My Classic Movie Childhood


With Jonathan deep in film school applications, the process of talking through essay topics, master thesis options, and personal statement talking points has gotten my heart going pitter-pat for old movies — my old mainstay…

farley granger strangers on a train

… and my favorite films from childhood.

A few weeks ago, my dad celebrated seeing his 4,500th movie (he tracks each and every one with check marks and tallies and handwritten notes in an old Leonard Maltin book). He is a movie fan through and through, and he instilled in us the same appreciation for great and not-so-great films. It may not have been by choice that we ended up raised on Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics (RIP: AMC), with box-sets of Humphrey Bogart videotapes beneath the TV, but we certainly never complained about it either. It was all we knew!

Watching black & white movies never fazed us and silent films were just as easy and fun to watch as ones with sound.

Fact: My sister’s and my favorite movie in the 5th grade was To Have and Have Not with Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

bogart bacall to have and have not movie poster

It’s true! We would actually turn it on in the mornings so when our friend stopped by to walk with us to school, we’d casually invite her in with the hope that this time she’d stop and go, “Oouu, what is this cool movie?” and then insist on staying and watching more, at which point she’d agree that it was, indeed, the best movie ever. Can you believe this never happened?! ;)

But we still loved it, despite its appeal being completely lost on our friends. There was something strangely inspiring about watching the thin, deep-voiced, 19-year-old Bacall take a wicked slap across the face by a waterfront ruffian without so much as a flinch. She could hold her own in a room with someone as intimidating as Bogie. She was tough-as-nails — a true role model for a girly little tyke like me.

Plus, Bogie and Bacall were simply magnetic together.

Other than some live action Disney and animated features, I don’t recall watching anything other than old movies when I was a kid. It wasn’t even until the 5th or 6th grade — when my friends were all going to see Mission Impossible in theaters and I had to stay behind — that I realized it wasn’t a widely loved form of entertainment for my generation.

I mean, didn’t every kid spend Saturdays watching Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies?

Naturally all of my friends thought Clark Gable was the most dashing leading man around, right?

gable colbert it happened one night movie poster

And everyone knew that the comedy duo to beat was clearly Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

You just can’t beat a classic “floating head” poster, can you?

Eventually, Kim and I stopped daydreaming in black & white and technicolor and joined my friends at the PG-13 rated movie screenings that were essential for social survival during middle school. I stopped letting my dad change the channel to TCM on a whim and refused to watch just any old thing Robert Osborne happened to introduce.

Our proverbial world opened up, the way it does when you’re a teenager and discovering who you are and what you love that makes you you.

In hindsight, there is little I value more than my parents’ determination to instill in us a connection and patience for old films. As we grew up and went to college, we understood quickly how watching black & white movies in a world full of Pixar and superhero blockbusters is an acquired skill.

Now, especially when the holidays roll around, I crave the comfort and warmth of old, classic movies; the slower pace, the nostalgia for Christmases at home in front of the fire, listening to my father laugh at films — I know now — have a special, nostalgic place in his heart too.

Did you ever watch old movies as a kid? Any particular ones really stick with you, even now? Or hey, maybe tell me what your favorite movie was when you were nine!

(Top image: movie still of Buster Keaton in Sherlock, Jr. — 1924)

One thought on “My Classic Movie Childhood

  1. With a few exceptions, we never watched old films in my house! It is one of the things I miss about being in film school – growing up with classic films was a very common denominator among the film school set and it was fun to be exposed to that genre and film era!


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