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When You Don’t Like a Great Classic Film and Introducing Others to Classic Movies

12 Jun
William Powell and Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey

William Powell and Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey

I always feel embarrassed and slightly apologetic when I don’t love a great classic movie. My Man Godfrey? When the subject comes up, I smile sheepishly and fidget. Dare I admit it? I didn’t like My Man Godfrey. I couldn’t take it. Carole Lombard drove me up the wall and for years I was convinced that I did not like screwball comedies. If My Man Godfrey was the quintessence of the screwball comedy, then there was no hope for me. But then I saw The Lady Eve and suddenly the screwball comedy genre opened its arms towards me and I embraced it…though I still don’t particularly like My Man Godrey. I love the actors, but not the movie.

My Man Godfrey also put me off from watching Carole Lombard’s movies and it was not until Hands Across the Table that I realized that she was actually very funny.

I suppose the lesson here is that just because you don’t like the banner title of a genre it does not follow that you won’t like the genre (or the actor) and that is why I am always leery of recommending movies. Sometimes the banner movie can actually scare people away from the genre (or actor). If you don’t like the acknowledged best, why would you like any of the others? My Man Godfrey frequently makes lists as a good movie to introduce non-classic movie lovers to classic movies, but because of my experience I wonder. Does it really appeal to non-classic movie lovers and I am just the exception or would another movie be better to recommend generally?

But people are so idiosyncratic in their tastes. Perhaps it would be better to simply suggest a movie you had fun with, regardless of its actual merit or the importance it had in movie history. I have a theory that the list of important classics has been partly predetermined by TV and what was available for the last fifty years: The Wizard of OzIt’s a Wonderful Life, etc. My eye doctor told me that he found classic movie acting to be over-the-top, but I wonder what movies form the basis of that assessment. It’s like when people see Douglas Fairbanks in a silent film and assume all silent acting was like him, when he represents one unique style among many.

The way I actually became interested in classic movies was not by targeting specific recommended films, but by picking an actor I liked and watching all their movies I could find: Myrna Loy and William Powell, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred Astaire. As a result, I saw their best films, mediocre films and even some bad films, but it gave me a  sense of the different genres and eras (pre-code, 1930s, WWII movies, 1940s, 1950s, musicals, melodramas, comedies).

Orson Welles

Orson Welles from Citizen Kane

But I still feel embarrassed when I don’t like a great classic. Another secret shame is the fact that I have not yet seen a film directed by Orson Welles that I have enjoyed: The Magnificent AmbersonsThe StrangerTouch of Evil. It’s almost tantamount to admitting intellectual inferiority to say that I didn’t appreciate Welles’ genius. The movies were interesting, well acted and completely failed to engage me emotionally (I enjoyed The Stranger the most, partially because it had Edward G. Robinson and I love him in anything). I haven’t dared watch Citizen Kane. It’s long been hailed as the greatest American movie ever made and what happens to your credibility when you don’t like the greatest movie ever made? It makes you a cultural philistine.

Though there is a vast difference between liking a movie and appreciating or understanding it.

A movie that I have never read a negative review of but can hardly stand to watch is Only Angels Have Wings. It’s not because it’s a bad movie – it’s a very good movie – but it frustrates me at every turn. A greater bunch of immature boy/men it would be impossible to find. And when Cary Grant gets mad at Rita Hayworth because she does not blindly stand by her disgraced husband (because she does not know he’s disgraced because he has not told her, even though she can tell something is wrong by the way the men are treating him) I couldn’t help wondering what he thinks marriage is, anyway. It is not ignorant trust. Women, apparently, are only good for supporting their men while their men figure out their problems in relation to other men and do their manly things while the women sit at home and worry.

Only Angels Have Wings

Cary Grant and Rita Hayworth in Only Angels Have Wings

Sometimes, movies just hit on a pet peeve for you and it becomes difficult to overlook the peeve to see the merits of rest of the film. And sometimes movies simply fail to engage you emotionally, the cause of which I find unfathomable. And sometimes, I am willing to overlook everything for the sake of an aspect I really enjoy. I have forgiven many a shaky musical plot for the sake of the dancing I love.

My policy now is to never recommend a movie, but instead talk enthusiastically about all the movies I have been watching. I talk partially because I love old movies and you talk about what you love and also because it gives friends and family the opportunity to decide if a movie sounds interesting to them or not. When I talk about enough movies, eventually something will pique their interest and they want to see it. And when they chose the movie, it gives them the initiative. I don’t have to urge it on them and they are now predisposed to like the movie.

What classic movies do you dislike, even in the face of universal acclaim? Have you ever had any luck recommending movies to others?

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17 Comments

Posted by on June 12, 2015 in Movie Thoughts

 

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17 responses to “When You Don’t Like a Great Classic Film and Introducing Others to Classic Movies

  1. Cliff Aliperti

    June 12, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    Ah, I’m not the only one. Whenever I talk about screwball comedies I always preface myself by stating I prefer Lombard’s dramatic work to her comedies. With Godfrey, I’m okay with Powell, but yup, Lombard grates on my nerves every time—from what I’ve heard, we may be a tiny minority of two on this opinion! Conversely, I love an Irene Dunne screwball comedy, but cannot stand when she opens her mouth to sing.

    Thanks for having the courage to post about it. PS: You don’t like the Ambersons or Only Angels Have Wings either? You’re crazy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      June 12, 2015 at 3:30 pm

      Huzzah! I’m so glad to know that there are at least two people in the world who don’t care for My Man Godfrey. I have a cousin who doesn’t like Dunne’s voice, either. She finds it too shrill and thin.

      Maybe I need to read a book or appreciation of Orson Welles. Reading about something often gets me into a receptive and understanding mood. That’s how I came to appreciate Billie Holiday, opera, and the Iliad. I don’t think any book could make me like My Man Godfrey, though. 🙂

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  2. Grand Old Movies

    June 12, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    I agree with your thoughtful post, which touches on such a big issue for classic-film fans: why you don’t like a particular movie everyone else does. I confess, I’ve never warmed up to Godfrey either. Not only do I find Lombard’s character irritating (and she’s clearly too old for the role, which may be a factor), I find a lack of chemistry between her and Powell really kills the film for me. I think Lombard is quite good as a dramatic actress (see her in Made For Each Other with James Stewart); as a comic one, you may like her in Twentieth Century, which is maybe not as funny as its reputation warrants, but has John Barrymore in perhaps his best performance. There are some other famous classic films that I can’t stand to watch, primarily The Philadelphia Story; I can’t see the charm or humor in it (and a philandering father blaming his daughter for his sins? C’mon!).

    It did take me a while to warm up to Orson Welles. His films are downers; chilly, even a bit heartless (as a side note, Welles had no gift for comedy). Their fascination lies mainly in what could be called his ‘auteur’ quality – that you would never mistake his films for anyone else’s. His direction is brilliant, his use of camera, sound, and lighting astonishing. I came to appreciate his bleakness and detachment as part of his style, expressing a unique worldview. Definitely see Citizen Kane. At this point, prepare not to be overwhelmed by it (it’s been copied too many times). But Welles’s movies are intensely cinematic, as Kane demonstrates; I think what some people find off-putting about Welles is why he draws others: his films are in essence ABOUT cinema, about experiencing the world through a camera’s point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      June 12, 2015 at 7:11 pm

      I have not yet seen Carole Lombard in a drama, but I really want to. Made For Each Other sounds like a great place to start.

      I concur wholeheartedly about Philadelphia Story! It was frustrating how everyone was blaming her for being inhuman with standards too high when her only real standards seemed to relate to her philandering father and drunken husband.

      Thanks for an extremely helpful explanation of Orson Welles’s films and his genius. I don’t know as much about direction, lighting, sound (I appreciate in a general way when a film is well-shot), so it is more difficult for me to approach a film from that angle and I tend to evaluate a film more by its story and acting.

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      • Grand Old Movies

        June 12, 2015 at 8:03 pm

        Made For Each Other can be viewed on Youtube; it’s a beautiful film – definitely check it out!

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  3. FictionFan

    June 12, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    I don’t think there’s ever any kind of art where everyone will agree on one thing being great. But arguing – oops! I mean discussing – about them is half the fun. I never really got on with Welles till I saw one of his films as a revival in the cinema as opposed to on the small screen. Touch of Evil, it was, and in fact it got a standing ovation from the audience at the end. It’s so different when it’s big – don’t really know why. “Cinematic” I suppose. I’ve since tried to watch it on the small screen again and felt nothing but a sense of, dare I say, boredom.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      June 12, 2015 at 7:18 pm

      That is fascinating! I guess I saw Touch of Evil on the wrong screen size. I have never seen any classic movie on the big screen, though Double Indemnity is going to be showing in early July in a few theaters relatively near me and I plan on trampling anyone who gets in the way to the theater… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

       
  4. The Animation Commendation

    June 12, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    I kinda understand what you mean. I thought ‘An American in Paris’ was soooo boring and soooo overrated!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      June 12, 2015 at 7:27 pm

      Yes, I know you mean. I like it it, but I keep wanting to love it (because it’s a musical and there aren’t enough really great musicals). The first time I saw it I had a tepid response and watched it again later because I was sure I had misjudged it, but had the same response and feel like I ought to watch it again just to make sure. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. Eric Binford

    June 13, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    What a bummer! My Man Godfrey is my all-time favorite screwball comedy! One of the few films I would take to a desert island. And yes, I adore Only Angels Have Wings (I tend to like Hawks’s movies). On the other hand, I admire Orson Welles, I think he was a genius, but I don’t really “love” his movies — I find them rather cold, aloof. There are things in his movies that bother me — Heston’s “blackface” in Touch of Evil drives me bananas. F For Fake and The Stranger are the only Welles movies I’ve thoroughly “enjoyed.” Anyhow, we all have a little list of well-regarded classics that we “don’t get.” My list includes The Third Man (silly), Rules of the Game (talky) and Jules and Jim (hated, hated, hated!).

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      June 13, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      It is fascinating the movies people do and do not “get.” I’ve spent hours trying to figure out why Only Angels Have Wings frustrated me, because I can definitely see why it is a beloved movie. But it’s fun to think about and hear what other people think, because it forces one to take a really good look at the movie and sometimes it seems like I understand a movie I don’t love better than the movies I do. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. Leah Williams

    June 16, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    I don’t like My Man Godfrey either–it feels shrill. It does have moments though– Orson Welles I admire rather than enjoy typically, but his films do stay with me. I’ve been hesitant to re-watch Citizen Kane, as it annoyed me the first time I saw it and put me off of classic films for some time (I was a late bloomer to classic movies). I would recommend The Lady from Shanghai, which is an interesting noir and actually has some dark humor to it. The only Welles-directed film I enjoy re-watching in full. Plus, it’s kind of hilarious how much heat it got for making Hayworth blonde.:)

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      June 16, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      Yes, I agree with you about it feeling shrill. Lombard can be quite funny in some of her other comedies; I wonder if she toned it down afterwards or if the shrillness was the result of direction.

      I read recently that Orson Welles thought of Citizen Kane as a comedy, which seems ironic, since I have never heard anyone call it that. I’m trying to decide if it would be helpful to approach it as a comedy or not. Lady of Shanghai sounds promising; I love film noirs! That’s funny how much protest they got for changing her hair…like she had no right to change her appearance for a film and disappoint her fans. It seems like a badge of good acting now to change one’s appearance – you practically get Oscars just for doing it. 🙂

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  7. maddylovesherclassicfilms

    November 27, 2017 at 10:56 am

    I can’t stand Doctor Zhivago or Guys and Dolls. I also don’t think much of the romance in Casablanca, for me that film belongs completely to a Mr. Claude Rains, it is a very good and enjoyable film, but I just don’t get all the hype surrounding it.

    Have you ever seen Lady From Shanghai? That is a very good Noir film from Orson Welles. Citizen Kane is a very good film, but greatest film ever? Not even close. I wouldn’t be put off watching it though. I don’t really know how critics can dare to call something the greatest; film viewing is based on individual tastes, and some people will like Kane(and any other film) and others hate it. I also think that to call something the greatest means you must then have watched every film, ever made, in the whole world, and that’s just not possible.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      November 27, 2017 at 11:49 am

      Good point! I’ve been watching Japanese cinema recently and it’s occurred to me that when people create their lists of best movies, they tend to be very European and American-centric, too. How to compare a film by Ozu with Citizen Kane? It’s impossible! Have you ever read a description of how they decide what makes a film best of all? I’ve always wondered what criteria they are using. Is it most influential film or most artistic or well-made?

      I have seen Lady From Shanghai, which was really interesting. I still managed to feel sorry for Rita Hayworth, even though she was supposed to be the femme fatale. There was something about her, though, that always made me feel for her most off in any movie she made. 🙂

      I actually really agree with you about Claude Rains in Casablanca! He so totally makes that film special. And the back and forth between him and Bogart as they find find they are actually quite alike as disappointed idealists. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • maddylovesherclassicfilms

        November 27, 2017 at 12:01 pm

        You are so right, these lists are very American and European focused. In my opinion a lot of the Japanese films of the classic era were way better than many of the American films, and they had more developed characters in some cases.

        I see you mention you are watching Japanese films at the moment. I highly recommend (in case you haven’t checked them out)the films of Kenji Mizoguchi, they are amazing.

        I know what you mean about Rita, I think she gave off a lonely and little girl lost vibe and we pick up on that.

        Glad to find another fan of Claude in this film.

        Liked by 1 person

         
        • christinawehner

          November 27, 2017 at 12:15 pm

          I agree – so many amazing Japanese films that deserve wider and higher appreciation! Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve seen only a few films by Mizoguchi, but really need to see more. The Life of Oharu was powerful and left me feeling nearly as crushed as the heroine. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

           

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