Flirtations in Black & White

A Girls’ Guide to Classic Hollywood: Part IYou know old Hollywood glamour; the fake lashes and red matte lips. You love Audrey, Grace and Marilyn. But beyond the few classic movies which everyone has seen, like the seminal Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), or the zany cyclone of munchkins that is The Wizard of Oz (1939), you haven’t sought out many oldies on your own.
Approaching the shimmering firmament of classic Hollywood cinema can be as terrifying as it is tantalizing. Where do you even begin?
Hollywood’s Golden Age lasted from the silent era (late 1920s) to the early 1960s. In those 35 years, America experienced the Great Depression, World War II, the Baby Boom, the dawn of the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the rise of Feminism. As Art and Life tend to imitate one another, the movies from this period are ripe with examples of lifestyle and culture, and are a fascinating metric for America’sprogress on a number of important issues. Better still, many of these films remain to be funny, insightful, dramatic, and even relevant.
But, staring up at this complex universe of movies and their stars, how can you tell which are worth pocketing and which will collapse into black holes of boredom, racism, sexism or worse? And when there are so many good modern films to enjoy, is it even worthwhile to spend time with the classics?
I think so. And I’m happy to serve as something of a guide on this star tour. As Bette Davis famously said in All About Eve (1950), “Fastenyour seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!”
We’ll begin with flirtations; two classic rom coms every girl ought to see.
Flirtations in Black & White
Against her father’s wishes, heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) runs away to marry celebrity aviator King Westley. To dodge her father’s attempts to get her back, Ellie keeps a low profile by hopping a Greyhound bus bound for NYC. Her seatmate turns out to be handsome, wise-cracking newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable). Between washed-out bridges, some light extortion, and dozens of zippy one-liners, love is, of course, triumphant.
The film famously made life difficult for Hollywood’s censors. To have an unmarried couple share a hotel room was taboo, even with a blanket partition separating the two single beds in each scene. Fueling the fire was the on screen chemistry between Gable and Colbert, evident in every exchange of dialog, so much of it quotable.
For instance, in , after Ellie uses her feminine wiles to stop a car:
Peter: Why didn’t you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.
Ellie: Oh, I’ll remember that when we need forty cars.
It Happened One Night received an Academy Award in every category forwhich it was nominated in 1935, including all of The Big Five (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay).
Flirtations in Black & White
Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), girl reporter, returns to the offices of New York’s Morning Post to break some bad news to her boss and ex-husband, Editor-in-Chief Walter Burns (CaryGrant). Hildy is quitting the newspaper game, getting married, and moving to the ‘burbs all in the next 24 hours. Walter, still in love with his ex, does everything he can to keep her from leaving. When Hildy agrees to cover one last important story for the Post, the stage is set for a jailbreak, political corruption, bumbling law enforcement, and the scoop of a lifetime.
Best known for its witty, rapid-fire banter, the film is also important from a political standpoint, presenting a positive outlook on a Feministtopic. Hildy’s decision to quit the Post and divorce Walter stems from her desire to follow tradition: to have a home and children. But as the curtain goes up on the first act (the film is an adaptation of The Front Page, a play by Hecht and MacArthur), it’s obvious that Walter is the only man for Hildy, and that her first love is actually investigating and writing for the Post.
It’s alsoworth noting the subtle racism in this movie. In keeping with the vernacular of the time, both Walter and Hildy refer to a black person as “colored.” Hollywood was, however, still more enlightened than society at large; that same year, Hattie McDaniel became the first black actress to receive an Academy Award; the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind (1939).
His Girl Friday is available to watch instantly on Netflix. is also posted on YouTube because of an expired copyright.
These are just a couple of my favorite romantic comedies in black and white. In the next three weeks, I’ll continue down this yellow-brick road of American classics. I hope you’ll want to join me!
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  • Reply July 18, 2012

    Cindy Lackey

    I’ve always loved His Girl Friday now I have a new one I need to check out! Thanks for the recommendations! It’s movie night tonight.

  • Reply July 20, 2012


    Congratulations Audrey! I can already tell after fifteen minutes’ perusal you are a perfect fit for Sweet Lemon Mag. Looking forward to the next installation. :-)