I'm decidedly terrible at making lists of any kind — mostly because I change my mind all the time. If I were to write a list of my favourite films, I wouldn't be surprised if I ended with a document longer than Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time (for reference, that's 4215 pages long). So, as you can probably imagine, it was a bit of a struggle to select five films I would like to have with me if I was hypothetically stranded on a deserted island. After almost giving myself a headache, I think I have finally come up with the five lucky winners. Bear in mind, however, that if you asked me to do this again tomorrow, my answer would most likely be completely different.
My criteria for choosing these films were fairly simple. First of all, I wanted films that make me happy, films that never fail to put a smile on my face. When you are stranded on a deserted island, I assume you would want something cheerful to keep your spirits up. As such, the pictures on this list are all comedies of some sort (although one is more serious than the others). In addition, I wanted films that I can watch over and over again and never get tired of them. I have seen each of these films at least twice and I always go back to watch my favourite scenes, each one with a special meaning to me. Lastly, these are five of my favourite films of all time. Without further ado, here are the five classic films I would take with me to a deserted island.
1. It Happened One Night (1934)
Directed by Frank Capra | Starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable
Directed by Frank Capra, It Happened One Night stars Claudette Colbert as Ellie Andrews, a spoiled runaway heiress, and Clark Gable as Peter Warne, an outspoken newspaperman who pretends to be unaware of her identity to write an exclusive story about her. They loath each other at first, but in between his teaching her the fine art of dunking doughnuts and her demonstrating to him how to successfully hitchhike, they inevitably begin to fall in love. Based on the short story «Night Bus» by Samuel Hopkins Adams, the film was adapted to the screen by Capra's frequent collaborator, Robert Riskin, and it was the first film to win the «Big Five» Oscars.
It Happened One Night was one of the very first black & white films I ever saw and also my first time seeing Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert on screen. I immediately fell in love with them — both individually and as a team. They are a match made in screwball heaven. They play off each other amazingly well, making every scene look completely natural and effortless. I would never have guessed that neither one of them wanted to be in the film in the first place.
One of the best things about It Happened One Night is Riskin's script, which is packed full of witty wisecracks, most of them said by Gable. Some of my favourite include: «Excuse me lady, but that upon which you sit is mine.» said to Colbert after she takes his place on the bus; «Don't let it bother you. You're giving it back to me in the morning.» said to her in reference to his name, which she doesn't like (they pretend to be married to save money on a motel cabin); and «Say, where'd you learn to dunk? In finishing school?» which he says when she fails to dunk her doughnut correctly. And then there's that fabulous hitchhiking scene. Pure cinematic gold! And to think that neither one of them wanted to make the film in the first place.
2. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Directed by George Cukor, The Philadelphia Story centers on a snobbish socialite named Tracy Lord, whose wedding plans are thwarted by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband, C. K. Dexter Haven, who is determined to win her back, and a handsome tabloid reporter, Mike Connor, who has been assigned to cover the nuptials and ends up falling for the bride. Katharine Hepburn steals the scene as Tracy; Cary Grant is the embodiment of charm as Dexter; and James Stewart is simply adorable as Mike, a role that earned him an Oscar. The supporting cast includes Ruth Hussey as photographer Liz Embry, Mike's co-worker, with whom he may or may not be «going together»; and Virginia Weidler as Tracy's precocious younger sister, Dinah.
The Philadelphia Story was the third black and white film I ever saw, and also the one that introduced me to Jimmy Stewart, who soon became my favourite classic actor. All he had to do was shout «OH C. K. DEXTER HAAAAVEEN!» for me to fall madly in love with him. The subsequent scene between Jimmy and Cary Grant is another moment of pure cinematic gold. It was partially ad-libbed, too, which makes it even more brilliant. In the scene, Jimmy's character is drunk and suddenly starts hiccuping. Since the hiccup was not scripted — Jimmy thought of that all by himself — you can see that Cary was surprised and on the verge of breaking out laughing, but he quickly composed himself and played along beautifully by turning to Jimmy and saying, «Excuse me.» You can clearly see that they're both amused by their own little improvisation, which I absolutely love. That whole scene is basically a masterclass on acting.
3. Anchors Aweigh (1945)
Directed by George Sidney | Starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson
Directed by George Sidney, Anchors Aweigh follows two sailors on a four day-leave in Hollywood: Gene Kelly plays the wisecracking «wolf-of-the-fleet,» Joe Brady, while Frank Sinatra is the awkward, girl-shy nerd Clarence Doolittle. When their leave is derailed by a little boy (Tommy Stockwell) who wants to join the Navy and whom they have to escort home, they meet his beautiful aunt Susan (Kathryn Grayson), a movie extra and as an aspiring singer. First Clarence and then Joe fall for Susan and much of the plot centers on their attempts to get her an audition with the famous maestro José Iturbi (appearing as himself).
Anchors Aweigh was the second Gene Kelly film I saw and also stands as my personal favourite of his. I absolutely love his character in it. Much like Gable in It Happened One Night, he has the best lines in the picture. My favourites include: «What happened to that clock?» said after he sleeps through his telephone date with Lola; «Never mind what you say! What did Lola say?» said to the person who picks up the phone instead of Lola; and «Something wrong, Jack? Well, then squat someplace, Jack. You're making me nervous.» said to Bertram (Grady Sutton), Susan's suitor, who is shocked by her association with the Navy.
The other great thing about this film, besides Gene and the spectacular musical numbers, is Frank Sinatra, who, at 30, looks like a teenager. This was the first time I saw him on film and I loved how cute and awkward he was. Clarence was his first real acting job and while it's obvious that he's not exactly sure of what he's doing, he actually holds his own against Gene pretty well.
4. Born Yesterday (1950)
Directed by George Cukor | Starring Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford and William Holden
Directed by George Cukor, Born Yesterday follows a newspaper reporter as he takes on the task of educating the brassy girlfriend of a crooked businessman. William Holden plays the reporter, Paul Verral; Broderick Crawford plays the crooked business, Harry Brock, a crude self-made man who goes to Washington looking to «influence» a politician or two; and Judy Holliday plays the brassy girlfriend, Billie Dawn, reprising the role she originated on Broadway in the play written by Garson Kanin. For her performance in the film, Judy received an Academy Award for Best Actress. Actually, the only reason why I watched Born Yesterday in the first place was because I was dead sure Gloria Swanson had been robbed of an Oscar for her extraordinary performance as the timeless Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950). After watching Judy play Billie, however, I have no doubts that the award went to the right actress.
To me, the highlight of Born Yesterday is the gin rummy scene between Harry and Billie. No matter how many times I watch it — and it must be hundreds by now — it never ceases to amaze me. Again, it is pure cinematic gold. The greatest thing about it is that, even though Harry and Billie barely speak a word to each other, the scene is the perfect way not only to describe their relationship, but also to show that she is not the ignorant showgirl everyone thinks she is.
5. Pillow Talk (1959)
Directed by Michael Gordon | Starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson
Directed by Michael Gordon, Pillow Talk stars Doris Day as Jan Morrow, a self-sufficient interior designer who, much to her annoyance, shares a party line on her home phone with philandering Broadway composer Brad Allen. Although they have never actually met, they hate each other just by name. When Brad finally comes face to face with Jan, he is surprised by how attractive she is and pretends to be the chivalrous Texas magnate Rex Stetson. The clueless Jan is immediately taken in by his charming demeanor, but things get a little complicated when she discovers his true identity and he begins to falls in love with her. Tony Randall as a millionaire who is hopelessly in love with Jan, and who just happens to be Brad's old college buddy, and Thelma Ritter as Jan's drunken housekeeper are two excellent additions to the party.
Russell Crouse, Maurice Richlin, Stanley Shapiro and Clarence Greene won an Oscar for writing Pillow Talk — and deservingly so. They created one of the most wonderful comedies of all time; it's sexy without being raunchy (not that they could be raunchy back then) and funny without trying to much. Doris and Rock are another match made in heaven. They understand each other beautifully, not to mention the amazing chemistry between them. One of my favourite scenes in the film is when Rock tries to get into a tiny car to drive Doris home. Priceless!