Bringing Back Double Features

Alastair Sim as ScroogeIt’s hard to believe – especially at typical movie ticket prices today – that when Boomers were kids, most movie theatres showed double features. I don’t necessarily miss double features – my butt simply couldn’t take four hours in the same seat – but that’s also because only part of the time did the pairings make any sense.

I recently came across a list in an old diary of my first dates. What struck me – beyond the stupidity that I once dated and then dumped a girl who went on to compete in the Miss America pageant as Miss Florida – was the mismatching of the movies: Airport with Monte Walsh (a Lee Marvin Western); Love Story with Paint Your Wagon; and my favorite for dissonance, Woody Allen’s Take The Money and Run paired with Dustin Hoffman’s inscrutable Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?. Seriously?

One of the great things about the 21st century is that, thanks to DVD players and Amazon, we can now program our own double features. And one of the great things about the holidays is that we have time to watch them (as long as the pause button is handy for bathroom and snack breaks). We have our traditional holiday film fare: Miracle on 34th Street for Thanksgiving; Scrooge (1951 version; see photo) and It’s A Wonderful Life for Christmas; and Love Actually for New Year’s Eve. But if you want some non-traditional holiday film pairings, here are my suggestions.

Ghost and Truly Madly Deeply. Both of these movies came out in 1990, and while the former was far more successful, the latter was referred to as “the thinking man’s Ghost.” Funnier and sweeter than the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore movie, TMD is a British movie with Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson in which his ghost helps her get over his untimely passing. Have tissues on hand for both.

Double Indemnity and Remember The Night. Stars appearing together in different movies are always fun to watch (if you want to find others, click here). That’s why I recommend the fluffy holiday pic Remember The Night. It turns out that Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck actually made four movies together, but this one preceded Double Indemnity. The latter, of course, is the classic story of insurance fraud, while Remember The Night has MacMurray as a prosecuting attorney taking shoplifter Stanwyck home for the holidays. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far. Two star-studded war movies taken from Cornelius Ryan books about key World War II efforts, one successful, one not. They very much reflect their decades: the first one, made in 1962, is full of brio and pride; the second one, made in 1977, bristles with post-Watergate angst and disdain for authority and military stupidity.

Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove. Sometimes similar ideas flourish in Hollywood, and producers play chicken trying to beat each other into the theatres (see also two other great pairings: Armageddon and Deep Impact and Capote and Infamous). One of the reasons Fail-Safe was a failure in 1964 – even though it came from a terrific book and had a wonderful cast, including Henry Fonda as the President – was that it came out after Strangelove, which was essentially the satiric telling of the same story: the unsanctioned/unintended launching of nuclear missiles against the Soviet Union.

Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks. You don’t have to be a writer with an alcoholic father like me to appreciate the sad backstory of author P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks, the tale of how Walt Disney enticed the Poppins’ author to Hollywood. Maybe it’s just because Mary Poppins was the first movie I ever saw by myself in a theatre, but I have a sentimental attachment to it. Alternative option of children’s book and (fictional) backstory: pairing Oz the Great and Powerful and The Wizard of Oz.

Casablanca and Play It Again, Sam. Five years before Annie Hall, Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, and Tony Roberts came together for the wonderful San Francisco-based movie (written by Allen, directed by Herbert Ross) about a movie nut who worships Humphrey Bogart and his hard-boiled characters so much that he conjures an imaginary version of the actor to help him with his love life. The snippets of Tony Roberts on the phone to his answering service (youngsters: ask your grandparents to explain what an answering service is) are hilarious, as are the homages to Casablanca.

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and Who’s Minding The Mint? If you like It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (which I can no longer watch because it gives me a headache), put these two comedic descendants into the DVD player. Though Russians is more both more frenetic and warmer than Mint, they both inhabit a world where events spiral out of control with hilarious consequences. Mint re-teams Mad World spouses Milton Berle and Dorothy Provine, although not as a couple. Russians re-teams Mad World alums Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, and Paul Ford.

My Favorite Year and The Front. You wouldn’t normally pair a comedy based on Sid Caesar’s live show with a drama about the blacklist, but they’re both wonderful paeans to the early days of television. MFY is the fictionalized story of young writer Mel Brooks babysitting washed-up actor Errol Flynn, while the other is the story of Woody Allen providing a name and face for blacklisted writers (and another rare situation where Allen appeared in another director’s movie). Even taking into account this year’s Trumbo, The Front is without a doubt the best movie ever made about the blacklist.

Coming Home and The Best Years Of Our Lives. Two very different stories about veterans heading back to civilian life, the first about Vietnam and the second about World War II. Oh, how the world had changed. They’re both tear-jerkers, but while the first one is grittier, the second one, one of my favorite movies of the 40s, has a good old-fashioned Hollywood happy ending.

Here’s to happy endings and a happy new year.

Note: This blog was amended after its original posting to add The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far.

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About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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