Whereas my mother’s family introduced me to the movies as a wee youngster, landing me on this road of appreciating the art form, let alone blogging about them, what really set the hook in was television. Growing up, not every weekend resulted in attending a movie theater or, when they were still prominent, a drive-in. Watched more hours of TV than being in some darkened place that projected film, I estimate. It’s not even close, back then or now. Television programs, cartoons, even news on occasion, took up the lion share of my childhood viewing.
The movies seen during this time, some a scant few months to many years old since their first-run release, ranged across many genres. The Los Angeles of my youth, even then, was a large market to select from. You had local channels providing umbrella titles for the major networks (The ABC Sunday Night Movie, The CBS Thursday Night Movies, NBC Monday Night at the Movies to name a few) showcasing movies during the week, as well as weekends. That didn’t even count the local programming bounded within the 80 square miles of L.A. and Orange county.
Movies Till Dawn blogger Raymond De Felitta covered what was available on local TV affiliates for those of us living during this time in Los Angeles in this wonderful piece.
The former initially gathered my young eyes to epics like Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, and El Cid. The latter was where the Sci-Fi/Monster fare roamed. From Forbidden Planet, to The Day the Earth Stood Still, and The Thing From Another World. A whole lot more of that would fill my Saturday afternoons. All introduced on a lone black and white Admiral television set perched in my grandmother’s living room. Classics in the truest sense of the word, and all meager in their visual resolutions.
Eventually, they’d spur me to see nearly all of them at some future revival movie theater decades down the line.
For all that, those wouldn’t be the true impetus to get me interested in film. Many of them shared with others, my grandmother for one. Aunts visiting, with their children, my cousins, for others. No, the mark of movies was branded on me watching whatever was offered late at night. When you’re most impressionable. Where you’re the only one there to judge and weigh whatever the movie maker placed on that screen (however small). Whether you were mature enough to understand the point or not. The ticket — how late you could stay up.
Plenty were proffered after your 11 o’clock news each Saturday night. Because it was a weekend, and my grandmother spoiled me rotten, the grandchild she treated as her last son, I was let alone to do just that. The Fabulous 52 (which later morphed into the CBS Late Movie) remains the first show recalled. But the ABC and NBC local outlets had their own late night movie programs. I’d pick between them for whatever looked the most interesting. The experience endures with me all this time since the initial after-hours screening.
I’m still sitting on grandma’s chair or sofa these long years later, vicariously.
Even when the television set itself changed through the years, from a black and white to a color set, I’d view a movie each Saturday night till my teen years. When old enough for girls and dates to replace the activity that stretched into early Sunday morning. I think that’s why I can go off into another room, turn off the lights, and watch (spanning VHS, cable, disc, and now streaming online through the years) a film on a screen wherever I lived, and be swept away with what’s there. Right back to this time.
I’m sure I’ve missed some, but the following cemented the memories and made it all so. Included are links to the reviews by writers/authors/bloggers I admire and have enjoyed reading. The films that made an impact, late some Saturday night, on this child now grown-up.
Red River (1948): The preview the show used was a clip of John Wayne shooting at, to provoke, a young Montgomery Cliff. It both intrigued and bothered me before the film ever started. Afterwards, it’d be the perfect metaphor for the ways people, family can and do treat each other.
Great Movie: Red River (Roger Ebert)
Red River (Edward Copeland)
Seconds (1966): I flat-out didn’t know what to expect with this film. Hey, that’s Rock Hudson. Where was Doris Day? And what the Hell are they doing to this man?!?
Underrated: Rock Hudson in Seconds (1966) (Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder)
Lady in a Cage (1964): Few affiliates, I reckon, would show this film, and only late at night for those. For good reason. James Caan’s debut film was that frank. I’d find the poster warned: DO NOT SEE LADY IN A CAGE ALONE! I failed miserably with that, and this shocker scarred me.
Aimless Brutality (A.H. Weiler, New York Times)
Sabrina (1954): Want to know when and where my love affair with Audrey Hepburn began? Age eleven, 11:30 PM Saturday night, on channel 7’s KABC late movie in my Ma’s living room. Staring lovingly into Audrey’s eyes, just like Humphrey Bogart. William Holden a fool.
Review: Sabrina (1954) (Bill’s Movie Emporium)
36 Hours (1965): Since I started watching James Garner in Maverick on TV at an early age, I made it a point to never miss a movie with him in it, if I came across a film of his on television. I’ve followed that same policy into adulthood, and have never regretted it.
36 Hours (1965) (Chris, The War Movie Blog)
FAIL-SAFE (1964): Being of a generation that grew up during the height of the Cold War, and thankfully weathered time to witness the ushering of that era’s end, this one influenced me greatly. Played seriously straight, unlike Dr. Strangelove, it haunted me for years.
Reprise – Friday Forgotten Book/Film: FAIL-SAFE (It Rains… You Get Wet)
In Cold Blood (1967): I knew of Truman Capote’s book, having seen it on my uncle’s shelf a couple of years back. I even remembered my aunts and uncles discussing Richard Brooks’ film adaptation. Thought I was prepared, especially for the film’s final frame. I wasn’t.
In Cold Blood (Roger Ebert)
I Was A Male War Bride (1949): I was already a Cary Grant fan by the 60s, so when I caught this I was surprised to find Ann Sheridan in it. She being in the TV series, Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats, my grandmother (and I) never missed. Sadly, the actress would die of cancer shortly thereafter in ’67.
I Was A Male War Bride (Judy, Movie classics)
Operation Petticoat (1959): Speaking of petticoats, and Cary Grant… Easily, one of the sheer joys from my late-night movie pastimes. I think I woke my grandmother up when I laughed too hard. Plus, I remembered Tony Curtis’ Cary Grant impersonation from Some Like It Hot.
Movie – Operation Petticoat (1959) (Chip, Tips from Chip)
The Haunting (1963): As I said below, “…what The Haunting brought to that late-night viewing has spooked me to this day.” The film, and final one on the list, depicted the blackest shadows and night on a TV screen, which invited you to only rewatch them in daylight.
The Haunting Film Review (It Rains… You Get Wet)
The Long Ships (1964): Adventure, beautiful women, gory action, and diabolical instruments of death, what boy could resist?!? With Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier flipping villain/hero onscreen personas, this film wasn’t to be missed — my son would latch on to this similarly years later.
Screen: ‘The Long Ships’: Widmark and Poitier in Viking Adventure (Howard Thompson, New York Times)
Stalag 17 (1953): Between this film and The Bridge Over the River Kwai screening, this was where I became a fan of William Holden. And catching Some Like It Hot one evening with grandma, a Billy Wilder enthusiast, too. I’ve yet to stop being one for either.
Stalag 17 (Jonathan Henderson, Cinelogue)
Lilies of the Field (1963): As dark as some of the fare watched during these weekend movie voyages (and there definitely were a few), this film probably was the most unexpectedly joyous and uplifting. Sidney Poitier in what was his direct counterpart to his The Long Ships role that year.
Lillies of the Field (Morgan Lewis, Morgan on Media)
The Miracle Worker (1962): Likely the one film where I recognized the formidable personality and toughness in the lead female characters with that of the women I grew up around. With the woman I married, and the daughter we have, I remain in similar company to this day.
Miracle Worker, The Review (1962) (Mary Sibley, The Spinning Image)
The Fly (1958): This one left a mark as I blocked the memory for years, I think. Caught it on the local KABC station after the Saturday news. Admittedly, this was one great, messed up tale done with thought, originality, and tragedy. While I was enthralled by it, the film was a supreme downer that haunted me for days afterward.
The Fly (1958) (Classic-Horror.com)
Night of the Living Dead (1968): I’ll close with a late Saturday TV screening that didn’t happen in my grandmother’s old living room. While I was aware of the film, the first time I’d see it would be ten years after the movie’s release. In a friend’s apartment just off The Boulevard in Hollywood. She taking me in during a time of deep despair. Forcing me to face a fact of life, this horror classic would be strangely comforting.
“They’re all dead. They’re all messed up.” My Look Back at Night of the Living Dead (John Kenneth Muir’s Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV)
DVD of the Week: Night of the Living Dead (J.D., Radiator Heaven)