I Didn’t See Prom Night

In a world where commercials are becoming more interesting than films, Charlie Chaplin and William Holden remind us that when new movies fail us, the old ones are happy to step in.

I didn’t see Prom Night this week, but I can review it right now for you if you like. 1.5 stars, some starlet who is astonishingly busted looking for being so young (can’t they dig up some fresh new seedlings in Hollywood? Can we get a talent search?) runs around in heels, screams a lot, and eventually seals the bad guy’s fate with a line that she thinks is clever but was actually retired years ago. Probably contains some sort of startlingly clever dialogue for about five seconds that saves it from being a solid one star, but ultimately the film isn’t worth all of the limitless advertising budget it seems to have had.

Ho hum, you’re welcome to prove me wrong. It’s your $9. Submit your review to ross[AT]rvanews.com and he will be happy to fire me and hire you, I’m sure. Especially if you turn things in on time. I really couldn’t be bothered. You see, I have (re)discovered the cinematic careers of Charlie Chaplin and William Holden.

It’s the horrifyingly barren periods of filmic wasteland, such as April 2008 seems to be becoming, that lead popular film enthusiasts into the alluring, intimidating, and — without a doubt — vast archives of American cinema.

Charlie Chaplin and William Holden have nothing to do with each other. One popped up on my halfhearted quest to watch films that have won screenwriting awards (I watched 1929’s The Circus) and the other has been nagging me internally to examine his career since I watched the magnificent Stalag 17 last fall.* I’m not a complete stranger to either bloke. I’m pretty sure I wrote a good paper on City Lights in college, and I remember that Chaplin wrote, directed, scored, and starred in (of course) all of his movies. I didn’t remember having as much fond admiration of him as I did during my schoolgirl crush on Buster Keaton (think I’m weird? Rent Seven Chances and you’ll see what I mean.)**

And Holden, well, I first discovered him in Sabrina during what was probably my first thorough movie career exploration – that of Audrey Hepburn.*** I also read a biography of Hepbrun in middle school that sketched vaguely around her purported love affair with the rugged, older-than-he-looks Holden. The story goes that they had a torrid romance while Holden was still married (hey, Audrey was human, too), but she broke it off because the darling thing wanted kids, and Holden, sadly, had seen to it that he could no longer shoot with live ammo. IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.****

So in this age of theater boredom, I have discovered some films that you should view, whether or not you have seen them before. Of Chaplin’s impressive body of work, I really enjoyed The Circus best (although Modern Times and City Lights are the more touted — and quite worth it as well). The Little Tramp (hey, he named the character, not me), with all of his physical comedy, impeccable timing, enormous heart, and affable inability to get things right is somehow ten times funnier than anything humorous I’ve seen lately. Could it be that irony is so widespread that it’s no longer effective? Can the simplest of comedy styles be somehow complex and clever again? I seriously think I’ve hit upon the perfect antidote to 2008 movie malaise — watching a little man with a moustache and a cane get chased by a pony over and over again. Oh, crap, I guess there’s YouTube for that, isn’t there?

Stalag 17 is a near-perfect film that I’m always pushing on people, but if you want to wait until after the election to watch something about prisoners of war (just so you don’t run the risk of picturing John McCain dancing around with fake boobs), I can safely recommend The Wild Bunch. I’d seen parts of this movie in class but never really sat through the entire thing. It’s a Sam Peckinpah Western of the highest degree. At first, it might seem like it’s so derivative of 1970s TV shows – same zooming, same music, same Sunday afternoon feel to it – until you look closely at the sleeve and realize it was made in 1969. This Western helped shape Westerns as we know them! In this era of Western-esque movies that play with character dimensions, it’s good to see some of the influences, no? And Holden…something about him is so familiar and warm, while still being gruff. I mean, he’s no Buster Keaton or anything, but he’s strangely heartwarming.

Turn up your skeptical nose at me if you must, but be warned. National Treasure: Book of Secrets will take up both timeslots at the Byrd, starting Friday.

*When I was on an Otto Preminger kick. I don’t have a lot of actual things to DO after work, if you feel me.
**Or maybe not. I also think the Colonial Williamsburg Drum and Fife Corps is sexy, much to the utter astonishment of the colleagues who accompanied me to a conference there.
***Required preteen girl viewing.

****Unlike ross[AT]rvanews.com. Congrats!! And eww!!

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Susan Howson

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

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  1. The Wild Bunch is an amazing film. That last scene (I won’t ruin it, but if you haven’t see it ) set the stage for so many action films to come. By that I mean it was completely over the top action, impossible odds, and nearly invincible heroes. Think of Die Hard, only with FIVE John McClanes. IT IS AMAZING. And it has Ernest Borgnine!! Susan, I think you should write an article about your favorite Westerns because I cannot get enough of them.

  2. Oh man, maybe YOU should tell ME – I really don’t know that much about them. I do know that one of my favorite Bollywood movies, Sholay, is as close to an Indian Western as you can get. Give us a list!

  3. I still can’t believe that people haven’t seen, “Cool Hand Luke”…

  4. OK, I came up with a quick list of my favorites. I recommend them to all. Some are more recent than others, and some may not really be considered a true Western (The Assassination of Jesse James). I guess it could be classified as a neo-Western, or perhaps there is something to be said about the direction Westerns are currently moving, I am not sure if it is demonstrative of the genre today or not. Anyway, this is the longest comment ever.

    1.The Searchers (1956) – John Wayne plays an ex Civil War soldier who visits family after disappearing for a few years. John Ford crafts a powerful statement about racism in this movie, as John Wayne searches the country for his niece captured by Comanche warriors.
    2.Tombstone (1993) – A classic Western made in modern times. This movie shows Wyatt Earp and his two brothers retiring to start a family in a city called Tombstone. Doc Holiday (played by Val Kilmer) has some of the best dialogue in this film. This film also illustrates the transition from the “wild” west to modern society (Wyatt Earp has no interest in being a Marshall, only operating his saloon and having kids); but it also shows us the destructive nature of revenge.
    3.The Wild Bunch (1969) – Like I said before, an awesome film. It is part of a whole slew of Westerns that portray the extinction of the cowboy/outlaw and the transition to modern society as we know it today.
    4.Shane (1953) – A great film, but the kid’s voice in it really grated on my nerves. It’s still a classic though. This probably originated the idea of the hero “riding off into the sunset”. The ending shot will stay with you, even though I saw it once three years ago I still remember it.
    5.High Noon (1952) – One man stands against the odds to do what is right when no one else will. Very suspenseful, and I think also illustrates the clash between “Old West” versus “New West”.
    6.3:10 to Yuma (2007) – I didn’t see the original, but this movie was fantastic. A man does everything in his power to do what he sees as “right” so his son can see what it means to be a man.
    7.The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) – I saw this the other day and was really impressed. Probably not a Western in the same way the others are, but the cinematography reminded me of the great Westerns I have seen. Immaculately shot, introspective, and complex. I think you liked this one too, right Susan?
    8.Stagecoach (1939) – One of the first John Ford made with sound, it’s a classic struggle to survive in the harsh West. A great cast of characters, if I remember correctly.

    I also considered adding An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. That brave little mouse…

  5. It’s all about Warren Oates! I’d love to see that guy break up a stupid prom.

  6. Does The Misfits count as a Western?

  7. I haven’t seen it, but since imdb shows them wearing cowboy hats in the poster, then yes it is. That’s the technical definition of a Western.

  8. Bowillie Smith, Jr. on said:

    The Circus is a great film. You mentioned City Lights, but if you haven’t seen Modern Times, check that out as well.

  9. Modern Times is fantastic – Paulette Goddard is the most adorable actress ever.

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