Tilting at Windmills || Man of La Mancha

If I haven’t mentioned it before, my gateway drug into classic film was the movie musical. My Father, a trained psychologist, used them to entice his daughters away from a glut of cartoons and into the world of “live-action.” I admit, with all honesty, that I was once terrified by this prospect. I’m not sure precisely what traumatized me about non-animated cinema (I suspect I glimpsed something that I shouldn’t have and my young brain just kind of shut down on the matter), but for years any film that occupied more than two-dimensions gave me a deep sense of unease. 

My Father, however, was undaunted by the challenge, determined to share with us the (age-appropriate) films he loved. A clever man (I learned early-on the significance of Dr. Jeffrey’s Ph.D.), Dad noticed how I relished my Disney Sing-Alongs. Music then (no-imminent-pun-intended), was the key to getting little-Meg to watch something other than Aladdin for the ninth time. We started with Singin’ in the Rain, then Hello Dolly!, and then moved on to the Rodgers and Hammerstein collection. By the time I left my single-digit years behind, I had fallen in love with cinema’s song-and-dance-men (and women).

One afternoon, I recall Papa telling my sister and I to go to our rooms and see what was on our beds. Scurrying down the hallway, I discovered the double-VHS version of Camelot, while my sister, who was a devoted fan of Wishbone, in particular the episode entitled “The Impawssible Dream,” found Man of La Mancha (1972) propped up on her pillow. As summarized on the film’s IMDb page: “The story of a mad, but kind and chivalrous, elderly nobleman, who, aided by his squire Sancho Panza, fights windmills to save his Dulcinea.” 

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Knowledge is Power || Raiders of the Lost Ark

Many an elementary school child has been asked: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” It is only later, however, when they discover the challenges that come with being a space explorer, a princess, or a marine biologist (I just wanted to swim with dolphins, but noooooo, I had to take advanced statistics). The future (8-year-old me was certain), was full of the same possibilities I saw projected up on the silver screen. After my parents broke the news that I might not make “Jedi Master” by the time I turned 18, I next considered going into archeology. After all, I looked good in Dad’s fedora, and learning how to sling a whip seemed like a lot of fun.

Judging by the myriad adult males I saw dressed as Indiana Jones last weekend at PAX, it seems I am not alone in my admiration for the titular hero of 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. This film, as they say, is the one that started it all (although it draws inspiration from other adventurers like Tarzan, Tintin and Allan Quartermaine). Here is Harrison Ford at his finest; Steven Spielberg at his funnest; and John Williams… well, John Williams is amazing as always. As summarized on the film’s IMDb page: “In 1936, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler’s Nazis can obtain its awesome powers.”

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Here’s Lookin’ at You || Casablanca

“Everybody Comes to Rick’s” … At least that is what I assume was written on the invitation.

My first experience with Casablanca was a fancy-dress housewarming party, thrown by my parents after they had finished constructing our new home in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The event took place in our spacious, fully-furnished basement, and neither my sister nor I were invited. It was after our bedtime, but I remember our doorbell ringing, adults strolling in wearing trench coats or elegant gowns. They looked different from the grownups I was used to, many of them having traded their Stetsons for Fedoras. This was because, I later learned, the party was Casablanca-themed (my parent were such nerds). Today, the only momentos of that dreamlike occasion are the movie poster that hangs on Robin’s wall (my Dad, Richard, invited all the guests to sign the back of the frame), and the peacock-blue, bejeweled dress that hung for years thereafter in my mom’s closet.

This was “the start of [my] beautiful friendship” with the quintessential Hollywood flick. As summarized on its IMDb page: “A cynical nightclub owner protects an old flame and her husband from Nazis in Morocco.”

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Comedy, in the Conservatory, with the Candlestick || Clue

In the days before streaming, good ol’ fashioned channel surfing exposed the kid sis and me to a variety of movies (some good, many mediocre, and a few really terrible ones starring Steven Seagal). We first saw the second half of Clue (1985) on Comedy Central one evening while I was babysitting. The lack of parents in the immediate vicinity probably explained how we got away with watching the flick, and although a few jokes whizzed over our tender, young heads, the slapstick and sight gags kept us glued to the couch, even during commercial breaks.

We were also huge murder mystery buffs, having devoured Conan Doyle and Christie throughout middle school, and we regularly teased our brains playing (and sometimes cheating at) the eponymous board game. After our initial truncated viewing, during which we sobbed with laughter, we wanted more. Fortunately, Comedy Central had a repeat showing, enabling us to see the entire film the next day. And it was So. Much. Fun. As summarized on its IMDb page: “Six guests are invited to a strange house and must cooperate with the staff to solve a murder mystery.”

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“The Force Will Be With You. Always.” || A New Hope

There was really no other movie I could have written about this week. What can I say about Star Wars? That it’s the movie(s) I most associate with my father? That John Williams’ soaring, celestial score is practically imprinted on my genes? Or perhaps I should admit how, even if I wrote 100 posts on this film, I would still not be able to say all that I want to about that galaxy far, far away…

If I’m being honest, I can’t recall the first time I watched Star Wars with my father. It was just always THERE. Every Christmas, Birthday, and Father’s Day, Dad would inevitably receive a Darth Vader-themed present from my sister and I. He had shelves full of mugs, figures, books, and novelty-items (a lightsaber pen, for example) featuring the Dark Lord. The reason why Star Wars had always been with us, my mom later explained, was because it had always been Dad’s “thing.”

I joke that without Star Wars, I wouldn’t exist. When it debuted in 1977, mom and dad went to the theatre for their first official (solo) date. This went well, so they had another, and another, until finally they had me (there was some other stuff that happened in between). Long after a farm boy, a princess, and a scoundrel first traversed the galaxy, the Force remained strong in my family. And it continues to, even though my father is no longer with us on this particular blue planet. As I near the fourth anniversary of his passing, it only feels right to share my thoughts on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. As summarized on its IMDb page: “Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.”

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Buckle and Swash || Scaramouche

Around the time that I turned 10, I was on a quixotic quest: finding a sport in which I did not feel like a clumsy giraffe. My height was well-suited for basketball and volleyball, but I never took to them. Mastery of the games’ mechanics was beyond my elementary-school patience and, being of a capricious nature, I abandoned these athletic pursuits for artistic ones. It was not until my freshman year of college when the desire to do something physical once more reared its head. Why? Because I was presented with the opportunity to do something of which I, as a child who loved swash-buckling, had longed dreamed: Fencing.

As I learned the basics of swordplay, I began to see myself less as a graceless stork, and more as a nimble combatant, whose height gave her a greater reach and deeper lunge than her opponents. My instructors were patient as they led us through our drills, but when I clashed with them during practice matches, they did not hold back (actually I’m sure they did, it just REALLY did not feel like it). They would spring forward with disarming (pun intended) speed, and always five moves ahead of their students. At the end of my first year, I felt like a Jedi padawan, with much to learn, but with a new-found confidence in myself that would serve me well as I began adult-ing.

Inspired by my enthusiastic reports, my father found a fencing salon back east, and he and I would spar with each other during breaks. I remember one occasion where the snow blanketed our yard, gleaming as white as our fencing uniforms, our breath visible as it puffed out from the mesh of our masks. Thanks to my father, who had first shown me classic movies like Scaramouche (1952), movies that kick-started my imagination and a desire for thrilling heroics, I had found a zeal for swordplay that eventually overwhelmed my reluctance towards physical recreation.

As summarized on the film’s IMDb page: “In France during the late 18th Century, a man sets out to avenge the death of his friend at the hands of a master swordsman.”

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Nothing to it, But to do it || Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Every summer, I get the urge to write. A craving to create something that is largely for me (although family, friends, and kind strangers are also welcome to peruse – validate me).

Let’s get Dangerous Nerdy.

About a year ago, my sister and I toyed with the idea of doing a podcast on lessons-learned through the viewing of classic films; there is a wealth of knowledge and beauty to be mined from these flicks. We wanted to give parents a glimpse into what they offer, and we also wanted to take on a project that our late father once held near and dear to his heart.

The podcast fell through, but the idea (like Don Quixote charging windmills on the plains of La Mancha), refuses to quit. Ergo, starting today, I will make weekly posts on the classic* films of my yester-years and share what makes them worth your time.

* “classic” does not refer to quality, but will instead mean any movie that was made before 1990.

These posts will not be limited to “kids” movies either. I watched a lot of stuff growing up, some of it very scary and/or serious, which I no longer regret. However, in an effort to prevent well-meaning parentals from psychologically-scarring their little ones, I’ll conclude each post with a Head’s Up report on aspects of the film that can be frightening, problematic, or require off-screen chats. I’ll also be discussing numerous plot points in each post, so spoilers will be tagged in blue.

I embark on this endeavor with a review of Disney’s live-action fantasy: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). As summarized on its IMDb page: “an apprentice-witch, three kids and a cynical conman search for the missing component to a magic spell useful to the defense of Britain.”

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