Long after the fall of the great Hollywood movie factories, those wonderful studios like the original MGM and Paramount that gave us “Gone With the Wind,” “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Best Years of Our Lives,” “42nd Street,” “Greed” (a 1924 film which could have been made today, with the same title), “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Quiet Man,” tremendous silent films and all our favorite titles, today’s cobbled-together studio conglomerates offer some remarkable work despite, as always, being driven by profit. Witness “The King’s Speech,” winner now of Academy Awards.
The old studios were guaranteed to produce winning movies, since they were long-running and huge, with an uncanny eye for budding and developing talent, training actors, directors, choreographers, camera operators, lighting and sound people and everyone else in what truly became a craft. With so much constant expertise and the insatiable appetite of the pre-TV movie-going public for new films, there were bound to be many winners. And so there were.
One of the staples of old Hollywood was the “historical” movie, not always accurate as the films took dramatic license, but usually close enough to give many of us lessons in history. Some, including myself, may have day-dreamed through social studies, but we did learn about the French and Indian War via Spencer Tracey’s “Northwest Passage.”
With the withering of the big studios, beginning with 1950s TV and federal anti-trust suits, and because moviemakers were then going for psychological dramas like “On the Waterfront,” historically set films became a disappearing treatment.
Many fine movies have been made since the passing of the old structured studios, especially through the creativity of independent, ground-breaking directors and gifted actors, but for so long, the flicks have been set on personal relationships that seems to depend on what is good for one person or two rather than for the people affected by those one or two.That reflects the me-centered society, of course. And such films are of interest to many.
So, it might surprise that “The King’s Speech” has become a winner. At first glance, this movie about soon-to-be King George VI’s speech difficulty and his wife’s remarkable, matter-of-fact search for an unorthodox teacher to help him, set in the mid-1930 against the backdrop of the coming war with Germany, and, first, the abdication of King Edward VIII, attracted an audience of 95 percent senior citizens when I saw it some time back. But then the buzz began about Colin Firth’s stunning performance as the Duke of York, of the film’s other great acting, of the precise British touch of it all, that what might have been seen initially as a “boring,” old-style history movie suddenly became a deeply moving study of human difficulty, struggle, stumble and success.
A metaphor for our times. A script and performances that we can all relate to in a difficult economic, changing age. And don’t we all learn a bit of history in watching such a film as “The King’s Speech”? Not a boring moment. Not a second to be wasted in day-dreaming. Not a movie about something or someone dysfunctional. Not a film about personal feelings alone, but those set in relationship with the greater nation and its people. A story that old Hollywood would have done no better. And a “welcome home” of sorts for the historical film genre.