9 Movies You Need to Watch to Understand Old Hollywood
Now that Feud: Bette and Joan
This year, Longworth curated a collection for the Warner Archive, a streaming video service featuring hundreds of classic movies, from Westerns and film noir to musicals (think of it as the Netflix of classic Hollywood). Each of the films in the You Must Remember This collection ties in with an episode of the podcast, so you can watch the movie, then flip over to your phone for some deep-dive context.
And yes, this list does include a healthy dose of both Bette and Joan, along with a host of other silver screen stars including Marilyn Monroe, Carole Lombard, and even Ronald Reagan. Here, the nine movies you need to see in order to understand Old Hollywood, as explained by Longworth.
1. West Point (1927)
One of Joan Crawford’s earliest roles was in this silent era romantic drama about an arrogant cadet (William Haines) who finds love with Joan’s Betty right before a major football game.
Karina Longworth: “I was really excited to see this in the Warner Archive. Just to see Joan Crawford in the silent era, when she was so young, is really a revelation. It was also a movie that she made with Billy Haynes, who people remember now as this Hollywood actor who was basically forced out of Hollywood for being gay and then became an interior decorator. But he and Joan formed this friendship while they were making this movie that would last their entire lives.”
2. Bombshell (1933)
This pre-Hays Code romantic comedy stars Jean Harlow as a sexpot movie actress who’s desperate to overhaul her vampy image and live a normal
KL: “This is probably my
Mary Forbes, Frank Morgan, and Jean Harlow in Bombshell
3) Knute Rockne: All American (1940)
Ronald Reagan stars in this sports biopic as George "The Gipper" Gipp, a legendary college football player who died at 25, just days after leading his team to a spectacular win.
KL: “I think there are two movies that people who know Reagan as an actor would know about. One is Kings Row, which is this lurid soap opera where he has his legs chopped off by a doctor with a grudge. And the other is Knute Rockne:
4) Babes on Broadway (1941)
Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland play starry-eyed kids with Broadway ambitions in the third
KL: “This is another movie that I don’t necessarily love, but I did an episode during our MGM season about Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland as child stars at MGM. Louis B Mayer, somewhat hypocritically, was pushing for family content, and behind the scenes, especially as they got into puberty and became very, very famous, Judy and Mickey really struggled with a lot of things that would not be considered family-friendly. Babes on Broadway is one of the more famous movies that Judy and Mickey made together, and when people talk about that cliche of ‘putting on a show in a barn,’ this is where that comes from.”
Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
Starring Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery as a bickering couple who discover that their marriage is not legally valid, this is the only pure comedy Alfred Hitchcock ever made in America.
KL: “I actually chose this for Carole Lombard rather than Hitchcock. This was her penultimate film, and in the
Carole Lombard and Gene Raymond
6.) Panama Hattie (1942)
Adapted from the Cole Porter Broadway hit, this musical sees a saloon owner (Ann Sothern) in Panama fall for an upper-class guest, but it’s most notable for featuring two musical numbers from Lena Horne, the first African-American in Hollywood to sign a long-term contract with a major movie studio.
KL: “This is a movie I chose because of the musical performance from Lena Horne. The Lena podcast episode is one of my
7) Hollywood Canteen (1944)
During World War II, the Hollywood Canteen was a club offering entertainment to servicemen who were on their way overseas or on leave. Warner Bros. ultimately turned the real-life club into this musical comedy, in which two soldiers on leave spent a few nights at the Canteen entertained by a host of Warner stars including Bette Davis.
KL: “I did a series on the podcast about Hollywood during World War II, which included Bette Davis’s experience starting the Hollywood Canteen. She was collaborating with John Garfield, but Bette basically took the lead and was there every night, and Warner Brothers decided to make a movie about all their stars chipping in at the Hollywood Canteen. It was essentially just an excuse for all these star cameos, but it is a really interesting historical
Bette Davis and John Garfield
8) The Star (1952)
Bette Davis plays a washed-up actress trying desperately to rekindle her once-enviable career.
KL: “The Star was written by a woman named Katherine Albert who was a longtime friend of Joan Crawford’s, but they had a falling out. I think it was because Katherine’s daughter was going to marry some guy and [Katherine] didn’t want her to, and then Joan told the daughter, ‘Yeah, go ahead and marry him!'
“So Katherine wrote this movie, which seems very inspired by Joan Crawford in middle age trying to hold on to her stardom. And the fact that it was starring Bette Davis, who Joan had had this long history and rivalry with, was seen by some Hollywood people as an attack on Joan.”
Sterling Hayden and Bette Davis
9) The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)
KL: “This is definitely one of my least
“Because this was such a pivotal point in Marilyn’s career, this is the
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.