When I turned 30, my 21-year-old brother Bill had a 19-year-old friend who was studying cinematography at university. I remember wondering: Why would someone so young be interested in old movies? I wanted to find out what I was missing so my husband and I borrowed some of them from the public library. Once we started watching them, we were hooked.
We rented Hitchcock classics like "The Birds", "The Man Who Knew Too Much", "North by Northwest, "Dial M for Murder" and "Rear Window". The latter two would make great plays. Hitchcock's techniques were impeccable. He did an excellent job of developing his characters. As a viewer, it is neat to watch for Hitchcock's cameo appearance in each of his films. In "Rear Window" he is the man moving the pianist's clock forward in an early scene.
Then we discovered classic Christmas movies. My parents had always watched "White Christmas" every year on TV, but that was the only one I was familiar with. We had never watched "Bells of St. Mary's" for instance, in which a Christmas Play is written and presented by some young students who choose a little toddler to play baby Jesus. We also discovered "It's a Wonderful Life" starring Jimmy Stewart. Frank Capra, the director, gives us a great message about how our family and friends make us rich, not material things. Then we watched "Miracle on 34th Street" starring Natalie Wood. She plays a curious girl similar to Virginia O'Hanlon, the child who wrote a letter to The New York Sun back in 1897 asking if there really was a Santa Claus. Furthermore, my husband bought the black and white version of "A Christmas Carol" with Alistair Sims; it is by far his favourite version. Christmas is a great time to rent the classics.
We also discovered Gregory Peck films back in the 1990's. "Cape Fear" is an interesting story involving an attorney harassed by a convict that he sent to prison ten years earlier. "Roman Holiday", with Audrey Hepburn, is a great romance between a royal visitor and a reporter trying to get a scoop on her, as they explore the sights of the Italian capital. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a sad tale about discrimination in the American South based on the book by Harper Lee. It has been staged as a play in Stratford as well.
Peter Sellers movies will have you in stitches. "The Party" is a story about a fledgling actor trying to make it in Hollywood. He has a bit part in a movie where he accidentally blows up the set. The producer demands to know who the culprit is and mistakenly records his name on the guest list for his upcoming party. Peter Sellers' character goes to the party and chaos ensues. The "Pink Panther" movies also feature Peter Sellers.
Yes, old movies definitely have a lot to offer. Once you've seen a few, you're hooked. They have a certain charm and an innocence that seems to be missing from new releases. During the golden age of the theatre, directors relied more on their actors than on special effects. Old films had substance. Now I understand why people study cinematography. It's intriguing!
Photo of Audrey Hepburn & Gregory Peck in "Roman Holiday" courtesy www.bfi.org.uk