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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The Rear View Mirror: The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

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 this delicious satire by Vincente Minelli, a producer reminiscent of a rather more charming David O. Selznick backstabs his way to the top, only to be shunned by those he betrayed along the way. Equally obsessed with proving himself after his father is ruined, Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) secures a job as a line producer by intentionally losing a game of poker to Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) and offering to work off the debt. His friend and collaborator Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) initially profits from the ruse, as they go on to produce B-movies together, but he is betrayed when the project closest to his heart is taken from him. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Touch of Evil (1958)

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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Touch of Evil most resembles a house of mirrors. In some parts you may feel you have gone backstage in some kind of carnival or circus. The direction is very Welles-ian, very masterful and very distinct. In the first minutes, we see a bomb placed in the boot of a car, and then the camera follows the car in one shot for a full 3 minutes and 20 seconds. We see shop-fronts, a souvenir seller moving his cart, some livestock and even two of our protagonists, who are walking the same route as the car. The bomb explodes, as it has to, and our story begins.

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