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ONTD Original: Classic Movie Recommendations

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Inspired by this post (ONTD Original: The Old Hollywood/Classic Movies series) by prettyvoices, I decided to post some classic movies recommendations. A few things first...

* My cut-off date was 1960 so all of these are from the 30's to 50's.
* Some of more well-known movies won't make this list. Some I haven't seen, some just don't do it for me, some I figure many have already seen so I didn't think they needed to be on here (yeah, some on here fit in that category, but are personal favorites so I included them anyway).
* I know a few--one in particular I'm sure--will be controversial (see icon!), but I figure these were different times and times change. We can acknowledge the problematic nature and still like the good in them. At least that's how I feel about it, YMMV.
* For any of the non-big name streaming sites, I marked them as *Others.
* This is, by all means, not a complete list. I hope to see many more recs in the comments for me to check out myself!

20 Classic Movie Recommendations

OneNight.jpg

What's It About: A spoiled heiress goes on the run after her father separates her from her scheming new husband. Cynical news reporter, Peter Warne, gets roped into the story of his life when he falls in with her. She promises an exclusive, but along the way, he loses his heart.
What's That: Just about every romcom trope originated with this film. As well as some timeless comedic bits.
Where To Watch: Direct TV, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: Snappy, funny and sweetly romantic. This one is a classic for a reason. It's also the first (of only three films ever) to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
What You See: Black & White

ThinMan.jpg

What's It About: A retired detective and his adventure-seeking wife (and their dog, Asta) enjoy their liquor, exchange witty barbs and investigate the mystery of the Thin Man while on holiday in Manhattan.
What's That: (1) The movie was given only three weeks to film, but director van Dyke managed to get it done in 12 days on only a budget of $231,000. Despite the limited time frame and budget, it became a surprise box office hit, earning $1.4 million.
(2) This is the first of Six Nick and Nora Charles films. The delightful pair (and their dog, Asta) were so popular in their first outing, the crowd kept coming back for more.
Where To Watch It: Direct TV, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: Witty, charming, Powell and Loy have chemistry for days (the pair made 14 films together--six of which were Thin Man movies) and everyone loves Asta!
What You See: Black & White.

TopHat.jpg

What's It About: The story centers on wealthy Dale Tremont, on holiday in London and Venice. She assumes that American entertainer Jerry Travers with whom she's fallen for is the husband of her friend Madge. In actuality she's the wife of Jerry's business manager Horace Hardwick.
What's That: This is the first time that a screenplay was specifically written for Astaire and Rogers, and, clearly, it was written to solely highlight their dance and chemistry because the plot is quite idiotic and could be resolved with one sentence clearing everything up. As it is, the charm, chemistry and incredible dancing of the two carries the film effortlessly. For example, the sublime perfection of Cheek to Cheek (Rogers' infamous ostrich dress and all) for your pleasure.
Where To Watch It: HBO Max, Direct TV, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), Others*
Why Watch It: Astaire and Rogers truly were dazzling to behold when they moved. Their dancing was just... perfection. And this film has two of their best numbers, the above linked to Cheek to Cheek and also Isn't This a Lovely Day (to be Caught in the Rain).
What You See: Black & White

ManGodfrey.jpg

What's It About: A scatterbrained socialite hires a vagrant as a family butler - but there's more to Godfrey than meets the eye.
What's That: Carole Lombard had a habit of inserting swear words into the dialogue and thus several scenes had to be reshot because of this propensity. (Oops!)
Where To Watch It: Amazon, Peacock, Direct TV, Others*
Why Watch It: Fluffy, funny and sweet. And frankly any opportunity to watch Carole Lombard do her thing is an opportunity well-spent.
What You See: Black & White

RobinHood.jpg

What's It About: Prince John plots to steal the throne from his captured brother, King Richard. In outrage, Sir Robin of Locksley, rounds up his merry men of Sherwood Forest and makes life not so merry for the prince. Winning the support of the lovely Maid Marian, he also joins forces with the secretly-returned King Richard to prevent Prince Jon from taking the crown.The tale of Robin Hood as delivered by the best Robin Hood ever with the ever-lovely Olivia de Havilland
What's That: The golden palomino that Olivia de Havilland rides in this film is Trigger, shortly before he became the mount of Roy Rogers.
Where To Watch: HBO Max, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), Others*
Why Watch It: Errol Flynn is the best Robin Hood, period (sorry, Costner, but you're no Errol Flynn). True fact: Flynn Rider from Tangled was named after him. Olivia de Havilland is perfection as always and sparkling up the screen like wowza opposite Flynn as Maid Marion (although she's never referred to such in the film). Great swordplay, witty dialogue, such as this exchange: "You speak treason! / "Fluently." Yeah, this movie is a classic, indeed.
What You See: Color

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What's It About: An epic Civil War drama that focuses on the life of Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara. Starting with her idyllic life on a sprawling plantation, the film traces her survival through the tragic history of the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and her unrequited love for Ashley Wilkes, tangled up with her tempestuous relationship with her third husband, Rhett Butler, the only man who truly sees her and loves her for who she is.
What's That: (1) Yes, there were three directors. Cukor did most of the work pre-filming, but he and producer David O'Selznick clashed repeatedly. Although, there were reports that Cukor and Gable didn't get along as well, that may have just been gossip that's carried over through the years. It is true that Cukor had a reputation for doing "women's films," and some believe that Gable feared he would lose the spotlight. (Both Leigh and de Havilland were devastated by the loss of Cukor by all accounts.) When he left, Victor Fleming came on board, more of a "man's man," and he did the actual bulk of the filming--coincidentally, he was no slouch, as he'd just wrapped up The Wizard of Oz. However, the stress of handling the massive production took its toll and he nearly had a breakdown, threatening suicide at one point so took a few weeks off. That is when Sam Wood stepped in. All in all, Cukor completed 18 days of filming, Wood did 24 and Fleming filmed 93.
(2) Yup, this film includes themes and character depictions which may be is (HBO MAX!) offensive and problematic to contemporary audiences. However, I read the book and saw the film when I was about twelve... maybe it's nostalgia, but I can't let that shit go. I know the depictions of the South are wrong. That's not in question. At all. Everything that *is* great about this film is why I'm recommending it. If we were to throw out and condemn everything because of its problematic aspects based on contemporary viewpoints we would lose a lot of art, a lot of film, a lot of words. Some should be consigned to the dustbins absolutely. However, I don't think it all should be. Partly because there are brilliant aspects still in those works, and partly because it's how we judge that time period and learn and grow from it. GWTW is one of those pieces.
Where To Watch: HBO Max, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: Because Scarlett O'Hara is an incredible character as is Melanie Wilkes and both Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland give two of the best performances ever put onto celluloid. Also, Scarlett and Rhett.... whether the rumors are true or not and they didn't get along, Leigh and Gable do have chemistry, and despite the fact that Scarlett and Rhett might be one of the first truly problematic ships, damn, are they hot.
What You See: Color

SmithWash.jpg

What's It About: When the idealistic young Jefferson Smith winds up appointed to the United States Senate, he gains the mentorship of Senator Joseph Paine. However, Paine isn't as noble as his reputation would indicate, and he becomes involved in a scheme to discredit Smith, who wants to build a boys' campsite where a more lucrative project could go. Determined to stand up against Paine and his corrupt peers, Smith takes his case to the Senate floor.
What's That: The U.S. Parks Services didn't give the studio permission to film near them so the scenes where Mr. Smith spends time among the Washington monuments agog in wonder aren't exactly, erm, legal.
Where To Watch: The Criterion Collection, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: Because James Stewart sells the goodness of what America is *supposed* to be, the red, white and blue, apple pie, caring for one another, believing in what is at the foot of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor..." He makes you believe things can be better and because of that, damn did both sides of the government *and* the press hate this film! SHOCKER! Not.
What You See: Black & White

PhillyStory.jpg

What's It About: This classic romantic comedy focuses on Tracy Lord, a Philadelphia socialite, caught between her ex-husband who has come back into her life, a prying reporter and her fiance, all who are stirring up feelings. Tracy must decide whom she truly loves.
What's That: (1) Cary Grant demanded top billing and $100,000 salary, which at the time was a huge amount. Such a jerk, right? Except.., he donated all of it to the British War Relief Fund. (And remember this film came out DURING World War II.)
(2) Katharine Hepburn owned the film rights to the material (she had starred in the Broadway play of the film). She had the film rights because Howard Hughes (bazagillioniare) had purchased them and given them to her as a gift. (3) The lovely dive Hepburn does into the swimming pool? All her, no stunt doubles required.
Where To Watch: HBO Max, Direct TV, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: See Katherine the Great at her witty, most glorious best alongside the endlessly charming Cary Grant and a frequent flyer on this list, James Stewart.
What You See: Black & White

GirlFriday.jpg

What's It About: When hard-charging New York newspaper editor Walter Burns discovers that his ex-wife, investigative reporter Hildy Johnson, has gotten engaged to milquetoast insurance agent Bruce Baldwin, he unsuccessfully tries to lure her away from the domestic life with a story about the impending execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams. But when Hildy discovers Williams may be innocent, her reporter instincts take over.
What's That: This is one of the first films (perhaps even the first) that had characters talk over other characters to sound more realistic. Before this, in film, actors said their lines completely before the next was spoken.
Where To Watch: Amazon, Direct TV
Why Watch It: Variations on this film have been done to death because, well, it's just so good. The banter, the brilliant, the witty, snappy, sharp banter left moviegoers breathless. The industry was never the same. To this day, we still see how My Girl Friday affected the cadence and rhythm of film dialogue and relationships.
What You See: Black & White

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What's It About: In an extended flashback narration, the film recounts the story of a dancer and an army captain who meet by chance on Waterloo Bridge.
What's That: This was Vivien's Leigh's personal favorite of all her films. (Taste this queen has!) It was also Robert Taylor's favorite of his.
Where To Watch: Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: Vivien Leigh gave her most achingly beautiful and vulnerable performance here. She and Robert Taylor created a beautiful love story. Just a warning, have a box of tissues ready.
What You See: Black & White

BallFire.jpg

What's It About: Hoping to update his chapter on modern slang, encyclopedia writer Professor Bertram Potts ventures into a chic nightclub and meets the burlesque performer "Sugarpuss" O'Shea. Fascinated by her command of popular jargon, Potts invites her to stay with him. But unknown to Potts, she is the fiancée of a mobster and wanted by the police. Potts and his fellow professors get caught up in the ensuing mayhem.
What's That: The film was inspired by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (something that is referenced when we see that film on the marquee at one point). There is a wonderful think-piece on the similarities and differences between the films that you can read here: Alternate Takes, by Anna Cooper Sloan.
Where To Watch: Hulu, Direct TV, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: Delightful, funny, sweet and so adorably romantic. It's just such a little underrated gem of a film. (And Gary Cooper is hot!)
What You See: Black & White

Casablanca.jpg

What's It About: Ilsa walks into Rick's gin joint out of all the gin joints in Casablanca. Ilsa being Rick's old flame, now married to Victor Laslo, a famed rebel who has the Nazis on his tail and needs to get out of the country. Rick can help, but will he?
What's That: (1) Casablanca is indeed a real place. It is the largest city of Morocco, located in the central-western part of Morocco bordering the Atlantic Ocean.
Where To Watch: HBO Max, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: It's Casablanca. You've all heard about it. It's frickin' Casablanca. Just watch it. It is Casablanca. It's made all of the top lists for a reason.
What You See: Black & White

WonderfulLife.jpg

What's It About: George Bailey has so many problems he is thinking about ending it all on Christmas! As the angels discuss George, we see his life in flashback. Before George can end it all, he's rescued by his guardian angel who shows him what the town would have been like without him in it.
What's That:(1) Stewart was nervous about the "phone scene kiss," since it was his first since he'd return from the war. He did the scene in only one take, and it worked so well, that part of the embrace was too passionate pass the censors and thus was cut.
(2) There are two lines of dialogue that can only be heard through turning the sound all the way up. It's all explicitly stated in the Closed Captioning. They occur in Bailey's private office with Potter and his goon present. Bailey's son, George, is also there. After George tells Potter: "You can't say that about my father," and is sent out of the office, we see him outside the room. That is when we hear the two "secret lines of dialogue." Potter asks the elder George, "What's the answer?" and Bailey tells him, "Potter, you just humiliated me in front of my son."
Where To Watch: Amazon
Why Watch It: Yup, James Stewart again. And, yeah, him and Donna Reed do have chemistry and are such a believable love. But, really, it comes down to the real, just, realism of Jimmy Stewart. And finally, the film--despite being over-saturated due to the constant Christmas replays--truly does have a beautiful message. You matter even if you don't realize it. You matter.
What You See: Black & White

MrsMuir.jpg

What's It About: Defying her conventional in-laws, young widow Lucy Muir leaves London with her young daughter and moves away for a quieter life in a secluded seaside cottage. Lucy discovers the ghost of the deceased former owner, sea captain Daniel Gregg, is haunting the house, but gathers the courage to stand up to him, and woman and ghost become friends. Faced with dwindling means of support, Lucy agrees to the Captain's challenge to write his colorful life story.
What's That: A young Natalie Wood plays Lucy's daughter.
Where To Watch: Hulu, Direct TV, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: Because this film is perfect? It spouted feminist values in the 40's, showed that a woman could be her own person and was willing to stand up to the conventions of the day, to her family, to men expecting her to be less than. Gene Tierney is unearthily beautiful and so talented, and played opposite the stern, rascally Rex Harrison so beautifully. Their chemistry is heavenly and powerful as they get to know one another. She respects him, he respects her. And their love story is so, so good. I love this film. It is one of my absolute favorites of all time.
What You See: Black & White

Eve.jpg

What's It About: A seemingly timid but secretly ruthless ingénue insinuates herself into the lives of an aging Broadway star and her circle of theater friends.
What's That: (1) The phrase, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night," is from this movie.
(2) This film holds the record for the most Academy Award acting nominations (four) for a female from one motion picture. It's been seventy years. The last film that had that record for males was The Godfather, Part II in 1975, twenty-five years later.
Where To Watch: Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: Why wouldn't anyone want to watch several actresses give amazing kick-ass performances while delivering lines from an excellent screenplay under fantastic direction?
What You See: Black & White

Streetcar.jpg

What's It About: Based on the play by Tennessee Williams, this renowned drama follows troubled former schoolteacher Blanche DuBois as moves in with her sister, Stella Kowalski, and her husband, Stanley, in New Orleans. Blanche's flirtatious Southern-belle presence causes problems for Stella and Stanley, who already have a volatile relationship, leading to even greater conflict in the Kowalski household.
What's That: (1) During the film, the apartment gets smaller and smaller to visually heighten Blanche's increasing claustrophobia.
(2) "There are three notably large alterations of the original plot [from Tennessee Williams' screenplay]. The first is the exclusion of Blanche's late young husband's homosexuality, which is referred to explicitly in the play, but only obliquely referred to in the movie. In the play, Blanche caught him in bed with another man and she screamed at him, calling him weak, and he killed himself; she blames herself for not understanding his feelings and for his resulting suicide. In the movie, the fact that her husband committed suicide is masked with a line from Blanche that says that "she killed him herself" by leading him to suicide. The second large difference is the rape scene. It is not explicitly shown/described in the play, but it is more obviously alluded to than in the movie. Two of Stanley's key lines in the scene were omitted from the theatrical release: "Tiger, tiger, drop that bottle top," which has since been added back to the movie, and "We've had this date with each other since the beginning!", after which Stanley grabs Blanche and hauls her off to the bed. Both of these changes were made for censorship reasons...]
Where To Watch: HBO Max, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: This can be a tough watch. What Stanley does to Blanche, the build-up of the torment, the mental issues that arise and are exacerbated by their close quarters, but the performances (not only from Leigh and Brando, but also from Kim Hunter as Stella) are so, so very good, the writing so layered and nuance, showing how the fragility of some can tap the monster in others, that it is worth watching.
What You See: Black & White

RearWindow.jpg

What's It About: The story of a recuperating news photographer who believes he has witnessed a murder. Confined to a wheelchair after an accident, he spends his time watching the occupants of neighboring apartments through a telephoto lens and binoculars and becomes convinced that a murder has taken place.
What's That: (1) "All of the sound in the film is diegetic, meaning that all the music, speech and other sounds all come from within the world of the film with the exception of non-diegetic orchestral music heard in the first three shots of the film."
Where To Watch: Direct TV, Peacock, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: The last James Stewart entry, but this one is a doozy. The suspense in this film will damn near kill you, it is so intense. On the other hand, Grace Kelly's outfits are absolutely glorious. Edith Head, the lady responsible, is the most Academy Award nominated and winningest Costume Designer for a reason (35 nominations, 8 wins.)
What You See: Color

BusStop.jpg

What's It About:Cowboys Beauregard Decker and Virgil Blessing attend a rodeo in Phoenix, where Decker falls in love with beautiful cafe singer Cherie. He wants to take Cherie back to his native Montana and marry her, but she dreams of traveling to Hollywood and becoming famous. When she resists his advances, Decker forces Cherie onto the bus back to Montana with him, but, when the bus makes an unscheduled stop due to bad weather, the tables are turned.
What's That: This is another one that when viewed through a contemporary gaze can be problematic, as it certainly appears to have consensual issues, but bear in mind it was made in the mid-50's. Marilyn actually chose this script as her first project after working on her craft for a few years as a deliberate move to get away from the ditzy, untalented bombshell reputation she had and the lightweight roles she was being offered. It worked; she got some of the best reviews of her career (and rightfully so). Bo (the cowboy) is wrong, wrong, wrong and even if the resolution is not as "woke" as it would be in our era, for the day and age, there is acknowledgement that he is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Where To Watch: Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: I think that Marilyn and Don Murray have chemistry. I like that the guy is the innocent one, bumbling his way through this first love. And I really like that he's wrong, everyone tells him he's wrong and he finally gets it. Even though the conclusion is a bit too rushed (and certainly wouldn't end as it did today), for its time period, that Bo was known and shown to be wrong and saw the error of his ways worked for me. Of course, I did see this a few years ago. I do remember mostly really loving Marilyn in this.
What You See: Color

TheSwan.jpg

What's It About: Prince Albert, searching Europe for a wife, finds a banished family of nobles in a tiny town. Their matriarch wants her daughter, Alexandra, to wed Albert so their family can be received once more. In order to gain the prince's attention, Alexandra flirts with her brothers' tutor, but her plan goes awry when feelings develop between the tutor and Alexandra.
What's That: The same year this film was released, Grace Kelly became a real-life princess when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Where To Watch: Amazon (Rent/Buy only), *Others
Why Watch It: *sigh* This is a fairytale that has heavy doses of humor, romance... and then offers up a whopping dollop of reality.
What You See: Color

LikeHot.jpg

What's It About: After witnessing a Mafia murder, slick saxophone player Joe and his long-suffering buddy, Jerry, improvise a quick plan to escape from Chicago with their lives. Disguising themselves as women, they join an all-female jazz band and hop a train bound for sunny Florida. While Joe pretends to be a millionaire to win the band's sexy singer, Sugar, Jerry finds himself pursued by a real millionaire as things heat up and the mobsters close in.
What's That: (1) When Jack Lemmon's character announces his engagement, the reason there are pauses and the maraca sounds is because a preview audience laughed so hard that enough of the dialogue was missed that it was deemed necessary to create enough space for the laughter to subside. So the scene was reshot to allow for audiences to enjoy the scene fully, and not miss anything.
(2) Tony Curtis and Lemmon walked around the Goldwyn studios in their full make-up/costumes to see if they could pass as women. They even tried to fix their make-up in a public ladies' room (eek!) and when no one complained, they knew they could pass as women.
Where To Watch: Hulu, Direct TV, Amazon (Rent/Buy only), Others*
Why Watch It: Because it's very, very funny.
What You See: Color

Sources: My opinion, classic movie knowledge + specific information on the following:

Top Hat | 'Cheek to Cheek' | My Man Godfrey |
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Gone With The Wind
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The Philadelphia Story
His Girl Friday
Waterloo Bridge
Ball of Fire
Alternate Takes
It's a Wonderful Life 1 | 2
All About Eve
A Streetcar Named Desire
Some Like It Hot 1 | 2

ONTD, what are your classic movie recs?

ETA: Thank you all so much for the many fantastic recommendations!
Tags: film - comedy, film - drama, film - musical, film - romance, film - suspense / thriller, ontd original
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