Associated Press
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in a scene from "His Girl Friday."

5 Classic Films You Need to See

August 14, 2008
by Michael Koegel
We all have black holes in our movie-going history, and we’re usually reminded of that at the worst possible moments. You couldn’t join in the dinner party conversation because you hadn’t seen a single film that everyone else was quoting from by heart. While viewing these five films won’t completely fill in your cinematic void, at least you’ll have something interesting to add the next time the conversation turns to quality film.

His Girl Friday

Nobody talks faster or funnier than Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the 1940 Howard Hawkes’s screwball comedy “His Girl Friday.” Charles Lederer’s film adaptation is surprisingly faithful to his original source material, the classic play “The Front Page,” with one major exception: Russell’s role was originally written for a man. The result is that her character is a true original; a fearless, strong-willed woman with real, um, guts. The movie is part political satire, part battle of the sexes and part love story; and it gallops at such a breakneck pace that you’ll want to watch it again and again. This movie would be an essential part of anyone’s film collection, but if you need to save your pennies, the entire movie can be viewed online for free. (The video quality isn’t great, but you get what you pay for.)
Gregg Rickman, writing for GreenCine, discusses the entire genre of screwball comedy, developed during a period which he posits is between 1934–1942, and lists what he considers to be essential screwball viewing.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

The best B movie to come out of the cold war, 1957’s “The Incredible Shrinking Man” is a study in extreme paranoia. Richard Matheson’s script wonders: What’s causing “The Incredible Shrinking Man” to shrink? Nuclear fallout? Side effects from our rapidly advancing technology? Or does he just have a lousy dry cleaner? This is one of the few films of the genre that has one foot in science fiction and a few toes of the other in science fact. Besides, any movie that has a man living in a dollhouse and being terrorized by his pet cat has to be a classic, right?
To see the state-of-the-art set design, including a 20-foot pair of scissors, watch a clip from “The Incredible Shrinking Man” on You Tube. (Spoiler alert! This nine-minute clip goes right to the end of the film, and includes Scott’s existential “what-is-the-meaning-of-life?” voice-over.
The Sci Fi Channel, the expert in all things incredible, has posted a comprehensive review of the film on their Web zine, Sci Fi Weekly.

Bonnie and Clyde

Arthur Penn’s 1967 “Bonnie and Clyde” single-handedly ushered in the era of glamorized violence in modern American cinema. “B&C” is a stylish and romantic look at two of our most beloved, homicidal folk heroes. Starring a wide-eyed and pretty Faye Dunaway and an even prettier Warren Beatty (who also produced), the film’s cinematography is spectacular. Penn’s shots are often recreations of actual photos of the deadly duo in life, and most famously, in death. Estelle Parsons won an Oscar as Blanche Barrow, Clyde’s hysterical (in every sense of the word) sister-in-law.

Alan Vanneman’s essay about “Bonnie and Clyde” in Bright Lights Film Journal offers up some interesting background on how the film got made, including seminal influences on Penn and the film’s writers David Newman and Robert Benton, such as, surprisingly enough, Goddard, Truffaut and Kurosawa.

Interested in the real deal? Check out the FBI’s case history of Bonnie and Clyde, complete with photos.


“Nashville,” released in 1975, is arguably Robert Altman’s masterpiece. The film explores the personal and the political lives of country music stars, drifters, politicians and housewives as their lives (and dialogue) overlap in an America on the brink of its bicentennial. But it’s precisely because “Nashville” is such a period piece that it stands the test of time. Altman’s film features standout performances from Lily Tomlin and Henry Gibson, both fresh from television’s joke orgy “Laugh-In,” and Ronee Blakely as a Loretta Lynn-like country singer in full-tilt meltdown. has an excellent article about “Nashville” on the 25th anniversary of its release.

If you’re the kind of person who loves those behind-the-scenes books about how movies get to the big screen, then you’ll want to read Jan Stuart’s book “The Nashville Chronicles: The Making of Robert Altman’s Masterpiece.”

Blood Simple

Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1984 film “Blood Simple,”, is the most audacious filmmaking debut of the eighties. This stylish and witty film noir is closest in complexity and tone to their more recent Oscar-winning film, “No Country for Old Men.” Like “No Country,” “Blood Simple” is a film in which almost everyone dies (some more than once), not a single character in the film knows the full extent of what’s really going on, and the loot that everyone’s been chasing is forever lost in plain sight.

The film site Rotten Tomatoes offers a compilation of rave reviews from eight major publications.

Time Magazine has listed the 10 Best Coen Brothers Moments from “Blood Simple” to “No Country for Old Men.” Go through the list to see which ones you’ve missed.

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