This film marks the the last screen appearance of one of my favorite actresses: Jean Arthur (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can't Take It With You), and it is a worthy performance. Arthur was not the first choice for the role nor was Alan Ladd in the title role. Ladd was cast quickly when it turned out that Montgomery Clift wasn't available, so director George Stevens may not have realized that Alan Ladd did not have a real affinity for guns. The shooting practice scene allegedly too over 100 takes, and you can see Ladd flinch a couple of times at other points in the film when he fires a pistol. Filmed in 1951, but not released until 1953 due to an extensive editing process, the studio was worried that they were going to lose money on this film, but they needn't have worried: Shane was a big hit with audiences. The premise - a reformed gunfighter reluctantly drawn into a fight between homesteaders and a cattle baron - may have been a familiar story, but the added perspective of the homesteader's young son, caught up in the romanticized notion of the Western gunfighter, resonated with audiences. This movie makes it onto most lists of the greatest Westerns with good reason.
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
A series of flops (including Bringing Up Baby) had Katharine Hepburn regarded as box-office poison near the end of the thirties, and this film was planned as her comeback, having played the part in the successful Broadway production. Allegedly, her co-star in Bringing Up Baby, Cary Grant, was offered his choice of the two leading male roles, and he chose the smaller but more pivotal role, leaving the more showy role to James Stewart. Well, it was a substantial comeback as the film broke a box office record at Radio City Music Hall and became the 5th most popular film of 1941. Hepburn is a treat as the free-spirited Tracy Lord, and Grant and Stewart are her capable leading men in this very clever romp. It was remade into a movie musical in 1956 called High Society, and then that was adapted for the stage, playing in the West End in 1987 and on the Broadway stage in 1998. In that Broadway production, the role of Tracy's younger sister was played by a twelve-year-old Anna Kendrick.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
This was the first X-rated film ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture, and - since the MPAA has traded in the "X" for "NC-17" - it will remain as the only film with that distinction. (Although under revised standards, the film garnered an R-rating as early as 1971.)
I think of this as a very ugly film: ugly subject matter, ugly characters, ugly morals, ugly color schemes, ugly stories. All of this ugliness results in a superior film with that rings true on many levels - most notably in Dustin Hoffman's brilliant performance as Ratso Rizzo.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
In the middle of the Great Depression, many people in this country did not feel that the government had their best interests at heart. When a pair of young bank robbers named Clyde Barlow and Bonnie Parker started robbing banks, they became folk heroes. In 1967, there were, again, many people in this country who - because of a war many people didn't like - felt that the government was not acting in their best interests. This was a perfect time for Barlow and Parker to resurface as counter-culture icons - this time in Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde. This is a fun movie. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway make for very charismatic and attractive leads, and the cast is rounded out by such notables as Estelle Parsons, Michael J. Pollard, Denver Pyle, and a young actor named Gene Hackman. It's also the film debut of one of my favorite actors: Gene Wilder.
King Kong (1933)
The visual effects are pretty dated in this film, sure, but the 2005 remake had the benefit of millions of dollars in high tech CGI and more, and it just didn't resonate with audiences. I think that the reason for this is that - for all of its aesthetic appeal - the filmmakers forgot one very important element: heart. This film - for all of its hokey special effects - manages to be very moving. It seems counter-intuitive that the two remakes of this movie (the other was in 1976) had more realistic-looking and expressive apes, but it is the stop-motion model "toy" in the original that tugs the most at our hearts. I don't really know. I just like this film.
Here is one of the more memorable numbers from High Society (the musical remake of The Philadelphia Story) starring Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.