The mother of all movies

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about my own Mom lately and all the movies I made her watch with me over the years. We’ve always been a very visually-stimulated family. We have dozens of albums of photos and a ton of home movies (thought, curiously, we never crossed over into video). We’re always looking at something. I have very specific movie-related memories attached to all of my family members… sitting with my Dad and a copy of Clyde Jeavons and Michael Parkinson’s A Pictorial History of Westerns listening to his stories about seeing Buck Jones and Bob Steel movies as a kid, watching GEORGY GIRL (1966) and FATHER GOOSE (1964) with my sister Lisa (who subsequently became my ride to the local drive-ins, for peeks at everything from DIRTY HARRY to MANDINGO to DON’T OPEN THE WINDOW to DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY), tape recording TV broadcasts of DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936) and THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936) with my other sister Cheri (my regular companion at the movies for a few key years, with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK being the last we ever saw together) and the Sunday night movies I cajoled my Mom into watching with me long after we both should have gone to our respective beds. These experiences would end, invariably, with my Mom hoisting herself off the couch with a disgusted “You did it to me again!” And I’d laugh — Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

I can’t remember the last movie my Mom and I saw together in the cinema but we’re going back a few years, maybe even a quarter century now. It was exceedingly rare for all of us to go to the movies together. I’m told my first movie in the theater was MARY POPPINS (1964) and I’m sure we were all there for that but moving forward we tended to break off into smaller groups. Lisa and Cheri were older than I by 6 and 7 years, so as soon as they were 12 and 13 they had to bring me to the movies and act as my chaperone. My Dad didn’t have much patience for the bijou and was always off whacking golf balls or building something in his shop. When I was in my late teens, almost out of high school, the family began renting a summer cottage in Maine and my Mom and I would go up ahead of everyone else and catch movies in the string of single-screen movie houses along the coast. I have specific memories of my Mom gobsmacked at the language in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) and I also remember a stifling screening of ROUGH CUT (1980) in an unairconditioned cinema in Wells, Maine — can you imagine an unairconditioned theater doing any summer business these days? My Mom was always good company at the movies — generous with the concession money, not too gabby — but really it’s the memory of those Sunday night “screenings” that I cherish the most. My Mom always hated going to her schoolteaching job on Mondays — she loved her kids but hated the grind and the politics — so I think staying up late on Sunday night represented a refusal to surrender to Monday morning until absolutely necessary. Why else would she agree to forgo eight hours of much-needed sleep (she taught third graders, who constitute a greater energy drain than Kryptonite) to sit through Howard Hawks’ ELDORADO (1967) one more time?

Over the years, my tastes changed and my Mom came to learn that she had infinitely more to risk by sitting down for a movie with me than a shortchanged night of sleep. She still refers to DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), which I had on video cassette (after having seen it many times on the big screen) and which I showed her one evening in the mid-80s, as “that thing in the shopping mall.” My Mom has a standard response to gory fare: “Gelg.” She says it, like an EC Comics character spouting “GASP! CHOKE!” and I think DAWN OF THE DEAD rated a mega-gelg from her. Mind you, I wasn’t trying to evoke a gag response from her (sincerely!) and I was probably anesthetized by multiple viewings. I’d like to think she merely wandered in as I was watching and that the scene on the screen was one of the more pastoral passages in the film, maybe the one in which the protagonists, having billeted themselves within the mall, go on a shopping spree without money. My Mom does love a good bargain and it could be that this odd light moment lured her in — and then WHAMMO — blood filmed condoms right in the kisser! But you know, really, what is DAWN OF THE DEAD but a western with zombies instead of Native Americans and a shopping mall in place of a frontier outpost? The movie even has a band of outlaw desperadoes who throw a monkey wrench into the works in the third act, precipitating a real Fort Apache type situation. No, it’s not THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1973) with Rod Taylor but it’s kind of THE BIRDS (1963) with Rod Taylor and not all that more bloody than DARK OF THE SUN (1967) with Rod Taylor. My Mom really liked Rod Taylor.

My Mom’s tastes and mine do share common ground in mysteries and crime films. I have added to her modest film library such titles as TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965), MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974) and PRIVATE HELL 36 (1954). After years of not quite knowing what to get me for Christmas or birthdays, my Mom came across the Sinister Cinema catalog and became my buyer, providing me with VHS tapes (and later DVD-Rs) of old Eddie Constantine movies, pre-Code Hollywood whodunits, obscure college-set murder mysteries and forgotten old dark house horror films. Lately, though, I’ve been stepping back from my obsessive desire to own every movie that I like and content to see most everything via online rental sites or borrowed from friends. I see quite a few movies for work and I don’t need a steady flow of product coming through the door. I have kids of my own now and spend an inordinate amount of time watching their stuff with them. My wife and I have sat through PETER PAN (1953), THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989), THE CORPSE BRIDE (2005), MONSTER HOUSE (2006) and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010) more times than we could begin to calculate, and then there’s the really awful stuff like HELLO KITTY: HELLO KITTY BECOMES A PRINCESS (1987) and those generic fairy tale DVDs that are too heinous to name individually. It’s torture knowing there’s something good running on TCM (“Kids! 12 ANGRY MEN just started! Followed by THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD! It’s George Voskovec Day!”) while the kids have me queuing up THE LAND BEFORE TIME (1988) for the, I don’t even know, 20th time, and knowing that I’m in for the long haul, that we’ll not only watch the feature but all the supplements and the sing-along songs, twice or three times each each. But the kids love these movies and most of them came from Grandma. That’s karma, I guess, and payback for all those years I suckered my mother into staying up late with me.¬† Somewhere, my Mom is laughing.

20 Responses The mother of all movies
Posted By medusamorlock : May 6, 2011 10:43 am

Lovely remembrance of your mom and the movies you loved! I mostly recall my mom taking us to double features — when they still were in theaters — of “The Mole People” and “The Wonders of Aladdin” and for which I’m still grateful!

Adorable pics of you and your mom, too!

Posted By medusamorlock : May 6, 2011 10:43 am

Lovely remembrance of your mom and the movies you loved! I mostly recall my mom taking us to double features — when they still were in theaters — of “The Mole People” and “The Wonders of Aladdin” and for which I’m still grateful!

Adorable pics of you and your mom, too!

Posted By rhsmith : May 6, 2011 10:45 am

You got to see The Mole People at the movies? As Hugh Beaumont would say “Suh-WEEEEEEEET!”

Posted By rhsmith : May 6, 2011 10:45 am

You got to see The Mole People at the movies? As Hugh Beaumont would say “Suh-WEEEEEEEET!”

Posted By franko : May 6, 2011 1:19 pm

. . . rhsmith, you’re a very fortunate fellow. :o)

Posted By franko : May 6, 2011 1:19 pm

. . . rhsmith, you’re a very fortunate fellow. :o)

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : May 6, 2011 3:02 pm

What a great post. Love those pics of you and your mom! You’ve got me thinking about my own mom today. I can also remember seeing SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER at the drive-in when it was released and my mom being upset about it. I was probably way too young to have seen it but my parents let me watch just about anything and I’m really grateful for that. My own mom introduced me to lots of great romances. She loved romantic movies and comedies. Many of her favorite Hollywood stars like Gene Tierney, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Deborah Kerr, etc. have become my favorites too. One of the last gifts my mother gave me before she passed away was a copy of Otto Preminger’s LAURA and we must have watched it together 3 or 4 times. 3 cheers for moms!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : May 6, 2011 3:02 pm

What a great post. Love those pics of you and your mom! You’ve got me thinking about my own mom today. I can also remember seeing SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER at the drive-in when it was released and my mom being upset about it. I was probably way too young to have seen it but my parents let me watch just about anything and I’m really grateful for that. My own mom introduced me to lots of great romances. She loved romantic movies and comedies. Many of her favorite Hollywood stars like Gene Tierney, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Deborah Kerr, etc. have become my favorites too. One of the last gifts my mother gave me before she passed away was a copy of Otto Preminger’s LAURA and we must have watched it together 3 or 4 times. 3 cheers for moms!

Posted By Bob Gutowski : May 6, 2011 3:31 pm

Great picture of your and your mom! My mom and I laughed through AUNTIE MAME and cried through AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER – in fact, my mom and my sisters and I (at that point, my little brother was in bed) cried through the remake of MADAM X when it was on NBC.

Posted By Bob Gutowski : May 6, 2011 3:31 pm

Great picture of your and your mom! My mom and I laughed through AUNTIE MAME and cried through AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER – in fact, my mom and my sisters and I (at that point, my little brother was in bed) cried through the remake of MADAM X when it was on NBC.

Posted By Lisa : May 6, 2011 5:39 pm

Great memories!!

Posted By Lisa : May 6, 2011 5:39 pm

Great memories!!

Posted By suzidoll : May 6, 2011 6:13 pm

What a terrific post–makes me think of my own Mom, who will still watch a movie with me in the theater if I pick carefully.

On another note, I know what you mean about watching a movie in a theater with no AC. When I saw DIE HARD, I saw it in one of the broken down movie palaces in Chicago’s Loop (since torn down). It was July in Chicago, and I was watching a movie indoors in a place with no AC. That’s how far my devotion to movie-watching goes. On top of that, a huge family of about 8 members came in with smuggled McDonalds food. The smell was nauseating, and it lingered in the air for the whole movie. However, it was interesting how the effect fit the content of the movie. As John McClaine is sweating and crawling through the dirty air ducts of the Nokatomi Building, I was sweating and feeling whoozy from being in a theater that smelled like old McDonalds food.

Posted By suzidoll : May 6, 2011 6:13 pm

What a terrific post–makes me think of my own Mom, who will still watch a movie with me in the theater if I pick carefully.

On another note, I know what you mean about watching a movie in a theater with no AC. When I saw DIE HARD, I saw it in one of the broken down movie palaces in Chicago’s Loop (since torn down). It was July in Chicago, and I was watching a movie indoors in a place with no AC. That’s how far my devotion to movie-watching goes. On top of that, a huge family of about 8 members came in with smuggled McDonalds food. The smell was nauseating, and it lingered in the air for the whole movie. However, it was interesting how the effect fit the content of the movie. As John McClaine is sweating and crawling through the dirty air ducts of the Nokatomi Building, I was sweating and feeling whoozy from being in a theater that smelled like old McDonalds food.

Posted By Jenni : May 7, 2011 6:45 pm

What a lovely post for Mother’s Day. The movies you mentioned that your kids watch, many for the umpteenth time, my kids have watched them also, but not that Hello Kitty thing, thank goodness!! Add to the mix the many Disney animated films. But don’t worry, as they get older, their tastes will change, and then you can bring in more of your movie influences to them, but be ready to defend the black and white flicks. Many of today’s teens think b/w equals dull and boring. B/Ws that I’ve successfully passed on to my kids are: Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde(Frederic March version-and my boys were impressed with the transformation sequence), To Kill a Mockingbird, On the Waterfront,The Most Dangerous Game,It’s a Wonderful Life, Casablanca, The Best Year of Our Lives, Stagecoach, The Red Badge of Courage(watched recently cause one of the boys had to read it for school.) And lately one of my son’s wants to stay up later and he will often offer to watch an old movie with me in order to not have to turn it just yet. :)

Posted By Jenni : May 7, 2011 6:45 pm

What a lovely post for Mother’s Day. The movies you mentioned that your kids watch, many for the umpteenth time, my kids have watched them also, but not that Hello Kitty thing, thank goodness!! Add to the mix the many Disney animated films. But don’t worry, as they get older, their tastes will change, and then you can bring in more of your movie influences to them, but be ready to defend the black and white flicks. Many of today’s teens think b/w equals dull and boring. B/Ws that I’ve successfully passed on to my kids are: Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde(Frederic March version-and my boys were impressed with the transformation sequence), To Kill a Mockingbird, On the Waterfront,The Most Dangerous Game,It’s a Wonderful Life, Casablanca, The Best Year of Our Lives, Stagecoach, The Red Badge of Courage(watched recently cause one of the boys had to read it for school.) And lately one of my son’s wants to stay up later and he will often offer to watch an old movie with me in order to not have to turn it just yet. :)

Posted By Robert : May 8, 2011 1:10 pm

I’m waiting for the day when you snap and start blogging exclusively about HELLO KITTY

Posted By Robert : May 8, 2011 1:10 pm

I’m waiting for the day when you snap and start blogging exclusively about HELLO KITTY

Posted By dukeroberts : May 8, 2011 5:15 pm

My mom and I spend most of our Sundays and Mondays together watching old movies and reruns of Adam-12 (Our all-time favorite cop show). We occasionally make it to the theater as well. In the past year my mother was less than thrilled by The Town, which I loved. In retribution, I had to suffer through You Again with Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver. You can’t win ‘em all.

Posted By dukeroberts : May 8, 2011 5:15 pm

My mom and I spend most of our Sundays and Mondays together watching old movies and reruns of Adam-12 (Our all-time favorite cop show). We occasionally make it to the theater as well. In the past year my mother was less than thrilled by The Town, which I loved. In retribution, I had to suffer through You Again with Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver. You can’t win ‘em all.

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