A Classic (Movie) Education

My whole family enjoys movies. Classics, comedies, action-adventures, romances, dramas, thrillers, and silly satires are all in our library. I have done my best to make sure my sons both received a thorough education in cinema, and I had a good reason.

When I was a child, I watched Bugs Bunny cartoons (in reruns) every morning or afternoon. For those of you old enough to remember the original Looney Tunes, you know that they often featured satires and caricatures of classic Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, James Cagney, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable and others. Seeing these “people” in the cartoons inspired me to watch the movies that made them famous. After all, I assumed if they were big enough stars to warrant a scene with Bugs Bunny, they must be pretty good. I was right.

On my own, well—with the help of HBO, TCM, AMC and other classic movie cable channels, I began my journey through iconic film history at a very young age. In doing so, I discovered something I never expected. I “got” a lot more jokes than my friends who had no interest in old movies. I laughed when someone said, “I want to be alone,” or “I’m shocked! Shocked!” I snickered whenever someone quoted Lauren Bacall. “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together… and blow.” My friends just stared.

So imagine my pride when I watched Neil Simon’s The Cheap Detective, 1978, with my family this last weekend, and my sons laughed at all the jokes that spoofed the classics like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and other Bogey staples. Of course, they raised their eyebrows at the racial comments—apparently, somebody thought it was okay to make fun of Chinese people in 1978.

Another thing that I loved was that my boys knew who almost every actor in the movie was. Peter Falk starred alongside Ann-Margaret, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Abe Vigoda, Dom DeLuise, Sid Caesar, and many others. They even recognized a young James Cromwell from his role on Babe. They not only knew the actors, but they could identify the characters they spoofed, too. I’m thrilled that my kids appreciate great comedic actors from every age. It was fun for all of us.

Would I recommend The Cheap Detective? To any Humphrey Bogart fans, absolutely! To others I would suggest a little homework first.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.