My infatuation with movies began in 1939 in accompanying my mom and dad to my first “picture show,” "The Wizard of Oz". Admittedly, while I was scared spitless by Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West, the movie is a fond memory as the first step in a lifetime of film enjoyment.
Unfortunately, growing up on a farm located 9 miles from the nearest theater, facing World War II's gasoline rationing and a 5 a.m. rising time for chores before a two mile trek to school (not uphill both ways), left little opportunity for movies. Nonetheless, the cloud held a silver lining in the form of grandparents who resided in Columbia and owned the Zero House on North 10th Street, a much-visited way station to anywhere in this city.
During the 1940s, my two brothers and I were afforded a week’s visit to Columbia each summer, usually arriving here on the Wabash spur line from Centralia with stops in Hallsville and Brown’s Station. This was an exhilarating experience for three youngsters from “the sticks.”In addition to the unlimited availability of the latest comic books at the Zero House, there were five theaters within walking distance–the Boone, Varsity, Uptown, Hall and Missouri.
Located on 8th street, the Boone’s attraction was Friday and Saturday double feature westerns while the Varsity’s (now the Blue Note) fare was a movie and a vaudeville show. The Uptown, Hall and Missouri theaters featured first run adventure and romance films.In our eager desire to see all of the movies offered at least twice during our brief sojourn, we opted to overlook the romantic hugging and kissing.
My love of movies reached its peak from 1953 to 57, also in Columbia and at the same five theaters, while attending the University of Missouri. A surplus of absolutely magnificent movies hit the screen – "From Here to Eternity," "Shane," "The Caine Mutiny," "On the Waterfront," "Picnic," "Marty," and "The Bridge on the River Kwai" to mention just a few. I can still recall my all time favorite double feature: "Stalag 17" and "Roman Holiday" in 1954. William Holden, Robert Strauss, Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn gave memorable performances.
Entering the Marines after graduation put a halt to much of my silver screen viewing, other than third run flicks aboard naval transports when deployed and the childrens' fare with my wife and three sons – "Herbie," "Song of the South," "The Incredible Journey," "Milo and Otis" and assorted Disney classics. Don’t get me wrong, attending wholesome and winsome movies with one’s children an incredibly enjoyable experience.
Following my second and final retirement, my wife and I settled into a routine that featured Friday night as “Date Night” – a movie and dinner. For a time, this was a treat indeed with "Silence of the Lambs," "Scent of a Woman," "Forest Gump," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Mr Holland’s Opus," "The Apostle" and "As Good as it Gets" as examples of well structured plots accompanied by superb acting and direction.
Sometime early in this 21st century, we awakened to the realization that, in attending a movie each week, we were viewing far more dogs than diamonds in the realm of entertainment. We found ourselves walking out on films featuring overdoses of offensive gutter language, nudity for no apparent reason other than it being permitted under the rating system, graphically explicit sexual content and an overabundance of car chases, weapons firings, explosions, gore and assorted special and sound effects— all designed to disguise an absence of plot and acting skills.
Neither of us are prudes, nor have we led sheltered lives – an armed forces career and world travel exposes one to sins and exhibitions far exceeding the experiences of most. Nevertheless, we recognize quality entertainment as opposed to that fed us by Hollywood. For example, not one movie shown in Columbia this week is G-Rated (suitable for all audiences), the remainder ranging from PG to R.
And, the movies rated as “R” require an adult to accompany anyone under the age of 17. The content of these films include strong profanity, graphic sexuality and nudity – why any adult would pay to view such trash is beyond belief. Profanity and vulgarity are ever available for free in the streets, the mall or where people are found. In my humble opinion, sex is not a spectator sport nor is nudity a rarity since the emergence of Playboy magazine.
I also object to Hollywood’s lack of originality as observed by constant remakes of classic movies and TV shows. With one or two exceptions, the remake is always a dismal caricature of the original — I find myself dreading a new “Sands of Iwo Jima” with Tom Cruise as Sergeant John Striker or “The Quiet Man” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
I realize that to many, I am an out of touch dinosaur but what is wrong with “Milo and Otis,” the guys in the white hats winning, saying aw shucks, and riding off into the sunset. Additionally, once and for all, the ultimate in car chases featured Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection” — anything else is an inferior substitute.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.