KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) — When I was a kid, my dad was always playing music of the Big Bands — Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman. Who, you ask? Let’s just say they were the Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake of their day. Having cultivated an appreciation for the music of Dad’s day, I occasionally still play it and have found enjoyment in music from every decade.
For me, there’s no expiration on creative expression.
While the preservation of great music from the past is someone else’s battle, I’ll stick with my greatest passion in the world of the arts: the golden years of moviedom.
Understand, I don’t blame today’s 20-somethings for not being aware of films and stars of the past. As big as Bogey was, Generation Y and Z don’t know Humphrey Bogart. He’s dead, his last film made in 1956 (“The Harder They Fall”). They don’t want to watch black-&-white movies, and they sure don’t want to watch a bunch of dead people on screen — unless those dead folk are zombies. That’s a shame. I believe people who never watch a classic film are cheating themselves.
Even though each decade has seen its share of mediocre movies, they’ve also contributed celebrated films that still impact today’s society, spotlighting timeless truths each successive generation can embrace. Indeed, some memorable movie scenes from long ago have elevated this viewer’s soul with the same visual profundity as Michelangelo’s 500-year-old sculpture the “Pieta” in St. Peter’s Basilica.
My defense of old movies is based on this fact: though CGI (computer-generated imagery) reigns at the modern-day box office, I maintain that story, character and performance remain the most important “special effects.” These ingredients can feed the mind and spirit, while CGI is too often used merely to jolt the adrenaline levels
In Ecclesiastes 3 we are told that there is a time to laugh and a time to dance. I believe that means entertainment is an elemental part of life. For example, there’s nothing particularly religious about a baseball game. It’s watched for the enjoyment. Well, motion pictures can provide the same outlet. Movies with profound themes — sans profane language and sacrilegious behavior — are few and far between in this age.
So allow me to select a few recommendations from the times before computer wizardry and comic book concepts became the cinematic overlords. Are these the very best movies of their age? Not necessarily. But I think you’ll find a common component among these selections: great storytelling that uplifts as well as entertains.
We start with a really old one.
“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”
This 1921 film starring Rudolph Valentino was the sixth-highest-grossing movie of the 1920s. The epic spectacle concerns cousins from a loving family taking opposite sides during World War I. Despite today’s different cinematic sensibilities, this romantic drama from Hollywood’s silent era holds the viewer’s attention (admittedly, the second half is best) with impressive imagery and its religious themes, which are woven non-piously throughout. Plus, it remains relatable: A family is split due to political ideologies. Sound familiar? (BTW, this film was remade in 1962, but that version lacks the emotional wallop of the original.)
OK, if you will view The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, give yourself an A for adventuresome. For those not convinced you’ll enjoy a movie with text cards rather than voices, take heart. The rest of this list gets easier. For one thing, there’s sound.
Several Oscars went to this 1946 film version of the Charles Dickens novel, an Edwardian saga about an orphan and his mysterious benefactor. John Mills headed the English cast and it was directed by David Lean (“Dr. Zhivago,” “Lawrence of Arabia”). No one glorified language better than Charles Dickens. Well, except for the Bard. That said, it’s the visuals from this motion picture that remain etched in your mind. The opening sequence in the cemetery will haunt you with its unnerving suspense — a fabulous scene. And of course, there’s the first shot of the abandoned Miss Havisham in her decaying wedding dress.
“Stars in My Crown”
Joel McCrea stars as a 1800s minister dealing with the problems of his parishioners. From 1950, this is one of my favorite films. It’s a gentle, episodic tale for the whole family, and a fine example of how our daily walk with Christ can eventually affect the lives of others. (Hard to find, but worth the effort.)
“On the Waterfront”
The winner of eight Academy Awards in 1954, this piercing drama, starring Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint and Rod Steiger, deals with New York’s crime-ridden harbor docks. In my opinion, Brando gives the greatest male screen performance ever. Man, this is a great movie.
Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, and Kevin Hooks starred in this G-rated story of a black sharecropper’s family during the Depression. Nominated for Best Picture in 1972, along with the lead actors, once again we see a film about evolving characters and emotionally revealing storytelling.
Once in a while a young person tells me of an old movie he or she has discovered. They ask if I’ve heard of it. Films like “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “Becket,” “A Man for All Seasons” or “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I smile, pleased that although these filmmakers have passed on, their endearing work has stood the test of time.