Do you like long, slow musical numbers that involve almost nothing but looking at showgirls’ legs? No? Well, tough shit, because you’re in for a LOT of them. Get comfy.
A scene I’m 100% sure took place in Irving Thalberg’s office at MGM one day in 1935:
“So, last year Gable took his shirt off in It Happened One Night, and we made… how much money again?”
“All of it, sir. All the money.”
“Oh yeah. That was great. We also won enough Oscars that I had to have my mantelpiece reinforced. Anyway, having said that, what’ve we got this year?”
“We’ve got a picture where Clark Gable is shirtless for literally half the running time.”
“Good start. What’s he wearing the rest of the time?”
This movie feels like the beginning of an era. Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Frank Capra directing, and a romantic-comedy plotline we’re still using today. These are all elements that became dominant over the coming years, but here they all still had that new-star smell. The storyline’s nothing new, your basic fall-in-love-over-an-involuntary-journey bit, but the journey in this case provides a wonderful look at 1930s Americana, all the little motel cabins and logistical weirdness that made up a pre-freeway road trip.
This was based on a play by Noël Coward, and the nicest thing I can say is that maybe it worked better on stage. On film, it’s a godawful tedious slog through two generations of affluent London life, showing the great upheavals of the 1899-1933 period via a bunch of colorless, unlikable characters who mostly die, but not soon enough to suit me.
Watching Grand Hotel, the 5th-ever Best Picture winner, it struck me how rapidly I was seeing the art of filmmaking develop. An audacious plotline-juggling comedy, this movie makes remarkable use of the camera in ways that haven’t shown up in previous films, but will continue showing up in subsequent ones. (Except for the fact that Greta Garbo has a proprietary lighting system that exists only for her character, as though she’s in a whole different movie by herself. That one’s all Garbo.)