Thursday, March 26, 2009

Some movies that changed my life...

by Jim Heffernan

Minnesota Public Radio this week (March 24) asked listeners to write their Web site describing movies that changed their lives. It made me stop and think about movies that changed my life in some way.

When I was a kid I loved movies. Went to them every week, sometimes twice a week – even two double features adding up to four movies on a single weekend. I didn’t give a hoot about baseball or other sports, spent a lot of classroom time dreaming (about movies), and my first thought upon waking up each morning was if I could go to a movie that day.

So, did any movies change my life? Some did, at different stages of my life, in different ways. At least some made a lasting – permanent – impression if not a drastic life change, like running off with the circus.

One truly scary movie changed my lifestyle when I was about 11. “The Thing” (the original version) was so frightening that I refused to stay home alone at night, after having progressed in life to the point where my parents could go out for the evening and not worry about sitters.

The idea of a seven-foot-tall space alien from a flying saucer found in Arctic ice, who was vegetable, not animal (or mammal), and who thrived on drinking human blood (also sled dog blood), scared the bejezuz out of me. It changed my life for a couple of years.

About that same time – around 1950-51 – I saw two other movies that had a profound impact on my life. I was stunned by the voice of Mario Lanza in “The Great Caruso,” and it planted the seeds for a lifelong love of (some) opera. It caused me to judge every male singing voice against that of Lanza, with most falling short.

The second movie from that era – I was about 11 years old – that changed my life was “Come Back Little Sheba,” based on the Broadway play. It was considered pretty steamy for its day, especially love scenes between actress Terry Moore and Richard Jaeckel that stirred me in ways that Randolph Scott kissing his horse or the frontier town schoolmarm had not. Of course the onslaught of adolescence confirmed the suspicions wrought by seeing “Come Back Little Sheba” at a time in life when the facts of life were still fiction, but fading fast.

I saw “Gone With the Wind” for the first time when I was in junior high, one of the many reissues of that 1939 classic. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it since. It set a standard for moviemaking against which I judged all other movies, so it changed my life that way.

Later in my life – college years – a couple of movies I’ll wager never get mentioned in listings such as these but which made a big impression on me at the time were the remake of “ The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” starring Glenn Ford, and “Tender Is the Night,” based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, with Jason Robards Jr. and Jennifer Jones. These are lush, romantic movies that at the time swept me into worlds of sophistication unknown to me. No one thinks they are worth seeing today, but I’d give them a look if they came on Turner Classic Movies. Boy, would I.

There are so many other movies that, if they don’t actually change your life, alter it because you never forget them. There are the usual suspects, “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane” of course, and more recently “Animal House” and “Amadeus.” I’ll never get over the impact of seeing “Amadeus” for the first time –impact so strong I saw it again the very next night, this time with my then-teenage kids in tow. Who would mention “Animal House” and “Amadeus” in the same breath? I would.

Can’t leave without mentioning “The Seven Year Itch,” with Tom Ewell at the grand piano playing the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto, Marilyn Monroe by his side, and murmuring to her, “I’m going to take you into my arms and I am going to kiss you, very quickly, and very, very hard.”

I can only say: Don’t try that at home.

Do you have a movie or movies that changed your life in some way? Blog it here. It’s fun.


Anonymous said...

I was blown away by "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Wrestler." These two might impact many of us over the long haul. What do you think?

Jim Heffernan said...

Anonymous: For the rest of my life, Every time I jump into an outhouse hole I will think of "Slumdog Millionaire." When I am old and demented, if I am in a nursing home, I sure hope there are no ex-wrestlers there. But seriously, both were great movies, unique, each in its own way. Enjoyed them immensely. JH