In the 20 years that I’ve regularly attended the Detroit Film Theatre, and the 10 years that I’ve visited the Michigan Theater and Redford Theatre, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy many classic films, from silent movies like Buster Keaton’s The General (1927) to lively musicals like The Pirate (1948) to foreign language films like The Grand Illusion (1937).
Of course, many other films are available from the rich history of movies, which stretches back more than 100 years over three different centuries. Here is my personal wish list of movies that I would love to see on one of the big screens of the Detroit Movie Palaces:
Tol’able David (1921): I can’t think of too many silent classics that I haven’t seen at these theaters, but this one intrigues me, mostly because of this quote from David Shipman’s The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years (1989): “…probably the least crude, the most fresh and moving, of any silent melodrama.”
The Last Flight (1931): A perfect candidate for a restored lost classic. A bittersweet film about some World War I veterans drifting around Europe. Its emotional power comes through strongly in its occasional showings on Turner Classic Movies; a theater screening would be overwhelming.
Our Town (1940): The music by Aaron Copland alone would be enough to justify a big screen showing. But that music also propels a simple and poignant story about moving through the ordinary challenges of life.
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942): Orson Welles’ first film, Citizen Kane (1941), has received many deserved showings. But this second movie by Welles has a narrative drive that plays out superbly in long scenes of dialogue, and in elegantly choreographed camera work. (This wish came true on June 8, 2015 at the Michigan Theater. See Magnificence.)
Day of Wrath (1943): Danish film director Carl Dreyer’s chilling tale of fear and evil touches the dark side of humanity. By the end of this movie by the director of The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), you’ve seen emotions stripped bare. (This wish came true on April 24, 2010 at the Detroit Film Theatre. See On the Dark Side.)
Three Little Words (1950): A little known classic of the great era of Technicolor MGM musicals. Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen show grace and style in their wide variety of dance numbers. Red Skelton adds plenty of laughs to one of the most purely enjoyable movies I have ever seen.
Lola Montès (1955): This sweeping romantic epic uses music and the wide screen to its maximum effect. In his last film, German director Max Ophüls created a deep empathy for the title character, as she navigates the winds of fate that guide her fascinating life. (This wish came true on January 16, 2009 at the Detroit Film Theatre. See Lola Montès.)
Thunder Road (1958): At first glance, this looks like a drive-in movie about hillbillies, hot rods and moonshine. But look a little deeper, and you’ll see a stirring essay on rural culture and the American Dream. You’ll gain a new appreciation for Robert Mitchum, and you’ll discover a beautiful theme song (“Whippoorwill”).
Petulia (1968): George C. Scott, Julie Christie and Richard Chamberlain star in director Richard Lester’s sad, very human story of another side of the 1960s and how that decade affected society.
Empire of the Sun (1987): Steven Spielberg’s rollercoaster movies, like Jaws (1975) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), are modern classics that have drawn large crowds at recent showings. But Empire, along with The Color Purple (1985), gave us our first look at the more serious side of Spielberg, as he moved towards films like Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). (This wish came true on November 16, 2015 at the Michigan Theater. See Spielberg Gets Serious.)
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001): Another Spielberg movie that is one of the most-thought provoking films that I have ever seen. It asks the most basic questions: Who am I? What is love? And at the end, it takes us to the absolute brink of the next life. (This wish came true on December 10, 2007 at the Michigan Theater. See A Real Movie.)
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.