I’ve just discovered old movies on YouTube. (Yeah, I know… but I just never looked!)
I mean… real oldies. The ones with Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Bette Davis, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Maureen O’Hara, Robert Young, Errol Flynn, and all the others too numerous to list. My sister would know the titles. My Dad and she shared a love of old cinema.
But I wish I had known these movies – in their entirety – were but a click away on my laptop when my mother was alive. She watched movies from the recent past, and Downton Abbey and the Roosevelts, and some musicals on the VCRs that we had collected, but how much dearer would it have been to enjoy a bowl
of popcorn and a soda, and share a box of tissues while we viewed Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pigeon in How Green Was My Valley (1941) or I Remember Mama (1948) starring Irene Dunn!
Hers was the generation that spent Saturdays at the movies and escaped into a world of glamour and adventure. Gracious living and mannerly people, good-natured humor and beautifully romantic leading men and women. Even now, I could spend hours watching their simple plots and feel-good endings where the good guys win and the bad ones are punished.
After the depression and during the war, people flocked to the theaters to try to forget about their troubles. Everyone would be there, so it was like a party, not just ‘date night’ or ‘family night,’ and often there was entertainment or a band between the second and third features. Really! Three movies!
Even in the 1950’s when I was growing up, we’d walk several blocks to the theater and then pay seventy-five cents to see a few cartoons and a double-feature. Young teens dressed in uniforms with hats and carrying flashlights would keep an eye on the antics of a couple of hundred rambunctious children for hours because we could stay as long as we behaved. Then there was the long walk home. Cheap babysitting, if you ask me.
I checked out the map of Mom’s neighborhood, and she would have had to walk over two miles in each direction. The cost was less than a quarter, and often included the price of a soda and a small candy or popcorn. I remember her telling me about how she and her younger sister, Barbara, were told to take their little brother Julian to the movies and how they pinched him all the way there because they were mad that they had to drag him along.
In 1939, my mother was twelve. I don’t know if i could have picked the winner of the best movie at the 12th Annual Academy Award Celebration, which included nominations for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Stagecoach, Love Affair, The Wizard of Oz, The Rains Came, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Minotchka, Of Mice and Men, Dark Victory, and we cannot forget Gone With The Wind.
So it is with a bit of sadness that I anticipate watching the Oscars this year. It was always fun to watch them with her. I vividly recall going to see Amadeus with Mom and Dad in 1984 which had received awful reviews. We thought it was wonderful, and Mom was one of the first to stand and clap as the credits rolled at the end. Then others did, too, and she was so happy to see everyone wait and listen until the very last note. You would have thought it was a live performance. (She was also the first to clap when trans-Atlantic flights touched down at the airport, and the first to stand for Handel’s Messiah.) She was so happy when it won a total of eight Oscars, including Best Picture. It was as though she had something to do with it.
That’s part of the fun of actually going to the movies. You can remember where you saw it, and with whom. Unlike a TV show, or a rented DVD, you share the experience with others. But at $12 a ticket ($9.50 for Seniors), watching a good old movie on a laptop (hooked up to a big TV screen) with your loved one may be the next best choice for a ‘night out.’