Mom on Film: From The War to the Screen

It was my Uncle Keith who, early on, helped turn me into a budding movie enthusiast. If you watched the most recent Ken Burns documentary, The War, you saw a reasonable facsimile of my uncle. He was one of the young men who fought that war. In fact, at 22 years old, he was the "old man" in his unit, and was in the first wave of soldiers to land on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day. We watched some of The War, with our children, and they were blown away. At first they wanted to watch because it meant watching TV on a weeknight. Subsequently, they wanted to watch because they were riveted. We covered their eyes occasionally, but only for the most gruesome images. We want them to know and understand history and also to understand that war is Hell. The War provides a remarkable starting place for just such an education.

Uncle Keith was an artist under contract at Warner Brothers Studios before the war, a time when artists still created all of the titles for films by hand. One of the films he is most proud of having worked on is the Academy Award winning 1942 spectacle, Yankee Doodle Dandy. Released just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Yankee Doodle became a tool for the American propaganda machine, boosting patriotism and morale. It's also a firecracker of a musical starring James Cagney in the role for which he won his one and only Oscar. If you haven't seen it already, and you like musicals, you should give it a try. It may be a bit of a stretch for little kids to sit through, but for older kids and adults, it's a kick.

Keith was a movie lover as well an artist. He amassed a huge collection of books about movies and movie stars, possesses a vast knowledge of films of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and has always been happy to share his passion and his resources. When I wrote a college paper, "War in American Cinema," it was Keith who provided the best reference materials. He also introduced me to two films that are, to this day, among my favorites. First, he exposed my brothers and me to the 1939 version of Beau Geste starring Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston. That was truly a gift; Beau Geste is both a great story and still a pleasure to watch.

Then, when I was 17 years old, he shared with me one of the most remarkable movies ever made, Lawrence of Arabia. Although she may still be a bit young to understand all of the plot's intricacies, we may soon watch it with our 11-year-old; she can certainly appreciate the beauty, scope and acting, and that is a start.

Like an original print of an old film, Uncle Keith is a little worse for the wear and tear of time and a life fully lived. When he is gone, I'll still have the memories, the movie books and the movies themselves, which I will share with my children and, maybe someday, they will share with theirs. Like The War, film will serve as a tool to help us remember that which is too important to forget.


Sue "Mom on Film" Harvey is a mother of three who shares her passion

for film with bi-weekly, family-friendly movie recommendations.