Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Classic Movie Reel

With Jon deep in film school application mode, the process of talking through essay topics, master thesis options, and personal statement talking points has gotten my heart going pitter-pat for old movies.

Also known as "my favorite movies from childhood."

Just a few weekends ago, my dad celebrated his 4,500th movie (that is, individual movies seen). He is a movie fan through and through, and instilled the same appreciation and devotion to great (and not-so-great) films in us. Whether by choice or by default, we were raised on Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics, with box sets of Humphrey Bogart videotapes sitting front and center under the television.

Watching black & white movies never phased us and silent films were just as easy to watch and ones with sound.

Did you know that my sister's and my favorite movie at age nine was To Have and Have Not, starring Bogart and Lauren Bacall?

It's true. We would turn it on before school, and when our best friend would come by our house to walk with us, we'd casually invite her in and hope that this time she would stop and say, "Oouu, what is this cool movie?" and then agree that it was, indeed, the best movie around. Sadly, she never did.

But we loved it. There was something inspiring about watching a thin, deep-voiced, 19-year-old Bacall take a wicked slap across the face by a waterfront ruffian without so much as a flinch and then manage to hold her own in a room with someone as intimidating as Bogie. This girl was tough-as-nails... an incredible role model for a girly little tyke like me.

Other than Disney's live action and animated features, I don't remember watching anything other than old movies when I was a kid. And until I was in the 5th or 6th grade -- when my friends were all going to see Mission Impossible in theaters and I had to stay behind -- I never even considered it wasn't a widely accepted form of entertainment.

I mean, didn't every little kid spend Saturdays watching Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies?

Naturally all of my friends thought that Clark Gable was the dandiest leading man around... right?

And everyone knew that the comedy duo to beat was clearly Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

Ahhh, floating head posters. Can ya beat 'em?? (That's a rhetorical question.)

Eventually I stopped daydreaming in black & white and technicolor and joined my friends at PG-13 rated movie screenings. I stopped letting my dad change the channel to TCM on a whim and refused to watch just any old thing that Robert Osborne happened to introduce that night.

My teenage years were difficult.

Now, of course, there is almost nothing I value more than my parents' choice of entertainment for us. Had it not been for those early years of Hitchcock and Bing Crosby, I don't think I would have been as open to these kinds of movies as an adult -- certainly not as a teenager!

When the holidays come around, I crave the comfort and warmth of old, classic movies... ones that make me nostalgic for holidays at home in front of the fire, listening to my father laugh at films that -- I know now -- have a special, nostalgic place in his heart as well.

Did any of you watch old movies as kids? Anything that's stuck with you 'til now? What was your favorite movie when you were nine?

Image Sources: 
(1) The Cameraman (2) How Green Was My Valley (3) Strangers on a Train (4) On the Waterfront (5) Dear Ruth (6) To Have and Have Not (7) The Big Sleep (8) Key Largo (9) Wee Willie Winkie (10) Top Hat (11) It Happened One Night (12) Road to Morocco (13) Road to Rio (14) The Best Years of Our Lives (15) The Kid (16) It's a Wonderful Life (17) Holiday Inn


  1. The posters make me nostalgic! Many of them take me back to a time in my youth when I stayed up late into the night for, what might have been, a once-in-a-lifetime showing of "It Happened One Night" or something else I heard was a classic.

    In those olden, not-so-golden, days of television when Sunday morning meant scanning the local paper's tv listings for the week -- circling the movies that were coming on that I wanted to see -- if only I could stay up until 3 in the morning!

    Like getting an education during the Depression forced my mother to walk miles to school through the snow uphill each way -- so too did my early movie education require diligence, persistence, and sitting through bad copies of b&w movies on snowy screens... it was all so much harder then. But worth it. Oh, the stories I could tell!

    Today, when everything is just lying on a shelf or on demand morning, noon and night, it doesn't take a lot of digging to find the good stuff -- or even the mediocre. It may make one a lot less discerning or inclined to see the same things over and over again. That wasn't possible 40-50 years ago -- if you missed a showing of "On the Waterfront" at midnight on a Saturday night -- it may not be on again for years.

    Some of what fed my early love of films were the Bowery Boys -- with Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, the Francis movies -- starring a mule voiced by Chill Wills with a silly sidekick played by Donald O'Connor. I mean, who can forget "Francis Joins the WACS"?? Then there were the afternoon monster movies like "The Abominable Snowman" and "Kronos". For a kid who wasn't allowed to go to the movies, tv was my salvation, and the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the movies. And so many of the movies which were cheap 'B' films aimed at kids in the 40's and 50's as Saturday matinees were shown again and again on local stations -- when? On Saturday afternoons of course!

    While it is easy to be nostalgic for those days of grabbing a movie when you could it also had the gift of bad reception as when a plane could fly over and turn the screen to snow. It was a royal pain! As I try not to envy the ease of access to movies for young whippersnappers nowadays -- I am thankful that working hard made me more observant. I didn't then and I don't now, take anything for granted when it comes to the opportunity to see a movie.

    Looking back also inspires me to look forward! To the holidays for example -- we'll probably 'have' to watch "Miracle on 34th Street" [the good version] again; "It's a Wonderful Life"; "The Christmas Story"; "Holiday Inn"; "The Muppet's Christmas Carol" and some others that aren't coming to mind.

    How great it is when something old is new again.

    Don't know how you found those posters -- but they are a delight. As my lovely daughter ... are you!


  2. I love you, Dad!

    This post is just so magical, because it really does bring me such delight. These posters make even ME nostalgic for my childhood, when our only movie education was Shirley Temple and Humphrey Bogart (is it a surprise that those two are still my favorites??)

    I think that's probably why I make every effort to litter my apartment with movie posters from the 30s, 40s, and 50s... there was just something so magical about that time, and romantic, and special. Plus don't even get me started on the artwork - *muah!*

    Thanks for posting this, Stace. It really makes me want to hunker down and watch Key Largo or Dimples. =)

    And Dad? We are definitely watching ALL of those movies at Christmas time! I simply can't wait.

    Love you both,


  3. This is really moving! The movies you featured made me feel nostalgic as well. Me and my family also have a penchant for classic old movies, and it’s been a tradition to us to gather and watch some every Sunday afternoon. It’s really fun!

    Ruby Badcoe