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: we all know that San Andreas brings back the noble and intensely clichΓ©-happy formula of the all-American disaster picture. […]

You couldn’t order a more perfect first generation horror movie knock-off than The Vampire Bat. The 1933 effort by Majestic Pictures (which had no other meaningfully long-lived productions before it was absorbed into Republic Pictures at the end of the ’30s) is very close to the platonic ideal of a cheap-ass attempt to simultaneously copy […]

A review requested by John Taylor, with thanks for contributing to the Second Quinquennial Antagony & Ecstasy ACS Fundraiser. Reducing any film to the sum of its Oscar trivia is a filthy habit, but it’s also fun and I’m good at it, and Grand Hotel has a real whopper of a piece of trivia associated […]

I could pretend I had this reason or that reason to bring 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum to your attention this day, such as the unique value that comparing it and its remake and its un-remake have in showcasing the changing preoccupations of the film cultures that produced them; or its particularly salty attitudes […]

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 […]

MGM was the stylish studio. If you know nothing else about Hollywood in the 1930s, that is the thing to know: when it came to the most glamorous stars wearing the most opulent clothes on the most richly detailed sets, acting out the most robustly dramatic scenarios while the most emphatic strings wept on the […]

There’s nothing easier than losing favor with Hollywood: no matter how successful a director’s high peaks might be, all it takes is one project that ends up costing far too much and makes far too little back at the box office to tarnish even the brightest shining star. This truism takes us to one Frank […]

The second major technological revolution in cinema history, the arrival of color, was neither as abrupt nor as immediately ubiquitous as the rise of talkies: there was a certain mistrust of the artistic validity of the technology that lingered for years after Technicolor introduced Process No. IV, its legendary three-strip color system that permitted for […]

The story goes that the extraordinary popularity of musicals in the 1930s in America was a direct result of the Great Depression: the fantasy and spectacle and charm of the genre was an easy way to stay distracted for an hour or two of joy in the face of widespread economic suffering. Another story goes […]

It is not possible to talk about the Hollywood star system or film culture or really mass media in general as those things existed in the 1930s without talking about Shirley Temple. She defines her era in a way that very few movie performers have: she was the most popular movie star in the world […]

In the history of the Oscars, there are few cases weirder and more impressive than Katharine Hepburn. Not only does she hold a record, unlikely to be matched and surely never to be beaten, of four competitive acting Oscars, all in the Lead category, but her first award came for her third movie role, in […]

“If you want to send a message, use Western Union”, said somebody, famously – Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, and Frank Capra are the most common sources, so it’s probably none of them – but that’s advice that was already long-abandoned before it was ever spoken. The fact is, filmmakers, particularly Hollywood filmmakers well aware […]