AMONG my many passions which draw ridicule from friends is my fondness for old black-and-white movies. Few of my coevals will go out of their way to see anything made before 1985. The reasons they give vary. Some seem to think that Melanie Griffith is sexier than Grace Kelly. That's their problem.
The most prevalent objection, though, is that 'old movies are unrealistic', the implication being that modern films are more true-to-life. This one we can debate. Our text for this Sunday is Eraser, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. You didn't think I was going to play fair, did you? In Mutiny on the Bounty (the original one, thank you), we are asked to accept Clark Gable as an English seaman. With that American accent? Giddadahere. Fortunately, movies don't have such implausible casting these days. That is, if you overlook a US Marshal who speaks like an Austrian weightlifter.
My friends complain that in old movies, when people are shot, they don't bleed. James Cagney and George Raft could get gunned down in ten straight movies wearing the same suit, without the need for so much as a teaspoon of Didi-7.
In Eraser, of course, there are permanent bloodstains everywhere. Does this make it more realistic than The Thirty-Nine Steps? Well, Arnie falls from a plane and deploys a reserve chute at the last second, landing on a car roof hard enough to flatten it and break all the windows. Then he does just what you or I would - he gets up and walks away, albeit somewhat stiffly, as if he's spent the evening in front of the TV. He has sustained no apparent damage to his bones, or whatever Arnie has for superstructure. Now that's realism.
In the old movies, a harrowing environment seems to take no toll on the stars. Bette Davis can emerge from a fire or earthquake with only one lock of hair askance. How about in modern films? In Eraser, Arnie finds that a half-metre piece of metal has pierced his thigh. He pulls it out, crawls 60 metres along the floor, kills a couple of bad guys, and then, miraculously recovered from this trauma, takes a running leap on to a shipping container that is being raised by crane.
He then fights James Caan for ten minutes, until the five-tonne container falls thirty metres, with him on top of it. Once again, Arnold is rather stiff when he gets up from the rubble. Ah, the realism of the modern cinema.
I'm told that old movies are contrived, with corny plots that are easy to guess. Miraculous breaks appear for the good guys, allowing them to triumph. Not like nowadays, when sophistication rules and audiences are much harder to please.
Yet my friends seem to be pleased by one scene in Eraser, in which Arnie needs to sneak into a building where the bad guys wait to trap him. All exits are being watched carefully. Suddenly a pizza delivery man arrives unannounced, and causes a commotion because fourteen security people with guns are not moving fast enough to suit him. He then proceeds to have a seizure in the lobby, and an ambulance is called. Not one of the bad guys, who are supposedly security experts who are anticipating a break-in, figure out that this just might be a diversion. So much for sophistication.
Finally, in the old movies, my friends complain that the bad guys are clownish rather than menacing. Yet in Eraser, as in Die Hard, you have the hero pursued by scores of professional gunmen emptying thousands of rounds from automatic weapons in his direction, and not one bullet hits him.
Okay, it's fun, it's exciting, it's well-constructed. But for realism, I'll take A Night at the Opera any day of the week.