Sunday, May 8, 2016

My Mother and Classic Film

Unlike many younger classic film buffs, I was not introduced to classic movies by my parents. I was fortunate enough to be born at a time when local TV stations still showed classic movies. In those days before sports overwhelmed weekend afternoons, it was not unusual for one of the local stations to show a classic film or two on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. KPLR in St. Louis, which we could pick up on a good day, showed classic films multiple times a week. Indeed, late Saturday afternoons were when they always showed Abbott and Costello movies. Rather than my parents I would then say it was television that introduced me to classic movies.

That having been said, I do owe a debt to my parents with regards to classic films. While my parents never went to the theatre, they did watch a lot of movies on television when I was growing up. My parents had my brother and me when they were in their late Forties, so their tastes often ran to movies made when they were young. Younger parents in the Seventies might have scoffed at watching old black and white films from the Thirties and Forties. Because these were the films of their youth, my parents did not.

Both my father and my mother would then have some impact on my development as a classic film fan. My father probably had more impact on me as a child, but as an adult I began to learn more about my mother's love for movies. As the eldest son in the family I was the one who took care of my mother when she got older and during those years we watched a lot of movies together. From childhood I knew that Maureen O'Hara was her favourite actress, but I would not know until adulthood that her second favourite actress was Marilyn Monroe. It rather surprised me as the two actresses couldn't be more different. Maureen was flame haired and had a will of iron. Marilyn was bleach blonde and rather vulnerable. Regardless, both actresses appealed to my mother.

In fact, on the whole it was actresses who appealed to my mother more than classic actors. To this day I have no idea who her favourite actor was, but I know who plenty of her favourite actresses were. Maureen O'Hara and Marilyn Monroe were her favourites, but she also liked Audrey Hepburn (whom I think was my dad's favourite), Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and Shirley MacLaine. My mother was always a somewhat vulnerable, somewhat anxious woman, and I think many of these actresses displayed attributes she wished she had.

I cannot say that my mother had a particularly favourite film genre. Like my father she enjoyed Westerns. For that reason growing up I saw a number of Westerns, to the point that I probably saw a good portion of John Wayne and Randolph Scott's films before I was 18. Both of my parents also loved comedies. My mother's tastes in comedy ran more to screwball comedies and the comedies of Billy Wilder. Some Like It Hot (1959) numbered among her favourites, as did The Apartment (1960). Mom enjoyed a number of other film genres, everything from courtroom dramas to mysteries. She loved the old Charlie Chan movies and Anatomy of a Murder (1959) numbered among her favourite films. She also liked musicals, although not nearly as much as my father did.

Of course, there were those film genres my mother didn't care much for. My mother only enjoyed war films if they were not overly violent. She liked The Great Escape (1963), but not The Dirty Dozen (1967). Oddly enough given my tastes in films, she did not particularly care for science fiction, fantasy, or superhero movies. For my mother to truly enjoy a film there had to be some basis in reality. Her remark when watching any science fiction or superhero film would be, "That couldn't really happen."

If she had a least favourite genre of film it was probably horror. She actually saw Frankenstein (1931) in the theatre when she was young and really did not care for it. Not only was it not based in reality, but it was too scary. As an adult I teased my mother about seeing a classic in the theatre and not even appreciating it. Given my parents' tastes in films, it is rather odd that science fiction, fantasy, superhero, and horror number among my favourite genres. I rather feel sorry for subjecting them to so many movies and TV shows they probably did not particularly care for when I was little.

Despite my mother's distaste for science fiction, fantasy, superhero, and horror movies, my tastes in movies do resemble hers to a large degree. Even now I find myself watching a number of Westerns, mysteries, and musicals. Billy Wilder is one of my favourite directors and my preference in comedies is to those made before 1970. While my mother did not introduce me to classic film, she did have an impact on my development as a classic film buff. I truly do miss watching movies with her.

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