For more than 25 years, John Steele Gordon, a North Salem resident, has written on business and economic history. Today, the author of many books (The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street, Hamilton’s Blessing: the Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt, The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power, 1653-2000, and others) writes “The Long View” column on business history for Barron’s. Here, he names his five favorite historical films.
1) Robin and Marian
(Produced in 1976; set in the late 12th century)
“Not the usual telling of the Robin Hood story,” says Steele Gordon about this film examining the attempts of Robin, newly returned from the Crusades, to rekindle his relationship with Maid Marian, now the abbess of a nunnery. “While there’s plenty of action and derring-do, it’s really a story about growing old and how you can’t go home again.” He singles out for high praise co-stars Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn.
2) Shakespeare in Love
(Produced in 1998; set in the late 16th century)
This completely fictional account of the creation of Romeo and Juliet, starring Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare and Gwyneth Paltrow as the object of his love, is “a near-perfect Shakespearean comedy,” Steele Gordon says. “It has all the gender-bending, puns, low comedy, and sight-gags that the Bard loved.”
3) Tom Jones
(Produced in 1963; set in the mid 18th century)
This love story of two people triumphing over the social and class realities of the time, is “one of the greatest movies ever made,” Steele Gordon says. “Remarkably anachronism-free and acutely observed, the acting is superb, the screenplay near perfection, and the comedy hilarious.”
4) The Heiress
(Produced in 1949; set in 1850)
This film, Steele Gordon opines, has much to recommend it, including “utterly authentic sets—the real houses that line the north side of New York’s Washington Square,” a superb screenplay, and an incomparable performance by Olivia de Havilland, who plays a mousy young woman who falls in love with a handsome, charming bounder played by Montgomery Clift.
5) Titanic (Produced in 1997; set in 1912)
Yes, the acting—especially by Leonardo DiCaprio—is good, and the love story convincing, says Steele Gordon, but “it is the ship that really stars, as she hits the iceberg and slowly dies, taking fifteen hundred souls with her into the icy waters of the mid-Atlantic.”