Sunday, 15 January 2012

A baker's dozen of movies all boys should see

There's recently been a spate of lists of classic films all children should see  (here's one, and here's another). These are usually compiled with the desire to give children a decent grounding in movie history, and I certainly have no objection to that - I really can't tell you how important movies were to me growing up. But I’ve decided to come over all moralistic and compile a list based entirely on the life lessons the films teach.

I was partly motivated by seeing Avatar two years and wondering just how many truly dreadful lessons children would take away from it: America is always wrong, technology is always evil, living in forests close to nature invariably makes you noble, and the powerful are always oppressors. What a bunch of crap!

I realise many of the moral lessons I’ve identified in my chosen films will sound trite – but, then, the truth often tends to. So, in no particular order:

Zulu – patriotism, bravery, courage, steadfastness, sacrifice and respecting your enemy are to be admired, and just because a cause is hopeless doesn’t mean you should abandon it.

High Noon – the people you rely on will sometimes prove wanting: occasionally, you really will have to go it alone, and it doesn’t always end badly

It's A Wonderful Life – as long as you’re not an evil person, no matter how bad things seem, the world really wouldn’t be a better place without you

It Happened One Night – charm and humour will get you a long way: and there are times when turning down rewards is the right thing to do

To Kill A Mockingbird – stick to your principles, no matter how unpopular, and resist general hysteria

Night of The Hunter – there's evil in the world and monsters exist: be on your guard (and, if possible, seek the help of a tiny old Christian lady with a gun)

The Grapes of Wrath – people’s misfortunes are not always their fault, and ordinary folk are often the most decent of all

Groundhog Day – life tends to offer us more than one chance to get it right

On The Waterfront – don't do wickeds things just because your friends tell you to 

Doctor Zhivago – when people who're sure they're right set about creating utopias, they always turn out to be living hells

Henry V – if you're ever given the chance to lead, this is how you do it (and whenever you get a chance to duff up the French, take it!)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – if you stand up to bullies, help will usually arrive (although you can't always guarantee it'll be in the form of John Wayne with a rifle)

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers – beware of the herd mentality: we were born to be different

I realise that morality isn’t gender-specific, but I’ve come up with a list of films for boys simply on the basis that I used to be one, and I don’t have any daughters – I’ll leave it to others better qualified than I to come up with a suitable list for girls.


  1. What a great list. At least half of them are as well directed to girls as to boys. I would add-

    Hue and Cry - that's really what our great city looked like after your grandparents' generation had given up their best years. Think about what it must have been like.

    The Lady Vanishes - don't back down when men try to patronise you into denying what you know you have sen

    Little Women - follow your muse and don't trust your younger sister

    Little Mermaid - sometimes your father's work requires him to leave the room to attend to urgent matters.

    The Wind That Shakes The Barley - get your history from books, not films

    The Godfather - sometimes you can take family loyalty too far

  2. Other people's lists of films are always fascinating. My own modest contribution:

    "M" [Fritz Lang] - avoid talking to strangers who look like Peter Lorre.

    "Richard III" [L. Olivier] - don't be hurtful to your uncle even if he looks odd.

    "Lost Week End", "Scarface", "Man with the Golden Arm" - avoid excess.

    "Wizard of Oz" - don't watch this in a cinema. There are some strange people about. [Also, "Wilde" with Stephen Fry].

    "Seventh Seal" [I. Bergmann] - avoid playing chess with bald men in black cloaks and pancake make-up on beaches.

    "That Hamilton Woman", "Master and Commander", "Sink the Bismarck" [inter alia] - don't dick with the Royal Navy.

    "Reach for the Sky" - legless people can be great war heroes.

    "War&Peace" [King Vidor], "The Charge of the Light Brigade" [Tony Richardson]& "Stalingrad"[ Joseph Vilsmaier] - never attack Russia. It always ends in tears.

    "I'm alright, Jack" [inter alia] - it is tragic when a country loses its ability to produce very funny films. Many films from the 50s and early 60s show true genius. Where are you now, Dr Gaston Grimsdyke?

    "Brighton Rock" & "10 Rillington Place" -even very nice guys like Lord Onions can turn very nasty. Everybody has a side. [see Henry Fonda in "Once upon a time in the West". No more Mr Nice Guy].

    Based on my childhood experience the two films that children should not see are "House of Wax" [Vincent Price, 1953] and "Them!" [lots of big ants, 1954]. I saw them when I was around eight years old and had serious nightmares for weeks afterwards. The original "Cape Fear" [1962] ditto.

  3. Another great list, to add to which:-

    Days of Wine and Roses/Lost Weekend- if you're totally legless, not being a war hero is probably the least of your problems

  4. When an East Sussex pub re-named itself "The Douglas Bader" the local rag ran the head-line "Pub named after legless pilot".

  5. I just stuck "legless war hero" into Googke and was amazed by how many kosher results there were - and it's not just foreign papers: the Mirror and the Telegraph, among others, use the phrase often. Are we just horribly insensitive, or isn't "legless" a synonym for "pissed" any longer?

  6. And thanks for your very interesting lists, by the way - I'll be doing one of films boys shouldn't be encouraged to watch soon.

    "Master and Commander" is often near the top of lists of top Conservative and Right-Wing films: it seems to be the modern equivalent of "Zulu", mainly because it's big on patriotism, loyalty, leadership, discipline and courage, while containing nary a hint of criticism of Britain's disgraceful imperialistic past.

    A friend leant me a DVD of "Hue and Cry", which I'd never seen, a couple of years ago. Fascinating film. Critics bang on about "Rome - Open City" and "The Naked City" using actual locations, but "Hue and Cry" doesn't often get mentioned in the same breath, for some odd reason. I was reminded of it when reading the obituary of actor Harry Fowler last week.