Many a Gen Joneser watched a good share of television as a kid, especially a variety of sitcoms that spanned the spectrum of quality. Here are twenty that come to mind, not in rank order, though I do lead with a classic:
1. Dick Van Dyke Show — One of the very best sitcoms of all time, groundbreaking in its own modest way, starring Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore as Rob and Laura Petrie. Episodes were set in the Petrie’s New Rochelle NY home and at Rob’s job as head writer for the Alan Brady Show in Manhattan.
2. Gilligan’s Island — The theme song says it all. It’s iconic TV for Gen Jonesers. (Plus, the ultimate question: Ginger or Mary Ann?)
3. Andy Griffith Show — Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) keeps the peace in the small town of Mayberry, North Carolina, aided by his bumbling but well-meaning (and hilarious) deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts).
4. Get Smart! — A Mel Brooks classic, starring Don Adams as hapless Agent Maxwell Smart, with his smart and beautiful sidekick, Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon).
5. Bewitched — Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha Stevens was the world’s most comely suburban witch.
6. I Dream of Jeannie — Larry Hagman is an astronaut who discovers a genie in a lamp, a/k/a Jeannie (Barbara Eden), and the rest is all kind of silly. Yes, but we watched.
7. Hogan’s Heroes — With a little bit of work, this could’ve been Mel Brooks-level brilliant. It needed Mel Brooks to get there. Still, Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz gave us reason to laugh at the Nazis.
8. F Troop — Politically incorrect but sometimes hilarious sitcom of U.S. cavalry stationed at Fort Courage, forging business deals with an Indian tribe led by a chief with a New York accent.
9. McHale’s Navy — I remember the reruns on afternoon television. I remember wincing at references to “the Nips.” Oy.
10. Beverly Hillbillies — Gotta tell you a story ’bout a man named Jed. Sick-at-home, morning rerun television.
11. Green Acres — Another legendary theme song. Fred Ziffel and Arnold the Pig were my favorite characters.
12. Petticoat Junction — Billie Jo, Bobbie Jo, and Betty Jo made it easy to forget about Uncle Joe. Plus, if you loved trains as a kid, the Hooterville steam engine was a fave.
13. The Odd Couple — My office has been inspired by Oscar Madison’s interior decorating scheme.
14. The Brady Bunch — “Here’s the story, of a lovely lady.” You know the rest. Plus the whole Marcia vs. Jan thing. A defining Gen Jones sitcom.
15. The Partridge Family — David Cassidy and Shirley Jones sing some very corny pop songs. I confess that I liked this show.
16. Mary Tyler Moore Show — This time MTM is a single career woman, working for a TV news station, with a grouchy boss and a hilariously inept lead anchor. A great 70s sitcom amidst a sea of clunkers.
17. Bob Newhart Show — Deadpan hilarious Bob Newhart plays therapist Bob Hartley, with lovely Suzanne Pleshette as wife Emily, and a motley crew of colleagues and clients.
18. MASH — We’re bridging to the modern era with this important classic that mixed comedy and drama. Alan Alda as Dr. Hawkeye Pierce led one of the great series of all time.
19. Happy Days — The Fonz and all that. One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock.
20. Welcome Back Kotter — Gabe Kaplan starred as a New York schoolteacher presiding over a rowdy bunch of high schoolers called the sweathogs, one of whom was a young John Travolta.
Please feel free to add your favorites to the list, or take aim at mine!
As a kid, Halloween was all about trick-or-treating. It basically involved the short-lived joy of my brother Jeff and I returning home with our bags full of candy, dumping our catch on the kitchen table, and sorting out the A list candies from all the rest. A couple of weeks and a few gazillion grams of sugar later, it was over.
Truth is, I always felt kinda dopey dressing up in a Halloween costume. But you gotta do what you gotta do to get the annual haul of candy.
There also was the annual viewing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” It took a far second place to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” but still managed to give us our fix of the Peanuts gang.
I can’t recall the last time I went to a Halloween party, and more often than not I’ve found myself teaching on Halloween night. This year, scary movies are my way of ringing in the Halloween season. Here are the three I’ve viewed so far:
The Haunting (1963) (**** stars) — An old house in a remote part of New England has a bad history, and four paranormal researchers descend upon it to learn more. A very scary psychological thriller, enhanced by the black & white cinematography, starring Julie Harris and Claire Bloom.
Paranormal Activity (2007) (*** stars) — A young woman has been dealing with a paranormal entity for much of her life, and it’s not about to let her and her boyfriend (played by Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) settle comfortably into this otherwise perfectly normal San Diego house. A low-budget movie that delivers some real goosebump moments.
The Ring (2002) (**1/2 stars) — I enjoyed this more than I expected after reading mixed reviews. Naomi Watts stars as a Seattle newspaper reporter investigating the unexplained death of a friend’s daughter. It’s already a “period piece,” as the story is driven by a VHS tape and use of extensive videotape technology.
I hope to squeeze in two more by Halloween, a couple of high-touted oldies that I’ve never seen before: The Uninvited (1944) (starring Ray Milland) and The Innocents (1961) (starring Deborah Kerr).
Ghosts and “chicken skin”
I can’t say for sure that I’ve ever seen a ghost or an apparition, but I believe they exist. I’ve never gone on an actual ghost hunt, but I enjoy going on ghost tours in cities I visit and reading about local ghost stories and supposed hauntings.
Over the years I’ve been on ghost walking tours in London, Cambridge (UK), Oxford, New Orleans, New York, Chicago, and Boston. I’ve also walked around parts of Hawaii, Gettysburg, PA, and Salem, MA, figuring ghosts must be hanging around. These occasional wanderings are supplemented by a small collection of books about ghosts and the supernatural that I enjoy dipping into now and then.
Technically, of course, none of this has much to do with Halloween, other than the general idea of scary stories. There’s a part of me that says you don’t wanna mess with this stuff too much, but I guess the “what if” is part of the fun of it all. It’s about what the Hawaiian folks call “chicken skin” stories, the tales that give you goosebumps.
I spent Thursday evening and a good chunk of Saturday at the Boston Book Festival, an annual event in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood. Since 2009, the BBF has been a big draw for avid readers and book lovers in the area.
Thursday’s opening night program, “Writing Terror: An Exploration of Fear,” captured what is so enjoyable about the BBF. It featured former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (Blowback), journalist and intelligence expert Mary Louise Kelly (Anonymous Sources), terrorism expert Jessica Stern (Denial), and film producer/director Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street), moderated by journalist Joe Klein.
This eclectic panel engaged in a wide-ranging exchange on fear & terror in real-life and in fiction. Some snippets: Plame and Kelly, authors of new international suspense novels, concurred that when it comes to the most frightening aspects of global terrorism, all roads lead to Pakistan. Stern told us that unfortunately we likely will have to live with the ongoing specter of low-level terrorism, as exemplified by the Boston Marathon bombings. Craven said his biggest fears are grounded in America’s ugly domestic politics and global climate change.
I bought books by each of the authors and one of Craven’s films, and then went to the author signing tables. The line for Craven was by far the longest, with mostly young folks posing for pictures with him and requesting his autograph on a variety of movie memorabilia. (Sigh, even at a book festival, the scary movie guy is getting much of the love…)
On Saturday, the BBF went into full gear, with dozens of programs featuring leading authors and booths of publishers, literary journals, bookstores, and other vendors ringing Copley Square. I bought Vincent McCaffrey’s Hound, the first entry of a mystery series set in Boston (featuring, ta da, a bookseller protagonist) at the Small Beer Press booth:
Small presses and indie publishing increasingly are the wave of the future for quality work overlooked or not regarded as sufficiently commercial by mainstream publishers, especially niche fiction and non-fiction books. I hope that such presses will have an even greater presence at future BBFs.
The Brattle Book Shop is my favorite used bookstore in Greater Boston and one of the oldest in the nation. I was happy to see its booth attracting a lot of interest:
I love used bookstores. Whenever I walk into one, I am filled with a sense of anticipation over possible discoveries awaiting me. Brick-and-mortar used bookstores are in decline, but stalwarts like Brattle remain. It joins my favorites in other cities, such as the legendary Strand in Manhattan and Powell’s in Chicago’s Hyde Park.
You may not know that Dunkin’ Donuts originated in Greater Boston! They were handing out free samples of their pumpkin spice latte, a welcomed little treat on a perfect fall day. After all, books and coffee are a natural match.
Greater Boston has experienced a sad decline in the number of bookstores, as have most other parts of the country. But this still remains a place where books and reading are given due respect and affection. Events like the Boston Book Festival are a welcomed reminder of that.
Photos: DY, 2013
The availability of inexpensive VCRs and, later, DVD players may have changed the way we watch movies, but it took newer technologies plus superb writing, acting, and production talent devoted to the small screen to revolutionize the way we watch television.
The Wire. Downton Abbey. Breaking Bad. Mad Men. Homeland. The Sopranos. Friday Night Lights. The whole bunch of great British detective series on PBS, such as Prime Suspect and Foyle’s War. The list goes on and on.
While this list may be a bit short on comedy (though I’m told that The Big Bang Theory is a winner), the number of superb one-hour drama series available to viewers today is almost overwhelming. And with the availability of low-cost DVD players, DVR recording, and subscription services such as Netflix and Hulu, we can set aside weekends or holidays to “binge view” old and new favorites.
If you want, you can follow a day of Jack Bauer fighting the bad guys (24) practically in real time. Or, you can watch the entire mission of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise (Star Trek) over the course of several compressed weekends.
A few of mine…
I’ve enjoyed many of the programs already mentioned (Breaking Bad and The Sopranos being the most glaring exceptions), but here are a few more good ones over the years, including some network shows and oldies:
- The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, covering the life of Indiana Jones as a kid and young man, growing up in Princeton, New Jersey, and then leaving home to fight in the First World War. Each episode is a mini-movie and a fun history lesson.
- David Simon’s Homicide: Life on the Street preceded his masterpiece, The Wire. But this earlier Baltimore cop series starring Andre Braugher, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Belzer, and a first-rate cast of others, stands on its own as excellent drama.
- The short-lived but very suspenseful Jericho, starring Skeet Ulrich, about a small town defending itself against an apocalyptic takeover of the U.S.
- BBC America has offered some great police dramas, including Broadchurch, Whitechapel, and Ripper Street.
- Numb3rs is a quirky network crime show featuring David Krumholtz as a brilliant math professor who applies his skills to solving crimes, with Rob Morrow as his FBI agent brother. It’s good, formulaic fun, with appealing characters, that ran for six seasons.
- Unfortunately, only the first two seasons of the pioneering 1980s cop series, Hill Street Blues, were released on DVD. I’m guessing that low sales didn’t justify releasing the rest of the run. But seasons 1 and 2 are excellent.
- I love the last two seasons of The West Wing, featuring the twilight of the Bartlet Administration and the Santos-Vinick campaign. The story arcs completely feed the political junkie in me!
- I’m looking forward to binge-viewing China Beach, the Vietnam War drama starring the most awesome Dana Delany as nurse Colleen McMurphy, that ran in the late 80s through early 90s.
Yeah, I’m partial to crime dramas!
If classic sitcoms are your thing, there are plenty of options as well. What about the oft-brilliant Dick Van Dyke Show? Or the homespun humor of the Andy Griffith Show? Maybe more recent standouts such as MASH, Cheers, or Taxi?
Personally, I’ve found that sitcoms don’t work as well for binge viewing, but they’re great for delivering a welcomed dose of humor and levity after a long day.
Between the core of network standouts, a host of quality productions for cable, PBS, and now streaming video, the small screen offerings make us think twice before we plunk down $10 a ticket to see a so-so movie and pay a ransom for popcorn and a drink.
How spoiled are we with all of these offerings?
Well, if you’re of a certain age (which includes most readers of this little blog), then think back to the popular network television shows of the 1970s and early 1980s.
‘Nuff said. For small-screen fans, these are the good ol’ days.
If you get a warm fuzzy feeling when you walk through the aisles of your local Staples or Office Depot, there’s a good possibility that you’re caught in the grip of a condition we might call school supplies nostalgia. If mere mentions of terms such as “Trapper Keeper” and “Crayola 64” trigger pangs of sentiment, then you’re really deep into it. And if you’re a parent whose school supply purchases for your kids are influenced by memories of your own pencil boxes and notebooks, well, perhaps we need to talk about counseling options.
School supplies nostalgia can happen to someone of any age, but those of us who went to grade school in the days before everything went digital are especially susceptible. Shopping for school supplies was part of our fall ritual, and our local retail stores would stock up on them in preparation for the annual onslaught.
If you have this condition, the good news is you’re not alone. Google “school supplies nostalgia” and you’ll see what I mean.
More than soggy sentiments
Childhood memories may be at the core of school supplies nostalgia, but there’s more to it than that. Crayons, pens, index cards, notebooks, and simple blank paper were among our earliest forays into creating, expressing, and preserving our emerging knowledge, ideas, and art. They served as open invitations to use our minds.
As the regimens of memorization, testing, and grading become a bigger part of our lives, it seems like those invitations are withdrawn from us. I fear that a lot of creative lights are snuffed out that way.
Try it out
So . . . perhaps the school supplies aisles aren’t just for kids.
If you’re a writer, artist, or other creative sort (or want to be!), try this out: The next time you want to do some thinking and brainstorming at your local coffee shop or library, leave your laptop at home. Instead, bring a notebook and pen and spend an hour or two jotting down thoughts, ideas, and lists or making drawings and doodles.
Maybe we all should put our gadgets away long enough to express ourselves on paper. A lined sheet of paper or ruled notebook allows us to preserve our thoughts and ideas in our own handwriting. A blank page or sketchbook invites us to draw, diagram, and imagine.
Before you know it, you’ve got your own portfolio of stuff, and you never had to worry about clearing a jam in the printer.
Watching the launches and splashdowns of manned space missions is one of the shared experiences of being a kid during the 1960s. For many, it meant gathering with family members or schoolmates in front of a television, anxiously awaiting the successful blast off or the safe recovery of a space capsule and its heroic astronauts.
The minutes before a launch were full of excitement. As the countdown proceeded, we’d eagerly listen to newscasters talk about the mission’s duration and the spacecraft’s payload, in addition to what the astronauts were doing in the capsule to ready themselves.
The Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space missions were designed to lead us to successful moon landings, and that they did in 1969. If you want to be reminded of the drama and excitement that accompanied this effort, then rent the 1983 film “The Right Stuff.” And take a look at this excerpt (about four minutes) of President Kennedy’s famous 1962 speech at Rice University:
Today, we don’t have that communal excitement about exploring space. We don’t show up to the breakfast table, work, or school the next day talking in breathless tones about a mission to the moon.
Instead, we talk excitedly about smartphone launches. We share recommendations about great new apps. And we await new versions of gadgets that will render our current ones, purchased just a year or two ago, “old.”
Yup, I marvel at what my laptop and iPad can do. And though I dislike cellphones, I bow to their remarkable capacities.
But we’ve also lost something in the way that our excitement over science and technology has become a more private affair, in some cases sharply limited to those who can afford the gadgets. Perhaps the pioneering space missions are destined to remain the stuff of childhood memories, but I lament the passing of shared awe and wonder over how great advances in scientific know-how can enrich our lives beyond our last download.
“The past is obdurate. It doesn’t want to change.”
So we are told in Stephen King’s 2011 time travel epic, 11/22/63, which takes us back to the years leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy. The main protagonist — a school teacher — learns that even when we go back in time, the past mightily resists our attempts to change it.
I have no idea if time travel and changing the past are even possible, so I’ll put my fascination with the subject aside to make a more accessible point: We may not be able to change the past, but we can change how we regard it. Historians revisit the past practically every day, and not infrequently they alter and sometimes substantially revise our perceptions of it. At times, subsequent events and reflections contribute to those changed understandings.
This occurs even more frequently at a personal level. In fact, that’s what I’d like to explore here, by taking a look back at my undergraduate alma mater, Valparaiso University (also known as “Valpo” or simply VU) in northwest Indiana. For readers unfamiliar with it, Valpo is a small-to-medium sized Lutheran-affiliated school, noted for its strong liberal arts curriculum and attention to undergraduate education. Most students live on or near the campus, which is located on the outer edges of the small city of Valparaiso.
If relationships with institutions over time could be described in Facebook-like terms, mine with Valpo would get the “It’s complicated” tag, without question! Indeed, this topic reminds me of how our emotional ties with institutions can be quite powerful and evolve over time.
In 1981, I graduated from Valpo with a B.A. degree and a political science major. During my time there, I was a very engaged student. I did well academically, worked as a department editor of the weekly campus newspaper, and served in various student government positions. I also spent a life-changing study abroad semester in England.
Taking all that into account, one might reasonably assume that I enjoyed an idyllic, residential, Midwestern-style collegiate experience. But for many years I harbored attitudes toward VU that alternated between resentment and anger, grounded in grievances about its limited political, social, and racial diversity and its lack of national renown.
Now, let’s be honest here. It’s not as if I arrived at the VU campus in 1977 with a very cosmopolitan personal history. I was born and raised in Northwest Indiana. A handful of family trips to visit relatives in Hawaii were the closest things in my life to “multicultural experiences.” In addition, I started college as a Republican, and my political opinions were a hodgepodge of reactive, inconsistent thinking. Although I had endured racial taunts growing up in Indiana neighborhoods, I wasn’t exactly a trailblazer for civil rights.
However, my worldview was changing, and by the time I graduated, Valpo’s campus culture wasn’t as good a fit for me. My work for the campus newspaper, The Torch, was especially enlightening. I wrote dozens of articles for it, including some hefty investigative pieces about campus life. It served as my primer to the insular wackiness that characterizes many university cultures and decision making processes, though at the time I erroneously attributed these traits uniquely to VU. (Believe me, I since have been corrected on that point!) My writing for the paper also gave me a closer look at some of the diversity issues at VU, and I became acutely aware of how black students experienced the predominately white campus and surrounding community.
By the time I graduated from Valpo, I was disenchanted with it and blamed it for all the things that it was not. Throughout college I had planned on going to law school, and eventually I began to see it as an opportunity to sink roots into a different part of the country. Despite many rewarding college experiences and friendships, I was determined to put Valparaiso way back in my rear view mirror.
When, some 10 years after graduation, I received from VU a detailed questionnaire for “diverse” alumni/ae about their student experiences, I filled it out and added a long letter explaining some of my answers. I was very blunt. Looking back, I regret the tone of my responses, but at the time, I saw it as an opportunity to unload.
Decamping for the East Coast
Predictably, the lion’s share of my law school applications were filed at schools on the two coasts. Originally I had designs on heading to California, and the Bay Area seemed especially hospitable to my evolving left-leaning political views. But ultimately I opted to head east to New York University, located in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. It was the right move, both at the time and in retrospect.
New York quickly became my Wonder City. NYC of the 80s was a more raw and edgy place than it is today, but it also was possible to enjoy it on a shoestring budget. Its many bookstores, revival movie houses showing old classics, and endless array of ethnic eateries were among the offerings that competed for my attention.
I have lived on the East Coast since the early 1980s, first in New York City, and now in Boston. Given the past 30 years, it’s fair to say that I am more city boy than country boy, though at times I think that it might be nice to live in a traditional “college town.” In any event, while I have long described myself as an “East Coast person,” I now understand and appreciate that I am the product of many different places.
Valpo revisited: More than rose-colored glasses
My moves aside, my Valparaiso story didn’t end with faded images in the rear view mirror. Rather, I have experienced a gradual but in some ways significant change in how I regard that past. Perhaps the rose-colored glasses of time have contributed to that change, but it’s more than that.
You see the people in the photo below? We were together for a memorable spring 1981 semester in VU’s study abroad center in Cambridge, England. There were about 20 of us in all. We have reunions every five years, and each time over half of our group has attended. The photo was taken at our 2011 reunion. I count a good number of these folks as lifelong friends, and I value my associations with all of them.
How many other study abroad groups hold reunions every five years? That question, and my knowing answer (very few), have played an important role in changing my relationship with my alma mater.
A few years ago, I realized that my attitudes toward Valpo were changing. It wasn’t due to a conscious effort on my part, nor had I forgotten the issues I had with the school. Rather, I was beginning to appreciate what it had given to me.
Most importantly, I have continuing friendships that were forged during those years. They have evolved, matured, and renewed over the decades, and they manifest themselves in ways ranging from periodic get-togethers, to back-and-forth e-mails, to playing in fantasy sports leagues. And through the Internet (and social media in particular), I now count among my friends a fair number of folks I knew only casually during our student days.
In addition, I received an excellent classroom education at VU. I have been a teacher in higher education settings for over 20 years. As a law professor, I’ve seen the undergraduate results of many types of colleges and universities. I now understand that the academic experience at Valparaiso compares well with any of them.
In fact, I likely underestimated VU’s higher ed street cred as a student. In the various reputational surveys and assessments of colleges and universities that started to become popular in the late 1980s, Valpo has fared quite respectably.
Working on The Torch honed and developed my writing skills in ways that continue to deliver today. Any success I have at writing for a less specialized audience — especially via my Minding the Workplace blog — has direct roots in that experience. The Torch also served as the wider social base I didn’t have during my first two years of college. (Suffice it to say that some of us practically lived in The Torch offices.)
Lastly, the study abroad semester I spent in England was the most formative educational experience of my life. So much of my personal culture and the way I live today can be traced back to those five months overseas. My natural penchant for nostalgia notwithstanding, I generally do not yearn to relive even the best experiences of my life. My semester abroad is an exception; I would access Stephen King’s time travel wormhole in a heartbeat to revisit that experience.
My writing for VU periodicals didn’t stop with The Torch. In 1996, I penned a long essay about my study abroad experience in England for the university’s literary and current affairs journal, The Cresset. More recently, I published an article titled “Workplace Bullying and Ethical Leadership” in the VU business school’s Journal of Values-Based Leadership.
A different view
The issues I had with Valpo as a student and recent graduate were legitimate, and some remain relevant to the school today. But with the gifts of hindsight and maturity, I am grateful for many of my collegiate experiences and for the related friendships and opportunities that are a part of my life now.
I’ll leave it to the physicists to determine if we can change the past, but I know from experience that we can change how we think about our own. Sometimes, as here, those changes can be good ones.
Remember the days when a trip to McDonald’s was considered a treat, rather than a staple of our weekly food consumption?
A special event
When we were kids in the late sixties and early seventies, a McDonald’s meal (and to a much lesser extent, Burger King and later Wendy’s), was a bit of an event, even if our folks saw it as a matter of convenience. At times, it may have involved something as special as a birthday celebration.
If we were eating at home, there was a certain anticipation in waiting for the designated adult to return with bags full of goodies. And it was especially neat when we got to order shakes with our meals! (Yeah, admit it, some of you can relate!)
While it may sound bizarre to think of savoring fast food, as kids that’s what we did.
Nowadays…not so special
Today, we call it fast food because of the time it takes to serve it and the way in which we gulp it down.
With fast-food restaurants so ubiquitous in modern life, the idea of a burger, fries, and a drink isn’t much of a novelty, and in terms of public health, Americans consume way too much of this stuff.
Compare the lunch lines at the typical food court. I bet you’ll find the lines at McDonald’s among the longest, perhaps with (healthier) Subway possibly giving it a run for its money. The others usually aren’t even close in terms of numbers of customers.
The OMG extreme
I’m not sure when we reached the tipping point of fast food becoming a regular part of our diet, but I certainly was given, umm, food for thought when I saw this ABC News piece about a seemingly fit 64-year-old salesman and Vietnam vet who claims to have eaten 10 Big Macs a week over the past 30 years:
Dennis Rosenlof has special sauce coursing through his veins.
“My first meal of the day is always at about 10:30, when they open up the Big Macs,” Rosenlof, 64, told ABC News.
. . . “I enjoy what I eat,” he said. “It tastes good, so I order the same thing every day.”
. . . “Mondays I always eat a Big Mac, two on Tuesdays, one on Wednesdays, two on Thursdays, one or two on Fridays, and two every Saturday,” he explained.
I suppose if we want to rediscover how to savor a fast-food burger, we probably could find no better adult example than to follow Mr. Rosenlof to his local McDonald’s — assuming he isn’t too busy fielding requests to be the subject of medical journal articles.
Do you have a list of movies that might not make it onto the critics’ all time great lists, but that you can watch over and again?
I have some favorite movies that just happen to be classics. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is my favorite movie ever, and I’ll be sharing a memory about that one soon. The Civil War movie Glory (1989) may be the best of its genre. Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) brilliantly captures both a great city and some of its neurotic people. For humor, Mel Brooks’s The Producers (1967 version) is at another level, while The Exorcist (1973) still rings the fear bell for me. And Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) gets me every time with that twisty story and gorgeous Bay Area cinematography.
But whenever I watch and enjoy these movies and others like them, there’s a part of me that feels obliged to study them, too. They’re so darn good, I need to appreciate them at an aesthetic level, as well for their pure entertainment value.
But then there are the comfort movies, what I call my subclassics, that I can watch repeatedly, without feeling tugged by my inner film critic.
They’re the movies that may get a solid three stars from the critics, though rarely four. They’re not dumb movies, but they don’t overly tax my brain either. I can miss a few lines and not worry about missing the whole point of the film.
Several World War II movies make my subclassics list. In Harm’s Way (1965) is a WWII naval flick, with John Wayne and Patricia Neal leading a star-studded cast. Its opening scene takes place in Hawaii on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack. Sink the Bismarck (1960) portrays the British mission to sink Germany’s most powerful battleship, starring Kenneth More and the incredibly lovely Dana Wynter. And Battle of the Bulge (1965) depicts Germany’s final major offensive effort of the war, featuring Henry Fonda and lots of other Hollywood stars.
As a Civil War buff, I’ve given Ron Maxwell’s Gettysburg (1993) repeated viewings. And going back in historical time, The Patriot (2000), a highly fictionalized story of the American Revolution, and Master and Commander (2003), a rousing naval actioner about the Napoleonic Wars, have received similar attention on my DVD player.
I’ll accept the twist of a blue state liberal enjoying war movies, but I like other types of movies as well.
For late Cold War-era humor and suspense, WarGames (1983) is thoroughly entertaining period piece, starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy as privileged teens who get caught up in the possibility of computer-generated nuclear war. I also love seeing the early 80s personal computer gadgetry playing a key role in the movie.
For more serious Cold War stuff, I love Thirteen Days (2000), the story of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as seen from the Kennedy White House (with a little bit too much Kevin Costner). And for fake international intrigue, there’s Patriot Games (1992), a Tom Clancy novel turned into celluloid, featuring Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan.
Another subclassic favorite, Twister (1996), stars Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as diehard storm chasers and weather researchers. I’m fascinated by tornadoes and have gone on five storm chase tours since 2008, and I can watch this (scientifically shaky) flick anytime. And the steak dinner scene at Aunt Meg’s never ceases to arouse my taste buds.
On the funny side, Major League (1989) is a favorite and hilarious sports flick (anything with Bob Uecker usually qualifies), and Hairspray (1988 version), starring a young Ricki Lake in one of John Waters’ tamer productions, blends slightly gross humor and great tunes. And That Thing You Do! (1996) is charming and funny story of a small Pennsylvania band that suddenly hits the big time, starring Tom Hanks, Tom Everett Scott, and Liv Tyler.
There are many others I could add to the list, but you get the idea. These are the movies that put us in a good place or give us a respite from everyday stuff.
Feel free to add yours, either here or when I post this to Facebook!