Old movies: celebrating vintage summer films

Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night
Share this Article:

Our Old movies column returns, and this time Sarah Cook has some suggestions to distract you from the heat of the summer sun.

Summer is well and truly upon us. The sweltering heat of the sun is beating down on our brows as we frolic throughout the cities and countryside. Perhaps we’re even jetting off to faraway places and soaking in a long overdue holiday with cocktails and summer romances.

Then there are people like me who prefer the sanctuary of cool dark rooms and the inside, away from the boiling ball of fire in the sky that turns my pale skin red and painful. So for all of you who are looking for distraction from this season, I have a whole heap of movie suggestions for you.

Havana Widows (1933)
Directed by Ray Enright

There has never been a greater duo on the big screen than Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell – having both starred in five films together.

One of their best movies is the delightful Havana Widows. The story revolves around two women – Mae Knight and Sadie Appleby – who are chorus girls in a burlesque. Spurred on by an old friend, the pair head to Havana to find themselves rich husbands.

Wildly entertaining with some brilliant wisecracks and deliveries from the famed duos, this is a light and breezy flick.

Trouble In Paradise (1932)
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

A thief, a conman, and a lady all collide in Lubitsch’s incredible Trouble In Paradise.

Starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall, the film revolves around Gaston Monsecu who meets and falls in love with beautiful pickpocket Lily in Venice. When they travel to Paris, they come across Madame Mariette Colet – a perfume manufacturer who has a diamond encrusted purse the criminal cohorts plan to steal. However, things get complicated when Gaston begins to fall in love with Mariette.

With Critic Dwight MacDonald calling it “as close to perfection as a film could get,” it’s hard not to leave Trouble In Paradise without a beaming smile on your face. It is dripping with dazzling dialogue and dynamic deliveries. Lubitsch at his finest!

Hot Saturday (1932)
Directed by William A Seiter.

Steaming nights and steamier secrets are afoot in Hot Saturday.

The film revolves around naïve, small-town bank clerk Ruth who is victim of gossip when she spends the night with a local womanizer. Despite the fact nothing transpired between the pair, she is branded a bit of a hussy. So, she decides to play up to the role…

Nancy Carroll is effervescent in this part-comedy, part-drama.

Plus, it’s also a film in which Cary Grant wears eyeliner. A Hot Saturday, indeed.

It Happened One Night (1934)
Directed by Frank Capra

Before Planes, Trains, And Automobiles (1987), the journey from hell came in the form of Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night.

Featuring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, this romantic comedy sees spoiled and sheltered heiress Ellen run away from her commanding father. On her journey, she comes across rogue reporter Peter who’s interested in getting the scoop. For rights to an exclusive story, Peter must agree to help Ellen reunite with the man she has eloped with. Of course, nothing is ever that simple and the pair find themselves yoked together in a series of mishaps and hi-jinks.

Capra, Gable, and Colbert are on top form here – even if Colbert complained after the film that it was “the worst picture in the world.” She couldn’t be further from the truth. This original rom-com smashed box office records and scooped up an Academy Award in all five major categories – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Union Depot

Heat Lightning (1934)
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy

A lot of bloated and overtly long modern films could benefit from watching Heat Lightning to see how drama, romance and intrigue can be packed nearly into just 63 minutes.

In the sizzling and stifling desert of the American southwest, two sisters – Olga and Myra – run a garage. One night, a whole heap of characters arrive, including a dangerous character from Olga’s past. Tensions soon begin to boil over.

Simmering with passion and grief, Heat Lightning has a masterful and commanding lead performance from the brilliant Aline MacMahon. It is a film that revels in the quiet moments. In one brooding moment, a man sings to his family. The song rolls over the characters as they contemplate and collide in a striking, unforgettable way.

Union Depot (1932)
Directed by Alfred E. Green

Union Depot may be one of the greatest Pre-Code films ever made. Scratch that, may be one of the best films ever made.

If you are a big fan of one location movies then you must watch this. It’s set in the titular place – a metropolitan train station. It follows the intersection of travellers and bounces from character to character, extrapolating their tales. Within the midst of this hubbub are Chick and Scrap Iron, recently released convicts looking for their next meal. When Chick bumps into out-of-work showgirl Ruth, sparks begin to fly – if only for that night.

With Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Joan Blondell, this is a phenomenal film that is wonderfully acted and filmed with a fluidity that feels fresh and modern. An outstanding movie.

Love Me Tonight (1932)

Directed by Rouben Mamoulian

This may be a token Mamoulian film but still, to me, nothing says summer more than a good old musical film. Especially one that boasts inventive song sequences.

Love Me Tonight sees Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette McDonald once again paired up in this enchanting film. It sees Maurice, a Parisan tailor who, through a series of mishaps, is forced to pose as a baron to woo the elegant Princess Jeanette.

This is a musical that’s absolutely brimming with charm thanks to the undeniable chemistry of Chevalier and McDonald, as well as the great direction. I’ve often said that people mistakenly think of this as Lubitsch-lite. For fans of Mamoulian, his distinct poetic style is apparent.

But I’ll speak more on that next time. For now, enjoy these Pre-Code films while you shelter from the summer heat. 

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Stories Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

More like this