Discovering good movies, one bad movie at a time

Every week this summer, we’ll be taking an historical tour of the Hollywood blockbuster by examining an older film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to one of the weekend’s wide releases. This week: Sicario: Day of the Soldado presents a uniquely ill-timed new take on the old trope of lawmen trying to […]

The recent conversation about the state of the romcom in the 2010s – is it dead or dying? is it revivable? why do people hate laughter and love – amuses me to no end, because it misses the most important part of all: the golden age of romantic comedy was over before most of the […]

On December 15, 1939, a film premiered in Atlanta, Georgia. It was titled Gone with the Wind, and a more extraordinary example of all the vast lushness that Hollywood can buy had never been seen and never will again. That is the genius of the notorious producer-showman David O. Selznick, a man who made no […]

“This picture takes place in Paris in those wonderful days when a siren was a brunette and not an alarm — and if a Frenchman turned out the light it was not on account of an air raid!” If I have found one clear through-line connecting most of the films I’ve studied from the great […]

Frank Capra is a hard director for me to get a bead on. Once upon a time, he was one of the most successful working filmmakers in Hollywood, only to have his reputation start to tarnish in later years as he was increasingly regarded as an auteur of banal, feel-good corniness. Then, sometime around 15 […]

The great mogul David O. Selznick had one of the finest-tuned senses for what people liked to watch of just about any producer in Hollywood in the 1930s, and in 1939 he decided that what the audience wanted were torrid melodramas about impossible love. The most famous of the three films he produced that year […]

One of the immediate effects of the takeover of Universal in 1936 was that the horror films which had become such an important part of the studio’s brand name were very abruptly cut off (no doubt, the cost and middling performance of Dracula’s Daughter aided in this decision somewhat). This bold executive decision lasted for […]

The Wizard of Oz is a film that everybody has watched, nearly everybody has loved, and perhaps as a direct consequence, it’s a film that nobody, I think has really seen. Certainly I hadn’t; it’s surely one of the five movies I’ve watched the most times,* but I’d never given all that much thought to […]

A recurring theme in our year-long review of the cinema culture of 1939 has been the awareness of filmmakers in those days of the coming war, almost like people in that year could predict the coming change in the whole structure of the western world that would result. In the English-language movies we’ve looked at […]

In a monstrously prolific career spanning over a hundred films across five decades, John Ford produced greater films than Young Mr. Lincoln, but perhaps not a single one that was more perfect or more Fordian: none of the others saw the same combination of the director’s fervent love of his country, his cynical humanist view […]

The story of an inspirational teacher who causes his (or very seldom, her) charges to understand something new and empowering about the world, is as hoary as any old chestnut out there, and probably for a simple reason: most people who write movies went to school at some point and very likely had a teacher […]

The shamelessly tragic Bette Davis vehicle Dark Victory is a perfect example of everything that the Hollywood system at its height could achieve when everybody involved was working at the top of their game. The result may be naught but a torrid melodrama, but oh! what a humdinger of a melodrama it is! It’s films […]