065. It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)
The first film to sweep the major awards at the Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress), It Happened One Night is the quintessential Romantic Road Screwball Comedy. Lots of subgenres there. Before Capra started making his well-known “Cpra Corn”, he made some of the best and most subversive films of the 1930s. It Happened One Night is a battle of the sexes, with Gable and Colbert squaring off, verbally sparring, and of course, falling in love. They’re a perfect match, both stubborn and strong willed. I would have loved to see Robert Montgomery in the role (it was originally offered to him, he turned it down), but Gable really is fantastic. In addition to being a wonderful battle of the sexes comedy, it’s also a great illustration of the class divide during the Great Depression.

064. Stage Door (George Stevens, 1937)
Stage Door is a collection of some of the best character actress working in the 1930s. Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers head up the cast, and both give great performances (I’d give the edge to Rogers), but really, I think the movie is all about the supporting actresses who live in the boarding house with Rogers and Hepburn. Some of them were actresses who would become much bigger stars a few years later. Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Eve Arden, Gail Patrick. Particularly noteworthy is Andrea Leeds. In a movie with big names like Roger, Hepburn, and Adolphe Menjou, it was Leeds who nabbed the Oscar nod with her devastating performance as an actress who had a brief moment of success, only to fall back hard.

063. A Farewell to Arms (Frank Borzage, 1932)
It’s kind of strange that Borzage made so many films about war. Sure, the idea of war generally work well with a lot of his themes. But he hated war so much that he usually had someone else film battle scenes in his films. Nevertheless, A Farewell to Arms, based on the Hemingway novel, it one of Borzage’s many amazing pre-code films. Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, both giving great performances,  fall in love during WWI. I’m a sucker for WWI movies (there really aren’t enough of them), especially when they’re directed by Frank Borzage and they’re about the spiritual power of love. Helen Hayes’ performance is particularly noteworthy here. I think she was one of the best actresses of the 1930s, and I wish she had spent more time in Hollywood rather than on the stage in New York. She had an extremely natural and down to earth style.

062. The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937)
Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth is probably the best example of the remarriage comedy. At the beginning of the movie, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne decide to divorce, and the rest of the movie is spent awaiting their divorce and falling back in love. I like the remarriage comedy because it so often starts at where a story would typically end. In addition to being the perfect example of this subgenre, The Awful Truth is also flat out hilarious. Cary Grant and Irene Dunner were two of the most talented comedians of the silver screen, and they worked brilliantly together. I so prefer Dunne in comedy over drama. I tend ot find her really dull in dramas, but she really comes to life in the best bubbly way possible in comedy.

061. Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon, 1933)
First of all, I love Footlight Parade for it’s amazing cast. James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Frank McHugh, Ruth Donnelly, Guy Kibbee, Claire Dodd. That’ one hell of an amazing ensemble. Cagney and Blondell are one of the all time great screen couples. They were simply made for each other. Their back and forth bantering is so perfect. Busby Berkeley choreographed many films in the 1930s (and you can always tell which ones are his), and Footlight Parade might be his most impressive effort. The musical numbers are just astounding.

By Katie Richardson

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There was a thread yesterday on Rotten Tomatoes about remakes, and which ones were better than the originals. It actually sparked an interesting discussion about whether or not remakes can be good movies. As usual, there were some who said basically that remakes are completely unnecessary and that they’re only made so frequently now because Hollywood is running out of ideas.

Well, that’s just not true. And it shows a complete lack of knowledge of cinema history.

In the classic era, remakes were extremely common. Silent films were remade for sound, pre-code films were remade after enforcement. And sometimes a director, producer or actor just liked the story so much they wanted to make is again.

If anything, remakes may have been even more frequent in the classic era than they are now. And some of the best movies ever made are remakes. His Girl Friday is a remake of The Front Page. The Maltese Falcon is a remake of Dangerous Female (this also received an earlier remake with the bizarre Satan Met a Lady.) It could be argued that these aren’t exactly remakes. The Front Page is a play and The Maltese Falcon is a book. But do you really think that these films would have had a second (or third) go so soon after the original was made if the originals were excellent films?

Part of the reason The Maltese Falcon and His Girl Friday work so well as remakes is because they take the opportunity to try something different. The Maltese Falcon couldn’t get away with the pre-code sexuality of the original film, so John Huston created a unique, dark atmosphere, and pretty much kicked off the noir movement. His Girl Friday switched the gender of one of the main characters and turned the story into a romance. Both His Girl Friday and The Maltese Falcon are considered better than their predecessors.

And just because a remake may not be as great as the original doesn’t mean it’s automatically a bad movie. There are several remakes from the classic era that are very good movies, even if they aren’t as good as the original. Silk Stockings is a musical remake of Ninotchka. Weekend at the Waldorf is a comedic remake of Grand Hotel. Daddy Long Legs is a musical remake of the silent film of the same title. The Children’s Hour is a remake of William Wyler’s These Three.

These films are good because, like with the two films discussed earlier, they take the material and put an original and unique spin on them. There are remakes seem to be pointless because no attempt is made to try something new. The Jennifer Jones remakes, A Farewell to Arms and The Barretts of Wimpole Street are perfect examples. The only significant change to these is the addition of color. And as for The Barretts of Wimpole Street, director Sidney Franklin, who also directed the original, used the exact same shooting script, word for word. Both of these films end up being completely dull and uninteresting, especially since the original films are among the finest films of the 1930s.

Of course, not every remake that adds something unique to the material is good. I suppose it’s a matter of looking at the material and attempting to see if that ‘something’ fits. Two musical remakes, The Opposite Sex and Smilin’ Through suffer from this problem. Smilin’ Through, a remake of the 1932 film, feels awkward and bizarre with musical numbers. Borzage directs the non-musical parts of the story well, but then a musical number pops in and it simply doesn’t feel like it fits in the movie. The Opposite Sex, a remake of The Women, is just a wretched movie all around. The musical aspect, while terrible, the least of the problems, which starts with a horrible cast, and goes right down to the addition of men to the film.

There are movies from the classic era that would benefit from a remake now. Specifically Lady In the Lake. It was the first film directed by Robert Montgomery, and he really showed both his skill as a director and his incredible creativity and skill with a camera by shooting the entire film in first person. While Montgomery’s film is both a fascinating film experiment and and just an amazing film all around, the story could certainly use a remake to film it in a  more traditions, third person stle.

So, after all that, are there any classic films you guys think would benefit from a remake today?

By Katie Richardson