I love things like antiques and history, and so it fits that I would also love old movies. They are an opportunity to be taken to a different world, which might not be that much different from our world - much the same way I might view, say, the modern Star Trek, The Hobbit, or The Avengers. I love superhero movies, but think of how silly The Avengers is going to look to people 50 years from now.
The main difference between a movie from the past and modern movies, besides the color and dazzling special effects, is that movies in the past were smarter and more challenging. They relied more on dialog and story than movies do now. These days, Hollywood looks to the rest of the world for a good chunk of its income, and so the action can't be too complicated or reliant on words.
The other difference, for better or worse, is that the Hollywood of the past had the Hayes Office, which censored movies and kept every single one safe for family audiences.
Since it is an election year, and my assignment for today in the #BATTLEROYALE is to write about Arts and Entertainment, I thought I might offer a few black and white movies about politics. These movies might or might not be about America, but they all have bipartisan support, and are all Brain-Certified to entertain.
By the grace of a wealthy widow admirer, Groucho is put in charge of the fairy-tale country of Freedonia, a place not too different from the United States in 1933. After driving his secretary of war from office with his sarcastic comments, Groucho appoints a sidewalk peanut vendor (Chico) to the position. Together with the silent Harpo and staid Zeppo, he insults a diplomat from a neighboring country into war.
If all of this sounds absurd, good! "Duck Soup" is likely the most hilariously absurd movie ever made.
While CGI can take 25 years off an actor's age, or show them battling monsters more believably than ever before, it still can't re-create the hilarity of The Four Marx Brothers.
A Face In The Crowd
An obscure drifter is pulled from jail and becomes a nationwide media sensation. After taking the country by storm, he reaches a height of political influence advising politicians on charm and looking forward to a seat in the president's cabinet as "Secretary For National Morale." Ultimately, his own recklessness, arrogance, and ego do him in.
Seem familiar? This 1957 Elia Kazan film features Andy Griffith in his screen debut. Griffith's character in this film is nothing like the folksy Sheriff Andy Taylor we all remember from his 1960s television show. This character is a bit frightening in his willingness to betray everyone around him, including his most devoted fans.
All The King's Men
Willie Stark runs for governor as the people's candidate, vowing to destroy the corrupt machine that has run the state for decades. Eventually he wins, but in so doing, becomes as corrupt as the people he opposed. His philandering ways and ruthlessness against his enemies ultimately prove to be his undoing.
The 1949 film stars Broderick Crawford. It's based on a novel by Robert Penn Warren, who in turn based it on the life of Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long Jr.
We're in an election year where the outsiders are in. This film examines the paradox of a political outsider coming to power in a system designed for corruption.
Hail The Conquering Hero
Back on a lighter note, this comedy features Eddie Bracken as the son of a decorated war hero. He is sent off to World War II only to be discharged after a month for chronic hay fever. Bracken spends most of the war hiding away, not telling his family of his discharge, when a chance encounter with a group of marines fresh from Guadalcanal leads to a deception on Bracken's family and home town. The town becomes convinced that Bracken is a hero. Against his will, the town runs him for mayor.
This film might fool you with its campy, folksy small-town characters, but don't be fooled. Writer/Director Preston Sturges was a master of the 1930s/40s "screwball comedies," and all of these choices to play up the nuances and peculiarities of his characters were unusual and deliberate. You might think you're laughing at him, but trust me, you're laughing with him.
Incidentally, if you like this film and want an even more offbeat political flick from Preston Sturges, take a look at The Great McGinty from 1941.
Meet John Doe
This Frank Capra film is not only one of my favorite political films, it is also a favorite Christmas film. Barbara Stanwyck as a newspaper reporter who fraudulently publishes a letter from a man who is so upset with the state of humanity, he threatens to kill himself on Christmas Eve. The story goes viral, and so the paper is forced to produce their John Doe. Gary Cooper plays John Willoughby, a down-on-his-luck aspiring baseball player who is taken from the gutter to represent the man, whose words (drawn from the journal of Stanwyck's late father) bring people together, even as John himself finds himself manipulated by dark forces.
Again, while this film might seem a caricature, the figures it represents and the sentiments are still relevant today, perhaps more relevant than ever.
If you see any of these films, or have seen them, please comment below!