Yours is a generation bombarded by media product unlike any before. So, I understand why you don’t have time for “old” movies. But someday you’ll have kids and you’ll wish they’d sit down with you and watch a classic film from your youth; a movie that really meant something to you. It may also have been a film that said something about the time you grew up in, reflecting your generation’s input while on this planet. But will your children want to watch it? You don’t much care now, but trust me, you will.
Those who populate Hollywood have given us wonderful films that make us laugh (HIS GIRL FRIDAY), touch our emotions (PLACES IN THE HEART) and cause us to think (ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED), but what troubles me in this decade of CGI and 3-D is that moviemakers sometimes pander to youth with things that go boom, rather than demonstrate a love for the true special effects: story, character, dialogue, and performance.
Have you ever thought about this? Movies combine the essence of all the other art forms. They can couple the ultimate expressions of joy and sadness, of nobility and fear, of love and hate, of passion and romance, and of hope and faith. And when they’re good, like other art, they’re timeless.
You know, we share the fundamentals of life with generations long ago. Though hair styles change, like fashion and the way we talk, we still have much in common with people of the past. Think about it. No matter the time we live, we all want to be warm and fed and loved and respected and ultimately we want a sense of purpose. When you view a film from decades ago you see not just the different styles, but also how our former planeteers viewed their world. In a way, you connect with them by viewing these older movies. That’s what art does; it helps unite us with other people, with ourselves, and even with our God.
I’ve put a list of movies together that were considered 4-star in their day, from every decade since the 1930s.They say something about how people viewed the culture they lived in. You’ll see such attributes as patriotism, social responsibility, and reverence for God, or humor that came from wit rather than crudity. (Hey, I like Will Ferrell, but other than ELF, did he ever make a film that didn’t have some gross-out humor?) Now the thing is – you’ll have to be adventurous when ordering these movies off Netflix. In many cases, you’ll have to venture into the world of Black & White movie-making. And while the stars of these films were the (fill in your favorite actors of today), they have faded from TV land unless you occasionally push the TCM button rather than the SYFY or NICK-AT-NIGHT.
Why should you do watch the following selections? Each generation makes its share of bad movies, but every so often they also produce a HUGO or a WAR HORSE or (fill in your favorite film of the past year). They transcend being just a Friday night movie outing, becoming great examples of movie-making. They are art. And great art shouldn’t be forgotten.
Will you like every one of my selections? I hope so, but probably not. Art is a very individual thing. You may, however, discover a whole new world of entertainment that touches your soul or tickles your funny bone. Here’s another idea. They could be good for a movie night with (gulp) the parents. Hey, some of them your moms and dads won’t have seen, either.
And by the way, they’re not really old. Indeed, they’ll be new to you.
CASABLANCA (1942). Nightclub owner Rick Blaine runs Rick's Café Americain in war-torn Morocco, a country where everyone but Rick wants to escape. World weary, the elusive Rick finds his world turned upside down when a long-lost love picks his gin joint, of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, to walk into. The beautiful Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) is looking for letters of transit for her and husband Victor, in order to escape Nazis incarceration. Distraught, Rick wants revenge for being dumped by Ilsa, but his love for her overrides his bruised heart. And, he can't help but admire Victor, a heroic underground resistance leader. Now considered by many film historians to be the best film of all time, CASABLANCA contains not one false or ineffective camera angle, line or performance. What's more, there are messages of morality included, or at least examples of strong character. By film's end, Rick and Ilsa have set aside their passion to do what's right for the world. Indeed, love, honor, and patriotism prevail.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962). Gregory Peck stars in this look at rural life, bigotry and honor as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl. It is a beautifully photographed black-and-white movie with a haunting score by Elmer Bernstein. Peck, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, was never better.
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939). James Stewart stars as an idealistic first-term senator at odds with corrupt businessmen and politicians. While it spotlights the misuse of power, it also shows democracy’s strength. Jimmy Stewart reminds us what American politicians should aspire to be. It’s real easy to become cynical about the political world these days. It was then, as well. But this film reminds us of the genius of the democratic system. When it’s not corrupted, it’s brilliant. So, if you think the system is corrupted, study politics and go fix it. It’s up to you.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940). She's a reporter wanting to get married and leave the newspaper business. He's her editor and ex-husband who has no intention of letting a good reporter get away. Not enough good can be said about this four-star screwball comedy. Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and a superb supporting cast battle it out in this clash between the sexes where no one loses. And not one curse word. Apparently no actor today could muster such restraint.
BULLITT (1968). Action-fueled and hard bitten, this Steve McQueen cop thriller manages to remain one of the coolest chase films ever made (McQueen, a race car driver himself, did much of his own driving in the film). In color, rated PG for violence and one expletive.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Is it the best film ever made? Your call. But I maintain that it is the most important film ever produced. James Stewart’s George Bailey is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never been born. George Bailey reminds us that our compassion and responsibility make a difference in the lives of those with whom we come in contact. I’d say that’s a pretty important message.
SOUNDER (1972). Award-winning performances from Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson highlight this stirring story of a black sharecropper’s family battling injustice and poverty. Oh, man, this is a good movie. In color, rated G.
ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED (1995). Anne Frank's diary has sold more than 25 million copies and has been translated into 55 languages. Her life and tragic death speak on behalf of the 1.5 million children killed by the Nazis. This poignant documentary works on several levels: a true life coming of age; the insight of a wise young girl and the human capacity to survive. Every teenager should see this film to learn of the destructiveness of bigotry and to be uplifted by the courage and power people can display. In one incredible moment, the middle-aged son of a holocaust victim meets the woman who protected his father nearly 50 years before. Two months after this meeting, the man died. Filled with many intuitive moments, the video reminds us that soon no one will be here to tell the personal events associated with that horrific time. PG (the atrocities of Hitler's concentration camps are briefly seen toward the end of the film).
THE PARTY (1968). Peter Sellers, who played Inspector Clouseau in the original PINK PANTHER movies, stars as a good-hearted bumbler who accidentally destroys a movie set, and then manages to do the same to a fancy party given by the film’s producer. There are a few risqué moments, but it is pretty tame by today’s standards. The visual gags are, well I think they are hysterical. I chose this film and the other comedies in this article to make a point – not all humor comes from bodily functions (a trend in many of today’s comedies). In color, rot rated.
THE GREAT RACE (1965). This is a comic spoof of old-time melodramas, with Jack Lemmon very funny as the dastardly Professor Fate, Tony Curtis stalwart as the Great Leslie, and Natalie Wood luminous as a suffragette. I think this film has some of the greatest sight gags of all time, plus a great sword fight between Leslie and the villainous Ross Martin. It also has the pie fight to end all pie fights. Most critics only give it 2 ½ stars. What can I say, my colleagues were wrong. In color, rated G.
DR. STRANGELOVE (1964). Peter Sellers, George C. Scott. Definitely mature subject matter here, but the powerful “absurdity of war” theme and outstanding dark comedic performances, including Sellers, Scott, Keenan Wynn and Sterling Hayden, make this valid movie fare. This may be the most perfect example of satire ever brought to the motion picture screen.
AMERICA’S HEART AND SOUL (2004). Filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg packed up his camera and hit the road, with a goal of capturing both the unparalleled beauty of the U.S. and the incomparable spirit of its people. Here you have the chance to meet ordinary Americans with extraordinary stories. Schwartzberg’s gift is his ability to connect with people, honestly capturing their values, dreams, and passion. AMERICA’S HEART AND SOUL is a celebration of a nation told through the voices of its people. In color, rated PG.
ON THE WATERFRONT (1954). Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger. Winner of eight Academy Awards, it deals with New York's crime-ridden harbor docks. Another excellent example of romance, emotional stress and vice masterfully told without the language and brutality associated with today's movies. In my opinion, Brando gives the greatest screen performance I’ve ever seen.
WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972). Barbara Streisand, Ryan O'Neal. Very enjoyable screwball comedy set in San Francisco. Now, screwball comedy is amazing when it is witty. By that I mean, the writers and performers aren’t relying on the easy crude visual or obscene comment. This is a good example of witty writing. I’ve run this one past younger viewers, so it isn’t just this old guy who thinks it’s funny. Indeed, these movies have been tried before a jury of your peers. And, you’ll be glad to know, it’s in color. Rated G.
MARCH OF THE PENQUINS (2005). A fascinating documentary about penguins, raw nature and survival, it’s full of impressive, almost unworldly locations and amazing cinematography, and most importantly, it sends a powerful message concerning the importance of life. In a time when audiences are subjected to pro messages concerning suicide (THE SEA INSIDE), the need for abortion (VERA DRAKE), and desensitizing images of violence toward our fellow man (most films), here is a movie that reveals creatures in the wild sacrificing all in order to preserve life.
KEN BURN'S THE CIVIL WAR (1989). Made as a PBS miniseries, this documentary is one of the best made, most informative, and spiritually touching works of art I have ever witnessed on TV. It should be mandatory viewing for every high school student. (I’m a man of definite opinions, as you may have gathered.)
THE CLIMB (2002). Concerns two mountaineers (one black, one white) forced to team up as they ascend Mt. Chicanagua, a dangerous Chilean alp that tempts the most astute of adventurers. With different backgrounds and views on life, their struggle with each other becomes as daunting as the mountain itself. What impressed me most was the script’s delicate inclusion of the Gospel message. PG (thematic elements).
THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963). This is a splendid wartime drama about men set to escape a Nazi POW camp. Based on a true story, with an involving script, cast and musical score, the all-star cast includes Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and James Garner. Interestingly, there is absolutely no cursing. This film is evidence that nearly every subject matter can be placed on screen without crudity or profanity.
PLACES IN THE HEART (1984). A literate script presents a determined widow (Sally Field) bent on saving her farm during the 1930s Depression. It features perhaps the greatest ending to a film this buff has ever seen: A repentant adulterer is finally forgiven, when his wife, moved by the pastor's sermon, takes her husband's hand during the service, signifying the restoring of a relationship through Christ's love. Just as we put our hankies away after that moving moment, another symbolic healing occurs. I won't give that one away. Trust me, it's powerful!
OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945). Edward G. Robinson (outstanding), Margaret O'Brien. I hesitated including this picture because it may seem so dated to you. But again, remember, my reason for this 2-piece look at movies from the past is to give you a feeling of America’s people. They may seem a simpler folk, but remember they had gone through a depression and were now facing a second world war. They were tough. Make no mistake. So, here it is – a gentle look at rural life during the beginning of WWII. It contains a respect for Christianity, life, and the price we pay for freedom. Keep Kleenex handy for Margaret's sacrifice toward the end of the film.
Okay, I’ve given you a total of twenty films I think will help unite you with another time, other people, and with ourselves. Let’s hear from you. Did any of these films reach you?