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Prompted By What We Watched

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The first time this prompt, “What We Watched,” appeared, I wrote a story about the television shows I loved growing up, TV shows of my youth. That was the very first story I posted on Retrospect, and it started me on a wonderful adventure which has continued through 60 stories so far, with many more yet to come.

This time around I am turning my thoughts to the movies that influenced me in my younger years.

Living in the New York metropolitan area, I was fortunate to have Million Dollar Movie on channel 9, which showed classic movies, and would repeat the same movie twice on weeknights, and three or four times per day on weekends. The movie I remember most vividly from Million Dollar Movie was Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney as composer George M. Cohan. I fell in love with this 1942 movie, and learned all the great George M. Cohan songs, such as “Over There,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and the title song. I think I watched it at least three times in a row one Saturday when I was about eight years old. I also saw Gone With the Wind, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and many Bogart movies. Of course, even if the movie was in color I saw it in black and white, since we didn’t have a color television until some time in the Sixties. The theme music for Million Dollar Movie was “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind, so when I first saw GWTW, I wondered why they were playing the Million Dollar Movie song.

The Wizard of Oz made a big impression on me, as it probably did on most kids, and I knew all the songs from that movie too. Luckily I saw it in the theatre, because watching it on a black and white TV would have ruined the effect of going from black-and-white Kansas to colorful Oz. For years after I saw it my middle sister could reduce me to tears by cackling like Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West.

My favorite actress of all time was Audrey Hepburn, and over the years I saw all of her movies. The one I liked best was Breakfast at Tiffany’s, because she was so glamorous in that one, although I’m sure when I first saw it as a sixth-grader in 1962 I didn’t understand most of the salient plot points. Still, she had that long cigarette holder, those great sunglasses, a cat called Cat, and she sat out on the fire escape of her New York apartment playing her guitar and singing “Moon River.” As a result of the scene where she and George Peppard get a Crackerjacks ring engraved at Tiffany’s, my friend Amy and I tried to have a silver cigarette lighter engraved there in 1968, but they wouldn’t do it, stating that they only engraved items that were purchased there. I suppose after the movie came out, Tiffany’s was inundated with people bringing things in that they wanted engraved.

I loved Audrey Hepburn so much that I always planned to name my first daughter after her, but the problem was that I didn’t like the name Audrey that much. So I decided that I would give her the name of one of the characters Audrey played. I didn’t like Holly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) or Regina (Charade) or Princess Ann (Roman Holiday), and certainly not Rima the Bird Girl (Green Mansions), so I settled on Sabrina. When I finally did have a daughter, in 1985, I had to convince my husband that we should name her Sabrina, but he eventually came around. The movie Sabrina is one that I have watched countless times and I never get tired of it. I even like the 1995 remake with Julia Ormond in the title role and Harrison Ford playing the Humphrey Bogart part, although I didn’t expect to. I worried that the remake would cause Sabrina to become a super-popular name, but luckily it didn’t.

I also loved Sidney Poitier, and saw his movies whenever they came to my local theater. In particular I remember Lilies of the Field (1963), A Patch of Blue (1965), and three amazing performances in 1967, To Sir With Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. He was the first African-American to win a Best Actor Oscar, in 1964 for Lilies of the Field. I can still hear him singing “Amen, Amen” with all those nuns.

Starting in 1967 there were so many movies that I loved that I can’t begin to do them justice, so I will just mention the ones that stand out in my mind. In 1967 alone there was Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, along with the three Sidney Poitier movies mentioned above. In 1968 my most memorable movies were The Thomas Crown Affair and Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. (That year also brought us 2001: A Space Odyssey which I hated.) In 1969, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? were all movies that made a big impression on me. In fact, when I saw Easy Rider, I was so stunned and amazed at the end of it that I stayed in my seat in the theatre and watched the entire movie a second time. I have not seen it again since then, and I wonder if it would stand the test of time. I’m not sure I want to find out.

 

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Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Just great that you saw all those classic movies on black and white TV to get you started. We are doing the same thing right now, TiVoing old movies from Turner Classic Movies and watching old classics from the 30s and 40s during the summer doldrums, particularly Westerns and Film Noir.

    Like you, I LOVE anything with Audrey Hepburn in it. We recently watched “Two for the Road” again. A very cynical movie, but great clothes from the era. I didn’t love the remake of Sabrina as much as you did, nothing could match Audrey’s charm (some of it was filmed on the Vineyard and we were all abuzz about that for a while, spotting various locations). And don’t forget “Wait Until Dark”. That scared the pants off of all us!

    Your movies from the late 60s are all great and trend-setting. I saw “Easy Rider” within the past few years, for the first time since its release. I had forgotten much of it. The ending still stuns. Thanks so much for your anthology and reminder of great movies!

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, I agree, Two for the Road is a great one. The portrait of their marriage through so many different periods (and fashion trends) is still really compelling. And Audrey and Albert make an adorable couple.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Excellent story, Suzy, and thanks for switching the narrative slightly to movies. I think that in many ways they are more evocative than TV shows, though I am not sure why, given their shorter duration. And just naming a number of them is a great springboard for my own memories. I think we were blessed by having a load of excellent movies at such a key time in our lives, and you really captured that here.

    As to your specific references, I also didn’t think much of 2001, but we obviously did not see it at the same time, as I still loved seeing the movie. My main recollection was catching it with a number of (presumably other) friends at one of the Boston movie theaters and being amused by a fair number of audience members trying to rush the screen in stoned homage to the space images. Oh wow. In the same, enhanced viewing experience vein, I also remember the 1968 remake of the Charge of the Light Brigade which suddenly broke into a cartoon and left a lot of the audience going bonkers because they weren’t sure if that was actually part of the movie or they were just hallucinating it. Good times.

    Just one question at what I see as a significant omission from your list. No M*A*S*H? (The original Robert Altman movie with Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland.)

    • John Zussman says:

      John: Patti and I first saw M*A*S*H at the Quincy House Flicks, probably in the spring of 1971. Not exactly your Cinerama wide-screen experience, but we loved it—as did the other students surrounding us. We were definitely the target demographic, as Hollywood would say now (but not then).

      • Suzy says:

        I don’t have any specific recollection of when or where I saw M*A*S*H, so it didn’t really fit. Also, I just looked it up and it came out in 1970, so too late to be in my story, which ends with 1969. I agree it’s a great movie, maybe you should write about it.

  3. John Zussman says:

    You had me at The Thomas Crown Affair, your classic sexy, sophisticated cat-and-mouse movie, and no one will ever outdo Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. (They tried in 1999 with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. Ha!) And speaking of sexy, sophisticated cat-and-mouse tales, let me suggest Charade, because more Audrey Hepburn, not to mention Cary Grant.

    Actually you had me way before that, with your ROTFL line about GWTW playing the Million Dollar Movie theme. I loved this whole story, alternately laughing and feeling nostalgic. Thank you for reminding us of all these great films and the way you experienced them.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, I love Charade, have seen it at least 4 times. It doesn’t matter that I know the twist at the end, it’s still delightful. And I’m glad you’re a Thomas Crown fan too, it’s one of the great ones, but not many people seem to remember it.

  4. Thanks for offering your encyclopedic mind to bring all those wonderful films back to us! I couldn’t help thinking as I read, how differently I respond to those iconic movies today. As a hormone-driven adolescent, I was swept up in the romance of so many of the films you describe. Then the young rebel took over. Thanks for reminding me of the flood of ’67 films that resonated so deeply for so many of us. The only film I still can’t swallow is “Easy Rider.” It was just too far off the mark for so many vital elements of the time.

    No matter, you evoked lots of fun memories and remembrances of past dramas, heroes and heroines.

    • Suzy says:

      Glad you enjoyed the memories. I can’t help thinking that the difference between your reaction to Easy Rider and mine is the result of our different ages and experiences in 1969.

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