My last few trips to Redbox have been disappointing. In fact, I can’t recall a movie rental in the not too distant past that wasn’t disappointing. I can stand at the kiosk and search through the movie menu for what seems like hours and still not find anything appealing. On the off-chance that I do, it never lives up to the brief synopsis offered at the point of sale. What is going on with the movie business? A recent experience sums up the current state of affairs regarding movies and me.
I was staying at a hotel with my wife and we had some down time. I couldn’t write with her in the room—a decent explanation as to why offered here—and as she flipped through the channels, I noticed an old black and white movie in my peripheral vision. In the brief flash of light I recognized the actor, Joseph Cotten, and I said, “Turn it back. I think that’s a movie I’ve always wanted to see.” When she turned back to TCM I was pleased to find it was indeed the movie I’ve had on my bucket list for a long time; The Third Man with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles. On the top 100 movies list, I wasn’t disappointed. Certain scenes from the movie are still etched in my mind. When Orson Welles character first appears in the movie, the shots of his shoes as he stands hidden in the shadows of a doorway and then when his face is finally shown in the light, his look of sheer mischief, and then disappearing back into the shadows, are classic. Another scene has his character, Harry Lime, running from the authorities in the underground sewers of a bombed out Vienna. At one point he climbs a ladder–in an attempt at freedom–leading back to the surface, and the iron grate he tries to escape through is unable to be dislodged. The camera repeatedly focuses in on the fingers of both hands, protruding through and trying desperately to remove the grate, but to no avail. What a scene! The cinematography in this classic is haunting and yet mesmerizing at the same time. The music score—which used only the zither—adds to the overall mood and is played throughout the film.
Even though it was late, I stayed up for the next movie—also starring Orson Welles—only this time he plays opposite Claudette Colbert. The movie—Tomorrow is Forever—is a melodrama that allows Welles to play two characters. Welles is great as a crippled, Austrian immigrant post World War II, but as good as he is, he doesn’t at all overshadow Claudette Colbert. She is glamorous, vulnerable, strong, intelligent; and gorgeous. What a great actress. This movie, like the first, remains etched in my mind. Scenes from the movie are still with me, days later. The tension grips the viewer throughout the film; the viewer never knowing when or if Claudette Colbert’s character will discover that the Austrian immigrant is in fact her dead husband. And the moment when Welles character realizes her twenty year old son is actually his, is precious. I watched two great movies, both black and white, in one night. If I only had one television channel to view for the rest of my life, it would have to be TCM. It is there that I can find so many classic movies, most of which I have yet to see.
Back to Redbox and my earlier questions; why when I finish watching one of today’s movies, have I forgotten it by the next morning? Is it the actors? I suppose it could be. But the actors only act out what they’ve been given in a script. Maybe it’s the directors. Upon reflection, I think not. There are plenty of great directors around today; after all, the director for Tomorrow is Forever was Irving Pichel; not exactly a household name. I’ve come to the only conclusion left; it’s the writers [Novelist Graham Greene wrote the screenplay and subsequent novella for The Third Man]. There aren’t any good writers anymore. If there were, Hollywood wouldn’t recycle so many movies, comic book series, and television shows from the twentieth century. How many Spiderman movies will it take before the audience finally has enough? If Pete Seeger had written his classic song today, the lyrics might have been: Where have all the classics gone? A better question might be, “Where have all the writers gone?”