The Adventures of Robin Hood. Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley. A true childhood favorite of mine, this vivid tale of adventure and romance is entertainment fit for the whole family. Errol Flynn, one of the most dashing and charismatic leading men in the 30s and 40s, is glorious as Robin. He’s the perfect blend of charm, bravery, roguish humor and tenderness, so it’s no wonder how easy it is for him to cast Olivia de Havilland’s Maid Marian under his spell. Flynn beguiles not only de Havilland but also the audience with his magical aura. The Oscar-winning score by Erich Maria Korngold and the gorgeous cinematography by Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito turn the film into a symphony of beautiful music and color bursting from every frame. And don’t forget the other fine actors in the film: Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains as Robin’s nemeses, Sir Guy of Gisbourne and Prince John; Patric Knowles as Will Scarlett; Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck; Alan Hale as Little John; Melville Cooper as the High Sheriff of Nottingham; and Ian Hunter as King Richard the Lion-Heart. I implore you to see this movie ASAP! (Or, if you’ve already seen it, see it again.)
Bringing Up Baby. Directed by Howard Hawks. There’s a special place in my heart for this film since it’s the first one I can remember seeing. Subsequently, Cary Grant became my first-ever “favorite actor.” This screwball romantic comedy, which was added to the National Film Registry in 1990 (the second year of its existence) and which has received multiple honors from the American Film Institute’s numerous lists of the greatest movies of all time, is an absolute delight from start to finish. Grant, who plays a hapless, glasses-wearing paleontologist, has a divine partner in Katharine Hepburn, who’s at her wacky comedienne best as a madcap heiress with a pet leopard named Baby. The film’s supporting actors, including Charlie Ruggles, Walter Catlett, Barry Fitzgerald, May Robson, Fritz Feld and even Asta the dog, also do an excellent job. Helmed by none other than the brilliant Howard Hawks, Bringing Up Baby is a real jewel.
The Lady Vanishes. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave make a lovely couple in this early Hitchcock gem. Redgrave is especially impressive; although it was his film debut, he is remarkably self-assured. Dame May Whitty is sweet as Miss Froy and Paul Lukas is both elegant and enigmatic as Dr. Hartz. Cecil Parker, whom I also enjoyed in The Ladykillers, The Man in the White Suit and Dark Journey, also makes an appearance, along with a young Googie Withers. Last November I had the interesting experience of seeing The Lady Vanishes again in a film class. I hadn’t seen the film in years but loved it more than ever, especially Michael Redgrave, who has a wonderful presence. I was also amused by my professor’s choice for the most iconic image in the film – if you haven’t seen the film, then I would suggest not looking – the shot of the nun’s dangling cross and high heel-clad feet.
Pygmalion. Directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. In case you didn’t know, Wendy Hiller was one of the grand dames of British cinema. She was marvelous in the Powell and Pressburger film “I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945), but years before that she made her first big splash in this adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play (with an Oscar-winning screenplay by Shaw himself). I’m sure many people are aware of Pygmalion as the basis for My Fair Lady, but I prefer Pygmalion, which has warm, witty dialogue and a winning performance by Hiller as Eliza Doolittle. She is perfectly paired with co-director Leslie Howard as Professor Henry Higgins. It was this film that really made me a fan of Howard, who I had previously only seen in a few stuffy, mediocre dramas. Howard is dazzlingly good, bright-eyed with a graceful demeanor. Both Howard and Hiller deservedly received Oscar nominations and Howard won the “Best Actor” Volpi Cup from the Venice Film Festival, proving the film’s international resonance.
Three Comrades. Directed by Frank Borzage. Borzage was the undisputed master of the romantic melodrama, from silent classics like 7th Heaven (1927) and Lucky Star (1929) to sound-era dramas like Man’s Castle (1933) and Moonrise (1948). Three Comrades is no exception, highlighting its four stars with luminous cinematography by Karl Freund and Joseph Ruttenberg. The film’s screenplay was written by none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald (with Edward E. Paramore, Jr.), adapting the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. Margaret Sullavan, who received her only Best Actress Oscar nomination and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award, is radiant. She is matched by Robert Taylor in perhaps his finest role, and some strong work from Franchot Tone and the ever-dependable Robert Young. Rounding out the rest of the cast are Guy Kibbee, Lionel Atwill, Henry Hull, Charley Grapewin and Monty Woolley, all of whom were terrific character actors. Three Comrades is one of the great underrated MGM masterpieces of the 30s and a real tearjerker, so you should keep tissues on standby.