Noirvember: The Top Ten Noir Films That I Still Haven’t Seen

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Noirvember is finally here, and I honestly couldn’t be any more excited for it! In the years past I haven’t really been able to dive in and honor what’s slowly but surely become my favorite classic film genre, but this time around I’m hoping to change all of that. I figured that a top five or ten list of my favorite noirs would be just the thing to write about in keeping with my promise to provide a steady stream of original content throughout the rest of the year, but I soon realized that just about every noir-loving blog will be compiling that very same type of list over the course of the month. While of course I think that’s a great thing, as everyone has his or her own differing opinions about which noir films reign supreme, I think now would be a great time for me to devote some time to the movies that I still haven’t been able to sit down and watch for one reason or another. Though I’m no Czar of Noir like my favorite Turner Classic Movies host Eddie Muller, I’ve seen my fair share of murder dramas and crime thrillers. These ten films, however, are the ones that have frustrated me the most because they’ve managed to evade my eyes, and are from what I understand some of the best noirs that I still haven’t been able to see. Of course there are plenty more where this came from, but I’m making it my own personal goal to watch as many of these particular features as I can before the month is over.

10. Thieves’ Highway (1949)

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I could probably list a million reasons why Thieves’ Highway (1949) has intrigued me ever since I first discovered the film, but most of them honestly have to do with Eddie Muller. Ranked number thirteen on his list of the Top 25 Noir Films, he claims that this was the picture that first got him hooked on noir. From what I can tell it’s no surprise as it seems to comprise of an intriguing chain of events starring none other than Richard Conte, an actor who I’ve adored in everything I’ve seen him in from The Blue Gardenia (1944) to his incredible performance on The Twilight Zone in 1959, and Valentina Cortese, an actress who I’ve been dying to see onscreen. Muller gave the movie special attention in one of the many short features that ran on Turner Classic Movies promoting the premiere of Noir Alley, a special program on the channel that highlights one picture from the genre per week. He talked about one particular steamy scene in which Cortese plays tic-tac-toe across the bare chest of Conte using her long fingernails, a not-so-subtle approach to depicting sex onscreen when the Hayes Code forbade it under normal circumstances. This entrancing pairing immediately piqued my interest, and the film’s plot made it a high priority on my list of need-to-see noirs.

9. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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As you might remember, I mentioned this past summer that I was enrolled in Turner Classic Movies’ The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock online course. I thoroughly enjoyed it and had a great time learning about the esteemed director, and going into it I promised myself that I would take the time to focus on films of Hitchcock’s that I hadn’t gotten the chance to watch before rather than simply watching the same few over and over again. Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Notorious (1946) were the two that I instantly put on my watchlist, and coincidentally both were featured in the course as Hitchcock’s main contributions to film noir. Unforunately, I was so engrossed in the curriculum itself that I managed to see Notorious (1946) but not the picture that I had been looking forward to seeing the most, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). This has just been one of those movies that’s slipped through the cracks for me somehow, which is a shame because I’ve been looking forward to seeing Teresa Wright in a film and Joseph Cotten intrigued me immensely after I saw him display his acting chops in Citizen Kane (1941) and Journey Into Fear (1942). I’ve tried my best to stay away from anything that would reveal the ending of the film, but from the bits and pieces of information that I’ve accidentally found, I believe I’m in for some gripping twists and turns.

8. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

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This is a movie that I certainly believe has permeated pop culture and cemented itself as a classic in every sense of the word. I saw the iconic shot of Robert Mitchum leaning against a fencepost with the words ‘LOVE’ and ‘HATE’ tattooed on his knuckles long before I had any idea what the film was even about, and when I finally did learn about The Night of the Hunter (1955)‘s captivating storyline I was more than eager to see it. I’ve mentioned earlier in the article that there are just some movies that slip through the cracks, and that’s definitely an understatement when it comes to this film. If I recall correctly I’ve tried to watch this one five or six different times as it’s screened on TCM quite often, but something always gets in the way like a scheduling conflict or even a phone call at the exact wrong time that lasted just a little too long. It’s become really irritating to me at this point, and if there’s any film on this list that I’ll really groan about if I don’t manage to watch it at long last, this one is it. I’m really looking forward to seeing both Robert Mitchum’s acting, which from what I’ve heard is at his diabolical best, and Charles Laughton behind the camera for a change for his only feature film as a director. Even more inviting is the fact that I still haven’t seen a Lillian Gish feature, though I’ve admired her in photographs for as long as I’ve been interested in classic film, so all in all I’m hopeful that this one will be a real treat.

7. The Third Man (1949)

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In some circles that I know about, admitting that you have yet to watch The Third Man (1949) is almost as bad as admitting that you haven’t seen Citizen Kane (1941), and sometimes I’ve found that it’s even worse. It’s not astonishing, as the two films were undoubtedly high ranking among Orson Welles’ many crowning achievements, and The Third Man (1949) earned both Welles and the aforementioned Joseph Cotten a great deal of respect in the film noir community after its release. I think it’s about time that I finally cross this one off of my list, and what promises to make this particular viewing even better is that I still haven’t influenced my own opinion beforehand by reading a single thing about the story. I’ve seen a couple of very artistic, Welles-esque shots that seem to solidify the cinematography at least within the confines of noir, but aside from that I’ll be going into this viewing completely blind. Usually I like to learn as much as I can about a film before I actually sit down and watch it (with the exception of the ending, of course), mostly so I don’t end up stuck with a picture that I don’t enjoy, so this is quite a rare feat for me. Wish me luck this month as I finally sit down and give it a try, and let me know what you thought of The Third Man (1949) if you’ve seen it before!

6. The Big Heat (1953)

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This is another film that I’ve tried to watch multiple times, though I really would have seen The Big Heat (1953) if it weren’t for the fact that the version I found online was the version with audio commentary for some reason. So many different aspects of this movie interest and appeal to me; for one thing, this is the only movie that I’ve heard of that was based on a newspaper serial. I assume that’s sort of the equivalent of someone making fanfiction into a movie today, or maybe a post on social media. To me it’s pretty rare that something from that medium would be considered so great that there would be a demand for a film, and as a result I have high hopes for the plot. Of course there’s also the stellar cast, with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. I’ve been especially enamored by Grahame ever since I watched her alluring performance in another classic noir (and Eddie Muller’s personal favorite), In A Lonely Place (1950). If any film showed me that such a glamorous woman could carry a dramatic picture, that one is it, and I’m incredibly excited to see her try on another noir for size. With two incredible actors and a tagline that eerily states “Somebody’s going to pay… because he forgot to kill me!”, I’m sure that I’ll be on pins and needles until I sit down to watch this film.

5. The Glass Key (1942)

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Yes, you’re reading this right: I have not one, but two of the noirs that paired Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake on my list. The reason is simple: Even though I’ve only seen three of her films, I would easily place Veronica Lake on a list of my top ten favorite actresses. Her unattainable beauty and relatable personality make for a unique and riveting combination, and I always adore watching her onscreen. Of course she was best known for her contribution to noir, especially in the three pictures that she made with Alan Ladd: This Gun for Hire (1942), which I’ve already seen and enjoyed, and the two that have made my list, The Glass Key (1942) and The Blue Dahlia (1946), so I’d honestly feel like a phony if I claimed that I was such a huge fan of Veronica’s without watching these films in particular. What’s even more interesting about The Glass Key (1942) is that it’s based on iconic noir author Dashiell Hammett’s favorite of his novels. That’s quite a statement when you realize that he also penned novels like The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, and once again this really makes me curious about the storyline of the film. Hopefully I enjoy The Glass Key (1942) as much as I loved This Gun for Hire (1942), because I’d be more than happy to rank this among my favorite films starring Veronica Lake.

4. The Blue Dahlia (1946)

 

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Here’s the second of the two films starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd that made my list. This one was made long after their other onscreen pairings, during Veronica Lake’s unfortunate decline in Hollywood. While I’ve claimed that I’ve attempted to watch many of the films on this list, The Blue Dahlia (1946) is the one that I’ve actually seen the most of. I’ve tried to watch it a few times, and once again I’ve been interrupted for one reason or another, though with this film it’s always after the first couple of scenes. I could probably recite the beginning interactions between Ladd’s character Johnny Morrison and his unfaithful wife by heart by now, but this month I really hope to finally sit down and watch the story unfold completely. While I don’t have a vast multitude of interests aside from classic film I will admit that true crime is definitely one of them, and if the title of this picture sounded familiar to you, you’re not alone. The title of the infamous unsolved crime “The Black Dahlia” came from this film; some believe that the moniker was given because it was the last movie she watched before she was killed, while others believe that it was because she wore dahlias in her hair. Whatever the reason the name stuck, and while of course it doesn’t directly relate, it does add another layer of intrigue and further motivates me to finally see this classic.

3. Murder, My Sweet (1944)

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Murder, My Sweet (1944) is yet another film that Turner Classic Movies initially sparked my interest in, though it wasn’t because the movie in its entirety was shown on the channel. Instead I first heard about it in one of the segments shown in between pictures, a short documentary about noir director Edward Dmytryk. The narrator painted a beautiful picture of the director and his accomplishments, making me more curious about him than any other noir filmmaker that I’ve heard of. One of the facts that intrigued me most was that Dmytryk saw potential in romantic musical actor Dick Powell and decided to cast him in a serious crime drama, taking on the iconic role of Detective Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (1944). Marlowe was created by Raymond Chandler, a mystery writer that earned his place among Hammett and all of the other great authors of the genre. This character in particular has been portrayed onscreen countless times, most famously in this film by Powell as well as in The Big Sleep (1946) by Humphrey Bogart, and is considered by many to be the ultimate noir character. Not only was Murder, My Sweet (1944) given an immense amount of praise by the documentary, which of course made me eager to see it, but I’ve also noticed it on numerous rankings of the best noirs of all time, sometimes even making its way to the top spot. All of these reasons have led to me longing to finally see Dmytryk and Powell at their best, and I can’t wait to finally add this one to my film collection.

2. Nightmare Alley (1947)

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The fact that I still haven’t seen Nightmare Alley (1947) is absolutely baffling to me. If you’re new to my blog you might not know this, but Tyrone Power is my favorite actor of all time. Hence, as you might imagine, I’ve seen the vast majority of his movies, but I still can’t really say why this one hasn’t been my top priority. At this point I’m downright ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen it, because I’ve known for a long time that it was Ty’s personal favorite of all of his films. Made after his service in World War II, Power was a weathered man at this point in his life, far from the youthful and dashing romantic idol type that he was confined to at 20th Century Fox in the late 1930s. Nightmare Alley (1947) was one of the first pictures that really allowed him to stretch the limits of his craft, and he was more than grateful for the opportunity to carry a film using more than just his looks. Even more compelling was that it took the coveted number seven spot on Eddie Muller’s Top 25 Noir Films list that I discussed earlier. According to Muller, Nightmare Alley (1947) is Tyrone Power’s “greatest contribution to the movies”, and if all of that doesn’t provide enough motivation for me to watch it, I honestly don’t know what will. Aside from Ty I believe that the picture as a whole is comprised of a talented group of actors, including Joan Blondell (who I’ve always admired) along with Coleen Gray and Helen Walker, two ingenues at the time who I’ve been eager to see onscreen. To me, Nightmare Alley (1947) is an absolute must this month.

1. Out of the Past (1947)

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Of course everyone has their differing opinions on which noir is the best, but from what I’ve seen, there’s more or less a general consensus. I’ve read my fair share of lists discussing the best movies that stemmed from the genre, and from my experience one of these three usually earns the top spot: Double Indemnity (1944), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and surprisingly most often, this film. I haven’t seen it, so I’m really not aware what all the fuss is about yet, but I have the feeling that the incomparable acting style of Robert Mitchum has something to do with it. The cast in general couldn’t be more appealing, with the might of Kirk Douglas and the stunning beauty of both Rhonda Fleming and of course Jane Greer, two of the most gorgeous women I have ever laid eyes on, rounding out the main list of actors. I can truly say that each of the four have been people who I’ve wanted to see onscreen much more than I already do, Jane Greer especially as I’ve only seen her in one film. Once again Out of the Past (1947) makes Muller’s list, this time at number nine, though I wouldn’t exactly call his mini-review very favorable. “Face it, the meandering script is saved by Frank Fenton’s dialogue. But this is how we want noir to look and sound, so it gets cut lots of slack,” he writes, though he mentions that Kirk Douglas is “never better”, and that along with all of the acclaim that’s surrounded the picture for decades is more than good enough for me.

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The June Allyson Centenary Blogathon: Ten Things You Might Not Know About June Allyson

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Hi, everyone! If you haven’t noticed, I had to change my topic for the wonderful June Allyson Centenary Blogathon, hosted by the always gracious Simoa of Champagne for Lunch. My original idea was to review Strategic Air Command (1955), one of the lesser-known films that June made with the incomparable James Stewart, while visiting the Al Lang Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Florida, where a portion of the picture was filmed. I couldn’t resist the opportunity as it’s one of the many classic movie filming locations that I recently found out are near my hometown! As much as it disappoints me as I’m sure it does my readers, however, not only was I unable to access the film itself, but I wasn’t even able to get into the stadium! I was aware that it is still in use today (after being converted into a professional soccer stadium in 2011), but I was unaware that the sport had just started its season this month! Rest assured that one fine day I’ll get into the location, take some pictures, and write an article about it that will do it justice. Until then I want to give Simoa a huge thank you for allowing me to change my topic so late in the game, and I hope you all learn something new as I share with you ten facts that you might not know about our lovely birthday girl June Allyson, who would have turned the big 100 today!

1. When June was eight, she fractured her skull and suffered a broken back as a result of a falling tree branch. Her doctors told her that she would never walk again, and for four years she was confined to a heavy steel brace that covered her entire torso. She ultimately regained her health, and even taught herself to dance by watching the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

2. June had the ability to cry on cue. She later explained that her method for inducing tears was to “try very, very hard not to cry, so the more I thought about not crying the more I cried”. Her Little Women (1949) costar Margaret O’Brien also had this gift, and according to Allyson, they both “could not stop” crying during O’Brien’s death scene.

3. She never had the opportunity to place her hand and footprints in front of the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre like many of her costars, but she was awarded a star for her work in motion pictures on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 and got to place her hand and footprints in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park on August 21, 1989 (which is thought to be heavily inspired by Grauman’s).

4. After filming The Secret Heart (1946) together, Allyson became great friends with her costar, Claudette Colbert. On June 18, 1948, Claudette became godmother to June’s only daughter, Pamela Powell.

5. June was an avid fan of mystery writer Agatha Christie, so much so that her personal library consisted of every novel that Christie ever wrote. She also considered Christie’s character Jane Marple to be her favorite female detective.

6. She initially wanted to become a doctor, and began acting in order to pay for medical school. She ended up falling in love with the craft, and eventually paid for her brother to become a doctor instead. She still took a lifelong interest in health and medical research, however, especially after her first husband Dick Powell passed away after a brief battle with lung cancer on January 2, 1963.

7. During the time of her breakout role in Two Girls and A Sailor (1944), June stood at just 5′ 1″ and weighed only 99 pounds.

8. In 1945, Harvard Lampoon voted June as their worst actress of the year. The “award” for worst actor that year went to Van Johnson, who costarred with June in six films.

9. Judy Garland was one of June Allyson’s closest friends. The two met while they were both under contract at MGM in the 1940s, and Judy would often give June rides to the studio in her car. In interviews after Garland’s passing in 1969, Allyson said that she could hardly talk about Garland without crying because she was “such a special lady who didn’t have appropriate help available to her in her lifetime”.

10. Despite often portraying the perfect housewife in film and on television, June was quoted as saying, “In real life I’m a poor dressmaker and a terrible cook – anything in fact but the perfect wife”. I managed to dig up a few of her own personal recipes courtesy of the blog Classic Celebrity Recipes, so go ahead and try them out for yourself and tell me if you agree with June!

The Jack Lemmon Blogathon: You Can’t Run Away From It (1956)

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Hi, everybody! I’m back again with what will likely be my final blogathon entry for March. This time I’m celebrating one of my favorite actors, and one that I feel is among the most underrated of all time, Jack Lemmon. As always, I’d first love to thank the gracious hosts of this blogathon, Crítica Retrô and Wide Screen World, for choosing such a wonderful person to write about. I wish this blogathon all of the success possible, and without further ado, on with the post!

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June Allyson and Jack Lemmon in a theatrical poster for You Can’t Run Away From It (1956).

I must admit that I had a little bit of trouble at first when I was attempting to choose a film to write about for this great blogathon. I was in the mood to discuss something that I hadn’t seen before, yet at the same time I’m such a huge fan of Jack Lemmon that I had already seen most of his fantastic work. Finally after perusing his filmography, I found one that made me laugh out loud just by hearing the premise, and I knew that I simply had to review it. Hold on to your hats, folks, because You Can’t Run Away From It (1956) is a musical remake of It Happened One Night (1934), a film beloved by all who have seen it that starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, and the first film to win every single major Academy Award in the same year. Needless to say the stars of this film, Jack Lemmon and June Allyson, had some large shoes to fill. The remake was helmed by Dick Powell, June Allyson’s then-husband, who served as both producer and director. It was Powell’s third time in the director’s chair, and at the time he and June Allyson had been one of the reigning couples in Hollywood for eleven years. Their marriage would only last seven more years after the completion of this picture, however, as Powell died of cancer in 1963. It’s suggested that the film The Conqueror (1956), the film that he directed just before You Can’t Run Away From It (1956), attributed to and perhaps caused his death as he decided to film in St. George, Utah, 137 miles away from one of the US government’s nuclear testing sites. The filmmakers knew about the government’s activities in the area, but the government assured them that the tests would not be hazardous to the cast and crew. Despite their reassurance, 91 out of the 220 people who worked on the film developed some form of cancer, and 46 eventually died from it, including lead actors John Wayne and Susan Hayward, as well as director of The Conqueror (1956) and today’s film, Dick Powell.

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June Allyson and Jack Lemmon in a scene from You Can’t Run Away From It (1956).

If you’re familiar with the original classic It Happened One Night (1934), you’ll definitely pick up on all of the similarities to You Can’t Run Away From It (1956). In fact, you could probably say that there are more similarities than differences between the two. Both films begin with heiress Ellen “Ellie” Andrews (played by June Allyson in this film) being held prisoner by her father on his yacht just after her marriage to a man that he doesn’t approve of. She’s inconsolable and completely uncooperative with the yacht’s crew members, even throwing a hairbrush at one of them for attempting to bring her food during her defiant hunger strike. One of the most apparent differences in the remake is that Ellie’s father A.A Andrews is played by Charles Bickford, giving a Texan flair to the whole film as a result. His character half-heartedly attempts to calm Ellie down before letting her know that her new husband, Jacques Ballerino (Jacques Scott), decided to wait for her in her hometown of Houston rather than their wedding location in Alcapulco, and that A.A planned to keep her on the yacht and have the marriage annulled. Furious, Ellie decides to jump ship and swim ashore, planning to find her own way to Houston and into the arms of her husband. She manages to evade her father’s crafty detectives, who are already on the lookout for her, by paying a trustworthy-looking old lady to buy her the last bus ticket to Tuscon, Arizona. While on the bus, she meets out of work newspaper man Peter Warne (Jack Lemmon), whom she loathes at first but eventually warms up to after he helps her out of multiple sticky situations, including his gallant attempt to retrieve her stolen luggage and his success in getting her away from George Shapley, a slimy individual who attempts to make passes at Ellie on the bus. Once Peter finds out who she really is, the two make a deal: He assists her to Houston and her husband, while she gives him the exclusive story of her travels, saving his career in the process. But when Peter and Ellie start to fall in love along the way, they find out that they can’t run away from it!

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June Allyson and Jack Lemmon appearing in a scene in which they sing the song “Temporarily” from You Can’t Run Away From It (1956).

The other glaringly obvious difference between this film and It Happened One Night (1934) is the multitude of songs, with the lyrics penned by the legendary Johnny Mercer, who wrote many classic film songs including “I’m Old Fashioned” from You Were Never Lovelier (1942), “That Old Black Magic” which appeared in Bus Stop (1956) and The Nutty Professor (1963), and most famously the song “Moon River”, which Audrey Hepburn immortalized in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961). The music for the songs was supplied by Gene de Paul, who had previously worked on the iconic musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Five songs appeared on the soundtrack overall: “Howdy Friends and Neighbors”, sang by one of the bus’ passengers Fred Toten (played by Stubby Kaye), “Temporarily”, an adorable tune in which Peter and Ellie gripe about their living situation, “Thumbin’ A Ride”, which musically explains the scene which made It Happened One Night (1934) so famous as Ellie (originally played by Claudette Colbert) lifts her skirt to show her leg and successfully hitches a ride after Peter (originally played by Clark Gable) fails to do so with his thumb, “Scarecrow Ballet”, an insrumental song during which Ellie dances with a scarecrow, and of course “You Can’t Run Away From It”, the lovely and fitting title song performed by a wildly popular group at the time, The Four Aces. Of the five numbers in the film, I honestly was only impressed by “Temporarily” and “You Can’t Run Away From It”. While I feel that “Howdy Friends and Neighbors” worked for the plot, I don’t understand why it was wasted on such a minor character, one who was in fact only in the film to sing the song. I felt that both “Thumbin’ A Ride” and “Scarecrow Ballet” were both completely unnecessary, with the first practically ruining the iconic scene that appears in the original film, and the second being an obvious time killer that stopped the plot dead in its tracks.

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Director Dick Powell and stars June Allyson and Jack Lemmon celebrating Allyson’s 38th birthday on the set of You Can’t Run Away From It (1956).

Despite my misgivings for the majority of the songs, I must say that You Can’t Run Away From It (1956) was far better than I expected it to be. Jack Lemmon absolutely shines in the role of Peter Warne, and though he obviously doesn’t bring the gruff manliness to the role that Clark Gable naturally did in the original, he did bring a unique sort of magic and a different kind of street smart character that only he could pull off. His vocals thoroughly impressed me as well, even though you might say that he talked through a couple of the songs rather than sang them. It’s obvious that Dick Powell was trying his best to put all of the spotlight on his wife June Allyson, but it’s easy to see that Jack Lemmon stole the show in spite of Powell’s efforts. While her portrayal of Ellie Andrews was fine, I feel that it lacked the cleverness and wit that Claudette Colbert brought to the part, and unforunately this film further cements my opinion that June Allyson simply wasn’t right for musicals. It may be an unpopular opinion considering how many she appeared in and how well they did at the box office, but her singing voice just never appealed to me. Overall, I would strongly recommend watching this film for Jack Lemmon as well as the delightful story, and I feel that it really did justice to the original classic. I urge any who are curious to check out It Happened One Night (1934) first though, because many of the sly witticisms were taken from the film word for word, and the remake allows them to come off so naturally that a moviegoer who only saw You Can’t Run Away From It (1956) would probably think that the iconic lines were completely unique.