A Happy New Year to all readers of my blog, and thanks very much for your support, visits, comments and ‘likes’ during 2014. I’m hoping to post a bit more regularly here over the coming 12 months, so watch this space.
A while back, I launched a series of mini-reviews mentioning 5 films on a particular theme – I’m now resurrecting the idea for a quick look at some movies about New Year, in no particular order.
1. Cavalcade (Frank Lloyd, 1933): I’ve just got round to watching this pre-Code, an adaptation of a stage play by Noel Coward which revolves around a series of tableaux centred on momentous events in British life. It begins with New Year’s Eve at the dawn of the 20th century, and runs through to New Year’s Eve 1933. The way it blends together the story of two families above and below stairs clearly shows the way forward to TV series such as Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs, while the intensely-felt central performance of Diana Wynyard as an aristocratic mother at times reminded me of Celia Johnson in Coward’s later classic, Brief Encounter. I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that many people don’t. Anyway, yes, it is episodic, but what great episodes. Also, the music is excellent, especially Ursula Jeans’ performance of Coward’s song Twentieth Century Blues – even if you don’t want to see the whole film, just treat yourself to this clip!
2. After the Thin Man (W S Van Dyke, 1936): The Thin Man films have been on my mind lately, as I was lucky enough to have a short piece included in the new book Thoughts on the Thin Man, edited by Danny of Pre-Code.com. I’ve learnt a lot about the series from all the varied essays in this collection. I chose to write about the second film in the series, which takes place during New Year’s celebrations. This gives Nick and Nora, aka William Powell and Myrna Loy, the perfect excuse (as if they needed one) to keep on knocking back the cocktails just as fast as they did over Christmas in the first film. If you had to go to a New Year’s party with any characters from classic Hollywood, surely Nick and Nora would be top of the list.
3. I’ll Be Seeing You (William Dieterle, 1944): Released at New Year 1944, this bitter-sweet romance is set over the Christmas and New Year period, as two strangers enjoy a brief wartime holiday love affair. Soldier Zachary Morgan (Joseph Cotten) soon reveals his secret, that he has just come out of hospital after being treated for shell shock. But Mary Marshall (Ginger Rogers) can’t bring herself to be equally forthcoming, and tell her new love that she is on a 14-day release from prison, where she is serving a sentence for manslaughter. I enjoyed the gentle, understated feeling of this film, but I found it a shame that Rogers doesn’t get a bit more chance to show her warmth as an actress. She does let her hair down a bit during the New Year’s party, which is one of the most enjoyable parts of the film. Shirley Temple plays Mary’s teenage cousin and provides much of the film’s humour – I thoroughly enjoyed her performance.
4. The Phantom Carriage/ Körkarlen (Victor Sjöström, 1921): It’s a while since I saw this silent Swedish masterpiece, but it made a powerful impression on me and I want to revisit it in the near future. Adapted from a novel by Selma Lagerlöf, the film is based around a legend that the last person to die in any year is doomed to drive the phantom carriage for the following 12 months, carrying the souls of the dead. As he faces this terrible fate, alcoholic David Holm, played by director Sjöström, is forced to go over the events of his life and see what brought him to his current plight. This is a very bleak story compared to other New Year movies, but it’s riveting to watch and the photography and special effects are astonishing. French director Julien Duvivier remade the tale as La Charrette Fantôme in 1939, and I’d be interested to see his version, but it is only available in France without English subtitles. Can anyone say how it compares with the original?
When Harry Met Sally (Rob Reiner, 1989): Although I don’t usually write about modern films, this is an all-time favourite of mine and one I often revisit, especially at New Year. Also it must have achieved classic status by now, more than 25 years on. Although everyone tends to remember the orgasm scene, there is so much more – so many sharp, witty lines to savour, and the whole way that the relationship between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan’s characters grows all through the film, with that great New Year scene at the end. The little inter-cut scenes with the older couples are yet another joy.
Do you have other favourite New Year films? If so, do post your choices!