It's a shame
that when I was younger, I didn't give movies made
before 1977 a chance. My mom has been a huge fan of
those "classic old movies" that used to adorn our
television on weekend afternoons. Because we had one
television for many years, she tortured me with movies
about men who where men and women who were women. She
tortured me with the sight of Audrey Hepburn in lovely
dresses, and the lovely black-and-white photography of
those films of long ago.
Fortunately age and maturity have made me more respectful of my elders. In this case, elders mean those fabulous movie stars of yesteryear. Now I can finally appreciate why audiences admired and sometime adored actors like Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. Paramount has gone back into their storied film vaults and produced the tremendous "Centennial Collection" to spotlight some of the fantastic films that made Paramount such a grand studio in the 1950s.
"Sunset Blvd.," "Roman Holiday," and "Sabrina" are now on special edition 2-disc DVDs.
Paramount has lovingly restored these films with respect to the original work. Despite my preference for Blu-ray, these DVDs are spectacular. The picture quality is excellent without appearing overly manipulated to make the films look like they were made today. My favorite out of the three movies, "Sunset Blvd.," highlights John F. Seitz's excellent cinematography well.
But this review isn't about how these look and sound. The movies themselves are masterpieces and should be seen by today's generation of film lovers. Better yet, some of today's filmmakers and screenwriters should look at these films to see how the masters did such wonderful work.
This film is a dandy. Billy Wilder, who co-wrote the film with Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman, Jr., delectably sends up Hollywood's facade. Gloria Swanson plays reclusive silent screen actress, Norma Desmond, with enough fire to give Bette Davis a run for her money. Swanson is truly amazing in the role. Her character is absurd, and over-the-top, but after watching her performance, we actually feel bad for her. Her would-be beau, William Holden, is an out-of-work screenwriter who happens to stumble upon her madness. He gets involved with her charms of seduction. Holden was also an amazing actor who more than does the job here. Director Eric von Stroheim plays Desmond's butler, Max. He's brilliant.
We've seen the clips of Desmond descending the staircase of her mansion to give her famous "Mr. DeMille" line. The movie goes far beyond that, revealing a scathing picture of the Hollywood dream factory and its victims. The movie is nearly as fresh today as it probably was back in 1950. It goes to show that the movie business has always been cruel, even to its brightest stars.
Isn't it crazy that today non-stars like Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson still get hired and receive lots of press. Yet, even an imaginary actress like Desmond, as sad of a case as she is, is forgotten. One of the ironies of "Sunset Blvd." is a short scene that features not only the fictional Desmond, but real silent film stars like Buster Keaton! The movie that Desmond forces Holden's character to watch is itself a forgotten relic from the silent era, von Stroheim's own troubled production starring the real Gloria Swanson, "Queen Kelly." This is a movie deep with intricate plot details and brilliant jokes.
"Roman Holiday" is a film that could be considered "high concept" today. Take a bored princess out of her royal castle and have her meet a handsome journalist, you have the makings of a contemporary movie. The difference is that William Wyler's film is smart and sweet.
Long before Audrey Hepburn became an icon that adorns commercials and products, she was a magnificent actress who had simple beauty and charm. She's delightful as Princess Ann. In the hands of a modern actress like Anne Hathaway, a role like this would be derailed and overacted. Hepburn dives into her character and lets it flow with ease. Every time she's on-screen, you're focused on her.
Peck and Albert are comical buddies who never let their lines or actions get in the way of the story. My generation is probably more familiar with Peck and Albert in their senior years. I tend to remember Albert in those Ecotrine commercials or re-runs of "Green Acres." However, he was a talented actor long before then. Peck is very good in the role of Joe Bradley. It's hard to believe he was only in his 30s when he made this film. He's always been so commanding and mature in his roles.
Wyler was a strong director and could direct drama, comedy, epic stories and romances with a sure hand. "Roman Holiday" is no exception. This is one of the rare films from the early-50s that was shot on location in Rome. Wyler guides our characters through Rome with ease. The audience doesn't feel like they're given shots of Peck & Hepburn faking their joy of riding a scooter through the Roman streets. Nor does Wyler depend on second unit shots of famed locations. He brings us into the heart of the love story and takes us on a journey through a grand city. This is escapism at its best.
Oddly, this is my least favorite film out this bunch, and that's only because I find the pacing a bit slow. This is still a delightful film.
Under Billy Wilder's direction, he lets Bogart, Hepburn & Holden act. Nothing they do is overboard or overdone. There is some real Hollywood star power in this film, but none of the stars oversteps their bounds. Certainly, Bogart has his trademark voice and look. Hepburn has her sweet look. And Holden was one of the more underrated actors of his time. Watching "Sabrina," I can see why so many film historians and fans have put these actors on a pedestal.
The film is romantic and sweet. There's a lot of dialogue, but it all ties together nicely in the end. The production design and cinematography represent the glossy style that was prominent in many early-50s films.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
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