Manny P. here…
Every year, I report on a number of entries added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry. Along with popular selections of more modern motion pictures, such as Top Gun, The Shawshank Redemption, LA Confidential, and Ghostbusters, some classic cinema from Hollywood’s Golden Age were picked. These movies compliment documentaries, two reelers, and works from the Silent Era that were among the newest annual choices.
This year, I also voted. I was allowed to make 50 nominations; and I’m proud to say TWO of mine made the final cut!
Here are five highlights: (including my two recommendations)
~ Dracula (Spanish language version 1931) – Before the advent of sound, the only difference between films seen by domestic and foreign audiences was the subtitles. When talkies arrived, American studios began shooting foreign-language versions for international markets, and generally at the same time they filmed the English versions. In one famous example, a second crew — including a different director and stars — shot at night on the same sets used during the day for the Bram Stoker classic starring Bela Lugosi and directed by Tod Browning. In recent years, the Spanish version, which is 20 minutes longer, has been lauded as superior; some theorizing that the crew had an advantage of watching the English dailies and improving on camera angles and effective use of lighting. One of its stars, Lupita Tovar, is still alive at 105.
~ Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) – Writer-director Preston Sturges probably was the only filmmaker in Hollywood in the 1940s who could satirize the worship of honored veterans and their moms during wartime. Nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, it follows a soldier dismissed from active duty because of chronic hay fever, and enlisted by a group of Marines to return home as the war hero he pretended to be in letters to his mother. The great French critic André Bazin called it a work that restores to American film a sense of social satire that I find equaled only… in Chaplin’s films.
~ Imitation of Life (1959) – Douglas Sirk’s last American film is based on the Fannie Hurst novel about two moms (one white and one African-American) and their daughters (one white and one who wishes to pass for white). This remake (with Lana Turner and Juanita Moore as the mothers) offers a telling contrast to the more restrained melodramatic style used by John Stahl in a 1934 version (previously selected for the registry), starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers. One can also spot Sirk’s fascinating glimpses at the evolution of society the country had undergone in the 25 years that elapsed between the two films, particularly in Moore and her daughter, played by Susan Kohner.
And my suggestions…
~ Being There (1979) – Peter Sellers’ final work is dry political satire. Jerzy Kosinski, assisted by award-winning screenwriter Robert C. Jones, adapted his 1971 novel for the screenplay, which Hal Ashby ably directed with an understatement to match the subtlety and precision of Sellers’ Academy Award-nominated performance. Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, and Jack Warden also co-star. Without spoiling the ending, the final scene provides an almost religious implication. Douglas won his second Oscar for his role as a dying businessman.
~ Winchester ’73 (1950) – James Stewart collaborated with director Anthony Mann on eight films during the 1950s. Most renowned was a series of five intense, psychological Westerns from 1950-1955 revolving around themes of vengeance, shifting personal morals. and concepts of heroism. This movie launched their partnership. Stewart on screen was more edgy under the strict direction of Mann. Years later, after Alfred Hitchcock’s publicist reacted to the Universal Studio mogul’s tepid initial reaction to Psycho, he pushed Hitch to keep fighting, saying he once convinced these pencil-pushers to accept a real dog like Winchester ’73. This 2015 add to the Film Registry vindicates such a crass assessment.
This year’s Library of Congress Film Registry class also includes the 1920 versions of The Mark of Zorro and Humoresque, the Disney Silly Symphony animated classic, The Old Mill, and The New Deal governmental documentary collaboration with Hollywood, Our Daily Bread.
Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names to the National Film Registry, only 25 productions considered culturally, historically or aesthetically significant. The films must be at least 10 years old. The Librarian makes the annual registry selections after conferring with the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) and Library film staff, as well as considering thousands of public nominations, including mine I hope. The public is urged to nominate titles for next year’s registry.
Until next time> “never forget”