I’ve always loved going to the movies. Growing up in the 1960s, the moviegoing experience meant a full program of coming attractions, a newsreel, a cartoon or comedy short subject and then the feature. There’s a scene in Joe Dante’s “Matinee” that expresses so beautifully the tingle, the anticipation and the thrill of going to the movies. A showman portrayed by John Goodman leads a young boy into a movie theatre: “The guy tears your ticket in half, too late to turn back now…the stuff laid out on the candy counter, and then you come over here where it’s dark, could be anything in there, and you say, ‘Here I am, what have you got for me?’”
So on this Thanksgiving, I offer thanks to some of the movies for which I am most thankful.
Horsefeathers: This is not my favorite Marx Brothers movie, but it was my first. I discovered it on television at 12:40 in the morning. and watching it was akin to Dorothy opening up the door of her Kansas farmhouse and stepping into Oz. “Horsefeathers” was a gateway into a world of high silliness and consciousness-raising absurdity. And it led me to the discovery of such timeless wits as Robert Benchley, S. J. Perelman and George S. Kaufman, and contemporary acolytes such as Woody Allen. A whole new world opened up.
The “Road” movies: “This is the screwiest picture I’ve ever been in.” This line from “Road to Morocco” is spoken by a camel. As a kid, I didn’t know movies could be so screwy before I followed the wisecrack-paved “Roads” with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. From talking animals or actors talking to the camera (“He’s gonna sing folks,” Hope warns the audience in “Road to Bali,” “Now’s the time to go out and get the popcorn”), to absurdist gags, anything could happen in a “Road” movie and to this kid, that was enormously appealing and liberating.
The Day the Earth Stood Still: We on Earth have not gotten the message from this 1951 sci-fi classic to live in peace within the universe. Pity. What I love about this movie is that the spacecraft that delivers Klaatu to our planet actually looks like it could have been built by other beings. Compare that with the titanically-huge, sky-obliterating UFOs in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” No way those stringbeaned-armed aliens could have constructed them.
Local Hero: One reason to love the movies is pure escapism, and there is nowhere I would rather escape to than the Scottish fishing village of Ferness, to where an “extra-normal” Texas oil company dealmaker is dispatched to buy out the locals and clear the way for a refinery. But he becomes enchanted with the place and its down-to-earth residents. This is an off-center gem that’s off the beaten track but well worth seeking.
His Girl Friday: The fast and the furiously funny. In Howard Hawks' classic screwball comedy, "Bringing Up Baby," socialite Katherine Hepburn confesses to befuddled Cary Grant that everything she put him through happened because, "I was trying to keep you near me, and I just did anything that came into my head." In Hawks' "His Girl Friday," editor Cary Grant does anything that comes into his head to keep his ex-wife and star reporter from getting remarried and covering a breaking story. It never gets old.
Your turn: What movies are you particularly thankful for?