The double bill is almost a lost art. Here in the Bay Area, only the Castro and the Stanford regularly give you two movies for one admission. (I once had to explain the word intermission to my daughter.)
Most double bills contain two films with matching moods or belong to the same genre. You don’t match a noir with a musical. But what about two films of different moods and genres, but with a similar theme or plot? These may jar the audience, and that may or may not be a good thing.
Here are five examples. Every one of these ten films are worth watching by themselves. But I’m not entirely sure whether they belong in these double bills.
The Crowd & Christmas in July
A young man in New York, one out of millions, believes that he’s clever enough to make it big. All he needs is to write the winning slogan for an advertising campaign. King Vidor turned that simple concept into his near-tragic masterpiece, The Crowd. Twelve years later, Preston Sturges turned the same premise into a very funny comedy called Christmas in July. I don’t know if Sturges had The Crowd in his head when he made it, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
The Docks of New York & On the Town
A sailor on shore leave falls in love. Or maybe three of them do. In Josef Von Sternberg’s Docks of New York, a stoker on shore leave saves a suicidal prostitute and marries her on a whim. Sternberg shows us a dirty, messy, and sometimes cruel version of the Big Apple, where love just might win…if they’re lucky. In On the Town, three sailors sing, dance, and find the three right women in a single day in New York. The city looks gorgeous, and you know without reservations that everything will come up roses.
The Mummy (1932) & The Mummy (1999)
But what about the remake? The 1932 original and the 1999 remake follow the same basic plot, but they belong to two totally different genres. The original is a small, atmospheric horror film of the sort that Universal cranked out during the depression. But the remake is something entirely different. With its spectacular special effects, constant action sequences, and over-the-top comedy, it feels more like a remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Singin’ in the Rain & Sunset Blvd.
One film celebrates Hollywood; the other attacks it with a vengeance. Did it ever occur to you that Norma Desmond is Lina Lamont after 22 years obscurity? In Singin’ in the Rain, self-centered movie star Lamont (Jean Hagen) loses her career when talkies come in. Two decades later, in Sunset Blvd., Desmond (Gloria Swanson) still dreams of returning to the limelight. Both are their respective film’s antagonist. We feel sorry for Desmond, but not for Lamont. That’s the difference between a serious noir and an upbeat musical.
The Adventures of Robin Hood & Robin and Marian
I actually saw this double bill a long time ago, and although I already loved both movies, together they didn’t work. The Adventures of Robin Hood just may be the most unrealistic action movie ever made – and easily one of the most entertaining – with the happiest of happy ending. Then Robin and Marian kills the buzz. A far sadder and more realistic fable, it shows us the older couple that never quite found their happy ending. See them separately.
Do you have your own strangely appropriate double bills? The comments are below.