The Top 5 Classic Films That Got Me Into Classic Movies – by Guest Blogger Vince Caro

rtm’s note: In my attempt to dip my feet more into classic movies, I once again turn to the ultimate aficionado Vince Caro to point me in the right direction. His eclectic taste and immense knowledge of classic flicks never ceases to amaze me. Two on the list below I’ve never even heard of, which is kind of the point as this post is meant to ‘enlighten’ people like me who are unfamiliar with this genre. So without further ado, I present to you:

The Top 5 Classic Films That Got Me Into Classic Movies (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being An Old Movie Nerd)
by Vince Caro

  1. The Ambassador’s Daughter (1956)
    It was 1986. Halley’s Comet was in the sky and I had just bought my first telescope. At 2AM in the morning, the view was pretty disappointing. I ended up going back inside and watching a late night movie. This very cute and pleasant romantic comedy was playing. I absolutely fell in love with Olivia de Havilland (playing the daughter of a French diplomat) as she tries to elude her royal caretakers in a show of modern day independence (Audrey Hepburn did a similar thing in Roman Holiday in 1953).

    John Forsythe plays the American G.I. as her love interest. Myrna Loy (whom I also love) plays a tiny supporting role. It’s no masterpiece by any means but I found myself looking for de Havilland in all the classic movies listed on the overnight schedule in the paper. This then led to watching other classic de Havilland films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with Errol Flynn, The Snake Pit (1948), Gone With The Wind (1939), The Heiress (1949), and Captain Blood (1935), to name just a few.
  2. From Russia With Love (1963)
    Of all the James Bond films to date, this is my personal favorite. The two main reasons are of course, Sean Connery and Daniela Bianchi who exert an unmistakable chemistry in the film, making this the most romantic of all the Ian Fleming Bond films (Daniel Craig and Eva Green come at a close second with Casino Royale from 2006). There isn’t a whole lot of fancy gadgetry but a whole lot of sense of style with enough grit with most of the action taking place on a train – a classic film backdrop if there ever was any. John Barry’s music is excellent. Cabaret actress/singer Lotte Lenya is memorable as a Spectre agent.
  3. The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
    This was marketed as the sequel to Cat People (1942), one of RKO’s most successful films and part of film history’s greatest noir suspense thrillers of all time. But oddly enough, the film has little to do with it’s prequel and confused moviegoers at the time. But there’s no denying the appeal of this film as a cult classic.

    The plot revolves around a young girl who in her loneliness, befriends the spirit of her father’s late first wife Irena (who also played the femme fatale in the prequel). What is implied as a ghost story in the first half of the film, turns into a tender, and almost fairy-tale character study of a young child’s state of mind. Legendary RKO producer Val Lewton, oversaw this project and put several personal vignettes from his childhood into the film, effectively adding an emotional touch. This is also Robert Wise’s directorial debut (who did The Sound of Music two decades later – ed.).
  4. Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
    Nearly 3 hours long, this epic final installment in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy is just gorgeous to look at. Charles Bronson, plays “Harmonica”, a drifter out for vengeance against possibly one of the most compelling film villains ever on screen: Henry Fonda’s Frank, a ruthless killer out to seize an important piece of land – the only land capable of providing water for the railroad about to pass through. Claudia Cardinale stars as ex-showgirl Jill McBain, who inherits the land from her slain husband. Compared to Leone’s The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, Once Upon A Time In The West has plenty of heart and satisfaction in the form of gritty violence and epic vastness of scale.

    This is the film you could argue tops most American-made westerns (although, George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is way up there). Darker than Leone’s previous westerns, the film is majestically finalized by a classic film score by Ennio Morricone. This is really one great film if you can commit to its length. Jason Robards has a memorable supporting role as the bandit/leader Cheyenne. A masterpiece.
  5. The President’s Analyst (1967)
    While heavy on the counter-culture references of the late sixties, this political and pop-culture satire is smart and funny as hell. James Coburn, a respectable psychoanalyst, is offered an opportunity to serve as the ‘shrink’ for the President of the United States. He takes the job excitedly but learns to regret the decision when he can’t deal with all of the president’s mental issues. He himself goes a wee bit off the deep end and goes awol. This leads to the CEA (CIA) and the FBR (FBI) getting involved in trying to get him back. For now, the president’s analyst knows too much and is a security liability. Add to that the grand conspiracy involving the telephone company and you’ve got one crazy film.

    The film is full of wry comedic touches (making fun of the CIA and FBI), that it is no wonder both agencies allegedly monitored producer Robert Evans phone calls during production and after the film’s release. Paranoia before it was considered cool.