Ah, the Golden Age of Hollywood: an era that film buffs adore, and the majority of young people are baffled by.
Until recently, I had no desire to ever see a film that came out before 1972. I predicted bad acting, outdated humour and poor special effects. I thought classical cinema would be the “first pancake” in the history of film: rough around the edges and painful for a 21st century viewer to swallow.
It was only in the midst of lockdown, when I was stuck at home and looking for something new to try, that I thought I’d give these strange old movies a go. Now, eight months later, I can safely say that watching these films was one of the greatest decisions I made.
Here’s a list to get you started:
- Casablanca (1942) [drama]
Best quote: ‘Where were you last night?’ ‘That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.’
A World War Two drama packed with chiaroscuro lighting. Every line is a stonker and every character is complex. Humphrey Bogart is often considered to be the greatest actor of all time. Wondering why? Watch Casablanca to find out.
- The Philadelphia Story (1940) [comedy]
Best quote: ‘The time to make up your mind about people is never.’
A story about a rich heiress and her interrupted wedding plans. It’s actually very funny. Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn glitter in scenes to be watched over and over. It’s the perfect blend of romance and comedy, farce and humanity. Be warned: the ending is ridiculous and the class politics are very dodgy.
- Notorious (1946) [thriller]
Best quote: ‘Why won’t you let me be happy?’ ‘Nobody’s stopping you.’
This film fulfils every idea you’ve ever had about what a 1940s film should be: complex characters oozing class, cinematography where every frame tells a story, smoking and drinking have never looked better. It’s sophisticated, it’s stunning – did Alfred Hitchcock invent tension?
- His Girl Friday (1940) [comedy]
‘He’s got a lot of charm.’ ‘Well, he comes by it naturally. His grandfather was a snake.’
A fantastic film. It’s all about the dialogue. So fast-paced and so sharp, you’ll need subtitles to follow it. Packed with sarcasm, this film is getting my approval because it embodies how great female characters were in this period. Unflinching, as funny as any man and often the smartest person in the room – we don’t often get these characters in films today.
- Sunset Boulevard (1950) [drama/noir]
Best quote: ‘Audiences don’t know someone sits down and writes a picture. They think the actors make it up as they go along.’
A terrifying black satire about the Hollywood machine that still feels disturbingly relevant today. It is a horror movie and our star talks like Beckett’s Mouth. I keep opening doors expecting Norma Desmond to be standing there, lit white by a spotlight, her eyes wide and terrifying. She’s looking at you, she’s looking at you through that gilded mirror.