This is the next entry in my ongoing 100 Essential Films series. If you missed the first one, you can find the explanation for what I’m doing here. Film number five is the romantic comedy It Happened One Night from 1934. Many hail the picture as the first screwball comedy ever made – although 1933’s Bombshell might have a little something to say about that. Class commentary and romance are the chief preoccupations of both the genre and It Happened One Night. I first saw the movie in college, about 800 years ago, so it’s technically a revisit, but this go-round was almost like seeing it for the first time. In fact, I might have slept through part of it in college; those 8 am classes were a killer… Just like the other films in the series, I borrowed a Blu-ray through intralibrary loan. The disc was produced in 2014 by the Criterion Collection, and although the majority of the film looks sparkling, there are a few shots that show how challenging the 4K restoration must have been.
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I've always thought of myself as being well-rounded when it comes to what movies I've seen. I want to be known as someone who can speak intelligently about all types of movies, be they blockbusters or art-house, films from any and every country, or movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood and earlier.
There's nothing like cold, hard data to shatter the lies we tell ourselves.
Holly Martins has the worst luck. The broke writer travels to Vienna shortly after the end of World War II because his best friend, Harry Lime, offers him a job. Within the opening minutes of director Carol Reed’s classic noir thriller The Third Man, Martins walks under a ladder – a harbinger of bad luck – and soon learns that a car struck and killed Lime a few days earlier. Martins is now adrift in a foreign land with no money and no prospects, but things are about to get much worse. Major Calloway, a British officer who is part of the post-war occupying force in Vienna, tells Martins that his childhood friend was a criminal, a profiteer within the city’s thriving black market. Martins decides to clear his friend’s good name and, as a result, he’s pulled into intrigue that challenges his belief in the decency of humanity. Along the way he meets Anna, Lime’s lover, who is ferociously loyal and is devastated by his death.
Because we’re travelling through noir country in The Third Man, the worldview is bleak, practically nihilistic. Made in 1949, the film explores the existential crisis experienced after the most deadly war in history ended. Life is cheap, take all you can while you can, and don’t look out for anybody but yourself.
I got up from my seat in the theater and did the math. I spent eight solid hours – a full work day – in a dark room with no windows watching Sergio Leone’s tribute to, and redefining of, the Hollywood Western genre. Most people would probably call me crazy, but I was hardly alone in the theater. There were 50 or so of us taking advantage of the special screening offered by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain, which was celebrating Clint Eastwood’s 85th birthday by screening Leone’s Dollars Trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars (1967), For a Few Dollars More (1967), and the epic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1967). Three iconic films shown back-to-back-to-back, paired with all you could eat spaghetti. What did I get out of the experience, you might ask? Did I gain any new insight into the movies, myself, or life in general? I’m not sure that I did, but I can tell you I had a hell of a lot of fun either way.