I love old movies. I should define old since it is a relative term. Million Dollar Baby, for example, won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2005. This is an old movie if you're a teenager. But I'm talking about movies that most of us would agree are old by any standard...a half-century of great films from the 1930s through the 1970s.
If you're an old movie buff like me, you probably note when certain films air on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and record them to watch at your leisure. TCM's film library has no equal...offering cinema fans most of the best movies ever made.
I happened to be in New York City on business back in 1994, and snagged a pass from an editor friend to Ted Turner's news conference kicking off TCM. Media mogul Turner - always the showman - picked the date, time and place...a theatre in Times Square exactly 100 years to the hour from when the first movie was ever shown in the Big Apple for his network's premiere.
Many critics were suspect that a new network dedicated to old movies could survive, much less flourish. But Turner, who chose Gone with the Wind for TCM's first movie, has made history by defying the odds.
Turner declared his round-the-clock movie network would air films without annoying commercials. Before that ground breaking decision, you could watch movies on various networks...but the commercials practically ruined it. I'm so spoiled by TCM that I won't even record movies and fast-forward through the commercials aired on other networks. It's like answering a telephone during sex...it simply isn't a good idea.
Some younger folks don't seem to care much for old movies. Understandable, I guess, if you grew up in an era of special effects-driven flicks. There are some older folks, as well, who don't like older movies. To each his own, but some people - young and old - are overlooking treasures.
Many of these old movies are classics - much like the writings of Shakespeare or Hemingway are great literature - and shouldn't be missed. Yes, the majority of old movies are black and white...some even have subtitles...factors that shouldn't dim your interest.
Occasionally, I run into a twenty-something who knows, appreciates and loves these old movies...and I beam like a proud grandparent. I've always enjoyed movies from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, even when I was a teenager. I've read countless books on Hollywood's Golden Age as well...a history as fascinating as the era's movie plots.
Nearly every movie shown on TCM until recently was introduced by Ben Mankiewicz or Robert Osborne, two extremely knowledgeable cinema fans and film historians. Osborne - an incredibly young looking 84 - died this past March, and will be sorely missed. Even so, you can learn much from these brief intros, now by Mankiewicz and various guest hosts both famous and not-so-famous.
Recently, a friend asked, "What's your favourite movie?" Rarely at a loss for words, this question or another conundrum, "What's your favourite wine?" is troubling enough to make me hem and haw. I usually respond with a slightly cheeky question, "What's your favourite kiss?"
With so many types of movies, it's impractical if not impossible to narrow the field to just one. After all, there are 22 genres...everything from action and adventure movies to thrillers and westerns. Then, there are more than 70 sub-genres...like mysteries, biographies and comedies.
I've seen most of the movies spanning the 50-year Golden Age of Hollywood. Many I've seen 15 or 20 times. Give me a line from an old movie...and likely as not I can throw back the line that follows.
By no means did Hollywood make all the great old movies. So-called foreign films like Wild Strawberries, Z, The 400 Blows, The Conformist, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Canada's Mon Oncle Antoine and Goin' Down the Road, have long been among my favourites.
What to watch? Just start watching, but here's my list of 30 classic films you might want to make a special effort to see. Though not a definitive list - there are so many old movies to explore - these films make you think, laugh, cry...and above all...want more. The list with release years is alphabetical rather than great to greatest...simply 30 films I love that represent a foundation to build on.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
All the President's Men (1976)
An American in Paris (1951)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Criss Cross (1949)
Dr. Zhivago (1965)
From Here to Eternity (1953)
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
My Fair Lady (1964)
North by Northwest (1959)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Rear Window (1954)
Roman Holiday (1953)
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Some Like it Hot (1959)
The Birds (1963)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
The Godfather (1972)
The Producers (1968)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
12 Angry Men (1957)
Movies - like books - can inspire discussion groups. But you don't have to work that hard. You can watch them alone, with loved ones or with other cinema buffs. You might become or already be an old movie fan.
You'll appreciate and anticipate the hundreds of iconic lines from these movies. "We'll always have Paris," "They call me Mr. Tibbs," "May the force be with you," "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse," and "Here's looking at you, kid,"
And for those who don't care about old movies..."Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
– Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.
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