Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne curates 11 of his beloved lesser-known films from the '30s, '40s, and '50s, from Dodsworth to Remember the Night, starring Barbara Stanwyck. The TCM Classic Film Festival runs April 12-15 in Los Angeles.
Variety is what’s lacking in theaters today. The movies I’ve chosen here are the kinds I think are gems—the ones people don’t know a lot about. These wonderful movies for some reason don’t have the high profile of the Casablancas or the Singin’ in the Rains. Whenever we can program these on TCM I’m happy, because it introduces them to people.
The Big Clock (1948)
A psychological thriller from 1948 with Ray Milland, directed by John Farrow, and a great performance by Charles Laughton. What I love about it is it’s a very gripping story; you wouldn’t necessarily suspect from the cast or the title that it’s anything special, but it is. It was remade in 1987 with Gene Hackman and it was called No Way Out. The remake was OK, but it wasn’t what this one was. The original is in black and white. It’s a story about a man who gets framed for murder by his employer. It’s very suspenseful right to the very end. One of these gems among murder mysteries that everybody should try to have a look at.
Directed by William Wyler, who is, if not the best director, one of the best. It’s got a dull title and a cast that no one particularly knows–Walter Huston stars in it, Anjelica Huston’s grandfather. It’s an absolutely riveting story about a very successful man who retires and takes a trip to Europe with his wife, and the wife is someone who decides she doesn’t want to grow old. It’s about the conflict of what it does to their life together. It’s an amazing film to me, because not only is it fascinating, but for something made in 1936, it is so up to date, and so modern. It could be a movie made today and people would like it. I actually introduced it once with the son of the man who produced it, and the crowds were so large for this 1936 film that they had to show it three times, which shows the grip that it can have on an audience today. Anyone can relate to the problem of getting older, the problem of not wanting to be dismissed by people. It’s that line we all come to eventually when you’re no longer young, but you don’t want to be old, and you haven’t made the adjustment of the fact that you’re not 25 anymore.
Hobson’s Choice (1954)
Hobson’s Choice is another gem. This one’s by David Lean, whom everyone knows from big epics like Lawrence of Arabia, but this is a small film with John Mills about a family in England. The patriarch of the family is played by Charles Laughton, and it’s about his daughter and the lengths she has to go to to get out from under his control. It’s a witty movie, it’s a very touching movie, and it’s another great example of what a great director David Lean is. People should see it not only to be entertained by it, but to see work by the great Laughton and Lean.
This is a bigger film than most of these others. It’s a romantic comedy directed by Stanley Donen; it’s one of his best movies, and it stars Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, who are both fabulous in it. It’s absolutely beautiful looking, with great sets and two performers at their physical and artistic peak. Based on a semi-successful play in New York called Kind Sir, it’s absolutely delightful. I think the title is kind of off-putting. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman made a Hitchcock film called Notorious, so to have the two stars of Notorious in a movie called Indiscreet, it sounds like it could be a dark, dramatic film of some kind. But it’s really not. It’s a witty, wonderful comedy done by two great artists. Again, a movie that many people don’t know and should.
The Mating Season (1951)
The Mating Season is a comedy that stars Gene Tierney and John Lund. It’s about a man and a woman who get married; the woman is from a very upper-sphere family, and has a snooty mother, and the man has a down-to-earth mother who runs a hamburger joint. The groom is embarrassed to come into this snooty family, and so his mother is hired on in the house, unbeknownst to the son, as the maid, so her new daughter-in-law can get to know her better. It’s a case of mistaken identities, and it’s just really fun and charming. Thelma Ritter, who plays the maid mother, is an absolutely outstanding character actress and it’s a purely enjoyable movie. With a very common title, it really doesn’t give you any indication of what a good, solid comedy this is.
My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)
This is a very little movie, and it’s a perfect example of a B film made by Columbia Pictures in the 1940s. It’s one of those big mistakes: It turned out to be a really terrific, psychological thriller with Nina Foch and Dame May Whitty–wonderful character actors. It’s a well-crafted, short, suspenseful film. People can’t believe it when they see it because it’s not anything they’ve ever heard of before and yet it is as good as any A picture you’ll ever see.
The Narrow Margin (1952)
The Narrow Margin is probably the best film on this list. It’s another B picture, and people didn’t discover it for a long time. It was directed by Richard Fleischer—a tight little murder mystery. Most of it takes place on a train, so it was made for very few dollars, with a cast that most people don’t know. Marie Windsor, who is one of the great femme fatales, is in it. It’s a highly suspenseful film that was remade later, but the remake wasn’t nearly as effective as the original. It’s a jewel of a film that people can’t believe how good it is, particularly if they’ve never heard about it before.
Remember the Night (1940)
Remember the Night is a movie starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray that most people haven’t heard of. This is actually a very nice Christmas movie that’s about a woman who gets arrested on Christmas Eve and a district attorney who doesn’t want to leave her in jail for the Christmas holiday, so he takes her with him when he goes home to his family. He has her on surveillance, and of course they fall in love. It’s a charming movie with these two wonderful actors who prove what really good actors can do with material. The same movie could be made with two lesser actors and it wouldn’t be nearly as effective. But when you’ve got fine artists like Stanwyck and MacMurray, it gives such impact to the story that it is, again, a jewel. It’s a romantic comedy with a dark side.
Roughly Speaking (1945)
Roughly Speaking is a strange title. It’s a comedy that’s based on a real-life woman and her son, the screenwriter Frank Pierson, who wrote Dog Day Afternoon and for a while was the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (He did not write this film, however.) It’s about his mother, who had a large family she kept together through the Depression days. They had a lot of bad things happen to the family, but the mother is very cheery, and all the kids grow up and become successful. It’s one of those feel good movies. Rosalind Russell is wonderful in the film, and everyone knows her from movies like Auntie Mame, The Women, and His Girl Friday, but nobody knows about this one. It’s one of the great discoveries I’m hoping people will make.
The Tall Target (1951)
Another movie that takes place on a train. The basic story is based on a true event: It’s about an assassin that was going to kill Lincoln on the way to his inauguration in Washington, D.C., and it’s about the detective put on the train to protect Lincoln, who is the Tall Target. He almost succeeds, but this is a fictionalized account of that actually happening. Made for very little money, Anthony Mann, the great director who was later revered, made it. It’s suspenseful and beautifully done. Dick Powell is wonderful as the detective, but it’s mainly about the pacing of the film, the action, and the tight script—all things you need to make a good thriller.
Vacation From Marriage (1945)
Vacation From Marriage is a movie made in England directed by Alexander Korda. Robert Donat, who won the Academy Award for Goodbye, Mr. Chips in 1939 is the lead actor, and Deborah Kerr, before she became a huge movie star, is the leading lady. It’s a wonderful romantic comedy about a drab, boring man and his drab, boring wife who live together happily, but boringly. But then World War II comes along and he gets drafted, and he goes off into the service and has his life change. He gets some adventure in his life, grows a mustache, and becomes very dashing. Meanwhile, the wife has gone off and joined a woman’s group, and she’s all of a sudden out in the world, and gets a new hairdo, and they keep dreading when the war is over and they each have to go back to each other. But when they go back to each other they’ve both transformed. At first it’s a shock that they don’t like each other because they’ve changed so drastically, but then they fall in love again. It’s a very sweet movie, a charming movie. It’s a great treat.