“Why is life worth living?” Isaac Davis (Woody Allen) asks into a tape recorder in Allen's 1979 film Manhattan. His answers—random yet specific—include the crabs at Sam Wo’s, the second movement of the Jupiter symphony, Sentimental Education by Flaubert, Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Potato Head Blues” and “those incredible apples and pears by Cezanne.” Here’s our version of that, certain elements of cinema that make our lives worth living, or at least make movies worth watching. They seem to come to us from out of nowhere, little pockets of breathtaking beauty, expert craftmanship and happy accidents. Here are ten such moments—random yet specific—that make us stick around for one more day.
Besides low budgets, cheesy special effects and overwrought acting, science fiction horror movies of the fifties were often united in theme—the unintended consequences of scientific progress. The central menace of these movies—space alien, undersea mutant or invisible force—was typically rolled out in stages. Audiences would first see the damage done by said creature, then shadowy glimpses of the beast until the film's climax, where the thing was finally presented in all its horrifying (or unintentionally hilarious) glory.
The creative forces behind the movies’ posters were not nearly as coy, depicting full-bodied fiends in vivid color, usually shown terrorizing a scantily clad starlet or the population at large. And, at times, the monsters on the one-sheets proved to be more compelling than the ones onscreen.
Here are 25 examples of such boldly theatrical artwork.
Betty Hutton is not everyone’s cup of tea, to be sure. When she performs, she seems to employ every molecule in her body and play to the very back row of the theater—the one across town. Called “a vitamin pill with legs” by Bob Hope, she makes those around her seem sedate and sluggish by comparison. Hutton has torn through a total of 22 movies throughout her career, with her most famous role being Annie Oakley in the MGM musical Annie Get Your Gun (1950). Her portrayal of Trudy Kockenlocker in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) runs an arguably close second.
Born in 1921 in Battle Creek, Michigan, Hutton was two years old when her father bolted. Mother took Betty to Detroit and found work in the automobile industry before opening her own speakeasy. When she discovered that Betty could sing, she pushed her into any opportunity that would allow the youngster to display her pipes, and, by the age of 13, Betty was singing with local bands. She was still a teen when she hit Broadway in Panama Hattie, starring Ethel Merman. It is unclear what happened early in the run of that show—whether Hutton had one of her numbers cut, and if Merman was behind it—but Buddy DeSylva, the show’s producer, saw great promise in her and vowed to have Paramount Studios take a look.
She could toss off a novelty number with gusto, but she also had a lovely way with a ballad, delivered tenderly in her smoky, slightly raspy voice. Paramount signed her and put her in a couple of musical shorts before she made her first feature-length picture, The Fleet’s In (1942). A proven musical talent, Paramount threw a screwball comedy her way, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), and confirmed their suspicions that she could make an audience chuckle. “Nobody ever let me act except Preston Sturges,” Hutton once remarked about her Morgan’s Creek director. “He believed in me.”
Audiences believed in her, too, and the Sturges comedy was followed by a string of hits throughout the 1940s, marred only by the critical and box office flop Dream Girl in 1948. She bounced back quickly, though, and by 1950 she was back on top, famously replacing an erratic Judy Garland in Annie Get Your Gun. Hutton’s success in the Irving Berlin musical would be one of her last, and, by the mid-1950s, her career had quieted down significantly.
In her book, The Star Machine, author Jeanine Basinger neatly sums up the actress’s uniqueness: “Hutton keeps nothing in reserve. She hops, she leaps, she mugs, and she grimaces. She throws herself on the floor, jumps up and down, and emits war whoops. She twitches and she tics, but you don’t have to worry that she’s going to fly apart on you the way you fear Judy Garland will…Betty Hutton is many people’s guilty pleasure, but some feel the need to explain her or even apologize for her. Why not just say it right out? She’s nuts, and I love her.”
Here are a dozen pictures that reveal what Betty Hutton the Movie Star is all about.
The year 1936 was a banner one for cautionary cinema about marijuana and the evils sure to visit you if you dare to take a puff. Two films, Marihuana and the future cult classic Reefer Madness, were released that year, and a third, Assassin of Youth, was in production. Like television, rock and roll and marriage equality in years following, marijuana’s presence in polite society was almost certainly expected to bring about its downfall. One need only pick through the ruins of modern-day Colorado and Washington, where cannabis was recently legalized, to see how prescient these alarm-pullers were. Here are three examples of how the movies sensationalized the weedy menace.
If you ever get a chance to see a classic film in a theater projected in 70mm, take it. If it’s West Side Story, you’ll notice many things you never knew were there, like the Pepto Bismal and Hershey Bars on the shelves of Doc’s store. If it’s Play Time, you’ll see in great detail every morsel of food served in the lengthy restaurant scene that closes the film. If it’s the odious Song of Norway, well…you will at least have gorgeous scenery to stare at as the staggeringly dull story unfolds. More important, you will see a tale told with a visual clarity that will spoil you for future 35mm screenings. For movies shot and projected in 70mm, there is a greater immediacy to the action—more of a “you are there” quality.
In actuality, the film going through the camera is 65mm wide, with 5mm added for the magnetic audio tracks, making for the 70mm strip that eventually wends its way through the projector. Expenses kept 70mm from being common; film stock was costly, and most theaters were not equipped to project movies of that scale. A roadshow—reserved-seat engagements in select cities—was common for 70mm films prior to general release. During a film’s regular run, it was almost always shown in a 35mm version for smaller houses.
Twentieth Century Fox had Grandeur, producer Mike Todd had Todd-AO and MGM had MGM Camera 65—all brand names for essentially the same format, with minor differences in lenses, cameras and aspect ratios. Around since the dawn of movies, 70mm enjoyed a popular run in the 1950s, luring people away from their small black-and-white television screens, up through the year 1970, which saw a trio of big releases: Patton, Ryan’s Daughter, and Airport.
Here are 30 examples of motion pictures done on a grand scale.