Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Essentials: Part 1 (1934-1964)

This is first in a three part series outlining my 30 favorite movie performances of all time. As you'll see over the next few days, some are universally recognized as triumphant achievement in the field of acting, whereas others are just ones I happen to like. They are listed in chronological order. The first portion of the list leads us through the black-and-white era of film making.

Clark Gable as Peter Warne in It Happened One Night (1934)

Frank Capra, who was at Columbia Pictures, borrowed Gable and Claudette Colbert from MGM and shot this movie in just two weeks. What followed was a sweep of the five big Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay). In it Gable shows why he was one of Hollywood's biggest stars as he plays the pessimist who falls in love. Favorite Quote: "I want to see what love looks like when it's triumphant. I haven't had a good laugh in a week."

William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick & Nora Charles in The Thin Man Series (1934-47)

Best onscreen couple ever. Period. Most movies don't spawn five sequels these days because even Hollywood fat cats know that almost any franchise would be short on creativity by the time the sixth installment came around. The entire Thin Man series, however, is quite entertaining. I'm not saying the Song of the Thin Man (1947) is as fresh as the original 1934 film, but William Powell and Myrna Loy are still just as great. All told, the two appeared in 15 films together, but the best are the Thin Man movies. Favorite Quote: Nick: "I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune." Nora: "I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids." Nick: "It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids."

Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday (1940)

This movie is based on the play The Front Page, which had been adapted for the screen just a few years prior. However, in them the two main characters were both men. In this case, it was Russell cast opposite Cary Grant adding the dynamic of a romantic history. The fast talking moves the film along quickly and Russell is right at the center of it all. Favorite Quote: "A big fat lummox like you hiring an airplane to write: 'Hildy, don't be hasty. Remember my dimple. Walter.' Delayed our divorce 20 minutes while the judge went out and watched it."

James Cagney as Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949)

James Cagney was a very talented actor, alternating in his film roles between singer/dancer good guys and angry intense mobsters. In White Heat, he is the epitome of the latter. Favorite Quote: Roy: "You wouldn't kill me in cold blood, would ya?" Cody: "No, I'll let ya warm up a little."

Orsen Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949)

Forty-five minutes in to the film, Welles finally makes his appearance as Harry Lime and then promptly steals the show. His character is amoral to say the least, and Welles plays the part convincingly. Favorite Quote: "In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Audrey Hepburn as Princess Ann in Roman Holiday (1953)

There are plenty of Audrey Hepburn movies to choose from, but I picked her breakout role in Roman Holiday because it's a well-crafted film that offers up plenty of fun without trying to do too much. The chemistry between Hepburn and Peck is great. Favorite Quote: "I've never been alone with a man before, even with my dress on. With my dress off, it's MOST unusual."

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

I know Harper Lee's book is an American classic, but that didn't dissuade me from opting to just see the movie when I was assigned to read it in high school. I remember being amazed at how strong a performance Peck gave. It's no wonder Atticus Finch was named the American Film Institute's Greatest Film Hero of All Time. Favorite Quote: "Now, gentlemen, in this country, our courts are the great levelers. In our courts, all men are created equal. I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system - that's no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality! Now I am confident that you gentlemen will review, without passion, the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision and restore this man to his family. In the name of God, do your duty. In the name of God, believe... Tom Robinson."

Slim Pickens as Major "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Peter Sellers plays three characters in Dr. Strangelove and originally Major Kong was to be the fourth, but it was decided to cast Pickens instead. He doesn't disappoint as the Southern good ole boy bent on fulfilling his mission no matter the cost. Favorite Quote: "Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff."

Tomorrow: Part 2 (1966-1988)

No comments: