Fifty-Two Great Movies For Catholic Family Viewing

(April 1, 2016)

I. Any Time of The Year


Battle of The Bulge (1965)

Cast: Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas

World War II cinema novel that tells the stories of several characters who come together at the climax. As Christmas 1944 approaches, the U.S. Army thinks it has the Germans beaten, however the latter launch a massive surprise attack.

Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

Cast: William Holden, Alec Guinness, Sessue Hayakawa, Director: David Lean

World War II story in which British and American prisoners of war are forced by the Japanese to build a railroad bridge in the jungle. The well-meaning senior British officer in command loses perspective.

The Buccaneer (1958)

Cast: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Claire Bloom, Charles Boyer, Lorne Green

With the British coming to attack New Orleans in the War of 1812, pirate Jean Lafitte (Brynner) must decide if he will help General Andrew Jackson (Heston) defend the city.

The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)

Cast: James Stewart, Patricia Smith, Director: Billy Wilder Music: Franz Waxman

As he makes the first solo flight across the Atlantic, Charles A. Lindbergh reminisces about his career as aviator.

Two Years Before The Mast (1946)

Cast: Alan Ladd, Brian Donlevy, William Bendix, Barry Fitzgerald

Based on a so-called "classic," Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s insipid account of a rich Harvard boy at sea, this is one movie that is way better than the book. On screen Dana (Donlevy) and his shipmates suffer under a tyrannical captain (Da Silva).


The Agony And The Ecstasy (1965)

Cast: Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison; Music: Alex North

Sculptor Michaelangelo (Heston) reluctantly accepts a commission from battling Pope Julius II (Harrison). It's to paint the customary twelve apostles on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Frustrated by the project's lack of originality -- and by the lack of compensation -- Michaelangelo quits. While on the run from his pontiff, he comes up with a better idea for the ceiling.

Beckett (1964)

Cast: Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, Siân Phillips

The first of two mid-60s conscience/martyrdom, Thomas/Henry, church/state-conflict movies on this list, Beckett is about a 12th-Century Archbishop of Canterbury who opposes King Henry II's expansion of state power at the expense of the church.

Don Bosco: Mission To Love

St. John Bosco: Mission to Love (2004)

Cast: Flavio Insinni; Director: Lodovico Gasparini,

In an age of deep-dish Catholic media, there is nothing cheesy or low-budget about this movie. The director understood the motion in "motion picture." Don Bosco is also not "too European." The DVD has dialog in English. In an Italian kingdom wary of revolution, athletic Fr. Giovanni Bosco (Insinni) ministers to poor young men while trying to convince distrustful authorities of the harmlessness of his mission.

The Keys of The Kingdom (1944)

Cast: Gregory Peck, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Edmund Gwenn

Based on a novel by Scottish Catholic A. J. (Archibald Joseph) Cronin, the life story and struggles of a Scottish priest who is sent as a missionary to China.

Lilies of The Field (1963)

Cast: Sidney Poitier, Lila Skala

In this low-budget but beautifully produced late black and white, an African American Baptist itinerant construction worker (Poitier) is drawn into helping German-speaking nuns build a chapel in the Arizona desert. Based on a novel by Catholic writer, William E. Barrett.

A Man For All Seasons (1966)

Cast: Paul Scofield, Leo McKern, Orson Welles, Vanessa Redgrave; Screenplay: Robert Bolt

Henry VIII's chief law enforcement officer, St. Thomas More (Scofield), is beheaded (not shown) after he refuses to support Henry's ditching of Catherine of Aragon for Anne Boleyn and Henry's declaration of himself as head of the Church of England. What's the big deal? Just sign.

Quo Vadis (1951)

Cast: Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov

A 3-hour movie that literally has a cast of thousands, among them, an uncredited Elizabeth Taylor. Based on Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz' novel, it's about a handsome Roman officer (Robert Taylor) trying to save his beloved (Kerr) from Nero's (Ustinov) slaughter of the Christians in the arena. As in the novel, the scenes of people being burned alive and eaten by lions are graphic. Snowy-bearded Finlay Currie plays the perfect St. Peter who, fleeing from Rome, encounters Jesus in a vision and asks "Where are you going [Quo Vadis]?"

Song of Bernadette

The Song of Bernadette (1943)

Cast: Jennifer Jones, Vincent Price, Lee J. Cobb

In the progressive, secularist France of 1858, Bernadette Soubirous (Jones), a teenager of a humble, struggling family sees a vision of a beautiful lady who calls herself "The Immaculate Conception." Bernadette insists that her visions are real despite skepticism and hostility, particularly that of atheist prosecutor, Vital Dutour (Price). "For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible."


The FBI Story (1959)

Cast: James Stewart, Vera Miles, J. Edgar Hoover

The history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation mingled with the life and experiences of a paradigmatic agent (Stewart) and his family. Keep a box of tissue handy.

Green Dolphin Street (1947)

Cast: Lana Turner, Van Heflin, Donna Reed, Edmund Gwenn

Members of a French family from an English Channel island mature and learn to accept what life has dealt them after a terrible mistake is made; a good Christian lesson. The special effects of an earthquake in New Zealand are still considered to be spectacular. Also the native war chant may be pretty scary for children.

The Hasty Heart (1949)

Cast: Ronald Reagan, Patricia Neal, Richard Todd

The Christian theme in this one is patience and persistence. Set in a Burma M*A*S*H unit at the close of World War II, the story of recovering soldiers and their nurse (Neal) who try and try again to befriend a surly loner Scotsman.


The General (1926)

Cast: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack

Silent comedy based on a true incident that happened in Georgia/Tennessee during the Civil War. Keaton plays the engineer of a Confederate train that is stolen by Union infiltrators. Most of the movie is a chase scene. Meticulous Keaton spent a fortune on making the trains and Civil War stuff look authentic.

The Great Race (1965)

Cast:Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk; Director: Blake Edwards

Many 1950s/60s TV stars appear in this comedy about an around-the-world auto race ca. 1910. However Jack Lemmon as the hapless villain, Professor Fate, steals the show.

Harvey (1950)

Cast: James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Jesse White

Based on a play by Denver journalist Mary Chase whose other work was The Wicked, Wicked Ladies In The Haunted House. Does Elwood P. Dowd (Stewart) really have a 6-foot rabbit for a pal?

The Road to Morocco (1942) / The Road to Utopia (1946)

Cast: Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour

The two best of several "Road" pictures that Hope, Crosby and Lamour made over 20 years. An archetype for many cartoon and movie plotlines: two down-and-out guys pursue Dorothy Lamour while they outwit people who are trying to kill them.

Kings Row


Key Largo (1948)

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore; Director: John Huston

A soldier just back from World War II (Bogart) comes to the aid of a wheelchair-bound hotelkeeper (Barrymore) and his widowed daughter-in-law (Bacall) when gangsters led by Johnny Rocco (Robinson) take over the hotel as a hurricane approaches.

King's Row (1942)

Cast: Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings, Claude Rains; Music: Eric W. Korngold,

Based on a great but forgotten novel by Henry Bellamann, this is the story of three young friends from both sides of the tracks in a small town and how they are battered by the snobbery of respectable citizens, one of whom is an evil God-player.

Les Miserables (1935)

Cast: Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Cedric Hardwicke

The story that is now well known, but with a great emphasis on the charity of the Catholic bishop (Hardwicke).

Lifeboat (1944)

Cast: Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Hume Cronin; Director: Alfred Hitchcock Screenplay: John Steinbeck, Harry Sylvester et al.

Tense drama of interaction between various survivors of a ship / German submarine mutual destruction. Can they trust the enemy officer who is navigating? Catholic writer Harry Sylvester contributed to screenplay.

Sherlock Holmes Series (Universal Pictures, 1942-1946)

Cast: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce

For this series' fans, Rathbone's and Bruce's characters can never be displaced by more authentic Holmeses and Watsons. The stories are set, not in Victorian times, but in the 1940s wherein the deductive detective and his sidekick battle spies and other comic-booky villains. My favorites are Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943), Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1944), The House of Fear (1945), Terror By Night (1946).

Stalag 17 (1953)

Cast: William Holden. Peter Graves, Otto Preminger; Direction and Screenplay: Billy Wilder

Inspiration for the 1960s series Hogan's Heroes, this movie even has a Sergeant Schultz. However comedy is only incidental relief in this tense drama about American World War II prisoners of war. William Holden is hated by his fellow prisoners, but he is the only one who knows the identity of a spy who is passing escape plans to the camp kommandantur. The latter is no Col. Klink.

Strangers On A Train (1951)

Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Patricia Hitchcock; Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Traveling from Washington, D.C. to New York, tennis player, Guy Haines (Granger) has a conversation with Bruno Antony (Walker). Haines dismisses Antony as an amusing, one-time encounter, but soon finds himself caught up in queer Antony's evil designs.


The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)

Cast: Tony Randall, Barbara Eden; Director: George Pal

Possibly the funniest actor ever, Tony Randall, later of The Odd Couple, plays several semi-puppetoon characters in this tale. A Chinaman brings an entire circus on a donkey to an Arizona village where he rights some of its wrongs. Dr. Lao's departure at the end reminds one of The Ascension.

Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Cast: Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins; Music: Dimitri Tiomkin

Charming story of the Birdwell Family, pacifist Quakers in Indiana who get caught up in the Civil War when Confederates invade their state. Anthony Perkins of Psycho fame plays the oldest son.

How Green Was My Valley

How Green was My Valley (1941)

Cast: Roddy McDowell, Maureen O'Hara, Walter Pidgeon; Director: John Ford

The trials of a family in a Welsh mining town as recalled by their son Huw (McDowell). "Men like my father cannot die. They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever. How green was my valley then."


The Bad Seed (1956)

Cast: Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones

Based on a play by Maxwell Anderson, this drama maintains a stage-like atmosphere. A mother slowly comes to grips with the truth that her 8-year-old daughter is a homicidal sociopath. Henry Jones' portrayal of Leroy the janitor, the second creepiest character in the cast, is marvelous.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Cast: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester; Music: Franz Waxman

Much better and deeper, with relevance to current moral issues, than the original Frankenstein movie that it sequels. Dr. Frankenstein (Clive) is forced by queer, God-playing Dr. Pretorius to build a mate (Lanchester) for his monster (Karloff).

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Cast: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe

Klatu (Rennie), a benevolent alien, lands his flying saucer on the National Mall in Washington, DC accompanied by his robot Gort. Klatu comes in peace, but the earthlings react with typical hostility and self-interest. While being hunted around D.C., Klatu gives a demonstration of extra-terrestrial power at the command of "Klatu barada nicto."

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Cast: James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, David Thayer

Based on a novel by Jules Verne, the adventures of a professor (Mason) who leads a party on the subterranean trail of Arne Saknussem who disappeared centuries earlier. They won't succeed if Saknussem's evil descendant (Thayer) has anything to say about it.

The Thing From Another World (1951).

Cast: Kenneth Toby. Margaret Sheridan, James Arness; Directors: Christian Nyby, Howard Hawks

A great sci-fi drama made so by a bit of humor. Scientists and military people at an arctic camp are trapped with a malicious alien being (Arness). An arrogant scientist doesn't help.

War of The Worlds (1953)

Cast: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Paul Frees; Narrator: Cedric Hardwicke; Producer: George Pal

Thanks to Catholic George Pal, religious faith abounds in this telling of a murderous Martian invasion. The martian machines in this scared the hell out of me when I was four years old, so beware with little kids.


Great Expectations (1946)

Cast: John Mills, Jean Simmons, Alec Guiness; Director: David Lean

Based on the novel by Charles Dickens. Who is the unknown benefactor who bestows wealth upon young Phillip "Pip" Pirrip?

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Robert Duvall

Chances are, kids will have to read Harper Lee's novel in school. Aside from the politically correct fashionability, TKAM is a great story of friendship and courage. Noire, gothic tale told through the eyes of 10-year-old Scout Finch (Badham) about her southern-lawyer father (Peck) who bucks community sentiment in defending an African American man accused of rape.


Showboat (1936)

Cast: Irene Dunne, Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan, Hattie McDaniel; Music: Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II

Made nine years after the smash hit on Broadway that featured Ol' Man River and Make Believe, this 1936 version has some of the great talent of the '20s and '30s. Helen Morgan and Hattie McDaniel sing Can't Help Lovin Dat Man O' Mine. Robeson the baritone sings Ol' Man River. There is racial stereotyping, but there is also a theme of racial injustice which was radical for a musical of the time.


Henry V (1989)

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Emma Thompson, Judy Dench; Music: Patrick Doyle; City of Birmingham Symphony conducted by Simon Rattle

Fast-paced and action-packed with a realistic, blood-squirting 15th-century battle scene, Kenneth Branagh's acclaimed adaptation about a young king (Branagh) invading and conquering France is a good introduction to Shakespeare. As with other movies on this list, the music, particularly Non Nobis Domine, is itself as masterpiece.


Moby Dick (1956)

Cast: Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Orson Welles; Director: John Huston; Screenplay: Ray Bradbury

Herman Melville's story of a vengeful captain leading his crew to destruction in pursuit of a great white whale.


True Grit (1969)

Cast: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby

But for a bit of mild profanity, this is a great western for kids, made so by by the presence of cute Kim Darby playing a teenager from Dardanelles in Inyo County who persuades the crotchety Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) to pursue the murderer of her father.

II. Seasonal & Holidays


The Fighting 69th

The Fighting 69th (1940)

Cast: James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Allen Hale

Word War I drama about real men and incidents in which Cagney plays a Bowery bad boy who makes trouble in the storied, mostly Irish 69th New York Infantry. O'Brien plays Regimental Chaplain, Fr. Francis P. Duffy whose statue stands in New York's Times Square.

The Fighting Prince of Donegal (1966)

Cast: Peter McEnery, Susan Hampshire, Gordon Jackson

Disney adventure about the handsome young prince who, in the 1590s, leads a rebellion of Irish clans against British occupiers. Yes, Gordon Jackson is the guy who played Mr. Hudson in Upstairs Downstairs.

The Long Gray Line (1955)

Cast: Tyrone Power, Maureen O'Hara; Director: John Ford

Based on the life of Sgt. Martin Maher, an Irish immigrant who spent 50 years at West Point training the officers of two world wars, including a cadet who became President of The United States.

The Quiet Man (1952)

Cast: John Waye, Maureen O'Hara, Barry Fitzgerald; Director: John Ford

Although "fighting" doesn't appear in the title, there is fighting in this movie. American Sean Thornton brings a secret past to his boyhood village, Innisfree. He meets and marries a beautiful redhead and then spends much of the time fighting with her and her brother. Good-natured comedy, but there is some action that would today be called spousal abuse.


1776 (1972)

Cast: William Daniels, Howard DaSilva, Blythe Danner

Great and historically accurate musical about John Adams (Daniels), Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin (DaSilva) managing the drafting and adoption of The Declaration of Independence in a reluctant Continental Congress.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Cast: James Cagney, Joan Leslie

Take it from someone who doesn't like musicals, this is the best. Film-bio of American songsmith, George M. Cohan scored with a number of his best-loved toe-tapping tunes. While it is not a very accurate bio, Cagney plays Cohan to the life. George M. himself sneaked unrecognized into a Washington, DC theater to watch this a few weeks before he died.


Arsenic & Old Lace (1944)

Cast: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre, Edward Everett Horton; Director: Frank Capra

Based on a Broadway play in which Boris Karloff starred, this Capra comedy is ahead of its time with a pro-life theme. It's Halloween in Brooklyn. A writer who doesn't believe in traditional morality discovers that his sweet old aunts are mercy-killing lonely old men.

Ghost Breakers (1940)

Cast: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Anthony Quinn, Willie Best

A crime-gossip reporter (Hope) and his valet (Best), who is the butt of a little racial humor, help an heiress (Goddard) discover the mystery of her creepy Cuban castle. A castle in Cuba? Spooky special effects might scare younger children.


A Christmas Carol [Scrooge] (1951)

Cast: Alastair Sim, Michael Hordern, Patrick McNee; Music: Richard Addinsell

Considered to be the best of many filmings of the Charles Dickens story, this version has great special effects and provides more background on how Scrooge developed into a miser.

Going My Way (1944)

Cast: Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Risë Stevens, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer; Director: Leo McCarey

The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

Cast: Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers; Director: Leo McCarey

Watch these together. Two masterpieces, directed by Catholic Leo McCarey, star Bing Crosby as Fr. Chuck O'Malley, a priest who fixes troubled parishes. How O'Malley guides aging pastor Fr. Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald in GMW) and Sister Mary Benedict (Bergman in "Bells") is a model of Catholic gentlemanhood. O'Malley also helps young people in moral crises which have become even more relevant in our time. Bing sings one of his best-known songs in GMW. The ad-lib, first-grade nativity play in "Bells" is priceless.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers; Director: Frank Capra; Music: Dmitri Tiomkin

I'm including this on this list because there are people who haven't seen it. There are scoffers, but this is generally regarded as the greatest movie ever made. An angel (Travers) helps a middle-aged building and loan executive (Stewart), worn down by years of sacrifice and struggle, to see how bad off the people in his town would be had he not been born. If you've seen the film many times before, pay more attention to Dimitri Tiomkin's magnificent music during your next viewing.

Pocketful of Miracles

Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

Cast: Glenn Ford, Bette Davis, Hope Lange, Thomas Mitchell, Ellen Corby; Director: Frank Capra

Although Capra was the director, this movie was a committee effort which Capra did not like. While not as tight as It's A Wonderful Life, "Pocketful" has enough Capra touches to compensate for its flab and 1961 movie fads. You'll recognize "Wonderful Life" actors Thomas Mitchell, Ellen "$17.32" Corby and Sheldon Leonard. Depression-era gangster, Dave Conway (Ford) answers the intercessions of Queenie (Lange) to get involved in the big problem of an alcoholic apple seller (Davis). You will want to watch the marvelous opening scenes/credits over and over again.

Green Dolphin Street

An Essay As Long As The List

May 1, 2016

In 1961, director Frank Capra retired after over 35 years in filmmaking and with three more decades of life left in him. The Catholic movie legend who directed so many films in which good triumphs over evil, such as It's A Wonderful Life, gave among his reasons for quitting the trend in moviemaking of glorifying vice and romanticizing criminal and antisocial behavior.

If you were born the year Capra retired or in the decades afterward, you were likely and mainly raised on the entertainment garbage that Capra saw coming. Because you were raised on garbage, you are accustomed to garbage. So while you watch It's A Wonderful Life every holiday season or two and probably say, "I love that movie! It's my favorite!" you return to watching garbage much of the rest of the time.

You don't have to. Chances are, if you have found your way to this obscure web site about Catholicism and culture, you are, to say the least, aware of and disturbed by the fact that much of the entertainment available to you is garbage that is neither good for you nor your children.

The trouble with modern movies is that they peddle politics, popular morality and pornography.

In the old days, as Professor Anthony Esolen writes in a LifeSite essay (1) which is recommended additional reading on this subject, movies

"were made by men who remembered what it was to work in the fields [Capra's family owned and lost a citrus farm and he worked two or three simultaneous jobs to put himself through college] or in the mines or on the women who remembered what it was to till a garden, to patch a dress, to put up fruit and [not necessarily religious] Jews who could chant prayers in Hebrew, and by [again, not necessarily religious] Catholics who made the sign of the cross whenever they passed by a church...."

The best movies, Esolen continues, "affirmed the sanctity of human life...before people took it into their heads to approve the snuffing out of inconvenient children," "the beauty of manhood and womanhood, and their being for one another, to enhance and complete one another."

Regarding the sanctity of life, you may be surprised to learn that some of these old movies are positively pro-life. A wife announcing that she is a mother-to-be, usually in a comical scene, was the greatest thing to happen to movie families. Likewise the loss of a child as occurs in The FBI Story and The Long Gray Line is the worst. Capra's Arsenic And Old Lace is a very funny movie, but it also foresees, decades ahead of time, the culture of death, as does The Bride of Frankenstein.

Filmmakers in those days had a sense of legend that modern moviemakers tend not to have. Perhaps because of the religion in their lives, they knew how to create moving icons, how to take a person and deed everyone knew about -- for example, Charles Lindbergh and his transatlantic flight -- and enshrine it in film.

But the experience of moviemakers was not the only factor. A more religious public, among it the devout rank and file of a very influential Catholic church, would not stand for movies in which crime paid or in which lives characterized by sin and what are now called "bad choices" were glamorized. Why? Because in moral teaching and in the dark cellars of collective memory were past experiences of times of lawlessness and of the weakening of the traditional family. If Hollywood pushed the envelope, as it did even in the early days, the public would get disgusted and Hollywood would appease it by trotting out a Ten Commandments or equivalent.

In the early 1930s, movies were pulled back from becoming very raunchy by the adoption of the Hays Code, in force throughout the golden age of movies, which prohibited certain content. Censorship went out the window with the 1968 MPAA ratings codes (G, PG, R, X). These were spun as a warning to aid families in avoiding "mature" content, but they really proclaimed, "There's some nudity in this R-rated movie, folks, and this X-rated movie is all about it!"

What happened? Initially and even when the greatest classic movies were being made by those makers who knew faith and struggle (ca. 1938-47), organized, worldwide Communism bent on global domination infiltrated popular culture as it also wormed into academia. Decent rich people, even if they were only screwballs, disappeared from film plots to be replaced by evil rich people. To an American audience, one of the striking novelties of the recent British series Downton Abbey is that the rich family, despite their making some "bad choices" and working up a huff when the scullery maid is in the room she's never supposed to be in, are not greedy and evil but gracious and appreciative of their employees.

Strangers On A Train

It was during the communist infiltration of Hollywood that movie people started shilling for leftist causes. Although organized communism is dead (or more likely living under other names: "progressivism," "reason," "intelligence," "sanity"), there are still plenty of people carrying and spreading it like a retrovirus. The success of "reason," "intelligence" and "sanity," the hegemony of despotic and totalitarian states relies on the destruction of traditional family, of religion and of Judeo-Christian morals.

Along with and after the earnest, scheming communists came moviemakers who grew up in suburban plenty, leisure and decadence, where religious faith dwindled, where black and white blurred to gray and where the attitude toward knowable truth became like Pontius Pilate's (John 18:38). Some sneered outright at traditional family and morals. Their fathers were abusive drunks or feckless. Their mothers were bitches. Both perhaps put on religious faces, but displayed their true rottenness behind closed doors. Their children, arrived in Hollywood, figured that all families were made up of the abusive, the ineffectual, the hypocritical, that no family could possibly be like the Morgans (How Green Was My Valley) or the Baileys. However families like the Morgans and The Baileys are as real as messed-up families. The Morgans and The Baileys deserve a place in storytelling as well.

Moderm moviemakers further concluded that religious faith is a crock. And so since the 1960s religion has been usually portrayed in movies as something corrupt (Think The DaVinci Code) or crazy (Think Carrie). The only good priests or nuns are those who espouse liberal causes and attitudes. If there is a good religion at all, it consists of running soup kitchens or fighting the death penalty. A Fr. O'Malley (Going My Way) who tells inner-city kids not to be "fat and lazy and extremely rude" and who teaches them to use their talents to achieve something, or a Fr. Murphy (Lilies of the Field), who travels around in a trailer, not to agitate poor Hispanic labororers, but to simply say Mass and hear confession, are incomprehensible.

One way to attack traditional family and gender roles is to mock them and discredit them as is done to rich people. Another way is to portray alternative lifestyles as normal and their followers as sympathetic. Hollywood has succeeded wildly in making Ls, Gs, Bs, Ts acceptable and in making many sympathizers of such lifestyles crazy to the point of rejecting our culture of free speech and diverse opinions.

So much for the leftist politics. Popular morality, what I also call "canned morality," is fashionable morality, the kind practically bought off the shelf by people who never learned The Ten Commandments or otherwise anything about God's law and natural law. Such people are again, types who come from affluent and other backgrounds were religious faith is negligible. Canned morality is morality without God. Environmentalism, Climate Sustainability, Diversity, Inclusion: these highest goods of the godless are the best sellers in the canned morality aisle.

Modern movies peddle pornography. I wanted to include the 2003 movie, Cold Mountain on my list. The genuine decency of the good characters as they confront evil -- and there is a lot of violence in this film -- is of a caliber that is not seen in modern movies. Cold Mountain is also a story about true and enduring love. It would be, I think, the best movie made so far in the 21st-century were it not for about a minute of gratuitous nudity.

There is no protecting children from pornography anymore, certainly not in public schools that view your kids and all humans as animals that are happiest when they scratch their itches. You can't shelter children completely from pornography (or the politics or the canned morality), but you can counteract those poisons with truth and beauty, good stories of character, courage, achievement, sacrifice in which the characters aren't sex-obsessed or trying to get away with whatever they can.

Two Years Before The Mast

Not all movies made during the past 55 years are garbage. In fact, I would say that movies have gotten better since I was a kid in the 1970s and the offerings were Ben, Frogs and Little Darlings. Full disclosure: my parents refused to take me to movies in the '70s because they had gotten so raunchy. The Lord of The Rings Trilogy is good. So, I suppose, are the Star Wars movies. Watch them, but when you have the urge to watch them again, spend that time watching an old classic such as The Battle of The Bulge. Instead of watching Harry Potter with the kids again, watch classic movies with child protagonists such as The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, How Green Was My Valley or To Kill A Mockingbird.

A Christmas Story is not a bad movie. But should it be the film that is synonymous with Christmas? There is nothing in it about the real Christmas (same goes for the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street), nothing about the benevolent supernatural entering the world to save as Clarence The Angel saves George Bailey or as the ghosts save Ebenezer Scrooge. A Christmas Story is about getting a thing (the bb gun). It's very funny -- I certainly can relate --, but it reinforces what Christmas has become for most people, a materialistic orgy. Give it a rest for a few Christmases. If you're Wonderful-Lifed-out, watch Going My Way/Bells of St. Mary's, or the 1951 A Christmas Carol instead.

When I was growing up in those days of cinematic dross such as the aforementioned Frogs and Ben and Little Darlings, the old folks used to lament, "Why don't they make movies like they used to?" Those of you in my age group and younger don't ask that question because you're all inured to entertainment crap. I myself have hoped for a Catholic movie industry to develop with the millenial renewal, but I am currently not holding my breath.

Making world-class movies requires lots of money and lots of talent, educated talent that knows the best of the past. Unfortunately, wealthy Catholics and other Christians who have the means and desire to fund media want to save souls (especially their own) with their buck. They want in-your-face preaching rather than iconography or subtle storytelling or art that works on the emotional level. If the cast doesn't include a character named Jesus, the backers at least want a guy dressed in white and wearing a beard.

And then there's the typical lifestyle of faithful Catholics. The path across the soccer field leads to the CPA or the law office, not to creative professions. As a friend of mine said of Catholic upbringing years ago before she became famous, the attitude is "Doctor, lawyer or nothing." Catholics must wake up to the fact that filmmakers are now, as Percy Shelley said of poets, "the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Creating movies and other media are important occupations.

And nobody will make great movies in the future if nobody watches great movies from the past. Fortunately as this list attests, there are plenty of great old movies, many more than enrolled here. One can experience with one's family wonderful storytelling, lovable characters -- characters that one can really care about and relate to -- and in some cases, sublime music.


Some of the movies on this list are fun escapes from reality such as The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. Others fill that human need for adventure, for being scared and for being held in suspense. Many are about realistic characters or actual historical figures in realistic situations.

You and your children should watch stories of courage and faithfulness without being distracted by wizards and elves and dwarves. You should be drawn into the delightful masterpieces of Catholic directors such as Capra and Leo McCarey and George Pal. You should ponder the similarity between St. Thomas More (A Man For All Seasons) refusing to sign oaths in the 1530s for reasons of conscience and the Little Sisters of The Poor in 2016 for refusing to authorize contraception coverage for employees.

Without turning family movie time into Ethics class, you should point out to children right and wrong behavior that you watch on the screen. It's wrong to be as stingy as Scrooge. Again, keeping it light, you might want to work in that Scrooge is like he is because the government has taken over charity (tax-supported workhouses) in England. That creepy Dr. Pretorius, who usurps what is God's right alone in The Bride of Frankenstein thinks like a lot like people today: "Sometimes I have wondered whether life wouldn't be much more amusing if we were all devils, no nonsense about angels and being good."

What would you do if everybody thought you were the bad guy, as they think Sefton is in Stalag 17? Or if nobody believed you as they don't believe Bernadette Soubirous? Why do you think Miss Havisham is the one who gave Pip all the money? If the enemy held you prisoner and ordered you to build a bridge over the River Kwai, would you do a good job? Do you really think eight-year-old Rhoda Penmark murders people because she was born that way?

It should be obvious that I did not select these movies because they're like Carebears (which, never having seen, I can only imagine). Boys' aggression which comes out in playfighting needs to be nurtured into protecting, defending and upholding what is right. The sooner your children understand that there are evil people and things in the world, and that evil can and should be opposed -- even to the point where the bad guys "get it" -- the better prepared they'll be for life, especially for the kind of life that I think is coming as the 21st-century unfolds.

And then there's sublime music. The outstanding soundtacks of movies such as King's Row or the all-around great, It's A Wonderful Life, were thoughtfully composed by real musicians who knew the history and power of music as they also knew many instruments. Composers such as Franz Waxman, Dimitri Tiomkin and Eric Korngold knew how to help you hold your breath as you watch Charles Lindbergh pilot the first flight across the Atlantic. They knew how to amplify your rejoicing when George Bailey finds ZuZu's petals back in his pocket. They knew how to prepare you for the next adventure when Parris Mitchell of Kings Row ascends the steps over the farm fence as a boy and descends as a man. Children should witness such power in music. They should learn that there is much beyond synthetic music, guitar-and-drum music, hip-hop music.

But the kids won't pay attention, you object. Don't worry about it. I didn't pay attention to, nor did I understand, many of these movies when I "watched" them with my parents as a child. I paid attention to the battle scenes and action, but I ignored the dialog and romance. I first saw It's A Wonderful Life around 1971 when it was an obscure movie shown occasionally on the Saturday night late show. (I never went to sleep before Midnight.). At age 10, I thought Wonderful Life was cool because of the spooky black and white and the old cars.

What didn't go over my head was my parents and grandmother enjoying these films, all of us together. I heard them laughing. I didn't understand A Man For All Seasons or Green Dolphin Street, but they left good impressions on me and I returned to them when I was older. So don't be discouraged if the kids play with their toys or fall asleep.

Truth, beauty, goodness, fun and adventure await you. Happy viewing.

The Hasty Heart


(1) Anthony Esolen, "Why you should watch old movies, and eschew the smut of the new," LifeSiteNews, December 19, 2014.

For Further Reading

About Neal J. Conway