The Rear-View Mirror: The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

In our current times, Douglas Fairbanks is best known for his swashbuckling films. Chances are that one of your first silents was a film he made. But at the time, making The Mark of Zorro was quite the risk, for an actor best known for light comedy work and westerns. Especially since he was also co-founding United Artists, with such luminaries as Chaplin, Pickford and Griffith. If audiences wouldn’t accept Fairbanks’ re-branding, his career might very well fail. The decision for his first more meaty role to be Zorro, then, was an inspired one. He gets to show off his comedic chops, as well as his incredible athleticism.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Safety Last! (1923)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Everyone knows Charlie Chaplin. To a lesser extent perhaps, Buster Keaton too. But the third giant in this comedy trifecta, Harold Lloyd, is not as well known nowadays, although he made more films than the two of them combined. This may be because of distribution issues (Lloyd, in his later days, would only allow screenings of his films on special occasions). But perhaps even more so because the need-to-succeed everyman of his ’20s films was felt to be old-fashioned.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Jazz Singer (1927)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Despite its reputation as the first full length feature with synchronised sound, The Jazz Singer is a silent for most of its running time. When Sam Warner of Warner Brothers bought Vitaphone in 1925, despite the misgivings of his brother Harry, it was not because he thought that “Talkies” were the future: it was because they could record a film’s music, making a full orchestra unnecessary for showings. The process was complicated and ponderous. But the future did belong to the Talkies, and so The Jazz Singer is still famous today for being the first of its kind.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Divorcee (1930)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

The Divorcee begins with a group of friends which make up the in-crowd of New York society. Jerry (Norma Shearer) and Ted (Chester Morris) are in love. They decide to get married. Paul (Conrad Nagel), who also loves Jerry, is firmly relegated to the friend zone. Gutted, he proceeds to get drunk and gets into a car accident that disfigures one of the other women of the group: Dot (Judith Wood). Ur-‘Nice Guy’ that he is, he marries her out of pity. Wedding bells and domesticity, sacrifice and unrequited love. So far, so Hollywood. Female facepalm. But then halfway Shearer delivers the following searing monologue:

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The Rear-View Mirror: Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Trouble in Paradise might be, in the words of film historian and podcaster Karina Longworth, the “pre-codiest of pre-code movies”. Before the Hays code came in to effect, filmmakers took full advantage of the lack of regulation surrounding topics of sex and morality in American movies. In the case of Trouble in Paradise, a film by the much beloved Ernst Lubitsch, it results in a surprisingly adult movie about, well, sex. But not in the way we, modern audiences, are used to. No soft-focus from-the-hips-up shots of people doing the actual deed. But the implications? They’re spicier than that.

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Oscar Omissions: Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

After the Oscar’s celebrations and upsets, and they are all incredible films, let’s focus on a film which wasn’t nominated, although it should have been. 2019 was a wonderful film year after all, and extremely competitive in terms of awards. But for those focusing on the Academy Awards, some treasures might be overlooked...

Dolemite Is My Name is essentially a film about the passion of making film. It is, essentially, a biopic of Rudy Ray Moore, as played by Eddie Murphy in an authoritative performance. The film also sports a fantastic supporting cast with, among others, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Craig Robinson and Wesley Snipes.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Thin Man (1934)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

When MGM got William Powell on loan from Warner to make The Thin Man with Myrna Loy, the studio anticipated they had just green-lit a quick B-movie. Director W.S. Van Dyke was known to be able to keep to his deadlines and they managed, incredibly, to shoot the film in two weeks, with only a few days’ extension. Perhaps it was due to the spontaneity of Loy and Powell, the cinematography by James Wong Howe, perhaps is was partly because it was a passion project for Van Dyke. But far from being a throwaway comedy, it went on to secure four Oscar nominations and spawn five sequels, three of which were directed by Van Dyke himself. (MGM was never a studio to give up a lucrative formula).

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The Rear-View Mirror: La Règle du Jeu (1939)

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Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

If you are fond of lists, you may have seen La Règle du Jeu (or The Rules of the Game) on several of those “best films of all time” lists. If you are not, let me be the one to tell you: it firmly belongs with the best films of all time.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Cat People (1942)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

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In the early 1940s, RKO was in trouble. The costs of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and the financial disaster that was The Magnificent Ambersons (now tragically partly lost) had left the studio in dire straits. In order to get back in the black, they looked to Universal, which made a steady income from low budget by-the-numbers horror movies.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Adam’s Rib (1949)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

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Adam’s Rib is a George Cukor comedy or, if you take into account the amount of doors slammed, a farce. It is about married couple Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy) an assistant district attorney, and Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn) a lawyer. It relates how they cope and bicker in a marriage where Amanda is a “modern woman”, which is to say a kind of (shorthand) feminist.

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