very clever. Definitely one to try.
If you liked Legally Blonde, Bridesmaids, Clueless try...
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
The world of cinema is in serious need of some girly films right about now (and no, Wonderwoman doesn't count, however great it was. I mean a decent, non-gross-out comedy or romantic drama!) So if you're looking for something you haven't seen before, you may have to go back to the archives. I'd definitely recommend Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Again, one of the top Marilyn Monroe comedies, and this one's in colour! The story of two girl-friends, the dizzy blonde (who is technically the more practical of the two) looking for a man with with money, and the savvy brunette, who somehow always falls for the penniless, but good-looking ones. It's very silly, and Marilyn's character will make you cringe at times, but, it's actually a lot of fun and an early example of a female-centric comedy. Oh, and did I mention it's a musical? You'll recognise at least one of the songs, if you know what a girl's best friend is.
If you liked Warrior and Good Will Hunting try... On the Waterfront
I struggled trying to find films that match up to this one, but On the Waterfront is a great film so definitely worth trying. If you like gritty dramas or stories about working class America, with a touch of romance and a diamond in the rough hero, I'm pretty sure you'll like this. Marlon Brando plays the young man who 'could have been a contender' in this atmospheric drama about whistle-blowing and corruption. The music, very annoyingly, tries to drown everything out, but that's old films for you.
If you like 10 Things I Hate About You and Grease try... Guys and Dolls
Once you get bit by the Marlon Brando bug, you're going to want to try Guys and Dolls too. In this classic, 1930's set musical, Frank Sinatra's Nathan Detroit makes a bet with notorious gambler Sky Masterson (Brando) that he can't take any girl for a date in Havana, Cuba. Sky is confident, until the 'doll' named is Jean Simmons' Sgt. Sarah Brown from the 'Save Our Souls' Mission. There are some great songs including 'Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat' and 'Luck be a Lady' and two great couples to root for. Also gangsters. It's a fun comedy with quite a modern feel, despite it's age.
If you liked Monte Carlo, The Lizzie McGuire Movie or A Royal Night Out try... Roman Holiday
The original 'princess/celebrity/heiress out on the town in disguise' story, Roman Holiday is fun fluff from beginning to end. But well-written fluff, with the bonus of the lovely Audrey Hepburn and the even lovelier young Gregory Peck (as the reporter trying to get the story of his career - who stumbles upon the princess apparently drunk, in the street.) It's fast-paced, funny and romantic and there are some great costumes too.
If you liked A Bug's Life, Django Unchained and The Magnificent Seven re-make, try... The (original) Magnificent Seven
My mum has a thing about 'Cowies', and although they're not my favourite, I can definitely appreciate the appeal. I really liked Shane and The Big Country (another Gregory Peck film, if you're a fan!) and after enjoying the re-make of the Magnificent Seven at the cinema (plus Bug's Life is one of my favourite Pixar films, and that's basically a re-make too) I thought I better give the original a try. And it was great. Lots of action, a plethora of great acting talent (I'll watch Yul Brynner in anything) and the old man from the holiday plays the villain. Genuinely.
If you like Groundhog Day or 17 Again try... It's a Wonderful Life
You'll have seen It's a Wonderful Life parodied everywhere, from The Simpsons to Zac Efron vehicle 17 Again (the bit where he has to dive in the water to save the old man?) but it's so much more than it's token 'I'll show you what life would be like if you'd never been born' bit. I honestly think it's one of the best films ever, although admittedly, it's best watched at Christmas. George Bailey (played by James Stewart) is a good, decent man who has big dreams and lots of potential but his choices (basically, to be keep being good and decent) keep holding him back - or so he thinks. It sounds preachy but it's not when you watch it - it's frustrating at times (and they seriously should have left out that awful intro with the flashing stars) but it's just a great film. And it's only really Christmassy at the end, so you don't need to wait to December!
If you like Saving Private Ryan or the Sharpe series try... Zulu
Zulu's one of those Sunday afternoon films that I always catch from about half-way through - and end up watching to the end, without fail. Set in Africa in the late 1800's, the film stars Michael Caine and tells the story of a Welsh regiment stranded at Rourke's Drift, outnumbered, and faced with the prospect of battling hundreds of Zulu Warriors. I'm not that big on war films, and being old, some of the battle special effects are pretty dreadful, but, the acting is great and the story is gripping.
And if you want something totally different, try... Casablanca
What can I say? It's a classic, but saying that it's surprisingly original. Written during world war 2, and partly as propoganda to bring the Americans into the war, it's the story of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) a disillusioned bar owner in a French-owned province of North Africa, whose neutral views are tested when an old flame (Ingrid Bergman) comes back into his life. It's a film full of intrigue, romance and stirring scenes. Definitely a good place to start your classic movie education!
Are you a classic movie veteran or a newbie? Do you have a favourite?