There was a time when men wore spats, cars had fins, den walls were furnished with moose heads, and the movie studios were governed by a Motion Picture Code. Though most of us don’t miss spats, fins or stuffed animals peering from mountings on the wall, the demise of that production code may be a tragedy. To many members of the entertainment community, the Motion Picture Code was the equivalent of the archaic moose head on the wall, but without this code, there seems to be no self-governing among those who dominate the culture through media.
Between the 1930s and the mid-1960s, studios were regulated by the Motion Picture Code, which was established in order to protect the moral concepts society considered at the time to be the standard to live by. Violent acts had to be filmed in a way that would not jolt the viewer. Actors could not utter “God” or “Jesus” in a profane manner. And nudity and perversity were verboten. This frustrated many a filmmaker who felt it restricted their artistic integrity and prevented them from addressing serious issues. However, when closely examined, films from those periods dealt with the same issues moviemakers address today. The difference: the execution of the subject matter tended to be more profound when handled with discretion. In reality, the Code helped protect us from the dumbing-down or coarsing-up of our culture.
Greg Kimble, a film historian who supplied one of the audio commentaries for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir DVD, makes a valid point concerning this regulation: “It [the Motion Picture Code] had the benefit of forcing things to be presented indirectly, which is always better for the human imagination, anyway. Things become much more subtle, much more classy.”
For years, I have included Video Alternatives (then DVD Alternatives) at the end of my film critiques in order to remind readers that there are films that contain the same theme or style as the new releases, but without the roughhewn or the profane. The trouble with presenting this added service is that one has to now search decades back in order to find films that avoid the excesses of obscene language, graphic sexuality, or intense violence. (Yes, there are exceptions; I’m speaking generally).
The Motion Picture Code is long gone, a distant memory to some movie buffs, while completely unheard of by two younger generations. Because of its demise, “modern” movie viewers have been so simmered in a stew of moral ambiguity that the innocence of past productions has become un-relatable. It’s not just the clothing, the verbal jargon or the B&W that alienates this generation from entertainment past; present-day moviegoers also have trouble connecting with the social sensibilities of those times. I’ve raised this question before; have we evolved into beings capable of processing any amount of abuse Hollywood puts before our eyes? Evidently, for there seems to be no excess Cineplex patrons are willing to walk out on. But is that what our Creator desires for us?
I had nearly given up trying to rally Generations X, Y and Twitter behind the cinema’s celluloid classics, believing the battle to be lost. But fate has stepped in. A recent discovery that a young teller at my bank has never seen Casablanca (a movie regarded by most film buffs to be the best of all time) has renewed my dedication to preserve pictures from the past. Perhaps a quote from another not-to-be-forgotten classic, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, will explain my dedication to film preservation:
“I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them: because of just one plain, simple rule – love thy neighbor.” James Stewart as freshman senator Jefferson Smith.
Though today’s young people are bombarded by a glut of entertainment venues and an endless stream of movies with II, III, and IV behind their titles, there are motion pictures from every decade (including this one) that not only entertain, but enlighten and enrich. Like the motion picture’s sister art forms of sculpture and music, classic cinema shouldn’t be cast asunder. The most endearing films, like Bible parables, nourish the spirit as well as entertain, and I maintain that if the cinematic art form is to better the culture and the society, it needs to aim up, not just placate our baser instincts.
The moose head on the wall and other expressions of days gone by now seem antiquated, but movie art is timeless. Each generation of filmmakers has made movie moments that reflect both their outer surroundings and the changeless inner spirit of mankind. Below are a few samples of movies that should not be overlooked. They entertain, enrich or educate, and sometimes all three. You will notice they reflect most eras, from the silly to the sublime. Go to the link at the end of this article for further information on these offerings and more of the best from Hollywood’s archives.
THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD
The most colorful film ever, with Errol Flynn the quintessential swashbuckler, it sparkles with action, witty dialogue and one of Hollywood’s best musical scores.
Maid Marion: “Why, you speak treason.”
"In Paradise you will be the great artist God meant you to be. Ah, how you will delight the angels!" A dinner guest acknowledging the abilities of an obscure chef in this 1987 Oscar winning Foreign Film. (G)
Bogart: “I came to Casablanca for the waters.”
Claude Rains: “The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.”
Bogart: “I was misinformed.”
DR. STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)
"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the war room!" An outraged President Muffley (Peter Sellers).
ENCHANTED APRIL (1992)
A delightful fable about four women in the 1920s who soon discover that their vacation estate has a magical effect on all those who stay there. (PG)
“Have you noticed how difficult it is to be improper when there are no men about?”
FRANK & OLLIE (1995)
This Disney documentary focuses on Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who, along with Walt Disney and a select handful of others, changed the face of cartoons, bringing character and pathos to their creations such as Snow White, Alice In Wonderland, The Jungle Book and over 30 other features. But there's another element that makes this a true enjoyment. It is more than just a retrospective of two old animation artists. It's an appreciative look at two nice people. (PG)
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)
Bill Murray learns how to treat others after being caught in a surreal world where he wakes up each morning to re-live the same day. (PG)
Andie MacDowell: “What did you do today?”
Bill Murray: “Oh, same old, same old.”
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941)
John Ford directed this tenderhearted tale of a devoted family in a Welsh coal mining community.
“Men like my father cannot die. They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever. How green was my valley then.”
IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD
From 1963, this non-stop laugh-a-thon has a group of motorists chasing after a fortune buried 200 miles away.
“Listen, everybody has to pay taxes. Even businessmen who rob and steal and cheat from people every day. Even they have to pay taxes.”
(PG). “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
KEY LARGO (1948)
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall captivate, John Huston's direction hypnotizes, and Edward G. Robinson unnerves.
“You were right. When your head says one thing, and your whole life says another, your head always loses.” Bogey to Bacall.
LORD SAVE US FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS
A documentary by Dan Merchant, a Christian filmmaker who examines the question, “Why is the Gospel of Love dividing America?” (PG)
Four pampered zoo animals escape and explore the world, but soon find themselves captured and sent to Africa. I found it to be stylish, engrossing and very funny. (PG)
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
Upon learning of a fortune close by, nefarious prisoner Robert Mitchum plans to rob a woman and her two children once his cellmate has been executed:
“Lord, you sure knowed what you was doin’ when you put me in this very cell at this very time. A man with $10,000 hid somewhere and a widow in the make.”
ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
Best acting I ever saw in a movie? Marlon Brando in this one.
“You don’t understand! I could’ve had class. I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”
THE PINK PANTHER
“More behavior like this and I’ll have your stripes!”
At a costume ball, Inspector Clouseau chastises two policemen dressed as a zebra.
THE QUIET MAN (1952)
John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara star in John Ford’s ode to the Emerald Isle.
"If you say three, mister, you'll never hear the man count ten." Ex-boxer Sean Thornton (John Wayne) to threatening bully Victor McLaglen.
REAR WINDOW (1954)
Stuck in a wheelchair, a voyeuristic photographer (James Stewart) suspects the neighbor across the courtyard of murdering his own wife.
“That would be a terrible job to tackle. Just how would you start to cut up a human body?”
THE SEARCHERS (1958)
Considered John Ford's most complex western and certainly the most visually majestic, it is a powerful look at the emptiness of hatred and bigotry.
"That'll be the day." Ethan Edwards (John Wayne).
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL
Geraldine Page won an Oscar for her performance as an elderly woman on a pilgrimage to her childhood home in this drama from 1985. (PG)
“I guess when you’ve lived longer than your house and your family, you’ve lived long enough.”
This gem of a parable is filled with symbolism and uses implausible circumstance (like a house propelled by thousands of balloons) to stretch the imagination of both young and old. (PG)
VON RYAN’S EXPRESS (1965)
Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard lead a daring escape from a prisoner-of-war camp in this first rate, action charged war drama.
“If only one gets out, Colonel Ryan, it’s a victory,” asserts Trevor Howard.
“Sure it is,” responds the more cynical Sinatra.
The opening 20-minute sequence is some of the finest filmmaking I’ve ever seen. (G)
X-MEN UNITED (2003)
This comic book actioneer has the prerequisite adventure format - ear-piercing special effects and well-choreographed fight scenes – but it also contains a message about the sanctity of human life as our superheroes are determined to save their fellow man. (PG-13)
YOURS, MINE AND OURS (1968)
Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda.
“It isn’t going to bed with a man that proves you’re in love with him. It’s getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful, everyday world with him that counts.” Fonda’s character setting his daughter straight about the birds and bees while preparing to take his expectant wife to the hospital.
Inventive and funny, Woody Allen’s spoofumentary is set in the 1920s, where a mild-mannered soul, wanting to be liked, assumes the characteristics of those around him. (PG)
“Near the end it was not after all the approbation of many but the love of one woman that changed his life.”
Click HERE to download a PDF file with many more DVD Alternatives.