My favorite movies

by Donald Daniel, 2012, revised June 2015

My favorite movies for an entertaining story, not a lofty message, are:

"The Road to Singapore" from 1931 with William Powell and Doris Kenyon, not to be confused with the totally different and vastly inferior movie of 1940 by the same name. It portrays plantation culture in the British empire in Malaysia before the collapse of the British empire. It brings history to life. It achieves an impressive "you are there" realism and believability. In a card playing scene you feel the tropical heat just by the people's irritability. This movie catalogs the attitudes of different men toward women, and illustrates the difference between a pretend husband and a real husband. A wife condescending to her obtuse husband has never been better portrayed. The characters push against social convention to relieve the boredom of their tiny isolated social group. The story tests the main characters intentions and reveals their nature. It is not the good guys vs. the bad guys, nobody is perfect. Educated intelligent people try to work around their incompatibilities. And the dialog, plot predicaments and acting are impressively good. You feel like a veteran of plantation culture after seeing it.

"The Gay Diplomat" from 1931 with Ivan Lebedeff and Genevieve Tobin. First it should be noted that "gay" just meant happy in 1931, it had not taken on its modern meaning. The movie is similar to the James Bond movies that came much later, but less with less action and more brains. It is better than any of the bond movies unless you work in Hollywood and mindless action is your thing. It is about a Russian cavalry officer who is asked to be a spy in Bucharest Romania before the 1917 Russian revolution. Romania was neutral territory during the 1914-1918 war. The movie accurately shows how dangerous life is for spies of both sides in a neutral country next to a war zone. All the main characters in modern spy movies are either on the the good guys team or the bad guys team. Everyone in every scene is tense. This is more like a whodunnit. The mission of the cavalry officer was to meet Romanian society ladies to find which one was stealing Russian secrets for the Germans. Our hero enjoys glittering lighthearted chandelier diplomacy with each of three ladies. After the guilty lady realizes she has stepped into his trap, she nearly checkmates him in a battle of wits before he is able to checkmate her.

"Black Sheep" from 1935 with Edmund Lowe and Claire Trevor. Not to be confused with the totally different and vastly inferior movie of 1996 by the same name. It is about a shipload of Americans returning from Europe. It discredits stereotypes by having a good hearted professional gambler, a prudish actress, and a kleptomaniac rich lady. This movie has enough good characters and plot that it has no need to resort to physical action to provide plenty of drama, tension and entertainment. If you could never afford a boat trip accross the Atlantic, this movie gives you the experience in a more thorough and delightful way than any other movie. The story was written by the director as a means to bribe his way back to work in Hollywood after a European vacation that was much longer than permissible. It is so good he should have changed from director to writer.

"Highly Dangerous" from 1950 with Margaret Lockwood and Dane Clark. It is about a lady scientist who is recruited to be a spy. She thinks it will be a simple mission but she is soon in way over her head. This movie achieves the impossible. It is a spy thriller, a comedy and a romance. It succeeds on all three counts better than most movies that attempt to do only one of the three.

If you want a movie with a lofty message, but not as entertaining a story as the ones listed above, my pick would be "The Working Man" from 1933 with George Arliss and Bette Davis.

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