I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain
What a glorious feeling I’m happy again
I’m laughing at clouds so dark up above
The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Singin’ in the Rain starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor. Only 18 and having no dance experience, Reynolds sought the help of Fred Astaire in order to impress taskmaster and perfectionist Kelly for her role in the musical; Reynolds’ feet bleed after shooting the film’s “Good Morning” routine over the course of 15 hours, and Kelly endured 3 days of filming the “Singin’ in the Rain” number while having a high fever. Other films are also celebrating big milestones this year. Woman of the Year, Casablanca, and The Man Who Came to Dinner are all turning 80. Judy Garland would have turned 100 this summer, and the TCM Classic Film Festival is back in person this spring to celebrate dozens of movies, The Wizard of Oz included, that have made us laugh and cry. Find your comfiest sweats, pop some popcorn, and host your own classic movie fest with some of my favorite films below.
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): Three World War II veterans, two of them traumatized or disabled, return home to the American Midwest to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed. Directed by William Wyler, the film stars Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, and Harold Russell. It is the winner of 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. You can even watch the film on Kanopy here.
Rebecca (1940): A self-conscious woman juggles adjusting to her new role as an aristocrat’s wife and avoiding being intimidated by his first wife’s spectral presence. Based off of the novel by Daphne Du Maurier and directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, Rebecca stars Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Judith Anderson’s portrayal as Mrs. Danvers will give you chills. It won Best Picture and Best Cinematography at the 13th Academy Awards.
How Green Was My Valley (1941): At the turn of the century in a Welsh mining village, the Morgans raise coal-mining sons and hope their youngest will find a better life. How Green Was My Valley stars Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, and Roddy McDowall, and it was based off the best-selling novel by Richard Llewellyn. The film famously beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture.
Adam’s Rib (1949): Starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, domestic and professional tensions mount when a husband and wife work as opposing lawyers in a case involving a woman who shot her husband. Katharine Hepburn is my favorite actress and I highly recommend taking a day to binge watch her films, including The Philadelphia Story, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Desk Set (a librarian favorite!), and Little Women.
Sunset Boulevard (1950): A screenwriter develops a dangerous relationship with a faded film star determined to make a triumphant return. Directed by Billy Wilder, the film stars William Holden and Gloria Swanson. It was among the first group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962): An aging former child star torments her paraplegic sister in their decaying Hollywood mansion. The intensely bitter rivalry between the film’s stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, is legendary, but it made the film a success and even revitalized their careers.
The Thin Man (1934): Starring William Powell as former detective Nick Charles and Myrna Loy as wealthy heiress Nora, The Thin Man follows the flirty and charismatic couple as they investigate a murder for fun. The chemistry between Powell and Loy was so palpable and the film was so entertaining that five sequels were created between 1936 and 1947.
The Nun’s Story (1959): After leaving a prominent and wealthy Belgian family to become a nun, Sister Luke struggles with her devotion to her vows during crisis, disappointment, and World War II. The film is based off of the novel of the same name by Kathryn Hulme about Belgian nun Marie Louise Habets. Habets and the film’s star Audrey Hepburn became incredibly close during production, both having Belgian roots and having lost family members during World War II.
It Happened One Night (1934): I would be remiss if I didn’t include a Clark Gable film. A runaway heiress, Ellie Andrews, tries to get out from under her father’s thumb and falls in love with a renegade reporter, Peter Warne. Several actresses turned down the role of Ellie before Claudette Colbert reluctantly accepted – with the condition that the film be completed in just four weeks. Clark Gable was lent to Columbia Pictures for the film from MGM. Both actors were so dissatisfied with the script that director Frank Capra had it rewritten during production; the final film bears little resemblance to the original script.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962): Atticus Finch, a widowed lawyer in Depression-era Alabama, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his children against prejudice. Jimmy Stewart and Rock Hudson were considered for the role of Atticus before it went to Gregory Peck.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947): In 1900, a young widow finds her seaside cottage is haunted and forms a unique relationship with the ghost. The film stars Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison, and inspired a variety of adaptations, including a 1960s TV series and 2005 musical.
For Me and My Gal (1942): Two vaudeville performers fall in love, but find their relationship tested by the arrival of World War I. Having only performed on Broadway, For Me and My Gal was the first film role for Gene Kelly and it marked the first “adult” role for Judy Garland, who up until the movie had played juvenile parts and was typically paired with Mickey Rooney. Garland pushed for Kelly to get the part and the pair got along so well that they starred in two other films together, The Pirate and Summer Stock.