While Waiting Out The Pandemic, It's Worth A Watch Of These Classic Films In this time of fear and quarantining, critic Bob Mondello offers three classic movies worth revisiting — or watching for the first time.
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While Waiting Out The Pandemic, It's Worth A Watch Of These Classic Films

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While Waiting Out The Pandemic, It's Worth A Watch Of These Classic Films

While Waiting Out The Pandemic, It's Worth A Watch Of These Classic Films

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. We hear you. You're stuck at home. You have played board games. You've cleaned out your closets. You're thinking - now what? Well, our critic Bob Mondello has suggestions for off-the-beaten-path but classic films you can stream at home. He has three he says are personal.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Critics are often asked, what's your favorite movie? My answer - Buster Keaton's silent Civil War comedy "The General."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE GENERAL")

MONDELLO: The title is the name of a steam locomotive that Buster pilots in Georgia. When his beloved General is stolen by Yankee spies, he gives chase in another train, which leads to all kinds of crazy acrobatic stunts, daredevil rescues, miracles of comic timing accomplished with full-size locomotives, including the single most spectacular shot in silent film history - a bridge collapse that left a train lying for decades in a wooded gorge.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONDELLO: Being silent, "The General" doesn't have a soundtrack, though its video release has three - all orchestral. Frankly, I prefer the way I saw the film in Salt Lake City a few years back. NPR member station KUER had arranged a showing in a grand movie palace built in the 1920s - and at 1920s prices, 25 cents a ticket.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This evening, we're live at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Salt Lake City. We're seated next to a grand old organ - two-manual, 11-rank Mighty Wurlitzer.

MONDELLO: Organist Blaine Gale was at the keyboard. Buster Keaton was onscreen. And in no time, a thousand 21st-century moviegoers were shrieking with laughter. Stream it, and you'll see why.

"The General" was made 64 years after the real Civil War locomotive chase it's based on. And 63 years after "The General," Spike Lee made a ferocious comedy that deals with fallout from the Civil War. In "Do The Right Thing," Lee looked bluntly and, for much of the film, hilariously at racial prejudice. Lee plays a pizza delivery guy who does not get along with his boss's racist son.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DO THE RIGHT THING")

SPIKE LEE: (As Mookie) Pino, who's your favorite basketball player?

JOHN TURTURRO: (As Pino) Magic Johnson.

LEE: (As Mookie) Who's your favorite movie star?

TURTURRO: (As Pino) Eddie Murphy.

LEE: (As Mookie) And who's your favorite rock star? Prince.

TURTURRO: (As Pino) They're black, but they're not really black. They're more than black. It's different.

LEE: (As Mookie) It's different?

TURTURRO: (As Pino) Yeah, to me, it's different.

LEE: (As Mookie) Pino, deep down inside, do you wish you were black?

TURTURRO: (As Pino, laughing) Get (unintelligible) out of here.

LEE: (As Mookie) Laugh if you want to. You know your hair is kinkier than mine.

MONDELLO: Tension in "Do The Right Thing" escalates as Lee tightens the screws between laughs. At the preview I attended in 1989, an African American woman behind me spent much of the evening amen-ing (ph) the characters as if she were at church, and a white student nearby spent the evening seething at every amen. At the climax of the film, he hissed at her to be quiet, starting an argument that only stopped because violence erupted onscreen.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DO THE RIGHT THING")

BILL NUNN: (As Radio Raheem, bellowing).

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS BREAKING)

MONDELLO: A sharper mirror for Spike Lee's point, I couldn't imagine then and still can't. I've seen "Do The Right Thing" quite a few times. And boy, does it hold up.

But the film I've seen the most tackles difference differently. The comedy "Harold And Maude" is about a 19-year-old who's forever faking his own suicide and a 79-year-old he meets at a funeral who is in love with life.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HAROLD AND MAUDE")

RUTH GORDON: (As Maude) I think we're going to be great friends, don't you? Tell me, do you sing and dance?

BUD CORT: (As Harold) Uh, no.

GORDON: (As Maude) I thought not.

MONDELLO: The movie opened at the tail end of 1971, and its flower-power message got lost in a Christmas crush that included 007 and "Dirty Harry."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HAROLD AND MAUDE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) That woman, she took my car.

MONDELLO: But at one theater in the Midwest, "Harold And Maude" kept playing for more than a year, and other exhibitors started bringing it back. I worked for a theater chain at the time. And when I told my boss I'd seen "Harold And Maude" 19 times - partly because I shared a birthday with Bud Cort who played Harold - he booked it, and it clicked.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HAROLD AND MAUDE")

CORT: (As Harold) I enjoyed being dead.

GORDON: (As Maude) A lot of people enjoy being dead, but they're not dead really. They're just backing away from life.

MONDELLO: The message of learning to look past differences never got old, though I did. I'm approaching Maude's age now and not the least bit unhappy about that.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF YOU WANT TO SING OUT, SING OUT")

YUSUF ISLAM: (Singing) If you want to sing out, sing out. And if you want to be free, be free 'cause there's a million things to be. You know that there are. And if you want to...

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