HOLLYWOOD—As a newbie to the world of cinema, you couldn’t get me to watch a movie in black in white or what many people deemed ‘Old Hollywood.’ For me, I thought those movies were out of touch with the modern world and the technology was so outdated it would take me longer than my interest to get acclimated to the narrative. Hmm, that was all before I was exposed to the inner workings of the world of cinema as an undergraduate student focused on film studies.
Recently, I watched three iconic films, two from the black and white era, and one that is the pure epitome of what sensational editing can do for a movie. The first flick was one that I had heard about for ages, but never had the time to watch and its a good one to say the least, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” It might ring a bell, because the suspense thriller starred two greats: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Before watching this movie, one would have no idea that Crawford and Davis despised one another. This flick is quite tantalizing because Davis is fantastic as Jane Hudson, a child star whose limelight dimmed over time, as her sister Blanche (Crawford) becomes the star. The mystery kicks in when a car accident leaves Blanche paralyzed from the waist down.
Blanche and Jane live together, with Jane serving as her caretaker, but she’s quite cruel to her sister. Jane is mentally unstable and fears that her sister will commit her, as a result, she locks her sister in a room and to a degree holds her hostage. It soon becomes a tug of war for power, and a long held secret comes to light that left me floored to say the least. It totally changes the audience’s perspective on one character against the other, in a way that I quite frankly haven’t seen in the cinematic universe in quite some time. I loved the movie so much that I watched a second time right after the first time to see if I could piece the puzzle together.
I later watched a movie that I can watch every single time it comes on TV, that flick is the action-packed “Bullitt” starring Steve McQueen. Man, this movie is iconic. Twisted, thrilling and delivers one of the best car chases I’ve seen ever on the screen. Yeah, this movie was made in 1968 and I still have yet to see a movie top this 11-minute adrenaline rush that does not let up until it explodes literally. I mean it is a true testament to how powerful editing can be if done with precision. There is a nifty twist in the movie that requires focus throughout the narrative to catch it when it transpires, otherwise, you will feel slightly lost.
McQueen portrays the heartthrob, yet hard as nails detective who when he smells a dirty rat makes it his mission to catch them at all costs, even if it means breaking the law in the process. Not a single moment of boredom in the entire movie. It moves at a pace that is quite steady, yet thrilling. Then we have to talk about the flick that I hated as a film studies student, it is “Mildred Pierce.” Yes, another flick starring Joan Crawford. Joan was not the reason I hated the movie, it’s the fact that I literally watched it almost 40 times as I deciphered it scene-by-scene because I had to write a paper for my film theory class.
Did watching the flick over and over and over again take the fun out of the film? Of course, but it’s the type of flick that is so over-the-top, so exaggerated that it is fun to watch and when you compare the movie to real-life it stuns you. I know people like Veda, I know people like Mildred. Those kids who are such spoiled brats they blame their parents for all their problems. Then you have parents like Mildred who will go broke to ensure their kid has everything they desire, even if it drives them insane or land them in handcuffs.
“Mildred Pierce” helped me appreciate that era in cinema known as the ‘Femme Fatale’ in this case it was not Crawford’s character, but her daughter Veda. You have the greedy womanizer, the loyal friend, the shrewd businessman, the death of a child; the movie gives you all you want and so much more with a twist that upon first viewing you don’t immediately catch.
I always ask myself whatever happened to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Why don’t we see movies like this anymore nowadays? Is it because technology or the fact that we have become too self-aware thinking we have to outsmart the audience when we don’t have to. It’s a question we may never have the answer to, but one day, one day, I sense those films of the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s will come blazing back.