As Bette Davis neatly put it in “All About Eve”: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Substitute coronavirus for “bumpy night” and you get the drift. We’re home for the foreseeable future, and Nielsen says nearly 60 percent of adults are expected to consume more media.
Last week, we looked at 10 top mysteries on Netflix. Now, it’s Amazon Prime Video’s turn, but in the classic-movie department. Genres vary from screwball to suspense. And classic means just that, it’s endured the test of time. There are Hollywood legends here and some newer fare, too. Taking it from the top:
In 2001, the American Film Institute selected “Some Like It Hot” as the No. 1 film comedy of all time. So did BBC Culture. Three reasons: Marilyn Monroe, as the singer-saxophone lover Sugar Kane, and Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, playing musicians on the run from the Chicago Mob. It’s a Jazz Age gender-bending romantic comedy, directed, produced and co-written by the incomparable Billy Wilder. Consider it the definition of “don’t miss.”
This is film noir, Hollywood-style, considered one of the best films ever made. “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.” The line, spoken by the once-famous silent film star Norma Desmond (played to perfection by Gloria Swanson), is chilling. Add in William Holden as a down-on-his luck screenwriter, Erich von Stroheim as Desmond’s devoted butler, and a fever dream about a comeback, and the grotesque commentary on fame is complete. Added bonus: Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote the masterwork.
Sidney Poitier shines as Virgil Tibbs, a black detective from Philadelphia, who gets caught up in a high-profile Mississippi murder. Rod Steiger is the Southern sheriff forced to recognize Tibbs’ talents at a time, 1967, when the Klan ruled the state and a dignified black man who outsmarted everyone else was unheard of in cinema.
The stellar 1940 screwball comedy, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell as a newspaper editor and star reporter, is also a sassy commentary on tabloid journalism. The duo’s wisecracking is rendered at lightning speed, while their chemistry crackles. Russell thinks she wants a quiet life in Albany — but Grant has other plans!
5. The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes
Both 1930s British films are available — and the handiwork of director Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense. Orson Welles called “The 39 Steps” a “masterpiece.” At a music hall, Robert Donat inadvertently meets a secret agent, later killed in his apartment. He races to prove his innocence, even as he gets drawn into a global spy ring, the mysterious “39 steps.” Ranked by the British Film Institute as the 35th best British film of the 20th century, “The Lady Vanishes” is a locked-room mystery. An elderly woman disappears on a train, yet save for a lovely tourist (Margaret Lockwood), no one will admit to seeing her! Suspicions mount, threats are made. Can she find the missing woman before it’s too late?
William Powell is best known for “The Thin Man” series, but this Depression-era comedy is a biting stab at the idle rich, as well as a pointed social analysis on the dark side of class distinctions: decency vs. decadent indifference. When gorgeous socialite (Carole Lombard) hires Godfrey, (Powell) a tramp she finds on a scavenger hunt (you read right), he gets to illustrate his innate superiority and comedy chops — just by being a stand-up guy.
The John Huston-directed movie gave Humphrey Bogart his only Oscar. He brilliantly plays Charlie Allnut, a mechanic who rescues Katherine Hepburn, a missionary, after her brother dies in German East Africa during WW I. The mismatched pair escapes on his boat and embarks on a dangerous adventure as they sail down the treacherous Zambezi. Together, they devise an extraordinary plan, against all odds, to aid the Allies.
8. Murder on the Orient Express (1974 version)
First, it’s one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved and intriguing mysteries. This version boasts exquisite art direction and an all-star cast. Directed by Sidney Lumet (“Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico”), it stars Albert Finney as the great detective Hercule Poirot. When American businessman Samuel Ratchett is killed on the luxurious Orient Express train, everyone is a suspect. And everyone includes Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Jacqueline Bisset, John Gielgud, Michael York, Anthony Perkins and Wendy Hiller!
9. Annie Hall
The Woody Allen film, which co-stars Diane Keaton, is memorable. Allen plays Alvy Singer, who begins and ends a relationship with Keaton, but spends the movie trying to decipher what went wrong. A kooky love story with a comedic twist, “Annie Hall” won an Oscar for original screenplay. It’s also noted for its nonlinear narrative and clever technical aspects: animation, split-screens and subtitles. Finally, it’s got loads of memorable one-liners, including: “Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.”
“Zodiac” is an acclaimed 2007 mystery thrilled directed by David Fincher (“Social Network”). The true-crime story is based on the San Francisco serial killer, known as the Zodiac killer. He terrorized the Bay Area in the 1960s and ’70s, and though the police eventually identified the murderer, the case remains one of the U.S.’ most infamous unsolved crimes. It stars Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo.