Robert Osborne and Those Old Black & Whites

Did you see that Robert Osborne died last week? He was the avuncular, knowledgeable host of feature films on Turner Classic Movies. I associate him and TCM with some of my most enjoyable viewing over the years. My rule has been that if they were showing a black and white movie it was probably going to be better than most contemporary movies. It's a ridiculously categorical judgment that probably wouldn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny, but I'll stick with it now for one reason, which is that it seems like before 1960 or so there was more attention to storytelling. The works of the director George Stevens provide a good example. He directed a wide range of films early on, including some Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers flicks, but after WWII his vision got a little tougher, and he produced his great trilogy: Shane, A Place in the Sun, and Giant. Shane is one of my favorite movies, and I saw it and A Place in the Sun on TCM within the past year or two. I discussed Shane here. As for Place, it stars Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters, and it portrays a doomed love affair. What I liked is the patient pacing of the story: we always know what is at stake -- there's no mystery per se -- but we are never bored because the character development is so vivid, both subtle and deep, and the plot unfolds inevitably. Also, Stevens was a master at getting the best work out of his actors. I guess that's why he created so many classics. Here's an excellent essay about Stevens.

Robert Osborne


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