There’s a Lesson to be Learned Here

When we think of message movies, we tend to think of the Stanley Kramer variety where a serious social issue is dealt with heavy-handedly by an all-star cast letting us know it’s time for a lesson in civics that sorely needs to be learned.   They aren’t all like that, of course.  Sometimes the message is interwoven into a movie that deals with its characters and story first and puts the message in service of the plot and not the other way around.  Crossfire, for instance, which airs today on TCM, is a thriller first, a message movie second.  But what about all those movies that so subtly hide their message they’re not considered message movies at all?  They still have lessons for us, if you know where to look.

Lessons001

The Wizard of Oz is a wonderful, enchanting movie that waits until its final moments to sell us its message:  Stay at home, kid! You’ll be safer and besides, who wants to explore the world anyway?

Star Wars takes the opposite tack: Stay at home? What’re you, crazy?  There’s nothing here for you anymore.  Go!  Explore!  Find out who you really are.  Maybe get a laser sword in the process.  Just be careful who you kiss, okay?

Lessons02 Forbidden Planet has a pretty good lesson, actually.  When you show up in an unfamiliar place and there’s some really awesome toys there,  that doesn’t mean you should play with them.  You just might create a situation you didn’t intend.  Also, keep your id in check.

 It’s a Wonderful Life: Whatever you do, for goodness sake, don’t entrust an entire Savings and Loan deposit to the flighty uncle who has a squirrel living in his office.  Seriously, take it to the bank yourself.

 The Godfather:  Rule 1:  Never go out to dinner with the son of the guy you just had shot.  This seems so simple and yet…

 The Godfather: Rule 2:  Never take toll roads.

 The Godfather, Part II:  When you betray your brother and he assigns his lead bodyguard/assassin to go fishing with you, suddenly develop  a fear of open water.

Chinatown: If there’s a part of town that has always caused you heartache and trouble, just forget about it.

Psycho: When you check into a motel and the owner/operator tells you no one ever stays there and has a weird dinner with you in a room filled with taxidermy where he talks a lot about his mom, tell him you just remembered you left your oven on and LEAVE IMMEDIATELY!

The Bridge on the River Kwai:  No one ever appreciates the hard work you do.  Ever.  They’ll just blow it up in your face.

The Fountainhead: No one ever appreciates the hard work you do.  Ever.  Just blow it up in their faces.

Midnight Cowboy: That job you have flipping burgers in Texas?  It’s pretty good, just stay there. (See The Wizard of Oz)

Lessons03 Citizen Kane: If given the task of researching the meaning of a famous person’s last word, and there’s no internet available, just make  something up.  Come on, nobody’s going to know.  Just say it was a sled or something.

 The Bride of Frankenstein:  Before setting up a nihilist on a blind date, disable the castle self-destruct lever.

 Jaws:  When someone who has just seen what you’re up against tells you that you need a bigger boat, turn around and get a bigger boat.  The  shark’s not going anywhere.

 Dracula:   If you have a dinner guest who refuses wine by saying he never drinks it, demand he tell you specifically what he does drink.  Also,  serve a dish heavy in garlic.  If he’s fine with it, invite him again.  If he runs screaming from the dinner table, put wolf bane and crucifixes  everywhere.  Oh yeah, and make sure you have a nice big full length mirror in the foyer as your guests come in.  Couldn’t hurt, right?

Raiders of the Lost Ark:  First get the whip, THEN throw the idol.  P.S. When you do throw the idol, throw it hard, right at that guy’s head.

Deliverance:  You know what’s a better idea for a vacation than canoeing down an unfamiliar river in unfamiliar territory?  Anything.

Ghostbusters: When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:  The next time you say to a friend, “Let’s go someplace like Bolivia,”  go someplace like Bolivia!

There are, of course, thousands of other lessons to be learned from the movies.  Why, I could probably do a whole piece on lessons from The Godfather alone (another one: When Don Corleone offers to pay you to put his nephew in your movie, take him up on it before it becomes the kind of offer you can’t refuse!).  Likewise there could just be a “lessons learned” section for rowboats in the movies alone.  From Sunrise to A Place in the Sun and Monsieur Verdoux to the aforementioned Godfather, Part II, rowboats should be avoided at all costs, period.  But I know from writing here is that you never need to include everything because the readership is so knowledgeable, they’ll contribute more than you ever could.  Lesson learned.

42 Responses There’s a Lesson to be Learned Here
Posted By Autist : May 6, 2016 2:51 pm

Actually, as I recall it, that Bolivia deal didn’t work out too well for Butch and Sundance. It turns out that when you rob banks there they call out the army!

Posted By Autist : May 6, 2016 2:56 pm

I have learned many lessons from watching horror movies. For instance, if it’s late at night and you hear a weird noise in the attic/basement/woods, and all your friends/relatives are asleep, whatever you do don’t get a flashlight and go investigate by yourself.

Posted By Autist : May 6, 2016 2:59 pm

Texas Chain Saw Massacre: People in Texas take trespassing very seriously. Also, avoid the Bar-B-Q.

Posted By tdraicer : May 6, 2016 3:41 pm

When you dig up a German propaganda weapon that is five million years old, it probably isn’t a German propaganda weapon. And you’ll need LOTS of bug spray. Or a crane.

Posted By Mitch Farish : May 6, 2016 3:53 pm

The lesson for the heavy-handed film-maker is to make the message a “maggufin,” and look for something else besides high-minded talk and moralizing to engage an audience. Hitchcock, where are you?

Posted By LD : May 6, 2016 4:38 pm

This was really an enjoyable post. I’ll add a couple.

GUN CRAZY-Never go out and leave your money in your room, or wherever you are staying, if the police are after you.

MISSISSIPPI MERMAID-Never go out and leave your money in your room, or wherever you are staying, if the police are after you.

Posted By swac44 : May 6, 2016 4:54 pm

Ah, rowboats. Also to be avoided if Gene Tierney is involved.

Posted By Autist : May 6, 2016 5:10 pm

LD: Yes, Mississippi Mermaid is a treasure-trove of lessons! If you must marry a mail-order bride, get a pre-nup. Don’t put her on all your bank accounts, including the one for your business.

Posted By Flora : May 6, 2016 5:40 pm

Great examples all of these movies.

Other examples;

Grease; really, it is not possible to have a realistic relationship that turns out right unless you totally change who you are. You cannot find true love if you are true to yourself and do not bow to peer pressure.

Marty: Hanging out with your friends can’t ruin your chance at true love.

Posted By LD : May 6, 2016 5:48 pm

Autist-Annie Laurie and Marion (aka Julie) are real charmers, in that femme fatale sort of way.

Posted By Derek Hodges : May 6, 2016 5:53 pm

A couple of pictures from Horsefeathers, but no lessons learned.

I guess the lesson learned, is that there are no lessons to be learned at Huxley College.

Posted By Emgee : May 6, 2016 7:51 pm

The message of just about any horror movie: don’t go in the cellar/attic or buy that house whose former owners were brutally slaughtered. And former burial plots are bad real estate.

Posted By Emgee : May 6, 2016 8:04 pm

White Heat: A man’s best friend is his mother. Or was that…..

The Lady Vanishes: Next time, take the car.

Scarface: A man’s best friend is his….sister?

The Public Enemy: Some people are grumpy at breakfast.

Spartacus: beware of people who like oysters AND snails.

Posted By vandelay : May 6, 2016 9:06 pm

Worth noting that in the original screenplay, CROSSFIRE dealt with homophobia, not anti-Semitism.

Posted By George : May 6, 2016 9:10 pm

Green Room: Don’t agree to perform for neo-Nazi skinheads at a road house in the back woods. And don’t put your arm out a door when people with machetes are lurking out there.

I remember Mad magazine’s comment about Grease’s message: The way to win your true love is to become a slut. What a great message for the children of America!

Posted By George : May 6, 2016 9:23 pm

The Beguiled: If you’re a wounded Union soldier stuck in a creepy Southern mansion, don’t assume you can seduce every woman in the place and get away with it.

If you’re in a horror movie and lost in the woods at night, never say, “Let’s split up! We can cover more ground that way!” Always a bad idea.

If you’re a woman in a horror movie, and are spending the night in a haunted house, investigating strange noises in the basement while wearing lingerie is usually not a good idea.

Posted By Qalice : May 6, 2016 9:25 pm

Hahahahahahaha!

Posted By Marjorie J. Birch : May 6, 2016 10:40 pm

I think I ruined “Gone with the Wind” for a good friend of mine. We saw it in a movie theatre, back in the day when they would show great old movies in the movie theatre (I finally saw “Wizard of Oz” in color, that way) and they’re starting to do it again…

ANYWAY… there we were, last scene, Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) sobbing at the foot of the stairs and then there’s that marvelous close up where she says “I’ll go home! To Tara!” My pal was whispering “Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!” (because of Vivien’s so beautiful) and suddenly I grabbed his arm and said “Bob this whole damn movie is about real estate. The message is Men are Unreliable and Basically Stink so buy yourself some land.”

He yelled at me all the way back to the apartment. “YOU RUINED THE GREATEST GODDAMN MOVIE EVER MADE.” “I’m sorry, Bob, I’m sorry, but I still think…” “I DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!!!!”

Posted By George : May 6, 2016 11:40 pm

Charley Varrick: When you learn you’ve stolen $765,000 from the Mafia, return it IMMEDIATELY.

Posted By George : May 6, 2016 11:47 pm

Body Heat: If a woman says, “You’re not very smart. I like that in a man,” start running away from her.

Posted By Autist : May 7, 2016 12:29 am

House of Dark Shadows: If you find a coffin in a secret burial vault and it has chains around it, don’t remove the chains!

Posted By gregferrara : May 7, 2016 12:51 am

Blade Runner: When questioning a possible replicant, never ask them about their mother.

Posted By gregferrara : May 7, 2016 12:51 am

By the way, if this were Facebook, I’d give every comment here a “like”.

Posted By gregferrara : May 7, 2016 1:01 am

Sunset Boulevard: When the aging movie star that has utterly attached herself to you shows you she has a gun, don’t turn your back on her.

Posted By gregferrara : May 7, 2016 1:09 am

Five Easy Pieces: For everyone’s sanity, just order what’s on the menu, okay?

Posted By gregferrara : May 7, 2016 1:10 am

The Long Goodbye: Never call a man who lost his cat a loser.

Posted By gregferrara : May 7, 2016 1:12 am

Wargames: When a computer you’ve hacked into offers you blackjack, chess, backgammon, and global thermonuclear war as possible games to play, choose any one of the first three.

Posted By George : May 7, 2016 1:23 am

Fargo: Hiring a couple of psychos to kidnap your wife will probably not work out too well.

Barton Fink: A huge hotel that seems to have only one employee and one other guest is probably not a great place to stay.

The Revenant: If you see a bear cub, don’t stand around admiring how cute it is. Start running as fast as you can.

Posted By gregferrara : May 7, 2016 2:06 am

127 Hours: When rock climbing, always bring lots of butter and oil. A battery powered rock drill wouldn’t hurt either.

Posted By LD : May 7, 2016 2:11 am

THE WOLF MAN-No good deed goes unpunished.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN-When someone says they will never let you go, believe them.

JEZEBEL-One should think twice before flouting convention, even if it is 1852.

THE BIG HEAT-Coffee is best served in a cup or mug.

Posted By gregferrara : May 7, 2016 2:42 am

THE BIG HEAT, part 2: Whenever possible, drink iced coffee.

Posted By desiree lavaland : May 7, 2016 4:49 am

VERTIGO: “One shouldn’t live alone … It’s wrong!” — a wonderful, under-remarked moment in which you can see through Madeleine’s false persona the real Judy’s vulnerability and neediness which allowed her to be preyed upon, trained & used — due to her urban loneliness away from Kansas family values

LOST & DELIRIOUS: If you’re a budding young lesbian on the verge of a full-blown psychiatric meltdown — the best way to cope with boarding school life is … trying your hand at falconry … yes, falconry!! (this moral could be re-worked for KES also)

THE GRADUATE: Whatever you do as you go through life, absolutely never ever ever get romantically involved with both a woman and that same woman’s daughter … Could be re-worked for: LOLITA; MILDRED PIERCE; and I suppose BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING for that matter …

Posted By shush fund : May 7, 2016 5:36 am

UNFAITHFUL — If you’re a cuckolded husband whose rage is about to burst forth, don’t worry about bringing a weapon when you go to confront your wife’s young Frenchie lover … You’ll find a snow globe will do the job quite nicely, thank you …

PARIS TROUT — The moral is that Yes, even though you might think it would be completely impossible, there IS a film out there (& a good one too!) which features a Dennis Hopper lead role SO mind-bogglingly repugnant that his character in this actually makes Frank Booth seem like a nice, pleasant fellow in comparison

Posted By shush fund : May 7, 2016 5:41 am

VERTIGO: “One shouldn’t live alone … It’s wrong!” — a wonderful, under-remarked moment in which you can see through Madeleine’s false persona the real Judy’s vulnerability and neediness which allowed her to be preyed upon, trained & used — due to her urban loneliness away from Kansas family values

LOST & DELIRIOUS: If you’re a budding young lesbian on the verge of a full-blown psychiatric meltdown — the best way to cope with boarding school life is … trying your hand at falconry … yes, falconry!! (this moral could be re-worked for KES also)

THE GRADUATE: Whatever you do as you go through life, absolutely never ever ever get romantically involved with both a woman and that same woman’s daughter … Could be re-worked for: LOLITA; MILDRED PIERCE; and I suppose BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING for that matter …

Posted By adolphus roofenstein : May 7, 2016 5:46 am

VERTIGO: “One shouldn’t live alone … It’s wrong!” — a wonderful, under-remarked moment in which you can see through Madeleine’s false persona the real Judy’s vulnerability and neediness which allowed her to be preyed upon, trained & used — due to her urban loneliness away from Kansas family values

LOST & DELIRIOUS: If you’re a budding young lesbian on the verge of a full-blown psychiatric meltdown — the best way to cope with boarding school life is … trying your hand at falconry … yes, falconry!! (this moral could be re-worked for KES also)

THE GRADUATE: Whatever you do as you go through life, absolutely never ever ever get romantically involved with both a woman and that same woman’s daughter … Could be re-worked for: LOLITA; MILDRED PIERCE; and I suppose BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING for that matter

Posted By adolphus roofenstein : May 7, 2016 5:47 am

UNFAITHFUL — If you’re a cuckolded husband whose rage is about to burst forth, don’t worry about bringing a weapon when you go to confront your wife’s young Frenchie lover … You’ll find a snow globe will do the job quite nicely, thank you …

PARIS TROUT — The moral is that Yes, even though you might think it would be completely impossible, there IS a film out there (& a good one too!) which features a Dennis Hopper lead role SO mind-bogglingly repugnant that his character in this actually makes Frank Booth seem like a nice, pleasant fellow in comparison

Posted By George : May 7, 2016 8:10 pm

Chasing Amy: Suggesting a threesome with your best friend/business partner and your lesbian girlfriend will probably not go over too well.

Posted By George : May 7, 2016 8:12 pm

Election: If you fix the results of a high school election, put the incriminating paper in your pocket. Don’t toss it in a wastebasket, where a creepy janitor can find it.

Posted By George : May 7, 2016 8:16 pm

2001: A Space Odyssey: Don’t have a “private” conversation in front of a computer that can read lips.

Posted By Autist : May 7, 2016 9:28 pm

The Graduate: One word: plastics.

Posted By robbushblog : May 11, 2016 7:36 pm

If THE PRINCESS BRIDE taught us anything, it’s “Never trust a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!”

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE: If you find an idealistic lawyer dying in the desert, leave him there. You’ll end up a bitter old drunk, without love, and a penchant for pyromania otherwise.

Posted By Paul Dionne : June 9, 2016 3:03 pm

BASIC INSTINCT: Next time you need to be interviewed in a police interrogation, leave your underwear home -

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