Sometimes a wonderful thing happens once a film is in the can. The marketing department takes over and creates printed materials that, if you’re lucky, accurately reflect the style and content of the picture you’re about to see. And if you’re really lucky, the posters and one sheets of a particular movie transcend mere communication and stand on their own as works of art. Here are twenty-five movie posters from the silent era where message and mode combine to make something extraordinary.
Entries in the merry widow (4)
Dana Andrews is born in Collins, Mississippi, 1909. After the success of Laura (1944) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and his subsequent rise in fame, Fox suggested to the Collins’s mayor that they rename the actor’s hometown “Andrews” in his honor. “We will not change our name to Andrews,” the mayor responded. “Have Andrews change his name to Collins.”
Maurice Chevalier dies of cardiac arrest after kidney surgery in Paris, 1972. The French entertainer came to Hollywood in the late 1920s and began his first of four films with Jeanette MacDonald, 1929’s The Love Parade. “I later heard her referred to as The Iron Butterfly,” Chevalier said of his frequent costar, “although I was surprised to hear that she found that amusing. I never thought she had much of a sense of humor. When we worked together, she always objected to anyone telling a risqué story.” MacDonald once referred to Chevalier as “the quickest derriere pincher in Hollywood.” They would go on to make Love Me Tonight (1932), One Hour with You (1932) and The Merry Widow (1934). These last two movies were filmed twice—in English and in French. Chevalier had no problem with either tongue, of course, and MacDonald could successfully speak and sing in the language. Much of the American supporting casts, however, had to be replaced with French-speaking actors.
Some artfully convey the scope of the plot’s spectacle. A few are intimate close-ups, revealing a surprise or two in gracefully conceived compositions. And some of the most striking images have simply emerged over time as distilled representations of the movies they are from. Here’s Part Two of our list of 50 favorites images from the movies. Most are famous. All are memorable.
A giant ape battles fighter planes from atop the Empire State Building in King Kong (1933)
The genesis of Merian C. Cooper’s classic beauty-and-the-beast love story was a dream the producer/writer/director had about an attack on Manhattan by an oversized gorilla. The idea was developed further to include a skyscraper and fighter planes, and, from there, Cooper worked backwards to flesh out the story. In brief, a prickly, three-stories-tall simian dubbed King Kong meets a nice girl on a remote island and is corralled by explorers and shipped to the States, where he is presented as a moneymaking attraction. After breaking free and running amuck in the Big Apple, Kong takes his main squeeze to the top of the tallest building in town, where he is gunned down by none other than Merian C. Cooper playing a fighter pilot.
Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) flashes her gam to hitch a ride in It Happened One Night (1934)
At first, Claudette Colbert refused to show her leg for the famous hitchhiking scene, prompting director Frank Capra to proceed using the shapely appendage of a body double. “That is not my leg!” Colbert remarked after seeing the shot, prompting a change of mind and more authentic exposure. The role, which Colbert reluctantly accepted for double the salary after five other actresses turned it down, won the actress her only Oscar.
Waltzing couples—men in black, women in white—provide stark contrast in motion in The Merry Widow (1934)
When viewing the extravagant dance sequence at the center of the film—and if one must traffic in twenty-dollar words—the term “terpsichorean chiaroscuro” comes to mind. It is a pulsating bit of kinetics, made up of more than 500 extras and in keeping with the opulence running throughout the Ernst Lubitsch-directed operetta. The sets included one thousand gas chandeliers that took two hours to light, and, for star Jeanette MacDonald’s gowns alone, costume designer Adrian had a dozen seamstresses toil for four months.
A Factory Worker (Charlie Chaplin) and A Gamin (Paulette Goddard) walk off down a lonesome road at the end of Modern Times (1936)
Though silent films were pretty much a thing of the past when Modern Times began filming in 1935, director Charlie Chaplin was none too keen on having his Little Tramp character speak. The film thus became the last major silent film of that period to come out of Hollywood. (Mel Brook’s Silent Movie and the Oscar-winning The Artist would emerge decades later—in 1976 and 2011, respectively—as throwbacks to the genre.) The Depression-era comedy, a commentary on the industrial age and its dire effects on the working class, saw the Chaplin character befriending Paulette Goddard’s down-on-her-luck orphan girl and generally struggling with modern life. The famous shot that ends the picture was filmed 44 miles north of Los Angeles on the Sierra Highway just outside of Agua Dulce, California.
Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) walks across a train yard filled with wounded and dying soldiers in Gone With the Wind (1939)
According to Val Lewton, what started out as a joke became an indelible image. Lewton—future producer of such B-movies as Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Body Snatcher (1945)—served as producer David O. Selznick’s story editor on Gone With the Wind and ended up writing a number of scenes for the film. One sequence in particular involved Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) going to look for Dr. Meade (Harry Davenport) at the Atlanta depot. For fun, Lewton added an elaborate, costly elevator shot that would follow Scarlett as she makes her way through hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers. To Lewton's surprise, Selznick loved it and called for it to be filmed, though, ever cost-conscious, the producer changed the 1,600 extras required for the scene to 800 extras and 800 dummies.
Monument Valley, featured in a number of John Ford-directed western, makes its auspicious debut in Stagecoach (1939)
Stagecoach was a movie of firsts for director John Ford. It was his first sound Western. It would mark the first of 14 occasions he worked with actor John Wayne. And it was the first time Monument Valley, located on the Arizona/Utah state line, was used for a filming location. It is the tale of a group of strangers on a stagecoach threatened by Geronimo and his Apache warriors. The choice of Monument Valley was the result of a campaign by one Harry Goulding, who had a trading post there. When he caught wind of a big-budget Western being planned, he headed to Hollywood armed with photos and pitched the site to Ford. The director liked it immediately and was further convinced to shoot at the remote location when he realized that the studio would be less likely to interfere. Once there, Ford was so enamored with the rugged scenery that he had the stagecoach travel across it three times in the course of the movie. Later, Ford would use it as a setting for My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Wagon Master (1950), Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964).
The enormous warehouse full of Charles Foster Kane’s items in Citizen Kane (1941)
The story begins with newspaper magnate Kane (Orson Welles) kicking the bucket, cuing his newsreel biography to unspool, with the narrator describing the man’s private palace. Included therein are “paintings, pictures, statues, the very stones of many another palace—a collection of everything so big it can never be catalogued or appraised, enough for ten museums—the loot of the world.” At movie’s end, after the man’s various personal and professional triumphs and setbacks, we get an idea of just what Kane has amassed over time as the camera pans over a seemingly endless collection of stuff, some of which headed straight for the incinerator.
Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) take a walk across a wet tarmac at the end of Casablanca (1942)
The closing shot of two lone figures, officially at cross purposes but allied in spirit, was filmed without dialogue, yet it is the line added in post-production that makes their relationship a perfect marriage of two cynics, and the scene a potent union of sight and sound. “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” Rick (Humphrey Bogart) utters to Renault (Claude Rains). Producer Hal B. Wallis came up with it and, like so much of the dialogue that precedes it, the line has grown into an enduring part of our pop-culture lexicon. Though runway and airplane scenes were shot at Van Nuys (nee Metropolitan) Airport, the scenes involving the actors were filmed on soundstage Number 1 on the Warner Bros. lot.
Pina (Anna Magnani) is gunned down while chasing after a truck carrying her fiancé in Rome, Open City (1945)
Director Roberto Rossellini’s gritty World War II drama about occupied Rome is set in the world of resistance fighters and the Nazi forces set to quash their efforts. It proves a tragic backdrop for Pina (Anna Magnani), a widowed mother, Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), her neighbor and fiancé, and Giorgio (Marcello Pagliero), Francesco’s resistance-fighter friend. Rossellini employed German POWS to lend verisimilitude to the film, which is universally regarded as an early landmark of Italian neorealist cinema.
A shoot-out at an amusement park’s hall of mirrors involving Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles), Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) and Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloan) provides the climax of The Lady from Shanghai (1947).
Everett Sloan’s crutches were the idea of director Orson Welles as a way of disguising Sloan’s naturally awkward movements on camera. Regarding the final sequence—later referenced in Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)—Welles wished for it to be scoreless to ratchet up the tension, a preference overruled by the film’s studio, Columbia Pictures. The scene was among several trimmed by studio executives who balked at the movie’s 155-minute-long rough-cut.
Fernando Lamas dies of pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles, 1982. Every inch the Latin lover, the Argentine-born Lamas was married four times and carried on affairs with many of his leading ladies. Signed by MGM in 1951, the actor—dubbed "First of the Red Hot Lamas"—appeared opposite Lana Turner in The Merry Widow (1951) and Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet (1953). On loan to Paramount, he appeared opposite Arlene Dahl in Sangaree (1953) and The Diamond Queen (1953). Williams and Dahl he would later marry; with Turner, one may assume he simply had a very nice time.