As countless other film historians have observed, classical Hollywood cinema exists as a theory to be argued about and debated. It has no universally accepted start and end date, and a film’s worthiness of inclusion under this umbrella term varies amid critics, commentators, and scholars. Some define a Hollywood classic as a product of the Dream Factory, where the modes of production and distribution were standardized, along with formal, narrative, and stylistic guidelines. Others define it in terms of the film’s release, usually in the first half of the twentieth century; historian Richard Jewell puts forth a rather narrow timeline from 1929 to 1949. A few might characterize such films by their use of black-and-white celluloid; they might even use the dreaded term old to describe them.
For the sake of this collection of reviews and essays on classic Hollywood motion pictures, I have included films produced in the studio system in the period between the late 1920s to the early 1960s. They have been shot in monochrome, Technicolor, the Academy ratio, CinemaScope, and many other photographic processes of the era. Their use of sound extends from silents to musicals. They feature icons of the screen such as Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Olivia de Havilland, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Katherine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Barbara Stanwyck, John Wayne, and countless others. Some titles may even be Hollywood productions made by the British offices of the major studios, or by British studios copying the classical Hollywood modes of production and style.
Jean Renoir once described Hollywood as “an admirable mechanism without a soul.” I don’t agree. It’s still the case today that studios remain the apparatus bent on profits more than creativity, whereas the filmmakers and artists invested in creating the films provide the soul. Sometimes the artist and studio grapple for control over the fate of a motion picture and its characters; sometimes they’re in perfect alignment. Whatever the case may be, it’s impossible to watch the below titles and not find an incredible amount of soul.
We watch classical Hollywood films today for their nostalgia, their unwavering formal competence, their predictability, their historical importance, their status as cultural artifacts, the charisma of their stars, and the way they make us think and feel. This collection, by no means complete, will continue to grow and show appreciation for the unparalleled movie magic of the Golden Age of Cinema.
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