Everything Old is New Again

By Mark Schumann, The Reel Dad ®

Every new movie owes something to the past. And the legacy of Hollywood shows up on today’s movie screens. This week, our film historian, Mark Schumann, takes a look at the films that Hitchcock inspire us to remember.

For anyone who hesitates to step into a shower after watching the classic movie Psycho, the new movie Hitchcock offers a delicious behind-the-scenes look at how cinema treasures are made. This delicious new film is one of many movies to spotlight what happens behind the screen.

Hollywood produced thousands of silent films in the early 20th century before technicians perfected the use of microphones and sound recordings. But the introduction of sound created turbulence for performers who looked good enough on screen to be silent film stars but had voices that were difficult to listen to, laden with heavy accents, or simply wrong for the physical presence the performer conveyed. Overnight, careers of silent stars ended, and new performers arrived, as the industry struggled to redefine itself in new terms. The wonderful musical Singin’ in the Rain, from 1952, returns us to this wild time in the movie business, in the late 1920s, when the microphone had just been invented. Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds celebrate the joy of the movies in what many consider to be the best musical ever made by Hollywood.

The pressures of making movies are at the heart of A Star Is Born from 1954. Starring Judy Garland, in one of the greatest musical performances ever recorded, this often-told story introduces us to a young actress and singer who becomes a bright new star at the same time her mentor and husband, played by James Mason, travels a tragic path of self-destruction. Moss Hart’s wise screenplay reveals what happens behind the scenes of a major movie studio as the executives try to keep their stars focused on the work. But when the egos get too big, and the behavior becomes too erratic, the magic of the cinema can get lost in a sea of personal disappointment. What makes the film so watchable today is the brilliance of Garland’s work. From her introduction of the classic The Man That Got Away to her heart-breaking rendition of Lose That Long Face she captivates our attention and excites our senses.

If egos grow in A Star Is Born they enter the stratosphere in Sunset Boulevard, the classic Billy Wilder tribute to the movie business from 1950. Every word of this classic film is worth quoting, each scene deserves discussion and all the performances ring true. Gloria Swanson, making her own screen comeback, haunts the screen as a former silent film star who dreams of returning to the movies. She enlists a struggling screenwriter, played by William Holden, to nurture her delusions as, supposedly, he writes her new film. And this lady will do anything to ensure she has her moment before the camera. The film is filled with enough collectible moments to fill a movie museum. And few sequences captivate as when the great lady returns to the Paramount lot to pursue the dream of a lifetime.

So, next time you see a new movie, think about all the celluloid from the past that inspires what’s on the screen today. You’ll enjoy today’s film even more.