This first appeared on April 27, 2008
You haven’t lived until you’ve read The Great Gatsby, they told me. In junior college, I lived. It was captivating. Many years later, the thrill was gone.
Many years later, too, listening to tapes of old Jack Benny radio programs makes me wonder why we laughed our heads off on Sunday afternoons. That funny?
Our reaction to a show depends a lot on our attitudes and life experiences at the time. When I first saw "I Love Lucy" at a neighbor’s house in the early ‘50s, THAT was the event of the week. THE funniest show anywhere. Today? Usually I strain to feel amply amused. It’s the going back that sort of charms me.
Comedy may be the hardest thing to create; harder still to stand up through time. Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd are as funny now as they were then. So is Gale Gordon of "Our Miss Brooks." He could make it on any planet with the windy blast of his umbrage alone.
Never date a movie just once. Go back and you might belatedly fall in love — or curse whatever it was that took you for a ride in the first place.
There’s something about the dreadfully mediocre Ring of Fear that is finally getting to me. Yes, me, who recently called it Ring of Drek. Now, I’m settling into its oddball story and atmosphere. A little of Clyde Beatty’s natural charm, those okay circus acts, the pensive background music and that mad spurned man bent on wrecking the marriage of the women he lusts after and tearing down the show. And the big riotous laugh it gives us when we hear a tiger going after him for dinner in a box car.
For years, I carped about Wuthering Heights as being insufferably dull. I saw it recently, and was totally absorbed. How stupid was I? Once I gushed over Jimmy Stewart in Harvey. Saw the film a few years later and found it so cloyingly cute, I had to turn it off and escape into a reality show. Blame it on my mood?
A few rare movies never let me down, like my favorite movie musical, Bandwagon, or Hitchcock’s The Birds — an utterly brilliant evocation of the natural world turning upside down against the human race and leaving a huge Question Mark on a scorched horizon. Niagara Falls is a moody film in which Marilyn Monroe turns in a terrific performance that makes me believe she can actually act. How novel.
My estimation goes up and down. Only luke warm for Dinner at Eight one sit; red hot for the same flick a couple of years later.
And I’m so high on two recent discoveries — 1934's Midnight and 1939's Murder in the Private Car, I wonder what I’d think if ever I go back.
So, it’s about time I make another date with the Great Gatsby. I long for the infatuation I felt when first I encountered F. Scot Fitzgerald. And I need to make a personal pledge, when next it appears, to commit four or five hours of my life in front of Gone With the Wind. Many years ago, I waded through the bloated thing in a movie house. Blame it on downtown Oakland. Blame it on something in the wind I drank that day.
[photos, from above: Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights; Gale Gordon; Ring of Fear; Midnight.