What’s So Great About….? Or The Fault Lies Not in Our Stars

Once upon a time, when I was a very obnoxious teenager with pseudo-intellectual pretensions, I made my father throw his napkin at me at the dinner table. Dad had come home after a hard day’s work as a mechanic and I had come home from a hard day with Shakespeare. As I was rhapsodizing over the macaroni and cheese about the beauty of Shakespeare’s words (my Mom was a willing listener), my Father grumbled, “what’s so great about Shakespeare? I don’t think he was so much.” Insufferable little brat that I was, I said something to the effect that “there’s nothing wrong with Shakespeare. You just can’t appreciate him.” Hence the flying napkin.

While I might have not phrased my words in quite the right manner and tone, I still (after all these years) think I was right. Some things and people are just special and our failure to appreciate them does not diminish their greatness. While I got the Shakespeare thing right off the bat, there were a few other generally accepted greats that either (a) it took me some time to appreciate, (b) I am in the process of learning to appreciate, or (c) I give up! I just don’t get it.


A: It took me some time, but I am on board

Joan Crawford

Having first encountered her in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, it took me quite some time to work backwards through the eyebrows and lipstick until I finally made it to Mildred Pierce. After that, a fabulous journey through the 1940s and ’30s and I am now on board the Joan Crawford Star Express. Forgive me, Joan, for not taking the time to find out what your fans always knew – you are magnificent! I’m sorry I ever asked “what’s so great about her?”

Rudolph Valentino

It is difficult to assess the appeal of a silent film star unless you are fortunate to see them in a good print with good music. Sadly, my first encounters with Rudy were poor copies shown at the wrong speed with that awful overly dramatic organ music. And then, one night, the sheik stole into my tent via a beautifully restored version of The Son of the Sheik with a beautiful score, and suddenly, I knew what all the fussing and fainting was about. By the way, he’s still in the tent with me!


Being foolish and shallow, I initially couldn’t get past Kim Novak’s dark hair and eyebrows as Judy Barton. Boy, am I glad I gave this one a second chance. Vertigo is now one of my favorite movies. I find it endlessly compelling and – most delicious of all – am never quite satisfied. I still, after watching this movie more times than I can count, have questions. Of course, my biggest question is what took me so long to get on board?

Norma Shearer

I used to think her unattractive. Silly me. That’s when I thought all beauty was just super-prettiness, not something more individual. Norma, like all great stars, was like nobody else. Her delivery, her look, even her stance was unique. She is definitely a product of her time and MGM, but I find her glamour, her magnificence and yes, her talent, undeniable. Plus, she has one of my favorite profiles. Long live Norma!

B. I’m on my way, but not there yet

Marlene Dietrich

I confess I was never a big fan of this fabulously individualistic star. There is truly no one like her. However, I tend to be emotionally drawn to people, and Marlene left me a little cold. But she and I have warmed up over the years and I can honestly say I truly appreciate her for all that she was over her long and illustrious career. She was beautiful, elegant and one of a kind. I’m in your camp, Marlene, just not in the front row (yet).

Humphrey Bogart

I get it. He’s great. Again, I can name countless films of his that I love, but, emotionally, it was taken a very long time to make this connection. But I am much farther along than I used to be. I acknowledge that he is a great actor and great star. And yes, he is making inroads to my heart. I can’t deny him in Casablanca and The African Queen, but it’s The Maltese Falcon that really gets to me. Bogey was made to play those men in the shadows who nurse a tender heart behind a tough exterior. It took me some time to see the tender heart.

The Wizard of Oz

I have had a love/hate relationship with this movie all of my life. I totally appreciate it, but on some level something has always felt a bit “off” to me. I adore the beginning back-and-white portion in Kansas, but once they get to Oz, I always get a bit nervous. I would never “dis” this film, but I am still not over the flying monkeys, Munchkins, the Halloween lion suit and Glinda in her big hat and prom dress. Judy Garland, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley are just swell. I don’t know that I will ever be totally under its spell, but acknowledge this film’s greatness and its special place in the hearts of movie lovers of all ages.

C: Still Trying,but not having much success

Marlon Brando

Unfortunately, I still don’t get it. I am resigned to being in the minority on this point, but I find him most unpleasant. He may very well be a great actor, but I always get the impression that he is doing me a favor by showing up. Help me get in step with the rest of the world on this one!

Burt Lancaster

Another actor who is loved by millions, but who sets my emotional radar on “suspicious” mode. I appreciate him and can name a score of his films that I admire and enjoy, but I always have a bit of a negative reaction when I see him on screen. I find him overpowering in an uncomfortable way. Maybe it’s because he excels at playing characters who make you feel uneasy (I really do love Sweet Smell of Success). But – I know it’s me, not him, so I will keep trying! I think I’ll have better success here than with Brando.

And: The Sin of Sins

The Godfather

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, sob, sob, sob, I’m sorry, but I just can’t get it. I know it’s great. Everyone tells me so. I bow to its enduring place in the pantheon of great films. So, why do I run every time it’s on? This probably calls for an intervention of some kind.

So, now you know my dirty little secrets (well, some of them). I’ll bet that someone out there just hates Citizen Kane (which I love) or Casablanca (which I like)! Care to ‘fess up and keep me company? What actors and films do you not like that everyone else seems to love?

Marsha Collock has been an avid fan – not scholar – of  classic films since she saw the first flicker of black and white on the TV screen. Her muse is Norma Desmond, to whom she has dedicated her blog, A Person in the Dark, a site designed for all of the wonderful people out there in the dark who have an unabashed passion for silents, early talkies, all stars and all films. You can visit her on Facebook as well.