While many people have seen classics like Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Wizard of Oz, if you’re not an old-movie buff then you may not have heard of the classics on this list. If you’re in the mood for a good, well-written black-and-white movie — whether it be romance, horror, suspense, or comedy — turn to one of these little-known but well-worth watching films.
To Have and Have Not
To Have and Have Not is basically a sexed-up Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in their first film, the movie that brought Bogie and Bacall together. She was just 19 at the time and delivers one of the sexiest lines in film history, “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? Just put your lips together — and blow.”
To Have and Have Not is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Hemingway, but aspects of the story were altered to make the film more similar to Bogey’s successful Casablanca. There’s World War II, an exotic French locale under the threat of Nazi Germany, and Bogey playing a guy who doesn’t want to help but ends up doing it anyway. Strong writing, a great supporting performance from Walter Brennen as the local drunk Eddie, and the palpable chemistry between Bogey and Bacall make this Casablanca rip-off worth watching.
His Girl Friday
This 1940 screwball comedy stars Cary Grant as Walter Burns, a newspaper editor desperate to stop his reporter ex-wife, named Hildy and played by Rosalind Russell, from remarrying and settling down to live a quiet life with her new husband. Grant’s character convinces her to write one last story for the newspaper, covering the upcoming execution of a convicted murderer. Star reporter Hildy is, at her heart, always hungry for a story, so she agrees to doing this last favor for her beloved newspaper, which gives Burns time to devise plan after plan to keep her distracted from her new fiancée. The ridiculous stunts pulled by Burns along with the rapid-fire dialogue and an almost feminist message (for the time anyway) about a woman choosing her career over marriage make for one of the smartest screwball comedies of the era.
Bringing Up Baby
This screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks and starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant boasts both iconic actors at their best. Hepburn plays a high society girl who falls in love with an archaeologist, played by Grant, after he pursues her wealthy aunt trying to get a $1 million donation for the museum he works for to fund his continued efforts to piece together a brontosaur skeleton. Hilarity ensues as Hepburn’s character and her pets, including a dog and a leopard named Baby, repeatedly get in the way of Grant’s efforts to convince the wealthy aunt to donate money. A fast-talking screwball comedy at the genre’s best; they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
It Happened One Night
Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable star in this 1934 romantic comedy about an heiress rebelling against her father and a reporter who spots the famous heiress and gives her an ultimatum. If she agrees to give him the inside scoop on the story of her running away to marry a man her father doesn’t approve of, he’ll help her navigate public transportation and other obstacles the ultra-wealthy girl doesn’t understand. Of course, the two end up falling in love on their Greyhound bus ride to New York City. The hitch-hiking scene, in which Colbert pulls off her skirt and uses a shapely leg to flag down a ride, is one of the most famous scenes in movie history. The film won all five major Oscars; Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Best Actor, and Best Actress. It Happened One Night was produced before the Puritanical Motion Picture Production Code went into effect, making it a surprisingly sexy film for the time period.
The Big Sleep
Another classic Bogie and Bacall movie, this time a film noir instead of a straight-forward romance, The Big Sleep is based on the crime novel by Raymond Chandler and the screenplay was notably written by William Faulkner. The film is well-known for its convoluted plot, with one of the murders going completely unsolved in both the novel and the film. Bogie plays private detective Philip Marlowe, who is hired by a wealthy man to clear up some gambling debts owed by his daughter. As the film continues, Marlowe uncovers a deeper and deeper tangle of intrigue and blackmail, which is never completely resolved. The Big Sleep makes for a challenging detective story in which you can draw your own conclusions about the mystery. Another big draw here is of course the chemistry between Bogie and Bacall, who were married by the time this 1946 film was made.
Here’s another classic film noir directed by Billy Wilder and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Stanwyck plays a woman who is scheming to murder her husband and collect on his life insurance. The term “double indemnity” refers to a clause in some life insurance policies that means the insurance company must pay double if the death is caused by an accident. MacMurray plays an insurance salesman, who figures out what Stanwyck is up to and is seduced into helping her murder her husband to collect on the policy she took out for him. Crime master Raymond Chandler helped Wilder write the screenplay and the story is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat through the movie’s dramatic ending.
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte
This creepy horror flick starring Bette Davis as a potentially crazy aging southern belle haunted by the memories of her murdered lover. Years after her lover is murdered during a party at her plantation home in Louisiana, Davis’ character Charlotte has become a recluse, holed up in the mansion to avoid nasty rumors that she was the perpetrator of the unsolved crime. She refuses to leave the plantation even as the city is planning to build a highway straight through her property. Then her manipulative cousin Miriam, played by Olivia de Havilland, descends on the Southern mansion under the pretense of taking care of Charlotte. Miriam schemes with her lover to drive the already-fragile Charlotte insane so they can have her committed to a mental institution and Miriam can inherit the family fortune.
The creepy Louisiana swamp setting along with stellar performances from both Davis and de Havilland make this an intriguing choice for Halloween or any time you’re looking for a unique horror film.
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