Sam Bauman: Best of the old senior Academy Award films — Chaplin, Olivier, Fonda



If only one of Charles Chaplin’s films could be preserved, “City Lights” (1931) would be the best to represent all his genius — the slapstick, the pathos, the pantomime, the effortless physical coordination, the melodrama, the bawdiness, the grace, and, of course, the Little Tramp — the character said, at one time, to be the most famous image on earth.

The film opens with the city fathers unveiling a statue and find the tramp asleep on it. He flees and wanders the town, seeing a blind girl selling flowers. He buys one and then a drunk millionaire comes up and gives him a ride in his limo. The girl thinks the man who just bought the flower is rich.

Chaplin joins the millionaire for a party but sober the rich man throws him out.

Complications arise and Chaplin takes a job as a street sweeper but is fired. He finds out the blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) is about to be evicted and enters a fight to win money for her. He fails but things work out.

The closing scene has the girl selling Chaplin a flower and recognizes him by the touch of his hand.

That scene alone is perhaps the most moving of any in film history. The movie is widely available on DVD.

Cast: Virginia Cherrill as A Blind Girl; Florence Lee as Her Grandmother; Harry Myers as An Eccentric Millionaire; Al Ernest Garcia as His Butler (as Allan Garcia); Hank Mann as A Prizefighter; and Charlie Chaplin as A Tramp.

Uncredited: Robert Parrish as Newsboy; Henry Bergman as Mayor and Blind Girl’s Downstairs Neighbor; Albert Austin as Street Sweeper.

A 1940s realistic protest movie

The Depression Era movie “Grapes of Wrath” was based on the Pulitzer-Nobel prize-winning novel by John Steinbeck. It tells the story of the Joad family leaving their foreclosed Oklahoma farm and driving in a converted car to California looking for work. John Ford directed this look at America in crisis and he makes a political statement that is for the people who are lost.

Henry Fonda finds the family after being released from prison and joins up with Casy, a disillusioned ex-preacher.

Tom and Casy go the a union meeting where Casy is killed and Tom decides he’s going to do something to help the poor and downtrodden.

Tom Joad says: “I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build, I’ll be there.

Ma Joad observes: “Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain’t no good and they die out, but we keep a-coming. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out, they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, cos we’re the people.”

A wrenching Socialist page of American history that too many of us have forgotten. Fonda is majestic.

“Hamlet” by Olivier

Lawrence Olivier starred, directed and adapted Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in 1948 in a classic revision of the play. No need to outline the plot, everybody knows “Hamlet” to some extent. But here’s some notes from he Olivier version:

Jean Simmons as Ophelia. Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, and is driven mad by his death, as well as by Hamlet’s rejection. Simmons’ performance in this film won her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at that year’s Oscars. Until her death she was the last surviving principal cast member.

The two gravediggers are cut in this version because of time restrictions. The closing scene with “and flights of angels sing thee to his rest” is a sad tribute.

Here’s some more senior award films:

“The Treasure of Sierra Madre,” directed by Walter Houston and with Humphrey Bogart.

“The Maltese Falcon,” with Sidney Greenstreet and Bogart.

“Flash Gordon” serials, dozens of them.

“Flying down to Rio, “ Astaire and Rogers dancing away (she in high heels).

“The Sheltering Sky,” based on the novel by Paul Bowls and sort of a prequel to Resse Witherspoon’s “Wild.”

Any suggestions? Send to

Sam Bauman writes about senior issues for the Nevada Appeal.


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