For children, there are many movies to watch out there and as adults, parents can watch many grown-up movies as well. But sometimes, it’s fun to watch movies together and bond over some laughter and tears. Here are some of the best classics that both young and adult would equally enjoy.
“Modern Times”: Comedy starts with Charlie Chaplin, and so did we. The silence was no object—we all watched in rapt delight the famous set pieces of the feeding machine and the trip through the gears. We talked with our daughters about strikes and their breakers, about the desperate poverty of the Depression years—and were treated, in turn, to at-home performances of the nonsense song that concludes the movie and heralds Chaplin’s entry into the realm of talking pictures.
“Monkey Business”: Modern comedy starts not with Chaplin but with Howard Hawks, and this 1952 film, starring Cary Grant as a chemist whose concoction, an elixir of youth, gets slipped into his laboratory’s water supply and propels him and his wife (Ginger Rogers) to riotous regressions. Hawks is a director of both antic ingenuity and philosophical power.
“Some Like It Hot”: Speaking of Monroe, Billy Wilder’s Prohibition-era gangster comedy, in which she stars as a member of the all-women’s jazz band that Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis join, in drag, as male musicians fleeing Mafia hitmen, was a multilayered delight.
“Singin’ in the Rain”: I’m told it’s now a staple of family home viewing, but I’ll recommend it anyway for those who haven’t yet given it a try. Its pleasures include the combined antics of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor, the deft comedy and catchy songs and heroic dancing, and even the fascinating (if revisionist) view of the transition from silent movies to talking pictures.
“Goodbye Charlie”: Speaking of Debbie Reynolds, gender-switching, and funny voices, Vincente Minnelli’s brassy yet deeply empathetic 1964 comedy has it all. It’s the tale of a Hollywood philanderer who is killed by his lover’s husband, a Hungarian producer (Walter Matthau) and comes back as a woman—in the form of Debbie Reynolds.
“The Pajama Game”: The story, of the romance between a pyjama-factory union organizer (Doris Day) and the new manager (John Raitt), who’s her bargaining-table opponent, is unusual; the songs, by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, are uniformly memorable (we all sing some of them to this day, including “Seven and a Half Cents”); the musical stagings range from piquant (Raitt’s duet with his own voice on Dictaphone) and explosive (the most athletic love duet in Hollywood history, “There Once Was a Man”) to comedically haunting (the most famous number of all, “Hernando’s Hideaway”).
“The Gang’s All Here”: Busby Berkeley’s bravura reached unmatched heights in this giddy wartime Technicolor extravaganza, which is famous for its giant bananas but is even more thrillingly original in other musical sequences, including its very first scene, which goes from complete darkness to a closeup of Carmen Miranda to a ship at a New York pier to the inside of the night club where the number is ostensibly being staged.
“Playtime”: Jacques Tati’s colossal comedy of infinitesimal misadventures was filmed in a skyscraper city that he actually constructed on the outskirts of Paris.
“Dragonwyck”: An ingenious form of the Gothic, set in upstate New York in the eighteen-forties, starring Gene Tierney as a farmer’s daughter who is lured to the grand estate of her distant cousin (Vincent Price) and gets caught up in a dual plot of murder and political chicanery (in which President Martin Van Buren figures prominently).
“Marnie”: This apogee of Alfred Hitchcock’s filmmaking, with its supreme control of form and depths of psychological torment, starring Tippi Hedren as a kleptomaniac, is absolutely inappropriate for children. But our daughters loved it, and to this day cite a line from it (“Marnie, you’re aching my leg”) as a family catchphrase.
“The Chaser”: The silent-comedy star Harry Langdon is a favourite of mine, for his blend of mild-mannered passive aggression and self-mocking mannerisms. He’s also a boldly original director of himself, albeit only in a few features, notably “The Chaser”—another gender-switch comedy, in which a judge sentences a misbehaving husband (Langdon) to switch places with his wife for a month—and “Three’s a Crowd.”
“The Last Laugh”: One fond reminiscence, of a Fourth of July when, en route to a gathering with friends, I took our daughters to a moma screening of F. W. Murnau’s silent 1924 classic about a proud but ageing Berlin hotel doorman who is demoted to bathroom attendant and can’t bear the humiliation.