By Joseph LiMandri
As I am sure you are all painfully aware, the University of Dallas is all about the classics. While Virgil and Locke are all well and fine, I find that too commonly classic cinema is overlooked and forgotten by the average student. Cinema had a massive influence on culture and ideals throughout the twentieth century, and classic movies serve as a snapshot in time of that particular zeitgeist. Yes, a lot of the Sean Connery-era Bond movies are not going to blow you away like their modern counterparts. Sure, “The Magnificent Seven” might feel dated when compared to “No Country for Old Men.” But what I want to do with this article is supplement Aristotle with Huston, Shakespeare with Bergman. I want to encourage an appreciation for classic cinema, whether it be for its technical contributions, mastery of craft or its current cultural relevance. I will include three films from different genres in my recommendations.
“A Place in the Sun” (1951)
It took me a while to finally watch this one, but I don’t regret that I did. Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor are one of the most famous on-screen couples for a reason, and the contrast is glaringly apparent in today’s age of “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.” “A Place in the Sun” definitely shows its age with its somewhat stilted dialogue and never-ending melodrama, but it nonetheless remains wholly engaging. Excellent performances and gorgeous cinematography, especially in the scenes shared by Clift and Taylor, have secured the film its place in the annals of film history.
This is a film that I have had a lot of difficulty with. I understand that it is commonly thought of as one of the best movies of all time. Obviously that is a very subjective standard, but the general consensus is that it is a masterpiece. Personally, I find this movie to be a slog. There are long and drawn out surveillance sequences, and Jimmy Stewart’s obsessive behavior will make you squeamish. But “Vertigo” has matured so well for a few reasons. In terms of technical mastery, Hitchcock’s work here has gone on to influence countless films since its release. More importantly, it is the most introspective and personal film that Hitchcock ever made, and grants the viewer a look into the director’s own fears, desires and obsessions.
“Cool Hand Luke” (1967)
I am regrettably finding that “Cool Hand Luke” is slowly slipping from popular culture. Whether it was through a friend’s quote or through Guns N’ Roses, you have to have heard Strother Martin’s iconic line, “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” at some point in your life. This film may not be held with the same reverence as “A Place in the Sun” and “Vertigo,” but it really defines the word “classic.” Paul Newman plays a gutsy prisoner stuck in a chain gang, and he remains one of the coolest characters to ever grace the screen. It would be impossible to ruminate on all the great scenes from this movie in one article, but do yourself a favor and watch it if you haven’t already.