They don’t have pictures of scruffy li’l dogs or Smurfs or fuzzy puppets on the boxes. But videocassettes of old Hollywood movies — the ones video stores file under ”Classics” — often appeal to kids much more than the second-rate, product-plugging cartoon fluff that’s constantly marketed to them. Though made for adults, American movies of the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s had to meet strict standards of moral conduct under the industry’s old Production Code. (Sustained profanity, nudity, and all the other hallmarks of modern grown- up films were verboten until 1968, when the Motion Picture Association’s & ratings code was introduced.) As a result, vintage Hollywood films exude an air of chaste, glamorized make-believe that today’s grown-ups find quaint — and that children embrace immediately.
Want proof? Try any of the following on a grade-schooler:
Hitchcock’s Chase Trilogy
The master of suspense filmed virtually the same cross-country chase three times, as The 39 Steps, Saboteur, and North by Northwest. All of them have whiz-bang pacing, creepily low-key villains who demonstrate why you should never follow that smiling man with the ice cream cone, and plots built on the ultimate childhood bugaboo: being blamed for something you didn’t do.
The Hope-Crosby Road Pictures
Four are on video, and in jaunts from Rio to Bali to Hong Kong, Bing and Bob perfectly capture the bickering, childlike banter of best pals who seem to do everything together.
Anthony Mann Westerns starring James Stewart
Kids instantly connect with Stewart’s stalwart courage and clumsy, just-got-my-growth-spurt gait, traits best seen in four morality tales that unfold in easy-to-grasp visual terms — Winchester ‘73, Bend of the River, The Man From Laramie, and The Naked Spur.
Eight-year-olds are enchanted by Hollywood’s idealized role models, especially the ones who spout comforting, homespun platitudes in Young Mr. Lincoln, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, The Pride of the Yankees, Madame Curie, and Knute Rockne, All American. And if they can take the tension, give ‘em a great adolescent heroine in The Diary of Anne Frank.
Why are young minds so blown away by Cagney in White Heat, Bogie in High Sierra, and both toughs in Angels with Dirty Faces? Because there’s violence, action, and guns but no gore. And nothing exorcises fears about crime and punishment like seeing these charismatic rats fall to ”da coppers” in the end.