I love a good theme and summer movies are no exception. Without the oppressive feeling of too much structure, it gives focus to what can undoubtedly be a chaotic, unstructured summer.
Summer Movies in June: Adventures on the High Seas
This June, our family will focus on Adventures on the High Seas.
That means the children were politely requested to read versions, original or adapted, of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson in order to watch the 1950 adventure film of the same title produced by RKO-Walt Disney. The film may have been filmed in England, but as Stevenson is said to have based Spy Glass Hill on Point Lobos, we plan to make a family field trip to Monterey Bay this week for a less harrowing adventure.
Swiss Family Robinson
Other films for the month will include Swiss Family Robinson, the 1960 film by Walt Disney Pictures, adapted from the 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss. On their own, the children read the Adapted Illustrated Edition to compare notes. My 7-year-old is very fond of bringing up the issue that it is an anaconda snake in the film, but in the book, it is not. From the same series of adapted stories, my children read Robinson Crusoe. They were delighted to hear the film of the shipwrecked family was filmed on the same island of Tobago where the fictional Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked.
Mutiny on the Bounty
Moving away from Disney, we’ll see some fun for all ages with the black-and-white Mutiny on the Bounty, where I shall sneak in some talks about virtue, duty and whatnot, in this 1935 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer drama film based on the 1932 novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. No pre-reading necessary.
Since there will still be talk of pirates, Jamaica Inn will be a new addition to the line-up. The film stars Maureen O’Hara as an innocent young lady who goes to live with her aunt, who happens to be married to a leader of thieves. Alfred Hitchcock directed the 1939 film based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier. I don’t know how this will play out for the younger audiences, but I know my daughters and will enjoy it thoroughly.*
(*Edited to add: this turned out not so good. The movie was dark, over-my-kids’-heads implications of what was happening was fairly harrowing and it ends with a characters’ suicide – So! Now I know. It takes time to curate a family’s movie list)
Summer Movies in July: Medieval Times
In July, we’ll travel back to Medieval Times, which I learned covers roughly 1000 years. This will be my incoming 8th grader’s historical and literary focus this year. The theme fitting.
We begin with the 1922 silent adventure film Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks. A silent movie for kids, you ask? If children are only ever exposed to new, colorful, fast-paced media, the older flicks, no matter how well-crafted, will appear dull, dry and slow – to adults and children. I make it a point to expose my children to a wide swath of decades of cinema to keep them open-minded.
Nevertheless, we move back to color with the 1952 Ivanhoe, a British-American historical adventure epic film starring Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine, based on the 1819 historical novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Much of our stories of Robin Hood are derived from this story.
Robin Hood, The Sword in The Stone, and The Court Jester
Naturally, we mustn’t neglect the 1973 animated Robin Hood and 1963 The Sword in the Stone, both by Walt Disney Productions. The Sword in the Stone comes from the brilliant Once and Future King by T.H. White. It will also be necessary to watch the fantastic The Court Jester, starring Danny Kaye, a delightful, near-parody of all the other things we’ve watched. Best remembered for the wordplay, “The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!”
Summer Movies in August: High and Dry
From the forest to the west, we shall begin our High and Dry season of Westerns when temperatures become unbearable here in California.
That means the 1957, the Walt Disney Production of Old Yeller. My 10-year-old elected to read all the sad animal stories this year. It’s a sadness my farm kids know too well, I’m afraid, but it will help them process the more difficult losses that inevitably come in life as they get older.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
Next up, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962), directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. I don’t know why my children love this as much as they do, but they do.
We’ll pair a field trip to Columbia State Park with the film High Noon, the 1952 American Western film starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, for an excellent opportunity to discuss violence and justice and how “The West” is right in our backyard.
Dodge City and Broken Arrow
The month will close with the 1939 Dodge City starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Ann Sheridan, and Broken Arrow, a 1950 film starring Jimmy Stewart and Jeff Chandler. Whenever we’re watching old westerns, it’s crucial to address the stereotypes presented and balance it accordingly with a better, more authentic depiction. Broken Arrow isn’t about good guys and bad guys. Rather it show both sides of the beginning of the Apache War with humanity, mistakes and all.
How to Get it
I generally rely on the library systems or my inherited collection of DVDs to supply the films for us. Most of these films are from the 1950s and 1960s. a bit of a golden era for family films, I believe. This is due to the combination of new color technology, reliance on fiction for story sources, Walt Disney live action triumphs, and the self-imposed censorship of Hollywood at that time making films squeaky clean but also very interesting. It isn’t perfect, but it is good. And when it falls short, as things in life will do, that’s an opportunity for discussion, too.