Saturday, May 16, 2015

National Classic Movie Day - May 16, 2015

A special day is about to come to a close and I haven't much time to put together a tribute to one of my true passions, classic film. Meanwhile, Rick and friends over at The Classic Film & TV Cafe have been hosting a day-long blogathon in honor of this first National Classic Movie Day, and 60+ illustrious bloggers have chimed in on the subject of My Favorite Classic Movie.

Many films rush to mind when I consider which might be my own favorite...

From the 1930's, I think of the six films Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg made for Paramount in the U.S. following the breakout success of The Blue Angel, made for Ufa in Germany. My current favorite from this collection is The Devil is a Woman (1935), the sixth and last of their collaborations. Sternberg intended to title the film  Capriccio Espagnol (Spanish Fantasy) and fashioned it as his "final tribute to the lady I had seen lean against the wings of a Berlin stage" and "an affectionate salute to Spain and its traditions."
Marlene Dietrich from Josef von Sternberg's The Devil is a Woman (1935)
Marlene Dietrich, The Devil is a Woman (1935)
However, Paramount's production head Ernst Lubitsch had his own ideas about the title and, according to Sternberg, "altering the sex of the devil was meant to aid in selling the picture" - thus, The Devil is a Woman.  This new title couldn't save the film from a devastating turn of events; it was banned by the Spanish government and Spain's diplomatic complaints to the U.S. resulted in the film being withdrawn from circulation for nearly 25 years. Dietrich was soon labeled "box office poison" and it wasn't until 1939's Destry Rides Again that her career got back on track. Sternberg's run as a Hollywood wunderkind came to an end and his best work was now behind him.

The Devil is a Woman is less a romance than a reflection on grinding frustration. The Dietrich character (Concha) is entirely capricious and destructive, and the men she encounters are mostly fools.  Her older lover/patron, Captain Don Pasqual (Lionel Atwill), may be unable to break from her but he is unsentimental, even fatalistic, about their relationship. The film has been called Sternberg's "coldest" film if, perhaps, his most perfectly realized. As with all of the pair's work together, The Devil is a Woman is beautifully made, an intentionally mannered and fanciful journey - and irresistible to me. It was Dietrich's favorite of her films. Interestingly, many years later Luis Bunuel would reference the same source material for his That Obscure Object of Desire (1977).

But I don't have a favorite film, per se. Even among the Dietrich/Sternberg films I waver between The Devil is a Woman and Shanghai Express (1932). And I go back and forth between Ford's Stagecoach (1939) and his The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) when it comes to "favorite Western."

John Wayne, the Ringo Kid, in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939)
John Wayne, Stagecoach (1939)

Favorite comedy is easier:
Some Like It Hot. My favorite movie. Ever. #1. Ever. Did I mention that this is my favorite movie ever? <3 <3 <3
Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot (1959)
Favorite rom-com:

@Catherine Walker @Anna RM @Naz Deyhim I want a photo like this and instead of the cat, I want it to be with Vida.  I wish I looked like this when I sleep.
Audrey Hepburn (and Orangey) in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
 Favorite Preston Sturges film:

The Lady Eve (1941). Barbara Stanwyck. Oh how she plays Hoppsy! Oh, my how fast does Hoppsy fall in love with Jean or was it Eve? Silly man he is so confused isn't he? Ha ha!
Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, The Lady Eve (1941)

And on it goes. For those interested in even more, I've got a board dedicated to Classic Screen Images on Pinterest, a work in progress that features scenes from a few hundred films (so far) that I admire from the 1920s to present.

Fun in a Chinese Laundry by Josef von Sternberg (MacMillan Co., 1965)
The Films of Josef von Sternberg by Andrew Sarris (The Museum of Modern Art, 1966)


  1. I like your choices, and I'm with you, it's too difficult to narrow it down to one single favorite. Your Pinterest board sounds interesting.

    1. Thanks, Jacqueline. I've never been good at picking favorites and sticking with them - putting together a Pinterest board that can feature countless film images is, by comparison, a piece of cake.

  2. Apparently I was the first movie buff to marry into my husband's family. In-laws took to teasing me about every movie being a "favourite". Maybe it is something peculiar to rabid film fans, but we get it. We can have this blogathon for years with the same folks highlighting a different favourite and for very specific and personal reasons.

    1. Oh yes, no question about it, the "favorite movie" blogathon could run forever!

  3. Eve, I really didn't particularly try to pick a favorite movie. I'm like you -- I'd have to break it up into genres, actors, etc. I picked Going My Way because it is a favorite of mine for certain reasons, and I love it. I really liked your breakdown of films. They are all wonderful!

    1. I used to see Going My Way often on TV throughout my childhood and loved it from the start. Great choice, Becky!

  4. I love your description of THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN as "less a romance than a tale of grinding frustration." How appropriate! But, hey, I thought you took the easy road by not defining a single classic film fave! I'm just joking, of course, because honestly I struggled between ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and VERTIGO...two very different films, but I adore them both. I think many other participants felt the same way. Thanks for participating in blogathon and promoting National Classic Movie Day!

    1. I know I came in on the tail-end of your blogathon, Rick, and unofficially. Somehow I lost track of the event and then, suddenly, the day was here. Great idea and hopefully an annual event. I was actually thinking of doing Some Like It Hot, but saw that John Greco was already covering it, so...

  5. I've got to say The Lady Eve is probably my favorite Preston Sturges film, too! But then there is Sullivan's Travels... Oh, well. It's hard to pick only one favorite!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

    1. Hi Lê, Thanks for the link to your contribution. Love The Big Parade, great choice! I like just about everything Preston Sturges ever wrote & directed, but Lady Eve is the ultimate for me.

    2. I really like all your favorites Lady Eve. It is so hard to pick one in the wide open category like this, but you can't go wrong with the Sternberg/Dietrich pair you mention. We could go on and on thigh. Cautious how current polls neglect these movies altogether in picking "the best all-time movies," but then they have plenty of superhero movies among them.

    3. Thanks, Christian. Current polls always seem to favor more recent films, it seems. And it's interesting to watch, over time, how films that earn 4 stars early on often end up with 3 or even 2.