As I sit here, it’s hard to think back on everything I’ve thrown myself into over the course of the year that will forever live in infamy… 2020. Those who follow me on social media will know that my personal viewing ends up going in phases. I throw myself into things heavily, then promptly move onto something else. And this year, there has just been so much… time. There was finally time!
Well, without further ado, here’s a list of the top classic entertainment discoveries I’ve sunk my teeth into over the course of 2020.
Honey West (1965)
This is one of my most recent watches in 2020, so it’s dominating a lot of my headspace at the moment. The single season series follows private investigator Honey West (Anne Francis) as she solves crimes (and is generally fabulous) with her partner Sam Bolt (John Ericson) always tantalyzingly in toe.
The 1965 private eye thriller is one that I’ve known of, but for some strange reason, never took the time to actually sit down and watch. Well, faithful readers, I’ve now rectified that and darnit, I’m ready to watch it again. The fashion, the look and feel of the series, the adorable chemistry between Anne Francis and John Ericson… I’m here for all of it. Kids, you bet I’ll be buying this series on physical media.
Honey West is available here!
The Towering Inferno (1974)
I went on a hardcore marathon of any and all disaster movies during the first part of 2020 (telling of my mental state, perhaps?) and I’m sure there will be a few more popping up later on this list. However, The Towering Inferno is is probably my favorite of the bunch (of non-airplane disaster films that is) thanks to its supremely A-list cast (lead by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen), the impressive special effects, and its compelling high-rise setting.
Come for hot Paul Newman (pun partially intended) and stay for a heartbreaking Fred Astaire performance. I’ll say it, I’m thinking the disaster genre peaked with The Towering Inferno.
You can pick up The Towering Inferno, here.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Another recent first-time-watch (we’re talking last week)! And yes, I’m embarrassed. Christmas in Connecticut is one that has been on my list for a long time, but it’s just never made it to the top…that’s becoming a trend. The film follows a writer (Barbara Stanwyck) who specializes in homemaking topics. Everything seems fine and dandy, until a young sailor (Dennis Morgan) and her boss (Sydney Greenstreet) decide to spend Christmas at her place. There’s one problem… her life (or skills for that matter) are not what she sells in her column. She’s not married. She has no children. Heck, she can’t even cook. Can she get through it without torpedoing her own career?
After finally watching it in my Christmas lead-up, I’m sooooo disappointed it took me this long (What a ‘catastrophe!’). The Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan led Christmas movie is an absolute joy and it will be mandatory viewing from this point on.
You can pick up Christmas in Connecticut, here.
Peyton Place (1957/ 1964-1969)
This is a double pronged entry with my mind initially going to Peyton Place on television, which has been taking up a lot of my watching hours lately. I mean, it was on an awful lot… we’re talking 100 plus episodes every season. However, then I remembered that I also watched Peyton Place (1957) for the first time in 2020 as well. So much soapy, small New England hamlet goodness!
Fans of soap operas should definitely check out Peyton Place. However, fans of the movie should really make sure to check out the TV show. As I sit here and think back on both versions, I’m finding the television series far more memorable. The added length allows for more character development and narrative exploration, allowing the series to edge out the feature film as the definitive Peyton Place.
I have been watching Peyton Place over on YouTube!
I am truly surprised that I have a Charlton Heston movie on this list (ordinarily, I’ll admit, I’m really not a fan of his work). Earthquake was (as I mentioned above) part of my disaster movie deep-dive which took up much of early 2020, and I’m still thinking about parts of this movie. This is good, old-fashioned popcorn fair with a cast that can only be described as formidable. I’ve waxed poetic on here more than a few times about my feelings for Lloyd Nolan. At the same time, Earthquake is also one of my favorite George Kennedy and Lorne Greene roles. If you’re into disaster movies, make sure you check this one out.
Earthquake is available here!
The Patty Duke Show (1963-1966)
“But they’re cousins, identical cousins…”. Sorry. It’s still stuck in my head.
I marathoned The Patty Duke Show very early this year when I discovered it streaming on Roku. The series follows identical cousins Patty and Cathy Lane (Patty Duke in dual roles) as they go through the daily grind of being a teenager in Brooklyn Heights in the early 1960s.
I did watch the first season prior to 2020; however, I was finally able to finish it this year. I started the series for content I was brainstorming (coming soon!), but it threw me into research on Patty Duke which truly opened my eyes to just how much of treasure she was, and how much credit she truly deserves.
The Patty Duke Show is available here!
Zero Hour (1957)
I’ll be mentioning this movie a bit later in January, but Zero Hour was a first-time-watch for me in December thanks to it finally airing on TCM. I knew the movie was the basis for the 1980 classic Airplane, but I had no idea just how much. The film follows a struggling former pilot (Dana Andrews) who must step in to land a plane when the passengers and crew are taken ill with food poisoning.
I was dismayed to see just how much Airplane lifted from the 1957 disaster film. We’re talking a line for line, shot for shot remake in places. Screenwriters Arthur Hailey, Hall Bartlett and John Champion deserve a lot more credit than they receive for their influence on a very important part of comedy history.
Zero Hour is available here!
The Rifleman (1958-1963)
2020 has also been the year of the TV western for me. This, believe it or not, is quite a surprise. I’ve watched the occasional film western, but have never taken a real plunge into the plethora of TV westerns filling the airwaves during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
I watched The Rifleman one day, largely out of curiosity. I fell in love with the whole tone and feel of the family drama which follows widower Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) trying to raise his young son Mark (Johnny Crawford) while tending a homestead in the post Civil War west. I don’t tend to be one for earnest family drama, but the on-screen relationship between Connors and Crawford will just melt your heart. This is definitely a must-see for you classic TV fans out there, especially if you haven’t taken the full plunge.
The Rifleman is currently streaming on Amazon.
The Love Boat (1977-1987)
I started a first time watch of the long-running 1970s series The Love Boat very early in the pandemic and tore through the early seasons with ease… this one is really hard to find on DVD (surprisingly so). The series follows the crew of a cruise ship and an ever rotating group of colorful passengers (leading to a delightful cast of brand new supporting characters on a weekly basis). For fans of 1970s event television, this is definitely worth a look.
The Love Boat is currently streaming early seasons on CBS All Access. PlutoTV subscribers can also watch the show in real time.
Fractured Flickers (1963)
I’ve been watching Jay Ward shows like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Super Chicken, and George of the Jungle for as long as I can remember. However, I never knew about Fractured Flickers, the creator’s single season, comical examination of silent cinema. The half hour comedy was hosted by voice actor extraordinaire Hans Conried and featured a voice cast of Ward favorites like June Foray and Paul Frees, delivering made up dialogue over silent films. While there were only a handful of episodes produced, it is a must see for any and all fans of Jay Ward.
Fractured Flickers is available on DVD here!
Fingers at the Window (1942)
This is a bit of a quiet pick. In fact, I hadn’t even heard about it until I watched it on TCM this autumn. I tuned in for one reason, and one alone: Lew Ayres. However, the film is actually quite an entertaining murder mystery, featuring Laraine Day and Basil Rathbone in a role I was honestly surprised I didn’t know about. The movie is a relatively simple murder mystery, but it has a clear sense of humor thanks to the solid performances of Ayres and Day, who make the movie. (Rathbone is characteristically good as well).
Fingers at the Window doesn’t seem to have a current DVD release. The movie has been playing regularly on TCM and is currently available on YouTube.
A Stolen Life (1946)
I’ve spent a lot of time on Glenn Ford. I wrote an honors thesis (and a large chunk of a graduate thesis) on the man’s work. However, every year I continue to find first-time-watches from his lengthy career to sink my teeth into. This drama features Ford opposite Bette Davis in dual roles (which really should be spoken about more, but anyway). Ooh! And did I mention Charles Ruggles?
A Stolen Life follows sisters Patricia and Kate (Davis) as they meet dashing lighthouse keeper Bill (Ford). Drama ensues! One sister is always going to be left out in this arrangement and Bill marries Patricia. However, when Kate is mistaken for her recently deceased sister… things become much more complicated.
Anyway, the movie is a must-see, if even for all the Bette Davis fierceness. So many Bette Davis eyes.
A Stolen Life is available on DVD here.
77 Sunset Strip (1958-1964)
“Kookie! Kookie! Lend Me Your Comb”. (Sorry, not sorry!).
I’ve been familiar with 77 Sunset Strip almost as long as I’ve known the song I oh-so-coyly mentioned above, and that’s been a while. However, I’ve never been able to really throw myself into the detective series. It’s a hard one to track down, I tell you.
This year, thanks to some time and some searching, I’ve been able to dive into chunks of first season, and I am in love. The Roger Smith and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. private eye series is just cool. It has a voice and tone all its own, and is worth a watch for any and all fans of film noir and the detective series’ of the late 1950s.
77 Sunset Strip is a hard one to find. The best place to start locating episodes is likely YouTube. It does occasionally pop on the classic TV channels like Decades as well.
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957)
I have to admit, my introduction to the infamous Ed Wood was not actually the director’s work; rather, it was through the Tim Burton film of the same name. It wasn’t until this year when I sat down to watch the equally infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space, the film often considered to be one of the worst ever made.
With this in my head, I most definitely had some pre-conceived notions going in. I’m not sure I can really sum this one up. Just know that it’s an experience. Okay, is it a brilliant work of cinema? No. However, what Plan 9 From Outer Space is, a heck of a fun movie to watch.
At the moment, Plan 9 From Outer Space looks to be most readily available as streaming content on Amazon Prime.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
While I’ve long been familiar with this movie, it is never one I took the time to sit down and really watch. Luckily, a shortened work shift lead me to catching the classic on TCM much earlier this year, and I found myself blown away.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof features an absolutely stunning (and gorgeous) cast lead by Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman working at their peak. The film is a complex and weighty character drama following the young couple as they struggle to work through their own demons in the face of larger family issues. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is foundational not only for the performers involved, but also for legendary writer Tennessee Williams.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is available, here.
I’m in the middle of this first-time-watch as I type! I learned about this single season, military comedy while conducting research on series star Kathleen Nolan (an under-appreciated legend among women in Hollywood). I found myself simultaneously amazed a show like this would even be made in 1964, but after seeing its limited 30 episode run, I immediately wrote-off being able to ever watch it. (Thank heaven for YouTube, everyone!)
Broadside follows a troop of WAVES stationed on a supply island on the Pacific front during World War II. Think of it as a McHale’s Navy with a sprinkling of Sergeant Bilko… just this time with WAVES. The series co-stars Sheila James Kuehl, Dick Sargent, Edward Andrews, Lois Roberts and Joan Stanley. It’s a surprisingly fun and fresh comedy which is unfortunate, considering its single season run.
Broadside is available to watch on YouTube.
I’m sure there’s plenty here that I’m missing. I don’t think I’ve ever had a year where I’ve consumed quite so much media. However, these are the films and TV shows which have made this year bearable in some way. Here’s to lots more deep-dives, more discoveries, and continuing to find lots more classic entertainment to watch.
What are your favorite classic entertainment discoveries from 2020?
Podcaster at Hollywood and Wine, historian and filmmaker studying contributions of women in Classic TV. Film critic for Geek Girl Authority. Classic film lover for Ticklish Business.
You can find me on Twitter @kpierce624!