The New Old Movie Review
In this new series, I hope to help Catholic families experience what I did as a child: making popcorn and watching good movies together as a family.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I spent many Saturday nights watching old movies that were carefully handpicked by my parents. My mom and dad referred to these as the “classics.” These films largely consisted of war stories, courtroom dramas, whodunnits, comedies, westerns, and even the occasional musical.
I sorely miss those Saturday nights, and not just because it was fun to see my mom sing along with actresses, or hear my dad quote lines from films he had viewed dozens of times. Looking back now, though I didn’t understand it as a child at the time, my parents were teaching me virtue through film. And learning virtues like faith, hope, charity, perseverance and fortitude through film can prove an inspirational process.
These classics were good on an absolute basis, but considering most of Hollywood’s recent offerings, they shine even brighter on a comparative one. With their increasing insistence on blasphemy, sadism and serious offenses against the sixth and ninth commandments, many new films are morally unviewable by Catholics.
I’ve also grown weary of today’s portrayals of unvirtuous heroes, largely because I consider this a contradiction; after all, virtue is the stuff of heroes. But I remember a time in Hollywood when the heroes in movies were heroes becausethey practiced virtue. I remember a time in Hollywood — and it may be almost impossible to believe today — that Catholics and the Catholic Church were portrayed positively in film.
As our family was watching The Fighting Sullivans a few Saturdays ago, I kept thinking that young families should be able to sit down and watch good movies together. Movie nights should be a time for bonding, teaching and learning. And here’s the good news: those movies have not gone away. In fact, nearly all the old movies I saw growing up are available for instant download through various services.
But first, you need to know they’re there. And I want to help with that process of discovery. In the coming weeks, I am going to be writing a series of new blogs called The New, Old Movie Review. In it, I will highlight some of the classic films of yesteryear.
It’s about old movies, so I will probably not review anything produced in the past five decades. To be sure, there have been some excellent films made during this time, but they are generally more well-known. Older movies deserve the attention they have lacked for decades; in fact, many old films never received the attention they deserved. It’s A Wonderful Life, for instance, only attained modern popularity due to a copyright gaffe.
But there’s another reason to reach back five decades or more, and it’s something that C.S. Lewis commented on in his Introduction to Saint Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. Lewis writes:
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.
I hope that Lewis would agree: that also means the old movies.
I will use two basic texts for determining the quality of a film: Aristotle’s Poetics and Aquinas’ Treatise On Virtues(with a particular emphasis on the latter). Simply, does the movie illustrate virtue and inspire to virtue? And which virtues specifically? I will also be leaning heavily on my good friend Dr. Onalee McGraw of the Educational Guidance Institute — an organization that seeks to teach truth and beauty through film.
Going forward with this endeavor, I appreciate your feedback. Most of all, I hope to help Catholic families experience what I did as a child: making popcorn and watching and learning from good movies together as a family.