It may be hard for kids today to conceptualize, but there was a time when movies were shot on film and not readily available at the click of a download button. But since that download button has made movies so accessible, put it to good use by introducing your kids to some of Hollywood’s greatest classic movies*.
My father introduced us to the world of black, white, and Technicolor when he brought home rented video tapes every weekend for us to watch; my brother and I loved quoting “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges” from Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Years later as a film major in college, I watched over 200 films a semester, some of which my father had shown me first. While kids may gripe at the idea of a movie in black and white, or be quick to brand something made pre-2000’s “old and boring,” with patience and the right selection, they may learn what I did: they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
This first list of five are movies that are appropriate for the whole family and kids young and old. Check back tomorrow for a list of classic movies for teens.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
The all-time greatest classic family movie, Singin’ in the Rain has got it all: great (but not cheesy) dancing and singing, historical plot, and comedy. Set in the late 1920s, the plot centers on actors who make their living as silent movie starts. But when talkies (i.e. movies with sound) break out on the scene, it could spell the end of their careers if they don’t adapt. This movie will probably inspire parents and kids alike to take dance classes and help everyone brush up on their movie history.
Fun fact: Debbie Reynolds plays the woman (and love interest of Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood) who dubs mega star Lena Lamont’s hideous voice. In real life, Gene Kelly had Reynolds’ singing dubbed over by another woman. Meta!
Other great musicals: West Side Story, Top Hat, My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins
How to Steal a Million (1966)
Ever-glamorous Audrey Hepburn plays Nicole, whose father forges art. When a museum wants to use his (fake) sculpture of the Cellini Venus in an exhibition, Nicole learns they’ll test it for forgery, and enlists Simon Dermott (Peter O’Toole and his blue eyes), who she thinks is a burglar, to help her steal it back.
This funny, whimsical, and well-made film is suitable for the whole family. Fashion lovers can ogle Hepburn’s Givenchy wardrobe, and car enthusiasts will adore the classic vehicles.
Fun fact: Director William Wyler originally thought of making the film a follow-up to Roman Holiday, starring Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
Other fun heist movies: To Catch a Thief, The Italian Job (1969), The Sting, Charade
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Any introduction to classic films requires a screwball comedy, which is characterized by fast-talking wisecracks, absurd situations, occasional cross-dressing, and a strong woman who tests the masculinity of the lead male. One of the greatest of screwball comedies is The Philadelphia Story, which stars three of the era’s greatest actors: Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant.
Hepburn plays Tracy, a socialite and ex-wife of Grant’s Dexter. Tracy is about to get remarried, and Dexter comes to the wedding with reporter Mike (Stewart) to cover the event for a magazine. Hilarity, misunderstandings, and true love ensue. While the film is appropriate for all ages, the talking is speedy, so leave it for kids over 10.
Fun Fact: The Philadelphia Story was first written specifically for Katherine Hepburn as a play, which ran on Broadway. Howard Hughes later bought the movie rights and gave them to Hepburn as a gift.
Other great screwball comedies: Arsenic and Old Lace, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, The Awful Truth (all of which happen to feature Cary Grant), and It Happened One Night
Forget Cinderella—this classic tale romantic comedy directed by Billy Wilder, features Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn), whose father is the chauffeur to the rich Larrabee family. Sabrina has been in love with playboy David Larrabee (William Holden) her whole life, but David never noticed her. After she attends culinary school in Paris, she returns home a cultured, sophisticated, and beautiful woman, attracting David’s lust. David’s brother, Linus (Humphrey Bogart), worries that Sabrina will endanger David’s impending marriage to a well-off socialite, and tries to intervene, but falls in love with Sabrina himself, causing a complicated love triangle.
Fun fact: There’s a goldmine of interesting trivia with this movie. Audrey Hepburn and William Holden actually fell in love on the set of the movie, but Hepburn called it off when she found out Holden couldn’t have children. However, Bogart didn’t get along with, or like, either Hepburn or Holden.
Other fun romantic comedies: Roman Holiday, The Shop Around the Corner, and Adam’s Rib
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Use this wholesome flick to introduce a few political basics to the kids. James (Jimmy) Stewart it Mr. Smith, a well-intentioned but rather naïve and idealistic Mr. Smith, a Boy Scout troop leader who is appointed to fill a seat in the US Senate. When he tries to set up a national boys camp, his idol and senior state senator sets him up for scandal. The film is directed by Frank Capra, one of the most famous and well-respected directors of the time. The end is one of the most famous and dramatic movie scenes to ever take place on the Senate floor.
Fun fact: US politicians denounced the film for its depictions of corruption; in fact, a real-life senator from Montana walked out of the screening in disgust. And in fascist European states, the film was banned altogether because it showed democracy as a successful model.
Other great James Stewart films: Rear Window, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Vertigo, The Shop Around the Corner
*This is by no means a comprehensive list.
Photos from Wikimedia Commons