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- A Nostalgic Choice of One Hundred Films from the Golden Age -

ISBN 0586084908
(1984 version), Paladin

‘Dedicated to the memory of
Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy.’


A collection of essays on LH’s personal movie favourites and actually detailing more than a hundred films.  Halliwell with his critic’s hat off for once as it’s not simply, as one might have expected, all the four-star films from the Guide.  His introduction states that he admires and respects the likes of Kurosawa, Fellini and Eisenstein without loving them, and so the book features the films which ‘measure up to some rather stringent private requirements’, but also mentions a few he ‘loves to hate’ such as House of Dracula and The Story of Mankind.





            I was born in 1929 into a family of cotton spinners, who enjoyed life as fully as they could in a grimy area of South Lancashire at a time when such domestic facilities as central heating, telephones, refrigerators and washing machines were only dimly heard of and barely comprehended.  Church, the Co-op, and the Spinner’s Hall were the centres of social activity, and by the time I began to notice the world around me, the slump was on.  Work being scarce, the days could be hard, but people were still determined to laugh, at themselves if need be.  Luckily Bolton and its environs boasted in the thirties no fewer than twenty-seven cinemas, including a new cathedral-like Odeon which offered to the masses an irresistible lure.  Here, for the equivalent of two pence in modern money, the otherwise deprived might for three hours enjoy blissful comfort in a perfumed atmosphere, watching on a giant lustrous screen the activities of characters more fortunate than themselves, sharing the excitement of less restricted lives, and occasionally being stimulated by the touch of a superior intellect.  Not that we despised humbler picture houses such as the Hippodrome, a converted music hall which naturally found its greatest success when playing the films of celebrated low comedians; here Will Hay, Sidney Howard, Gracie Fields, George Formby, Laurel and Hardy and the Crazy Gang came to seem like beloved uncles and aunts.
            When one considers the contrasts involved, it is hardly surprising that my favourite films should come from this impressionable period of my life, or at least to belong to one of the genres which most attracted me then.  Simple slapstick and violence always bored me.  I looked for some cleverness in the presentation, some wit in the dialogue, some hint of the magician’s wand.  I could be serious-minded when the occasion required it, but I avoided the gutter and objected to having my nose rubbed in the mire.  I kept a sharp sense of humour, I loved a mystery; and I listened hard for messages.
            As things turned out, watching films turned from a hobby into a profession.  I was in turn journalist, cinema manager, publicity executive, television programme buyer and part-time author.  One interest feeds the other, and my days are certainly well filled.  People are always surprised however when I assure them quite truthfully that I see very few films apart from those which crop up on television.  My memory retains those of the past which measured up to my standards; of today’s crop I have soon had my fill.  Most of them are obscurely told; they tell me things I don’t wish to know, in language I find offensive; and they concern characters whom I would willingly cross the road to avoid.  Cheap colour makes them unattractive to look at, and all the old studio crafts, so laboriously learned over a quarter of a century, appear to have been jettisoned in favour of obscenely large budgets which allow the film-maker to wander restlessly around the world crashing real aeroplanes and giving a distorted view of real locations instead of setting his own and the audience’s imaginations to work.  The Maltese Falcon was shot in five or six small sets, with scarcely an exterior scene.  Does anyone suggest that it would be better if remade today on a multi-million-dollar budget, with the fashionable doom-laden photography and unintelligible sound track?  How long in fact is it since a film of our time offered such wit, such performances, such sharp control?
            Ah well, there is always the National Film Theatre, and the cassette revolution has finally begun.  One way or another, all the films mentioned in this book can still be seen by those with plenty of patience and the determination to seek them out.  I have myself, over the last eighteen months, seen all those which form the principal subjects of these affectionate revaluations; and if I have been disappointed with any aspect of them, I have said so.  I could not catch up with all the secondary titles I have mentioned by way of bonus, but in these cases I am usually commending aspects rather than the whole.
            I do not nominate these films as the greatest ever made.  Few of them indeed are serious works of art, fewer still milestones of film history.  But apart from one or two which earned a place for being so fascinatingly bad, they all measure up to some rather stringent private requirements.  None is less than twenty-five years old.  All are made with great craft and competence under the old studio system which was so abused and is now so much missed.  All contain superb examples of scriptwriting, or narrative skill, or camera magic, or editing, or direction, or sheer imagination; all of them demonstrate joyous ability to entertain, to repay most amply the time one spends with them.  Taken together I hope they represent a consensus of the so-called golden age of film-making at its most likeable and efficient.  Though I could scarcely resist the inclusion of such bobby-dazzlers as Citizen Kane and The Grapes of Wrath, I have generally tended to exclude what are likely to be the ‘great’ films of other collections, for this is intended to be an amusing book rather than a solemn one.  However, the fact that Fassbinder and Kurosawa and Fellini and Eisenstein are not represented does not mean that I fail to recognise their virtues, only that they are not the chaps with whom I would choose to spend a holiday.  They don’t speak for me; they are not my style; I admire and respect them without loving them.
            My aim has been to give as much as possible of the original flavour by generous quotation, description and comparison as well as by stills carefully chosen to illustrate the angle of appeal.  One way or another, I hope I have been able to convey the delight with which I am filled at each repeated viewing of this elegant bric-à-brac from a less grittily realistic age.

Leslie Halliwell
December 1981


Each chapter proceeds to examine one or two films in depth, with similar or inspired works also dealt with in less detail.  The films are:


The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), with Robin Hood (1922)
All About Eve (1950)
All That Money Can Buy (1941), with Alias Nick Beal (1949)
Arise My Love (1940), with Midnight (1939)
The Band Wagon (1953)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Blithe Spirit (1945)
The Blue Angel (1930)
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), with Frankenstein (1931)
Brief Encounter (1945)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Casablanca (1943)
The Cat and the Canary (1939), with The Spiral Staircase (1946) and And Then There Were None (1945)
Citizen Kane (1941), with The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Court Jester (1956)
Dead of Night (1945) with The Uninvited (1944)
Destry Rides Again (1938)
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931)
Duck Soup (1931)
Easy Street (1917), with A Dog’s Life (1918)
Fantasia (1940)
Father Brown (1954)
Gaslight (1940)
The Gay Divorcee (1934), with Top Hat (1935)
The General (1926)
Genevieve (1953)
Gilda (1946)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Green For Danger (1946)
Harvey (1950), with The October Man (1947)
Hellzapoppin (1941)
Henry V (1944), with Richard III (1955)
His Girl Friday (1940)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
House of Dracula (1945), with Night Monster (1942)
I Married a Witch (1941)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), with It Came from Outer Space (1953) and Them (1954)
The Jolson Story (1946)
Journey into Fear (1942), with Across the Pacific (1942)
King Kong (1933)
King’s Row (1941)
Lady Vanishes (1938)
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), with Passport to Pimlico (1949) and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
The Letter (1940), with WutheringHeights (1939) and The Little Foxes (1941)
Lost Horizon (1937)
Love Me Tonight (1932)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Man in the White Suit (1951)
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941), with Arsenic and Old Lace (1941)
A Matter of Life and Death (1946), with Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941)
Le Million (1931)
Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939), with It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
The Mummy’s Hand (1940), with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Mysterious Mr Moto (1938), with Charlie Chan at the Opera (1937)
The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), with Dr X (1932)
The Naked City (1948), with The House on 92nd Street (1945)
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)
A Night at the Opera (1935), with A Day at the Races (1937) and A Night in Casablanca (1945)
North by Northwest (1959), with The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
Occupe-Toi D’Amélie (1949)
Oh Mr Porter (1938)
The Old Dark House (1932)
Oliver Twist (1948), with Great Expectations (1946)
Orphée (1949)
The Palm Beach Story (1942), with The Lady Eve (1941)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Portrait of Jennie (1948)
Pride and Prejudice (1940), with David Copperfield (1934)
The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
Pygmalion (1938)
Quartet (1948)
Rebecca (1940)
The Red Shoes (1948)
Rembrandt (1936), with The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
San Francisco (1936)
Scarface (1932), with Little Caesar (1930)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
Sing As We Go (1934), with Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952), with On the Town (1949) and An American in Paris (1951)
Sons of the Desert (1933)
Stagecoach (1939)
Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), with Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
Sunset Boulevard (1950), with Ace in the Hole (1951) and Five Graves to Cairo (1943)
The Thief of Baghdad (1940)
The Thin Man (1934)
Things to Come (1936)
The Third Man (1949)
The 39 Steps (1935)
The Three Musketeers (1939), with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), with Whisky Galore (1949)
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Topper Returns (1941)
Trouble in Paradise (1932), with Ninotchka (1939)
Twelve Angry Men (1957)
Way Out West (1937)
The Wizard of Oz (1939), with The Blue Bird (1940)


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