The Great Race

Posted on May 26, 2008 at 8:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 1, 1965

Dedicated to “Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy,” this movie is both a spoof and a loving tribute to the silent classics, with good guys, bad guys, romance, adventure, slapstick, music, wonderful antique cars, and the biggest pie fight in history. The opening credits are on a series of slides like those in the earliest movies, complete with cheers for the hero and boos for the villain, and a flickering old-fashioned projector that at one point appears to break down. Always dressed in impeccable white, the Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) is a good guy so good that his eyes and teeth literally twinkle. His capable mechanic and assistant is Hezekiah (Keenan Wynn). The bad guy is Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon), assisted by Max (Peter Falk). Like Wile E. Coyote, Fate’s cartoonishly hilarious stunts to stop Leslie inevitably backfire.

After a brief prologue, in which Fate tries to beat Leslie in breaking various speed records, literally trying to torpedo him at one point, they both enter an automobile race from New York to Paris. So does a beautiful reporter (Natalie Wood as Maggie DuBois) trying to prove she can get the story — dressed in an endless series of exquisite ensembles designed by Hollywood legend Edith Head. Great%20Race2.jpg

The race takes them across America, through the Wild West, to a rapidly melting ice floe in the Pacific, and into a European setting that is a cross between a Victor Herbert operetta and “The Prisoner of Zenda,” where a spoiled prince happens to look exactly like Professor Fate and it takes all of the stars to foil an evil Baron (Ross Martin) who wants to use Fate to take over the throne.

This is a perfect family movie, just plain fun from beginning to end.  It may also provide an opportunity for a discussion of competition and sportsmanship.  At the end, Leslie deliberately loses as a gesture of devotion to Maggie DuBois.  Professor Fate, after all, shows some sense of honor — apparently it is all right for him to cheat to win, but not all right to win by having Leslie refuse to compete.  “You cheated — I refuse to accept!”  Modern adults may wince a bit at Dubois’ notion of how to attain equal opportunity — she ultimately succeeds by showing her leg to the editor, who becomes too dazed to argue further.  But like “Mary Poppins,” it provides a chance to remind children that when their great-grandparents were children, women did not even have the right to vote.

Questions for Kids:

  • Should Leslie have let Fate win?
  • Why wasn’t Fate happy when he beat Leslie?
  • Why was Fate so jealous of Leslie?
  • Why did DuBois want to be a reporter so badly?

 

Connections:  Curtis and Lemmon also appeared together in one of the greatest comedies of all time, “Some Like it Hot.”   Children who enjoy this movie might like to see some of the silent classics it saluted, like “Two Tars,” in which Laurel and Hardy create chaos in the middle of an enormous traffic jam.  They might also enjoy “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” or “Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies.”  Children who have enjoyed Ed Wynn as Uncle Albert (who “loves to laugh”) in “Mary Poppins” may like to know that his son, Keenan Wynn, plays Leslie’s assistant Hezekiah.

 

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Meerkat Manor returns!

Posted on May 25, 2008 at 11:18 am

Meerkat Manor: The Next Generation” starts on Animal Planet June 6. And tonight, families can prepare by watching “Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins,” a feature film narrated by Whoopi Goldberg about the early story of Flower, before she became the Manor’s famous first lady, from her birth and early years as a young, inexperienced meerkat to a family leader, guiding her mob (family) in one of the harshest deserts on the planet.

As with March of the Penguins and other nature documentaries, some of the harsh realities of life and death are confronted by these wonderfully alert little creatures. Parents should be prepared to talk to children about these issues and about the way that the meerkat mob (a community of families) works together to take care of each other.

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Thanks for the Memories: Bob Hope memorabilia auction

Posted on May 21, 2008 at 11:14 am

Bob Hope’s daughter has announced that some of the memorabilia from her father’s collection will be auctioned off for charity. All of his papers will go to the Library of Congress and much of his collection is being given to museums, but these items are for the fans.

Mr. Hope‘s extraordinary career spanning Vaudeville, Broadway, radio, television and film, and his numerous USO tours to entertain U.S. military troops earned him the admiration of generations of fans around the world. Highlights in this historical auction include: A one page letter dated October 23, 1943 from Bette Davis to Mr. Hope; a red and white feathered Indian headdress worn by Mr. Hope on the cover of Life Magazine on May 11, 1962; a Movado watch inscribed “To Bob Hope in sincere appreciation — The Cleveland Press Christmas Show 1944”; and a turquoise western suit made by Nudies of North Hollywood, worn by Mr. Hope on several television shows including Barbara Mandrell, Mandrell Sisters Show and Ann Margaret Rhinestone Special. Highlights from Mr. Hope’s golf collection include; a complete set of golf clubs from various makers (woods 1- 6, irons 3- 9 and a brass head putter), his Dunlop Bogie Busters golf bag, a Tiffany and Company sterling silver golf club given to Mr. Hope for his 95th birthday by NBC, 24k gold plated golf tees, two Chrysler Classic ball markers bearing Mr. Hope’s image, a white, pink and blue stripped golf shirt, Izod cardigan sweater, a red sports jacket made by Arthur Cross, a light blue pair of dress pants with “Second Mile Golf Classic” embroidered on the back pocket and his Du Pont leather golf shoes.

Hope was born born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, England on May 29, 1903. After brief careers as a soda jerk, a shoe salesman, a pool hustler, and a boxer known as Packy East, he found his true calling as an entertainer in vaudeville. It took a while for the audience to catch on, but after he gave up trying to make it as a dancer and started announcing and telling jokes, he soon became an audience favorite. He was celebrated in every area of show business, radio, television, movies, even singing, and for his humanitarian work, especially his shows for the American armed forces stationed overseas. My favorites of his movies include the “Road” series with his close friend Bing Crosby.

These are some of his best films for families.

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Happy 100 Jimmy Stewart!

Posted on May 20, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Jimmy Stewart, number 3 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 male movie stars of all time, was born 100 years ago today in Indiana, Pennsylvania. The Oscar he won for The Philadelphia Story was on display at his father’s hardware store there for 25 years. While he did not always play the good guy, he is best remembered for the way he exemplified the American ideal of decency, integrity, and unpretentious authenticity. And he was a genuine hero, enlisting in the Air Force (the skinny actor had to gain five pounds to meet the minimum weight requirement) and serving on active duty. He became a colonel and earned the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre and seven battle stars. In 1959, serving in the Air Force Reserve, he became a brigadier general.Stewart300dpi.jpg

It is easy to underestimate his skill as an actor because he made each performance look effortless. But if you watch these classics carefully you will see the brilliant subtlety of his steady gaze. These films show the range of his work, from light comedy to romantic drama, from all-American guy-you-wish-lived-next-door to menace and obsession. Every one of them is well worth watching and re-watching. Happy birthday, Jimmy!

1. The Philadelphia Story Since I was in high school, this incomparable romantic comedy with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant has been my all-time favorite movie. Stewart’s performance as cynical reporter Mike Connor won him his only Oscar.

2. You Can’t Take it With You This Best Picture Oscar-winner about the delightfully nutty Sycamore family stars Stewart as the boss’s son. Watch for the scene in the restaurant.

3. Harvey In this gentle comedy Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, who explains his philosophy of life: “Years ago my mother used to say to me… She’d say ‘In this world Elwood, you must be oh-so smart or oh-so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart…. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.” Dowd has an invisible friend, an enormous rabbit-looking creature named Harvey, and Stewart’s interactions with Harvey (who is never shown) are so charming and convincing you may think you see him, too. You will certainly want to.

4. It’s a Wonderful Life Stewart’s favorite of his own films (and also the favorite of director Frank Capra) is this Christmas classic about a man who thinks he has nothing until he finds out what the world would have been like if he had never existed.

5. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Stewart and Capra again — this time Stewart plays an idealistic young man who is appointed to fill out a term in the U.S. Senate by corrupt politicians.

6. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation Not as well remembered as some of Stewart’s classics, but this is one of my own favorites because it is the quintessential story of a multi-generational family vacation at the beach. Impossible relatives, sulky teenagers, and an even sulkier hot water heater in the rental house, this is an affectionate salute to the American family at play.

7. Anatomy of a Murder This fact-based murder trial has Stewart as a former prosecutor turned defense attorney, defending a solider who killed a man for allegedly raping his wife. Brilliant performances by the whole cast, including Ben Gazarra, Lee Remick, Eve Arden, and Arthur O’Connell, but especially real-life American hero Joseph Welch as the canny judge. Fans of “Law and Order” will love this one.

8. Bell, Book and Candle The other Stewart pairing with Kim Novak, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” may be better remembered, but I think Stewart’s performance in this romantic comedy is often overlooked. Stewart is a publisher who falls for a sultry witch. Watch his eyes when he drinks the potion to break the love spell.

9. The Shop Around the Corner“You’ve Got Mail” was based on this charming romantic comedy about co-workers who think they are enemies because they do not realize that they have fallen in love with each other by letter.

10. Destry Rides AgainStewart plays a young deputy sheriff who does everything he can to avoid using a gun in this classic Western.

Other great Stewart classics: “Rear Window,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “The Spirit of St. Louis,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “Magic Town,” “Call Northside 777,” “Next Time We Love,” and many, many more.

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Sesame Street’s TLC Series for Military and their Families

Posted on May 19, 2008 at 8:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: NR

Sesame Street salutes the members of the United States Armed Forces with a series of DVDs and other educational materials and resources to help friends and families cope with absence, loss, and change. This bilingual (English and Spanish) multimedia outreach program is designed to support military families with children between the ages of two and five who are experiencing deployment, multiple deployments, or a parent’s return home changed due to a combat-related injury. These materials are available at no charge to military families through OneSource.
Adults who are caught up in their own concerns may not realize that children have fears and misunderstandings about what is going on or know how to help them most effectively. Materials for both adults and children encourage communication and important reminders that sad and happy feelings can be scary and complicated and that even absence, loss, and change do not affect the love we have for each another. As Memorial Day approaches, this tribute to the military and their families sends a powerful message about the sacrifice so many families are making and the importance of letting them know how much we appreciate all they do.

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