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With DVD and Remote in Deepest Filmland

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By:Ray Olson | March 07, 2014

Remember Nick and Nora Charles, the movies’ Thin Man and wife? Of course, you do. How about Larry and Kay Wilson? Embodied by the same actors, William Powell and Myrna Loy, they’re a bush-league Babbitt and his divorce-bent wife in 1940’s I Love You Again. Larry’s pretty insufferable, alright, but after a conk on the noggin changes him into grifter George Carey, Kay starts reconsidering. Meanwhile, Carey’s running a con in the Wilsons’ hometown, of which Larry hopes to be mayor. Something must give and does in a delightfully incredible gag ending. Crisp pacing, excellent camera placement and movement, and a high level of ensemble acting—giddily led by Powell’s star turn, in which he’s one helluvan antic clown--make I Love You Again a romantic screwball comedy eventually about marital love, of all things.

So how’d I find I Love You Again, which I’d never heard of until slightly before I watched it?

Well, late in 2010, I finally started a project I conceived 50-odd years ago, to see all the movies I’d ever wanted to see--even if I didn’t know I wanted to see them—in chronology. I unboxed the DVD player received as a gift circa 2005, took out a Netflix subscription, and constructed a queue. I later built another queue at ClassicFlix, which specializes in pre-1970’s films, and discovered that the St. Paul Public Library has a very respectable DVD collection.

I proceeded according to what I’d absorbed from two books I haven’t owned in decades, the well-enough written The Liveliest Art by Arthur Knight, sometimes used as a text in film-history courses, and the poorly written but provocative The American Cinema by Andrew Sarris, the book that promulgated in America the auteur theory of film creativity, which betrays its French origins in its name.

What I’d absorbed was hundreds of names and thousands of titles. The books assured me that these filmmakers’ work and these particular movies should be seen by anyone deeply interested in film. Through the years, as I grabbed this maker here, that film there, I became ever more impressed by what good guides—historical and theoretical rather than critical--I’d chosen.

Several hundred movies into my project, I’m still impressed by them, even more so by how many good movies there are—that is, movies that tell compelling stories, present intriguing characters in interesting situations, and literally see things in striking and beautiful ways. The best do all those things very well, while many others do one better than the others or succeed satisfactorily enough all around to remain engaging throughout their running times, despite lacunae in plot logic and longueurs in development.

Besides my decision to watch my selections in chronology, I imposed one other stricture on myself, revived from my reviewing days in college. If it’s supposed to be of any value as literature or phenomenon, I read a movie’s source before seeing the film; if I’ve already read the source but can’t recall it well, I read it again. So far, I’ve read for the first time Les Miserables and Vanity Fair; the Niebelungenlied and Captains Courageous; pulp fiction “classics” Tarzan of the Apes and The Mark of Zorro; “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and “The Caballero’s Way” (which introduced the Cisco Kid). Conventional wisdom is that a movie never improves on its source (see, however, The Devil and Daniel Webster, directed by William Dieterle), but sometimes a film renders the main thrust of its source faithfully despite greatly altering characters and relationships (see Captains Courageous, directed by Victor Fleming). Most movies, indeed, don’t do their sources justice, and my favorites aren’t often adaptations of novels or plays.

So what’s the point of my project, beyond self-improvement (I almost wrote, self-indulgence)? To admire God-given human creativity, even in the most industrial, or, putting it more warmly, the most collegiate, of art forms, which is what cinema is. Also, to be able to tell others about films I find beautiful and meaningful.

So far, I’ve reached the films of the early 1940’s without, however, having seen all those of the 1930’s or even all the silents I want to see—they’re not all available from Netflix, ClassicFlix, and SPPL, and some haven’t been transferred to DVDs yet.

Back to the question. I got to I Love You Again by pursuing, a la Sarris, a director. But blame TRI, too, because I watched, out of queue chronology, Marie Antoinette (1938) before attending the 2011 Summer School on the French Revolution. No great shakes, it has some brilliant shots and performances, however, all guided by MGM contract director W. S. Van Dyke. I added several other Van Dykes to my queues--White Shadows on the South Seas, The Pagan, Manhattan Melodrama, The Thin Man, San Francisco, After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man, and . . . I Love You Again.



Rollo Larsen
King of Prussia
3/7/2014 06:22 PM

  Thank you Mr. Olson for pointing me toward ClassicFlix. The only downside I see to the ClassicFlix model is that you do end up missing a few really great movies and series from the past few decades. Until three years ago, I prided myself on not watching movies and knowing nothing about them, considering film as an inferior art form produced by people I would rather not associate with. This changed when my elderly mother came to live with us. It was and is very important to her spirits to watch a DVD with me every night. For three years I have done so and today I can say my mind has spun 180 degrees. So many great films I missed all this time. The only problem, and the big problem for us, with much of the selection at ClassicFlix, is the lack of subtitles or captions. Since my mother is heard of hearing we can't watch a DVD without them. It seems the studios are content to just transfer the film and sent it out there. Besides weeding out unsuitable shows that I won't watch with my mother, I also have to pass on films and TV shows that aren't captioned.

3/7/2014 08:06 PM

  "This changed when my elderly mother came to live with us. It was and is very important to her spirits to watch a DVD with me every night. For three years I have done so and today I can say my mind has spun 180 degrees" God Bless you Mr. Rollo. Thank you too, Ray. Very good ideas here on studying a subject sequentially but not progressively and with proper human digressions along the way.

San Antonio
3/7/2014 08:57 PM

  Dancing Lady with Clark Gable & Joan Crawford and Wife vs. Secretary with Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow are two great ones I watched recently. The Spiral Staircase with Dorothy McGuire was fantastic. I also recommend purchasing Leonard Maltin's movie guides to find titles to add to your queue. My mother loves westerns and my grandmothers did also. How about making this a permanent blog post? There are many great movies conservatives ought to see!

Raymond olson
St. Paul
3/8/2014 05:16 PM

  Mr. Larsen--I have found that everything put out by Warner Home Video is subtitled, and that those subtitles cannot be turned off. Since Warner has plenty of other studios' old films, its selection will be keeping me busy for some time. Also, one is given the opportunity to select subtitles on many other DVDs, in English as well as Spanish or French. At the least, I believe you can rent Warner Home Video releases with considerable confidence that they will be subtitled.

Vince Cornell
3/8/2014 06:21 PM

  Mr. Olson, Thank you for this post, and I second the motion in making this a recurring feature. I would greatly enjoy hearing about your journey even if I can't follow for some time (I can only average about 1 new movie a month). Also, if you could comment when any of the films might be suitable for a family viewing, I would be happy to watch them with the kids. If you do it right, kids actually don't mind silent movies or black & white. My kids love Buster Keaton, Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and such, and they've enjoyed movies like It's a Wonderful Life, Pride of the Yankees, Steamboat Round the Bend, High Noon . . .etc.


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