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Five Old Movies That Really Hold Up

By Justin Brown

Every Friday, I’m compiling a list of five things that meet one criterion. “What is that criterion,” you ask? Well, it’s going to change every week and you’re just going to have to try and keep up.

This week…

Five Old Movies That Really Hold Up

I’ve never been one to automatically anoint any old movie as “great” merely because it’s old. Many moviegoers tell themselves that a black-and-white movie is classic because, well, it’s in black-and-white and, since (seemingly) the beginning of time, said movie has been heralded as a classic.

Now, that’s not to imply that all movies classified as “legendary” by the American Film Institute or IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes or Roger Ebert are frauds of cinema, living off hype more than actual achievement – not at all; flicks like Casablanca and Citizen Kane are extremely historically relevant and deserve to be on all of those lists.

But the truth is, movies made before 1960 and movies made after 1960 might as well be regarded as different mediums, based on many factors associated with each; as a result, modern audiences struggle to connect with older films. That’s not meant to be a slight against anyone or anything but it’s an inescapable, objective fact (if we’re being honest, even some movies from the 1980s don’t “work” at present). Pre-1960: more basic stories that tended to move at a much slower pace and, subsequently, a far longer average runtime. Seriously, look it up and you’ll realize the stark historical divide that was created by 1960. All of film noticeably turned into a different animal, that year.

That being said, there are plenty of pre-“revolution” movies that could be released today and would be met with just as much enthusiasm as pictures like Iron Man and Slumdog Millionaire; the best five are listed below.

5. Vertigo (1958)

Truthfully, any entry in the Hitchcock canon would fit this list. I don’t want to sound like a film snob but the guy was operating on a whole other level for most of his career (especially in the “ahead of his time” realm). Vertigo is not his most famous and, admittedly, not his most perfect American effort. However, it is cerebral and continually strikes me as a movie actually better-suited for modern audiences than any other. Basically, it’s the movie M. Night Shymalan seemingly keeps trying to make.

Fun fact: the now-common “dolly zoom” was created during the shooting of Vertigo. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just watch.

4. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

When you read the title and the release date, you probably pictured something. Don’t believe it. This movie is a satire about comedy film director John L. Sullivan, a man who has reached a point where he’s past shallow fodder like ‘Ants in the Pants’ and wants to make a movie that matters. He wants to create a “commentary on modern conditions, stark realism, the problems that confront the average man …but with a little sex in it”. He sets out to live as a homeless man, to gain a better understanding of the world he’s trying to document. As you can imagine, things start to get out of control and, in classic 1940s style, our hero eventually becomes a better man for having embarked on his titular travels.

Fun fact: the fake movie-within-the-movie Sullivan is working on is titled ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’, which is a name you may recognize.

3. The Searchers (1956)

Why does this movie hold up? Because it directly influenced nearly every movie you’ve loved, in your life. No, seriously; ask Martin Scorcese, Sergio Leone, David Lean and even Buddy Holly. And if that’s not good enough, it’s as interesting and exciting as epic westerns get – stop reading this and go watch it, immediately.

Fun fact: remember the part in A New Hope where Luke Skywalker goes back to the homestead and sees everything on fire and his aunt and uncle burnt to a cinder (7:05 mark of this clip)? Well, that moment was basically borrowed from The Searchers, verbatim. History, folks. History.

2. The Seven Samurai (1954)

First of all, you should know that this movie is long (it’s over 200 minutes — there’s actually an intermission) and pretty slow-moving. But it rocks. I don’t need to summarize the plot behind it because you already know it; the story has been told and retold in various forms over the last half-century (most notably in 1960’s direct western adaptation, The Magnificent Seven). It looks phenomenal (not uncommon for anything with the name ‘Akira Kurosawa’ attached), it has action, comedy, relationships, romance… seriously, it still works perfectly in the 21st century. Look: I don’t care how old or long Seven Samurai is, if you can’t get into this movie, there’s something wrong with you.

Fun fact: Samurai is largely credited with pioneering many standard movie plot elements that are so common nowadays, nobody even thinks twice about their existence. One such revolutionary technique? Showing the hero recruiting all the members of his gang – nobody did that before Samurai did that. Did reading that just blow your mind? It should have.

1. King Kong (1933)

I’m still not convinced this movie was made over 75 years ago. If news broke tomorrow that people traveled back in time to make this movie way ahead of its time, I would not be surprised at all. It’s that impressive. Ignore both of the remakes. They are basically unimaginative sequels, when you hold them up next to the original. Kong introduced so many revolutionary optical effects, the coordinator of those illusions eventually influenced technology used in healthcare and the military. You would not have modern special effects without this movie (envision a world without Jurassic Park… I don’t want to live in that world). In short, Kong accomplishes and establishes more on a scale that even modern movies struggle to match. It should be required viewing for anyone who likes anything.

Fun fact: The original Kong is generally considered to be the first film to showcase an all-original score (courtesy of Max Steiner).

Check out more of Justin’s writing on his blog, esteban was eaten!.

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