Great films are a body of literature and wisdom, as far as I am concerned. I use the word “great” to mean the film delivers lessons about the human experience that we can use in this crazy, mixed up world of ours. These films affirm kindness, self-respect, and courage.
In this post and my next one I offer you a list of some of our favorite films at our house. We have seen them many times, and will continue to do so. I watched Sirens yesterday. Gene Siskel, according to Roger Ebert, watched Saturday Night Fever at least 17 times. That’s my point. So, let’s get started.
The oldest film on my list is Casablanca, made in 1942 in gorgeous black and white. Humphrey Bogart is at his best. He tells the piano player, “Play it, Sam. You played it for her, you can play it for me.” A classic line that is often misquoted as play it again, Sam.
Jimmy Stewart starred in It’s a Wonderful Life in 1946. After a series of setbacks he announces that he wishes he had never been born. His guardian angel shows him what the world would look like if he got his wish. We would do ourselves a favor by watching that movie again. It is about honoring our own contributions.
Another Bogart film that fits this list is African Queen, made in 1951. He plays a low-life loser who discovers his own value and worth while helping Katherine Hepburn’s character flee from the Germans in the time leading up to WWI. They are traveling in a rickety boat across water that harbors leeches. We need this film now more than ever.
We’re No Angels is from 1955. It is the third Bogart film in this post. Three prisoners escape and make their way to a retail shop owned by the kindly Leo. G. Carroll. People my age might remember him from the television show, Topper. The inmates take up residence, and their basic kindness begins to show itself in a delightful way. The film is totally charming. At the end, they return voluntarily to prison. “Prison wasn’t so bad,” they say.
Saturday Night Fever came out in 1977 with John Travolta in the classic white suit and the pose he made famous. In addition to being a whole lot of fun, it reminds us to respect ourselves regardless of our outer circumstances. No wonder Siskel watched it so many times.
In 1980 The Blues Brothers showed us how to throw caution to the wind. They do this because they are “on a mission from God.” Jake Blues, played by John Belushi, wants to get their old band together for a fundraising event to help The Penguin pay back taxes. The Penguin is their favorite nun. It’s a sweet and ambitious story.
Groundhog Day, 1993, shows Bill Murray’s character caught in a time warp. He does not know it, but the only way to escape is to learn kindness and appreciation. I know that time warp well. I am still learning to be kind. He relives the scene where spectators wait to see if the groundhog will cast a shadow, and he does it time after time. The final scene depicts him showing his humanity. This is another great lesson for our times.
These films are all about evolving as human beings and as members of a community.
I will add to the list in my next post. I also invite readers to share your thoughts on any of these films.