This article was previously published in Sword & Spade magazine.
Stephen Beaumont, who selects all movie clips used in Fraternus, challenges us to rethink movie night.
Movies have a vast influence in our culture today — mostly negative. For those of us who strive to raise our families according to traditional values, we often find that the films available to us are either morally and intellectually offensive or have little artistic worth. Should we abandon watching movies altogether? Or, are there some films out there that can enrich our families by forming our imaginations, sparking conversations, or inspiring us? I think there are, but it takes some work to find them.
When selecting a film for family viewing, there are many considerations. Obviously you must exclude anything that promotes immorality or contains gratuitous, graphic violence, but you also will want to exclude films that work against the culture you are trying to build within your family and community. One thing in particular that comes to mind is that so many movies today (and really since the 1980’s if not earlier) portray women behaving like men. Extreme examples of this are in the super-hero movies, and other action movies. But how many movies have you seen from recent years that actually show mothers directly mothering their children? And how many movies made recently will portray men as the head and protector of a household? A recent exception to the Hollywood norm was “A Quiet Place,” which actually had a manly husband/father and a womanly wife/mother who were intentionally passing these roles on to their children.
Another consideration is artistic merit. Each year we see several “faith-based” movies released which may reinforce traditional values but are lacking artistically. For the most part, these films are technically adequate (i.e. good image quality, audio quality, sometimes decent acting), but they fail to satisfy because they neglect the art of filmmaking. For example, they often rely too heavily on dialogue when they should be telling the story through the juxtaposition of shots.1 Also, “faith-based” movies tend to have poor story structure.2 It is as though the filmmakers think they need to tell the entire true story in all its details, rather than selecting a manageable part of the story and telling it with a proper beginning, middle, and end.
So how do we find films for our families to watch together that are morally, intellectually, and artistically acceptable? Mostly through the recommendations from friends, along with your own research to find out about a movie in advance. Also, even with the information you have gathered, I think it is the duty of a father to preview the movie before showing it to the family. There may be time when you want to mute the audio from a moment, or fast-forward past a scene here and there. Knowing this ahead of time is critical.
With all this being said, here are 10 movies that I recommend which I have watched with my own family with little or no editing. They are arranged chronologically and in my estimation are good for all ages.
“The General” | 1926, B&W (Silent)
Directed by Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton; Starring Buster Keaton
You will be amazed at some of the stunts in this film, which was made long before Computer Generated Imagery. It’s loosely based on the true story of a southern railroad engineer who tries to stop a group of Union raiders during the Civil War. (The same story inspired the 1956 Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase which is also worth watching).
“Young Mr. Lincoln” | 1939, B&W
Directed by John Ford; Starring Henry Fonda
While you might expect this to be a biography of honest Abe’s early years, it’s actually more of a courtroom drama and murder mystery. It’s only loosely based on a real-life murder trial, but it’s true to Lincoln’s character and is great fun.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” | 1939, B&W
Directed by Frank Capra; Starring James Stewart
If you are fed up with the corruption in politics today, you may want to watch this political comedy-drama from 1939 to find out that…it was pretty much the same back then. James Stewart plays a common man who finds himself unexpectedly appointed to the U.S. Senate. As with most Frank Capra films, you will see both the worst and the best that America has to offer.
“The Three Godfathers” | 1948, Color
Directed by John Ford; Starring John Wayne
This western tells the story of three outlaws who find themselves responsible for a newborn baby as they cross the desert heading for the town of New Jerusalem. It’s great fun, has some good western action and lots of Christian symbolism.
“The Reluctant Saint” | 1962, B&W
Directed by Edward Dmytryk; Starring Maximilian Schell
Who would have thought that a biographical film about a mystic could be so funny? This is the story of St. Joseph Cupertino, patron saint of pilots, presumably because he could levitate.
“Combat!” Season 2, Episode 2: “Bridgehead” | 1963,
Directed by Bernard McEveety; Starring Vic Morrow
“Combat!” was a TV series that ran from 1962-67. It told the story of a U.S. Army squad in France during WWII, and each episode deals with topics such as courage, loyalty, compassion, etc. in a way that is both entertaining and enlightening. The production values are comparable to those of feature films. Bridgehead is a favorite episode of mine, and a good introduction to the series. All 5 seasons are available for free on YouTube.
“The Sound of Music” | 1965, Color
Directed by Robert Wise; Starring Julie Andrews
This classic musical is a fictionalized account of the beginnings of the Von Trapp Family Singers and their escape from Nazi controlled Austria. It;s thoroughly entertaining with memorable songs, comedy, and drama.
“A Man for All Seasons” | 1966, Color
Directed by Fred Zinnemann; Starring Paul Scofield; Written by Robert Bolt
This film is about St. Thomas More’s conflict with King Henry VIII at the beginning of the Reformation. Without neglecting the visual aspects of filmmaking this movie has unforgettable dialogue. You will find yourself quoting some of these lines for the rest of your life.
“Follow Me Boys!” | 1966, Color
Directed by Norman Tokar; Starring Fred MacMurray
This is an enjoyable Disney film which follows a scout leader from the Boy Scouts’ early days in the 1930’s up to the 1960’s. It’s an excellent tale of mentoring.
“The Many Adventures of Winnie the
Pooh” | 1977, Color
Directed by John Lounsbery & Wolfgang Reitherman; Starring Sterling Holloway (voice)
This is a delightful compilation of three Winnie the Pooh short films which was released by Disney. In many (but not all) ways it captures the flavor of the original stories of A.A. Milne, which you should read to your young children.
I hope that this article has helped you understand how high quality films can be viewed with your family in a way that will build up culture rather than destroy it.
 On Directing Film by David Mamet.
This book is a collection of lectures that David Mamet gave to film school students which gives a good explanation of how films tell stories primarily through the juxtaposition of shots.
 Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman.
This book by screenwriter William Goldman covers many topics pertaining to filmmaking, including lots of discussion on structure, which Golman views as the key to any good script.
Stephen Beaumont is Director of Studio
Operations for EWTN. He has a Master of Fine
Arts degree in Motion Picture, Television and
Recording Arts from FSU, and is an Associate
Member of the Institute for Advanced Physics.