“Context is key,” Malone told us during a lovely conversation of all things classic and movies. “Context, curation, and some sort of gatekeeper, so whether it’s your parents, someone you trust, or someone you watch on TCM telling you about the film, introducing it to you, I think that is really important.”
Malone has some pretty awesome parents to give her lessons in classic film. As a kid in Australia, she had her first realization about films being made by filmmakers, opening up a new world of appreciation. “The first very vivid [memory] is seeing Rear Window, by Alfred Hitchcock, when I was really young,” she explained. “Way too young to actually have watched the film. My parents loved movies, my dad loved classic movies. Classic movies used to play late night on television in Australia. I remember being dragged out of bed and sat down and shown this is Rear Window. Even though it was scary to watch, it was the first time I realized, ‘Oh somebody made this film.'”
A lot of people talk about movies like Rear Window, and there’s a reason for that: it’s a classic. Generally, if you’re trying to get into classic movies, looking at what are hailed as some of the best of all time is a good way to do it. But, Malone cautions, don’t just go to the big lists; get a little more personalized with it.
“I have a couple of young people who I mentor who want to get into the industry,” she explained. “I like to give them homework assignments and films to watch, so I try and do it very carefully. I don’t go straight for Citizen Kane or something that’s harder for young people to watch straight in. I try and ease them into it.” It doesn’t have to be a super serious movie, either, Malone continued. “I always think Singing in the Rain is a good gateway into classic films. It also teaches you about classic Hollywood at the same time as being a really entertaining movie.”
Now before you run away saying “a musical, yuck” to us and anyone who’ll listen, realize Alicia Malone knows what she’s talking about and give it a chance. “Singing in the Rain is so entertaining,” she continued. “It is one that I always recommend to people who haven’t watched many classic films or many musicals because it’s so delightful it’s hard not to love.”
On a different note, there’s the cinema of Billy Wilder. TCM’s Eddie Muller already recommended Wilder’s Double Indemnity as one of the top two films noir ever made, so you know he was a talented filmmaker. Malone’s choice is arguably Wilder’s crowning achievement. “The Apartment is my favorite film of all time,” she explained, “and there’s so much to enjoy there. It’s one that I watch on repeat many, many times over and it has such a great balance of tone. It’s funny, it’s serious, it touches on suicide and extramarital affairs, but it’s really sweet and romantic and it’s got a great end line that I love so much and the two great stars.”
Part of being a fan of classic films is seeking out films that, even if you’re a veteran, might have slipped through your radar. There are thousands of movies, so surely you haven’t seen everything. Even someone as cine-literate as Malone has new-to-her movies or rediscoveries she’d recommend. “Days of Wine and Roses is one,” she told us. “Starring my favorite, Jack Lemmon, and Lee Remick. It’s a heartbreaking story about two alcoholics. It just broke my heart all over again. I think I appreciated it more now that I’m older than when I watched it when I was a teenager.”
“Then, one that was a fun discovery,” she continued, “was Two Weeks in Another Town, which is directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Kirk Douglas and Edward G. Robinson. It’s Kirk Douglas and Vincente Minnelli and John Houseman, the producer, getting back together 10 years after they made The Bad and the Beautiful. It’s a bizarre film. It’s set in 1960s Rome and it’s so glamorous to watch that I really enjoyed that film. It was one that I had never seen before.”
Part of being a curator of classic cinema and giver of recommendations is to offer things you wouldn’t find in the books or lists of Greatest Films Ever. “I know people use things like AFI Top 100 List just as a basic guide of the films that they have to watch or should watch in order to be a film fan,” Malone said, “but that also leaves out a lot of female–or any female–directors. So, I have been working on a guide book about films made by women.”
So get your spreadsheets out, new classic film watchers, because here’s a certified Alicia Malone Pick: “One classic film that I often suggest to people that I love is Dance, Girl, Dance,” Malone shared. “It was directed by Dorothy Arzner who was the only female filmmaker working in the 1930s and ’40s in Hollywood, and one of the few in the whole world. And the film itself is about a very complex female relationship. It’s also a backstage musical, so you get a glimpse behind the curtain at these two female dancers played by Lucille Ball and Maureen O’Hara and they have this competitive relationship with each other.”
Malone continued the movie feels a lot more contemporary and deals with themes that still feel very fresh. “It’s got this wonderful scene at the end where Maureen O’Hara’s character, Judy, confronts the audience for the way that they’re jeering at her to strip rather than perform her ballet routine and I think it says so much about the way we view women in film and entertainment as objects. It’s a film that always surprises me every time I see it.”
You can catch more of Alicia Malone’s amazing film knowledge as she introduces selections on both Turner Classic Movies and FilmStruck, and as the host of The FilmStruck Podcast. Listen, learn, watch, enjoy.