My husband, Mark, and I recently flew down to Florida to celebrate a big birthday weekend with my sister Eve, who lives there. We had a few days to fill in Miami before meeting the family for the celebration.
Unbeknownst to us, there was a heat advisory. We quickly found out what that means in Florida in August. People stopped walking the boardwalk by 10 a.m. The ocean water was hot by 11, and the air became even hotter and more humid. August isn’t the optimal time to visit Florida anyway — it’s like an oven during that month — and even hearty Floridians were complaining and sweating.
What to do? Sit in the lobby of our hotel? Shop at the nearest mall? Eat all day in the nearby restaurants? Gain 20 pounds?
Mark and I both love movies but haven’t seen that many recently. Let’s just say the pickings have been slim. But we both agreed to see “Oppenheimer,” which we heard was well done and with excellent actors. Even better, it’s three hours long; seeing it would remove us from the heat until the evening. Instead, we’d be sitting in a cool theater.
We got there early, in time to watch the coming attractions, which didn’t look attractive at all. Almost every preview was in-your-face violent, bloody, with cringeworthy visual effects, and just plain disturbing. I turned to Mark and said, “There’s no way I’m going to actually pay to see any of these.” Thank goodness, “Oppenheimer” turned out to be a fine movie, and a welcome relief from those coming attractions.
But still, I miss those movies that made you feel good, hopeful, and you walked out of the theater smiling and humming.
Bring back Doris Day!
Although Doris died in 2019, her movies live on. She was one of the biggest Hollywood film stars of the 1950s and ’60s. Sure, many of her films were airy, light, a bit cheesy, filled with the tried-and-true melodramatic patterns of girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy at the end. There were absolutely no deep or even superficial takeaways. They were just a few hours of fun.
You can also count on Doris to display classy ensembles of matching hats and dresses, strutting in spiky high heels without tripping, with her big toothy grin, and a bucketload of positive and hopeful energy.
So what if she mostly played impossibly naive women? That girl was a triple threat; dancing, singing, and acting her heart out. In her personal life, she was an animal rights activist, so that makes me like her even more.
The TCM channel, Turner Classic Movies, is where I tune into these old classics. They transport me to another time and place as I escape reality into simpler days. I could watch the comedy “Pillow Talk” with the suave Rock Hudson and Doris Day repeatedly, knowing each line by heart, and yet still laugh along with a hilarious supporting cast of Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter. They are just so darn cute and funny. Of course, girl gets boy at the end, and Doris and Rock walk off together into movie history.
But Doris showed some serious acting chops in several other movies too. In “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock, she was paired with the talented and versatile James Stewart, another favorite of mine. She plays a mother whose son, Hank, is abducted while on vacation in Morocco. There are many twists and turns, friends who turn out to be accomplices in the kidnapping, with Doris and Jimmy turning into super sleuths to find Hank. In the best scene at the end, while she’s still searching for him, Doris sings her popular tune, and Hank’s favorite song, “Que Sera Sera.” And of course, true to feel-good movies of the times, they find him at the finis.
That’s movie heaven.
If you like thriller classics, without the blood and gore that we see today, Alfred Hitchcock directed another masterpiece, “Rear Window,” starring Grace Kelly and James Stewart. It received four Academy Award nominations and was considered one of Hitchcock’s best films. Raymond Burr is an unforgettably twisted character who kills his bedridden wife. You don’t see Burr kill her, there are no bloody scenes, but there are the suitcases in which he carries her remains from the apartment. James and Grace slowly figure out his scheme as they watch Burr’s comings and goings from the rear window. He’s no Perry Mason in this movie. Instead, he’s a sinister killer with the scariest set of eyes, and he freaks me out every time I watch him forcibly enter James Stewart’s apartment when he realizes he’s been found out.
Even though it’s a thriller, there are plenty of eye-candy moments, with a stunning Grace Kelly sashaying about in a glamorous wardrobe designed by Edith Head, and perfect hair and makeup. She’s cool as a cucumber, and the dialogue is sharp and witty. Again, there’s Thelma Ritter as James Stewart’s nurse, cracking lines that make you laugh even though you’re spooked by Raymond Burr and those suitcases! But — spoiler alert — the movie ends with old Raymond getting his just desserts, and Grace and James resolving their relationship issues and getting together.
Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is a whole other level of thriller. Honestly, I can’t watch the scene where poor Janet Leigh gets sliced and diced in the shower. I’m the kind of moviegoer who thinks of the movie “Jaws” when stepping into the ocean, actually imagining sharks nibbling at my toes.
And there are wonderful old movies from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, which feel like visual history lessons. It’s interesting to watch how people spoke and dressed, and what America looked like back then. Every year, my husband watches the 1942 film “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” starring James Cagney. Talk about versatile! Have you ever seen him dance? Speaking of dancing, watching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dance, you see that for them, it’s as effortless as floating on air.
So, here’s to a hopefully good year with interesting and joyous movies that lift us up, make us smile and hum!
Esther Kook of Teaneck is a reading specialist and a freelance writer.