Friday, June 22, 2018

11 Classic Movies All Writers Should Watch (Part 1)

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you've probably already picked up on the fact that I like superhero movies. And Disney movies. And pretty much any type of action movie.

However, with my propensity for Marvel and DC films and my brightly colored hair, it's very possible that it never occurred to you that I also have a deep and abiding love for classic films. Specifically black and white rom coms.

Yep. I love 'em. I wouldn't be caught dead watching or reading any modern romance (or watching a film that isn't mostly action), but black-and-white rom coms and classic movies in general? They're the best. Let me explain to you the world of black-and-white films and why every writer can benefit from watching and studying them.
11 Classic Movies All Writers Should Watch (Part 1)

Why watch classic movies?

That, friend, is an idiotic question. A better question is: Why wouldn't you watch classic movies? The answer to this being: No reason. Go watch them now. All of them.

As I've mentioned before, writers can learn a lot from watching movies. And in no film era is this more true than the films made in the 1930s-50s. The writing in this era is largely unparalleled. There is a uniqueness of plot, excellence of pacing, and brilliance of dialogue that is basically nonexistent in movies of other eras. The writing is clever, witty, and original to the point that I often find myself watching these movies and thinking, "HOW did the writers think of this?" It constantly inspires me to think outside of the box and strive for better, more realistic dialogue.

Also, the lack of special effects allows the characters and plot to be front and center all of the time, leading to deeper development. Because the characters are so central, of course the acting has to be incredible, too. And it is. The great actors of this film era brought so many different types of characters to life and are perfect for studying character tags, how to show emotion instead of tell it, and more.

Okay. With all that said, which films should you start with? As mentioned above, I lean towards black-and-white rom coms. And if I, the person who generally dislikes any type of romance, like these romances, then you will, too. Trust me. You will never laugh so hard or be touched so deeply.

That being said, this list will also include a few non-rom-com movies. And also the occasional 60s movie, though most will be from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Alright. Lets get started:

1. Arsenic and Old Lace. Hands down one of my all time favorite movies. This is a 1940s dark comedy starring my favorite classic actor: Cary Grant. Black comedy is hard to pull off, but this movie does it perfectly. It has brilliantly hilarious dialogue, great acting, and an amazing plot centering around a newly wed man having to deal with the discovery that his sweet old aunt's have been poisoning people and burying them in their basement for years. Aside from the wild and perfectly laid out plot, you'll also witness some great dialogue and character portrayal, so be prepared to watch twice: Once for laughter and once for learning.

2. The Thin Man. Part mystery and part rom com, this 1930s film stars William Powell and Myrna Loy. These two just happen to be one of the most dynamic acting couples ever. I mean, look at them:
Mr. and Mrs. Charles at their finest.
The Thin Man is an entire series and every one of them holds up (especially 1 and 2). The mystery is solid, the humor is perfect, and the character relationships are spot-on.

3. Fitzwilly. What is this, you ask? Only one of the greatest heist movies ever made. A clever butler (Dick Van Dyke) leads the house staff in a heist so that their beloved mistress can continue being a philanthropist without ever knowing she's dead broke. I'm not one for 60s movies, but this one is great.

4. Desk Set. Starring Katherine Hepburn (who is awesome) and Spencer Tracy, this is a 1950s comedy with a focus on quirky characters and rapid-fire dialogue. And nobody does rapid-fire dialogue better than Katherine Hepburn.

5. The Quiet Man. No classic movie list would be complete without a movie featuring both John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. If you want to watch a movie with strong characters, great world-building, and excellent weaving-in of backstory, this is it.

6. Bringing Up Baby. A ridiculously hilarious story about a man who gets cajoled into hunting down a tame panther with a crazy heiress, this is the type of movie you can watch over and over without it getting old. 1930s. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Humor. Great character tags. One of best movies ever.

7. The Haunting. I'm talking about the 60s one (we do not speak of the one they made in the 90s). Psychological horror based off of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (which is a great read, while we're on the subject), this is a perfect example of suspense done right. Its creepy in all the right ways, has a splendidly odd, unreliable main character, and great camera work.

8. My Favorite Wife. A man gets married only to find that the wife he thought died in a shipwreck survived and is coming back to reunite with him. The humor, crazy scenarios, and dialogue is perfect. And yes, this is another 1940s Cary Grant.

9. Harvey. You wouldn't think that a movie about a man who is friends with a giant, invisible rabbit would work, but it does. Jimmy Stewart really sells the strange plot and eccentric character. If you want to know how to write a bizarre story in a believable, lovable way, watch this 1950s movie.

10. The Third Man. Murder, mystery, and pulp fiction writers? Yep. This 1940s Orson Welles movie is great. It has some great plot twists and fascinating character dynamics. Also, the theme music is weird and awesome.

11. Suspicion. A 1940s movie about a woman who suspects her husband is trying to murder her, this film is perfect when it comes to unreliable narration and suspense. Who's the star? You guessed it. Cary Grant (what? He's the best actor ever and nothing you say will make me change my mind).

Do you like watching classic movies? Leave your favorite titles below! I'd love to hear about them. Also: Is there a particular genre or movie era that you think writers should pay special attention to? Let's talk!

Have writing, reading, or writer's life questions? Use the hashtag #ChatWithHannah below or on social media to have them answered on my Youtube channel!

Related articles:
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A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 1)
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  1. Ahh, I'd totally forgotten about Fitzwilly! I loved that movie so hard... the bar scam (with the Bible) is still one of my favorite things.

    Seriously need to find some of these, especially the Cary Grant movies. Can't have enough of that guy.

  2. Great list! Ashamed to say I've seen only about half of these. Off to watch some golden age movies this weekend, I guess! :)

  3. Oh my goodness, Harvey is awesome! XD

  4. His Girl Friday - Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell — hilarious and rapid fire dialogue.

    My Sister Eileen (1942) with Rosalind Russell. Great acting, dialogue and so forth.

    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - Jimmy Stewart.

    You’ve listed off Arsenic and Old Lace — I love that film!!

    Thirty Day Princess - Cary Grant, for the win!

    My Man Godfrey - hysterical character sketches of a seriously wacky family!!

    Thanks for the recommendations, I’ve got a few more to watch now!! Love old films!!

  5. You forgot It Happened One Night. ;) Such a great movie with snappy dialogue, and I loved how they wove the line about the wall of Jericho throughout.

  6. Thank you for not making Me feel weird about not following the rules in mu aspirsaspir to become an author there's so much they say lol how not to start your novel hoe to start or how to not start it. And all these rules but you made me feel like it was okay to just go about my business and not only write whats acceptable in their eursyhsnk you for keeping this blog "open" saw an article from 2014 on Pinterest today been gobbling every other article.

  7. Thank you for not making Me feel weird about not following the rules in mu aspirsaspir to become an author there's so much they say lol how not to start your novel hoe to start or how to not start it. And all these rules but you made me feel like it was okay to just go about my business and not only write whats acceptable in their eursyhsnk you for keeping this blog "open" saw an article from 2014 on Pinterest today been gobbling every other article.

  8. Independent film financing continues to change as indie distribution gets more financially shaky. The place it's hitting indie movie producers hardest is right at the source - film financing.

  9. Action movies are great, aren't they? Life is full of so many things that try to be something more than what they really are, but action movies are all about one thing - action. Truth be told, there is plenty done in terms of developing characters, crafting a solid story, and creating a narrative that feels lively and exciting throughout the film's runtime. In the end, though, when you stop at the box office and buy a ticket for an action movie, you're looking to be wowed by a true spectacle. You want CGI, explosions, choreographed fight scenes, one-liners, and unique ways for the bad guy to go bye-bye.

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