12 Classic Films for the Bucket List (Before You Kick It)

Snap out of West Side Story. Ditch Gone with the Wind. And don’t even think about playing Casablanca. They’re already on hundreds of lists. Why rehash the obvious? It’s boring. So without further ado:

1. Lilies of the Field (1963) Based on the novel by William Edmund Barrett, the film follows the story of a wandering jack-of-all trades (Sidney Poitier) who comes across a group of German nuns convinced he’s been sent by God to build them a church. I love this film.

2. My Man Godfrey (1936). A ditzy socialite (Carole Lombard) hires a hobo living in the dump as the family’s butler, then promptly falls in love with him. Whether he returns the affections is more doubtful, especially considering the utterly irrational in-laws he would be stuck with …

 3. Bringing Up Baby (1938) A prim paleontologist (Cary Grant) wants a sponsor to donate one million dollars to his museum, but messes it all up after getting mixed up with a harebrained woman and her leopard. My first screwball favorite.

 4. Rebecca (1940). Joan Fontaine plays a young, naïve bride tortured by the lingering presence of her husband’s deceased first wife. And also by the super creepy Mrs. Danvers.

5. To Have and Have Not (1944) This was Bogart and Bacall’s first film, and smolders with chemistry. Bogart rents a charter boat to tourists in Martinique and is asked to smuggle out resistance fighters. He refuses, but then has a fateful encounter with a pickpocket. Bacall was 19 (19!) when she filmed this.

6. It (1927) Clara Bow has definitely got “it” in this silent film. She plays a strong, independent working female set on getting what she wants … one of which happens to be the company’s head honcho.

7. Interrupted Melody (1955). This film is based on the life of Australian opera singer Marjorie Lawrence, who was struck by polio at the height of her career. It has fantastic famous opera scenes and stars the talented and gorgeous Eleanor Parker (the evil baroness from The Sound of Music).

 8And Then There Were None (1943) Psychological thriller based on Agatha Christie’s mystery. Ten guests are invited to a house on a lonely island and are killed off one by one. It’s creepy and suspenseful.

9. Carefree (1938) What list is complete without a film starring the iconic Astaire/Rogers duo? This one involves a psychologist, hypnosis, and skeet shooting gone hilariously awry. (Shall We Dance is another good film, and features the catchy “potato, patahto” song.)

10. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947). Gregory Peck plays a journalist who decides to experience anti-Semitism firsthand by saying he’s Jewish for two weeks. It’s thought-provoking and gives a revealing look at anti-Semitic sentiment during the 40s.

11. Seven Chances (1925). Critics and hardcore classic film buffs rave about The General, but do you ever hear much about Keaton’s Seven Chances? It’s got great visuals, obvious when the hero runs down a canyon in the midst of rocks that look like giant meatballs. Plus he gets chased by an angry horde of wannabe brides.

 12. Naughty Marietta (1935) Another film for the opera fan, starring Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. MacDonald plays a French princess who runs away to New Orleans to avoid marrying a stuffy old Spaniard. There’s a great scene with singing marionettes (they’re cute, really).

Murder Comedies: Murder by Death

Liz on Murder by Death

The butler did it. Only the butler isn’t really the butler. He’s someone else, who’s really someone else. Oh, wait. Now, he’s a she. So, she did it. Or did she? Did anyone actually die?

As you might imagine from the title, Murder by Death is a spoof of murder mysteries—a revenge of the reader on the some of the most popular sleuths (and their creators). Several of my favorite detectives are parodied in the movie: Hercule Poirot, Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), Miss Marple, and Charlie Chan. There is also a hard-boiled American detective modeled after Richard Diamond and Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon).

Made in the 1970s, Murder by Death is, not surprisingly, crude at times. However, from Poirot’s character’s insistence he’s not French to Charlie Chan’s poor grammar and wise sayings to Miss Marple’s tweed to Nick and Nora’s good breeding saving them from danger (you never know when sitting in the proper place at dinner will prevent you from being skewered), the movie is quite entertaining. You needn’t be familiar with the “real” characters to enjoy the movie, but I think you would appreciate it more if you were.

The story is set up to be a stereotypical murder mystery. The detectives and their companions are invited by a mysterious, unknown host to an isolated country house for the weekend. They arrive on a dark and foggy night. The servants are strange. Bodies pile up and then disappear, and there are several attempts on the lives of the detectives. There is also information withheld and crucial characters not introduced until the end—just like in so many mysteries.

So, was there a murder? As Chan’s character says, “Yes, killed good weekend.”

 Jaz: Miss Marple. Hercule Poirot. Sam Spade. The Thin Man. Charlie Chan. Murder by Death spoofs all of these detective greats and throws in a blind butler, a barking cat, and a series of crimes to add to the fun.

You won’t go one second into the film without bumping into star talent. Truman Capote, David Niven and Maggie Smith (Dick and Dora Charleston), Elsa Lanchester (Jessica Marble), Peter Sellers (Sidney Wang), Peter Falk (Sam Diamond), James Coco (Milo Perrier) and Sir Alec Guinness (Jamesir Bensenma’am) all play a part in this quirky crime comedy.

“You are cordially invited to dinner and a murder,” Capote’s invites read in the opening scene. And what a murder it is. Two, in fact. But the most important question, as Perrier points out, is: where is the butler? And why did he not return … with their dinner?!

The detectives are baffled. And even more so when they find a bill in the corpse’s hand revealing that the entire murder has been (gasp!) catered. Who would do such a thing? Who is the murderer? Surely not the host, because he’s dead too. Or so everyone believes…

What ensues involves scorpions, a deaf-mute cook, plenty of sly jabs at the characters, a moose on the wall, and franks and beans, not to mention innumerable hilarious quotes:

Sam Diamond: “I don’t get it. First they steal the body and leave the clothes, then they take the clothes and bring the body back. Who would do a thing like that?”
Dick Charleston: “Possibly some deranged dry cleaner.”

The ending leaves all the detectives stumped for an answer for the first time in their lives, which is rather refreshing. If you’re a fan of classic mysteries, you’re guaranteed to love this film—and get all the jokes.