Hooked on classics

A DVD roundup to make you get off your couch and go to your local DVD store (or your mailbox) and then get back on your couch!

I honestly wrote an uppity sentence about how sometimes I have “things to do”, “people,” and I can’t “flit off to the movies every five seconds” just to “compete with Daniel Neman,” who gets to do this as a full-time job, I might add. But since the meat of my piece this week is how I’ve watched like fifty DVDs lately, I deleted said sentence, realizing I had no leg to stand on. I don’t have things to do. I have Netflixes to watch and cakes to bake, and that, my friends, is just about how I like it.

Plus I actually really like Daniel Neman (he’s the film critic of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, for those of you just tuning in) and I think he gets a bad rap just because he has discriminating taste. Also, I want him to convince the RTD to hire me so we can build some sort of Siskel & Ebert-like legacy and eventually get our own monument on the Avenue. Also, I want him to hang out with me. Hey, you could do worse, Neman!

I digress, as usual. My point is, I have carefully selected a few excellent DVDs you should watch, re-watch, or just email me regarding, so I’ll have an excuse to talk about them. The similarities betwixt them are thus: Classics Involving Dudes Who Either Have Interesting Moral Convictions Or Are Cary Grant. Yes, these are tried and true classic movies from the Golden Age (or shortly thereafter), and none of this will be news to aficionados, but maybe it’s time to stop chasing the obscure dragon and revisit your pals, now that you’re older and wiser. You might even pick up a new thing or two.

1. North By Northwest (1959)
As Hitchcock urges you to do in his hilarious trailer for this worthy classic, take a trip across our fair country, from New York to Chicago to South Dakota. Enjoy Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill and Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall, two people at different times willingly and unwillingly misrepresented. Explore identity and glorious patriotism in the cornfields of Illinois and across the faces of Mount Rushmore. Chuckle at the acerbic Ernest Lehman screenplay, rife with envelope-pushing, line-toeing innuendo. Feel your heart swell along with the gripping Bernard Herrmann score. Wonder at how such a mesmerizing film can possibly revolve around some microfilm within a little sculpture.

Seriously though, I watched the special features on this DVD, and I never watch the special features. Then the next day, NPR was replaying an old interview with Terry Gross and Eva Marie Saint, just as I turned on the radio. I’m not positive, but I’m willing to bet a fair amount that Cary Grant’s ghost is trying to tell me that, if I had been around in his day (looking sharp in a tweed suit and pillbox hat, I’m sure), he would most likely have let me be his personal secretary or stenographer or nurse, or whatever it was women were allowed to do back then.

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
This Frank Capra film, dopily-named for a reason, is one of those cornerstone movies with such a solid plot and passionate acting that every single film textbook in the history of film textbooks refers to it ad nauseam. However, once you get over the extreme gee whiz corniness of a 1939 early Production Code movie about uncovering corruption in Congress, this film really takes the ol’ cake. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Jefferson Smith (the unsinkable Jimmy Stewart) gets pushed into office as a brand new senator, only to find that — heavens to Betsy! — the noble men who he thought had been directly channeling Washington and Lincoln to run his perfect country turn out to be susceptible to bribery and interests that are less than pure!

Less than pure?!

Well anyway, it’s a really interesting story about the federal government and the fat cats that ran it at the end of the Depression. One of the reasons why this film is so beloved is because it will always, always be relevant. And while that may seem sad, I think I’m not spoiling anything by hinting that the end of the film gives us all hope that change is forever imminent. Yes we can!

3. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Paul Newman takes some punches, looks thoughtful, eats a lot of eggs, looks thoughtful some more, and eventually makes his peace with the world. That, in itself, will make you want to hug this movie. Contrasting Newman’s Luke with George Kennedy’s “Dragline,” the gruff heavy character of the road prison where a bunch of guys, including a very young Dennis Hopper, play some cards and take some showers. There’s something irresistible about this one man’s relentless desire for…not even he knows what. Symbolism abounds as a prison boss whose mirrored aviators constantly obscure his eyes watches silently over the little trials and triumphs of life in the most adorable prison ever. Can Luke discover exactly what’s eating him? Is he as guarded as the Boss with No Eyes? Does anyone ever stop sweating??

And it is with pleasure that I leave you with these assignments for now. Next time we will expand our horizons to include some films with female protagonists, I promise. In the meantime, I’ll be here, sifting through my Netflix pile, receiving call after call from Mr. Neman, who maybe just wants to chat about movies over homemade cake. I mean, the offer’s on the table.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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