ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
For his latest book, Boston Globe film critique Ty Burr compiled a list of classic movies that families can watch together. But he didn't think his daughter was absorbing his ideas until it came time to plan her birthday party.
TY BURR: I knew we had path some twisted point with no return when our daughter, Eliza(ph), announced she wanted to have a Katharine Hepburn party with a screening of "Bringing Up Baby" for her 9th birthday. My wife and I tried to talk her out of it, but the kid was unmoved. It was her birthday and she argued convincingly for the right to choose her own party theme.
So out the invitations went. In came the phone calls from the mothers and fathers. "Bringing Up Baby" is from 1938. It doesn't star Lindsay Lohan. There's no CGI. The parents wondered, wouldn't their children get bored? Wonder off? Play with knives? My wife and I said we were putting out activities to occupy those boys and girls that unable to handle black and white cinematography.
It turns out we didn't need them. We took a half-hour intermission for cake, and when we asked if the kids were ready to start the movie again, there was a roar of assent.
We picked up with a great scene. Hepburn, playing madcap, rich girl Susan Vance, has called to tell Cary Grant's nerd scientist that her brother had sent her a pet leopard from Brazil. And Grant had rushed over he apartment, certain she's in danger of being mauled.
(Soundbite of movie, "Bringing Up Baby")
Mr. CARY GRANT (Actor): (As Dr. David Huxley) Susan. Oh, you're all right.
Ms. KATHARINE HEPBURN (Actress): (As Susan Vance) Yes, I'm all right.
Mr. GRANT: (As Dr. David Huxley) You lied to me.
Ms. HEPBURN: (As Susan Vince) No. Well, I did just…
Mr. GRANT: (As Dr. David Huxley) Telling me a ridiculous story about a leopard
Ms. HEPBURN: (As Susan Vince) No, it wasn't a ridiculous story. I have a leopard.
Mr. GRANT: (As Dr. David Huxley) Well, where is the leopard?
Ms. HEPBURN: (As Susan Vince) Right in there.
Mr. GRANT: (As Dr. David Huxley) I don't believe you, Susan.
Ms. HEPBURN: (As Susan Vince) But you have to believe me. It's the absolute truth.
Mr. GRANT: (As Dr. David Huxley) I've been a victim of your unbridled imagination once more.
(Soundbite of leopard growling)
Ms. HEPBURN: (As Susan Vince) All right. What are you going to do?
Mr. GRANT: (As Dr. David Huxley) I'm going to call the zoo.
Ms. HEPBURN: (As Susan Vince) Oh no, you can't do that, David. Oh, that's the meanest thing I ever heard. He's a pet. He'd be miserable in the zoo. Listen, from my brother Mark from Brazil.
Dear Susan, I'm sending you Baby - that's baby - a leopard I picked up. Guard him with your life. He's three years old, gentle as a kitten and he likes dogs.
BURR: Listen to her. It's the classic movie equivalent of scat singing. The kids have never seen or heard anything like it. Funny and free, it felt more real than anything their media diet feeds them, including reality TV.
Now, some modern family movies are fine. Pixar - I rest my case. But almost all of them arrive in theaters prepackaged, product-placed and over promoted. They're sold out, pandering to mini-me taste in fashion and flipping to attitude.
More and more grown-ups are wondering, where is the antidote to disneyfied(ph) pap and computer generated sugar shock? How do you expose kids to grown up subjects without booty calls and bursting intestines? Is there anything we can all watch together? Of course there is - old movies.
"Some Like It Hot" for instance. It's a goofy force about two guys dressing as women but it also may be the funniest movie ever made, not to mention Marilyn Monroe's best film. Here's Jack Lemmon trying to convince eccentric millionaire Joe E. Brown that pre-marriage material.
(Soundbite of movie, "Some Like It Hot")
Mr. JACK LEMMON (Actor): (As Daphne) I'm going to level with you. We can't get married at all.
Mr. JOE E. BROWN (Actor): (As Osgood Fielding III) Why not?
Mr. JACK LEMMON (Actor): (As Daphne) Well, in the first place, I'm not a natural blonde.
Mr. JOE E. BROWN (Actor): (As Osgood Fielding III) It doesn't matter.
Mr. JACK LEMMON (Actor): (As Daphne) I smoke. I smoke all the time.
Mr. JOE E. BROWN (Actor): (As Osgood Fielding III) I don't care.
Mr. JACK LEMMON (Actor): (As Daphne) Well, I have a terrible past. For three years now, I've been living with a saxophone player.
Mr. JOE E. BROWN (Actor): (As Osgood Fielding III) I forgive you.
Mr. JACK LEMMON (Actor): (As Daphne) I can never have children.
Mr. JOE E. BROWN (Actor): (As Osgood Fielding III) We can adopt some.
Mr. JACK LEMMON (Actor): (As Daphne) But you don't understand, Osgood. Uh, I'm a man.
Mr. JOE E. BROWN (Actor): (As Osgood Fielding III) Well, nobody's perfect.
BURR: "All About Eve" teaches kids the importance of knowing who your friends are as well as the value of Bette Davies. "The Day the Earth Stood Still," a child's first sci-fi movie. "To Kill A Mocking Bird," a passage to adulthood with a father figure to last. And there is so many more - movies that open the door out of Hollywood's hall of mirrors onto endless variations and style, behavior and morals.
With any luck, my own kids will go through life lacking that fear of old movies and much more important old culture that keeps so many children and parents locked in an eternal ahistorical now. To understand now, of course, you have to understand then.
More than any other art form, old movies show the way back. They bridge gaps between generations of kids, parents and grandparents. Not only can you watch them together, but you'll want to.
SIEGEL: Ty Burr is a film critic of the Boston Globe. His book is "The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide To Watching Together."
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