By Jack Deth
Given the premise of what film and cinema may look like 40 years hence, I’ll opt for the convenience of handheld devices, flatscreen home entertainment centers and personal 3-D glasses, now that the very first, infant steps of the future Blue Sun Consortium so well-loved in Firefly has put out a bid for the AMC chain of theaters here in the U.S.
Now, as to what cinephiles, movie buffs and assorted hormonally-driven teens will want to view. The sky and its opposite end of the spectrum are the limit. Though Classics will always be present to fall back on. Be it for nostalgia sake. Or just to sit back and experience what good really is and can be. There will always be a healthy clutch of films in dust laden cans ready to be spun up on a projector. Or taken to a lab to be cleaned up, re-mastered and brought back to life in whatever form of medium is in use at the time.
To that end, allow me to prognosticate and put forth three choices for what may be viewed and enjoyed by those of all ages in the future.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
The definition of screwball comedies of the 20th century stars Cary Grant as David Huxley, a clumsy, mild-mannered paleontologist with Harold Lloyd glasses. Deep in the Sisyphian task of assembling the skeleton of an ancient Brontosaurus, David only needs one bone to complete the task. To add to his stress, David is engaged and soon to be wed to a woman of means whose family can supply extra funding for David’s museum.
Seeking surcease, David decides to play some golf the next day and meets a striking, fast-talking Katherine Hepburn as Susan Vance, madcap extraordinaire and niece of his future mother-in-law. Susan plays by her own rules and speaks her mind. The repartee between David and Susan is as over-layered, stepped-on, and Hawksian as it is flat-out hilarious! With David constantly trying to catch up when to two meet again at a resplendent, elegant restaurant and night club.
Rapid-fire banter turns into a whispered argument that segues into an accidentally ripped and torn skirt of Susan’s evening gown. Which David tries to cover as best he can with his top hat and quick turns as they seek club’s front door. For a quick trip to Susan’s family’s palatial manse and manicured grounds. Where David is introduced to kith and kin, including a leopard from Brazil named ‘Baby’ and a terrier named ‘George,’ who slyly buried the essential Brontosaurus bone the ‘intercostal clavicle’ somewhere beyond the house while ‘Baby’ ambles away into the night.
What follows is a primer on comedic timing, quips, pratfalls and stalking through foggy woods and narrow streams. Interspersed with choruses of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” which Baby likes, as David and Susan search high and low. Accidentally break windows while seeking assistance. Run afoul of the law and are locked up in the Constabulary’s jail. Where Susan takes on the voice, slang and body language of a gangster’s moll. An incredibly funny few moments that involve a second leopard and mistaken identities. Until a friend of the family arrives and straightens things out.
David goes his way. Susan and Baby go theirs. The intercostal clavicle is recovered and Susan takes it to a now busy David high atop the incomplete Brontosaurus on tall scaffolding to make amends. When Susan sees a nearby flimsy ladder…
The film that solidified Humphrey Bogart as a romantic leading man still manages to pack a heck of a lot of story and tell it well within its 102 minutes. Wondrously crowded, well designed and executed sets transport to a stylized Morocco, Casablanca, its shadowy casbahs and Rick’s Cafe Americain. The hub of all things curious and worth noting by the Vichy constabulary and its German occupiers.
Bogart plays Rick Blaine, expatriate American cafe and casino owner with a fixed roulette wheel that pays on 22. Who drinks alone, plays chess against himself. Has few friends. Is rarely impressed. While exuding an air of supreme clever confidence. Master of his own fate in a corner of the world where suspicion runs rampant and others beg, borrow and steal for exit visas and a way out.
Enter into this world skullduggery, Ilsa Lund. Spectacularly gorgeous Ingrid Bergman. Rick’s old flame from happier times in Paris, just before the Germans rolled in. Unfortunately, Ilsa has brought her husband along. Suave and elegant Victor Laszlo. Leader of the Free French movement and Public Enemy #1 of Conrad Veidt’s Major Heinrich Strasser and his minions. Who would be quite content to keep Ilsa and Victor right where they are.
Who, but director Michael Curtiz and writers Philip and Julian Epstein could wrap a deliciously moody love story around this foundation? As Rick politely reintroduces himself to Ilsa. Sparks flare to life. Aware that she and Victor are in need of a pair of exit visas that Rick possesses. The possibilities are endless as emotions sway. I’ll leave it right there for you to draw your own conclusions.
The life of Henry Hill. A Brooklyn kid who says, “As far back as I can remember. I always wanted to be a gangster,” is given the full blown Martin Scorsese treatment. In full blown, lush color. From Henry’s early years hanging out on street corners and parking cars for the meetings of made men he idolized. To huge tips being taken under the wing of slow moving, always cautious ‘Paulie’ Cicero. Henry climbs up the lower tiers of organized crime. Befriending a young young Joe Pesci giving wondrous psychotic life to Tommy DeVito and his friend, Jimmy ‘The Gent’ Conway, played with low-key deliberation by Robert De Niro.
Life is good as Henry dumps school in favor of selling hijacked cigarettes to any and all. Until he is arrested for the first of several times. Surprisingly, the pinch helps rather than hinders Henry’s slow, yet steady climb up the criminal corporate ladder. Henry, now played by a smooth faced, lean Ray Liotta is all style and flash, but not a lot of substance. Part of Jimmy’s crew, Henry learns the ins and outs of the finer points of hijacking semi tractor trailers along the New Jersey Turnpike. When not robbing Idlewild Airport of its employees’ payroll. or burning down restaurants or clubs slowly taken over by Paulie and his friends.
Henry falls in loves with, pursues and courts Karen. A stunning Lorraine Bracco with visits to famed New York nightclubs. Filmed in Steady Cam from the rear entrance. Through the kitchens and to a quickly laid out ringside table in time for Henny Youngman and complimentary champagne. Then taking the time to brutally beat a competitor close to death with a pistol who. Making Karen an accessory after the fact, by giving her the pistol to hide.
The good life continues. Henry marries Karen. The money rolls in and heists get bigger and bigger. Until one night when a made man runs afoul of Tommy. Is killed messily and buried somewhere Upstate. Then exhumed six months later when Jimmy finds out the land is going to be developed. The wheels start to come off. As Henry takes a mistress and Karen finds out. Threats are made and Paulie tells Henry to get back with Karen. Henry does. Then he and Jimmy go down to Florida to collect some betting markers and draw a delayed bust from the FBI.
Henry discovers drugs behind bars, though life there is better than for most. Against Paulie’s wishes, he continues in the trade as a major heist goes bad. And those involved get very sloppy and spend very conspicuously. Then pay for it rather sloppily to the strains of ‘Layla’ by Derek and the Dominoes. I’ll end it here, lest I get into Spoiler Territory.
I’ve chosen three films which have stood the test of time. Masterpieces assembled by directors with the clout and ability to get superior writers, cinematographers, set designers. Then turn it all over to superior casts anxious to make their marks. Creating benchmarks that have aged well and improved with time. And will be amongst the first chosen decades from now.
What do you think of Jack’s picks? Are there other films that are already considered classics now and will remain so?