Tag Archives: the thin man

Movies and an Unmanageable World

Dear readers, if you’re at all like me, you’ve been having a hard time with the news lately. Unimaginable things are happening in this country and the world, and in our current digital landscape, there seems to be no escape. Each day we’re bombarded with images, sounds, and feelings of helplessness, as we come to terms with a world over which we have little control.

In previous posts, I have discussed the power of movies to heal and to transport. Many of us have been feeling the past few weeks very strongly, and protests, marches, and demonstrations are frequently followed by desolation and depression when nothing happens. In view of this, I polled “classic film Twitter” to learn people’s comfort movies, to help with feelings brought on by the powerlessness we have in our world today. Here are some suggestions from the classic film Twittersphere.

My question: “Classic film fans–what are the movies that you watch to cheer up, and why? Mine is THE THIN MAN. No matter what’s going on, it always makes me happy.”

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@Shannon_Of_Oz says:

The Wizard of Oz. Always. It meant so much to me growing up. And at 32 it still does. Heroes can wear ruby red slippers and you can always go home again. Everything about it is absolutely superb, even the mistakes. I could go on and on about Judy Garland too.

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@celluloidsoul says:

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) Anxiety, stress, pain, (multiple viewings while recovering from surgery)… there’s no balm more calming than ’s voice in this performance. The entire cast is perfect. It just takes me somewhere else whenever I feel lost or distressed.

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@Scifilia says:

Thin Man as well. It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, Philadelphia Story, My Man Godfrey, Arsenic and Old Lace. So I guess movies where clever people say clever things, wear fabulous clothes, perform some physical comedy, and live happily ever after. It’s like comfort food.

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@earnehaffey says:

The Gay Divorcee leaves me with that wonderful carefree feeling of being on vacation. And just once I want to go to a gala night on the esplanade 😁

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@NancyEB says:

I go for the comedies: the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, the Road pictures with Hope and Crosby. My dad, who has since passed, introduced me to the classic comedians and I feel like he is still with me when I watch these movies.

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@scarlettboulev2 says:

Bringing Up Baby. Can’t watch that without laughing!

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@awellreadsnark says:

Princess Bride because it’s hilariously funny, sweet, has amazing sword fights, and in the end good triumphs over evil and true love wins. What could be more delightful?

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@claresmith1888 says:

His Girl Friday. Funny, smart, poignant and the gorgeous Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. Makes everything better.

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@EmilyJS7 says:

When Christmas stress is getting to me, I watch The Bishop’s Wife with David Niven, Loretta Young, and Cary Grant. The overall message is so important but there are so many little things to make you smile like the refilling bottle, decorating the tree, and skating in the park.

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@Decervelage says:

I grew up in an era where WPIX in NYC’s Sunday line-up was Sherlock Holmes, Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chan, Abbott & Costello, the Bowery Boys, Universal or Hammer horror films, and then Kung Fu Theater at noon. Glorious times for a young film nerd.

 

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In polling Twitter, I was fascinated by the repeat film suggestions. The two most suggested movies for when you need a boost of spirit, given no parameters by decade or genre, were The Thin Man and Bringing Up Baby, two screwball comedies from the 1930s. This is, perhaps, not surprising. In the midst of the Depression, movies aimed to do exactly that–provide a means of escape from a reality that was grim, and a future that was uncertain.

I don’t know how to fix what’s happening, but let’s start by caring for ourselves and each other, with the help of the movies. I hope that your favorite movie will inspire you to take action against what is going on–you can start here.

Now I open it up to you, readers–what are your favorite movies to watch when you need to remove yourself from the chaos of the world? I look forward to hearing from you!

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Backlots at Noir City: THE THIN MAN (1934) and CLASH BY NIGHT (1950)

As a proud Barbara Stanwyck aficionado, I was thrilled when Noir City 13 reached its halfway point on Wednesday night with a screening of two Barbara Stanwyck dramas from the 1950s–Clash By Night (1950) and Crime of Passion (1957). As both are films that I have seen before (I’ve seen 67 Barbara Stanwyck films–yes, I’ve counted), and given that transportation home gets difficult after about 9:30, I only opted to see the former last night. Regardless, I have two films to write about today, because on Monday we were treated to a showing of one of the greatest and most charming detective stories on film, Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. This is a movie I have written about several times in the past, and seen on the big screen multiple times, but viewing it at the Castro is an experience all its own.

San Francisco, in all its glory, is a town full of cinephiles. People here know their cinema, and they know how to tell the good from the bad. So when there is a packed house for a classic movie in San Francisco, you know it’s good. The theater was packed solid on Monday night.

Released right on the brink of the Production Code, The Thin Man tells the story of Nick and Nora Charles, a married detecting couple who drink their way through life and try (unsuccessfully) not to get involved in detective cases. But when a series of murders occurs and Nick knows people involved, he can’t keep himself away. Nora is just as essential to solving the murders as Nick is, and this is part of the timeless appeal of this movie.

The Thin Man is famous for its snappy dialogue and witty repartee, and for being one of the first movies to show that a husband and wife can be friends, and not just romantic partners. Nick and Nora spend the movie ribbing and joking with each other, just as good friends would do. Nora is an equal to Nick–she never once stoops below his level nor does Nick ever take the upper hand. Yet their love is never in doubt, and for its refreshing take on relationships and the position of women within marriage, The Thin Man may be considered a truly feminist movie.

On Wednesday evening, as Noir City reached its halfway point, I again ventured out to the Castro to view Clash By Night, a 1950 Barbara Stanwyck drama that again skirts the limits of the Production Code. Based on a Broadway stage play by Clifford Odets, Clash By Night tells the story of a woman who marries one man, but loves another. She is torn between love and duty, and ends up making decisions that she regrets. The two love interests are played by Paul Douglas (the man she marries) and Robert Ryan (the man she loves), and the film also stars a young Marilyn Monroe, playing Stanwyck’s brother’s girlfriend, also coming to terms with issues of love. The brilliance of the story, and also the aspect that comes into conflict with the Code, lies in the fact that there is no clear villain, and the audience struggles right along with Stanwyck in trying to determine which decision is the best. Does she leave her husband, with whom she has a child, in order to follow her heart with Robert Ryan? Or does she keep her marriage together for the sake of her husband and her child? We see her conflict, and we empathize with her.

It is interesting to note the offscreen rapport between Barbara Stanwyck, the consummate professional actress of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and Marilyn Monroe, the up-and-coming starlet who was already showing signs of psychological problems and difficulties on the set. The director of Clash By Night, the great Fritz Lang, was not up to handling Monroe’s tardiness and personal problems, but Barbara Stanwyck stood up for the young actress and protected her. She gave Marilyn acting tips, shielded her from criticism, and seemed to take her under her wing as a sort of protege. The two had come from similar difficult childhoods–both had been foster children, abandoned by their parents and raised with little to no stability. Stanwyck seemed to understand what Marilyn had been through and was continuing to go through psychologically, and their positive chemistry shines through on the screen. Their scenes together are some of the tenderest in the movie, and Marilyn Monroe later said that Barbara Stanwyck was the only actress from Hollywood’s Golden Age who ever showed her kindness.

I will be seeing the classic French thriller Les Diaboliques tomorrow evening (one of my all-time favorite films, and this will be my first time seeing it on the big screen), followed by The Honeymoon Killers on Sunday. Stay tuned for a report!

The Romantic Comedy Blogathon–DAY 2 ENTRIES

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The Romantic Comedy Blogathon rolls on today with some more fantastic entries! Without further ado, here they are. Thanks to everyone who has participated thus far, Vince and I are very pleased with the turnout!

Silver Screenings gives us a peek into the science of romantic comedy, through the lens of one of my personal favorite movies of all time, Show Peoplehttp://silverscreenings.org/2014/05/01/the-science-of-romantic-comedy/

Over at The Joy and Agony of Movies, we get an informative write-up of the beloved Audrey Hepburn vehicle Sabrinahttp://lipranzer.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/romantic-comedy-blogathon-sabrina/

Be sure to put on your dancing shoes, because our friend Patricia at Caftan Woman is giving us a Footlight Serenade. http://caftanwoman.blogspot.ca/2014/05/the-romantic-comedy-blogathon-footlight.html

Kim at I See a Dark Theater tells us all about Over 21, and the wonderful reason she chose a straight comedy for a romantic comedy blogathon! http://www.iseeadarktheater.com/#!over-21-5-2-14/c21ev

Minoo at The Classic Movie Hub takes on a legendary movie that could fit just about any genre, but we are so glad to feature it as a romantic comedy! Minoo presents: The Thin Manhttp://www.classicmoviehub.com/blog/the-romantic-comedy-blogathon-the-thin-mans-perfect-marriage/

We at the Romantic Comedy Blogathon do not discriminate against newer films, and we are delighted to have our first look at a modern-era romantic comedy this evening, as Rich at Wide Screen World looks at Bridget Jones’ Diary. http://widescreenworld.blogspot.com/2014/05/bridget-joness-diary.html?m=1

Thanks all, and see you tomorrow for Day 3 of the Romantic Comedy Blogathon! 2 more days to get those entries in!

Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival Day 2: THE THIN MAN (1934), GREY GARDENS (1975), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), WHY WORRY? (1923)

The TCM Classic Film Festival continued seamlessly into its second day today, with a plethora of diverse films to choose from, running from 9:00 AM straight through midnight tonight. Though I am not attending the midnight movie this evening (I needed to get back to update Backlots), I will  be attending the midnight movie tomorrow night–a showing of Freaks for which I am very excited. Hence, I will be resting up tonight so that I can be alert and awake for this glorious midnight screening tomorrow.

This morning’s viewing was a true classic–one that I had seen on the big screen once before but of which I never tire. It’s The Thin Man, a fun romp of a detective story, a Dashiell Hammett murder mystery told through the lens of husband and wife Nick and Nora Charles and their endless supply of alcohol.

The Thin Man is as much about the drinking as it is about the detective story. There is barely a moment in the film when Nick and Nora don’t have martinis in their hands, or are talking about having martinis in their hands. It is also an incredibly sexual film, in a very subtle and effective way. Eddie Muller, speaking before the film, discussed the significance of The Thin Man‘s release right on the cusp of the enforcement of the Hays Code and the repeal of prohibition. Audiences thrilled at being able to see positive characters onscreen who drank and got away with it, and while Nick and Nora are certainly functioning alcoholics, they are among the most lovable, charming and memorable ones the screen has ever seen. And though the film had to comply with the newly strict rules of the Hays office (having Nick and Nora maintain separate beds, for example), director W.S. Van Dyke worked sexual innuendo into the film brilliantly. One of my favorite moments is when the police are at Nick and Nora’s house to arrest a would-be murderer, and this exchange happens:

Policeman: You ever hear of the Solomon Act?

Nora: Oh that’s all right, we’re married.

The film is also notable for establishing a precedent that husband and wife characters could be friends AND lovers. Nick and Nora are clearly the best of friends, teasing and ribbing each other mercilessly, but also show great love within that teasing mentality. Within this clip are some choice examples from this movie and from the rest of the Thin Man series.

Next up was Grey Gardens, one of my favorites and a highlight for me at the festival this year. A documentary by the Maysles brothers about former aristocrats Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, living in squalor at their East Hampton estate after their fortune was mishandled. It is a powerful documentary, and sheds light on what it means to be a member of the old aristocracy, what it is like to be a person “fallen from grace,” and what it means to be a family.

Both characters are very strong personalities, and ever since I first saw this movie many years ago, I have loved Little Edie. Her ability to maintain such a clear sense of herself in trying times, her devotion to her mother, and her eccentric and unique fashion sense are indicative of a strong independent spirit that cannot be easily crushed. At this screening, we were lucky to have Al Maysles there, who talked to us a bit about what Little Edie was like. “It was love at first sight,” he said. Edie adored him right back, and they stayed in close touch right up until Little Edie’s death in 2001. Here is a recording of Little Edie talking to Al Maysles on the phone, many years after the film came out.

Next up was Double Indemnity, for which I was unable to stay for long, because I had to go see Why Worry? I have seen Double Indemnity so many times that I didn’t feel particularly bad leaving early, but suffice it to say–seeing Barbara Stanwyck on the new IMAX screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a magical experience. She dominates that role.

Someday I’m going to write an entire blog post on Double Indemnity. It would be futile to try to talk about it here in my limited space, so I will leave the richness of the plot, the script, and the story for another time. But I will say that for a Barbara Stanwyck fan, there is nothing better than seeing her on a big IMAX screen in Double Indemnity.

My last film of the night was Why Worry? This was a Harold Lloyd feature, his last with Hal Roach telling the story of a wealthy hypochondriac who ends up in the middle of a revolution at his health resort. It is a very funny movie, and expectedly so given the caliber and talent of Harold Lloyd.

But the highlight of this evening with Why Worry? was the debut of the new score by Carl Davis, who wrote a brilliant score and got a standing ovation from the crowd when it was over. In attendance was also Suzanne Lloyd, Harold’s granddaughter, who talked a bit about her father’s legacy and place in classic cinema.

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Harold Lloyd with Carl Davis and the orchestra.

Tomorrow I have to choose between Stella Dallas and City Lights. This is going to be a tough day! See you then!

Dealing With Disaster Through Cinematherapy

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

As we struggle to make sense of the unthinkable events in Boston yesterday, we find ourselves coming together as a country and a world to participate in collective grieving, as so often happens when a tragedy of this scale occurs.

It is a time when people who need to get away from the gruesome footage and detailed descriptions often feel trapped, as all the television channels are showing the scene and all the radio stations describing it. The images are psychologically more than most of us can handle. When the events of September 11, 2001 occurred, my father instructed me not to turn on the television, as the images would scar me for life. Yesterday, I heeded my father’s advice from 12 years ago and have not turned on the television or radio. It is more than I wish to subject upon myself.

There is a movement in psychology right now called “cinematherapy,” in which those seeking comfort from grief, loss, stress, and numerous other issues, are given a list of movies to view to assist them in their journey toward recovery. I am not a psychologist, and I do not pretend to know the precise methodology behind cinematherapy. However, a good many of us involve ourselves in cinematherapy without giving it a second thought. Movies have the inherent ability to make us feel intense emotions, and in times of trial and despair, they can lift us up and make us feel better about the state of the world. They can even inspire us to change our world view, or to help those in need.

Here is a short list of movie classics that may help in our own collective journey toward healing from events that are beyond our comprehension. They are worth a look when we need an outlet for indescribable feelings.

1) SAN FRANCISCO (1936)

A love story set in the days prior to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The earthquake and subsequent fire occur toward the end of the movie, and the ending scene features the joy at the fire’s extinguishing cries of “We’ll build a new San Francisco!” as the cast marches confidently and valiantly down toward the city to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” An exquisite and inspiring ending that shows the strength of the human spirit in the face of disaster.

2) SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

Named the #1 funniest movie of all time by the American Film Institute, Some Like it Hot is legendary for its screwball humor. Two men witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and dress in drag to escape the mob by hiding out in an all-girls jazz band. If you’re one of those few who have not seen it, you are in for a big treat. It will make you howl with laughter, something that we all need in days like these.

3) THE THIN MAN (1934)

I know that this may seem like an odd choice for this list of movies, but aside from the fact that I personally enjoy this movie, I have a purpose for including it here. For some reason, The Thin Man seems to have strangely curative properties. I thought I was alone in my tendency to turn on The Thin Man after a long or stressful day, or when I’m feeling down. But in talking to other film fans, I learned that they have the same ritual. The Thin Man seems to be everyone’s go-to movie for comfort. Go figure, but it works.

4) MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944)

Musicals were created to raise spirits during the Depression, and continued to inspire long after the Depression was over. No matter what the country was going through, our musicals helped us get through it. I would personally suggest Meet Me in St. Louis, a movie that was conceived to help wartime audiences maintain a sense of home and family in the face of terrible events overseas. The number “You and I” is particularly touching as a reminder of love and solidarity, placed in the movie as a comforting message to soldiers.

Any of these movies are worth a watch any time, but especially if one is struggling to come to terms with something saddening or distressing.

See you next time.