Monday, May 16th is National Classic Movie Day. As if some of us needed more reasons to watch or celebrate classic movies, now we have a whole day dedicated to classic movies. It’s our civic duty to watch old movies. Don’t let me down.
Okay so it’s not actually a government holiday. It’s just a day conceived by Rick of Classic Film and TV Cafe as a way to dedicate a whole day to classic film. I’m sure that most of you don’t need an excuse to watch more movies, so this might be superfluous. Aye. Maybe it’s just a reason to watch two movies instead of just one on Monday, May 16th. Rick celebrates this day by hosting a classic movie blogathon. The theme for this year’s fiesta is “Desert Island Classic Movies.” Being the fan of High Fidelity that I am, this challenge resonates.
The premise is simple. You are to live out the rest of your life on a desert island with only five classic movies. (Because this challenge was inspired by May 16th as Classic Film Day, the choices should be of the “classic” variety. I’ve decided that anything pre-1970 qualifies for this specific endeavor.) Five movies forever. Some smartass is out there challenging the notion that we could have a desert island that contains the ways and means to project these five movies. It’s called suspension of disbelief. 5 movies. 1 island. Unlimited popcorn.
You must choose wisely.
I have a movie collection of oppressive size. I consider them all treasured films in some way or another. Asking me to pick merely five is like returning my 2000 word essay and telling me to cut it back to five words. I might fantasize about slapping your stupid, insubordinate face. Not that I’d actually slap you or anyone’s stupid insubordinate face for that matter, but this is my fantasy so I’ll make with the slapping. The slapee, would have Tweety birds floating around their head. 5 classic movies for eternity. This is masochism.
My Criteria for “Desert Island Classic Movies”
At first I thought this would be a breeze. I can pick my five favorite movies in my sleep. Write up a little ditty for each. Bingo bango. But then the seriousness and oppressive finality of those decisions set in. Sure I could pick my five favorite classic movies, but I’d leave out Cary Grant, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers. Federico Fellini didn’t stand a chance. And I love me some Fellini! There’d be no horror, no musicals. No westerns! Can you imagine a world with no horror, musicals or westerns? I wonder if there’s a catch-all horror/musical/western starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy and directed by Alfred Hitchcock? Have I just overlooked the greatest film ever made? The answer, of course, is I hope so. Because how amazing would that movie be?
So the horror music comedy directed by Hitch and starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy notwithstanding, I decided I couldn’t just pick my favorite five classic flicks. It would be far more difficult than that.
Certain genres, certain stars or directors satisfy needs. Just as we crave certain foods, we crave specific genres or individual movies. These movies might not immediately come to mind as an essential Desert Island Classic Movie, but in the context of complete and total deprivation of DVD collection, streaming services, etc., they become goddamn necessary.
Which stars? Which directors (if any) would emerge from these soul-searching meditations on life and death and mortality and the films you’d have to pry from those lukewarm, dead, sun-starched, dehydrated fingers of mine?
Choice #1: Hail, Hail the Absolute Essential
Groucho, Harpo and Chico are coming with me. Even Zeppo. Why the hell not? Without the Marxes brand of anarchy, there’d be no joy on my island. This is the greatest comedy ever made. Duck Soup contains Groucho’s finest wordplay. “Hail, hail Freedonia.” The brothers’ most elaborate comedic bits at the height of their talents.
The Marx Brothers were also my gateway drug into classic film. Like many others, I’m sure. I was about 7 or 8 when my dad first sat me down and showed me Duck Soup. I didn’t get most of the jokes, but that didn’t matter. On screen lunacy translates at any age. Not only is it the greatest comedy, but it’s also a sentimental choice woven inextricably into my affection for classic film. I’ve never been without a copy of Duck Soup and no damn, dirty desert island is going to stand in my way now.
Choice #2: Calculated Visceral Pleasures
Some of you may know me as “the #Bond_age_ Guy.” If you know me as “the #Bond_age_ Guy” there’s also a decent chance you’ve heard me discuss my favorite Bond movie, From Russia with Love. (If you haven’t had the pleasure I submit the My Favorite #Bond_age_ essay that showcases my affection in great detail.) This is Bond at the vibrant, youthful peak of his powers. Free from self-reference. Blissfully free from the on-screen blasphemy of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Sean Connery. The women (Tatiana Romanova, Sylvia Trench, the gypsies). The villains (Grant, Kronsteen, Rosa Klebb). Train combat. Cat and mouse with Robert Shaw. It’s also the most ersatz Hitchcock — only remove the inferior connotations from that term.
And I know I mentioned the women briefly already, but Daniela Bianchi is my classic movie mistress. So she was technically only in one certifiable “classic” movie (this one), but no matter. I’d argue that Special Mission Lady Chaplin deserves classic status as well, but only a few blessed #Bond_age_ fans would back me up on this. Ken Clark, you guys!
The dark underbelly of picking From Russia with Love is that it precludes the consideration of North by Northwest. The films share many of the same cinematic elements. But NxNW was going to be my Hitch, my Cary Grant. Back to the drawing board. Don’t weep too much for the also rans. They never really stood a chance against my love of Bond and From Russia with Love.
Choice #3: The One Western to Rule Them All
After only two selections I found myself neck deep in the bet hedging. There are a bunch of classic genre movies I can’t live without. I had to stare long and hard into the abyss of my Top 100 and beyond, considering which of the genres needed official representation, and which of my favorites in those genres were truly essential. I surprised even myself with this pick because I honestly thought I’d turn to the Horror genre for my first lifeline. Instead, I went with the Western because of all my favorites from the Horror/Musical/Western genres, John Wayne was the guy that grabbed me by the shirt collar and said, “Pick Rio Bravo will ya, partner? And I’m not making a suggestion. I’m tellin ya.” And then Dean Martin offered me a martini while Ricky Nelson serenaded me on the gueeee-tar. Oh you melodious, crooning fool.
I would never have singled on John Wayne as an actor I needed for the forevermore, but Rio Bravo stands out as one of those classic genre films that offers me a little bit of everything I need. Humor, music, shootin’ and rustlin’. It comes with the added bonus of keeping Dean Martin in my Classic Five — one of my favorite personalities. If I can’t bring my cocktail set and a life’s supply of gin, I may as well live vicariously through Dean Martin. I wouldn’t have worried, normally, because I’d have just packed up the The Thin Man for my vicarious libations… but at this point, I just can’t be sure that William Powell is going to make the cut. And that burns, like that jalapeño martini I tried to make the other night. Oof.
Choice #4: Cinematic Couch Therapy
And quite honestly no movie makes me happier, perhaps, than Singin in the Rain.
If you’re stuck on a goddamn deserted island with nothing but anthropomorphic coconuts to keep you company, I can think of no better companions than Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. It’s as simple as that. Like Rio Bravo, Singin in the Rain wasn’t among the first movies that I scribbled down as an obvious desert island movie selection. But as the five selections rounded out and I took stock of my imperative need for unbridled cinematic joy and happiness… my essentials revealed themselves more clearly. Left to my own devices, I’m not exactly a beacon of positive energy. I find that positivity from outside sources. From family, music and movies.
Harvey would have been my alternate choice here and the thought of not picking Harvey feels like shiv in my spleen. I still haven’t found opportunity to include Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant. Two fellows I don’t think I can really live without. The need for genre variety has pushed individual actor choices toward the periphery.
Choice #5: The Catch All-ish
Reason dictates that this slot belongs to Harvey or Casablanca. Or even Rear Window or Vertigo. Dr. Strangelove even. There are literally a dozen other movies that I wrote on my initial “from-the-top-of-my-head list” that weren’t The Philadelphia Story. The Philadelphia Story wasn’t even listed. This is the brutal reality of an honest Desert Island Classic Movie list. After a couple of obvious essentials, the choices become labored, based on notions that have nothing to do with movie-on-movie violence and relative superiority.
I picked The Philadelphia Story because I nabbed Jimmy and Cary and Katherine in one jazzy selection. Plus, I can walk around my little island imagining I’ve constructed a boat and mumbling “My she’s yar” over and over and over to soothe my boat-hoping soul. I simply couldn’t fulfill Jimmy without Cary. Or Cary without Jimmy. It’s not my favorite, but it’s good… great even. I will watch The Philadelphia Story whenever its on, yet it still causes me great distress to choose this over many others. I will live with this. But only for Cary Grant’s chin dimple. I’m picking this for you, Cary.
Even now, my choices firm, I’m reflecting over my egregious errors in judgment. Rethinking the entire Desert Island roster. Could I live in a world without Harvey? The movie that’s brought me happiness in some of my darkest moments? Or Bogart in Casablanca? Goddamn, I do love Casablanca. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO LIVE LIKE THIS?
Okay. Okay. Okay. I’ve talked myself down from the ledge. I’ve made peace with my selections and it’s time to shove off on an ill-fated cruise. Now that I’ve suffered through that exercise, why don’t you try it for yourself. I’d love to hear your Desert Island 5 Classic Movies. If you don’t plan to participate in the blogathon, drop your 5 in the comments. Leave a note detailing your suffering. I like to know that others have made painful choices as well. Classic film misery loves company. Visit the Classic Film and TV Cafe to see others’ lists… and do make sure to celebrate classic film today.
Thanks to Aurora and her Gin Joint for making me aware of this blogathon. Here’s her excellent entry that inspired me to contribute my own.