THE DEN – Cocooned in my house, avoiding all contact with others, I try to find things to do. I can make a mask out of my underpants or a T-shirt, know all the words in the U.S. Constitution, gave names to the mice and have tipped off the cops about my neighbors’ 11-person gatherings. But there is another way to kill these five years: watch old movies and TV shows. Of course most of the world is doing that, but if you can get some of the “Jeopardy!” questions right (The question: “1736?” I shouted: “Follows 1735!”), I have some suggestions. A few weeks ago we listed movies and TV shows that dealt with Texas, so you might want to re-see “Giant” and “Friday Night Lights.” Don’t bother with the TV show “9-1-1 Lone Star.”
You like movies about foreign intrigue, then watch “Foreign Intrigue” (1956). A reclusive millionaire dies suddenly on the Riviera, and his aide begins to investigate his employer’s mysterious past. In the search, people keep asking, “Did he say anything before he died?” Great ending. “Foreign Correspondent” was an Alfred Hitchcock nail-biter nominated for an Oscar as the Best Picture in 1941. The movie never mentions Germany or the Nazis, but found one fan: Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who called “Foreign Correspondent” “a masterpiece of propaganda, a first-class production which no doubt will make a certain impression upon the broad masses of the people in enemy countries.” Being one of the broad masses, I was impressed. “Pimpernel Smith” (1941), a thriller about a mild-mannered British professor who rescues prisoners from the Gestapo. The film helped to inspire the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg to run his real-life rescue operation.
This brings us to James Bond. There have been 26 Bond movies, with another due to come out this spring but the release was delayed until next fall because of the pandemic. You could binge and watch them all, but they go like this: Opening scene is a chase, then come the credits with that catchy theme song. Bond drinks a martini, makes love to a beautiful woman, his boss sends Bond on a suicidal mission, with the warning, “James, be careful.” He is captured by the evil Captain Drano, somehow works free, ends up with a huge explosion. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen 26. There have been 12 actors playing Bond over 57 years – and one script. Accounting for inflation, the Bond films have amassed over $14 billion — shaken, not stirred.
If you are tired of all the bad news, watch the “Three Stooges.” They appeared in 190 short subjects and five films. The trio changed some members over the years, but Larry, Moe and Curly were the mainstays. And, don’t tell anyone, but they are funny. While we’re talking funny, crank up any of the Pink Panther flicks, featuring Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers). Great music by Henry Mancini. There are seven Pink Panthers, the funniest is “A Shot in the Dark.” I saw it in a theater and literally had tears rolling down my face.
Back from the bathroom to the couch. Watch “O Brother Where Art Thou?” It’s directed by Joel and Ethan Coen starring George Clooney. When the name of the writer pops up on the screen, “Homer,” that’s because the story is loosely based on Homer’s poem, The Odyssey. “Loosely” because this flick is set in the Deep South during the Depression. Three escaped convicts search for a hidden treasure while chased by a relentless lawman. Funny. Speaking of the Coen brothers, check out their “Fargo,” (the movie, not the TV series), a dark comedy. On the other hand, avoid the Coens’ “Raising Arizona,” an attempted comedy that makes no sense. Stay away from “The Blair Witch Project” (1999). It was hailed by critics as a masterpiece. It stunk.
One unexpected point in watching old movies is that you (or at least I) have forgotten parts of the film and say to myself, “I don’t remember that scene.” So it’s practically new. OK, your eyes are blurry from watching too many movies. Take in some TV news shows and check out, not the talking heads, but what’s behind them. They are at home, I guess, and every one of them has books in the background. Neatly lined shelves of books. I think some of them are wallpaper. The only exceptions are the doctors. Their books are all over the place, laying on their sides, scrambled, and their desks are a mess, papers piled high. Obviously they have been working overtime. Moving (or movie) on, the TV mystery, “Murder, She Wrote,” with Angela Lansbury is still good. (Barbara Bush must have been a viewer. She referred to Lansbury as “that woman.”) There were more murders in Cabot Cove, Maine, than in South Chicago, because the show ran for 12 seasons with 264 episodes from 1984 to 1996, so you have plenty to watch. It was among the most successful and longest-running television shows in history, averaging more than 30 million viewers per week in its prime (sometimes hitting above 40 million viewers).
After watching 23 “Road Runner” cartoons, “Shane” (1953) still holds up, so do “Gigi” (1958) and “The Front Page” (1974 version). Never mind that all the stars have died. The 1969 version of “True Grit” is much better than the re-make of 2010. Two prison movies, “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” both written by Stephen King. They are long, but have great plots. Here are a couple of feel-good films that might brighten up your mood: “Pretty Woman” and “The Breakfast Club.” For a fun comedy mystery, watch “Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?” The chefs are each killed in a way reflecting their most famous dishes (for example, the lobster chef is drowned). Robert Morley steals the show as a pompous, fat food critic.
Just stay 6 feet from the screen. Now pass the popcorn.
Ashby watches at firstname.lastname@example.org