Saturday, December 12, 2009

Two Classics Revisited

The best-known line that Paddy Chayefsky ever wrote was spoken by Peter Finch in "Network": "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!" But prior to the release of "Network" in 1976, another Chayefsky line—or, to be exact, a two-liner—was just as well remembered:

"Well, what do you feel like doing tonight?"

"I don't know, Angie. What do you feel like doing?" . . .

. . . The Criterion Collection, which specializes in digitally remastered versions of great films of the past, has just released the 1953 version of "Marty" for the first time on DVD as part of a boxed set called "The Golden Age of Television" that contains such other classic TV plays as J.P. Miller's "Days of Wine and Roses" and Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight." To see it today is a revelation—and a delight.

And Gone With the Wind:
No one denies that "Gone With the Wind" holds an honored—even sacred—place in the pantheon of beloved American movies. Adjusted for inflation, its domestic box-office gross is variously estimated at $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion—vastly more than the sum earned by "Titanic." Still more impressive are its initial ticket sales, which totaled more than 200 million at a time when the U.S. population was just 130 million. And then there are those eight Oscars, including best picture, in a year widely acknowledged as Hollywood's greatest. But affection and respect are different things, and it is perhaps only now—70 years after its initial release on Dec. 15, 1939—that this film is acquiring a patina of venerability.

In large part, this delay can be attributed to the complicated feelings the picture engenders. Unlike, say, "The Wizard of Oz," from that same year, or "Casablanca," from three years later, "Gone With the Wind" is not unobjectionable. How could it be? Its primary characters are rich white Southerners living through the Civil War and into Reconstruction—not material that goes down easy for many Americans then or now.

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