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Movie favorites that are meant to be shared

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By Michael O'Hare
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

When I was a boy, there were the blockbuster movies – “Ben Hur (1959),” “The Ten Commandments (1956),” “King of Kings” (1961), “The Bridge on the River Kwai. (1957)”

I am thinking it must have been for “Ben Hur” (but might have been “The Ten Commandments”) that opened to huge fanfare at the Leona Theater in Homestead with huge cardboard cutouts promoting the film over the huge entranceway and a flatbed trailer at the curbside with two big spotlights playing across the sky as if the movie stars themselves were going to show up on a red carpet.

Movies were in big houses, many having once been created for stage productions. There weren't as many auditoriums as could be crammed under a single roof to enhance the take.

Both my movie-theater-manager dad and my mother talked to me about how movies in some respects got people through the Great Depression.

Sitting in the dark, maybe in a balcony seat, watching stars dance across marble-floored ballrooms or some gumshoe unravel a murder case and get the “dame” must have done it for them. Between shows there were games on stage, people left with smiles on their faces and that would have been a good thing. Every town worth its sale had two or three movie houses.

As the Academy Awards program approaches, I am musing on what kinds of movies have appealed to me over the years.

Sure, there were the Davy Crockett episodes and the 17 cartoons of my childhood Saturdays (an enduring mystery is why it was always 17 cartoons?)

But as I grew older and into the current day, the films that hold the most appeal are those that explore character. I can skip the special effects and the action stuff; I want to watch people dealing with real-life (or at least their imagined) dilemmas.

Melodrama is not so bad if the characters are well developed.

I recall seeing a young Martin Sheen in “The Subject was Roses,” a 1965 Pulitzer-winning stage play made into a film. Sheen was in both stage and screen versions and it was immediately clear he would be a star. An equally powerful film is that of the play “Picnic” with William Holden and Kim Novak. Anyone who has ever lived in a small town should see that movie.

Some of the best movies are made from good theater or grand literature. “Doctor Zhivago” remains one of my all-time favorites. I could not have plowed through the book without having seen the film. On the comedy front, I don't think Hollywood can produce anything better than “The Odd Couple” from the Simon play.

Another movie hit based on literature is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Perhaps my lifelong aversion to racism and bigotry stemmed in large part from that movie, that and my mother's sincere expressions of tolerance for all.

We all watch the majority of our movies on the TV screen these days, either via Netflix or on an Encore station. But nothing replaces seeing films on a large screen, seated amid an audience that reacts with tears or laughter.

If I were wealthy I would open a theater that would show some of the kinds of films that are shown on Turner Movie Classics so we could enjoy them as a community -- and as they were meant to be enjoyed.

But absent that I will content myself with going with Mary Ellen to a Saturday or Sunday matinee showing of a film with real character and characters, and we will exit with our perspectives on real life enhanced.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with News Editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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