They Just Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

We often hear people use the term “they just don’t make them like they used to” in relation to film. Many will strongly hold the position that movies these days are nowhere near as good as they used to be. Many consider films from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s to be true masterpieces. When we hear about the greatest films of all time films like Citizen Kane, Casablanca and Gone With The Wind usually pop up.

Why are people so insistent that films nowadays are crummy compared to what is often called the ‘golden age’ of cinema? Why were movies so much better 50/60 years ago? And why is it that the youth in society today consider Transformers, Spider-Man and The Hangover examples of classic films?

I know there are far too many people out there (usually the youth in society) who will look down at any movie made before 1990 and the year 1951 beside a film may scare off even the most open minded of us.

Sure films aren’t made the same nowadays as they were fifty, sixty years ago but that doesn’t mean there not entertaining or well made. Films today are very different. For one thing, nowadays almost all films are made in colour. Aside from this, most films these days are made for the ADD generation. The generation who gets antsy in a film that inches over the 90 minute mark.

Despite what you may think, not every movie made back in the day will put you to sleep. In fact a lot of films that from the ‘olden days’ are actually quite enjoyable. Most are superior to any of the junk that comes out nowadays.

While there are hundreds of old films that can be considered classic, here are just a couple films that are simply timeless. No matter how old you are or what generation you’re living in, these films can be enjoyed by anyone.

#1) Casablanca

It’s hard to really say anything at all about this film that hasn’t already been said before. No doubt the most beloved film in America, Casablanca is one of those timeless classics that would have you hard pressed to find people who don’t enjoy it.

The funny thing is, is that none of the cast or crew really had any idea that they were making such a remarkable film. In fact, a lot of people thought the film would flop as it had a lot of things going against it.

It was adapted from an unproduced play for starters. There was also a six week delay in production and the movie ended up going over budget. To make things worse, not only was Bergman two inches taller than Bogart (which was an issue) but the film also had to be shot in sequence because the screenplay wasn’t done when they started to film. Despite all this, it has become one of the most loved films of all time and over sixty years later the film has appeared near the top of every major ‘best of all time’ films list.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman take on the lead roles in this captivating tale. Both legends of the silver screen, they steal the show and offer some of the best performances ever committed to celluloid. Backing them up is a very strong supporting cast that includes Claude Rains and Paul Henreid.

Bogart who really made a name for himself the year before with The Maltese Falcon, was instantly thrust into stardom after Casablanca. After the film, he became the biggest and highest paid movie star in the world. His character of Rick Blaine is one of cinema’s best and his on screen chemistry with co-star Ingrid Bergman is stunning.

While the entire cast is impeccable, it is Bogart’s movie and he nails every scene he’s in. He’s suave, cold hearted, cool and immensely watchable. He proved himself as a supporting actor in the 30’s and after High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon he really started to put himself on the map. It was Casablanca though that made him the legend he is today.

The film tells a classic love story, a man torn between love and virtue. Despite this, it’s not strictly a romance film. Casablanca has something for everyone. Action, drama, thrills, comedy and political espionage, the film has it all. The film even dabbles in the film noir genre as cinematographer Arthur Edeson (who also shot The Maltese Falcon) uses lighting and shadows very effectively. It transcends the typical staples of the romance genre and the melodrama never gets to be too much.

Casablanca is also known for being one of the most quotable films of all time. There are countless lines that are very memorable and have been quoted endlessly. The screenplay is superior to almost any other film Hollywood has churned out to this day and the dialogue is fantastic.

It’s not that Casablanca particularly innovated in any way, it didn’t. It just does everything so well. The acting, script, direction, everything, it’s all perfect. The reason the film appears on so many ‘best of all time’ lists is simply because the appeal of the film is universal.

People may argue Citizen Kane is a better film but it is also a film that appeals more to people who study film. Casablanca on the other hand, can be loved and appreciated by just about anyone. Citizen Kane may be more impressive on a technical front, but Casablanca just touches people way more than Citizen Kane does. Citizen Kane is a bit cold and distant and while its technical feats can’t be ignored, it doesn’t have that warm and good hearted feeling that Casablanca does.
No matter how many crummy movies come out, never forget, we’ll always have Casablanca. Here’s looking at you kid.

#2) Sunset Boulevard

With Sunset Boulevard Billy Wilder gives us a truthful and honest look at Hollywood in the 1950’s. The film takes us behind the scenes and gives us an absolutely uncompromising look at the movie business.

It’s not trying to shed a bad light on Hollywood, it’s simply telling the truth, and for that, director Billy Wilder should be applauded. A lot of people called Wilder out for putting the truth out there for everyone to see but Wilder shrugged off the haters. The film showed Hollywood for what it is. A place where no one really cares about you and your used until your of no use.

This was especially shocking since Hollywood had just come out of the golden age (the 30’s and 40’s) in which it was viewed with such glamour. The cruel and often cynical look that Wilder brought to the film was shocking to audiences. It doesn’t offer answers or explanations, it just shows Hollywood for what it is.

Wilder has also assembled a great cast for the film. William Holden is great as usual and Erich von Stroheim turns in one of his best performances, which went on to land him an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination.

Everyone here does admirable work but it is Gloria Swanson who really steals the show. She turns in such a powerful performance and she truly gives it her all. She also delivers one of cinema’s most famous lines as she says, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup’.

The film earned 11 Oscar nominations and was deemed by many as one of the most important films ever made. It also marked the last time that the classic team of Billy Wilder and writer Charles Brackett would work together. After Sunset Boulevard, their thirteenth film, they split up.

The film would help Holden become a stronger force in the business and it ultimately led him to re-team with Wilder for 1953’s Stalag 17, for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor.

It should also be noted that Wilder kept a superb level of authenticity and even included a few nice cameos, one of which was Cecil B. De Mille, one of Hollywood’s most tyrannical directors.

While the film doesn’t break any grounds on a technical level, there are a few nice touches that Wilder adds to the film. The ‘fish’s eye’ shot of Joe lying in the pool is impressive and the cinematography doesn’t disappoint either.

Wilder is one of the greatest directors to ever step behind the camera. His credits are exemplary and he’s responsible for some of the most important and well loved films in American cinema. With Sunset Boulevard he doesn’t disappoint. In the end, it will go down as being the best film about Hollywood ever put on celluloid. It’s a classic American film and one of the best films of all time.

#3) The Maltese Falcon

It’s hard to talk about the film noir genre and not bring up The Maltese Falcon. For many people, this is the film that gave birth to the genre. The film is also important for another reason. The Maltese Falcon was director John Huston’s first film, and it was also Humphrey Bogart’s last film before he became a mega superstar.

It was one of the first films to use a McGuffin and it is a film that really helped pave the way to the film noir genre. Based on the book of the same name, Huston flawlessly directed this masterpiece and stayed true to the original source material.

Bogart is superb in his role as the hard nosed private eye Sam Spade. He lives by his own code of ethics and does things his own way. He’s the classic anti-hero and in 1941, when the film came out, his portrayal of Sam Spade wasn’t typically how detectives were portrayed in film.

After The Maltese Falcon though, that’s the only way they were portrayed. Spade is smart and witty and although everyone thinks he knows more than he lets on, he really doesn’t. He just plays everyone off each other to learn more.

In addition to Bogart, the film also features the famous duo of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, a team that would go on to do many more films together (including Casablanca).

The deceitful villains, the deceptions, double crossing and betrayals helped make the film an intriguing mystery tale and it draws you in right from the start. It set a precedent for mystery movies. It introduced and helped establish elements like the hard boiled detective, the femme fatale, the seedy bad guys etc. The film established the rules for the film noir genre.

It’s a dialogue driven film but all the lines shine with perfection. It’s an impeccable script and it’s delivered perfectly by the cast. It’s also a very tightly written script. There are practically no holes and it’s just as intriguing as it was back in 1941. It’s not simply about who gets the falcon, it’s more about outsmarting the other person in order to get it.

The film is an undeniable classic. It’s an important film and one that is near flawless. One thing that usually gets overlooked in the film is that famous seven minute take which required quite a remarkable camera set up. If you see the film you’ll know the scene. Most people don’t even realize it though since it flows so well within the film.

This is a must see movie for many reasons and if you enjoy detective or mystery films you’re bound to love this one. It’s one of the originals and one of the best.

#4) North By Northwest

The debate regarding Hitchcock’s best film is always a heated one. While I don’t think fans will ever unanimously agree on one film, North By Northwest is always one that comes to mind. While it may not be his most personal film (that would probably go to Vertigo), North By Northwest is certainly one of his most entertaining.

It’s a classic Hitchcock film. Mistaken identity, an ordinary man thrust into a detective/hero role, an icy blonde, strangers meeting on a train and more, all the familiar elements of a Hitchcock film are found here.

North By Northwest is often compared to Rear Window and Vertigo. The three have many similarities, the main one being they feature an ordinary man who takes on the role of a detective type character. In all 3 films, the three men look for clues to try and uncover what’s really going on.

While Rear Window and Vertigo have a much darker and disturbing feel to them, North By Northwest is a lot more light hearted and fun. Unlike Scottie Ferguson and L.B. Jeffries from Vertigo and Rear Window, there is never any feeling of paranoia here. We always know Roger Thornhill is in control and he knows what’s going on.

Cary Grant is suave and charming in his role as Roger Thornhill. His character is the only one that really knows what is going on but his story is so absurd that no one believes him. Grant is easily able to slide from comedy to action and he keeps things rolling the whole way through. He delivers his lines sharply and is full of wit. His screen presence is extraordinary and he truly is one of the all time greats. The role was actually supposed to go to James Stewart but Hitchcock gave the role to Grant because of bad blood between him and Stewart.

North By Northwest also benefits from a well written script that keeps the audience fully engaged and has them guessing right until the end. The events unfold in a perfect manner and the suspense is always there. The action scenes are phenomenal considering Hitchcock had no fancy effects to work with. Consider the Mount Rushmore scene or the plane in the corn field scene. Both are absolutely iconic scenes in film history.

Ultimately what we get here is a non stop roller coast ride of a film. It’s thrilling, exciting, funny and classic Hitchcock. It’s a fun film and one that can be watched over and over. Grant’s performance is flawless and the film is one of Hitchcock’s best.

#5) On The Waterfront

Perhaps On The Waterfront is best known for showcasing what is arguably legendary actor Marlon Brando’s best performance. His famous “I coulda been a contender” speech is now legendary and his role as Terry Malloy is considered by most, to be one of cinema’s best.

Brando’s performance here stands out because it’s one of the first that relies more on realism than theatrics or stylization. Brando’s performance feels more natural than staged. At points it’s like he’s not even acting, he’s just being himself.

This is significant because up to that point, all the greats, people like Humphrey Bogart and James Stewart, they relied more on over dramatic and stylized performances. Brando brought a level of realism to the screen that audiences hadn’t seen before. He gave the audiences something new.

Aside from Brando’s tremendous performance, the film itself is very good. It’s a touching story and it resonated with a lot of people. It dealt with a lot of themes that are found in everyday life and people really connected with it. On The Waterfront is a powerful film that feels real.

It’s entertaining, well acted and very enjoyable. Brando gives a landmark performance and this is easily one of the greatest films of all time.

As stated before, there are countless films that can be considered classics. Almost every decade produces a good handful. That being said, I still think that some of the best films ever made came from previous generations, most notably the 40’s and 50’s.

Although only five films are listed here, it could have been extended into the hundreds. Trying to pick only five classic films was tough and there were a ton of films that didn’t make it into this article. Honourable mentions go out to The Third Man, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, It’s A Wonderful Life, Paths of Glory, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Notorious and so many more.

The fact of the matter is, so many movies nowadays are not good. Each year there are only a small handful of movies are actually well done. The youth of today don’t seem to realize this. The concept of a 1940’s movie in black and white sounds almost foreign to some young people.

While I realize that films were certainly made differently back then and were made for a different type of audience, I think the five films I listed above are timeless and can appeal to just about anyone. If you’ve never seen what the critics consider a ‘classic film’, why not start with some of the ones I listed above. You might find that not every film needs grandiose special effects and over the top action to be entertaining.