Rob Harmon’s Picks 9/23/14


When most think about family movies nowadays one tends to think of anthropomorphic animals or cars, slick animation, a zany and hyperactive, sugar-addled sense of humor, and usually an overarching syrupy and saccharine tone. But what about older movies?

There are at least three reasons to consider classic films for family movie night. First, before the days of the movie ratings system and our present-day segmented film culture (in which each new major release is slotted for a specific age group and demographic long before filming begins) films were meant to be seen by – more-or-less – people of all ages together (horror films would naturally soften their roughest edges for kids while a chirpy musical might contain a risqué joke or two for the adults in the audience). Hollywood’s worldview may have been heavily whitewashed back in the day (some would point out that it still is…), but classic films do represent a lost art form: that of creating entertainment for a broad cross section of the American public and a wide range of age groups.

Second, until one has exposed a child to non-mainstream films one cannot be certain that they will not enjoy them. In fact, just like putting young and developing minds into contact with the work of Mozart or Dickens, there are many positive effects to introducing youngsters to classic films, for example learning about the history of American culture and society (or other countries, for that matter), and generally opening up their horizons.

Third, some (but not all) classic films will contain neat moral lessons which can be especially powerful for kids, such as the message of non-violence in Destry Rides Again, the dangers of nuclear war in The Day the Earth Stood Still, or the populist democracy lessons contained in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Presenting the classics to kids may seem like a hard-sell to many parents but it should be considered as an option. It is true that most kids will probably roll their eyes at the thought of watching a black-and-white or a silent film: I was one of them, too, once. But, coming from a movie-mad family, I had caught the bug myself by the time I was in 8th grade. Family movie night was a tradition on the weekends and we watched both contemporary and classic films together.

I remember one such night particularly well when I was in 8th or 9th grade: my mother had noticed earlier in the week that Gone with the Wind would be playing – commercial-free – on TV that Friday or Saturday and promptly declared it a “movie night.”

That evening – mirroring the grandiosity of the film itself – took on a life of its own and became an “event”: we arranged the chairs and sofa so that everyone would be comfortable for the four-hour running time and adjusted the lights accordingly as the opening credits began. I remember most clearly the chaos that ensued as soon as the intermission hit: blankets and cushions flung aside, cats running for cover, Dad drowsily waking up. No sooner had Scarlett O’Hara uttered the words “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” than was I fussing with the air popper and dumping in the popcorn kernels. Meanwhile, the kitchen around me crackled with activity, my parents and siblings scrounging for ice cream, chips, crackers, anything that was at hand. As the intermission came to a close we rushed to get back to our seats in time and – as in a game of musical chairs – we collided like ten-pins, scattering popcorn and other stuff on the floor, which was sniffed and perhaps nibbled at by the now-skittish cats as they slowly returned to the family room. My mom interjected commentary throughout, usually having to do with actors, costume, music, etc., but also to social issues, for example drawing our attention to the damaging stereotypes of African-American slaves in the film.

The following categories and suggestions are far from exhaustive (feel free to ask for advice at the store) and are composed with children and teenagers from the ages of 8 to 16 in mind. (For movies which have more than one version I have attached a year in order to avoid confusion.)

Action/Adventure: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad; Jason and the Argonauts; The Adventures of Robin Hood; Mutiny on the Bounty (1935); The Prince and the Pauper (1937); 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954); tom thumb; The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T; The Swiss Family Robinson; Treasure Island (1950); Gunga Din; Captain Blood

Alfred Hitchcock: Rear Window; North by Northwest; The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956); Dial M for Murder

Comedy: The Court Jester; The Inspector General; Way Out West; A Night at the Opera; Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; The Nutty Professor (1963); The Road to Morocco; Christmas in July; Bringing Up Baby; His Girl Friday; The Philadelphia Story; Going My Way; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; A Hard Day’s Night

Epics: Gone with the Wind; Ben-Hur; The Ten Commandments; Lawrence of Arabia

Family: Old Yeller; The Yearling; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; National Velvet; Captains Courageous; The Secret Garden (1949)

Horror/Monster: King Kong (1933); Godzilla (1954); Frankenstein (1931); Dracula (1931); The Mummy (1932); The Wolf Man (1941); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939); The Creature from the Black Lagoon; The Haunting (1963); The Thing from Another World

Musicals: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; The Wizard of Oz; Mary Poppins; The Sound of Music; Singin’ in the Rain; An American in Paris; My Fair Lady; Meet Me in St. Louis; Easter Parade; The Music Man

Romance/Drama: Roman Holiday; Random Harvest; Now, Voyager; The Quiet Man; Jezebel; Casablanca; The Red Shoes; The Pride of the Yankees; Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939); Young Mr. Lincoln

Science Fiction: Forbidden Planet; The Incredible Shrinking Man; The War of the Worlds (1953); The Time Machine (1960); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956); Invaders from Mars (1953); The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951); Them!; Metropolis

Shirley Temple: Captain January; Heidi; The Blue Bird; The Little Princess

Silent Comedy: Modern Times; City Lights; The Gold Rush; The Freshman; Safety Last!; The General; The Navigator; Seven Chances

War: All Quiet on the Western Front; Sands of Iwo Jima; Air Force; They Were Expendable; The Bridge on the River Kwai

Westerns: Shane; Red River; The Searchers; Stagecoach; She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; Rio Bravo; Destry Rides Again; High Noon; The Ox-Bow Incident

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