The Golden Age of Hollywood

True confession: a long while back, Ilsa Lund’s discussion “What classic movies are you ashamed to admit you haven’t seen?” really hit home. I’ve actually been too ashamed to admit publicly how many must-sees I haven’t seen. But, in my defense, I’ve been working very hard at filling in the gaps.

Previously, I had been spending all my movie time exploring classic comedies and had largely ignored dramas, film noir, westerns, horror, sci-fi…basically, the whole gamut of classic films except for comedies. And one day, after reading a book of classic film trivia questions, I realized my folly. I realized how shamefully ignorant I was about other genres. I suddenly wanted to turn over a new leaf. I wanted to be able to hold my head up around other film fans. Most of all, I wanted to score better on the trivia quizzes. (Maybe even someday get my name on the list of high trivia scorers at the TCM website …oh that such greatness were possible for one such as I!)

I therefore decided to make a serious effort to address my film illiteracy, so in a little over two years’ time I watched the following classics FOR THE FIRST TIME:

The Thief of Bagdad

Nanook of the North

The Circus




Dracula (1931)

The Wolf Man

Queen Christina

The Good Earth

The Grapes of Wrath

Gunga Din

Random Harvest

Love Affair

The Quiet Man

Tarzan the Ape Man

White Heat

Scarface (Paul Muni version)

The Public Enemy


Baby Face

Sorry, Wrong Number

Double Indemnity

The Letter

In This Our Life

Mr. Skeffington

Our Modern Maidens


Mildred Pierce




Destination Tokyo

30 Seconds Over Tokyo

The White Cliffs of Dover

Action in the North Atlantic

The Guns of Navarone

Strangers on a Train

The 39 Steps

Dial M for Murder


The Paradine Case



The Lady from Shanghai


Night of the Hunter

In a Lonely Place

Wuthering Heights

Great Expectations

Lilies of the Field

A Raisin in the Sun

To Kill a Mockingbird

Inherit the Wind

Anatomy of a Murder


Drums Along the Mohawk

The Ox-Bow Incident

Johnny Guitar

My Darling Clementine

From Here to Eternity

On the Waterfront


BUtterfield 8

A Place in the Sun

Rebel Without a Cause


Forbidden Planet


Soylent Green

The Day the Earth Stood Still


The Bicycle Thief

And a couple dozen others, but these are some of the highlights. It’s been an eclectic period, and I’m still working on broadening my film knowledge. You would probably shake your heads if you knew what I've had sitting in my DVD collection for years, that I STILL haven’t gotten around to watching (for example, Stella Dallas and Dark Victory, to name a couple). In between the must-sees, I give myself mental breaks by watching comedies. My progress is therefore somewhat slow, but I just can’t take night after night of murder, mayhem, tragedy, betrayal and brain tumors.

And now for my deepest, darkest confession of all: I still haven’t seen
The Godfather trilogy, Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, Birth of a Nation, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Red River, The Seven Samurai, La Strada, and The 400 Blows. I hang my head in shame.

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Comment by Paco Malo on September 8, 2010 at 3:38pm
M.T. -- I would give Godfather III another chance. Upon initial release, I wasn't crazy about it, but after letting it alone for a while and getting all the big expectations I had upon release pass away, I gave it another chance. Now, I really like it.

Anyway, like Godfather III or not, the chemistry between Al Pacino and Diane Keaton in III is superb.
Comment by Rosie Sayer on September 7, 2010 at 2:12pm
Thank you, MT! There's one onerous task off my list. :-D
Comment by M.T. Fisher on September 7, 2010 at 1:17pm
Rosie: Several of these, including THIEF OF BAGDAD, I've been able to see on the big screen, courtesy of our local museum. However, it's no shame not seeing GODFATHER III. The only reason it got a Best Picture nod was that was a lousy year for films and everyone was excited that Coppola finally made another Godfather movie. It's a disappointment.
Comment by Rosie Sayer on September 7, 2010 at 8:20am
Aren't you glad you sat through Citizen Kane, though, just so you know for yourself what it's like? I did the same thing, and I've read about the film and know something about why it's so acclaimed, but it's not one I personally pop in the DVD-player for entertainment. Still, I'm really glad I've seen it and no longer need to wonder, "What's this Citizen Kane everyone is talking about"?
I guess therein lies my enjoyment: it's the satisfaction of my curiosity. But when I really want to have fun, I still reach for a comedy.
Comment by Rosie Sayer on September 3, 2010 at 7:06pm
Thanks for being so reassuring, Derek. My references to "shame" and "illiteracy" were mostly tongue in cheek. I'm having a good time with my movie-watching project and my "must-see" lists, including when I force myself to watch something that's outside my comfort zone. Comedies will always be tops with me, but it's good for me to stretch myself sometimes, and I've often been pleasantly surprised by a film outside my favorite genre and decades. There have been quite a few films I wouldn't watch again, but I'm glad to have experienced them for myself.
Comment by Classic Movie Man on September 3, 2010 at 4:53pm
IMO you shouldn't really be ashamed not have seen this or that just enjoy the movies you watch. A previous member here or on the board gave excellent advice about broadening your viewing when he said that the key to it was starting with what you are familiar with or enjoy and go from there. For instance if you enjoy comedies go to musicals with comedians in them, see Cagney in Footlight Parade try his gangster roles, enjoy silent comedies try silent dramas etc.

That is how I have enjoyed things over the years don't do it systematically I've never had a list of mustsees before me or anything like that. I've never looked at my DVD or VHS collection and thought I'm low on horror films must get/see more of them. Everybody has preferences, we continually siphon out stuff (consciously and unconsciously) we decide not to see based on many factors : availability (less of an issue these days), taste, fear, money, time probably among many others.

You can't see everything and its impossible to have seen every film ever made. We are talking here at a conservative estimate of 250,000 features made since 1895 of which 75% from the first 30 years don't exist at all, about 50% of pre 1950 talkies I believe aren't in a projectable state.

I've probably seen only a few thousand of those maybe getting into five figures (who knows) but I don't feel any sense of shame at those I haven't seen. Shame is much too strong a word sure there are likely a fair few movies in all those thousands that I wish I had seen or may well see in future but just as likely at least 80% like most cinema and TV will range from barely tolerable to complete rubbish.

Nothing to me is a "mustsee" until you've seen it and can judge for itself don't get taken in by the hype. I don't think there is such a thing as film illiteracy unless you mean understanding film theory I don't think you understand "film" less if you haven't seen this or that. I suppose you can divorce a film's "importance" from personal preference but its very difficult to do. FWIW I've seen all the films in your final list though I've missed so far Nanook of the North, The Good Earth, Random Harvest, Baby Face, Sorry Wrong Number and a few others in your previous list. You just chose to watch those first based on your time etc.
Comment by Rosie Sayer on September 3, 2010 at 1:34pm
Thank you! It's nice to be back in the States and have access to TCM's Essentials. I already have more movies in the DVR than I have time to watch, including another one that's on my List of Shame: The Seventh Seal.
Comment by Paco Malo on September 3, 2010 at 9:55am
I think you are doing quite well in your continuing film education. I can't say I'm as far along as you are in any of these genres, but I don't keep a list of shame. I just try to keep seeking out great films and seeing them whenever I can.

That highlights list above -- the non-comdedy films you have seen in the last two years -- is very impressive. No film student could do better.
Comment by Rosie Sayer on September 3, 2010 at 5:36am
I saw the silent version with Douglas Fairbanks. The areas where I tried to address my gaps (and the way I ordered the list) were:
silent films, classic horror, various drama, gangster films, Barbara Stanwyck films, Bette Davis films, Joan Crawford films, WWII films, Hitchcock films, film noir/thrillers, films based on classic literature, Sidney Poitier films, courtroom dramas, westerns, 50s dramas, 50s sci-fi, foreign films.
Of course I've seen many other films in all these categories, but these films were some of the significant gaps I set out to address.
Comment by MothGirl Wings on September 2, 2010 at 8:28pm
Which "Thief Of Bagdad" did you see? The silent one or the Powell/Pressburger one from 1940? They're both fabulous! Good for you for branching out, but I think it's great you like comedies so much - laughing is good for the soul. I realized recently that my film collection was skewed too much in the opposite direction - almost all Noirs, pre-codes, and classic horror - so lately I've been buying mostly screwball comedies and musicals. I've seen just about every movie ever made, but didn't own a very broad selection of genres. I don't personally care for the Godfather movies, but that's bc I don't really like much made past the 1950s.


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