Summer Movies Line-Up

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.

Treasure Island

Best Summer Movies: Treasure Island

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.

Jamaica Inn

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.

Robin Hood

Best Summer Movies: Robin Hood

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.

Old Yeller

Best Summer Movies: Old Yeller

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.

High Noon

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.

Photo by Zhifei Zhou on Unsplash

Valentine’s Day Movie Recommendations

I’m a sucker for Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk about movies!

Read on for my list of romantic movie recommendations for the whole family this Valentine’s Day.

It Happened One Night

Classic movie poster for It Happened One Night

For one of the best in the romantic comedies, It Happened One Night. It Happened One Night is a 1934 pre-Code American romantic comedy film and “road film” in which we watch two main characters travel to their destination. Frank Capra directed it, the same director of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It has all the goodness and none of the gravitas as It’s a Wonderful Life. Watch pampered heiress (Claudette Colbert) try to escape her father’s domineering plans for her life by running off to rejoin her husband. Clark Gable plays a roguish reporter who helps her in exchange for the exclusive. You can guess what happens next.

Make Way for Tomorrow

Classic movie poster for Make Way for Tomorrow

If you want more emotion, less fluff, try the romantic tear-jerker, Make Way for Tomorrow. It’s a sadder take on love, but one of the truest. Make Way for Tomorrow is a 1937 American drama film directed by Leo McCarey. Victor Moore star as Barkley “Pa” Cooper and Beulah Bondi as Lucy “Ma” Cooper, an elderly couple that has run out of luck and money. With their home foreclosed, they turned to their five grown children for help. But none of their children will take them both. Directed by Leo McCarey with a screenplay by Viña Delmar, this heartbreaking story is beautiful all the same.

City Lights

Classic movie poster for City Lights

For something old, see City Lights. Who would have thought one of the sweetest romantic movies would be a Charlie Chaplin flick? City Lights from 1931 is a silent romantic comedy film written, produced, directed by, and starring Chaplin. In it, Chaplin falls in love with a blind girl played by Virginia Cherrill. The sad, sweet ending is a treasure in cinema.


movie poster for Brooklyn

For something new, a romantic period drama, Brooklyn. The 2015 film, Brooklyn is directed by John Crowley and written by Nick Hornby, based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Colm Tóibín. It stars Saoirse Ronan, an Irish immigrant who comes to America because no work can be found at home. She falls in love with Tony Fiorello, played by Emory Cohen. The movie is slow and quiet, grounded in time and place, with beautiful cinematography.

The African Queen

Classic movie poster for The African Queen

If you like the drama but want bigger drama against a world backdrop, visit The African Queen. The African Queen is a 1951 British-American adventure film adapted from the 1935 novel of the same name by C. S. Forester and directed by John Huston. Filmed on location, viewers are treated to real footage of African animals, while an older Humphrey Bogart as Charlie Allnut and Katherine Hepburn as Rose Sayer fall in love while navigating the river and seeking to destroy a Nazi warship. Heroic and hopeful, we see all the things you want in a romantic story, clashes of personality, a shared mission, and how true and worthy love motivates the best in us. 

The Lady Eve

Classic movie poster for The Lady Eve

Done with serious topics? A screwball comedy may be what you need. In that case, check out The Lady Eve. This screwball comedy is that type of comedy where the modern viewer thinks repeatedly, “This could never happen. In the 1941 film, written and directed by Preston Sturges, based on a story by Monckton Hoffe, cardsharp Barbara Stanwyck and rich fool Henry Fonda fall in love. Stanwyck plays off the boyish charm of Fonda perfectly. 

Since You Went Away

Classic movie poster for Since You Went Away

For a contrast of young love with the lasting love of a long marriage, see Since You Went Away. John Cromwell directed this 1944 American epic drama film about the American home front during World War II. It stars Claudette Colbert as Mrs. Anne Hilton, Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple as her daughters. We never see the object of Anne Hilton’s love, but we see the steadfast faithfulness in it, and sometimes, that’s all you need.


Classic movie poster for Paterson

For another slow and quiet new-ish film, watch Paterson, a 2016 drama film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Paterson stars Adam Driver as a bus driver and poet named Paterson, and Golshefteh Farahani as his artistic, eccentric and loving wife. The movie takes us through one, semi-eventful week. There is no major crisis, only a small one. Rather, it shows the stability of the love and routine that shapes the bigger and arguably the better part of our love stories.

Desk Set

Classic movie poster for Desk Set

For one more zany love story, with a period backdrop of the beginning of the computer age, and phenomenal acting, see Desk Set. I like this 1957 American romantic comedy film, directed by Walter Lang, written by Phoebe Ephron, and starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, as a Christmas movie because of the outrageous Christmas party near the end. But the love, subtle jokes, perfect timing of Hepburn and Tracy is something to behold. The movie shows us the turmoil a computer in the 1950s can cause. 

And if you just need one more after Valentine’s Day has past, check out the nearly perfect movie, The Princess Bride at the Denair Gaslight Theater on February 25.