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11 Classic Films That Haven’t Aged Well

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Ever had that sad feeling of dialing up a great, old movie and discovering it hasn’t aged well? I have. It’s kind of a shame, because it’s not the movie’s fault. Times and tastes simply changed.  For instance …

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957)

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Here’s a classic melodrama that is beloved by many. You’ve got Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr and oodles of sophisticated charm. The problem comes when you get to the tragic plot twist, involving a car accident. From that moment on, the dialogue and acting might as well be from a Victorian era stage play. Cary ends up saying something like, “If it had to happen to one of us, why couldn’t it have been me?” Oh, boy. Give me George Costanza’s “It’s not you, it’s me” speech any day.

DOCTOR DOLITTLE (1967)

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This film, once considered a delightful lark about a dude who could talk to animals, now moves so slowly that the animals have time to evolve into creatures with the power of human speech. I don’t think any critters were harmed during filming, but I got a little woozy the last time I tried to watch it.

REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955)

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Great actor, James Dean. And there have been lots of good movies about the treacherous nature of high school. But “Rebel Without a Cause” goes a little over the top, from our vantage point in the age of cyber bullying. Dean tells his weak-willed dad, “You’re tearing me apart!” Today, he’d just give dad a long stare and say, “Seriously?”

DARK VICTORY (1939)

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No disrespect to the one and only Bette Davis, but acting styles are MUCH more realistic now than they were when this epic melodrama wowed audiences. For example, today an actress wouldn’t portray sudden blindness by slightly crossing her eyes and staring vaguely to one side. Also, succumbing to an  inoperable brain tumor tends to be more complicated than curling up on your bed after spending the morning in the garden. Just saying.

BATMAN (1989)

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I remember enjoying this movie so much when it debuted. Director Tim Burton’s genius was in every frame – and it still is. He created an original, distinct world for these characters to inhabit. What’s happened is that the Christopher Nolan Batman films of recent years are that much better. Heath Ledger as the Joker made Jack Nicholson look like a second-rate sideshow clown.

EASY RIDER (1969)

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Sorry to double-thump Nicholson, but “Easy Rider” got kind of creaky, too. If it’s any consolation, he’s the best thing in this movie. Much of the rest of the proceedings seem incredibly narcissistic and needlessly confusing. The bikes are still cool, though.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956)

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Truly an all-star cast, headed by David Niven and Cantinflas and dotted with appearances by Frank Sinatra, John Gielgud, Noel Coward, Shirley MacLaine, Buster Keaton, Red Skelton and dozens of others. The thing is, we’ve come to expect more from our epic, all-star adventures than just special guests. We need pizzazz. We need action. We need a pace quicker than a hot air balloon.

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952)

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Not even Jimmy Stewart in clown make-up can save 1952’s Best Picture winner, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” It’s a sprawling, soapy mess of a movie, and it seems to get more antiquated with each passing year. Mainly, it takes itself way too seriously – particularly in the scenes involving no-nonsense circus manager Chuck Heston. And the narration by Cecil B. DeMille, so perfect in “The Ten Commandments,” backfires badly here.

BUTTERFIELD 8 (1960)

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Decades after the heyday of the women’s rights movement, “Butterfield 8” now feels more and more like a museum piece. It posits Elizabeth Taylor as a tragic, fatalistic party girl who is trapped by her own sexual allure. Watching it today, you’re struck by how stifling American society was for most women, even as recently as a generation ago. I’d rather wait for “Mad Men” to return.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957)

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Similarly, many years of zesty courtroom dramas have rendered “Witness for the Prosecution” a bit lame. Shocking testimony? Been there. Surprising plot twists? Done that. Marlene Dietrich, you can’t handle the truth!

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)

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Try not to hate me for this. All I ask is that you hear me out. As stellar as Gregory Peck is as Atticus Finch, and as great as this story is, the set design and overall look of the movie just don’t make the grade anymore. The Finch house and neighborhood look like they were filmed on the old “Leave It to Beaver” lot when the studio security guards were on break. Not to mention, the musical score lays it on a bit thick. Thank goodness, the sound of Peck saying the name “Scout” remains timeless.

So there you have it. And now I ask you, which other old favorites are showing their age?

Classic Oscar Make-Goods

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Now that the Oscar nominations are out, we all have an excuse to rummage through our vast knowledge of Academy Awards minutiae. For instance, what are the most blatant cases of Oscar make-goods? You know, instances where the Academy tried to make up for a previous error in judgement. It never works, as you’ll see.

JAMES STEWART IN “THE PHILADELPHIA STORY” (1940)

Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorite actors, but he just didn’t deserve the Oscar for lead actor in 1940. He was great in the part, as a news reporter sent to cover a society wedding and getting in over his head, but he wasn’t even the lead actor in his own film – Cary Grant was. Plus, Henry Fonda gave a terrific performance in “The Grapes of Wrath” the same year. Most likely, Jimmy got the nod because of the previous year, when he didn’t win for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Shucks.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR IN “BUTTERFIELD 8” (1960)

By most accounts, Liz was a lock for the best actress Oscar in 1960 because she’d taken seriously ill just before Academy members did their voting and she got lots of sympathy support. She’d certainly been in better movies than this one, about a woman who sleeps around and pays emotional consequences. In particular, there was “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in 1958.

PAUL NEWMAN IN “THE COLOR OF MONEY” (1986)

It bordered on criminal that Newman hadn’t won an acting Oscar before “The Color of Money,” where he revisited the character of Fast Eddie Felson from “The Hustler.” You had “HUD,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Verdict” and “The Hustler” itself in previous years. Not only that, but just one year earlier, Newman had received an honorary Oscar for his body of work. When it came to Paul Newman, the Academy never got the timing right.

AL PACINO IN “SCENT OF A WOMAN” (1992)

This is the example most people remember, because it was so ridiculous. Seriously? Pacino gets best actor for his blind Army officer in “Scent of a Woman,” rather than for “Godfather II” or “Dog Day Afternoon”? Clearly, this was a bid to honor Pacino’s entire career. The problem is, it robbed another fine actor, who would need a make-good Oscar of his own in our next example…

DENZEL WASHINGTON IN “TRAINING DAY” (2001)

Back in 1992, when Pacino was chewing up the scenery in “Scent of a Woman,” Washington was earning raves as the lead in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X.” Washington lost that Oscar race, obviously. Several years later, he lost again despite a great performance in “The Hurricane.” So along comes the less ambitious “Training Day,” and he wins. Although I liked “Training Day” very much, I thought the Oscar here was a sentimental choice.

MARTIN SCORSESE FOR “THE DEPARTED” (2006)

Don’t get me wrong. “The Departed” is a good film and Scorsese deserves to have a directing Oscar. But no one in their right mind believes “The Departed” is a better film than “Raging Bull” or “GoodFellas.” This was just a matter of course correction.

So those are my Oscar make-goods. What are yours?

A Gallery of Cinematic Eyes

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When it comes to movie magic, the eyes have it. From dramas and comedies to westerns and cartoons, there is nothing on a theater screen that holds our attention as tightly as a dazzling pair of eyes. Sometimes we forget that fact, amid the shock and awe of summer movies. Here’s a reminder.

 

PAUL NEWMAN

The gold standard for blue eyes on film. A longtime Connecticut resident, Newman used his high beams to accentuate the intensity of whatever part he was playing, from flawed heroes to insensitive rogues.

 

ANGELINA JOLIE

The reigning queen of moving picture peepers. Jolie wields the power to command the screen with a look.

 

BELA LUGOSI

There’s a reason this little, old dude remains part of the conversation about enduring movie icons after all these years, and it’s not because of his tremendous acting chops or his good looks. It’s the crazy hoodoo he performs with his orbs.

 

LENA HORNE

Still photos don’t begin to convey the playful force of Horne’s eyes. It was particularly true when she sang on the big screen.

 

MARTY FELDMAN

Was it the bug-eyed quality of Feldman’s eyes that made him so memorable? In part, sure. But the man also had perfect comedic timing. Check out “Young Frankenstein” again some time. He’s just remarkable.

 

SAURON

Best. One-eyed. Movie. Performance. Ever.

 

MALCOLM MCDOWELL

At the center of the terrifying, masterful “A Clockwork Orange” – beyond the physical and emotional violence, beyond the bleak portents of sociopathic young people and social institutions obsessed with mind controlare McDowell’s terrifying eyes.

 

BETTE DAVIS

Must I say it? The woman has Bette Davis eyes. Here’s a photo from her younger days, before her scary-eyebrow period.

 

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I can report with complete authority that this animated snake from “Jungle Book” launched thousands of snake phobias across this great land in the 1960s. Or at least one.

 

BUSTER KEATON

With all due respect to Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, I’ve always been a Buster Keaton man. My goodness, look at those sad eyes.

 

YAPHET KOTTO

Good guy or bad guy, serious or funny, Kotto’s characters are always about what’s going on behind those utterly deadpan eyes.

 

WALL-E

Come on, folks. Would this flick have worked even half as well if the lonely robot had smaller eyes? I think not.

 

LILLIAN GISH

Speaking of big eyes, Ms. Gish was a superstar of the silent era thanks to hers.

 

JACK ELAM

He and his immobile left eye (injured in childhood) found a tremendous amount of work. Elam was known mainly for supporting parts in Westerns such as “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” and “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.”

 

ELIZABETH TAYLOR

Best movie eyes of all time? It’s not even close. Taylor’s violet eyes were breathtaking.