Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Prospero's Essential Movie Guide: Part 3

Friends of Dorothy
Now that I've gone and moved onto "talkies," let's talk about a few classics from the 30's, shall we? 

1938's Bringing Up Baby is Uncle P's favorite movie of all time, and with many a good reason. Howard Hawks' definitive madcap comedy was a flop when first released, despite Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde's brilliant script and performances from the era's brightest stars (Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn) at the height of their comedic prowess. Grant's hapless paleontologist and Hepburn's flighty heiress characters compliment one another perfectly. Add a dowager aunt (May Robinson); an intrepid wild game hunter (Charles Ruggles); a taunting terrier; two leopards and a befuddled local police department and you have what may very well be the funniest movie ever made (at least until Mel Brooks came along, 30 years later - but more on him, later). 

Of course, everyone talks about the "Perfect Year" for movies - 1939, which gave us two amazing films from gay director Victor Fleming (Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz); probably Shirley Temple's best film, The Little Princess; Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (Garbo laughs!); Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosiland Russell and Joan Fontaine in The Women and Robert Donat & Greer Garson in Goodbye Mr. Chips.

Of course, the most famous and beloved film from that year is Fleming's version of L. Frank Baum's children's novel, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." The stories surrounding this film are legendary and while many gay men of  'a certain age' consider it a watershed film (indeed, 'A Friend of Dorothy' became a euphemism for being gay in the 60's and 70's), I simply consider it a watershed film among the many that made me love movies as a child. Sequels and prequels to The Wizard of Oz abound, but none have found quite the niche that this film has found in the American psyche. 

In 1978 (told you I was OLD) I played the Cowardly Lion in my high school production, which featured elements (authorized by Geoffrey Holder) of the Broadway production of The Wiz, the African American version. It was probably the first time my high school director (now recognized as the best in the country) used Broadway elements in the staging of a high school musical. The Wizard of Oz is probably the most well-known and most-beloved of all musical films and will no doubt remain a classic for many centuries to come.

All of these films deserve the label "Classic" and should be seen by every cinephile and film student.

More, anon.

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